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THAAD Mad Bad, Part I: US-China Rivalry in the South China Sea

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]he Terminal High Altitude Area Defense is a US Army anti-ballistic missile system designed to shoot down short, medium, and long-range ballistic missiles in their terminal phase, utilizing a hit-to-kill approach. THAAD missiles carry no warheads whatsoever, rather relying on the kinetic energy of impact to destroy any incoming missile.

A kinetic energy hit in theory will minimize the risk of exploding conventional warhead ballistic missiles. Nuclear tipped ballistic missiles won’t explode upon a kinetic energy hit, thus adding an extra security element to the system for strategic destruction. There is the possibility that chemical or biological warheads may disintegrate or explode and thus pose a risk of contaminating the environment. If there is any doubt about the importance of the THAAD system to the overall American military-industrial complex one only need read the participant construction list involved in the development and deployment of the system: Lockheed Martin Space Systems is the prime contractor but Honeywell, Raytheon, Boeing, Aerojet, Rocketdyne, and BAE Systems are also involved. This is basically a Who’s Who list of primary players within the American defense industry.

A THAAD battery is comprised of nine launcher vehicles, each one containing eight missiles. It also comes with two mobile tactical operations centers and a ground-based radar system. Although explicit tactical numbers remain classified, most estimates give THAAD missiles a 200km range and an ultimate altitude capability of 150km. The very first THAAD unit was activated at Fort Bliss in Texas in May 2008. Thus, THAAD is by no means an old traditional system but represents the current cutting edge in missile defense. Its subsequent deployments since 2008 not only give testimony to this but also reveal part of the strategic problem for China that has driven a huge part of its objectives in the South China Sea.

In July 2009 a THAAD system was deployed on Hawaii as a safeguard against a potential North Korean incursion or threat to the islands. Interestingly, most of the main powers around the South China Sea never really considered this logic to be all that sound: given the range of THAAD missiles it meant a North Korean threat toward and American defense of Hawaii would have to take place relatively close to the archipelago. Most did not think such a threat emerging from North Korea was realistic. China certainly found the argumentation to be dubious. The next THAAD deployments only solidified that skepticism.

In April 2013 a new THAAD system was deployed to the island of Guam. Once again the strategic rationale given was to now protect Guam from a potential imminent attack from North Korea. In November 2015, the Japanese Defense Minister, General Nakatani, publicly said he would consider allowing the US to deploy a THAAD system on the Japanese mainland in order to, once more, answer a potential North Korean ballistic missile threat to Japan. Finally, in July 2016, the US and South Korea finally agreed on an alliance decision to deploy a THAAD system to the peninsula. The Department of Defense emphasized that this initiative was to ensure the security of South Korea and its people, while protecting the military alliance from North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile systems. Brian McKeon, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy at the Pentagon answered rather creatively when asked by media if China should be concerned about the progression of THAAD deployments closer and closer to the Chinese mainland: “They are not happy about it, [but] it’s not about China. It’s not a threat to China and we have made that plain to them and offered to explain it to them.”

The problem, of course, is that this quote first of all contradicts itself. Has the United States made it plain to China that the various THAAD deployments are not a threat to Chinese interests or has it offered to explain to China why this is so? The first version intimates already transpired attempts while the second version simply indicates a willingness to offer an explanation if China wants it. What seems to be the more accurate version, however, is just the public declaration that the United States feels THAAD deployments should not matter to China because they have been officially defined as defensive measures against North Korea. Formal declarations, however, seem to have little calming effect on Chinese strategic perspective.

Accurate or not, proven or not, there can hardly be any doubt that China views the gradual march westward of THAAD deployments as an initiative using North Korea as a cover to mask what is ultimately an anti-Chinese deterrence strategy. Indeed, some of the comments made in 2015 before the final agreement between South Korea and the United States shows just how seriously China takes the symbolic damage THAAD may represent:

Whenever a state places defensive weapons and systems at forward bases to protect forward forces from a specific adversary, this can easily give rise to political misunderstandings by neighboring states, resulting in unintended military escalation. For China, the deployment of THAAD to South Korea is just such an apparent provocation.

