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China Aims for Impactful Offshore Defense in the ‘New Era’

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As the rule of thumb goes, it is best to read between the lines and understand the tone of words because there are always two sides to every story. This general approach spawned a perception that the words that are on a piece of official paper not only contain government’s stances but also include strategies to solve a problem, or make a decision. Similarly, China, with a series of White Papers on national defence and international security, engaged in a dialogue and concisely presented its viewpoints on contemporary developments.

The gap between the United States (US) and China is gradually becoming thinner for global economic and regional power shift; the 2019 defence white paper on China’s National Defense in the New Era(10th of this kind) underlined the importance of the careful balance of perceptions, and manage China’s relations to the changes in security order.

China’s response to any change in the security order is traditionally characterised as unique. In the West, China is often seen as responsible for change in the status quo. It is more than about its exceptional stands and the position it holds in the international system, e.g.reform and reshape global governance.

Interestingly, the focus is centred to where China stands in shaping normative security order: align with traditional Chinese cultural values or adopt models and principles of western theories of International Relations. In this respect, the Chinese discourse has been confident about experimenting traditional Chinese models, though the international response has mostly been unsupportive. Moreover, it appears that the outside world is not too much focused on China’s normative influence, but more importantly, interested about what implies minor distinctions in China’s position, posture and policy and why there is a shift.

Through the 2019defence White Paper, China had stressed on the need for balancing the trend of the current international security situation. It also set out core directions and objectives of China’s military diplomacy and strategy by articulating the far-reaching goal of nurturing a new form of defence relations for deterrence, reassurance, and secure overseas interests, which is a breakthrough in some respects against Xi Jinping’s vision for great power diplomacy with Chinese characteristics. Although China affirms its fundamental principles have not mainly changed but in the security realm,its current posture is inclined to more practical commitments rather ideological.

As signs of the mounting pressure of partnership-based alliance is becoming apparent, China’s narrative is gradually tuning to the fundamental change in the US policy and literature. Indeed, China may have realised now there is a reason to be sceptical of the optimistic forecasts of regional security order as improving. A premise that is largely influenced by China’s resilience and preparedness for offshore defence is its naval and maritime defence to keep regional and global threats at bay.

Indeed, this comes from the understanding that as China is moving closer to the centre of the world stage, the international community expects China to embrace the shift conflict-free. So far, China’s engagement with the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) haspartially favoured to check security challenges and likely military alliances.

As Beijing is taking the initiative to repair its relations with neighbours and show gestures that it is willing to cooperate, on the other side, Washington and its allies have resumed campaigns, stating that BRI is to exert China’s influence on weaker nations. Each side has their reasons, but the situation seems partly a result of the current sluggish world order suffering from security dilemma, competition and misgivings about each other.

What is new in Beijing’s Active defence?

The most salient feature in China’s new approach is shying away from military options to mitigate security risks regarding overseas interests. Zhou Bo (Director of the Center for Security Cooperation in the Chinese Ministry of National Defense’s Office for International Military Cooperation)explained the change as natural and argued: “wherever possible, the PLA has been trying to blend China’s national interests with its international responsibilities.” Second, interestingly for the first time through the2019 White Paper, China has conveyed a strong message that the People’s Liberation Army would seek a stronger role to protect ‘China’s Overseas Interests’ that includes Chinese people, organisations and institutions. This way, it has quietly but confidentially made China’s overseas interests fall in the scope of its core national interest.

Traditionally, Beijing has stressed on its offshore facilities such as offshore fish farms, wind farms, drilling rigs, floating rocket launchers in and around its exclusive economic zone and ‘historical claims’ were under its defence umbrella. However, with the change in policy, now China reserves an equal amount of focus on jointly operated commercial ports, maritime assets and Sea lines of communication (SLOC)that are away from its shore.

