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The U.S.-China Military Balance in the Western Pacific

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The security condition in the South and East China Seas has worsened over the past few years as territorial disputes have increased and mistrust deepened. China has grown increasingly assertive in each of the seas, which has caused suspicion among key states in the region. Moreover, regional institutions have had little impact, international law is being disregarded, and Sino-American relations appear increasingly driven by competition rather than shared interests.

The stakes for the United States in the South China Sea are high. Freedom of navigation through the sea facilitates $5.3 trillion in global trade each year, $1.2 trillion of which passes through American ports. The South China Sea is considered by many to be a “strategic bellwether” for assessing the future of American leadership in the Asia-Pacific region.

According to some analysts, whether the Western Pacific remains a peaceful maritime commons or a flashpoint for conflict between the U.S. and China, reminiscent of Cold War tensions, is likely to be decided in the South China Sea. The U.S., therefore, must preserve free access to these critical sea-lines of communication (SLOC) to maintain peace and prosperity throughout the region. However, the inability for the U.S. to project sufficient military power into the South China Sea would dramatically alter the state of affairs for the entire Asia-Pacific region. The balance that must be assessed is the ability of the U.S. military to project whatever military power it might require to prevail in a future armed confrontation with China. Equally, China’s ability to disrupt or deny U.S. force projection must also be assessed.

A cornerstone of U.S. defense strategy since World War II has been the ability to rapidly project military power worldwide to protect the nation’s interests. These interests include, but are certainly not limited to, spreading and protecting democratic governance, preserving access to strategic trading partners and resources, and reassuring allies and partners who cooperate with the United States in protecting common interests.   Throughout the Cold War era, the Soviet Union presented a formidable military challenge to American power-projection capabilities. Fortunately, the superpowers succeeded in avoiding a major conflict. Even so, the U.S. military’s unrivaled ability to project and sustain large military forces around the globe was demonstrated in wars in Korea, Vietnam and the Persian Gulf, as well as in numerous other, smaller conflicts. In the aftermath of the Soviet Union’s downfall the U.S. military’s power-projection abilities in defense of the nation’s interests were essentially uncontested.

This state of play is clearly coming to an end, with major implications for U.S. national security. With the diffusion of innovative military technologies to the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) of China, the U.S. military’s ability to maintain military access to the Western Pacific region is being increasingly tested. While China proclaims nonthreatening intentions, “it is an old military maxim that since intentions can change overnight—especially in authoritarian regimes—one must focus on the military capabilities of other states.”

Without question, preserving the U.S. military’s power projection capabilities will be crucial to maintaining military preeminence well into the twenty-first century. Since force projection remains foundational to U.S. defense strategy, the nation’s rebalance to the Asia- Pacific region not only revalidates this posture, but it also marks a shift that stresses the necessity for far-reaching naval and air force capabilities. This shift was made clear in A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, which stressed that “U.S. maritime forces will be characterized by regionally concentrated, forward deployed task forces with the combat power to limit regional conflict, deter major war, and should deterrence fail, win our Nation’s wars as part of a joint or combined campaign.”

Background

There were two events in the 1990s which served as the impetus for China to develop an anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategy. First was the overwhelming success of the U.S.-led 1991 Persian Gulf War. PLA analysts were forced to rethink their ability to fight an adversary armed with technologically advanced weapons. Operation Desert Storm did conform to the Chinese view of modern wars as being fast and intense. However, the effectiveness with which the U.S. military employed airpower and joint operations to destroy an Iraqi army that was sometimes armed with Chinese weapons caused worry within the PLA that it was grossly ill prepared (both in terms of technology and military doctrine) to fight and prevail in a similar kind of war.   According to one Chinese analyst:

[w]hat PLA analysts saw was not a war of the future, but a war as it could be fought today by a post-industrial power. Little the PLA had achieved by reorganization, modifying its force structure, building a better educated officer corps, reconceptualizing the manner it planned to conduct future wars, and more realistic training could offset the impact of technology on operations by well-trained, properly organized joint forces exploiting the technological sophistication of their armaments and supporting systems.

The PLA study of the Gulf War devoted significant attention to the role of the U.S. military’s intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance (ISR) assets. The role of airpower garnered attention for its ability to destroy air defense and command-and-control (C2) nodes, while the U.S. use of stealth aircraft and cruise missiles underscored the problems the PLA would have in defending against an attack from a technologically advanced air force.

The U.S. reliance on force projection and forward deployment to prosecuting that successful campaign was not overlooked by PLA planners. Should a technologically and militarily superior adversary such as the U.S. be allowed to “arrive in force and on time, it will almost certainly prevail.”12   Moreover, for the U.S. to arrive in force and on time, it must have the “ability to deploy forces into theater with little risk of hostile interference.” Likewise, should war occur with the United States, PLA planners have concluded that “The U.S. military deployment process must be disrupted or neutralized and [the PLA] have successfully developed and fielded military capabilities designed to fulfill this need.”

The second event motivating the development of A2/AD strategies was the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait crisis. Furious that Taiwanese President Lee Teng-hui had been granted a visa to speak at Cornell University, China, fearing promotion of his nation’s independence movement, conducted missile tests in the Strait to deter the island nation from promoting its pro- independence inclinations.   Consequently, the U.S. responded by deploying two aircraft carrier strike-groups into the area as a reminder of its commitment to defend Taiwan in the event of hostilities. The U.S. response “lit a fire under the Chinese military and civilian leadership,” which convinced them to develop “a variety of capabilities intended to target American aircraft carriers.” Therefore, China concluded that it was necessary to “limit America’s access to critical battlefield areas.”

The means for the United States to project sufficient military power in response to a new crisis in the South China Sea or anywhere else along China’s littorals rests largely on three pillars: carrier strike-groups, bases in Okinawa, Japan and the U.S. island territory of Guam. As China continues to invest heavily in new A2/AD capabilities, all three will become increasingly vulnerable.16   Therefore, it is worth recalling the warning issued by US Pacific Command (PACOM) in 2010:

China continues to develop weapons systems, technologies and concepts of operation that support anti-access and area denial strategies in the Western Pacific by holding air and maritime forces at risk at extended distances from the [People’s Republic of China] coastline. The PLA Navy is continuing to develop “Blue Water” capability that includes the ability to surge surface combatants and submarines at extended distances from the [Chinese] mainland.

Some ways to measure the balance

A. What are the long-term strategic goals of the U.S. and China in the Western Pacific?

B. Is it possible for both to achieve its goals short of armed conflict?

C. How has China’s A2/AD strategy developed since 1995 and how has the U.S. responded militarily, economically and politically?

D. What will the competition will look like in 5-10 years based on the previous twenty? Who has/will have the advantage?

E. How would the U.S. and Chinese fight? Knowing how critical force projection is to the U.S. military, would China attack preemptively to deny U.S. access to regional basing? Should the U.S. attack preemptively to ensure access to basing?

F. Have the Chinese embarked on a cost-imposing strategy vis-à-vis the U.S. by pitting inexpensive missiles against expensive missile defenses?

G. What is the role of U.S. allies and partners in the region?

Objectives

The nature of China’s emergence as a strong regional power has presented the United States with a major challenge. Although China has been a great beneficiary of the U.S.-led international order in the Asia-Pacific, it has been reluctant to embrace all aspects of that system. Indeed, China perceives aspects of the system as threatening and objectionable, and because of its growing power it is increasingly willing to challenge the status quo – from unification with Taiwan to territorial claims and maritime rights in the South China Sea – make

China a formidable rival. China’s external objectives are clearly to exercise greater control over its periphery, achieve unification with Taiwan and to become the dominant power in Asia – objectives that will necessitate the diminishment of U.S. power and influence throughout the region. China’s achievement of these objectives would severely damage U.S. security by enabling China to become the first East Asian power to threaten the Western Pacific and the U.S. homeland since 1941.

