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Defense

The strategic nature of the US bombings in Libya

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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Although some US military decision-makers have recently said that the air raids on Sirte are to be considered “purely tactical” – as also General Petraeus stated on August 4 last – the US operations in Libya which started on August 1 last have evident strategic importance.

Let us provide some data with a view to having a real perception of the situation: the US air actions are led by the Africa Command, AFRICOM, the US structure which since 2008 has been cooperating with all the African countries, except for Egypt, with which it has a separate agreement. Said structure has its headquarters at the Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart.

The AFRICOM ground unit, namely the United States Army Africa (USARAF), has its own autonomous base and command at the Caserma Ederle in Vicenza.

In short, with this air-naval operation in Libya, the North American African Command has three clear strategic goals: 1) excluding the NATO-Europe from its Southern region and forcedly directing it eastwards and south-eastwards, towards China, Russia and, shortly, India; 2) opposing the Chinese and Russian expansion to Africa at geoeconomic and military levels; 3) managing, in the future, the great pan-African unification process, precisely on the basis of the US model.

Moreover, the bombing of Sirte by US aircraft has a further obvious strategic significance: while the Russian Federation has now become the reference point of the Greater Middle East with the next stabilization of Syria, the United States want to mark the Maghreb territory a) with a view to avoiding a Russian action in Libya; b) supporting their regional Arab allies; c) closing down a space to their European allies, uncertain of everything except for the multiculturalist subjection to the “permanent jihad”.

The US operation called Odyssey Lightning consists in supporting only the Government of National Accord (GNA) installed in Tripoli, the only one recognized by the United Nations as opposed to the Tobruk one and its ground forces, which last month advanced against the ISIS positions in Sirte. They are only the Misrata Forces, not fully connected with al-Sarraj’s National Accord.

In spite of its international support, the government in Tripoli is linked to militias, such as the above stated Misrata Forces and the Al Bunyan Al Marsoos “the Solid Structure” – armies which, like all the other local politicians and numerous militias, are all paid only with the funds from the Central Bank of Libya.

And, despite this, al-Sarraj’s government really controls only the coast of Tripoli and two adjacent neighbourhoods.

Furthermore, according to the latest data available, the Central Bank of Libya manages a monetary base of over 115 billion Libyan dinars, but with a quasi-money which is worth approximately twice as much as that monetary base.

It is worth recalling that the “quasi-money” is the share of bank assets which are more easily convertible into cash.

Hence it is easy to imagine that if – as currently happens – the oil flow from the Libyan coast starts again (now that the oil sector analysts predict a rise in the oil price up to 70-80 US dollars a barrel since the second half of this year), the money available to the various Libyan military forces will increase, with obvious negative effects on the peace process and the reunification of the country.

Also the share of Turkish, Saudi, Qatari and even Egyptian aid to their proxies will increase, with a view to avoiding the expansion of the Libyan oil market and promoting their national direct and indirect exports.

Or maybe – as happened with Qatar at the beginning of the inauspicious insurgency against Gaddafi – the issue will be to trade the Libyan oil, possibly magically turning it into “national product.”

Let us revert, however, to the planned air military actions of the US Africa Command.

Five operations put in place on the first day of August and on the first day of the military action Odyssey Lightning, four ones on August 2-3, as well as some ground operations of the US Special Forces to agree with the various factions, while so far the US military activities from the sea have been defined as “precision strikes”, which are also very effective on the ISIS materials and depots in Sirte.

The first mission started from the US amphibious assault ship Wasp, off the Gulf of Sidra, while other aircraft departed from land bases in Italy and initially from Jordan.

The naval group of the USS Wasp also includes the transport dock ship USS San Antonio and the landing ship USS Whidbey Island, while the medium-range missile control system is based in Rota, Spain.

The three US ships host the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, which has also MV22 Osprey aircraft, along with other AV-BB units.

Osprey is a tiltrotor for the deployment of ground forces inside the Libyan territory, while the US Expeditionary Naval Corps also has Super Cobra helicopters, other UH-1Y Venom transport helicopters and the CH-53E Super Stallion ones for troop transport.

Two facts are clear: after the probable cleaning up of the Sirte area, the United States plan to land and typically place boots on the ground, thus betting on a new network of Libyan warlords determined – with the US coordination – to wipe out ISIS from Libya.

Incidentally, the United States have a clear strategic and political interest in avoiding the European allies’ support as much as possible.

This both to prevent terrorist attacks on the EU territory and, above all, to have full tactical and strategic autonomy in Libya.

The other fact is that the United States intend to bet only on Fayez al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord while the forces – including the European ones – which support Haftar’s “Operation Dignity”, which are allied with the Saiqa of Benghazi, the militias from Zintan, the militias of the Warshefana and, above all, the guards who control the oil wells, depend weakly from Tobruk.

Not to mention France, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, supporting Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army. However, we have reason to believe that the “Operation Dignity” forces could be the real centre of gravity for a future Russian action in Libya – which is the greatest danger for the United States.

In other words, the United States have chosen to support only al-Sarraj’ small government and hence to accept a future splitting of the Libyan territory, at least into two parts.

This is supremely contrary to European interests. Finally the United States have decided to create a bridgehead, through the Tripoli government, which can expand the AFRICOM presence south and east of Libya.

These are all US legitimate intentions which, however, should have been discussed and analyzed together with the now irrelevant European partners, who only see the trees, namely immigration from the Libyan shores, but not the wood, namely the geopolitics which causes and exploits it, also at militarily level. And we will see it in the near future.

The naive automatic pro-American approach of the US European allies, which is a result of the now ceased Cold War, is a strategic danger in itself for the European Union and for the EU Mediterranean countries. The United States have diverging interests compared to Europe, both in Libya and in the rest of Africa.

