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THAAD MAD BAD, Pt. IV: Great Power Geostrategic Play in the South China Sea

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap] here is a fascinating interplay that goes on today on the global level when it comes to foreign affairs. On the whole, the United States often feels that it can present information across enough disparate venues that potential adversaries will not be able to strategically connect the dots in a manner that they might find threatening.

Many times this has often proved true. But in the case of the South China Sea it has horribly backfired against American objectives. Two primary examples illustrate this point. First, War on the Rocks contributor Robert Haddick analyzed an intriguing piece written earlier in the year by David Barno and Nora Bensahel, who argued that U.S. policymakers and military planners should think about how to prepare for the next big war. Their stimulating essay identified six gaps — munitions, weapons platforms, manpower, planning, technology, and stamina — that a big war against a peer competitor could reveal. These important articles combined together were ultimately a de facto call for the United States to improve its planning for mobilization and on a surface level would seem fairly benign to almost all readers, ie, there is no specific ‘big target’ named in either article or intimation against whom the next big war and American mobilization should be aimed. At least, there isn’t until a completely separate piece of information is connected to it.

On March 18, 2016, Deputy Secretary for Defense for South and Southeast Asia, Amy Searight, told reporters that the Department of Defense had already submitted notification to Congress about a new maritime capacity-building initiative for Southeast Asian states near the South China Sea. While the DoD has been relatively secretive about the exact details, some information has leaked out about the point and purpose of the initiative:

Speaking generally due to the sensitivity of the issue, [a DoD source] said that more advanced intelligence, surveillance and radar (ISR) capabilities might enhance ‘sensing’ of allies and partners in the South China Sea; technical “supporting infrastructure” would facilitate ‘sharing’ maritime information across the region to build a common operating picture; and expanded exercises, training and other engagements would lead to more ‘contributing’ from allies and partners. MSI is more about equipment, supplies, training and small-scale construction that fit within this broad approach, rather than hardware.“What you hear is improving the ability of allies and partners to sense, share and contribute,” the source said.

In other words, this maritime capacity initiative is built around improving planning, manpower, platforms, technology, and stamina of most if not all of the smaller littoral South China Sea states. It is built around improving the abilities of American allies in exactly the manner in which contributors to the War on the Rocks articles declared as being crucial for US readiness in fighting the next big war. The idea that China would be unable to piece this together or draw its own stark strategic conclusions was wishful diplomatic thinking, at best. As it turns out, it was wishful thinking misplaced.

At almost exactly the same time period as when the above events were transpiring, Chinese President Xi Jinping made a huge announcement to ‘buoy the country’s faltering economy’ by bringing military research and development back under the jurisdiction of the People’s Liberation Army. The reason for this new restructuring was in order to launch a new agency that would be modeled directly after the famous US Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). This new agency will aim to ‘strengthen management of defense science and technology, promote indigenous innovation in national defense, and coordinate integrated development of military and civilian technologies.’ In other words, China, having connected the dots between disparate American strategic analyses and policy developments, responded with basically doing the exact same maneuvers and initiatives. Arguably, the timing and speed of the Chinese response is directly predicated upon what it considers to be disconcerting American initiatives that seem more potentially offensive and aggressive rather than defensive and reactive. Even this distinction, between offensive and defensive, between action and reaction, is a constant source of opacity between China and the United States when it comes to the South China Sea.

The following are excerpts taken from an assessment of Director of National Intelligence James Clapper given to Sen. John McCain, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. It was a formal letter meant to address the ‘Chinese reclamation and militarization of disputed holdings in the South China Sea.’

Feb. 23, 2016

Dear Chairman McCain:

Thank you for your letter of 29 January 2016 in which you articulated concerns about China’s reclamation activity in the South China Sea and the impact this will have on China’s ability to deploy military capabilities across the area. Unclassified answers to the specific questions contained in your correspondence follow:

Would you assess China has militarized its reclaimed features in the Spratly Islands?