The deployment would imply that South Korea is part of the Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) led by the U.S. Missile Defense Agency. South Korea is also developing an indigenous missile defense system against North Korean threats, the Korea Air Missile Defense (KAMD) system, which is less likely to antagonize China than THAAD, since it will not be integrated into the wider BMD system designed to counter Iran in Europe and China in the Asia-Pacific.

Moreover, operating THAAD in South Korea represents an explicit threat to China’s asymmetric Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) strategy, which aims to exclude forwarded U.S. forces from the so-called first island chain. So China could interpret THAAD deployment by South Korea as a major military posture by the U.S. intended to neutralize China’s A2/AD strategy[1].

This is what remains intensely intriguing over the THAAD/South China Sea issue. It comes across as a strategic-diplomatic chicken-and-egg controversy: the United States feels its positions with THAAD are forced to the forefront because of Chinese initiatives in the South China Sea; China, on the other hand, feels the THAAD deployments have made South China Sea initiatives de facto necessary and logical. Regardless of where anyone falls within the debate, it is clear that there are competing narratives facing off against one another within the South China Sea. Mainstream media covers it almost exclusively from a global rivalry perspective, pitting the United States against China. This narrative most certainly exists. But it is not the only one and not necessarily the most pertinent for determining how the region evolves in the coming years.

[1] Sukjoon Yoon, “Are China’s THAAD Fears Justified?” The Diplomat, 20 Feb 2015, http://thediplomat.com/2015/02/are-chinas-thaad-fears-justified/, accessed on 13 Sep 2016.

Dr. Matthew Crosston is Executive Vice Chairman of ModernDiplomacy.eu and chief analytical strategist of I3, a strategic intelligence consulting company. All inquiries regarding speaking engagements and consulting needs can be referred to his website: https://profmatthewcrosston.academia.edu/

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War to End or War to Follow?

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“It’s going to be hard to meet the May 1st deadline”. These were the recent words of US president Joe Biden in his address to the impending US withdrawal of Afghanistan. Whilst his opinion paints a ghastly picture for the forthcoming months, the negotiations run rampant to strike the common ground. However, with continued attacks being launched by the Taliban followed by incessant threats to the US regime to withdraw its troops by the agreed deadline, a hard stance seems legitimate both from the US front and the NATO: both facing a quandary that could either end the decades’ long warfare or fuel insurgency for decades to come.

The US invaded Afghanistan in the aftermath of the September 11th Attacks in 2001. Although the subsequent invasion of Iraq in 2003 followed a similar suit, the stint lasted only 26 days in a massive scale drive to disarm Iraq of the weapons of mass destruction; allegedly in tandem with the looming threat posed to the United States by the World Trade Centre debacle. However, the invasion of Afghanistan proved to be one of the costliest wars; both in terms of artillery and military men.

Cited as one of the rarest areas of agreement between President Biden and his predecessor, Mr. Donald Trump, both favoured the ‘Bring an end to the endless war’ slogan. Before leaving the office, Mr. Trump signed a waiver to ordain the Pentagon to level down the US troops in Afghanistan to 2500 troops, bypassing the reservations of the congress to retain the level at 4000 troops. President Biden, despite being prudent of the hasty withdrawal, rejoiced the idea to bring the soldiers back. In line with his narrative, the US recently proclaimed to withdraw the remaining combat forces from Iraq whilst retaining only the training forces in the country. The 3rd round of talks between Washington and Iraq culminated with the joint statement: “Based on the increasing capacity of the ISF [Iraq Security Forces], the parties confirmed that the mission of U.S. and Coalition forces has now transitioned to one focused on training and advisory tasks, thereby allowing for the redeployment of any remaining combat forces from Iraq, with the timing to be established in upcoming technical talks”.