The U.S.-China strategic competition is therefore driven by competing visions for Asia and how to achieve national security. The objectives of the U.S. are to preserve the post-war status quo in the Asia-Pacific. That is, a region that consists of strong, independent, democratic, and free-market states that are free from domination by China or any regional hegemon. Alternatively, China’s overriding objectives are to safeguard the Chinse Communist Party’s (CCP) hold on power; maintain domestic stability; sustain economic growth and development; defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity; secure China’s status as a great power and, ultimately, reacquiring regional preeminence; and safeguard China’s interests abroad. It has seemingly determined that these key strategic objectives are best served by completing its task of recovering territory lost in past wars, controlling its periphery, and slowly becoming the dominant power in Asia – for reasons of strategic culture China believes this is a position it should naturally assume.

Should China succeed in becoming the dominant hegemon in Asia the consequences for the U.S. could be quite severe. An Asia-Pacific dominated by China would likely develop economic and military spheres of influence where the U.S. would be essentially “boxed-out” – an outcome that would radically alter the international economic and security orders.24 The U.S. therefore has a vital interest in both preventing a hegemonically dominated Asia and in promoting an Asia “whole and free,” consisting of democratic nations trading among themselves and incorporated into the international economy. For the foreseeable future at least, the U.S. will need to maintain its role in preserving the status quo in the Asia-Pacific. For it to do so, it is incumbent upon the U.S. to develop new and innovative ways to continue to deter conflict and coercion, reassure allies, and to project military power into the Western Pacific in the event of conflict.

If the U.S.-China strategic competition is about competing visions for Asia, then it is also about access. China’s objective is to deny the U.S. access into many critical areas of the Western Pacific where the U.S. military will need to continue operating. The primary implements for the U.S.-China military competition will be maritime and shore-based forces with the ability to influence events in the Asia-Pacific. The Chinese have two mutually supporting concepts that appear to drive their strategic approach to areas on their periphery. First, the PLAN’s objective is to establish “control” over the waters extending 200 nautical miles out from China’s coast to freely conduct what it calls “independent operations.” These operations include the ability to attack Taiwan for the purposes of reunification and to secure and develop claims to maritime resources in those waters. Second, the Chinese have been shifting slowly to an “offshore defense strategy” meant to engage potential enemies at greater distances from its major urban areas along its coast. This strategy not only emphasizes the Second Artillery Force’s (SAF) missile-centric approach to both denial and coercive operations but also its so- called string of pearls strategy of establishing relations along the Indian Ocean to lay the foundation for greater control over the Malacca Strait and other critical transit nodes (air, sea and land) into East Asia.

Considering China’s aggressive military modernization plans and its stated objective to “contest” the “second island chain,” it is wise to expect that China will seek to develop capabilities that both deny U.S. access to areas within the Western Pacific and pose a credible conventional threat to the U.S. homeland to discourage U.S. intervention in a potential Chinese sphere of influence closer to China’s littorals.

Indeed, one of the key takeaways for China from the Taiwan Strait crisis was that “aircraft carriers [are] a key element of the U.S. ability to project power.” Therefore, considerable effort is being dedicated to ways of neutralizing the combat effectiveness of carrier battlegroups. Chinese analysts are studying what they believe to be key vulnerabilities of carriers and their supporting vessels. According to these analysts, carrier battlegroups are especially vulnerable when being redeployed, during resupply, transiting a narrow waterway, [such as the Malacca Strait] or during poor weather conditions. The PLAN has observed that the U.S. derives as much as 80 percent of its airpower from carrier based aircraft during combat operations in littoral areas. Consequently, the PLAN describes U.S. carrier battlegroups as “a great threat to anti-air operations in littoral areas and should be resolutely countered.”

Looking out to 2020-2025, the military competition will be characterized by increasing Chinese efforts to control its periphery for extended periods, to intimidate U.S. allies and attempt to weaken U.S. influence, and to project power to defend its increasingly widespread economic interests.The U.S. will work to preserve its position in the region, reassure allies of its willingness and ability to defend them, and complicate China’s capability to project power in ways that threaten U.S. interests.

Trends and asymmetries

China is making substantial investments in military programs and weapons designed to improve extended-range power projection, anti-access/area denial (A2/AD), and operations in emerging domains such as cyberspace, space, and the electromagnetic spectrum. China’s military modernization has already weakened the U.S. ability to project power into the Western Pacific, a trend that will be difficult to reverse given the prevailing technological, geographic, and financial constraints. Recent trends in China’s weapons development not only improve China’s capabilities to deal with contingencies along its periphery, such as a new Taiwan crisis, but will also allow the PLA to conduct a range of military operations in Asia outside China’s traditional territorial claims. According to one China analyst, “A key trend in [Asia-Pacific] is the shift from a traditional focus on territorial defense towards power projection – [t]his is new for the region and is likely to increase military-to-military contact between states.”

China’s defense spending is expected to balloon to $233 billion in 2020, up from $123 billion in 2010, according to a new report by IHS Jane’s. Important systems that either have been fielded or are under development include ballistic missiles (including anti-ship versions), anti-ship and land-attack cruise missiles, new surface ships, nuclear submarines, and an aircraft carrier.

The necessity to protect key trade routes, principally petroleum supplies from the Middle East, has driven the PLAN to conduct counterpiracy operations around the Horn of Africa. Clashes with Japan over maritime claims in the East China Sea and with several Southeast Asian claimants to all or parts of the Spratly and Paracel Islands in the South China Sea have caused increased tensions in these areas. Volatility on the Korean Peninsula such as the collapse of the North Korean regime could also produce a regional crisis involving the PLA. The CCP has also tasked the PLA with developing the expertise required for missions such as UN Peacekeeping Operations (UN PKO), Humanitarian Assistance/Disaster Relief (HA/DR), and counterterrorism operations. These capabilities will enhance China’s options for using its military influence to support its diplomatic agenda, press regional and international interests, and resolve disputes in its favor. Simultaneously, China is surrounded by other regional powers that likely have an incentive to balance against its rise, many of whom are already U.S. allies or emerging strategic partners. Furthermore, even more so than the U.S., China is confronting a number of challenges (social, economic, demographic) that cast doubt over its ability to sustain its decades-long growth – challenges that could spark widespread internal dissent.

As of this writing U.S. President-Elect Donald Trump maintains that his goal of abandoning the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) will be his first order of business upon entering the oval office in January 2017. TPP (which excludes China) aims to deepen economic ties between its twelve member states, reducing tariffs and promoting trade to spur growth.

Members had also hoped to develop a closer relationship on economic policies and regulation. The agreement was designed to potentially create a new single market, something akin to the EU. TPP members have a population of roughly 800 million people (nearly twice the size of the EU market) and presently account for 40% of global trade – therefore the significance of the agreement is difficult to understate.

Although TPP is an economic agreement it is considered by some in the U.S. defense community to have significant security value. In a speech delivered on April 6, 2015 regarding the U.S. rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter commented on the strategic value of the agreement to the U.S.:

[TPP] is probably one of the most important parts of the rebalance, and that’s why it has won such bipartisan support. In fact, you may not expect to hear this from a Secretary of Defense, but in terms of our rebalance in the broadest sense, passing TPP is as important to me as another aircraft carrier. It would deepen our alliances and partnerships abroad and underscore our lasting commitment to the Asia-Pacific. And it would help us promote a global order that reflects both our interests and our values.

In fact, Carter may be understating the strategic value of TPP in that the agreement is probably as important as several aircraft carriers. The collapse of TPP leaves a void in Asia that certainly undermines U.S. economic power and possibly its military power as well – a void that will certainly be filled by China. The objective of TPP was always partially strategic. The U.S. and others alongside it, from Australia to Singapore, hoped the agreement would allow them to shape the structure of international trade in Asia and beyond. It was also meant to signal the U.S.’s long-term commitment to the region – something that allies and China are now understandably questioning. Consequently, the collapse of TPP may represent a fait accompli for China in damaging U.S. power and prestige in the Asia-Pacific.