We judge that China has the capability to provide basic self-defense at its Spratly Islands outposts. China has also installed surveillance systems to improve situational awareness and is building airfields and ports that can support military operations. Based on the extent of land reclamation and construction activity, we assess that China has established the necessary infrastructure to project military capabilities in the South China Sea beyond that which is required for point defense of its outposts. These capabilities could include the deployment of modern fighter aircraft, surface-to-air missiles (SAMS), and coastal defense cruise missiles, as well as increased presence of People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) surface combatants and China Coast Guard (CCG) large patrol ships.

Has the United States observed the construction of infrastructure or deployment of capabilities that would enable military-grade early warning, target acquisition, and/or target track radars?

China has installed military radars, most likely air-surveillance/early warning radars, at Cuarteron and Fiery Cross Reefs and a beacon for aircraft direction at Fiery Cross. Additionally, China is employing a combination of solar, wind, and stable base-load generators to power the outposts.

Has the United States observed the construction of infrastructure or deployment of capabilities by China that would enable the deployment of surface-to-air missile systems?

None of the infrastructure developed to date is consistent with the deployment of SAM systems to any of China’s Spratly Islands outposts. However, China’s mobile SAMS are field-deployable and do not require fixed, prepared sites

Do you assess China will pursue further reclamation in the South China Sea or East China Sea?

While we have no evidence that China has plans for any significant additional land reclamation at its Spratly Islands claims, there is sufficient reef area at Fiery Cross, Mischief, and Subi Reefs to reclaim more than 1,000 additional acres. We further assess that the underwater features at the four smaller reefs would support additional land reclamation. We do not assess that China will conduct reclamation efforts in the East China Sea.

Do you assess China will seek to militarize its reclaimed features in the Spratly Islands in the 2016-2018 time period?

We assess that China will continue to pursue construction and infrastructure development at its expanded outposts in the South China Sea. Based on the pace and scope of construction at these outposts, China will be able to deploy a range of offensive and defensive military capabilities and support increased PLAN and CCG presence beginning in 2016. Once these facilities are completed by the end of 2016 or early 2017, China will have significant capacity to quickly project substantial offensive military power to the region. China’s continued construction activity and press reporting indicate that Beijing may view the establishment of “defensive” capabilities similar to what some other claimants have installed as consistent with not “militarizing” the dispute. The Intelligence Community continues to monitor these and other critical developments in the region using our full array of collection capabilities to produce analysis with explanatory and predictive power to inform decision makers ahead of emerging trends. Please contact me with any additional questions you might have.

Sincerely,

James R. Clapper

What usually gets overlooked on the American side (but emphasized on the Chinese side) is how much Clapper’s analysis confirms maneuvers that are being positioned militarily and declared diplomatically as ‘defensive’ in nature, only to quickly counter with the retort that America believes it would not be difficult to adapt and transform such defensive postures into dangerous offensive ones. But that same retort was used by the Chinese in not only discussing the creeping deployments of the THAAD missile defense system but with general American postures and initiatives throughout the region:

China has taken aim at the United States over its criticism of what it considers China’s militarization of the disputes in the East and South China Seas. Washington has considered such actions as violations of “international norms.” As a result, it resumed freedom of navigation patrols in the western Pacific last year. But China considers Washington’s reaction as hypocritical. How, Chinese officials ask, can the United States criticize China for militarizing the South China Sea, when it uses military forces to conduct its freedom of navigation patrols near Chinese-held islets and has expanded its Asian military alliances, most notably through the Expanded Defense Cooperation Agreement with the Philippines?

The purpose of these excerpts, indeed of the entire analysis, is to show just how much of the disputes and tension in the South China Sea are about competing narratives over intentions, objectives, and ‘real’ meanings. It has very little to do with verifiable dispassionate evidence based on military action. Most important is to acknowledge that these competing narratives do indeed exist and that the effort to characterize one as wholly righteous and another as wholly unjustified is not only unhelpful but actually exacerbates conflict in the region. There is strategic manipulation, diplomatic exploitation, and military posturing going on all over the South China Sea today. But it would be naïve and unproductive to think all of this is happening only on the Chinese side. It is happening on all sides, by and against all the players, and will likely continue for the foreseeable future.

