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China’s first overseas military base in Africa

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With more such projects in the pipeline at least in Asia, China has opened its first ever over sees military base on October 31 in African country of Djibouti. 

Speaking to China’s Djibouti-based forces during a visit to a joint battle command center in Beijing, Chinese President Xi “got a good understanding” of the base’s operations and the lives of the soldiers there, China’s Defense Ministry said late Friday.

Xinhua said in its short report that the ships had departed from Zhanjiang in southern China “to set up a support base in Djibouti.” Navy commander Shen Jinlong “read an order on constructing the base in Djibouti.” It did not say when the base might formally begin operations.

Ships carrying Chinese military personnel for Beijing’s first overseas military base, in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, have left China to begin setting up the facility, the state news agency Xinhua reported.  Troops serving at China’s first overseas military base, in the Horn of Africa country of Djibouti, should help promote peace and stability, President Xi Jinping told them in a video chat, encouraging them to promote a good image.

China began construction of the base in Djibouti last year. It will be used to resupply navy ships taking part in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions off the coasts of Yemen and Somalia, in particular. Xi “encouraged them to establish a good image for China’s military and promote international and regional peace and stability”, the ministry said.

This will be China’s first overseas naval base, although Beijing officially terms it a logistics facility.  China began construction of a logistics base in strategically located Djibouti last year that will resupply naval vessels taking part in peacekeeping and humanitarian missions off the coasts of Yemen and Somalia, in particular.

$180 billion spent

After months of anticipation since announcing plans for its first foreign base, China opened what it calls a logistical facility on August 1. The base will be used mainly to resupply ships moving through the Gulf of Aden and Red Sea, and support humanitarian and peacekeeping efforts in East Africa, China has said. Satellite photos, however, have led to speculation about a large underground area where unseen equipment may be stored, and the facility could shift the balance of power in the region.

Xinhua said the establishment of the base was a decision made by both countries after “friendly negotiations, and accords with the common interest of the people from both sides.”

The base will ensure China’s performance of missions, such as escorting, peacekeeping and humanitarian aid in Africa and west Asia. The base will also be conducive to overseas tasks including military cooperation, joint exercises, evacuating and protecting overseas Chinese, and emergency rescue, as well as jointly maintaining security of international strategic seaways.

China spent $180 billion on its People’s Liberation Army last year, according to the Pentagon report, though the report concedes “it is difficult to estimate actual military expenses, largely due to China’s poor accounting transparency.”

China’s official defense budget puts its expenditures at about $140 billion, but that budget fails to include major defense expenditures related to research and procurement of foreign equipment. The official Chinese defense budget has nearly doubled since 2007, from roughly $75 billion to $140 billion in 2016.

The base is part of China’s plan to expand its Belt and Road Initiative, a $1 trillion plan to link China with 68 countries in Africa, Asia and Europe through trade deals and infrastructure projects. The initiative was first announced in 2013 and includes a Chinese presence around the east coast of Africa.

Economic power

Chinese President Xi Jinping is overseeing an ambitious military modernization program, including developing capabilities for China’s forces to operate far from home.  During his visit to the command center, Xi also instructed the armed forces to improve their combat capability and readiness for war, the ministry said. Xi said progress in joint operation command systems, especially in efficiency at the regional level, was needed and troops must conduct training under combat conditions.

Djibouti, which is about the size of Wales, is at the southern entrance to the Red Sea on the route to the Suez Canal.  The tiny, barren nation sandwiched between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia also hosts USA, Japanese and French bases.

Products that China wants to ship are based in the region, so it makes sense to expand the infrastructure to transport them. But the Djibouti facility is also a sign of China diversifying its engagement and avoiding restrictions on its presence. This might be the start of some more military, security-related bases

Currently, China mainly imports minerals and oil from Africa, but its long-term plan is to build factories on the continent and move some of its manufacturing there to take advantage of the cheaper labor and geographic position.

Pakistan singled out

There has been persistent speculation in diplomatic circles that China would build other such bases, in Pakistan for example, but the government has dismissed this. Myanmar and Sri Lanka are other nations China would be considering for similar military bases.

The report singles out Pakistan as one of those allies potentially willing to host Chinese troops and says China already has begun construction on a military base in the small east African country Djibouti, which lies along the Gulf of Aden. The Pentagon believes construction will be completed within the next year. “This initiative, along with regular naval vessel visits to foreign ports, both reflects and amplifies China’s growing influence, extending the reach of its armed forces,” the report reads.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying blasted the report, saying it disregarded facts and made “irresponsible remarks.” Speaking with reporters, Hua refused to comment on the potential future overseas bases, but said China is a force for safeguarding peace in Asia and “friendly cooperation between China and Pakistan does not target any third party.” “We hope the USA side will put aside the Cold War mentality, view China’s military development in an objective and rational manner, and take concrete actions to maintain steady growth of the military relationship between the two countries,” she said.