Asymmetries to Consider

Although it is outside the scope of this writing to provide a complete and comprehensive assessment of all the trends and asymmetries defining the U.S.-China military competition, the author believes there are two that are especially challenging to U.S. forces and thus deserve special attention. First, is the transformation of the Second Artillery Force (SAF) – the branch of the PLA responsible for most of China’s conventional and nuclear ballistic and land-attack cruise missiles – one of the pillars of China’s military modernization effort. China has rapidly advanced from a limited and vulnerable nuclear ballistic missile capability to one of the most imposing nuclear and conventional ballistic missile programs in the world. According to a recent U.S. Department of Defense report on the PLA, “China has the most active land-based ballistic and cruise missile programs in the world.” In doing so China has managed to exploit restrictions placed on the U.S. under the 1987 Intermediate Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty. As a signatory to the treaty, the U.S. (and Russia) is prohibited from producing nuclear and conventional ground-launched cruise missiles with ranges between 300-3,400 miles and was forced to destroy existing stockpiles. Chinese ground launched cruise missiles at the upper limit of these ranges have the ability to hold at risk or attack fixed bases and ships at distances well beyond the second island chain.

With the overarching goal of denying the U.S. military access to the Western Pacific in mind, the PLA has paid particular attention to acquiring systems with the capability to detect, track and engage U.S. carrier battlegroups at greater distances from its littorals – increasing the costs of entry for the U.S. at minimal cost to China. According to the U.S. National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC), China is “developing and testing offensive missiles, forming additional missile units, qualitatively upgrading certain missile systems, and developing methods to counter ballistic missile defenses.” To accomplish the goal of increasing the cost of entry China has embarked on a cost imposing strategy vis-à-vis U.S. carrier battlegroups. According to U.S. naval strategist James Holmes, the U.S. is burdened by a huge cost disadvantage in its maritime competition with China. In The State of the U.S.-China Competition, Holmes points to the estimated $10.5 billion cost of building the next generation aircraft carrier, USS Gerald R. Ford – not including its air wing or escort ships. He estimates that if the average PLA antiship cruise missile (ASCM) costs as much as a U.S. Navy Harpoon Block II ASCM (which he doubts) the PLA Navy could afford 8,750 missiles for the price of a single Ford-Class carrier.

This is clearly an unfavorable ratio and considering the cost of the USS Gerald R. Ford has ballooned to nearly $13 billion since Holmes’ writing, it is even more so.

Second, the Chinese have made significant investment in various types of antiship mines with an arsenal estimated to range from 50,000 to 100,000 individual weapons. Sea mines are growing more sophisticated and their development is outpacing countermeasures in mine detection and clearing technologies. Modern sea mines possess stealthy shapes and nonmagnetic materials to prevent detection, delayed activation timers, ship counters, rocket propulsion, and sophisticated multisensory detonators. More advanced versions will have the capability to bury themselves in the seabed and reposition after initial planting, while others will target ships with torpedoes.

The U.S. Navy has acknowledged the severity of the sea mine threat. According to the 2010 Navy Operations Concept (NOC), the sea mine is considered “the greatest area-denial challenge in the maritime domain … capable of constraining maneuverability from deep waters past the surf zone to the maximum extent of the littoral.” James FitzSimonds agrees. A research professor with the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the Naval War College, FitzSimonds posits that “among all the naval warfare areas, the mine versus mine countermeasures competition might represent the most radical war-fighting asymmetry and the most disproportionate offense-defense cost exchange ratio.” That is, a mine costing a few thousand dollars has the potential to achieve at the very least a “mission kill” against a U.S. aircraft carrier costing several billion dollars. Even so, U.S. and Chinese mine capabilities are moving on opposite trajectories as the U.S. has significantly underinvested in this area. Although the U.S. confronts a potentially severe mining threat from China, it has no comparable capability either to deter China or to divert China’s military resources. FitzSimonds concludes that the principal reason for this huge disparity is a culture within the U.S. Navy that has failed to embrace mine and countermine operations as a primary focus. Unlike surface ships, aviation and submarines, there is no officer career path in mine warfare and therefore no established body of expertise that is developed and maintained within the U.S. Navy officer corps. Consequently, it may require the outbreak of hostilities to incent the U.S. Navy to develop a competitive mine warfare strategy vis-à-vis China.

HOW CHINA VIEWS THE MILITARY BALANCE

The History of the U.S.-China Maritime Competition

Although the U.S.-China strategic competition dates back to the Chinese Civil War when the U.S. (1945-1949) directly supported Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalist forces against Mao’s communists, the military competition as we understand it today began in earnest for the Chinese in the early 1990s. As was noted above, there were two events that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leadership regarded as pivotal to its long-term strategic competition with the U.S. – the 1991 Persian Gulf War and the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait Crisis – the latter event fully exposing PLA weaknesses vis-à-vis the U.S military. It was the Chinese response to these events a quarter century ago which largely defines today’s U.S.-China military competition in the Western Pacific.

The overwhelming success of the U.S.-led Persian Gulf War forced PLA analysts to rethink their ability to fight an adversary armed with technologically advanced weapons.

Although the war did conform to the Chinese view that modern wars were fast and intense, the effectiveness with which the U.S. military employed air power and joint operations to destroy an Iraqi army that was sometimes armed with Chinese weapons, caused worry within the PLA that it was grossly ill prepared (both in terms of technology and doctrine) to fight and prevail in a similar kind of war. Chinese strategists studied the failings of the Iraqi army in great detail and concluded that China must build a professional, mechanized, and “informatized” military to compete with the U.S. in the Western Pacific.

As surprising as the outcome of the Gulf War was to the PLA, it was the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait crisis that set in motion today’s maritime competition. In an attempt to intimidate Taiwanese voters who were preparing to elect pro-independence presidential candidate Lee Teng-hui, the PLA Second Artillery Force lobbed several ballistic missiles into the Strait.

Consequently, the U.S. responded by deploying the USS Nimitz and USS Independence aircraft carrier battlegroups into the area to deter further Chinese aggression. The PLA found itself unable to detect or even target the enormous U.S. task forces patrolling the waters of Taiwan. The U.S. response “lit a fire under the Chinese military and civilian leadership,” which convinced them to develop “a variety of capabilities intended to target American aircraft carriers.” Determined to prevent a repeat of this humiliation, the Chinese military concluded that it must deny the U.S. Navy some control over its coastal waters and deter it from intervening in future crises. Therefore, from the perspective of China’s leadership, the long-term competition with the U.S. has already been underway for several decades.

How China Views U.S. Maritime Strategy

The 2007 U.S. Maritime Strategy, A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower, stresses that “U.S. maritime forces will be characterized by regionally concentrated, forward deployed task forces with the combat power to limit regional conflicts, deter major wars, and should deterrence fail, win our Nation’s wars as part of a joint or combined campaign.”

Although China is never mentioned specifically, many Chinese strategists, such as Lu Rude, perceive U.S. maritime strategy in the Western Pacific as part of a ploy for “implementing strategic encirclement of different kinds of maritime flashpoints and ‘potential enemy’ through military deployment in ‘chokepoints’ of navigation and strategic nodes.”

Furthermore, Chinese experts view the 2012 U.S. rebalance from Europe to Asia “as an offensive policy meant to contain the rise of China as a world power.”77 China’s 2013 defense white paper explicitly mentioned the U.S. in this way, indirectly criticizing the U.S.’s growing presence in the Asia-Pacific region as well as stressing the growing complexity of international relations:

There are signs of increasing hegemonism, power politics and neo-interventionism. Local turmoils occur frequently. Hot-spot issues keep cropping up. Traditional and non- traditional security challenges interweave and interact. Competition is intensifying in the international military field. International security issues are growing noticeably more abrupt, interrelated and comprehensive. The Asia-Pacific region has become an increasingly significant stage for world economic development and strategic interaction between major powers. The US is adjusting its Asia-Pacific security strategy, and the regional landscape is undergoing profound changes. ….