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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OSINT in Current and Future Military Operations

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In recent years, the international security environment has evolved in a way that lays greater emphasis on information gathering and analysis. This is largely due to the proliferation of digital technologies and the internet, which have made it easier for individuals, organisations, and governments to access, share, and disseminate information. As a result, the traditional concept of ‘national security’ has expanded to include cyber security, information security, and online propaganda.

In this context, ‘Open-Source Intelligence’ (OSINT) has emerged as an important tool and resource for governments, militaries, intelligence organisations, and individuals. It refers to information that is publicly available and can be collected from a wide range of sources, including the internet, social media, newspapers, and government websites.

The rise of information warfare and the need for intelligence on digital fronts has made OSINT an even more crucial resource for organisations dealing with the national security of a state. Various examples and case studies show it can provide valuable information that can be used to make informed decisions about foreign policy, intelligence operations, and military strategy; understand and respond to global security threats; support military operations; and gain a deeper understanding of conflicts. By analysing data from various sources such as social media, online forums, and satellite imagery, OSINT analysts can gain a better understanding of movements and activities in conflict areas. For instance, the US military used OSINT to track and monitor the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), through information on the location, movements, and activities of ISIS leaders and fighters, as well as its financial and logistical networks. Thereby, becoming a true force multiplier.

Not only this, OSINT can be used to monitor and counter disinformation, propaganda, and misinformation, which are widely used by state and non-state actors to influence public opinion and political decisions. The ongoing Russia-Ukraine War, characterised by a high degree of disinformation and propaganda on both sides, is also a case study of OSINT. One of the key aspects of OSINT in this war has been the use of social media. Social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube have been used to disseminate information by the warring parties. OSINT analysts have been able to use these platforms to track the movement of troops, equipment, and weapons. They have also been able to identify and track individuals and organisations that have been involved in the conflict. Besides social media, another important aspect of OSINT in the Russia-Ukraine War is the use of satellite imagery. Analysts on both sides have been able to use satellite imagery to accurately track the movement of troops and equipment, as well as to identify and track changes in the terrain. OSINT specialists have also been able to track the flow of money to different groups and individuals involved in the conflict, which has helped to identify potential sources of funding for the war.

Since OSINT allows for the collection of information from a wide variety of sources, it enables a more comprehensive understanding of the situation on the ground, while also allowing for cross-referencing and verification of the information. Another advantage of OSINT is that it is relatively low cost and accessible to a wide range of individuals and organisations. This has enabled a diverse group of actors, including journalists, researchers, and analysts, to play an active role in monitoring and analysing conflicts worldwide.

Despite these advantages, it is important to note that OSINT is not without its limitations. The information collected from open sources may be incomplete, biased, or even deliberately misleading. It is also important to be aware of ‘information pollution’ where a large amount of false or misleading information is spread deliberately to confuse or mislead.

In short, OSINT has become increasingly relevant in today’s strategic environment due to the abundance of open-source information. As conflicts become more complex and globalised, it is essential for governments, military organisations, and other stakeholders to have access to accurate and timely information in order to make informed decisions in a variety of fields, including cyber security, intelligence, surveillance, and national security. As the world becomes more interconnected and the amount of publicly available information continues to grow, the use of OSINT is likely to assume a critical role alongside traditional means of intelligence gathering.

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Chinese spy balloon over Latin America

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Intelligence gathering has been conducted using balloons since the 19th century, and their usefulness has significantly declined. During the 1950s, the U-2 spy plane was used to spy on the Soviet Union, and the country’s satellites were eventually replaced by the Corona reconnaissance units. A Chinese balloon that drifted across the US has raised concerns about people’s knowledge.

Sending out balloons is not an ideal strategy for gathering intelligence. They are not designed to be easily hidden, and they tend to go where the winds lead. During World War II, Japan launched incendiary devices known as firebombs into Washington state in an attempt to destroy Seattle. Unfortunately, they were unable to get them to fly over the city. Since a balloon will never return to its base, it has to find a way to retrieve the data it collects. During the 1960s, the US developed a system that allows a plane to snatch the payload from a reconnaissance satellite. Unfortunately, using this method would be very risky for China.

