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China, Russia launch naval drills in South China Sea

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China has been the largest buyer of Russian arms and technology for years, followed by India. The conflict in South China Sea (SCS) over islands and military infrastructure Beijing has put in place there is bringing together the military allies Russia and China on firmer footing than ever before in years after the Cold War.

China claims most of the South China Sea, through which more than $5 trillion of trade moves annually. Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam have rival claims. China has repeatedly blamed the United States for stoking tension in the region through its military patrols, and of taking sides in the dispute.

In July, an arbitration panel in The Hague, Netherlands, issued a ruling invalidating China’s claims to virtually the entire South China Sea, a result that Beijing angrily rejected as null and void. Russia has been a strong backer of China’s stance on the arbitration case, which was brought by the Philippines.

In a way as to either provoke USA or belittle its regional neighbors that share the South China Sea coastal zones, China and Russia, have launched eight days of naval drills in the South China Sea — the first time any country has done exercises there since Beijing’s claims to the sea were rejected two months ago – against the backdrop of regional territorial disputes. The drills – in a sign of growing cooperation between the armed forces of China and Russia, scheduled from Sept 12 through Sept. 19 in the SCS – take place off southern China’s Guangdong Province — not near Beijing’s nine-dash line, which was rejected by the international tribune court in The Hague in July in a case by the Philippines over Beijing’s maritime claims. Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have opposed China’s claims over the South China Sea.

Russian news outlets said 18 ships, 21 aircraft and more than 250 marines from both sides would take part in the drills. The ships include destroyers, cruisers, a Russian battleship, amphibious warfare ships and supply vessels. However, Xinhua said the Russian component would include three surface ships, two supply ships, two helicopters, 96 marines, and amphibious armoured equipment. China’s navy would contribute 10 ships, including destroyers, frigates, amphibious ships, supply vessels and submarines, along with 11 fixed-wing aircraft, eight helicopters, 160 marines and amphibious armour, it said.

Chinese news agency Xinhua said the Russian ships arrived early on September 12 in the Guangdong province port of Zhanjiang, and the exercises would be held off the Guangdong coast, apparently in waters that are not in dispute. According to reports the Xinhua News Agency, a Russian fleet arrived in Zhanjiang, Guangdong, China on for the start of the eight-day China-Russia “Joint Sea 2016” naval exercise, a series of war games which will take place in the South China Sea.

The naval drills, announced in July, feature navy surface ships, submarines, fixed-wing aircraft, ship-borne helicopters Marine Corps and amphibious armored equipment from both navy operations, Chinese navy representative Liang Yang said. Exercises will include defense, rescue, anti-submarine operations and island seizing, Liang said. In July, a Chinese Defense Ministry spokesperson said the operation “does not target any third party.” They will involve surface ships, submarines, fixed-wing aircraft, ship-borne helicopters, Marine Corps and amphibious armoured equipment from both navies, he said in a statement on Sept 11. “Compared with previous joint drills, these exercises are deeper and more extensive in terms of organisation, tasks and command.” The ministry did not say exactly where the drills would be held in the South China Sea, the site of heated territorial disputes between China and its Southeast Asian neighbours.

Joint Chinese-Russian drills have become increasingly common in recent years. This week’s exercises are the fifth between the two navies since 2012. The China-Russia joint naval exercises have been conducted four previous times annually. Last year, the drill was conducted in the Mediterranean in May, and in the Peter the Great Gulf, the waters off the Clerk Cape and the Sea of Japan in August. Earlier, China’s Ministry of Defense announced in July the drill would be conducted in the South China Sea. “The drill will consolidate and develop the China-Russia comprehensive strategic partnership and enhance the capabilities of the two navies to jointly deal with maritime security threats.” While the term “island-seizing” seems to suggest otherwise, China argues that the “Joint Sea” drill is a “routine drill” and “does not target any third party.”

This is the first time these drills have been conducted in the South China Sea. While China argues that the drills are routine, Russian comments indicate that Chinese-Russian bilateral exercises are designed to offset the US-led regional security structure. “We believe that the main goal of pooling our effort is to shape a collective regional security system,” said Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu in late 2014. “We also expressed concern over US attempts to strengthen its military and political clout in the Asia-Pacific region.”