Some country has strengthened its Asia-Pacific military alliances, expanded its military presence in the region, and frequently makes the situation there tenser. On the issues concerning China’s territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, some neighboring countries are taking actions that complicate or exacerbate the situation….

Major powers are vigorously developing new and more sophisticated military technologies so as to ensure that they can maintain strategic superiorities in international competition in such areas as outer space and cyber space.

China’s media and population have also voiced apprehension over the US rebalance to Asia. China does not publish official assessments of U.S. military strategy and plans like those the U.S. Department of Defense publishes on Chinese strategy and military forces. At the same time, China does firmly dictate what its press is allowed to publish, and the following quotes – characteristic of many comparable examples – suggest that China’s strategic patience with the U.S. has limits that are important in considering how China may view the military balance:

Renmin Ribao, January 30, 2013:

The United States is boosting old military alliances, damaging the political foundation of East Asian peace, sharpening the territorial sovereignty contradictions between China and the countries around it, building a united front aimed at China, forcibly pushing the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership, and disrupting the self-determined cooperation and regional integration process between the East Asian countries…in order for China to achieve strategic balance in the Asia Pacific region, it must greatly increase its military presence…. [China] should give full play to the strategic role of Russia and DPRK.

People’s Daily Online, April 10, 2013:

Ever since U.S. President Barack Obama proposed the high-keyed “return to the Asia- Pacific” at the end of 2011, the U.S. has begun to frequently organize joint military exercises in the Asia-Pacific region. For those exercises conducted in 2012 by the U.S. in the Western Pacific region alone, there were as many as 17 code names. Why is the U.S. so interested in Asia-Pacific region? Why does it frequently conduct such “exercises”? In a geostrategic sense, containing China in the Asia-Pacific region is the basic content of the U.S. policy toward China. There are three major means for the U.S. to conduct deep involvement in the Asia-Pacific region: first, wide alliance to win over various countries in the Asia-Pacific region; second, military forward deployment to realize strategic “rebalancing”; and third, occupy a “leading” position in the region to play “pro-active role.”

Scenarios and implications

Although it is beyond the scope of this assessment to cover the full breadth of possible scenarios in the U.S.-China military balance, this section will briefly examine one of the most persistent: a major conflict with China over Taiwan

Taiwan appears to represent an imbalance of sorts between the U.S. and China. For China the matter of Taiwan is clear – it considers Taiwan a breakaway province and it wants the island unified with the mainland. For the U.S. the issue is one of strategic ambiguity. Policy statements say little more than committing the U.S. to the peaceful resolution of differences between China and Taiwan. Therefore, an imbalance exists in how the U.S. and China view the value of Taiwan and to what extent each will go to achieve its objectives. For China there appears to be far more at stake, which would affect its decision calculus to go to war over the issue as well as the capabilities it may bring to bear in a war.

As the U.S.-China competition intensifies, however, it is possible that Taiwan could play a more prominent role in U.S. Asia-Pacific strategy in the years ahead. President-Elect Trump’s recent telephone call with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen challenges the decades-long “One China” policy and it could mark the beginning of an increasingly confrontational U.S.-China relationship under the new U.S. administration. According to An Fengshan, a spokesman for China’s policy-making Taiwan Affairs Office, he has warned of more serious consequences should the U.S. alter its policy. Mr. An commented:

Upholding the “One China” principle is the political basis of developing China-US relations, and is the cornerstone of peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait,” he said.”If this basis is interfered with or damaged then the healthy, stable development of China- U.S. relations is out of the question, and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait will be seriously impacted.”

The circumstances under which the CCP has historically warned it would use force have evolved over time in response to Taiwan’s declarations of its political status, changes in PLA capabilities, and China’s view of Taiwan’s relations with other countries. These circumstances have included:

•   Formal declaration of Taiwan independence

•   Undefined moves toward Taiwan independence

•   Internal unrest on Taiwan

•   Taiwan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons

•   Indefinite delays in the resumption of cross-Strait dialogue on unification

•   Foreign intervention in Taiwan’s internal affairs

•   Foreign forces stationed on Taiwan

Article 8 of the March 2005 Anti-Secession Law states that China may use “non-peaceful means” if “secessionist forces… cause the fact of Taiwan’s secession from China,” if “major incidents entailing Taiwan’s secession” occur, or if “possibilities for peaceful reunification” are exhausted. The ambiguity of these “redlines” preserves China’s flexibility.

For U.S. allies and partners in the region, the forcible reunification of China and Taiwan could be seen as an advanced warning that China may also use force to settle other disputes. China scholar Dan Blumenthal suggests that an attack on Taiwan could be perceived as an attempt to alter the balance of power in Asia for four reasons. First, although U.S. policy toward Taiwan is intentionally ambiguous, allies in the region have long considered Taiwan an ally of the U.S. and the Taiwan Relations Act essentially as a defense commitment. A scenario in which China forcibly unifies with Taiwan may be viewed by allies as irreversible Chinese domination. Second, key allies such as Japan could view the prospect of Chinese control over Taiwan as a serious threat to Japanese security. Should China militarize Taiwan, it could pose a direct threat to Japan’s sea-lanes of communication and on the Ryuku island chain. Third, control of Taiwan would enable China to exert far greater control over the South China Sea. Lastly, China’s concept of operations concerning Taiwan may have the effect of forcing the U.S. into a war.

Although China could try to limit an attack to Taiwan, it could also carryout preemptive strikes against U.S. bases in the region and Japan to prevent forces from these countries from intervening. Indeed, China could carry out air and missile strikes on the Kadena and Iwakuni air bases in Japan, despite the escalatory risks of striking Japanese territory. Should China deem it necessary to engage U.S. forces to prevail in Taiwan, the PLA will certainly execute a sea denial strategy that threatens U.S. aircraft carrier battlegroups. China can use land-based attack aircraft to launch cruise missiles, attack submarines, and land-based ballistic missiles equipped with maneuverable warheads against ships at sea. The PLAN is likely to use submarines armed with ASCMs and torpedoes to attack carrier battlegroups operating within tactical aircraft range of China’s mainland. The PLAN’s submarine force could also try to execute a blockade that threatens commercial shipping in and out of Taiwan. In conjunction with its sophisticated mining capabilities, PLAN submarines have the capability to effectively cutoff maritime trade to Taiwan.

Because China has developed effective air and missile capabilities, the U.S. cannot rely upon purely defensive measures to end an air and missile assault against Taiwan. The U.S. Navy and Air Force would likely be forced to “shoot the archer” rather than the arrow to stop or at least limit those assaults. This scenario raises the risks of serious escalation. Shooting the archer requires striking a large number of targets on mainland China (command and control nodes, storage facilities, ISR, airbases and industrial facilities) that directly support PLA air and missile operations. Carrying out deep strikes against a nuclear China might represent the sort of risk that the U.S. may be unwilling to take.

For China to carry out a successful operation against Taiwan, it may have to inflict extensive damage on the U.S. and Japan. Successful strikes against U.S. bases and maritime forces would force the U.S. to project power from distances beyond the second island chain to suppress China’s air defenses and air and missile forces. For the U.S. to mount an effective

counterattack it may have no alternative to striking targets on mainland China.

Neither the U.S. nor the Chinese should assume a high nuclear threshold in such a scenario. Punishing strikes on the mainland or on U.S. bases and maritime forces that inflict heavy losses could increase the potential for miscalculation leading to potentially grave consequences.

