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The Year of Return of Military Parades and its Six Dimensions on International Affairs

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The year 2019 witnessed impressive military parades of the US and other regional powers. US President Donald Trump had floated the idea of having a parade in the USA in 2018 (10 November) to honour the veterans. He had been impressed by the July 2017 Bastille Day Military Parade in Paris which he witnessed during his visit to France at the invitation of the French President Emmanuel Macron. Eventually, the “Salute to America” event was held on 4 July 2019 at the National Mall in Washington DC with accompanying presentations of US military vehicles, flyovers by military aircraft and a fireworks display. Donald Trump became the first POTUS to address a crowd at the National Mall on Independence Day in 68 years. In his speech, he stressed the uniqueness of the United States calling it “a truly extraordinary heritage…one of the greatest stories ever told…” He referred to the American “…spirit of daring and defiance, excellence and adventure, courage and confidence, loyalty and love…” and stressed “…our nation is stronger today than it ever was before. It is its strongest now.” Expectedly, he spoke about USA’s military prowess and its victories at the various battlefields across the world; about the American heroes through the centuries; and the resilience of the American society. Another remarkable feature of the speech was that he was sure of his country’s unity and bullish about her future.   

Chinese President Xi Jinping led the Communist Party leadership at the military parade marking 70 years of CPC rule in October 2019. His speech was remarkable for its sense of confidence about China’s rise and the steely determination to fight each and every challenge to Party rule. The international media (as did the Chinese media) gave prominent coverage to his statement that there “…is no force that can shake the foundation of this great nation.” This was consistent with his concepts of China Dream and National Rejuvenation. The review of the military parade comprising about 15,000 personnel, 160 aircraft and 580 pieces of military equipment, including drones and missiles was the other major highlight of the event. The world also saw, for the first time, the Dongfeng 41, a nuclear-capable missile that could reportedly reach the United States in 30 minutes. This year’s military parade was the second after Xi Jinping assumed power. The earlier one was held in 2015 and captioned as the “70th Anniversary of the Victory of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War“. Whilst in the case of India, the annual January Republic Day parade is notable for its showcasing of the country’s military might, in 2019, the Indian Air Force Day parade held on 8 October was quite significant for a number of reasons. It may be recalled that a MiG 21 Bison in February 2019 was shot down by Pakistan forces. The same day, in France, Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh received the first of the 36 Rafale aircraft. He used the occasion to tell the media that the first Rafale squadron would be ready by February 2021 to deal with the threats from Pakistan.

Interestingly, DPRK [North Korea] did not hold a military parade in February this year on the occasion of the anniversary of the founding of its army. Foreign media observed that the then impending US-DPRK leaders’ summit was the reason for the development. By contrast, in September 2018, the hermit kingdom celebrated its 70th anniversary with a large military parade. To round up the broad-brush coverage, it would be pertinent to mention the annual French Bastille Day Military Parade that was held in July this year when the focus was on European cooperation besides the announcement of the creation of a new French national military space force command. In another continent, during the month of September, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro used the Independence Day celebrations to try and recover from the poor public relations of the previous months connected with his right-wing economic decision making as well as the response to the Amazon fires. This year’s Moscow Victory Day parade was a primer for the 75th Diamond Jubilee celebrations of the Allied victory in Eastern Europe over the Axis powers in May 2020.

Quite apart from the usual stated objectives of display of national might and determination, these military parades have certain unstated objectives. A combination of these two sets of objectives require careful study in each case. For example, were domestic politics alone responsible for the criticism within the US that President Trump’s push for a parade received. The Chinese parades of 2015 and 2019 taken together sends carefully choreographed signals to its geopolitical competitors, and friends and foes alike. The calling off of the 2019 military parade of the DPRK due to political considerations is now well acknowledged. Suffice it to state, some of these factors have been around for a while, and the next section will attempt to assess the likely impact of military parades on contemporary international relations.

The Six dimensions

It is possible to identify six dimensions of the impact of military parades. But a caveat has to be entered at the outset: given the episodic nature of parades, a direct cause effect impact relationship cannot be conclusively established in each and every case. What follows are broad brush trends, most of which would require further study and analysis.