If China wants to collect intelligence, it should consider using a parachute to land the payload on the ground. This would prevent the people from recovering it unless the country has people in places such as Labrador or Montana. The balloon could also transmit data to a Chinese satellite. Not being able to retrieve the data collected by a balloon is a waste of money and time. China has numerous spy satellites that fly over the US every day. These satellites collect various data points, such as radio signals and photos. The country launched four more satellites last year. Since China has never used balloons for espionage, it is believed that the incident was caused by an error. The country’s meteorological agency might have lost the balloon, which is the basis of numerous UFO sightings.

Despite China’s claims that it does not spy on the US, it is still conducting a massive espionage campaign against the country’s allies and the US. This is more extensive than the operations carried out by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. Until 2015, America was still accepting Chinese espionage as a cost of doing business with the country. The U.S. was wrong when it believed that China was using a balloon for espionage. The country reacted after the Office of Personnel was hacked in 2015, which revealed the private information of millions of employees. If the U.S. is truly interested in learning what the balloon is capable of, it should shoot it down. The incident has highlighted the need for China to reduce its espionage activities as the U.S. is on edge. Americans must learn from this and act more aggressively to prevent this kind of behavior from happening in the future. Some of the measures the U.S. can take include increasing the number of FBI agents, establishing more effective cyber security measures, and negotiating with the Chinese government directly. The use of Chinese balloons is a distraction, and this will not stop the country from carrying out its espionage activities. As aggressive as China is, focusing on them is like looking into the bedroom every night for its spies.

Current Scenerio:

Montana has long been a location for the US’ nuclear weapons. One of the country’s major missile silos is situated in the state. The Pentagon revealed that a Chinese spy balloon was detected flying over various sensitive sites in the US. It’s believed that the route the object took could be linked to Montana’s nuclear facilities. During a briefing in Washington DC, the Pentagon confirmed that the object was spotted in Montana. It was revealed that the balloon had flown over the Alaskan islands and Canada before it entered the US.

The Air Force’s Malmstrom facility is situated in central Montana and houses 150 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) silos. The Pentagon stated that the balloon did not pose a threat to civilians and was currently flying at an altitude well above the commercial air traffic. This type of activity has been observed in the past. After learning about the incident, the US government launched an immediate response to protect the sensitive data inside the balloon. The country’s fighter jets were dispatched to intercept the object. Despite the government’s initial response, the Pentagon decided not to launch a missile against the object. The agency noted that the balloon’s size could create a dangerous debris field. On which, China responded about the incident and it stated that it was looking into the matter and urged the US to remain calm. According to the country, it has no intention of violating other nations’ airspace and territory. China is a responsible nation that follows international laws. It does not intend to violate the airspace or territory of any country. Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao said that the country was taking the matter seriously. The public should refrain from speculation and hype until the details of the incident are clear. This official also stated that the public should wait for more information before making judgements.

According to a statement released by the Chinese government, the balloon was a civilian airship that was used for meteorological research and it was malfunctioned due to wind. It deviated from its intended flight path due to the Westerlies. China expressed its regret over the incident and noted that it would continue to communicate with the US. The country’s foreign ministry also said that it would handle the situation properly.

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India’s Strategic Use of TTP to Undermine Pakistan’s Stability

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Image source: hindustantimes.com

Again, bloodshed in the city of flowers, with more than 90 martyrs and at least 250 injured in a suicide attack by the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan in Peshawar. India’s backing for the TTP and its participation in the group’s avowed jihad against Pakistan have emerged as the most important security challenges in South Asia, with significant ramifications for regional stability and peace.

The Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), commonly known as the Taliban in Pakistan, is a Pakistan-based Islamist extremist group. The group, which was founded in 2007, has claimed responsibility for a number of fatal assaults against Pakistani civilians and military personnel. TTP has proclaimed war against Pakistan’s government and military forces, arguing that they are not Islamic enough.

TTP has become a major security danger to Pakistan over the years, spreading widespread fear and instability. The group’s constant strikes on civilians and military targets have resulted in hundreds of deaths and massive devastation. The rising frequency and savagery of TTP assaults has caused considerable alarm among Pakistanis and the international world. Despite significant international criticism, the TTP continues to carry out atrocities with impunity.