And what if – instead of muttering multiculturalist myths – the EU had organized an operational Conference to create and deploy a Spanish-French-Italian military force, with the Russian approval, which could stabilize the coastal areas and wipe out – even with the US aid and support – the Caliphate from Sirte, without blocking the Libyan national reunification process?

Is it possible for a guerrilla army such as ISIS, living in underground shelters and in the maze of urban centres, to be considered a traditional military force “whose actions against the United States and its allies must be prevented”, as the motivation for the Africa Command action reads?

We doubt it, as indeed we doubt that totally abandoning the Tobruk government will be a rational strategic choice.

Certainly the Tobruk government members began to rule from a railway wagon and still have relations with the Muslim Brotherhood but, since last June, there have already been several meetings and negotiations between al-Sarraj’s GNA and some members of the Tobruk Parliament, which could be facilitated by us and supported explicitly by the international community.

Nobody, not even the United States, have anything to gain from a fragmented Libya, with or without the ISIS viper in their bosom.

What about Italy? In her question time at the Chamber of Deputies, the Defence Minister, Roberta Pinotti, said that “so far the US operations have not involved Italy, neither logistically nor for overflying the national territory, and they have developed consistently with the UN Resolution of 2015 and in response to a specific request for support made by the lawful and legitimate Libyan government”.

Hence, in the opinion of the Italian Defence Minister, al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord is the only lawful and legitimate one, even though it is clear to everyone that there exists no government in Libya.

In Italy there was no rational analysis of the protests made by Russia and the Tobruk Government, which could shift bag and baggage to the Islamist-jihadist front of the Libyan insurgency, while Russia asked that the US bombings could take place after a resolution of the UN Security Council.

As a clear result of the AFRICOM overflying operations, since August 4 there have been very harsh clashes between the Tripoli militias – mostly those in Misrata, faithful to al-Sarraj, but paid by others – and the Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB).

During said clashes at Ajdabiya, in the “oil crescent”, Haftar’s military have accused the local fighters of having favoured the ISIS jihadists’ escape from Benghazi.

Is therefore possible, in such a complex region where “the friend of my enemy is my friend”, and only on a local basis, to consider only the Government of National Accord in the list of the good ones?

Have we already committed to the Tripoli government without al-Sarraj’s government having yet won the confidence vote of the Tobruk House of Representatives? And what will happen to us if the Tripoli Government of National Accord falls? We will be deprived of credible relations with all the other forces operating in Libya and be exposed to any retaliation, inside and outside our borders.

One of the possible players for us would be Khalifa Haftar’s “Operation Dignity” – supported by some members of the French and British intelligence services – which is expanding to Eastern Libya.

As already said, Haftar’s money comes from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and France. Moreover, Russia has already shown its intention to appoint him as its point of reference in the Libyan chaos.

“Operation Dignity” is a real army and Haftar commands it with the iron fist of the true professional of weapons, while the United States are still pushing for a varied and unreliable alliance of Islamic militias to be led by Tripoli -– which is difficult in a situation in which Russia supports Cyrenaica, though still indirectly.

Hence we will have the probable reaction of the jihadist terrorism on our territory without any strategic gain in a country which is so vital for us, namely Libya.

Furthermore, the US air campaign authorized by President Barack Obama for a period of thirty days could not be fully effective against ISIS in Sirte and the militias of Misrata could distance themselves from the al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord.

While it is obvious that an intervention boots on the ground by a European force is not rational, also considering that the EU Member States have diverging interests in Libya, it would be at least useful not to be committed to one single – and not even the strongest – party concerned.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

Defense

Arctic Security and Dialogue: Assurance through Defence Diplomacy

Troy J. Bouffard

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Authors: Troy J. Bouffard, Elizabeth Buchanan & Michael Young*

For over two decades, key stakeholders have been confident that the Arctic Council was the appropriate forum for discussing most non-military Arctic issues. At the same time, UNCLOS, IMO and various international legal agreements, along with numerous forums, helped to manage a significant portion of the remaining challenges. Today, security concerns are heightening with new Arctic players and the days of a stable Arctic region, free from intervening security concerns, may be facing headwinds as military activity and rhetoric have increased over the past few years. Strategic competition in the Arctic has reemerged and is bolstered by recent rhetoric and increased investment from Washington in its national security agenda in the Arctic as well as associated NATO military activity.

Russia uses these developments as further justification to securitize the state’s largest open frontier. It is unsurprising Moscow views this behavior as foreign strategy to undermine Russia’s legitimate interests in the Arctic. In effect, the Arctic may be host to a new security dilemma which is driving militarization and strategic competition in the region. The problem is: there is no effective forum for Arctic defence authorities to discuss the potentially emerging security dilemma or the spectrum of associated and relevant issues involving Arctic non-/State interests.

Recognizing this apparent strategic forum gap, there have been recommendations from Arctic security scholars and strategists to consider the establishment of a designated Arctic security forum to lead collective and inclusive military-security dialogue. These calls are now echoed in some Arctic state policy circles, indicating the appetite for a security forum is growing. Tellingly,   Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, during a high-level Arctic international conference with Putin in April 2019, suggested that annual meetings of the Chiefs of General Staff of the Arctic Council’s member-states should reoccur. For Lavrov, such meetings could become an effective mechanism of maintaining regional security, stating, “unfortunately, since 2014 these meetings have been suspended. For the purposes of resuming joint work we suggest as a first step to establish contact at the level of military experts of Arctic states.” In theory, such a proposal could effectively manage a growing security dilemma, in order to confront concerns of militarization and sharpened strategic competition in the Arctic. However, implementation of high-level security discussions between Arctic Council member states would not be easy in the contemporary political environment. Moreover, there must be an absolute separation between the purpose of the Arctic Council and any Arctic defence issues and forum. Such a requirement is not only based on the Council’s charter mandate, but also from a practical standpoint to avoid undermining or overlapping well-established practices.

