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THAAD MAD BAD, Pt III: The True Nature of South China Sea Triangulation

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] I [/yt_dropcap] t is easy to miss the nuanced maneuverings of the other states surrounding the South China Sea because of the giant political and diplomatic rumblings the two Great Powers of China and the United States create.

But those initiatives, while smaller and less explosive to mass media, are very important in understanding how the two Great Powers compete for attention, respect, and primacy in the region. A Reuters piece from April 2016 illustrates this effectively:

In telling the Group of Seven (G7) yesterday to butt out of its controversial maritime claims in East Asia, China has doubled down on an historic strategic blunder. Beijing’s belligerence in the South China Sea is especially imprudent. By refusing to compromise on its outrageous sovereignty claims, the government of Xi Jinping discredits its “peaceful rise” rhetoric and complicates efforts by member states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to “triangulate” between China and the United States. Continued Chinese muscle-flexing will only undermine support for president Xi Jinping’s signature One Belt, One Road (OBOR) initiative and push regional fence-sitters into the U.S. embrace. The most promising outcome for all concerned would be a face-saving climb-down by China.

While most western media reported this as a fairly benign constructive critique of Chinese transgressions, it is important to note how many subtle digs are embedded within the critique that can be taken as a direct threat to Chinese power. Bringing up the possibility of undermining the One Belt, One Road initiative is overtly hostile, given how much time, investment, and diplomatic cache China has put into the endeavor. More importantly, until that moment events in the South China Sea and development of OBOR were never conflated together. The former was traditionally seen as military/political power-flexing, while the latter has been rather expansively characterized in terms of mutually beneficial economic development. Trying to connect the two into some sort of quid pro quo for acquiescence is likely to only incite Chinese ire rather than capitulation. This is also how the term ‘face-saving climb-down’ would be inevitably interpreted in Beijing – as acquiescence and capitulation, not as the ‘most promising outcome for all.’

Most intriguing of all was the rather tame admission that China’s maneuvers are making it more complicated for ASEAN member states to ‘triangulate’ between the United States and the People’s Republic. It is easy to glance over that phrase as insignificant but it is not: in real terms ‘triangulation’ is not so much about seeking mutually-beneficial compromise or finding resolutions to problems that let all prosper and save face. Triangulation is strategic Machiavellianism: it is the effort to play the interests of the United States off of the interests of China, trying to leverage each so as to make individual gains for the strategizing smaller country. Triangulation takes place at every level of global interaction, all the way down to the smallest local level. This is no surprise. But journalism like the piece above is somewhat disingenuous: triangulating between China and the United States is not a benign activity that carries no loss and no sacrifice. Triangulation always involves such things. And China knows this. Writing pieces that try to overlook this reality simply avoids the diplomatic space China both operates in and is not willing to be outcompeted for.

Triangulation is also not uni-directional: going only from the lesser South China Sea littorals to China or the United States. Both of the Great Powers try quite diligently to angle on the triangulation: not only trying to maximize their bilateral relations with individual ASEAN members, but also outflanking and outwitting each other. A clear example of this just happened in the fall of 2016 when Philippine President Duterte made an official visit to Beijing and shockingly declared that he was basically done with the United States and was doing his own pivot to China. The fallout from this announcement is likely to be felt for years. The Philippines, after all, was arguably one of the most vociferous opponents of China in terms of South China Sea maneuvers and most aligned with US perspectives. Even now many analysts in America are unwilling to believe Duterte was not somehow coerced to make this declaration. But this is American hubris failing to note important aspects of the South China Sea dynamic: narratives change and change often.

For example, non-Western media sources have been documenting several personal-political reasons that might have motivated Duterte before making his China visit:

  • He is convinced the United States engages important issues like human rights only in the areas that directly benefit its strategic objectives, rather than as a universal dispassionate position. There are historical examples within Philippine history itself that make Duterte convinced of this with great passion.
  • He feels strongly about a long-standing American tendency to take the Philippines for granted as ‘brown little brothers’ (a reference all the way back to President Taft), rather than as a legitimate ally deserving equal respect.
  • As Mayor of Davao City there were at least two incidents that left a diplomatic distaste in his mouth: first involved a supposed illegal extradition of an American citizen out of the Philippines by the CIA (though the Agency denies this) and second revolved around alleged mistreatment in an American airport as he transited through the United States to another country. Both instances represent to Duterte that the US does as it pleases and is ‘uneven’ in how it respects supposed allies.

