Following the end September incident in South China Sea when a Type 052 destroyer of Chinese Navy cut ‘across the bow’ of US Navy destroyer USS Decatur when the US vessel was passing near the Gaven Reef in Spratly islands, Trump administration has taken a serious note of this incident . It was a very close encounter which reminded of the U.S. Navy EP-3 surveillance plane disaster in 2001 when Chinese navy plane rammed into the US surveillance plane, and what followed was a diplomatic crisis. Just a week later after the two destroyers crossed each other paths, President Trump made a very curt remark on the earlier Obama administration and called it “impotent” for its lackluster approach in containing Chinese activities in South China Sea. President trump added that as Obama administration did not undertake necessary counter measures, Beijing is posing serious challenges to US ships which are operating in the contested waters of South China Sea. The impending confrontation was expected but the problem for Trump is the magnitude and timing of such confrontation would jeopardize its deft maneuvers in diplomacy. Trump has held first summit meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to manage the nuclear threat that the dictatorial regime poses to US, South Korea and Japan. Any escalation of maritime tensions would have a cascading effect on its peace initiatives with North Korea.
According to rough estimates South China Sea contains 17.7 billion tons of crude oil and more than 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Given these large estimated reserves and also very rich fishing grounds in the shallow waters of South China Sea, many nations around its periphery have claimed sovereignty over the more than 80 islands /islets islands. South China Sea is also a commercial shipping route which witnesses $4.5tn of maritime trade passing through its waters. China claims more than 80 per cent of the maritime m area of South Chain Sea citing the nine dash line drawn by Chiang Kai Shek’s nationalist government in 1949. South China Sea had a history of close encounters which were seen when Chinese navy killed 70 Vietnamese sailors in 1988 over occupation of Johnson South Reef, and thereafter when during confrontation with Philippines in 1995, it occupied Mischief reef. The features in South China Sea are islets and rocks which at times of low tide are barely 4-5 meters above the sea level and these get submerged during the high tide.
The island building process that China has undertaken has started threatening the safety and security of the sea lanes. In few of the islands under Chinese occupation in the South China sea, China has developed necessary infrastructure to support operations of the military aircraft and also missile defence batteries creating serious challenge to the US navy, and also challenging freedom of navigation for navies of other ASEAN countries as well as those of India, Japan and Australia. This assertive approach that China has adopted has resonated in the ASEAN multilateral meetings but a strong counter narrative, and criticism from the multilateral institution is missing. The ASEAN nations fearing Chinese riposte along with Chinese aggressive behaviour have tried to engage China so as to bring about a Code of Conduct in the disputed waters. China has imposed fishing ban in certain months each year in the third richest fishing grounds in the world, and also has intimidated the other claimant states fishing vessels in the past. Chinese navy had harassed Philippines Coast Guard and had snapped the undersea cables laid by a Vietnamese ship. In 2009 USS Impeccable also had to weather annoying tactics by Chinese fishing boats who have been acting as the third line of defence after Chinese navy and Coast guard. This aggressive behavior and demarcation of safe zones by the Chinese navy in and around the islands that China occupies, have threatened lives and livelihood of fishing communities of Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Philippines who make their living out of the fisheries that they catch in South China Sea.
In July2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) had given a verdict in favor of Philippines when the country took the issue of illegal Chinese occupation of features particularly islets and small islands in the EEZ of the Philippines to the international tribunal. It adjudicated that all those features which could not sustain human habitation have not right to seek an Exclusive Economic Zone(EEZ) of 200 nautical miles, and also declared that Chinese occupation and reclamation activities is illegal. The Philippines while awaiting an international support and US action given the fact that US and Philippines have a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) sought refuge with China to resolve the crisis. For a long time, China has been insisting on bilateral negotiations with other claimant states including Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. Taiwan also occupies the largest island in South China Sea known as Itu Iba which is centrally located and it of immense strategic importance. The island building and the installation of military support and logistics structure has annoyed US and it has made very strong remarks with regard to Chinese construction activities. However, in terms of dissuading Chinese activities there has been a sublime response from US. As a result of US non–intervention, China has built nearly 2,000 acres of reclaimed land in and around its islands in South China Sea.
With South China sea heating up because of the recent incident, India will have to be cautious with regard to safeguarding its interest. The reported near confrontation between US and Chinese navy in the end of September 2018 is a matter of concern. India has also faced such intimidation tactics in the past when in July 2011 its naval ship AIRAWAT leaving the Vietnamese coast received radio message warning it of transgressing the Chinese territory in South China sea. Given this one off incident cannot be a parameter for the tension germinating in the disputed waters, India will have to be prepared for close encounters with the Chinese navy in future.