Some current security forums capable of hosting dialogue on Arctic military-security affairs do exist, but these are inadequate for any real strategic discourse due to the fact that the Arctic’s largest stakeholder is not considered an ‘equal member’ in these fora. To date, limited study has been conducted into the feasibility of a circumpolar Arctic security forum, of which all Arctic-rim powers are considered equal. The authors explore the concept of establishing an Arctic military-security forum to navigate the resurgence of strategic competition in the region. To do so, the article examines challenges and opportunities associated with the establishment of an effective Arctic security forum through diplomatic aspects, including 1) establishing acceptable protocols, 2) the role of military diplomacy and 3) sustaining meaningful diplomatic commitments and outcomes.

Establishing Acceptable Protocols

The central goal of establishing formal protocols through a forum to discuss Arctic security issues is to prevent security related actions by one state from escalating to higher level military conflict due to misunderstandings among other Arctic states. There are already several agreements that include the United States and Russian Federation which govern the behavior of military forces when operating in close proximity to each other or in international waters, such as the Incidents at Sea Agreement (INCSEA, 1972), the Dangerous Military Activities Agreement (DMA, 1989), and the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES, 2014).

Given that these agreements have no geographical limitations, they would also apply to military actions in the Arctic. What is not covered by these agreements, and what is missing in the Arctic currently, is a formal dialogue between Russia and the other Arctic states regarding issues of national security in the Arctic. Such dialogue is important so that all sides understand each other’s actions and the motives behind them, or at least provide a forum to discuss misunderstandings. There have been fora in the recent past which attempted to accomplish this in the Arctic, such as the Arctic Coast Guard Forum (ACGF), the Arctic Security Forces Roundtable, and the Arctic / Northern Chiefs of Defence meetings. These ended in 2014 after the Russian annexation of Crimea when mil-to-mil engagements with Russia were suspended. However, an exception was later made for the ACGF. The ACGF now regularly meets and rotates chairmanships every two years according to the same schedule as the Arctic Council. The ACGF is an excellent forum for the Arctic states to “foster safe, secure and environmentally responsible maritime activity in the Arctic,” but it does not specifically address military or national security issues. This is precisely why it was able to obtain an exemption from the ban on mil-to-mil activity. This is to Arctic security’s detriment.

Clearly, after six years it is apparent that the ban on mil-to-mil engagement with Russia is adversely affecting all Arctic states. There is an obvious need for crafting a defence forum for the Arctic states. As such, it would be useful to establish a mechanism for all Arctic states’ senior military leaders to engage annually for the purpose of discussing Arctic security issues. And this is in the US national interest. The question now becomes what the format, protocols and limitations should be so that such a forum could prove successful for all participants. It should also be considered apart from other mil-to-mil engagements with Russia, and therefore mostly exempt from sanctions. The following proposed components should be considered with regard to development of an Arctic security forum:

-Heads of delegation from each Arctic state would be their senior commander who has responsibility for their country’s Arctic defence.  For example, the US would send the Commander, US Northern Command (4-star), Russia would send the Commander, Northern Fleet Military District (3-star Joint Arctic Command) and the Deputy Defence Minister of the Russian Federation – Chief of Main Directorate for Political-Military Affairs of the Russian Armed Forces (3-star). Normally equivalent rank and position is a basic protocol requirement. However, Russia does not maintain nearly the same amount of 4-star generals as does the United States. As a result, the disparity would not be considered inappropriate or detrimental to the process. Each commander could designate a subordinate as the working representative during the year in the lead up to the conference, but each defence principal would be expected to attend the actual conference in person.

-Hosts for each annual meeting would rotate every year on a prescribed schedule among each of the eight Arctic states.

-The agenda for the annual meeting would have set, required topics each year, which at a minimum would include: 1) Arctic defence philosophy, 2) most important defence challenges in the Arctic, and 3) greatest threats to Arctic security, as perceived by each state. An additional mandatory topic would be ways to improve Arctic security cooperation and reduce tensions.

-The deliverable from the conference would be a report to all member states from the host country summarizing the discussions and outcomes. A joint statement would be optional.

-The conference would be nominally scheduled for one full working day, unless an extension is agreed to by all parties in advance.

However, this forum must stand completely apart from other forums, such as the Arctic Council, even though its membership would still consist of the eight Arctic states that hold sovereign territory in the Arctic. The Arctic Council functions well as an intergovernmental forum on Arctic issues, but its founding documents specifically exclude any discussions on defence or security.  Trying to bring security issues into the Arctic Council runs the risk of damaging a well-functioning mechanism.

It should also not involve NATO specifically, even though seven of the Arctic states are also NATO members. Since the purpose of the forum is to engage in Arctic-specific security issues, the involvement of NATO could detract from the Arctic nature and openness of any discussions. Any NATO role in an Arctic security forum must be defined and accepted by Russia, if at all. First and foremost, the forum must be able to function from a setting of sovereign equals, of which any alliance would certainly complicate to say the least – a notion that diplomatically parallels the exact difficulties presented by consideration of the EU as an official Arctic Council observer. In the Arctic security forum, membership would only consist of the eight Arctic states – no observers.

While an Arctic defence forum described above is important, it should not exist as the only engagement between the Arctic states in understanding each other’s defence postures.  Ongoing traditional diplomacy and military diplomacy would continue to play important roles, as will existing bilateral security agreements. However, as mentioned previously, a new Arctic security forum must be able to function unilaterally with defined authority and jurisdiction.