This is why the positions of the competing sides in the South China Sea are not nearly as clear as the United States tries to portray it. It is not a single ‘good’ American narrative valiantly trying to push back an opposing ‘bad’ Chinese narrative. The competing narratives interact, engage, and evolve according to varying targets and objectives, sometimes on an almost daily basis. Most of the discussion of these narratives simply tackles actual military, political, and diplomatic maneuvers. Talk of island-building and weapons-systems carry the day, every day, with little attention paid to strategic theory. But strategic thinking, the disposition of philosophy, is something deeply important to China as it formulates and prioritizes its South China Sea policy. This is an area that America ironically downplays in the media while emphasizing within corridors of power. A simple analysis of strategic discussions that took place in the United States about the area, not even classified but actually public discussions accessible to all, quickly reveal why the Chinese narrative might have became obsessed with ‘defensive positioning’ within the South China Sea. That strategic analysis is the focus for part IV.

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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Defense

India’s Sprouting Counterforce Posture

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In recent years, the technological advancements by India in the domain of counterforce military capabilities have increased the vulnerability of the South Asian region. While trying to disturb the strategic stability in South Asia, India through its adventuresome counterforce posture against Pakistan is on the verge of becoming a rogue state. Notwithstanding the repercussions, India is voyaging towards destabilization in the South Asian Region.

India’s enhanced strategic nuclear capabilities which includes-the development of Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicles (MIRVs), Ballistic Missile Defence System (BMD), Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), supersonic and hypersonic cruise missiles, and acquisition of nuclear-capable submarines- indicate that India is moving away from its declared policy of ‘No First Use’ (NFU) towards a more aggressive, counterforce posture against Pakistan. The BMD and MIRV technology along with the provision of an advanced navigation system under BECA would embolden India to go for the first strike against Pakistan. While having reliance on BMD, as to be sheltered in return. These technological advancements made by India are sprouting a new era of counterforce posture, which would further make the South Asian region volatile and vulnerable to conflicts.

India’s urge to acquire counterforce capability is strongly associated with its doctrinal shift. As the stated posture requires flexibility in the use of nuclear weapons, which fortifies the first strike capability, and thus a deviation in India’s declared policy of ‘No First Use’ (NFU) has become more significant, particularly concerning its impact on regional stability. India’s declared policy of NFU, set out in Draft Nuclear Doctrine in 1999, followed by its first amendment in January 2003 has since then been into hot debates. Pakistan has long doubted the Indian policy of NFU, as the actions and statements by the officials of the latter have always been aggressive and protruding towards the former. India, now, is drifting away from its policy of NFU with the acquisition of counterforce capabilities, particularly against Pakistan. This is further evident from the statement issued by India’s Defense Minister Mr. Rajnath Singh, back in August 2019. It stated “Till today, our nuclear policy is ‘no-first-use’ (NFU). What happens in the future depends on the circumstances.” A change at the doctrinal level is evident in the Indian strategic enclave. Notwithstanding the challenges and repercussions caused by the counterforce strategy and with an attempt to destabilize the nuclear deterrence in the region, India would go unjustifiably low to attain such measures.  

In the same vein, India has been enhancing its nuclear capabilities for strategic flexibility against its regional rivals. By the same token, it wants to attain nuclear dominance, which would ultimately result in chaos in the region. The counterforce capability by India would compel its adversaries to heed towards the preemptive strike, in case of a crisis, out of the fear of the use of Nuclear weapons first by the patent enemy.  Moreover, the counterforce capability pushes the enemy to put the nuclear weapons on hair-trigger mode, which is directly linked with the crisis escalation.  The acquisition of counterforce capability by India would likely provoke a new arms race in the region. This would further destabilize the already volatile South Asian region. The far-reaching destabilization which India is trying to create, just to have an edge on the nuclear adversary, would be back on India’s face, faster than she knew it.

On the contrary, Pakistan has been maintaining a posture of Credible Minimum Deterrence (CMD) and does not claim to have a No-First Use (NFU) policy. Moreover, Pakistan’s nuclear capability is defensive in principle and a tool for deterrence. Given the Indian evolved notions of counterforce preemption, even now Pakistan would be left with no choice but to leave room for carrying out a ‘first strike’ as a feasible deterrent against India. Nevertheless, with the advent of technological innovations, its countermeasure arrives soon, too. Presently, there are two aspects that Pakistan should take into consideration; the growing Indo-US nexus and India’s concealed innovations in the nuclear posture. Though India is far from achieving counterforce strikes against Pakistan’s nuclear targets, concrete steps are required for maintaining future deterrence stability. With that intention, Pakistan might need to look towards its allies for getting hands-on the modern capabilities which includes- advanced communication and navigation systems, sensors, and advancements in artificial intelligence and otherwise, is essential for strengthening its deterrent capability. Pakistan should heed towards the development of absolute second-strike capability; as, what is survivable today, could be vulnerable tomorrow. Therefore, advancements in technology should be made for preserving nuclear deterrence in the future as well.