First, the rise of muscular nationalism is a clearly visible manifestation. Addressing the protests that were taking place in Hong Kong, Xi Jinping said during his speech at the military parade in 2019 that his government would “maintain long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and Macao.” The 2019 Chinese Defense White Paper titled China’s National Defense in the New Era articulates explicit references to Naval Parades in the South China Sea. One should not forget the CCPs ongoing generation long narrative reminding its population of the Century of Humiliation.

Indian media reported that the Air Force Day celebrations were used, amongst other things, to call Pakistan’s bluff on certain specific details about the true extent of casualties in the aftermath of Balakot. How such positioning would impact on already frayed or fraying equations with other foreign countries is an important dimension here. On the flip side, as was seen during the medium-range ballistic missile and armed drone attacks by the Houthi group on a military parade in Aden (Yemen) in August this year, the risk of exposure during a parade remains.

Secondly, with each passing year such parades are testimony to the enhanced willingness of nation states to use coercive means of statecraft. Between 2015 and 2019, the PR China took a clear stand against the order of the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the South China Sea case with The Philippines (The Republic of the Philippines v. The People’s Republic of China) and even accelerated its activities in those islands and waters. Under President Trump the emphasis on national security has been quite exceptional even by American standards. The re-ordering of the Middle East power equations has given a boost of confidence for the Russian Federation and one can safely speculate that this would get reflected in the Diamond Jubilee Moscow Victory Day parade next year. On the other hand, the 2018 DPRK military parade was noticed for the fact that it did not include any intercontinental ballistic missiles which were a staple in almost all previous editions.

Third, and quite interestingly, there appears to be no clear pattern of linkage between economic growth rates and military parades. Even as its economic growth rate was being downgraded by the IMF, the Islamic Republic of Iran was holding an impressive series of military parades during their sacred defense week in September 2019. At the same time, the US parade in July this year took place at a time when the American economy was growing at a healthy rate. Having said this, it would be worthwhile for analysts to study these linkages in deeper detail. Military parades have shone the spotlight on the flourishing military industrial complexes in these countries. This has been most pronounced in the case of China. The connection between the Huawei company and the Chinese PLA has come under the spotlight in the context of the on-going 5G related differences between China on the one hand and the US, Japan and a few Western countries on the other. The other country that merits mention in this context is Pakistan where the armed forces runs around 50 commercial entities and receives over 20 percent of the annual budget.

Fifthly, the increased salience of the military parades is occurring at a time when there is flux in the post-World War II alliance systems and multilateral institutions. The most obvious manifestation is the recent public disagreement between the French and German leaders on the issue of the NATO. On the other hand, China and Russia which were close to a nuclear war in the 1960s have built up a strong strategic partnership. Another aspect worth mentioning is that parades reflect new structures created during the process of military reforms with their attendant repercussions for military diplomacy.

Sixth and finally, the jury is still out on the relationship between military parades on disarmament and arms control. As the Newsweek rightly pointed out in an article, China’s arsenal of medium and intermediate-range weapons, including the so-called “Guam killer” DF-26 gives it a distinct advantage over Washington and Moscow, which in 1987 signed the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty banning such weapons. One perspective is that these parades provide an opportunity to signal the deterrent effect of such weapons. Another perspective is that each such display of deadly systems is a dramatic snapshot of spiraling arms races.

Dr. Sunod Jacob The Peninsula Foundation Former Legal Advisor, ICRC Former Associate Professor of Law, GD Goenka University The author can be reached at sunod.jacob[at]thepeninsula.org.in

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Defense

European security becomes a matter of the EU only

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A rift between the U.S. and the E.U. in the military sphere has become wider. On November 22 the U.S. formally withdrew from the open-sky treaty that accelerated European security.

The 1992 treaty allows the 34 member countries to conduct short notice, unarmed, reconnaissance flights over the other countries to collect data on their military forces and activities.