Overall, the balance of power between China’s anti-access/area-denial capabilities in the first and second island chains, and the ability of the U.S. to project power into the Taiwan Strait to defeat a Chinese attack, has significantly shifted, and in a way that raises doubts about strategic stability. China has the capability to carry out devastating preemptive strikes against U.S. forces throughout the Western Pacific and on Taiwan. It can raise the costs of entry considerably for U.S. aircraft carrier battlegroups and other forces attempting to intervene in the conflict, conduct a blockade against Taiwan, and shield its strike assets behind a sophisticated air defense system. China may determine that these capabilities will prevent the U.S. from defending Taiwan. However, it is also possible that the U.S. will view a Chinese attack on Taiwan through the lens of increased Chinese assertiveness and a perception that China is attempting to dominate the Western Pacific. In this scenario, the U.S. retains several advantages it can leverage to sustain its power projection capabilities. Among the most important are its numerous allies and partners who share U.S. concerns about an aggressive and potentially hegemonic China.

Conclusions and final thoughts

China’s apparent goal of exercising military control over significant parts of the Western Pacific is certain to be the cause for increased regional tensions and instability in the coming years. China has invested heavily over the past two decades in order to challenge U.S. military dominance in the Asia Pacific. During this time the U.S. has been focused mostly on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and has only responded in recent years to the shifting military balance. The overall assessment is that the military balance in the Western Pacific has shifted dramatically in favor of China and against the U.S. and its allies.

Although it is generally believed that the U.S. combined with its allies far outspends China in overall defense, this net assessment briefly analyzed two key asymmetries in the areas of ASBMs and sea mines that reveal a disturbing trend in the military balance – large U.S. defense expenditures may not translate into military effectiveness. Naturally this raises not only serious questions concerning the ability of the U.S. to maintain the status quo in the Western Pacific, but also to assure allies as well as defend U.S. territory in the region from attack. If over the next five to 15 years, U.S. and PLA forces continue on approximately current trajectories, “Asia will witness a progressively receding frontier of U.S. dominance,” one RAND Corporation report concludes. To shift the balance back in its favor, the U.S. must take measures to restore its historic advantages in power projection. To do so, it will have to develop not only more innovative alliance strategies that exploit both their growing capabilities and their weariness of China, but the U.S. will also need to develop innovative military capabilities to restore its dominance.

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Defense

Capabilities of Indian Armed Forces Exposed

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India’s Armed Forces Capabilities exposed during the Sino-India recent clashes in Ladakh. Indian Army was established on the fools day, 1 April 1895; 125 years ago by the East India Company, the British ruler of Sub-Continent. The aim and objectives of establishing the Indian Army were to protect the Companies economic interests, conquering the neighboring states, countering the insurgencies, suppressing the locals, maintaining the rit of British rulers, looking after the British empire, etc.

After getting independence from British rule in 1947, the Indian Army became the current day Indian Army, with its same ideology, aims, and objectives. The same training was continued, and the same traditions were inherited. Furthermore, to date, the current Indian Armed Forces are playing almost the same role. The conquered Goa, Sikkim, Hyderabad, Juna Ghar, and many other independent states. They are still fighting against the insurgencies like Assam, Maoist, Naga Land, Kashmir, Sikh, and,  etc. They are still suppressing their own local people like in Punjab, Haryana, Assam, Bihar, Kashmir, and minorities like Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dulats, and low caste Hindus, etc.

In fact, further deterioration started when they kept Muslims away and were not inducting Muslims in the armed forces. However, they inducted few on the ceremonial basis but were not given command or power or high ranks or important position since the 1965 War between India and Pakistan. The similar actions were initiated in the 1980s, after the Golden Temple (Sikh’s Holiest shrine) attack against the Sikhs. The Sikhs in the Armed Forces are no longer trusted and are not given important positions or commands. Recently, Indian Army Chiefs remarks about Ghurkas have an adverse impact of a strong regiment of Ghurkas. Ghurkas are originally Nepalis, but the British inducted then in the Indian Army and noticed as one of the best fighting soldiers. Then they deputed Ghurkas all over India and also used them in overseas operations during World War I & II. Even in today’s Indian Army, they constitute a considerable population and known for their bravery. Nevertheless, humiliating remarks by the Indian Army Chief has hurt them, and they are disgruntled. What will be the Indian Government policies, and future course of actions regarding Ghurkas, is still unpredictable.

The reputation of the Indian Army in suppressing its own people is notorious, and the violations of human rights have exceeded all records. According to Human Rights Independent Organizations, India has surpassed all records of human rights violations in the history of human beings. Especially, their role in Kashmir, Punjab, Assam, Bihar, Naga Land are the worst demonstrations.

Even, personals of Armed Forces deputed in such states are getting mental sickness, and some of them commit suicides. Most of the Indian Military personnel are not willing to be posted in the troubled area.

Some of the countries in the Western World have refused issuance of Visas for Military personnel involved in War-Crimes in Kashmir and other states. In fact, the movement for trail against those involved in war-crimes is gaining momentum. I am sure, sooner or later, all those who so ever are involved in war crimes will face severe punishments depending on the degree of their involvement and intensity of war- crimes.

The disparity of salaries, perks, and privileges between the high ranked officers and low ranked soldiers is huge, creating disgruntles. The uniform, shoes, food provided to low ranked soldiers are pathetic. Weapons and amminition is rather out dated. War-Machines are dysfunctional. Disgruntled Armed forces, with dysfunctional war-machines, could not face well-equipped, well-trained, well-looked-after, Chinese forces.

Talks between the two forces (India and China) at the Major General Levels have failed, and the next round of talks at a higher level of Lt. Generals is under schedule. The PM Modi is hiding and refraining from the public appearance or commenting on the situation between India and China conflict in the Ladakh region. India’s Media is passive and low-profile on the subject, while the Foreign Ministry is also a bit conservative and careful in giving any strong statement.

Indian Media’s aggressiveness against Pakistan and Armed Force’s aggressiveness has vanished in case of China. Indian armed forces’ capabilities are exposed already.

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Preparing For The Next Round Of Belligerent Nationalism

Prof. Louis René Beres

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“It must not be forgotten that it is perhaps more dangerous for a nation to allow itself to be conquered intellectually than by arms.” Guillaume Apollinaire, “The New Spirit and the Poets” (1917)

 More than anything else, a nation-state survives along with the corresponding society’s intellectual and moral underpinnings.[1] In the case of US President Donald Trump’s patently childish “Space Force,” neither precondition is evidenced. And at the same time that Trump has been abandoning essential treaties with Russia and economic arrangements with China, this president acts as if extending belligerent nationalism into space is somehow a rational plan.

Quite plainly, Donald Trump, who prides himself on “attitude, not preparation,” is sorely mistaken.[2]  Prima facie, any such extension of geopolitical competition would be anything but gainful. Among many other things, Space Force expresses the reductio ad absurdum of a dissembling president’s wholesale indifference to wisdom and ethics. It will only heighten the probability that America could be “conquered intellectually,” not “by arms.”

There is more. Space Force  represents an ironic reaffirmation of past Trump policy failures. Where it is correctly understood as a logically derivative posture from this president’s “America First,” the operational role of his “Force” will be to extend Realpolitik[3] or power politics to places where it has never existed before, still-pristine and “vertical” places. Significantly, as Realpolitik has never worked here on earth,[4]  any intelligent observer should feel compelled to ask: Why should belligerent geopolitics now work on a “galactic” level?

There are multiple ironies to be considered. As is the case of Donald Trump’s foreign and domestic policies in general, Space Force will be founded upon myriad failures of the past. In  essence, these failures are all aspects of the “balance of power world system originally bequeathed at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. This conflict-oriented state system, an “everyone for himself”[5] pattern of interminable international warfare, was born at Westphalia, immediately following the Thirty Years’ War.[6] Though certain “Westphalian” zero-sum interactions might still have been more-or-less tolerable before the appearance of nuclear weapons, they are unsustainable  in our bitterly acrimonious and proliferating nuclear world. Unassailably, they are even more dramatically unsustainable at this fearful time of worldwide disease pandemic.