Djibouti is located at the southern entrance to the Red Sea on the route to the Suez Canal. The tiny, barren nation sandwiched amid Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia also hosts USA, Japanese and French bases.

China’s new military and logistical base in Djibouti has put other foreign powers on edge, but observers believe China’s strategy in the region is more about economic growth than military might.

Djibouti’s position on the northwestern edge of the Indian Ocean has fueled worry in India that it would become another of China’s “string of pearls” military alliances and assets ringing India, including Bangladesh, Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

Regional concern

China’s ambitions have fueled concern in India, which has watched its neighbor’s presence grow in the Indian Ocean. In a strategy known as the “string of pearls,” China already has military and commercial links with Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.  India has always viewed the Indian Ocean region as its domain, and as China increasingly has more economic interest and a large military presence in the region, India seeking to play a larger global role is going to have deeper and deeper concerns about its presence.

The base in Djibouti is like a game changer in terms of the security environment, and India is worried about it. The speed with which China is executing its strategy in the region caught India off guard and may prompt countermeasures.

For China, the Djibouti base represents a shift to a more dual role in its global expansion — one that focuses on economics as well as military and logistics support. “We’re going to see more of these types of facilities in other places,” said the Asia Society Policy Institute. “Some of these aren’t going to look like bases. They’re going to look like dual use, civilian sort of access facilities, where also you can get access for military vessels as well.”

China’s expansion has also garnered the attention of the U.S., which has its own base, Camp Lemonnier, in Djibouti. France and Japan also have military bases in Djibouti. The United States will be concerned about the possibility of espionage, including electronic espionage, but will likely also be very closely observing the Chinese.

US remarks

China likely will try to expand its military presence across the world with military bases in Pakistan, Djibouti and elsewhere, as it sees its role in global affairs growing, according to a report released by the Pentagon.

The annual Pentagon report on Chinese military developments says China already is expanding its presence in foreign ports as a way to “pre-position the necessary logistics support” to sustain far away from the Chinese homeland.  “China’s expanding international economic interests are increasing demands for the Chinese Navy to operate in more distant maritime environments to protect Chinese citizens, investments, and critical sea lines of communication,” the report reads.

The Pentagon believes China most likely will try to set up additional military bases in countries where it has “longstanding friendly relationships and similar strategic interests.”

The report singles out Pakistan as one of those allies potentially willing to host Chinese troops and says China already has begun construction on a military base in the small east African country Djibouti, which lies along the Gulf of Aden. The Pentagon believes construction will be completed within the next year. “This initiative, along with regular naval vessel visits to foreign ports, both reflects and amplifies China’s growing influence, extending the reach of its armed forces,” the report reads.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying blasted the report Wednesday, saying it disregarded facts and made “irresponsible remarks.” Speaking with reporters, Hua refused to comment on the potential future overseas bases, but said China is a force for safeguarding peace in Asia and “friendly cooperation [between China and Pakistan] does not target any third party.” “We hope the U.S. side will put aside the Cold War mentality, view China’s military development in an objective and rational manner, and take concrete actions to maintain steady growth of the military relationship between the two countries,” she said.

Playing the game of Asia pivot to contain China as well as Russia, America is increasingly concerned about the Chinese expansionism in Asia. It can easily understand the rules of expansionism as it guides Israel in its expansionist agenda in West Asia, especially in Palestine.

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Defense

Is this the end of NATO-era?

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Money is a very powerful tool, which can easily ruin relations. Different views on money spending can ruin even good relations between countries in such huge and powerful organization as NATO. It should be noted that European defence spending will surpass $300 billion a year by 2021, according to new research from Jane’s by IHS Markit.

Defense expenditure is a highly sensitive topic in the region. U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly criticized NATO member countries in Europe for not respecting a rule that says 2% of GDP should be spent on defence.
At a NATO summit in 2017, Trump ramped up that pressure by noting the U.S. had allocated more cash to defense than all the other NATO countries combined.

The U.S., as the leader of the Alliance, keeps close eye on those of them who try to oppose the need to rapid increase on defence spending.
In particular, this month Germany displeased the U.S. by a conflict that erupted between Finance Minister Olaf Scholz of the Social Democrats (SPD) and Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, chair of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU).

The finance minister insisted that an increase in the defense budget to 2 percent of gross domestic product, as NATO member states have pledged to do, not be anchored in the coalition government’s midterm assessment. The discord between the two apparently grew so heated that the Chancellery had to step in. President of France also shocked the NATO supporters when said about “the death of NATO brains”.
Judging by opinion polls, many residents of the European countries, including the Baltic States, consider military expenditures of this size unnecessary and dangerous.