For those who wonder how China protects its overseas interest, the answer is, it seems China does not to follow the US’s traditional offshore balance model of acquiring too many expensive and permanent military bases and making military alliances, but rather, focus on soft or semi-hard balance by attaining naval/military rights to operate in the host countries’ military facilities. Such a posture not just defends its cause but also justifies defensive use of force when its interests are challenged. In this regard, the PLA Djibouti Support Base, military rights in the pacific islands and military facilities in the South China Sea (SCS) islands and reefs help to escort China’s task groups and could be seen as key features of China’s offshore defence.

The second important feature of China’s offshore facilities explains the economic rationale and commercial potential. If we were to compare overseas military bases and how much China spends, it comes nowhere near to the United States. However, whatever overseas military facilities that China has, they have certain unique features: primarily they serve Chinese business interests, but the US facilities were to assist Overseas Contingency Operations (generally known as funding the wars). Second, they are comparatively inexpensive and cost-effective, whereas the US maintains around 883 expensive overseas military bases and spends about $139.4 billion annually. Nevertheless, China has a lesser overseas combat experience.

Therefore, it is no surprise that China has been keen about reforming and modernising the PLA to build a fortified national defence and a strong military, which required overseas combat expertise.

China’s offshore defence with limited offshore capabilities calls for focus to key geopolitical regions of the world such as East Asia, West Pacific, and the Persian Gulf. As China further intends to extend the training of PLA branches and deploy the aircraft carrier task group for far sea combat exercise, the reforms in China’s military such as suspending commercial responsibilities, informatisation, modernisation of military theory, and organisational structure come in handy. As a result, the role of PLA branches has increased significantly in diversified military tasks such as “monitor China’s territorial air and peripheral air space, carry out alert patrols and combat takeoff”, and to build and develop far seas forces and overseas logistical facilities.

Besides, one could trace about three core approaches that China prefers to follow in safeguarding its sovereignty, security and development interests are self-help, partnership, and military protest.

China’s self-help approach focuses on major security fields such as nuclear, missile defence, outer space, electromagnetic space, and cyberspace for nuclear and conventional deterrence, protect cyber sovereignty and information security. In fact, this approach was pretty much the same throughout. However, now that the scenario has changed with the global military competition in the areas of technological, intelligence developments towards informationized warfare, and intelligent warfare, China gives serious attention to tactical and strategic deployment of such facilities.

Second, the partnership approach emphasises on active development of China’s military relations and partnerships with Central Asia, Russia and European countries in critical areas of non-traditional security threats such as terrorism and extremism, piracy, cybersecurity and bio-security. Besides, in the hotspots and international passages, China seeks to play a constructive role – meditation for the political settlement, and jointly maintain the security respectively.

Third, the element of military protest are set to follow in concerning areas of information and cultural warfare, Taiwan gaining of foreign influence, ‘Tibet independence’, the creation of ‘East Turkistan’, and in the South China Sea disputes.

For instance, sovereignty, maritime demarcation, and freedom of navigation and overflight over islands and reefs in the South China Sea were concerned the White Paper emphasised about creating favourable conditions by building “infrastructure and deploy necessary defensive capabilities … [and] conduct patrols”, at the same time in commercial affairs China stated that it is committed about upholding freedom of navigation and overflight by all countries in accordance with international law and safeguard the security of SLOCs.

To make sure that this offshore adventure remains risk-free and reliable the White Paper set military strategic guideline for PLA to work within “the principles of defence, self-defence and post-strike response, and adopts active defense”, and stressed the strategic defence and offence at operational and tactical levels to contain and win wars.

What worries China?

The White Paper makes some observation that also appeared to be China’s security concerns. China views the situation in Asia-Pacific (and the South China Sea) as “generally stable and improving”; contrary, it views the situation in Europe and the Persian Gulf as disturbing. Besides, at this juncture,China also asserts that despite its attempts to stimulate confidence the military alliances, deployment and intervention were adding complexity to regional security.