It is evident that the US wants to enact the plan to bring back the troops, however, Afghanistan poses a paradox in comparison to Iraq. While alleged Iran-backed militants continue to lock horns with both the ISF and the US troops, the US has consolidated a stronger hold evidenced by the recent rebuttal via airstrikes against the Iran-backed militants in Syria. The US holds the premise that Iran seeks economic relief and thereby has no incentive to disrupt the peace but to maintain it. Similarly, the US wants to make a compromise with Iran via renegotiating the JCPOA accord, with a possibility of stretching the ambit to include Iran’s Ballistic Missile Program and the regional proxy wars purportedly financed by Iran, before a hard-line administration takes over the Iranian parliament later this year. So, with a fledgling Iraqi military and expanding prospects of negotiation with Iran, the US could safely pull out the troops whilst still maintaining pressure and presence in the guise of militaristic training in Iraq.

Afghanistan paints a graver reality in contrast. Despite rounds and rounds of negotiations over months, the continued violations of the agreement by the Taliban are making it riskier to draw out the troops. While the US wants to maintain its presence in the country, the wavering Ghani-administration adds oil to fire. A war that has claimed more than 2500 US soldiers and millions of civilians could face an impasse as the 3-week timeslot narrows over the decision-makers. Gen. Frank McKenzie, head of U.S. Central Command, has repeatedly claimed that the Taliban have not fully lived up to the commitments they made in the February 2020 agreement: “Violence levels are too high for a durable political settlement to be made”.

The Biden administration, CIA, and NATO face a dilemma to decide the mechanism of withdrawal before the clock ticks through. As the terror groups propagate in the neighbouring Middle East, an unplanned withdrawal could drive the entire region into jeopardy. This might be the primal concern of president Biden and the Pentagon. The flailing ISIS could find haven in the political fiasco the unravels after the US completely withdraws from the country, leaving the Afghani government at the whims of the insurgents. However, expecting a complete withdrawal is just naivety. The US is known to covertly operate hundreds of secret bases in cahoots with NATO throughout the infringed nations. While it’s supposedly claimed that the Taliban are privy to the location of the bases in Afghanistan, nothing definitive could be added in edgewise to the argument.

An alternative, and quite a plausible notion at present, could be an outright refusal to withdraw the troops before the Taliban strictly adhere to their side of the deal. The resulting warfare would subsume the past 2 decades of mayhem. The deal would most likely completely crumble and perish. The evidence is scattered over the last three months. In March, the attack on the Afghan security checkpoint in the northern Afghan province of Kunduz left 6 soldiers dead. An attack a few days ago in the province of Herat left 9 Afghan police personnel dead when the Taliban militants targeted two police checkpoints. The recent blow came when the Taliban attacked the NATO airbase in Kandahar: a base frequented by 100s of US troops. The brazen attitude and timing of the attacks could not send a clearer message of warning to follow the deadline.

President Biden faces a choice now. While the cards are clustered and the consequences are muddled, the foremost decision hangs: How to go about the negotiations? Whilst made abundantly clear that the troops might not withdraw completely from Afghanistan, he confidently patched his perspective by adding:“Can’t picture the US troops still being in Afghanistan next year”. So, while the agreement stands to make a safe withdrawal, the deadline of May 1st poses a challenge if the exceeding violence alludes to any clue. With mounting pressure from the republicans and a synonymous example of withdrawal in Iraq, President Biden should ideally emphasize on withdrawal of the troops, even if not entirely. This would allow the Biden administration to elongate the negotiations to quench violence instead of retreating without question. However, execution is the key. Deviating from the agreement forged by Mr. Donald Trump or taking an aggressive stance could easily incite the chaos further: making the Afghan war translate into Biden’s war for decades to follow.

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Dual Use Technology Imports Aiding Pakistan’s Covert Nuclear Programme

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A recent threat assessment report by the Norwegian security agencies reportedly highlighted the unhindered exploitation of dual use technology by Pakistan. Norwegian authorities have determined Pakistan to be among the countries posing greatest threat to them. With this report, Norway became the latest country to raise alarm about the ‘Pak’ practice of bypassing all international safeguards in gaining latest nuclear technology on the pretext of using it for education and health.