US Air force : Competing with rivals or creating a new weaponry market?
US President Donald Trump has once again stressed the need for formation of US space force, reasoning that Russia and China are pioneers in the area.
The US Space Force, which is intended to have control over military operations in outer space, would be a new branch of the military by 2020, on par with the army, navy, air force, marines and coast guard.
Trump’s remark proves that Washington’s main objective of the space force is not to lag behind in the competition with its traditional rivals.
This is the first time since the adoption of National Security Bill in 1947 that a new branch of military is added to the US Armed Forces. Air Force Space Command (AFSPC), sometimes referred to informally as US Space Command, will be a major branch of the United States Air Force, with its headquarters at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado. This command intends to support US military operations worldwide with a variety of satellites and cybercrime operations. Approximately 47,000 people in 88 locations throughout the world will carry out AFSPC operations.
Trump believes that a mere US presence in space is not enough, that it must dominate it as he does not want to see the dominance of China and other countries in space.
The new space force will have the same power as the other branches of the US Armed Forces, and will monitor space and cyber-attack operations, including satellite management and launches, including launches of ballistic missiles. But unlike NASA, which focuses mainly on space exploration and scientific discovery, the new space force will focus on military aspects and space defense.
The BBC writes that military and non-military operations in space carried out by the US Global Positioning System (GPS) could interfere with each other. Satellite navigation uses GPS, which the US military invented and is used by civilians, too.
“People are unlikely to know that space is now a military environment,” said Alexandra Stickings, research analyst for Space Policy and Security within the Military Sciences team at RUS, explaining that this has been going on for decades.
During the Cold War, the US and Soviet Union weren’t fighting in space but used spy satellites. At that time, Washington had deployed an anti-satellite rocket in the Pacific Ocean, and Moscow developed a weapon that could destroy a satellite in orbit.
According to Secure World Foundation, China, Russia and the US have the technology to destroy satellites. These weapons are missiles thrown directly from earth to a satellite in orbit.
These weapons are known as “same orbit” and are actually satellites launched by rockets from the ground. After the missile is separated, the satellite will target itself to the orbit of the satellite and will either connect to it or collide with it.
In 2007, China launched an anti-satellite rocket to destroy a meteor orbiting 800 kilometers above Earth. The experiment succeeded.
Meanwhile, Washington has claimed that Russia is developing a laser aerial system designed to disrupt US space systems. The Pentagon also claims that Moscow is creating missiles that can be launched from fighter planes to destroy US satellites.
Cecil Eugene Diggs Haney, a retired US Navy admiral who previously served as Commander, United States Strategic Command (STRATCOM), said that the US should study raise funding for space programs and overall preparedness.
Fruitless efforts to demilitarize space
Although the US is pursuing military goals in space, under the pretext that China and Russia are taking military action there, in 2008 Moscow and Beijing proposed a draft international agreement to prevent the deployment of weapons in space. To this day, Washington has made various excuses and has not signed the agreement.
In 2014, Russia presented another draft resolution to prevent the deployment of weapons in space to the UN General Assembly, which once again faced opposition from the US and its allies.
In line with that, Reuters writes that evidence suggests the Trump Administration has defined space as a new battlefield. In his speech in the Pentagon, Mike Pence said: “History proves that peace only comes through strength. And the next generation of Americans to confront the emerging threats in the boundless expanse of space will be wearing the uniform of the United States of America as well.” Trump’s vice president several months ago also said that the US should strengthen its space force in the future as much as its ground forces.
Many people like Pence believe the US will face new threats in space soon. The Chief of Staff of the US Air Force, General David Goldfein, recently delivered a speech at the Air Force’s annual meeting where he said that mankind will eventually face space warfare that must use information from all areas, including air, cyber, land, sea and space, to increase its military strength.
US Secretary of Defense James Mattis has recently announced that the Pentagon agrees with the plan to form a space force and considers space a new battleground and that it plans to create a combat command. He added that the Pentagon fully understands Trump’s concerns about protecting U.S assets in space, thus the US intends to take this into account because other countries have shown that they can attack these assets.
NASA chief told CBS News in an interview last month: “Our very way of life is dependent on space. If we lose the GPS signals, there are no interbank transfers, and no food in the stores among other things, which is why hostile countries around the world are taking steps to harm US capabilities.”
Some argue that the formation of a space force is time-consuming and requires a huge effort. Some political observers have also warned that a space force could trigger an arms race in outer space. Critics believe that many of the assigned missions are already being carried out by the other branches of the US military, and that a “space force” is unnecessary and too costly.
Former US Secretary of the Air Force Deborah Lee James has claimed that few or no one in the Pentagon wants President Trump’s Space Force. “None of them are in favor of a Space Force, I say none of the top leaders, but they’re stuck.”