If that is the case, in China’s opinion, who is undermining regional security? The White Paper roughly mentions the United States, Republic of Korea, Japan and Australia’s activities resonate as a challenge to regional security. Other areas of China’s concerns also include the UK, France, Germany, Japan and India’s rebalance and optimisation of their military structure. Perhaps a better question might be: is China’s opinion influenced by the Indo-Pacific debate?

Interestingly, by stating that the security situation in Asia-Pacific remains generally stable, the White Paper tried to avoid overlaps with American strategic interests. On the other hand, it referred to the US military and diplomatic efforts as the primary source of intensifying strategic competition, hence causing China to focus on offshore defence.

Meanwhile, either in the offshore balance or defence, the alliances play an essential role. Though China’s seeks military partnership based on non-alliance and non-confrontation, the US policies however, is driving China closer to Russia and SCO members. Further, Beijing also attempted to clarify its principle position as ‘Defensive National Defense Policy’ and never seek hegemony, expansion or spheres of influence. At this stage, to avoid misgivings about its principles and actions, effective communication and cooperation are best for China.

In terms of balancing threat perceptions about China’s rise, the White Paper recognizes the need for Confidence-Building Measures (CBMs) and treaties of good-neighbourliness, friendship and cooperation with the neighbours.

For the moment, the new posture to protect China’s overseas interests translates that the country is gradually heading towards impactful offshore defence. Nevertheless, in the long run, despite the US and other players counteracts, PLA’s international profile would increase significantly regarding China’s offshore facilities and international military cooperation.

Dokku Nagamalleswara Rao is a Doctoral Fellow (PhD) in International Politics at Shandong University, China. He worked as a Research Intern at the Chennai Center for China Studies (C3S) Chennai and at the Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS) New Delhi; he received M.Phil. in Chinese Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi, and M.A. in Politics and International Relations from Pondicherry University.

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Test of Agni Prime Missile and India’s Counterforce Temptations

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South Asia is widely regarded as one of the most hostile regions of the world primarily because of the troubled relations between the two nuclear arch-rivals India and Pakistan. The complex security dynamics have compelled both the countries to maintain nuclear deterrence vis-à-vis each other. India is pursuing an extensive and all-encompassing military modernization at the strategic and operational level. In this regard, India has been involved in the development of advanced missiles as delivery systems and improvement in the existing delivery systems as well. Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent and delivery systems are solely aimed at India; however, India aspires to fight a ‘two-front war’ against Pakistan and China. Therefore, the size and capability of its nuclear deterrent and delivery systems are aimed at countering both threats. However, most of the recent missile delivery systems made by India appear to be more Pakistan-centric. One recent example in this regard is the recently tested nuclear-capable cannisterized ballistic missile Agni Prime, which is insinuated as Pakistan-centric. These developments would likely further provoke an action-reaction spiral and would increase the pace of conflict in South Asia, which ultimately could result in the intensification of the missile arms race.

Just quite recently, on 28th June 2021, India has successfully tested an advanced variant of its Agni missile series, namely Agni Prime or Agni (P). The missile has a range between 1000-2000 kilometers. Agni Prime is a new missile in the Agni missiles series, with improved accuracy and less weight than Agni 1, 2, and 3 missiles. It has been said that the Agni-P weighs 50 % less than the Agni-3 missile. As per the various media reports, this missile would take the place of Agni 1 and 2 and Prithvi missiles, however officially no such information is available. This new missile and whole Agni series is developed as part of the missile modernization program under the Defence Research and Development Organization’s (DRDO) integrated guided missile development program. 

Agni-P is a short missile with less weight and ballistic trajectory, the missile has a rocket-propelled, self-guided strategic weapons system capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear warheads. Moreover, the missile is cannisterized with the ability to be launched from road and rail. The DRDO claimed that the test flight of the missile was monitored by the telemetry radar stations and its trajectory met all the objectives of the mission successfully with high level of accuracy. Agni-P missile because of its range of 1000 to 2000 km is considered a weapon against Pakistan because within this range it cannot target China. Although, India already has different missiles in its inventory with the same range as the newly developed and tested Agni-P missile, so the question arises what this missile would achieve. 