However, Norway is not the only country to realise the immense risk stemming from transferring critical technologies to Pakistan. Its assessment follows several other countries’ public acknowledgement of the nuclear threat posedby Pakistan. Czech Republic in its report titled “Annual Report of the Security Information Service for 2019” also drew global attention towards Pakistan misleading the world in procuring internationally controlled items and technologies to aid its nuclear programme.

The evidence of Pakistan’s covert nuclear programmes go well beyond these reports. In 2019,the US Department of Justice indicted five persons associated with a Pakistan based front company for operating a network that exported US origin goods to Pakistan. The indictment identified 38 separate exports involving 29 different companies from around the country between September 2014 and October 2019. The network used to conceal the true destinations of the goods in Pakistan by showing front companies as the supposed purchasers and end users. However, US Justice Department statement disclosed that the goods were ultimately exported to Pakistan’s Advanced Engineering Research Organization (AERO) and the Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission without export licenses. Both AERO and PAEC are on the US Commerce Department’s Entity List, which imposes export license requirements for organizations whose activities are found to be contrary to US national security or foreign policy interests.

Similarly, German authorities disclosed in 2020 that Pakistan had sought technology for weapons of mass destruction (WMD) “in order to retain a serious deterrent potential against ‘arch enemy’ India”. The agency provided a detailed account of Pakistan’s efforts to steal information and material about nuclear weapons.

However, to fulfill its destructive agenda, Pakistan does not shy away from using the name of its poor public and students. Its government has repeatedly claimed that it seeks the dual use technologies for social and economic upliftment of the country by utilizing the technology in its health and education sectors.

But, these baseless arguments no longer seem to cut the ice with western countries. Meanwhile, on their part, Pak officials have complained against the latest Norwegian report on grounds that other countries may deny access to technology to Pak students for their advanced studies and Pakistani researchers would be refused admission to International institutes and universities. However, the Norwegian authorities have maintained their stance as based on independent assessment of the issue, including confidential inputs.

Several instances of Pakistan having gained access to dual technology in the garb of peaceful purposes have come to light in the recent years. And the risk continues considering Pakistan’s terror background and its history of stealing technologies from different parts of the world. It is the unsavory reputation of Pakistan as a troublemaker that has gone global and the country is viewed with suspicion even when humanitarian considerations come to fore.

Given the poor governance standards and history of failure of civil institutions in Pakistan, these observations provide a justification for apprehensions of the western countries. It remains to be seen whether these disclosures lead to sanctions or new export controls against Pakistan or the country again succeeds in misleading the world by playing victim’s card.

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Kickbacks in India’s defence purchases

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Prime minister Narendra Modi of India boasts his government of being corruption- free. But, his claim has become questionable in the light of recent audit of Rafale purchase in France.

India had ordered 36 of these fighter aircraft from France in September 2016. The 7.8 billion government-to-government deal for 36 fighter jets was signed in 2016. The Indian Air Force has already raised its first squadron of the Rafale jets at Ambala and is due to raise the second one at Hasimara in West Bengal.

India expects to receive more than 50 percent of these fighters by April-end. The first batch of five Rafale jets had arrived in India on July 28 and was officially inducted on September 10 by the government.