“Russia didn’t adhere to the treaty, so until they adhere, we will pull out,” Trump told reporters outside the White House in May. Now he has realized his threats.

America’s European allies do not support the Trump administration’s decision to exit Open Skies.

Thus, Germany regrets US withdrawal from Open Skies Treaty and remains committed to it, German FM Heiko Maas has said.

Germany considers the Open Skies Treaty, allowing military observation flights over the territories of signatory states, as an important part of arms control, he said.

Maas said that he regretted the decision made by the Trump administration. He pointed out that the Open Skies Treaty contributes to confidence building and the promotion of security in the whole northern hemisphere “from Vladivostok to Vancouver.”

Eleven member countries even issued a statement in May expressing their “regret” about the Trump administration decision.

France, Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden declared that they “will continue to implement the Open Skies Treaty, which has a clear added value for our conventional arms control architecture and cooperative security. ” They reaffirmed that this treaty remains functioning and useful.

The treaty gave without sophisticated satellite capabilities a way to gather and share – all the member countries could access imagery gathered on flights.

It could be concluded that the U.S. as usual does not care. It pursues exclusively its own goals and does not intend to sacrifice its national interests and ambitions for the sake of Europe.

As soon as Europe was convinced of this the European Union decided to take measures to neutralize the emerging gaps in the system of ensuring European security.

Josep Borrell, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, as well as other European politicians think that such significant contradictions in views of the U.S. and the EU on ensuring regional security show the urgent necessity to develop a new EU military doctrine.

Today the European Union aims to draw up a master military strategy document to define future threats, goals and ambitions in defence while focusing on six new areas of joint weapons development including tanks, officials and diplomats said.

“After four years of hostility towards NATO by U.S. President Donald Trump, the EU, led by France, wants to become a stand-alone military power in the long term, strong enough to fight on its own. We need to build a compass. This is a common way of looking at the world, of defining threats and addressing them together,” said a senior EU official.

Borrell has cited “an increased momentum to strengthen our collective capacity” since a December 2017 EU defence pact to develop more firepower independently of the United States.

Defence ministers will also review the bloc’s first annual review on joint capabilities, which is expected to set out 100 areas for governments to develop together from 2025 over six areas, including battle tanks, maritime patrol vessels, countering drones and jamming technology.

France, Germany, Italy and Spain hope that by developing national defences together, the EU will save money by putting an end to competing national industries that duplicate weapons.

It is absolutely clear that it is time for the European Union to stop flattering itself about the U.S. assistance. It’s time for Europe to learn to rely only on itself and to be independent.

The next step for Europe is to convince zealous U.S. supporters like the Baltic Sates to acknowledge this need.

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The Future of QUAD grouping

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With the ever changing dynamics of geopolitics in Eastern Hemisphere, the consolidation of QUAD countries in recent time presents a considerable window to wane the influence of China in the region. On Oct 6, the foreign ministers from four QUAD countries met in Tokyo and expressed their views to maintain the Free & Open Indo-Pacific. Amid all the chaos and disturbance in the world, where most of the meeting and submit held virtually, foreign ministers from Japan, the USA, India and Australia met in person. This was a significant step as it was the second ministerial meeting among these countries. In 2017, during the ASEAN summits, the four leaders from these countries discussed the plans to revive the Quadrilateral alliance. The continuous growing threat from Beijing is becoming a major concern for all these nations. Where one side the USA and Australia are on the receiving end of Trade war with China, On the other hand, India and Japan has their territorial disputes with Beijing.

The obvious focus of the recent meeting was China, the constant muscles flexing of the PLA Navy has been one of the major threat for the regional economic and security architecture. These four countries emphasized on the rule-based order, US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo targeted China and asked for better collaboration with in the 4 countries to safeguard everyone’s right from Chinese aggressive policies. From last 2 years, there was a pattern of collaboration among these four nations in the regions. In 2019, India and Japan jointly signed a port deal with Sri Lanka for the development of East container Terminal at the Port of Colombo. This Step was a big leap to project the QUAD countries economic collaboration. Soon in July 2019, India and Myanmar signed an MOU to increase their partnership in the military ties in the fields of training, joint surveillance, maritime security etc. The current meeting will surely enhance the better partnership among these nations.