It’s not complicated. What America  needs today is not just another gratuitous or destined-to-fail weapon system[7] (how could it possibly “succeed” if it doesn’t calculably contribute to this country’s “assured destruction capability”?), but rather a more conspicuous, well-intentioned presidential commitment to global interdependence/worldwide cooperation.[8] Although true that – at least for the foreseeable future – the United States must take appropriate steps to ensure the overall credibility of American nuclear deterrence, it is not true that such credibility requires retaliatory “coverage” in all prospective theatres of large-scale military engagement.[9]

Even if the Russians should “succeed” in militarizing space first – and even if this militarization were to involve nuclear elements – a fully suitable U.S, countervailing strategy could still remain entirely on this planet. In these calculations, the prospective aggressor (here Russia) would be unconcerned with the geographic origins of any American retaliatory destruction. After all, those origins would have no material consequence as  long a US retaliatory strike  were judged sufficiently probable and “assuredly destructive.”

This is an absolutely key reason why the United States has no identifiable need for maintaining any specific supremacy in space. Expressed differently, this means that an American president can readily maintain an indispensable US “assured destruction” capability vis-à-vis Russian and/or China without adjusting principal target sets according to ever-changing venues of enemy missile deployments. As far as what president Trump has called his newly proposed space force “super-dooper missile” – not exactly the terminology of a scientist or military professional – it represents only a caricatural reference, one more appropriate for 1950s-era children’s’ television programming than for any seriously complex US strategic reality.[10] 

Nuclear strategy is certainly a “game” that an American president should always be prepared to “play,” perhaps even for the indefinite future, but not without some conspicuous prior understandings of history, science and very elementary formal logic.

Going forward, US President Trump must remain systematically aware of all conceivable circumstances that could place us in extremis atomicum,[11] but this focus will need to be broadly conceptual, and not childishly centered on American “super” missiles or reassuringly “big” bombs.

 Instead of “America First” (Trump’s overall term for a system that willfully punishes the Many for the presumed benefit of a contrived Few),  a rational American president should reject all derivatives and corollaries of “Westphalian” dynamics.[12] Accordingly, any foreign policy that naively seeks to maximize America’s own well-being at the zero-sum expense of other states and peoples would be acting against certain binding norms of international law[13] and contra its own national security interests at the same time.

Sadly, nothing could possibly be more apparent to anyone who bothers to think logically and historically about such literally existential matters.[14]

The world is a system. Everything, therefore, is interrelated.  Among other things, no American foreign policy success can be achieved at the willfully sacrificial expense of other countries and peoples. No such presumptive success is sustainable if the rest of the planet must thereby expect a more violent and explosive future. In this connection, it would be difficult to argue that Donald Trump’s Space Force could in any way lead us toward a less violent or less explosive global future.

Very difficult.

A manifestly corrosive American national tribalism is being “protected” by U.S. Space Force. Nothing more. When all cumulative policy impacts are taken into careful analytic account, this “soulless”[15] derivative of “America First” and belligerent nationalism will emerge as anything but patriotic. What else should we reasonably conclude about a planned U.S. military posture that would injure this country and various other countries abjectly, unambiguously and at the same time?[16]

 Among other basic issues here, it is effectively impossible to calculate the vast number of associated interactive effects of these significant injuries, especially where they would expectedly be “force-multiplying” or synergistic. By definition, wherever a synergistic injury would obtain, the “whole” of any inflicted harm would be greater than the tangible sum of its “parts.”

Today, at a time when America’s fight against worldwide disease pandemic should represent this nation’s very highest-priority security challenge, US Space Force offers a strategic posture that is wholly misconceived and prospectively lethal. Left in place, it will further exacerbate a deliberate presidential choice of gratuitous belligerence as the favored style of American military interaction. Ironically, what is required, instead, is the readily decipherable opposite of Space Force.

This means, in essence, a broadened US leadership awareness of human and societal interconnectedness.[17]

 History is duly instructive. From the 1648 Peace of Westphalia to the present fragmenting moment, world politics have been shaped by a continuously shifting balance of power and , correspondingly, by variously relentless correlates of war, terror and genocide. Ideally, of course, and against all calculable odds, hope should continue to exist. But now, even under the most imaginably optimistic circumstances, it should surely sing more softly, unobtrusively, even in a prudent undertone.

 For Americans now increasingly endangered by Trump’s visceral or seat-of-the-pants foreign policies, more will be required than superficial or sotto voce modulations. Soon, merely to survive on this imperiled planet, all of us, together, will have to rediscover an individual human life, one consciously detached from narrowly ritualistic patterns of conformance, mindless entertainments, shallow optimism or any other disingenuously contrived expressions of some utterly imagined tribal happiness. At a minimum, such survival will demand a prompt and full-scale retreat from what Donald Trump has termed “America First” and from all of its rapidly dissembling correlates. In this regard, Trump’s Space Force is the foreseeable result of a much deeper societal pathology, a know-nothing American populism that drives out intellect and reason in favor of incessantly deliberate mystifications and collective self-delusion.

Thomas Jefferson and America’s other Founding Fathers had already understood something very basic: There is always a necessary and respectable place for serious erudition. By learning from history, Americans may yet glean something from “America First” that is necessary to opposing any actual iterations of Space Force. They may learn, even during this national declension Time of Trump, that a ubiquitous mortality is more consequential than any glittering administration promises of “supremacy,” “advantage” or “victory.”[18] Our current time on earth is more meaningfully a time of agony than of algorithm.

In The Decline of the West, first published during World War I, Oswald Spengler asked importantly: “Can a desperate faith in knowledge free us from the nightmare of the grand questions?” This remains a vital query, but one that will never be adequately raised in our universities, on Wall Street or absolutely anywhere in the Trump White House. Still, we may learn something productive about these “grand questions” by studying American roles and responsibilities in a radically changing world politics.

This task must be about intellectual struggles, not weapons per se.

At that point we might finally come to understand what has thus far eluded us. The most suffocating insecurities of life on earth can never be undone by militarizing space and by abrogating pertinent international treaties. To argue otherwise is to further mar a wholesale unfamiliarity with world and national history with inexcusable derelictions of both logic and science.[19]

In the end, even in Trump-era American foreign policy decision-making, truth is exculpatory. In what amounts to a uniquely promising paradox, Space Force could help illuminate a blatant lie that may still let us see the underlying truth. This truth is peremptory and not really mysterious or unfathomable. Americans require, after all, a substantially wider consciousness of unity and relatedness between individual human beings and (correspondingly) between adversarial nation-states.

There is no more urgent requirement.

None.

Though seemingly oriented toward greater American power and security, building an American Space Force would merely propel this country’s disordered military strategy from one untenable posture of belligerent nationalism to another. What the proponents of Space Force ignore, inter alia, is that all national security options should always be examined from the standpoint of their cumulative impact. If the credible effect of this new America First policy initiative will be to spawn various reciprocal postures of belligerent nationalism among principal foes (i.e.., Russia and potentially China) the net effect will prove sorely destabilizing and comprehensively negative.[20]

At this exceedingly precarious moment in world and national history, the president of the United States must do everything possible to heed the poet Apollinaire’s warning of “intellectual conquest.” Though “force of arms” will assuredly remain a derivative source of military power and threat, America’s principal emphasis must now  be placed on variously promising concepts and ideas, not on expanding the “hardware” or tactics of willful human destructiveness. Instead of withholding funds from the World Health Organization,[21] Donald Trump must finally acknowledge the interminable futility of belligerent nationalism, and – correspondingly – take certain tangible steps toward expanded worldwide cooperation.