In a startling disclosure, the French Anti-Corruption Agency, Agence Française Anticorruption

has announced that their inspectors have discovered an unexplained irregularity during their scheduled audit of Dassault. According to details, “the manufacturer of French combat jet Rafale agreed to pay one million euro to a middleman in India just after the signing of the Indo-French contract in 2016, an investigation by the French publication Mediapart has revealed. An amount of 508,925 euro was allegedly paid under “gifts to clients” head in the 2017 accounts of the Dassault group  ( Dassault paid 1 million euro as ‘gift’ to Indian middleman in Rafale deal: French report India Today Apr 5, 2021). Dassault tried to justify “the larger than usual gift” with a proforma invoice from an Indian company called Defsys Solutions. The invoice suggested that Defsys was paid 50 per cent of an order worth 1,017,850 for manufacturing of 50 dummy models of the Rafale jets. Each dummy, according to the AFA report, was quoted at a hefty price of 20,357. The Dassault group failed to provide any documentary evidence to audit about the existence of those models. Also, it could also not explain why the expenditure was listed as a “gift to clients” in their accounts.

Shady background of Defsys

Defsys is one of the subcontractors of Dassault in India. It has been linked with notorious businessman Sushen Gupta. Sushen Gupta. He was arrested and later granted bail for his role in another major defence scam in India, the AgustaWestland VVIP Chopper case.

The Enforcement Directorate charged Sushen Gupta for allegedly devising a money-laundering scheme for the payouts during the purchase of the helicopters.

Rampant corruption in India

Corruption in defence deals is a norm rather than an exception in India. They did not spare even aluminum caskets used to bring back dead bodies from the Kargil heights (“coffin scam”). Investigations into shady deals linger on until the main characters or middleman is dead. Bofors is a case in point.

Why investigation of defence deals since independence recommended

India’s Tehelka Commission of Inquiry headed by Mr. Justice S N Phukan had suggested that a sitting Supreme Court Judge should examine all defence files since independence.

Concerned about rampant corruption in defence purchases allegedly involving Army personnel, he desired that the proposed Supreme Court Judge should by assisted by the Central Vigilance Commission and the Central bureau of Investigation.

He stressed that unless the existing system of defence procurement was made more transparent through corrective measures, defence deals would continue to be murky. He had submitted his report to then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, but to no avail. The Commission had examined 15 defence deals including the AJT, Sukhoi, Barak missiles, T-90 tanks, tank navigation systems, simulators, hand-held thermal. imagers, Karl Gustav rocket and Kandla-Panipat pipeline. The irregularities in the scrutinised defence deals compelled the Commission to suggest de novo scrutiny of all defence purchases since independence.

Tardy trial

The courts have absolved Rajiv Gandhi of involvement in the BOFORS scam. However, a considerable section of Indian people still believes that ‘Mr. Clean’ was not really so clean. The BJP exploited Rajiv’s acquittal as an election issue. Kuldip Nayyar, in his article “The gun that misfired” (Dawn February 14, 2004) laments, “There was practically no discussion on Bofors-guns kickbacks in the 13th Lok Sabha which has been dissolved for early elections. Once Rajiv Gandhi died the main target – the non-Congress parties lost interest in the scam”.

According to analysts, the mechanisms of public accountability in India have collapsed. Corruption has become a serious socio-political malady as politicians, bureaucracy and Armed Forces act in tandem to receive kickbacks. The anti-corruption cases, filed in courts, drag on for years without any results. To quote a few case: (a) There was no conviction in Bofors-gun case (Rs 64 crore), because of lethargic investigation (the case was filed on January 22, 1990 and charge sheet served on October 22, 1999. Among the accused were Rajiv Gandhi, S K Bhatnagar, W N Chaddha, Octavio, and Ardbo. The key players in the scam died before the court’s decision). (b) No recoveries could be made in the HDW submarine case (Rs 32.5 crore). The CBI later recommended closure of this case. (c) Corruption in recruitment of Armed Forces.

Legal cover for middlemen

Central Vigilance Commissioner P Shankar had alleged (October 2003): “The CVC had submitted its defence deals report on March 31, 2001. Yet a year later, the government has not conducted the mandatory departmental inquiry to fix responsibility”. Shankar explained that the CVC had examined 75 cases apart from specific allegations made by former MP Jayant Malhoutra and Rear Admiral Suhas V Purohit Vittal. Malhoutra’s allegations were about middlemen in defence deals. After his report, the ministry lifted the ban on agents in November 2001 to regularise the middlemen. Purohit, in his petition in the Delhi HC on a promotion case, had alleged unnecessary spare parts were bought from a cartel of suppliers instead of manufacturers, at outrageous prices and at times worth more than the original equipment.