Since the last few years, it has been deliberated within the international security discourse that India’s force posture is actually more geared towards counterforce options rather than counter-value options. Although, India’s nuclear doctrine after its operationalization in 2003, claims  “massive retaliation” and “nfu” but in reality with developing cannisterized weapons like Agni-P, Agni 5, and testing of hypersonic demonstrative vehicles, India actually is building its capability of “counterforce targeting” or “splendid first strike”. This reflects that India’s nuclear doctrine is just a façade and has no real implication on India’s force modernization.

These developments by India where it is rapidly developing offensive technologies put the regional deterrence equation under stress by increasing ambiguity. In a region like South Asia, where both nuclear rivals are neighbors and distance between both capitals are few thousand kilometers and missile launch from one side would take only a few minutes in reaching its target, ambiguity would increase the fog of war and put other actors, in this case, Pakistan in “use it or lose it” situation, as its nuclear deterrent would be under threat.

In such a situation, where Pakistan maintains that nuclear weapons are its weapons of last resort and to counter threats emerging from India, its nuclear deterrence has to hold the burden of covering all spectrums of threat. It might be left with no choice but to go for the development of a new kind of missile delivery system, probably the cannisterized missile systems as an appropriate response option. However, as Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence is based on principle of “CMD” which allow Pakistan to seek deterrence in a cost-effective manner and also by not indulging in an arms race. Therefore, other than the threat of action-reaction dynamic developments like Agni P by India, would make weapons more accurate and lethal, subsequently conflict would be faster, ambiguous, and with less time to think. In such a scenario, as chances of miscalculation increase, the escalation dynamics would become more complex; thus, further undermining the deterrence stability in South Asia.

India’s counter-force temptations and development of offensive weapons are affecting the deterrence equilibrium in South Asia. The deterrence equation is not getting affected just because India is going ahead with the development of offensive technologies but because of its continuous attempts of negating the presence of mutual vulnerability between both countries. Acknowledgement of existence of mutual vulnerability would strengthen the deterrence equation in the region and help both countries to move forward from the action-reaction spiral and arms race. The notions such as the development of offensive or counterforce technology or exploiting the levels below the nuclear threshold to fight a war would not be fruitful in presence of nuclear weapons. As nuclear weapons are weapons to avert the war and not to fight the war.

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Unmanned Aircraft Systems & The Annihilistic Future

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The unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly known as drones were introduced as a useful means to military, commercial, civilian and humanitarian activities but yet it ends up in news for none of its original purposes. Drones have rather resulted as a means of mass destruction.

The recent attacks on the technical area of the Jammu Air Force Station highlights the same. This was a first-of-its-kind terror attack on IAF station rather the Indian defence forces that shook the National Investigation Agency to National Security Guard. The initial probe into the attacks directs to involvement of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a terrorist group based out of Pakistan, in the drone attacks as the aerial distance from the point of attack was just 14 kilometers. The attacks took place via an Electric multi-rotor type drone between 11:30 P.M to 1:30 A.M on 27th June, 2021.

The above incident clearly points out the security issues that lie ahead of India in face to the asymmetrical warfare as a result of drones. The Indian Government after looking at the misuse of drones during the first wave of the pandemic realised that its drone regulations were nowhere sufficient and accountable and hence passed the Unmmaned Aircraft Rules, 2021. These rules imposed stricter requirement for obtaining license and authorisations by remote pilots, operators, manufacturers or importers, training organisations and R&D organisations, thereby placing a significantly high burden on the applicants but at the same time they also permit UAS operations beyond visual sight of line and allowing student remote pilots to operate UAS.

But these rules still don’t have any control on the deadly use of drones because multi-rotor drones are very cheap and readily available and what makes them lethal is their ability to be easily detected, additionally the night time makes it even worse. Their small size grants them weak radar, thermal, and aural signatures, albeit varying based on the materials used in their construction.