Russian President Vladimir Putin gave his support to Beijing’s stand this month at the G20 summit in Hangzhou. The exercises come at a time of heightened tension in the contested waters after a UN-backed tribunal ruled in July that China did not have historic rights to the South China Sea and criticised its environmental destruction there. China rejected the ruling and refused to participate in the case. The “Joint Sea-2016” war games will include exercises on “seizing and controlling” islands and shoals, according to Chinese navy spokesman Liang Yang.

While China says the drills do not envision specific enemies or target any third parties, their location in the South China Sea has drawn criticism. During a visit to China last month, the commander of the US Pacific Fleet, Scott Swift, said: “There are other places those exercises could have been conducted.” He described them as part of a series of actions “that are not increasing the stability within the region”. Xinhua rejected such sentiments in a commentary on Monday, saying those viewing the exercises as threatening were “either ill-informed … or misled by their prejudice about China and Russia”. This year’s drill will focus on anti-submarine warfare and island-seizing operations, explained Chinese Navy Spokesman Liang Yang. “The marine corps will carry out live-fire drills, sea crossing and island landing operations, and island defense and offense exercises.”

The Chinese and Russian militaries, in their largest joint operations drill yet, are training to seize islands and hunt down submarines in the South China Sea. The Russian Navy sent three surface ships, two supply ships, two helicopters, 96 Marines and several amphibious armored units to take part in the drills. Ten People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessels, including destroyers, frigates, landing ships, supply ships, and submarines will participate. The Chinese will also deploy 11 fixed-wing aircraft, eight helicopters, amphibious armored units, and 160 Marines. Most of the Chinese units are associated with the Nanhai (South China Sea) Fleet.

China insisted that it had sovereignty over the South China Sea, defying an international tribunal ruling that its claims to a vast swathe of the waters had no legal basis. China was “the first to have discovered, named, and explored and exploited” the islands of the South China Sea islands and their waters, and had “continuously, peacefully and effectively exercised sovereignty and jurisdiction over them”, Beijing said in a white paper on settling disputes with the Philippines, which brought the case in The Hague.

Beijing’s claims to the waters — extending almost to the coasts of other littoral states — are enshrined in a “nine-dash line” that first appeared on Chinese maps in the 1940s. China had “never ceased carrying out activities such as patrolling and law enforcement, resources development and scientific survey” on the islands and in “relevant waters”. The white paper says that China wants to settle the disputes “on the basis of respecting historical facts”. But the document was in direct contradiction to the ruling by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague on Tuesday, which said that “there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or their resources”.

The UN-backed tribunal also said that any “historic rights” to resources in the waters of the South China Sea were “extinguished” when China signed up to the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). As such, it said there was “no legal basis” for China to claim historic rights to resources within the nine-dash line. China had no possible entitlement to areas within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone, it added. China boycotted the PCA proceedings, saying it had no jurisdiction to rule on the issues, and has mounted a huge diplomatic and publicity drive to try to discredit the tribunal and its decision.

The joint drills, obviously targeting China’s sea neighbors, are likely to stir up tensions. China’s vast claim to the region was decimated by the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in July. China rejected the ruling and has since been conducting regular live-fire military drills in disputed waters and stepping up its military presence in an effort to reassert its dominance over desired territories.

China has attacked Western media reports critical of the drill. “Such reports are misleading and intended to convince readers that China and Russia have enough motive to make the drill an occasion to flex military muscles against potential enemies,” said a Xinhua editorial. “It may be true that growing military ties between Russia and China have irritated someone’s sensitive nerves, but it is worth noting that excessive geopolitical interpretation of a specific military drill is neither necessary nor justified,” explained the editorial, noting that there is no need for “fear mongering.”

The joint Chinese-Russian drill coincides with the start of Valiant Shield 2016, a US drill in the Western Asia-Pacific. These three countries would like to send out clear signals to each other and confuse the world over.

The joint military drills are significant for China as not only do they demonstrate the extent of Russia’s support, they also suggest Moscow isn’t concerned about other claimant states. That could have implications for Russian foreign policy. Like Washington, Moscow has also embarked on an ‘Asia pivot.’ Since 2010, Moscow has fostered close economic and defense partnerships with various Southeast Asian nations and initially adopted a neutral stance on the South China Sea issue.