She also said that close to 35,000 people are already working in the US Air Force and formation of a new military wing could be disruptive.
Since Democrats in the US Congress also do not support Trump’s plan, formation of a US space force may also face a legal barrier. For example, Senator Brian Emanuel Schatz has called establishment of US Space Force a stupid idea and predicted that it would never be realized.
Vermont senator Bernie Sanders has also criticized the plan saying, “Maybe, just maybe, we should make sure our people are not dying because they lack health insurance before we start spending more billions to militarize outer space.”
Farid Karimi writes in Zoomit: “The United States now has more than 800 satellites in total, but while the US Army will not need any new satellites, it cannot form a space force overnight. The formation should be approved by the Congress, just as the US Air Force separated from the Army long ago with Congressional approval.
A new weapons market
In addition to the US, Russia, and China, many other states such as India, Iran and Japan have been operating in space and have launched satellites. No doubt they will also try to improve their defenses against their enemies in space. This will ignite a weapons race and a new weapons market.
The US, Russia and China are three of the world’s largest arms manufacturers and the world’s weapons market is in their hands. The formation of a new arms market puts more profits into the pockets of arms manufacturers. That may be one reason for Trump’s insistence on the development of US space forces.
First published in our partner MNA
Future of ISR Capabilities in South Asia
A number of problems faced by the inhabitants of the South Asian region include poverty, food scarcity, natural calamities, and mismanagement of the resources by the governments, corruption and so on and so forth. Cherry on the top is conflicting relationships regional nuclear neighbors leading to huge expenditures on military build-up. Thus, first priority of most of the regional states is to secure themselves from external and internal threats by spending of large sum of budget on military/ arms buildup.
The beginning of 21st century brought the information technology into play which changed the life as we know it. Developed world adopted this change much faster than the developing countries. However, because information technology eliminated the distances and was so cheap that even the developing states could not remain immune to it. Nonetheless, due to technological hurdles the journey is not as smooth as it was for developed countries.
It is a fact that every man-made technology has a flip side; same is the case with information technology. States started using the information technology for military purposes along with civilian purposes which blurs the lines of its use in peace time and war times. Previously information was just considered as integral component of warfare, but in present times information is the warfare.
States are flexing their muscles in technologies that help them to attain real time information on enemy to eliminate the element of surprise not only in war or crisis time but also in peace times. One significant technology which is making its mark to facilitate intelligence and information gathering is Unmanned Armed Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) also known as Drones.
Being a developing region, the focus of South Asian states should have been on the elimination of poverty and facilitation of basic facilities to its population. However, security concerns and threat perceptions forced states to invest in their militaries to ensure their sovereignty and territorial integrity. Security situation of this particular region is complex because two arch nuclear rivals that are neighbors are involved in continuous arms race.
Till last decade the focus of security concerns in South Asia were related to conventional and nuclear issues, but with the information warfare knocking at the door, the situation is gradually yet surely changing. With the evolution and amalgamation of new technologies into warfare, South Asian security situation is becoming more volatile and fragile. These difficulties are not arising because new technologies are coming into being but because of the myopia of states to restrain themselves to not use technology against each other.
Recent in South Asia reveals that information warfare which would involve cyber warfare, space weaponization and ISR technologies are making their way into South Asia. Both nuclear rivals do have the capabilities for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR), which also include the technologies like drones and satellites.
These drones by both states were operated through existing ground control stations, which restricted the range, endurance and flexibility of these drones. From military point of view drones control through ground based control station is a short coming. The same short coming acted as the much desired restraint on the use of technology in South Asia.
However, the recent chain of events reveal that drones will be used in South Asia by India through satellite control which will definitely boost the flexibility, range and endurance of the Indian Drones. India is all set to launch another satellite GSAT-7A which will be an advanced military communication satellite in geo-synchronous orbit; it would be especially designated to Indian Air Force.
India in its most recent Communication Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) signed with the US is trying to procure armed Sea Guardian Drone or Predator-B drone for effective intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance. Predator-B is not only capable of information gathering but can also fire “Hell Fire” missile and smart bombs. It is capable of flying at high altitude, with jamming proof systems like protected GPS, IFF (identification of friend or foe) receiver and has ability to re-arm as well.
Besides, Predator-B India is also in process to acquire missile armed Heron TP drones from Israel for $ 400 million dollars. Fleet of Harpy UAVs is also part of Indian inventory. Harpy is also technology acquired from Israel but is not equipped with missile. India has already shown the intention to create tri-services for space, cyber and innovative technologies in military to develop and use them more effectively in future.