The Role of Military Diplomacy

The role of military power in today’s world exemplifies a much different meaning from the past. Use of military might by developed nations to resolve or influence global issues increasingly represents options to be employed only as a last resort, if at all. The ever-growing economic interdependence and strong institutional architectures that help facilitate global relationships provide just an initial understanding concerning such world order, and such forces likely apply throughout the Arctic region also. One of the ways in which military organizations could integrate into constructive circumpolar affairs is through use of defence diplomacy. The Oxford Handbook provides a definition as ‘the employment, without duress, in time of peace of the resources of Defence to achieve specific national goals, primarily through relationships with others” as seen by “the shift from ‘club’ to ‘network’ diplomacy” reflective of advanced civilization. The Arctic Eight all have significant military resources and capabilities as well as experience around the world managing tensions. Certainly, the degree to which Russia participates in such endeavors remains difficult to ascertain meaningfully, but it does occur, and moreover, the Arctic region is somewhat of an exceptional case.

Defence diplomacy involves a desire to use military channels, and/or those of experts on defence issues, to help create a climate of trust and a convergence of interests. Those familiar with the Arctic region and its many issues might already be thinking of how the military could contribute within these definitional understandings. The most concerning defence-related issue still centers on continued Russian military buildup in their north, including significant bastion defence, several dedicated brigades, and an advanced coastal and offshore air-defence network. Such developments outpace the rest of the Arctic Eight combined by an order of magnitude, although not necessarily representative of individual or cumulative national capability. The lack of post-Crimea Western mil-to-mil contact with Russia as well as a collective Arctic security forum continues to suppress opportunities to build trust and confidence with purpose. Eventually, the United States and NATO will increase military capabilities and presence in the Arctic, and without dialogue, misunderstanding of intent and perceptions, among other things, will likely worsen.

Defence organizations often track sensitive, conflict-laden issues within categories often known as elevated, escalated, and the most dangerous, zones of miscalculation. Other issues involve tensions regarding international maritime law and increased control over disputed Arctic waters Russia considers internal. Such an ‘excessive maritime claim’, per the United States, would likely benefit from defence discussions and subsequent counsel amongst individual national authorities. Most recently, the United States and United Kingdom conducted a naval exercise in the Barents Sea from 03 – 08 May 2020. Although advanced notification was provided to Russia and the media largely conflated the event and meaning, Russian authorities were able to conduct observations and consequently reported findings (figure 1). While characterizing the exercise as provocative, Russian authorities noted that Northern Fleet capabilities effectively deployed to track NATO weapons and thereby avoid any incidents. When conducting the official briefing, Colonel-General Rudskoy stated that “the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation has always adhered to a course aimed at building a constructive dialogue with NATO” and furthermore, emphasized European concerns that “all our proposals to reduce military tension and prevent incidents were set forth in a letter from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. In fact, our suggestions were ignored.” Although possibly a demonstration of aggrandized rhetoric, such messages could be much different through use of military diplomacy and dialogue. National interests are often conveyed through strategic communications and military activities, and as a component of foreign-policy objectives already, the addition of deliberate discourse can leverage the influence of military capability and experience toward purposeful defence diplomacy.

Figure 1: Russian Ministry of Defence briefing on recent NATO activity in the Arctic

Source: Russian Ministry of Defence

Sustaining Meaningful Diplomatic Outcomes

The pace at which media attention and policy rhetoric is focusing on calls of a ‘new’ Cold War in the Arctic is representative of renewed global attention in the High North. Ultimately, in an age of social media, this attention creates strategic fog for northern stakeholders and indeed can cultivate strategic distrust further between Arctic neighbors. All the official dialogue in the world matters little unless it can be sustained and implemented meaningfully. Nor can a representative principal and staff conduct hasty preparations and expect to be effective during diplomatic maneuvering and negotiations. An established cycle of dialogue helps to develop and enable an active national program that requires substantial time, money and effort toward preparations that categorically culminate through the dialogue events. Such processes foster purposeful information development and sharing by Arctic defence staffs, both domestically and within the network, further elevating an understanding of each other’s’ policies, strategies and intent. Furthermore, regularly scheduled diplomatic events require continuous learning and processing, leading to more sustained and confident diplomatic outcomes as opposed to sporadic events.

Preparation involves more than studying different tier-level issues. A delegation must be effectively empowered to participate in a diplomatic setting, to include delivery and status of domestic positions on matters, extent and limits of compromise on issues, and introduction of propositions and interests, to name a few. Such preparations also require domestic prioritization of issues and executive agency synchronization as well as input in order to avoid inadvertent internal marginalization of national interests – again, not nearly as efficacious in an ad hoc fashion. At the same time, a major component of successful preparations – far more complex and difficult – requires an understanding of adversarial as well as competitive positions on agenda and relevant non-agenda items. Indeed, it can be a very bad day when a delegation is diplomatically outmaneuvered as a result of inadequate preparation on a reasonably expected issue. This circumstance might represent a best-case scenario when a competitor out-prepares another and scores a diplomatic win without the need to give up anything through a compromise on equal settings. Such an instance occurred on Day 10 of the Cuban Missile Crisis at a UN Security Council meeting, when US Ambassador Adlai Stevenson thoroughly ‘dressed down’ Soviet Ambassador Zorin through superior preparation in anticipation of the USSR position. Similarly with regard to the Arctic, having a forum ready to host this security discussion could be the difference in preventing Arctic conflict, especially when domestic and foreign goals tend to universally prefer that issues remain within the cooperative or competitive realm. The Arctic is naturally geared for sustaining diplomatic outcomes and ironically, all Arctic states hold a common strategic interest: stability.

Additionally, the value of multinational defence dialogue not only benefits from agreements, but  also in the development and implementation of national strategies. Domestic policies can significantly gain advantage from positive results of dialogue as well as clarification of issues involving tension, not to mention reference to the forum itself as a venue of reliable structured discussion. Furthermore, such fora often facilitate and promote inclusivity and coverage of issues through agenda setting. However, while agendas can be abused by more influential states, today’s advanced understanding and conduct of diplomacy and negotiation can help overcome inequalities through thoughtful charter establishment.