Past cases forgotten to continue business as usual

There were ear-rending shrieks about the Taj-heritage corridor case, Purulia-arms-drop case and stamp-paper cases. Indian Express dated November 11, 2003 reported that the stamp-paper co-accused assistant Sub-Inspector of Police drew a salary of Rs 9,000, but his assets valued over Rs 100 crore. He built six plush hotels during his association for 6 years with the main accused Abdul Karim Telgi. The ASI was arrested on June 13 and charged under the Maharashtra Control of Organised Crime Act. Investigations by the Special Investigating Team (SIT) probing the stamp scam had found that the ASI Kamath accepted Rs 72 lakh from the scam kingpin, Abdul Karim Telgi, on behalf of IGP Sridhar Vagal.

The problem is that the modus operandi of corruption ensures that it is invisible and unaccounted for. There are widespread complaints that the politicians exercise underhand influence on bureaucracy to mint money. For instance, the Chief Vigilance Commissioner complained to Indian Prime Minister (November 8, 2003) that at least “six cabinet ministers, handling key infrastructure ministries, are harassing chiefs of public sector undertakings for ‘personal favours’, and in some cases even for pay-offs”.

For example, one PSU (Public Sector Udertaking) chief is said to have complained that he was asked to get Rs 20 crore delivered to his minister’s party office and when he refused, he was “denied” an extension. Indian Express dated February 19, 2004 reported, under reportage titled “Figuring India” that ‘Rajiv Pratap Rudy is only one in a long line of ministers who have misused the funds and facilities of Public Sector Undertakings”. The newspaper appended the following bird’s-eye view of the funds (available for corruption) at the PSUs command: Rs 3, 24,632 crore total investment in PSUs, Rs 36,432 crore profits, 12,714 crore profits of monopolies in petroleum, Rs 5,613 CRORE profits of monopolies in power Rs 7,612 crore, profits of monopolies in telecom Rs 10,388 crore, Rs 61,000 crore invested in PSUs in 1991-1998, Rs 19,000 crore returns during 1991-1998.”

Corruption as proportion of gross Domestic Product

Professor Bibek Debroy and Laveesh Bhandari claim in their book Corruption in India: The DNA and RNA that public officials in India may be cornering as much as ₹921 billion (US$13 billion), or 5 percent of the GDP through corruption.

India 86th most corrupt (Transparency International corruption ranking Jan 29, 2021)

India’s ranking on the Corruption Perception Index– 2020 is 86. The index released annually by Transparency International ranks 180 countries by their perceived levels of public sector corruption according to experts and business people. It uses a scale of zero to 100, where zero signifies the highest level of corruption and 100 is very clean.

All-round corruption

In India, anti-corruption focuses on big ticket graft. But it is petty corruption that hurts common people more. Both need to be weeded out. A former World Bank president Robert Zoellick once said, “Corruption is a cancer that steals from the poor, eats away at governance and moral fibre, and destroys trust.”

According to Transparency International, CPI-2020 shows that corruption is more pervasive in countries least equipped to handle Covid-19 and other crises. “Covid-19 is not just a health and economic crisis. It is a corruption crisis. And one that we are currently failing to manage,” Delia Ferreira Rubio, chair of Transparency International said. “The past year has tested governments like no other in memory, and those with higher levels of corruption have been less able to meet the challenge. But even those at the top of the CPI must urgently address their role in perpetuating corruption,” she added.

Concluding remarks

Click Wikipedia to know that Narendra Modi’s “Net worth” is “₹ 2.85 Crore” (June 2020). This figure defies his humble financial background. He has a penchant for hobnobbing with “crony capitalism”. It appears he is worth a lot more.  Those who make illicit money have a knack to hide it.

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