Evidence of India’s Support for TTP:

Over the last decade, Pakistani security services have often reported on the Indian intelligence agency (RAW) providing support to the TTP. This assistance has been reported to include financing, training, and weaponry, all of which have aided the TTP’s capacity to carry out strikes against Pakistan. Pakistani officials, security professionals, and independent investigators have claimed India’s participation with TTP, citing proof of Indian involvement in TTP activities and divulging the false flag operations.

TTP commanders obtaining safe shelter in India is another piece of evidence pointing to India’s connection with TTP. TTP commanders have been said to have crossed the border into India for medical treatment and then stayed for lengthy periods of time. The granting of safe haven to TTP commanders implies that India is not only supporting the organization, but also shielding its leaders from prosecution and reprisal.

In addition to the Indian intelligence agency’s direct backing for TTP, there have been claims of Indian media outlets distributing misinformation in favor of TTP. This has included interviews with TTP officials and positive coverage of TTP’s efforts by Indian news sources. The media coverage has been interpreted as a means for India to legitimize the TTP’s conduct and seek sympathy from the world community.

India is contributing to Pakistan’s instability by supplying TTP with the money, safety, and legitimacy it requires to carry out its assaults.

India’s Motives Behind Supporting TTP:

One of India’s key motivations for supporting the TTP is to undermine Pakistan’s government and military. By assisting the organization, India is able to undermine Pakistan’s ability to maintain security and stability, creating an atmosphere in which the TTP may operate with impunity. The ultimate purpose of this assistance is to weaken Pakistan’s military and political institutions, making it easier for India to achieve a regional advantage.

Another reason India backs the TTP is to create a political and security vacuum in Pakistan. By assisting the organization, India may foment turmoil and instability in the country, creating possibilities for India to exploit the situation. The political and security vacuum left by the TTP’s operations can then be utilized by India to further its own goals and acquire more influence in the area.

India’s backing for the TTP might also be interpreted as an attempt to shift attention away from its own human rights violations in Kashmir. By assisting the TTP and producing turmoil and instability in Pakistan, India is able to divert attention away from its own activities in Kashmir, which have been severely condemned for abusing the human rights of Kashmiris. By helping TTP, India can divert attention away from its own acts and position itself as a responsible regional actor.

The Consequences of India’s Actions:

One of the most serious consequences of India’s backing for the TTP is the worsening of terrorism in Pakistan. India is feeding the fire of terrorism in the area by supplying finance, training, and equipment to the group, making it easier for TTP to carry out its heinous actions. This has had a significant influence on Pakistan’s security and stability, as well as the safety of its population. Terrorism has exacerbated violence and loss of life, creating an environment of dread and insecurity throughout the country.

India’s backing for TTP worsens regional tensions and instability. The rise of terrorism in Pakistan has heightened tensions between Pakistan and India, as well as between Pakistan and its neighbors. This has produced a climate of insecurity and uncertainty in the region, threatening regional peace and security. As each side gets more entrenched in its stance, the international community’s ability to find a solution to the crisis has become more difficult.

India’s backing for TTP has had a significant influence on regional peace and security. The rise in terrorism and tensions has made it increasingly difficult to establish regional peace and stability. This has had a detrimental influence on the region’s economic development, social advancement, and people’s well-being. The continuation of violence and insecurity has also made it more difficult for the international community to address the underlying causes of conflict and work toward a long-term solution.

Conclusion:

The international community must take steps to confront India’s backing for TTP. India’s activities are clearly against international law and standards, and they endanger regional peace and security. The international community must strongly denounce India’s conduct and endeavor to hold those involved accountable for their acts.

Holding those involved accountable for their conduct is critical to preventing such incidents in the future. The international community must act to bring individuals who promote terrorism and destabilize the area to account. This involves investigating and punishing individuals responsible for supplying TTP with support, as well as those involved in planning and carrying out terrorist actions. Only by taking firm action can we expect to restore stability and security to the area and prevent such actions in the future.

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