To counter India in drone of UAVs technology Pakistan has also made its indigenous drone named Burraq, which is also capable of firing laser guided missile. Moreover, after the COMCASA and S-400 deal, Pakistan is buying 48 armed Chinese Drones, Wing Long II.
However, in face of growing competition in ISR capabilities and Information warfare, at the moment Pakistan might also ventured into dual use remote sensing satellites and designated military satellites, to not only have real time intelligence but to increase the endurance and range of its drones as well.
Thus, in the light of current trends it would be safe to say that space, cyber and ISR technologies are becoming part of South Asian military environment. Acquiring armed ISR technology like drones reveals that currently both states are preparing themselves for modern and sub-conventional warfare. Moreover, continuity in conflicting relationship between both states will catalyze the competition in ISR technology and induce more lethality in it which would lead to more instability.
Romania Militarizing the Black Sea Region
Romania’s policy in the Black Sea region is aimed at creating strategic prerequisites for Bucharest to achieve long-term regional leadership.
Russia is the only Black Sea country, which does not fit into the geopolitical landscape being built by Bucharest. It is a country with which Romania, as a member of the EU and NATO, is not bound by allied treaties. Therefore, Romania views Russia as an obstacle to its plans, and its policy is aimed at getting this hurdle out of the way.
Strengthening European security is part of the general context of containing Russia will dominate the agenda of Romania’s chairmanship of the European Council from January 2019.
Worried by the current imbalance between the northeast (Baltic region: Poland, Baltic states) and the southeast (Black Sea region: Romania) flanks of NATO, Romania will seek to offset this by beefing up NATO’s military presence at both ends of the arc of instability now being created.
Russia’s presence on the Black Sea is seen by Bucharest as a sign Moscow’s growing influence in the eastern Mediterranean region, which, simultaneously, is reducing the West’s sway over the region. Bucharest sees that as a long-term problem as a drop in the West’s influence in the Mediterranean will significantly undermine Romania’s own position in the Black Sea region.
Even though Russia’s military doctrine does not pose any deliberate threat to Romania, this still does not deter Bucharest from making anti-Russian moves. Amid the US’ and EU’s current tensions with Turkey, Bucharest has a theoretical chance to fill the emerging void in NATO’s military architecture in the Eastern Mediterranean. Bucharest is ready (and willing!) to assume some of the geopolitical functions previously assigned to Ankara to act as a regional vanguard in the confrontation with Russia on the Black Sea and increase its strategic significance for the United States and NATO.
The Black Sea region, which links Eurasia with North Africa and the Middle East, serves as a gateway to the Mediterranean, which in turn, is a corridor to the Atlantic and the ocean. Romanian politicians of the past viewed the Black Sea as a road to the Caspian via the Caucasus isthmus with access to Central Asia.
The Black Sea is Romania’s only waterway to the outside world that allows it to widen the boundaries of Romanian influence.
Romania’s geopolitical doctrine considers the Black Sea as a constituent element of Romanian national identity along with the Danube and Dniester rivers, and of Romanians as a Black Sea nation. The political tradition of Romania views the Dniester as a natural cultural, political and geographical borderline that separates Europe from Russia-Eurasia, Romanians from Slavs and the Romanian geopolitical area from Russia. The Danube is considered as a vital artery and cradle of the Romanian people, connecting it with the Black Sea and Europe.
Therefore, Romania’s expansionism on the Black Sea is not a variable but a permanent aspect Bucharest’s foreign policy, along with two other constant vectors to Moldova and the Western Balkans. This three-tier construction constitutes the basis of the Romanian geopolitical consciousness, which, regrettably, is resulting in ill-advised foreign policy moves.
Guided, or rather misguided, by this erroneous policy, the Romanian elites have made all these three components of the Romanian national consciousness and cultural identity dependent on the ever-changing political situation in their relations with Russia.
It was exactly this policy that inevitably pushed bilateral relations on a downward path, since Russia is viewed in this context as something hostile and contrary to the manifestations of Romanian identity in the world in a political-spatial and cultural-ideological dimension.
Romania spends 2 percent of its GDP on defense with the purchase of modern weapons accounting for a hefty 33 percent of the country’s military budget – more than in any other of NATO’s East European members. It looks like Romania’s chances of equaling Poland in terms of its strategic importance to NATO may soon increase given the country’s geographic closeness to Russia’s Crimea.
Bucharest and Warsaw have already signed an agreement on strategic partnership, and Poland’s “Three Seas” initiative and Bucharest’s “Great Romania” project geopolitically complement each other.
The idea underlying the coordinated action by Warsaw and Bucharest is to create an anti-Russian corridor extending from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, which is part of Poland’s plan to promote European cooperation along the North-South axis.
First published in our partner International Affairs
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