The authorities of the Baltic States, in contrary, strive to increase defence spending. But the reason why the Baltic States support US requirements is their active cooperation with the U.S. The dependence on the U.S. is so high that they simply can not oppose U.S. initiatives. Though even 2 percent of gross domestic product on defence is a heavy burden for the Baltics’ economy.

Within the EU, the Baltic States and Poland are considered close U.S. partners and are doing everything to really benefit the United States, no matter how the EU looks at it. These are the main reasons why the Baltic countries support a requirement that they themselves are not able to fulfill.

Latvian journalist Māris Krautmanis in his article in Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze discussing the adoption of the budget for next year, writes that there is no money for the promised salary increase for doctors and teachers. Krautmanis finds an explanation for why this is happening. “The tremendous sums from the state budget eat up defence spending so that NATO generals do not reproach that Latvia spends little. This is a taboo topic at all, it is not even discussed,” the author writes.

Another Latvian journalist Juris Lorencs writes in Latvijas Avīze about disturbing trends in world politics for Latvia and about what position should be taken in Latvia.
He writes about slogans which sound louder and louder: “Our home, our country comes first!” He thought they weaken both NATO and the EU. He also calls the U.S. unpredictable in its political behaviour.

Misunderstanding of the role and amount of financing could lead to the NATO destruction on the inside. At least there are two reasons for the collapse of the NATO: the U.S. can stop its financing or European member states such as Germany and France will decide to quit the organization themselves in favor to strengthening defence in the framework of European Union. Let’s see… 

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As Kashmir simmers the IOR too stands as a potential Nuclear Flashpoint

M Waqas Jan

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This year has seen tensions between Nuclear armed Pakistan and India reach unprecedented levels with both countries flirting with a dangerous escalation spiral. February’s aerial engagement between the two countries’ air forces, sustained exchanges of small arms and artillery fire over the LOC, as well as the ongoing curfew and communications blackout (now in its 100th day) have all left many to contemplate the long-term consequences of these altercations on the stability and overall security of the entire South Asian region.

These include consequences leading to as far as the Indian Ocean Region, which despite being more than 1300kms away from the LOC remains witness to a series of dangerous developments, especially within context of the current scenario. For instance, India’s recently planned test of its K4 Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM) represents a key part of India’s long-held desires of developing a robust second-strike capability. While the test itself is meant to signal a major tipping point within the overall strategic balance of the region, the worsening situation in Kashmir carries the risk of unnecessarily heightening tensions at a time when the regional situation is already quite complex. This is largely because the K4 with its purported range of 3500 kms is capable of targeting most of mainland China in addition to Pakistan from the relatively safer distance of India’s coastal waters. Its value as a strategic deterrent is evident from its planned deployment on India’s nascent fleet of nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). These include the INS Arihant and the recently commissioned INS Arighant for which the K4 has been designed to spec. With the Indian navy planning to induct even more SSBNS over the next decade, there are soon likely to be dozens of K4 missiles deployed on these subs, which themselves are likely to remain scattered across the IOR.

While the planned deployment of these missiles was to supposedly herald India’s coming of age as a major global power, the current context in which these actions are being taken presents a troubling scenario. Particularly keeping in mind the apparent shifts in India’s nuclear doctrinal and policy framework, the very thought of such nuclear weapons being readily deployed across the Indian Ocean represents a major cause for concern the world over. Unlike India’s land-based nuclear arsenal where its nuclear warheads are largely demated from the several delivery systems available to its military, India’s sea based nuclear arsenal is likely to be deployed at a much more heightened state of alert. As a result, it is also likely to be subject to an altered or more sophisticated command and control structure which in itself requires seamless communications not only between the Indian state and military but also within the many arms of the Indian military itself. Such integration is further conditional on India acquiring highly robust intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities that leave absolutely no margin for error considering the immense risks at stake in one of the world’s most volatile regions. Add to that the Indian government’s now institutionalized approach to nuclear brinkmanship and its steady revocation of its ‘No First Use’ policy, there exists a highly dangerous mix of hubris and recklessness where the entire human race risks being annihilated from even the smallest of missteps.

While some may argue that India is still quite a few years away from deploying a notable fleet of SSBNs armed with its K4 SLBMs, the nuclear weapons already deployed by the Indian Navy already pose quite serious challenges to regional stability. In addition to the K4 which is still under testing, India has equipped several of its surface and sub-surface platforms with a number of other nuclear capable missiles such as the Dhanush and the K-15 Sagarika SLMBs. Considering their relatively short ranges (the Dhanush has a target range of 350kms, while the K-15’s range is around 750-800 kms) these weapons are unlikely to be able provide an adequate second-strike deterrent. However, being mostly Pakistan specific, they still contribute immensely to converting the entire Indian Ocean Region to a nuclear flashpoint in addition to the LOC.