Could this actually happen?[22] To be sure, the probable likelihood of any success here is bound to be very small, but the time-dishonored alternatives are all uniformly misconceived and inherently catastrophic.[23] If America’s president should retain even a tiny remnant of leadership commitment to rational decision-making, he will quickly understand that U.S. Space Force is the reductio ad absurdum of a long-dying belligerent nationalism or Realpolitik.[24]

It is hardly a medical or biological secret that the factors common to all human beings greatly outnumber those that differentiate one from another. Accordingly, unless leaders of all great states can finally understand that the survival of any one state will inevitably be contingent upon the survival of all, true national security will continue to elude every nation on earth, even the most “powerful.”

The bottom line? The immediate security task must remain a proper conceptualization and refinement of national nuclear strategy. Simultaneously, however, President Trump must somehow learn to understand – together with all other far-sighted national leaders – that Planet Earth is an organic whole, a fragile unity that exhibits rapidly disappearing opportunities for avoiding successive war and dismemberment. To seize these residual opportunities,  Washington  must learn to build solidly upon the foundational insights of Francis Bacon, Galileo and Isaac Newton, and upon the much more recent summarizing observation of Lewis Mumford: “Civilization is the never ending process of creating one world and one humanity.”[25]

Obviously, the United States has no inherently special obligations in this regard, nor can it afford to build its own most immediate security policies upon narrowly distant hopes. Still, if expressed as an ultimate vision for more durable and just patterns of world politics, Donald Trump might recognize the indissoluble link between America’s own physical survival and that of the wider international system. In the final analysis, merely to keep itself “alive,” America will have to do whatever it can to preserve the global system as a whole. For the moment, this is an idea insurmountably far from the consciousness of America’s current president.

To instruct still further from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man, “The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of `everyone for himself’ is false and against nature. No element could move and grow except with and by all the others with itself.”


[1] The seventeenth-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal remarks prophetically in Pensées: “All our dignity consists in thought….It is upon this that we must depend…Let us labor then to think well: this is the foundation of morality.” Similar reasoning characterizes the writings of Baruch Spinoza, Pascal’s 17th-century contemporary. In Book II of his Ethics Spinoza considers the human mind, or the intellectual attributes, and – drawing further from Descartes – strives to define an essential theory of learning and knowledge. Much of this effort was founded upon familiar ( to Spinoza) certain  Jewish sources.

[2] “Who is to decide which is the grimmer sight,” asks Honore de Balzac, “withered hearts, or empty skulls?”

[3] See, by this author, Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order, Lexington Books, 1984; and Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy, Lexington Books, 1983. Regarding philosophical foundations of Realpoliitk: “Right is the interest of the stronger,” says Thrasymachus in Bk. I, Sec. 338 of Plato, THE REPUBLIC (B. Jowett tr., 1875).  “Justice is a contract neither to do nor to suffer wrong,” says Glaucon, id., Bk. II, Sec. 359.  See also, Philus in Bk III, Sec. 5 of Cicero, DE REPUBLICA.

[4] Power politics or a “balance-of-power” has never been more than a facile metaphor. Despite its name, it has never had anything to do with ensuring or ascertaining equilibrium. As such, balance has always been subjective, a matter of assorted individual perceptions. Adversarial states in this “Westphalian” dynamic can never be sufficiently confident that strategic circumstances are suitably “balanced” in their particular favor. In consequence, each side to any contest or competition must perpetually fear that it will somehow be left behind, this creating ever wider and even cascading patterns of national insecurity and collective disequilibrium.

[5] Says French Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man: “The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the  extremity of `everyone for himself’ is false and against nature.”

[6] International law remains a “vigilante” or “Westphalian” system. See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119, Together, these two treaties comprise the Peace of Westphalia.

[7] The Devil in George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman observes correctly that “Man’s heart is in his weapons….in the arts of death he outdoes Nature herself….when he goes out to slay, he carries a marvel of mechanisms that lets loose at the touch of his finger all the hidden molecular energies….”

[8] We may think here of the applicable Talmudic metaphor: “The earth from which the first man was made was gathered in all the four corners of the world.”

[9] Understood  at purely conceptual levels, US strategic thinkers must inquire accordingly whether accepting a visible posture of limited nuclear war would merely exacerbate enemy nuclear intentions, or whether it would actually enhance this country’s overall nuclear deterrence. Such questions have been raised by this author for many years, but usually in explicit reference to more broadly theoretical or generic nuclear threats. See, for example, Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis (1972); Louis René Beres, Terrorism and Global Security: The Nuclear Threat (1979; second edition, 1987); Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (1984); Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (1986); and Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (2016).

[10] As a child growing up in New York City in the 1950s, I am reminded of “Captain Video” and “Tom Corbett Space Cadet.” Plainly, such earlier children’s programs are not a proper model for US strategic forces, anywhere.

[11] See, by Louis René Beres at Harvard Law School: https://harvardnsj.org/2020/03/complex-determinations-deciphering-enemy-nuclear-intentions/ See also, by this author, at US Army War College,  https://warroom.armywarcollege.edu/articles/nuclear-decision-making/ and at Modern War Institute, West Point (Pentagon)  https://mwi.usma.edu/theres-no-historical-guide-assessing-risks-us-north-korea-nuclear-war/

[12] For the most part, these dynamics describe a more-or-less variable condition of “chaos.” Though composed in the seventeenth century, Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan may still offer us a vision of this condition in modern world politics. During chaos, which is a “time of War,” says the English philosopher in Chapter XIII  (“Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery.”):  “… every man is Enemy to every man… and where the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Still, at the actual time of writing Leviathan, Hobbes believed that the condition of “nature” in world politics was less chaotic than that same condition extant among individual human beings. This was because of what he had called the “dreadful equality” of individual men in nature concerning the ability to kill others. Significantly, however, this once-relevant differentiation has effectively disappeared with the continuing manufacture and spread of nuclear weapons, a spread soon apt to be exacerbated by an already-nuclear North Korea and by a not-yet-nuclear Iran.

[13] According to Article 53 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties: “…a peremptory norm of general international law is a norm accepted and recognized by the international community of states as a whole as a norm from which no derogation is permitted and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character.” See: Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Done at Vienna, May 23, 1969. Entered into force, Jan. 27, 1980. U.N. Doc. A/CONF. 39/27 at 289 (1969), 1155 U.N.T.S. 331, reprinted in 8 I.L.M.  679 (1969).

[14] One may be usefully reminded here of Bertrand Russell’s trenchant observation in Principles of Social Reconstruction (1916): “Men fear thought more than they fear anything else on earth – more than ruin, more even than death.”

[15]  Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung both thought of “soul” (in German, Seele) as the intangible essence of a human being. Neither Freud nor Jung ever provided any precise definition of the term, but it was not intended by either in some ordinary or familiar religious sense. For both psychologists, it represented a recognizable and critical seat of mind and passions in this life. Interesting, too, in the present analytic context, is that Freud explained his predicted decline of America by making various express references to “soul.” Freud was plainly disgusted by any civilization so apparently unmoved by considerations of true “consciousness” (e.g., awareness of intellect, literature and history); he even thought that the crude American commitment to perpetually shallow optimism and material accomplishment at any cost would occasion sweeping psychological or emotional misery.

[16] From the standpoint of classical political and legal philosophy, such a national policy would be the diametric opposite of the statement by Emmerich de Vattel in The Law of Nations (1758): “The first general law which is to be found in the very end of the society of Nations is that each Nation should contribute as far as it can to the happiness and advancement of other Nations.”

[17] On this indispensable awareness, we may learn from the ancient Greek Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, “You are a citizen of the universe.” A broader idea of “oneness” followed the death of Alexander in 322 BCE, and with it came a coinciding doctrine of “universality” or interconnectedness. By the Middle Ages, this political and social doctrine had fused with the notion of a respublica Christiana, a worldwide Christian commonwealth, and Thomas, John of Salisbury and Dante were looking upon Europe as a single and unified Christian community. Below the level of God and his heavenly host, all the realm of humanity was to be considered as one. This is because all the world had been created for the same single and incontestable purpose; that is, to provide  background for the necessary drama of human salvation. Only in its relationship to the universe itself was the world correctly considered as a part rather than a whole. Said Dante in De Monarchia: “The whole human race is a whole with reference to certain parts, and, with reference to another whole, it is a part. For it is a whole with reference to particular kingdoms and nations, as we have shown; and it is a part with reference to the whole universe, which is evident without argument.” Today, of course, the idea of human oneness can and should be fully justified/explained in more purely secular terms of understanding.