Defense

Negating Nuclear Bluff

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The war of words between India and Pakistan’s militaries prove that both South Asian nuclear states are intertwined in a traditional security competition. Indian Army Chief Gen. Bipin Rawat, while delivering the annual Army dinner, stated:”We will call the (nuclear) bluff of Pakistan. If we will have to really confront the Pakistanis, and a task is given to us, we are not going to say we cannot cross the border because they have nuclear weapons. We will have to call their nuclear bluff.” Such statements of calling the ‘nuclear bluff’, ‘increased cross- border firing by Indian forces, which coupled with the proclamation of surgical strikes can lead to crisis instability in the region.

Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Asif Ghafoor responded to the Indian army chief’s ‘nuclear bluff’ assertion by saying that such statements are unbecoming from a person of a responsible stature. He further stated that “Well, it’s their choice. Should they wish to test our resolve they may try and see it for them..…Pakistan’s credible nuclear deterrence is the only thing stopping India from a war.” Such statements by the Indian military officials, and a quick calculated response from Pakistan, have raised the concerns of security analysts regarding the regional security and strategic dynamics.

It could be an appropriate tactic of General Bipin for securing finances for the modernization of the Army, but an absurd and destabilizing statement for the strategic stability in South Asia. According to the analysts, such statements by Indian military officials can lead to crisis instability and force the Pakistan to hasten its evolution towards war fighting nuclear doctrine. Another alarming reality is that General Bipin has failed to realize the repercussions of misreading Pakistan’s nuclear weapon capability and too much confidence in India’s Cold Start Doctrine. Hence, Pakistan’s successful test of the ‘submarine-launched cruise missile Babur (SLCM Babur)’ can be viewed as a befitting response to India.

According to Pakistan’s Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), Babur is submarine-launched cruise missile with range of 450 km. It was fired “from an underwater dynamic platform” and “successfully engaged its target with precise accuracy; meeting all … flight parameters”. The development of Babur (SLCM) is a significant component of a “credible second-strike capability” and a step towards reinforcing Pakistan’s policy of Credible Minimum Deterrence through self-reliance and indigenization.

Previously, on January 9, 2017, Pakistan conducted its first successful test of indigenously developed submarine launched cruise missile Babur-III.  Babur-III is also advanced, mature and indigenously developed series of cruise missiles. The First test of Babur-III was considered by Pakistan’ security planners as a major milestone and a right step in right direction towards reliable second strike capability. After the successful test of  Babur-III, Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, while congratulating the nation and the military on the first successful test-fire of the Submarine Launched Cruise Missile stated: “The successful test of Babur-3 is a manifestation of Pakistan’s technological progress and self-reliance.” He added: “Pakistan always maintains policy of peaceful co-existence but this test is a step towards reinforcing policy of credible minimum deterrence.” Therefore successful test of Babur-III, submarine launched cruise missile finalized the triad of Pakistan’s nuclear forces and second test of Babar on March 9, 2018 has enhanced Pakistan’s deterrence based on Second Strike Capability.

Another significant factor which forced Pakistan to acquire Second Strike Capability is India’s doctrinal transformation as it is clearly transforming its Nuclear Doctrine. New trends are emerging in India’s nuclear strategy as it is moving towards a ‘first-use’ or even a ‘first-strike nuclear strategy’. India’s nuclear doctrine is based on the ‘strategic ambiguity’, therefore it has been anticipated that India is shifting its nuclear strategy towards ‘counterforce targets’ rather than ‘counter value targets’. The second emerging trend is that India is moving towards the strategy of “First Use” or “Preemptive strike” from the “No-First Use strategy”. The abandoning of no first-use, development of missiles defense shield, fake claims of surgical strikes and calling the nuclear bluff are developments that are perilous for the regional security. Indeed, such events have forced Pakistan to maintain deterrence through qualitative and quantitative developments in nuclear forces. In the strategic landscape of South Asia, the presence of Pakistan’s credible second-strike capability is imperative for the continuity of the strategic stability between/among strategic competitors: India and Pakistan.