In fact, considering the direction in which India’s military thinking has evolved over the last decade, the IOR’s potential as a nuclear flashpoint is arguably even greater than that of the LOC. The sea’s vastness, lack of terrestrial boundaries and potential lack of collateral damage makes a nuclear detonation in the IOR all the more likely. This can range from a non-targeted nuclear detonation as a mere show of force to a tactical nuclear strike on a specific naval platform and its crew in a bid to achieve escalation dominance early on in a conflict. As has often been the case with Indian military thinking, such a scenario can arise from a gross overestimation of its capabilities. Derived from its conventional military superiority(which is already more manifest at sea), such conditions make for an attractive option for India to conduct a limited war against Pakistan at sea.

However, considering how both the Indian and Pakistani navies have opted to commingle conventional and nuclear weapons across a large section of their naval platforms, the risks of any conventional engagement escalating to the use of nuclear weapons remain unacceptably high. As such, even thinking that escalation from a small engagement or skirmish at sea can be managed by either side is downright illusory at best. Yet, based on the Indian state’s most recent actions and statements, whether the hubris coming out of India’s leaders extends to the manic delusions of a winnable nuclear war is unnervingly open to question.

One hopes that the world never has to contemplate, let alone face, the consequences of such an appalling possibility.

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Macron is wrong, NATO is not brain-dead

Iveta Cherneva

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Right before the 30th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall this weekend, French President Macron decided to make another staggering statement in a series of gaffes over the past weeks. “NATO is brain-dead”, he said in an interview for the Economist yesterday and everyone gasped. Europeans more than anyone need the alliance alive and well.

Macron also said that he didn’t know if he still believed in Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty – the part on collective defense which says that an attack on one is an attack on all. The French President was worried about whether the US was still committed to the alliance.

This is not the first time that NATO has been kicked. The alliance has been scorned over the years, many doubting its reason d’etre. The transatlantic alliance has proven to be a resilient one over the decades, however. It is a mathematical constant, if you wish.

If the transatlantic alliance didn’t break on the rocks of the Iraq war, it surely can survive Trump.

Macron’s concern is that historical forces are pulling the transatlantic allies apart but that perception is a product of Trump’s rhetoric, nothing more – it is not indicative of the pattern of transatlantic relations over the decades. Transatlantic relations are not Trump. 

President Trump is facing an impeachment and elections, all within the next months to a year. The assessment of transatlantic relations cannot be based on the rhetoric of a person who might be gone soon. No one in the Washington community believes that Trump would withdraw from NATO, even after all the tough rhetoric. NATO is here to stay, and that is the belief among virtually all US officials and diplomats. Transatlantic relations will soon normalize after President Trump is out of office because that is the pattern. The transatlantic partnership is deeply ingrained in the American political psyche. There is no need for apocalyptic statements that rock the boat.

The US has guaranteed Europe’s security since the end of the Second World War. Europe cannot do it on its own. What is true is that Europe needs to start contributing more to its own defense.

For a third of NATO’s European member states in proximity to Russia, NATO is anything but obsolete. From the Baltic States, through Poland, Slovakia, Romania, down to Bulgaria, NATO’s enhanced military presence since the Crimea war has been felt as a counter-measure to Russian ambitions. That of course is far away from France, but European NATO is not France. Macron doesn’t speak for all the NATO European states most of who cannot imagine political life and even survival without NATO.

What is apparent is that French President Macron is rolling out a gaffe after gaffe this week. He caused a diplomatic scandal with the Bulgarian and Ukrainian governments, by saying in a far-right magazine that he preferred legal African migrants to Bulgarian and Ukrainian criminal gangs. The week before that, he blocked Albania and North Macedonia from starting accession talks for EU membership, which drew a lot of criticism from all corners of Europe. Yesterday, Macron called Bosnia a jihadists ticking bomb, of course ignoring that France is a jihadist force itself. Macron’s “brain death” comment angered Angela Merkel who warned him to cut down on the drastic remarks.

So Macron, not Trump, is the one with the divisive, anti-European role, judging by the past weeks. Macron, not Trump, is turning into the European anti-hero.

The claim that the French President’s series of inflammatory statements is a strategy to position France as the alternative leader of the European Union could be as true at the hypothesis that all this is a part of Macron pandering to the French far-right.

The truth is that NATO is alive and kicking. Its very existence serves as deterrence against a potential attack on a NATO member, so that Article 5 does not even have to be tested. NATO should not be taken for granted; only when something no longer exists will one get to appreciate all the invisible deterrence benefits.

If the history of Article 5 shows us one thing, is that it was used for the first time by the Americans in the aftermath of September 11th. This is a common reminder, anytime someone in the US questions the value of NATO.

So, Macron is wrong on NATO. It will be good if he toned down the lunatic rhetoric of the past weeks, to show that he himself is not brain-dead. If Macron’s intention was to make waves, he is succeeding. If his intention was to be vying for the European Union top leadership spot, he is failing.

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