[18] See by this author, at Oxford University Press:  https://blog.oup.com/2016/04/war-political-victories/

[19] Says Jose Ortega y’Gassett about science (Man and Crisis, 1958): “Science, by which I mean the entire body of knowledge about things, whether corporeal or spiritual, is as much a work of imagination as it is of observation….The latter is not possible without the former.”

[20] Included in this assessment must be the expanding risks of US Presidential nuclear decision-making. By this writer, see Louis René Beres, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists  https://thebulletin.onuclear rg/2016/08/what-if-you-dont-trust-the-judgment-of-the-president-whose-finger-is-over-the-nuclear-button/

[21] In stark contrast to President Trump, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director General of WHO, spoke modestly, intelligently and purposefully: “COVID-19 does not discriminate between rich nations and poor, large nations and small. It does not discriminate between nationalities, ethnicities, or ideologies. Neither do we,” he said. “This is a time for all of us to be united in our common struggle against a common threat, a dangerous enemy. When we’re divided, the virus exploits the cracks between us.”

[22] In partial reply, we may consider Karl Jaspers in Man in the Modern Age (1951): “Everyone knows that the world situation  in which we live is not a final one.”

[23] Federico Fellini, the Italian film director, once commented wisely: “The visionary is the only realist.”

[24] Louis René Beres’ earlier book, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (1984) was already organized around this same core assumption.

[25] There have been prophets of global integration in the modern era, especially Condorcet, Immanuel Kant, Auguste Comte and H.G. Wells. For the very best treatment of these prophets and their still-indispensable ideas, see W. Warren Wagar’s The City of Man (1963) and Building the City of Man: Outlines of a World Civilization (1971). Professor Wagar was a great visionary himself, one with whom I earlier had the honor to work at Princeton (World Order Models Project) in the late 1960s.

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Gulf Sands Shift as Anchors of Regional Security Loosen

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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China and the Gulf states are in the same boat as they grapple with uncertainty about regional security against the backdrop of doubts about the United States’ commitment to the region.

Like the Gulf states, China has long relied on the US defense umbrella to ensure the security of the flow of energy and other goods through waters surrounding the Gulf in what the United States has termed free-riding.

In anticipation of the day when China can no longer depend on security provided by the United States free of charge, China has gradually adjusted its defense strategy and built its first foreign military facility in Djibouti facing the Gulf from the Horn of Africa.

With the People’s Liberation Army Navy tasked with protecting China’s sea lines of communication and safeguarding its overseas interests, strategic planners have signaled that Djibouti is a first step in the likely establishment of further bases that would allow it to project long-range capability and shorten the time needed to resupply.

But Chinese strategic planners and their Gulf counterparts may part ways when it comes to what would be acceptable geopolitical parameters for a rejuvenated regional security architecture.

A rejiggered architecture would likely embed rather than exclude the US defense umbrella primarily designed to protect conservative energy-rich monarchies against Iran and counter militancy.

In contrast to China and Russia, Gulf states, as a matter of principle, favor identifying Iran as the enemy and have cold shouldered proposals for a non-aggression agreement. But for that they need the United States to be a reliable partner that would unconditionally come to their defense at whatever cost.

For its part, China goes to great lengths to avoid being sucked into the Middle East’s myriad conflicts. Adopting a different approach, Russia has put forward a plan for a multilateral security structure based on a non-aggression understanding that would include Iran.

No doubt, China, unlike Russia, wants to postpone the moment in which it has no choice but to become involved in Gulf security. However, China could find itself under pressure sooner rather than later depending on how Gulf perceptions of risk in the continued reliance on the United States evolve.

One factor that could propel things would be a change of guard in the White House as a result of the US election in November.

Democratic presumptive candidate Joe Biden, as president, may strike a more internationalist tone than Donald J. Trump, though a Biden administration’s relations with Saudi Arabia could prove to be more strained. Similarly, Mr. Biden’s focus, like that of Mr. Trump, is likely to be China rather than the Middle East.

By the same token, China’s appraisal of its ability to rely on the US in the Gulf could change depending on how mounting tensions with the US and potential decoupling of the world’s two largest economies unfolds.

China’s increased security engagement in Central Asia may well be an indication of how it hopes to proceed in the Gulf and the broader Middle East. China has stepped up joint military exercises with various Central Asian nations while its share of the Central Asian arms market has increased from 1.5 percent in 2014 to 18 percent today.

Founded in 2001 as a Central Asian security grouping, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has expanded its relationships in South Asia and the Caucasus, and admitted Iran as an observer.

Referring to China’s infrastructure, telecommunications, and energy-driven Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that seeks to link the Eurasian landmass to the People’s Republic, China and Central Asia scholar Raffaello Pantucci explained that: “China is expanding its security role in Central Asia to protect its interests in the region and is increasingly unwilling to abrogate security entirely to either local security forces or Russia.”

“By doing so, Beijing is demonstrating an approach that could be read as a blueprint for how China might advance its security relations in other BRI countries,”  Mr. Pantucci wrote.

Central Asia may find it easier than the Gulf to accommodate the Chinese approach.

The problem for most of the Gulf states is that taking Chinese and Russian concerns into account in any new security arrangement would have to entail paradigm shifts in their attitudes toward Iran.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – which has recently made overtures to Iran, insist that any real détente has to involve a halt to Iranian support for proxies in various Middle Eastern countries as well as a return to a renegotiated agreement that would curb not only the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program but also its development of ballistic missiles.

Caught between the rock of perceived US unreliability and the hard place of Chinese and Russian geopolitical imperatives, smaller Gulf states, including the UAE, in contrast to Saudi Arabia, are hedging their bets by cautiously reaching out to Iran in different ways.

They hope that the overtures will take them out of the firing line should either Iran or the United States, by accident or deliberately, heighten tensions and/or spark a wider military confrontation.

To be sure, various Gulf states have different calculations. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have adopted the most hardline position toward Iran. Oman and Qatar have long maintained normal relations, while the UAE and Kuwait have made limited overtures.

In the short run, Gulf states’ realization of China and Russia’s parameters could persuade them to maintain their levels of expenditure on weapons acquisitions. And, in the case of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, to pursue the development of a domestic defense industry, despite the economic fallout of the pandemic, the drop of oil and gas prices, and the shrinking of energy markets.

Probably, so will recent Iranian military advances. Iran last week publicly displayed what is believed to be an unmanned underwater vehicle that would allow the Revolutionary Guards’ navy to project greater power – because of its long-range, better integrated weapons systems – and more efficiently lay underwater mines.

The vehicle put Iran in an even more elite club than the one it joined in April when it successfully launched a military satellite, a capability only a dozen countries have. When it comes to unmanned underwater vehicles, Iran rubs shoulder with only three countries: the United States, Britain, and China.

Iran’s advances serve two purposes: they highlight the failure of the United States’ two-year-old sanctions-driven maximum pressure campaign to force Iran’s economy on its knees, and, together with massive US arms sales to Gulf countries, they fuel a regional arms race.

To be sure, Russia and China benefit from the race to a limited degree too.

In the ultimate analysis, however, the race could contribute to heightened tensions that risk putting one more nail in the coffin of a US-dominated regional architecture. That in turn could force external powers like China to engage whether they want to or not.

“China is quickly learning that you can’t trade and invest in an unstable place like the Middle East if you don’t have the means to protect your interests,” said Israeli journalist David Rosenberg. “Where business executives come, warships and commando units follow, and they will follow big.”

Author’s note: This story was first published in Inside Arabia

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