Subsequently, harsh statements by Indian military, its shifting nuclear doctrines and maturing sea based/ballistic missile defense developments capabilities are threatening for Pakistan. Such developments by India have been countered by Pakistan by carrying out two tests of nuclear-capable missiles, ‘Babur-3’ submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCM) and ‘Babar’. Pakistan’s tests of SLCM has further reinforced the debate on South Asian maritime security, second-strike capability and missile defense technologies in the regional landscape. To conclude, it’s impossible for the Indians to alter the strategic equilibrium between India and Pakistan. Though Islamabad is not matching the Indian conventional military buildup, yet it is gradually advancing its nuclear arsenal. Hence, Pakistan’s successful test of indigenous Submarine Launched Cruise (SLC) Missile ‘Babur’ has negated India’s desire to call Pakistan’s ‘nuclear bluff’ and has augmented the credibility of Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence strategy. Addition of ‘Babur’ in Pakistan’s military inventory confirms that Pakistan armed forces are prepared to thwart any kind of Indian armed forces military adventurism.

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Defense

A Likely Path to Nuclear Annihilation

Eric Zuesse

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U.S. President Donald Trump asserted on the morning of April 12th, “Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!” This statement from him is interpreted here as constituting a public promise from him to start the overt phase of America’s invasion of sovereign Syrian territory, no longer just continue the prior phase, which has relied instead upon America’s proxy forces, which originally were the ones that were led by (U.S.-Saudi-Qatari-UAE supplied and armed) Al Qaeda in Syria, but increasingly now are Syria’s Kurds, which have taken control over a third of Syrian territory, in Syria’s northeast. This area includes the oil-producing region, from Deir Ezzor northward, and the conquest would cripple Syria’s economic future, so that U.S-Saudi control of the entire country would be only a matter of time.

On April 4th, Emily Burchfield, a program assistant at the Atlantic Council — NATO’s leading PR agency — headlined the following, in order to explain the U.S. military’s (i.e., NATO’s) objectives in Syria (and the whole headline-bloc is quoted here, because it succinctly states the article itself): Analysis: Washington Still Has Work to Do in Former ISIS Territories

Before the U.S. pulls out of Syria, Washington needs to address a governance gap left in some former ISIS territories. Otherwise, marginalized Arab communities will likely ally with the Syrian government or extremist forces, writes Emily Burchfield of the Atlantic Council.

The U.S. military, in other words, cannot accept that “marginalized Arab communities” will “ally with the Syrian government.” Analogous within the United States itself would be if some foreign power refused to accept that “marginalized White communities” will “ally with the U.S. government.” In other words: this is clearly a military demand (a demand that came to be expressed here by a paid employee of NATO’s top PR agency, the Atlantic Council) to break up the country.

Whereas the prior U.S. President, Barack Obama, had tried everything short of all-out direct military invasion — as contrasted to indirect invasion by U.S. proxy armies of jihadist mercenaries — in order to conquer or at least to break up Syria, the current U.S. President, Trump, is resorting now to the direct military invasion route: he’s taking the path that Obama had declined to take.

Syria’s allies are Iran and Russia. These allies have enabled Syria to survive this long, and they all would be capitulating to the U.S. if they accepted the U.S. military invasion of Syria. For them to do that, would be for them to display, to the entire world, that the United States is their master. The U.S. Empire would, in effect, be official, no longer merely aspirational.

In the case of Russia, since it is the other nuclear super-power, this would be not just a surrender to the other nuclear super-power, but also Russia’s doing that without even waging a conventional-forces war against the U.S. Empire. That is extremely unlikely.

Consequently, Russia is probably now (on April 12th) coordinating with Iran, and with its allies, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, a conventional-forces war against the invaders.

If that conventional-forces war inflicts more damage to U.S.-and-allied forces than they inflict against Syria, that would, in military terms, constitute a “military defeat” for the U.S.

This would leave the U.S. only two options:

Either accept that Russia is another nuclear super-power (which the U.S. Deep State has refused to accept), and end the previously subterranian war to conquer it that was started by George Herbert Walker Bush on the night of 24 February 1990, or else blitz-attack Russia itself in order to eliminate enough of Russia’s retaliatory weapons so as to ‘win’ the nuclear war — i.e., inflict even more destruction upon Russia than Russia would still possess and control the surviving weaponry to inflict against America in response.