Conclusion

Many fora already exist to address most issues in the Arctic from a circumpolar perspective (see Figure 2). The Arctic Council provides an excellent forum to jointly tackle environmental issues and scientific research, and it also has provided an excellent platform to negotiate several joint agreements between the Arctic states, such as search and rescue, oil spill response, and scientific cooperation. The International Maritime Organization provided a framework to negotiate the Polar Code for shipping traffic in the Arctic. The Arctic Coast Guard Forum proves to be excellent at discussing and solving shared maritime law and regulatory challenges across the Arctic. The Arctic Economic Council facilitates sustainable Arctic economic and business development. A glaring gap in these fora is one that addresses Arctic security or defence issues. The need for an Arctic security forum is clear. Given the increasing re-militarization of the Arctic in recent years and unproductive rhetoric likely to continue, the time to establish an Arctic security forum has already passed. Dialogue between senior Arctic defence leaders and their staffs could complement other Arctic national efforts through the conduct of military diplomacy, leading to enhanced mutual understanding of defence challenges as well as the prevention of unintended conflict escalation.

Figure 2. Example of Current Arctic Organizations and Responsibilities

To move our proposal forward, we offer the following considerations as areas for further research. First, initiative could be seized by Moscow during its forthcoming Arctic Council Chairmanship (2021-2023) to officially propose and promote a forum – an enterprise opportunity completely separate from the work of the Arctic Council yet benefits from the overall Arctic emphasis during its leadership. Moreover, Russia could craft the forum and keep it void of mandated leadership, instead recommending an acceptable rotation schedule – similar or otherwise to the Arctic Council. Second, in terms of the security forum’s construct, we see three viable options. Option A: The forum is limited to the Arctic Eight defence authorities and their select delegations. This is the ideal approach as it affords the most lateral movement for military diplomacy in the Arctic. Option B: Implement Option A but also develop an observer mandate. Using similar criteria to that of the Arctic Council, this would allow for NATO to engage as a clear subordinate to Russia. This signal acknowledges Moscow’s concerns and perhaps also helps get around NATO’s ‘limited engagement with Russia’ policy still in effect. Most importantly, this option ensures that any potential NATO forum role develops under Russian required consensus. This option also easily extends toward further research consideration and potential roles of other interested participants, such as China. A final study option is Option C: the development of a security forum led by the Arctic ‘Western’ states with an offer extended to Russia to join. This may be the least viable option given Moscow would likely reject ‘junior partner’ overtures. Additionally, the current fragmented Arctic defence efforts somewhat demonstrate problems with this option.

The Arctic needs a productive forum for military dialogue – one already established, functioning well and possessing the institutional maturity ready to confront future strategic challenges. It is in the best interests of the Arctic region to have a credible body in place to navigate and preemptively negotiate military-security issues and threats involving mutual interests. Military tensions in the Arctic could severely marginalize years of stabilizing accomplishments, not the least of which includes critical natural resource and environmental activities. Compelled dialogue driven by negative incidents will only invoke frustrated hindsight from stakeholders and concerned advocates. The situation is clear, and prospects obvious. Defence authorities should pursue the opportunity to effectively steer military-related Arctic security issues before circumstances force preventable crisis management.

*Dr. Elizabeth Buchanan is Lecturer of Strategic Studies with Deakin University for the Defence and Strategic Studies Course (DSSC) at the Australian War College and a Fellow of the Modern War Institute at West Point. Dr. Buchanan holds a Ph.D. in Russian Arctic strategy from the Australian National University and was recently the Visiting Maritime Fellow at the NATO Defense College. Experiences also include a recent discussion she moderated with NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, during an official visit to Australia.

Michael Young served in the US Navy as a Surface Warfare Office. Afterwards, he became a Foreign Services Officer with the US State Department in the Office of Oceans and Polar Affairs, where he chaired an Arctic Council working group as a Track I diplomat. Following the US chairmanship of the Arctic Council, Michael went on the work with the Special Operations Command – North (SOCNORTH) with USNORTHCOM – one of the lead U.S. Combatant Commands with Arctic strategic defense responsibilities.

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Defense

Erdogan Slapped On The Wrist In Libya -Is More To Follow?

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A series of successes by Turkey-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya came to a sudden halt July 4th when the Al-Watiya airbase recently captured by the GNA factions was struck by unknown jets. Forces loyal to GNA entered Al-Watiya just a few weeks ago after a rapid offensive supported by Turkish drones. Back then, the GNA fighters took selfies with the Pantsir S-1 systems abandoned by the Libyan National Army (LNA). Instead of Russian-made Pantsirs Turkish MIM-23 HAWK systems were positioned at the base.

The latest satellite pictures of Al-Watia make it clear that these very systems were damaged or possibly destroyed in the attack. These developments surely dealt a huge blow to the pride of the Turkish leadership, all the more so because the attack happened just hours after Turkish defense minister Hulusi Akar concluded his visit to Tripoli.

Spokesman for the Volcano of Rage operation carried out by GNA units Abdul-Malik al-Madani claimed that Al-Watiya was attacked by Dassault Mirage 2000-9 multi-role fighters of the United Arab Emirates Air Force that used the Egyptian Sidi-Barrani airbase located closed to the Libyan border. The UAE did not comment on the statement.

The incident did not come as a complete surprise. Recep Erdogan’s aggressive policy in Libya has long been a concern for quite a few regional and global powers who could have deemed it necessary to slap the Turkish president on the wrist.

First, Turkey’s provocative actions endanger the interest of Libya’s closest neighbor, Egypt. The Egyptian leader Abdelfattah al-Sisi has already declared his readiness to conduct a full-scale military operation in Libya. Second, Turkish intervention in Libya is frown upon in the United Arab Emirates, one of the Egypt’s allies. Third, France has been consistently critical of Erdogan’s Libyan policy. Evidently, all of Paris, Abu-Dhabi and Cairo support the LNA leader Khalifa Hafter.