Summarizing it all, the existence of Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence has created a stable environment in the region, by deterring full-scale wars on multiple occasions that might have resulted in a nuclear exchange. With the revolution in nuclear technology, the threat of nuclear war has emerged again. Instead of going towards the attainment of peace and stability in the region, India has been enhancing its counterforce capabilities. This would likely remain a significant threat to the deterrence stability in the region. Moreover, any kind of failure to maintain nuclear deterrence in South Asia could result in an all-out war, without any escalation control. India, in its lust for power and hegemonic designs, has been destabilizing the region. Both the nuclear states in South Asia need to engage in arms restraint and escalation control measures. This seems to be a concrete and more plausible way out; else the new era of destabilization could be more disastrous.  

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A pig in a poke of Lithuanian Armed Forces

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The proverb “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link” perfectly reflects the situation in the Lithuanian armed forces. It is it unclear how the army will carry out its tasks, if everything that happens there runs counter to common sense.

The conscription took place in Lithuania. The recruits once again were revealed by an electronic lottery on January 7, 2021. 3,828 recruits were selected from the list of 38 thousand conscripts aged 18 to 23.

The idea of using electronic lottery in such a serious procedure arises a lot of questions among Lithuanians. Young people are suspicious of this method and fully admit the possibility of corruption. Nobody could check the results and so nobody could be blamed for random selection. The more so, the armed forces could get weaker recruits than in case of using usual ways of choosing among candidates. So, the army buys a pig in a poke.

This approach to recruitment in Lithuania results in presence of those with criminal intents and inclinations. Сases of crimes committed by Lithuanian military personnel have increased. Incidents with the involvement of military regularly occurred in Lithuania in 2020.

Thus, a soldier of the Lithuanian army was detained in Jurbarkas in October. He was driving under the influence of alcohol. A Lithuanian soldier suspected of drunk driving was detained also in Siauliai in December. Panevėžys County Chief Police Commissariat was looking for a soldier who deserted from the Lithuanian Armed Forces and so forth.

Such behaviour poses serious risks to public safety and leads to loss of confidence in the Lithuanian army in society.

Lithuanian military officials have chosen a new way to discourage young people from serving in the army, which is already not popular.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” The ministry of defence decided to run a photo contest that would reflect service in the country’s armed forces. It is doubtful that such pictures will attract to the army, but the real situation is provided.

Usually, popularization is the act of making something attractive to the general public. This contest served the opposite goal. Look at the pictures and make conclusions.

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Defense

Fatah-1: A New Security and Technological Development About Pakistan’s Indigenous GMLRS

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Islamabad: It seems like 2021 has been a good start for Pakistan specifically with regard to stepping up its missile testing. On the 7th of January, the Pakistan military has successfully conducted a purely indigenously developed missile test flight known to be Fatah-1. As stated by various reports, Fatah-1 is an extended-range Guided Multi-Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) which itself is a developed variant of the guided MLRS family.

According to the recent statement given by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) about the newly developed rocket, it was stated: “The weapon system will give Pakistan Army capability of a precision target deep in the enemy territory.” Director-General of Pakistan Army, Media Wing, major general Babar Iftikhar on 7th January tweeted: “Pakistan today conducted a successful; test flight of indigenously developed Fatah-1, Guided Multi Launch Rocket System, capable of delivering a conventional Warhead up to a range of 140 km.”

Defense analyst Mr. Syed Muhammad Ali also stated in his capacity: “the new system was very fast, accurate, survivable, and difficult to intercept”. A video was also shared by ISPR on their official website, in which the missile launch can be seen while being fired from the launcher however, the details on when and where the test flight has taken place, along with the specification of the rocket system are yet to be announced.

Currently, Pakistan Army owns a wide range of Short-Range Ballistic Missiles (SRBM), Medium-Range Ballistic Missiles (MRBM), Battlefield Ballistic Missiles (BBM), Rocket Artillery, and Surface to Surface Cruise Missile (SSCM). In the previous year, Pakistan had also maintained prime success in conducting the Ra’ad-II cruise missile and Ghaznavi surface-to-surface ballistic missile (SSBM). Besides, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) on 30thDecember made apt progress when it comes to the national air defense arsenal as it was announced that PAF is beginning the production of the State-of-the-art JF-17 Thunder Block 3 fighter jets, at the same time acquiring the 14 dual-seat Jf-17 aircraft.

According to various reports, the JF-17 Thunder Block 3 will be said to have a new radar operational capability which will be far better in the practical domain as compared to the Raphael aircraft acquired by India. Whereas, the exchange of 14 dual-seat aircraft, manufactured with Pak-China cooperation were also given to the PAF which will be used for extensive training.

The recent successful testing of Fatah-1 has been considered to be another milestone for Pakistan as it tends to be a fitting response to the recent developments in the conventional capabilities carried out by India and also to India’s Cold Start Doctrine.

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