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Optical Missile Tracking Systems and Minimum Credible Deterrence

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There was a time in human history when nuclear technology was the “it” technology; no one could imagine anything beyond it. The destruction and wrath it brought was not only terrifying but mesmerizing. It was fascinating for ordinary people, leaders, scientists and states that the smallest particle of matter upon breaking can release energy which could burn down a whole city in seconds. Thus, invention of nuclear weapons changed the way of thinking of nations, states and leaders. Mastering the fission of radioactive atom to enable it to release energy is not a child’s play; states invest billions in currency to make nuclear weapons.

At the operational level, a nuclear weapon requires delivery systems. In this regard, strategic bombers, ships, submarines and missiles are commonly used delivery vehicles by the states. But, one of the most significant and reliable delivery systems is missiles, With missiles, states can launch nuclear pay load from their own territory or from any other place without risking its human resource, in case of sending bombers. Missile technology all around the world is growing by leaps and bounds. After nuclearization, both Indian and Pakistan pursued missile technologies including ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, ballistic missile defences, Multiple Independently re-entry targetable vehicles and inter-continental ballistic missiles as well. States invest in nuclear weapons because it helps them achieve deterrence which stops states from using nuclear option due to fear of unacceptable damages to one’s vital interests. However, to endorse credibility of nuclear weapons, states invest in military modernization.

The main objective behind nuclearization of Pakistan was to create deterrence against India but without indulging into arms race. Thus, policy of minimum credible deterrence was developed by Pakistan. Later on, after India’s attempt to exploit the levels beneath nuclear threshold, Pakistan resorted to the policy of full spectrum deterrence without going for arms race. So, to create credible but minimum deterrence at the start of year 2017, Pakistan tested multiple independently reentry targetable vehicle (MIRV), which can deliver multiple nuclear war heads in one go.

Development of MIRV by Pakistan is neither consequence of ambitious national objectives nor is it meant to initiate an arms race in the region. But, it is to make nuclear deterrence viable against India’s BMDs which can intercept incoming ballistic missiles through interceptors and destruct them in the air.

Pakistan, due to its economic restraints could not go for BMD in response to India; as it is an expensive technology that has yet to achieve 100% success rate. So, considering its options, MIRVs came out as the most rational choice. However, MIRVs are one of the most complex technologies in which missile can carry more than one warhead in a single launch and with the capability to hit multiple individual targets. They require technological sophistication in not only sending so many vehicles in one launch but also in yield and most importantly in accuracy. With enough yield and accuracy MIRVs provide states the capability to go for pre-emptive strikes. Thus, MIRV have the capability to overwhelm the BMD system and resultantly eliminate the false sense of security under which India could go for first strike.

To increase the accuracy of MIRV missiles, Pakistan bought highly sophisticated, large scale optical tracking and measurement system from China. According to national news agency, Pakistan has deployed this sophisticated technology in battlefield. Before Chinese system, Pakistan was utilizing indigenous systems. Nonetheless, it will help Pakistan record high-resolution images of a missile’s departure from its launcher, stage separation, tail flame and, after the missile re-enters atmosphere, the trajectory of the warheads it releases. These functions will be possible because the system bought by Pakistan comes with a pair of high-performance telescopes equipped with a laser ranger, high-speed camera, infrared detector and a centralised computer system that automatically captures and follows moving targets. However, what makes this system unique is its ability to detect missile up to range of several hundred kilometers through the help of its telescopes. The timing of these telescopes are precisely synchronized with the atomic clock. Thus, now Pakistan can track different warheads going in different directions simultaneously. Moreover, through visual imagery, the missile developers can improve the accuracy and design of missile in much better way.

So, with this technological uplift, Pakistan will soon add Ababeel (MIRV) into its operational missile inventory. But, these actions by Pakistan are not to give rise to arms race rather they are the reactions to the actions taken by India. BMDs by India never strengthened nuclear deterrence or stability rather they eliminated the deterrence by nulling the credibility of ballistic missiles. As a result, to maintain credibility of its deterrence though minimum means, Pakistan opted for MIRV, as missile tracking systems are essential in improving the accuracy and designs of missiles. If anything indicates arms race in the region, it is India’s ICBMs, naval nuclear fleets and space weaponization.

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