Probably the most thorough analysis up to date of the possible identity of the culprits behind the Al-Watiya attack was conducted by an independent researcher Akram Kharif. The analyst concluded that Russian involvement is least likely, as Russia lacks necessary military assets in Libya and is wary of damaging the relation with Turkey. Besides, Libya is off limits for the Russian spacial intelligence and targeting systems. Kharif argues that the operation was likely carried out by the UAE jets from Egypt’s soil with information support provided by France. If we accept this conclusion, the attack should be viewed as a “red line” drawn for the Turkish authorities.

Turkey and the GNA did not disclose the scale of casualties suffered in the attack, but it is of little relevance really. What’s more important is the symbolic meaning behind the attack that gave Ankara’s ambitious plans for capturing strategic areas of Sirte port and Jufra airbase a reality check. The future of the Libyan conflict now depends on the ability of the Turkish authorities to decipher this message.

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Defense

Three Turning Points of China’s Military Strategic Thoughts

Chan Kung

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The Chinese army is long known for its experience in the ways of strategic and tactical warfare. Being a country that boasts a large population, it has an endless supply of troops. Having adopted the core values of Western military warfare, Chinese strategists like Mao Zedong and many others came up with unique political and military ideological systems to suit China. These days, most of its military school of thought have been successfully passed down. Despite China’s somewhat extensive military ideological system, the core of its system boils down to two values, namely highly mobile operations, and a highly self-sacrificial spirit. For instance, the Chinese army, known for its Guerrilla Warfare, which is a part of mobile operations, is itself an understanding and application of the knowledge. Military strength on the other hand, is a manifestation of the country’s strong self-sacrificial spirit, a trait that is observed in political warfare too. These two attributes are what make up the core of China’s military strategic thinking and served as a catalyst to propel the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to greater heights.

Both core values are largely related to China’s long years of warfare. The guerrilla warfare in the region of Jinggang Mountains during the 1920s allowed Chinese army leaders to realize that mobile operations were key to surviving and coming out on top. Meanwhile, the war against Japan during the 1930s to 1940s taught the then highly illiterate and disorganized Chinese army, the importance of sacrificial spirit. Consequently, China’s military leaders began emphasizing the importance of practical knowledge and downplayed the importance of military ideology and theory, whichthey were known to blindly uphold, owing to their military tradition and long years of wars.

Following decades of peace, China eventually entered a political stalemate. Though when the Cultural Revolution swept over the country, and politics took a turn for the extreme, it affected the Chinese military and strategic ideology and caused the systems to be expressed in an abstract and overly simplified multi-faceted manner. To cite some examples, these were the words spoken by Lin Biao, then marshal of China.“First of all, you must fear no hardships. Second, you must fear no death”. To which PLA General Xu Shiyou added, “There is only death in failure”. Given China’s political environment then, the Chinese army turned into a political organization and its military power fell.

Even in that political environment, the Chinese commanders’ speeches varied based on the context. For example, while most of Lin Biao’s publicized speeches were political, in some unique occasions, however, they were spoken with foresight and showed Lin Biao’s true capability. During the meeting at the Military Commission on February 27, 1960, he was reported saying, “(1) In the future, wars are determined by the press of a button. (2) The most urgent, most important, and largest priority in our preparation for war is to revolutionize cutting-edge weapons. (3) Future wars will not only rely on infantry, but the air force and missiles too. Air forces will play a greater role on the battlefield, it may even determine the outcome of the war at some point, and we need to prioritize its development.” Lin Biao’s speech gave China the wake-up call that it needed to revamp its military, though it was ultimately three major events that truly allowed the country’s military to break away from politics and begin redefining their objectives.

The first major event took place in 1979.

Between February 17 to March 16, 1979, a brief but large-scale, heavy casualty war broke out between China and Vietnam. China had invested in a total of 9 infantry and 29 army division of alarming sizes in the east and west lines, namely the 11th Army, 13th Army, 14th Army, 41st Army, 42nd Army, 43rd Army, The 50th Army, 54th Army, 55th Army and 20th Army 58th Division, Guangxi Military Region Independent Division, Yunnan Provincial Military Region Independent Division, 2 Guangxi Military Region Frontier Regiments & 1 Frontier Battalion, 4 Yunnan Provincial Military Region Frontier Regiments and 3 border defence battalions, 2 artillery divisions (1st artillery, 4th artillery), 3 anti-aircraft artillery divisions (65th artillery division, 70th artillery division, 72th artillery division), and finally, military units such as railway, engineering, and communication troops. The troop size was estimated to be 220,000, rivalling the military strength of the Korean War at one point, though with further and better technical equipment. The Vietnamese troops confronted China with 6 infantry divisions (3rd, 345, 346, 316A, 338, 325B divisions), more than 10 local regiments & 20 independent battalions, and 4 artillery regiments. Later, they were joined by the infantry 327, 337 divisions and several independent regiments, independent battalions, special battalions, artillery, engineering, communications among many other units. About 100,000 people joined Vietnamese’s army forces, which depended on local troops and large numbers of armed militias to coordinate assaults. The entire battle stretched up to hundreds of kilometers and the Chinese army seized more than 20 small and medium-sized cities, and rural counties in northern Vietnam within a month.