The pertinent issue to be understood here is that these rules can never ensure safety and security as they cannot control the purpose for which these drones maybe used. There are certain factors that are to be accounted to actually be receptive to such imminent and dangerous threats. Firstly, significantly increasing urban encroachments  in areas around defence establishments, particularly air bases, has proved to be fatal. If frontline bases like Jammu or be it any other base when surrounded by unbuffered civilization poses two pronged problems, first it acts as high chances of being a vantage point for possible attackers and second, it also hampering the defence mechanism to come to an action. It is not limited to drone concerns but there have been cases of increased bird activity that has once resulted in engine failure of an IAF Jaguar and has caused similar problems all along.

Another important factor is that of intelligence. The Anti-drone systems will take their time to be in place and it is still a distant call to ascertain how effective will these systems be, so in the time being it is pertinent to focus on intelligence which may include sales and transfers of commercial drone, or the hardware that is required to build a basic multi-rotor drone. These are not something extraordinary because it is even in news when Pakistani drones were being used to supply weapons and ammunition to terror networks on Indian soil. Also, the past experience in handling ISIS have shown the weightage of intelligence over defensive nets.

Intelligence is no doubt a crucial factor in anticipation of drone attacks but what cannot be done away with is the defense mechanism. Efficient counter-drone technology is the need of the hour. DRDO has developed such technology that could provide the armed forces with the capability to swiftly detect, intercept and destroy small drones that pose a security threat. It is claimed that solution consists of a radar system that offers 360-degree coverage with detection of micro drones when they are 4km away, electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors for detection of micro drones up to 2 km and a radio frequency (RF) detector to detect RF communication up to 3 km and is equipped for both soft kills as well as hard kills.

Hence, the above analysis brings out the need of the application of an international instrument because the technology used in such drone attacks is at an evolving stage and the natural barriers still have an upper hand over be it either flying a pre-programmed path aided by satellite navigation and inertial measurement units (IMUs), or hand controlled to the point of release or impact, both methods have significant limitations as satellite and IMU navigation is prone to errors even when it comes to moderate flight ranges while manual control is subject to the human limitations such as line of sight, visibility as well as technical limitations such as distance estimation of the target, and weak radio links. An example of this could be the Turkish-made Kargu-2 model of killer drone can allegedly autonomously track and kill specific targets on the basis of facial recognition and Artificial Intelligence (AI). As the AI becomes better and better, these drone attacks become more and more terminal.

The recent COVID-19 pandemic is an eye opener for India as well as the world as none of the countries considered the possibility of bio-defenses or made a heavy investment in it even when there was awareness about lethal effects of genetic engineering. Hence, it should be the priority of the government to invest heavily in research and make the development of defensive technologies a national priority else the result of artificially intelligent killer drones would be much more catastrophic.

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Russia’s National Security Strategy: A Manifesto for a New Era

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The central feature of the new strategy is its focus on Russia itself. The Russian leadership has every reason right now to turn homeward to address the glaring weaknesses, imbalances, and inequalities of the country’s internal situation.

Russia’s new, forty-four-page National Security Strategy signed by President Vladimir Putin on July 2 is a remarkable document. It is much more than an update of the previous paper, adopted in 2015. Back then, relations with the West had already sharply deteriorated as a result of the Ukraine crisis, but were still considered salvageable; much of the liberal phraseology inherited from the 1990s was still in use; and the world still looked more or less unified. The current version of arguably the most important Kremlin strategy statement—covering not only national security issues, but a whole range of others, from the economy to the environment, and values to defense—is a manifesto for a different era: one defined by the increasingly intense confrontation with the United States and its allies; a return to traditional Russian values; and the critical importance for Russia’s future of such issues as technology and climate.