Many officers’ account and battle records about the war were declassified from 2018 to 2020 and made public. Unlike most conventional news or qualitative reports, the records detailed the brutalities of the war and the Chinese PLA’s actual combat capabilities at the time. This includes blind commands issued by senior generals and plans revealing the detachment strategy formulated based on the battlefield. To quote an example, during the Cao Bang Campaign, the Chinese army deployed 6 troops and 11 divisions against 1 division (15,000 troops) from the Vietnamese army. They employed large-scale penetration manoeuvre to surround and annihilate the Vietnamese forces. Originally, the campaign was meant to last for 3 to 5 days only, yet it dragged on for 28 days, and continued to persist even as the Vietnamese army had retreated. The Chinese commanders ordered the annihilation of all oppressing forces, though after passing through several ranks of officers, the order was misinterpreted as an attempt to defend the site at all costs, even as the Vietnamese forces had successfully penetrated into Chinese territories following a surprise attack. Since many grassroots officers lacked the cartographical concept, most senior officers within the division were demoted, and were made to replace the grassroots officers to assume command over the troops instead, veteran commanders included. Chaos broke out among the grassroots officers, soldiers were openly holding senior officers at gunpoint for food, discarding many weapons and equipment at random, regiment-level cadres faked injuries to return to China. The Chinese battalion cadres relinquished their controls over the troops, resulting in large casualties and an eventual surrender. The sight of a few Vietnamese agents was enough to send the Chinese army into panic, causing them to shoot and kill one another, resulting in hundreds of deaths and the loss all supplies.

The Sino-Vietnamese war was led by second-line generals who had experienced wars. They were pick from the best veteran generals possible who were battle-hardened and could still be called to arms. In terms of high-level strategic command, the Chinese army was commanded by Yang Dezhi during the early stages, followed by Zhang Quanxiu later at the west line, while the east was commanded by Xu Shiyou. For advanced strategic command, Wang Shangrong, head of the War Department of the General Staff, was tasked with overseeing all preparations and decision-making concerning the operation. A week before launching the counterattack, Wang Shangrong mobilized the command team into the command center. The counterattack lasted for a month. For tens of days, he did not leave his post. Looking at the Sino-Vietnamese War in the grander scheme of things, even the Western media who chose to side with China then remarked that the country relied heavily on infantry assaults in dense formations, and that it employed warfare tactics similar to the Korean War in the 1950s. The Indian army, who were closely observing the war, too found that the Chinese army was far different from the 1962 Sino-Indian War.

The tragic reality and the outcome of the Sino-Vietnamese war caused China’s military community to realize old-fashioned strategies, traditional means and conventional military school of thoughts no longer work in modern wars. Following the war, Xu Shiyou, who was infamous for his mediocrity and excessive use of brute force to resolve matters, was immediately relieved of any substantial military command post after the war. Concurrently, the issue of military reform was finally brought to attention due to the impact of the war, and the country began unifying its military school of thought, with Deng Xiaoping launching a massive disarmament eventually. That said, while the Sino-Vietnamese war served as a critical turning point for China’s strategic thought, the major problems that plagued the Chinese military remained. How should the Chinese military fight and how should modern warfare be fought? Conventional strategic thought continued to be super controversial. Be it to enhance and strengthen the original military system and strategic thought, or to carry out reforms on a larger scale, many disputes concerning these major issues could not be resolved. However, these issues were finally addressed during the second major event.

The second major turning point came in 1990.

A major event that shocked the world in 1990 was the outbreak of the Gulf War. The Gulf War refers to the war between the U.S.-led coalition consisting of 34 countries and Iraq during the period of August 2, 1990,to February 28, 1991, which was also known as Operation Desert Storm. On August 2, 1990, Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait, overthrew the Kuwaiti government, and declared the “return” of Kuwait and the “unity” of Greater Iraq. After obtaining the authorization of the United Nations, the multinational force led by the United States launched a military offensive against the Iraqi forces in Kuwait and Iraq on January 17, 1991. The main combat consisted of 42 days of air strikes and 100 hours of ground combat on the borders of Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.

The Gulf War was the first large-scale war led by the U.S. forces since the Vietnam War, and also the first war between United Nations member states. In the war, the US military put a large number of high-tech weapons into actual combat for the first time. In particular, the U.S. Air Force used various guided bombs to attack from aircraft carriers, showing overwhelming superiority in air and electronic control. The new modern war and the first live broadcast by satellite left a deep impression on the whole world and China. The U.S. Air Force conducts thousands of sorties a day, using guided bombs, cluster bombs, air-fuel bombs, and cruise missiles. The primary objective of the U.S. forces was to destroy the Iraqi air force and air defenses, a task that was quickly accomplished, and allied air forces were virtually unimpeded throughout the rest of the war. Although Iraq’s air defenses were better than expected, U.S. Air Force only lost one F/A-18C fighter (AA403) on the first day of the war.

In the ground warfare, the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions, in coordination with the 1st brigade of the 2nd Armored Division, attacked Kuwait from the east and quickly liberated Kuwait. The main American forces consist of five units of the 7th Infantry Division, including the 1st Infantry Division, 1st Cavalry Division, 1st Armored Division, 3rd Armored Division and 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, with the 1st Armored Division of the British Army in Germany. It carried out a roundabout attack in the southern part of Iraq, bypassing the key defense areas of the Iraqi army and directly entering the western desert of Iraq. This unit quickly annihilated the Iraqi Republican Guard, which was far better equipped than the Chinese army and experienced in combat after the Iran-Iraq war. At the same time, the U.S. XVIII Airborne Corps completed a spectacular detour, cutting off the main Iraqi forces and closing in. A long line of Iraqi army convoys and equipment formed on the highway leading from Kuwait to Iraq in front of live television cameras. The long convoy was so heavily bombed by U.S. aircraft that it earned the nickname “The Highway of Death”.

Within 100 hours of the ground warfare, then-President Bush declared victory and a multinational cease-fire. To the astonishment of the Chinese generals who commented on TV, the casualties of the U.S.-led allied forces in such a large-scale war were very small, with only 148 American soldiers killed, 47 British and only 2 French. On the Iraqi side, nearly all of its main forces, including the elite Republican Guard, have been hit hard. Most scholars believe that the number of Iraqi troops killed in war is between 25,000 and 75,000,and the number of wounded is unclear. In addition, the number of Iraqi troops captured by the Americans alone stands at 71,000.

Such a sharp contrast caused the war to have a subversive impact on China’s military strategic thinking. When Zhang Zhaozhong, an expert on Chinese military studies, and others commented on the progress of the war on CCTV, they were struck dumb by these scenes. Their error-prone comments even caused CCTV hosts to show dissatisfaction and questioning on the spot. It should be said that the modern mode of warfare demonstrated in the Gulf War deeply stimulated the whole Chinese army and completely overturned their conventional cognition. In the face of the war footage, it was not just a few television commentators who were stunned. In fact, it was the objective reflection of China’s military strategic thinking at that time. Judging from the results of the Gulf War, China’s conventional military strategic thinking, in fact, has been completely turned into “historical rubbish”, which has prompted China to reflect on its military thinking deeply. Because the objective fact is that China knows very well that it cannot defeat Vietnam in guerrilla warfare; it is no match for a modern military power like the United States in regular warfare. The practical conclusion is clear: the modern mode of warfare in the world has been completely changed, and China must carry out major reforms in military thinking and system to adapt to future wars.

Of course, the origin of China’s military reform is a long story, but it actually began after the 1990 Gulf War. It is worth noting that even with the emergence of modern war such as the Gulf War, the military reforms of that period only addressed a small number of minor issues. If the Chinese military system including the military is regarded as a person, the post-1990 reform, which involved merely the reform of the “limbs”. However, the reform of the military-strategic thinking and the military system, that is, the reform of “head of the armed forces” and the strategic thinking, were almost entirely left untouched. If there was any progress at all, it was slow and minimal. In fact, it was not until the military reform after 2012 that this problem was truly solved.

The third major turning point occurred in 2015.

Since China entered the 21st century, its national conditions have undergone major changes. First of all, population decline has become an unshakable reality. There is a widespread one-child policy throughout the country. The supply of soldiers is highly limited. The cost of recruiting is rising rapidly, andeven RMB 200,000 subsidies are required for every soldier recruited in developed regions and cities.Secondly, China’s economic growth has developed rapidly during the golden decade, with great improvement in the economic foundation and great progress in the military industry and equipment industry. The third is that after “China Can Say No” and “Peaceful Rise” thoughts, a more assertive China has moved towards the world and the vast ocean with “Belt and Road Initiative”.

In March 2014, the Central Military Commission (CMC) leading group for deepening reform on national defense and the armed forces was established, headed by President Xi Jinping, and the first plenary meeting was held, marking the beginning of the substantive progress of the reform. In January 2015, the leading group for deepening reform on national defense and the armed forces held the second plenary meeting and made arrangements for the proposed reform plan. In July of the same year, at the third plenary meeting of the leading group for deepening reform on national defense and the armed forces, the overall planning for deepening the reform of national defense and armed forces were reviewed and adopted in principle. Later, Xi presided over a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and the Standing Committee of Central Military Commission meeting to review the overall plan. On September 3, 2015, at the conference marking the 70th Anniversary of The Victory of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and The World Anti-Fascist War, Xi Announced that China would cut its troop levels by 300,000. The following month, the Standing Committee of Central Military Commission meeting deliberated and adopted the “Implementation Plan for the PLA Leadership and Command System Reform”.On November 24-26 of the same year, the Central Military Commission Reform Work Conference was held. On November 28, the Central Military Commission issued the “Opinions on Deepening Reforms on National Defense and Armed Forces”, marking the official launch of military reform.

The national defense and military reform plan are based on the principle that the CMC is in charge of the chief command, the war zone and the services, including the adjustment of military headquarters system, implement CMC multi-sectoral system, establish army leading institutions and improve the services and arms lead management system, readjust the delimited war zone, establish joint operations command structures in commands, and improve the military commission agency and other measures. With the reform of the armed forces, the “The Fourth Department of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army”, the “seven military regions” and the “continental army” were all dismissed. The “Second Artillery Corps” was replaced by the “Rocket Force”, and the strategic support force was introduced. In addition, five major war zones were established, including major streamlining, major optimization, major readjustment, and major relocation of military forces. This is the most significant military reform in the history of the Chinese armed forces. Different from previous military reforms, this reform is real reform of the organizational system of the head of the armed forces. It represents and reflects the beginning of the construction and formation of a modern strategic ideological system in the Chinese armed forces.

As the Chinese army was initially formed by guerrilla warfare, then decades of war formed the ideological system of the “Continental Army” in the Chinese army, and its progress since then is more on the basis of Rudolf’s concept of “total war”. In 2015, after the first two major transitions, China finally entered the stage of joint campaign development in the third one. The so-called joint campaign refers to the campaign carried out jointly by two or more military service groups under the unified command of the joint command. This is where the Chinese military will be after the third major turn. Such a definition can also be proved in the “Vostok-2018” strategic exercise. The large-scale strategic exercise held by China and Russia after China’s military reform was a joint campaign exercise, which showed a certain degree of confidence.

To sum up, although the Chinese army has advanced to the stage of the joint campaign in terms of modernization after the three major transitions, it still has a long way to go before it becomes a powerful military force in the modern sense. Because the strategic thinking of modern world war lays the most emphasis on the ideas of the precision strike and war efficiency, the main progress of the world army is reflected in these aspects, while the Chinese army is still in the stage of the joint campaign, and the gap is still obvious. It is worth noting that since the massive Sino-Vietnamese war in 1979, China’s military is actually the only peaceful army among the world’s major powers, and it has not waged a real war for as long as 40 years. So, even though the Chinese army has undergone three major military changes, it is still military in a theoretical sense.

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