The strategy lays out a view of a world undergoing transformation and turmoil. The hegemony of the West, it concludes, is on the way out, but that is leading to more conflicts, and more serious ones at that. This combination of historical optimism (the imminent end of Western hegemony) and deep concern (as it is losing, the West will fight back with even more ferocity) is vaguely reminiscent of Stalin’s famous dictum of the sharpening of the class struggle along the road to socialism. Economically, Russia faces unfair competition in the form of various restrictions designed to damage it and hold it back; in terms of security, the use of force is a growing threat; in the realm of ethics, Russia’s traditional values and historical legacy are under attack; in domestic politics, Russia has to deal with foreign machinations aimed at provoking long-term instability in the country. This external environment fraught with mounting threats and insecurities is regarded as an epoch, rather than an episode.

Against this sobering background, the central feature of the strategy is its focus on Russia itself: its demographics, its political stability and sovereignty, national accord and harmony, economic development on the basis of new technologies, protection of the environment and adaptation to climate change, and—last but not least—the nation’s spiritual and moral climate. This inward focus is informed by history. Exactly thirty years ago, the Soviet Union collapsed just as its military power was at its peak, and not as a result of a foreign invasion. Having recently regained the country’s great power status and successfully reformed and rearmed its military, the Russian leadership has every reason now to turn homeward to address the glaring weaknesses, imbalances, and inequalities of the country’s internal situation.

The paper outlines a lengthy series of measures for dealing with a host of domestic issues, from rising poverty and continued critical dependence on imported technology to the advent of green energy and the loss of the Soviet-era technological and educational edge. This certainly makes sense. Indeed, the recent Kremlin discovery of climate change as a top-tier issue is a hopeful sign that Russia is overcoming its former denial of the problem, along with inordinately exuberant expectations of the promise of global warming for a predominantly cold country. After all, the Kremlin’s earlier embrace of digitalization has given a major push to the spread of digital services across Russia.

The strategy does not ignore the moral and ethical aspects of national security. It provides a list of traditional Russian values and discusses them at length. It sees these values as being under attack through Westernization, which threatens to rob the Russians of their cultural sovereignty, and through attempts to vilify Russia by rewriting history. In sum, the paper marks an important milestone in Russia’s official abandonment of the liberal phraseology of the 1990s and its replacement with a moral code rooted in the country’s own traditions. Yet here, the strategy misses a key point at the root of Russia’s many economic and social problems: the widespread absence of any values, other than purely materialistic ones, among much of the country’s ruling elite. The paper mentions in passing the need to root out corruption, but the real issue is bigger by an order of magnitude. As each of President Putin’s annual phone-in sessions with the Russian people demonstrates—including the most recent one on June 30—Russia is governed by a class of people who are, for the most part, self-serving, and do not care at all for ordinary people or the country, instead focusing single-mindedly on making themselves rich on the job. Money—or rather Big Money—has become that group’s top value, and the most corrosive element in today’s Russia. Therein lies perhaps the biggest vulnerability of modern Russia.

On foreign policy, the strategy is fairly elliptic, but it gives a hint of what the upcoming Foreign Policy Concept might include. The United States and some of its NATO allies are now officially branded unfriendly states. Relations with the West are de-prioritized and those countries ranked last in terms of closeness, behind former Soviet countries; the strategic partners China and India; non-Western institutions such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, BRICS, and the Russia-India-China trio; and other Asian, Latin American, and African countries. In addition to U.S. military deployments and its system of alliances, U.S.-based internet giants with their virtual monopoly in the information sphere, and the U.S. dollar that dominates global finances are also seen as instruments of containing Russia.

Overall, the 2021 Russian National Security Strategy seeks to adapt the country to a still interconnected world of fragmentation and sharpening divisions, in which the main battle lines are drawn not only—and not even mostly—between countries, but within them. Victories will be won and defeats suffered largely on domestic turf. Accordingly, it is the Home Front that presents the greatest challenges, and it is there that the main thrust of government policies must be directed.

From our partner RIAC

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