Security Architecture In the region

India announced the participation of Australia in the Malabar exercise, and a sharp reaction came from the Chinese side. India has already inked the military logistic pact with the US, France, South Korea, Singapore, Japan& Australia. But these are not only four countries having an interest in Indo-Pacific, recently Germany has announced to send a warship to patrol in the Indian ocean. This shows the growing importance of Indo-pacific in the future. In recent time, south Asia is becoming a playground for the major nations not only militarily but also economically. The QUAD plus countries which also includes New Zealand, South Korea and Vietnam. The cooperation among these nations continuously evolving day by day, These nations are already helping each other in the health sector for the better management to counter COVID. Covid situation raised a lot newer problems in front of India, with this regard Indian Government asked for the coordinated response for the new challenges in between of coronavirus and stressed upon better management of supply chains and access of vaccine.

Beyond the Military Ties

Economic ties between the QUAD members and Beijing will tell you how strong and deep Chinese investment has its roots in some of the prime sectors. Australia can be present as a key example, where Chinese investment can be seen from infrastructure projects to even national politics. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that China bore no responsibility for the sharp downturn in the economic ties between two countries. Though recently Both countries signed the RCEP agreement but the normalcy in relations will not be there any soon. QUAD countries need to understand the better collaboration should also be there in the economic sense also. The recent skirmish between Indian & Chinese security forces has changed Delhi’s perspective and made Indian policymakers to look out for other alternatives even in the technological domain. As every country has its different perspectives regarding Indo-Pacific, Japan’s strategy complements the rule-based order and promotes maintaining of regional order. With the ageing population, Japan focused more on promoting economic ties and securing its islands from any kind of threats.

The Future

Strategically the importance of the recent meeting can be seen through the addition of Australia in the Malabar exercise, Which will change the security dynamics of the region. Though the importance of the regional partners to maintain the rule based order will have a long way to go. Everyone was looking towards the USA’s election result for the future of QUAD. As President-Elect of the USA and India’s Prime Minister talked over the phone and soon Biden stated that his priority is to secure a Free and Open Indo-Pacific. Though the future of QUAD will be blurred if these nations will not able to cooperate in economic terms. In the last few years, Washington is struggling to maintain its regional hegemon in the region because of the economic constraint. USA’s attempt to pass down its responsibility to regional stakeholders can be seen through the whole QUAD block formation, where one side USA wants to formalize this block in order to maintain its superiority in the region and to restrain Bejing. On the other hand, India’s & Japan’s perspectives are poles apart from the USA’s version. These countries refrain themselves to name China directly and described this grouping as to maintain the regional order. The understanding between each nation in the formal platform cannot be described as one and will take many years to form a proper economic bubble. Which will be serving as a genuine platform mechanism in order to keep free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific. The deadly clashes between Indian and Chinese forces worked as a reactant for more cooperative behaviour between the four countries. China’s Continuous interference in the internal affairs of Australia made this nation to grow their defence forces budget, which shows their growing concerns over Chinese authoritarianism. Even after so many ups and downs in the QUAD proper functioning, these countries also have to face the change of government in their respective. The success of QUAD will depend on the collaboration between like minded nations which will not work on to contain any particular country but will propose some kind of opportunities and chances for every member state benefits.

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Defense

NATO’s expanded presence in Latvia is myth

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In November NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group Latvia was strengthened by Iceland. This information was disseminated across Europe. But what is behind this fact?

November 3, at Ādaži base, Minister of Defense Artis Pabriks and Commander of the National Armed Forces Lieutenant General Leonīds Kalniņš marked Iceland’s accession to the NATO Battlegroup in Latvia.

It is reported that as part of NATO’s expanded presence in Latvia, Iceland will make a contribution in the field of strategic communication. Communication experts from Iceland have also joined NATO’s expanded presence battlegroups in Lithuania and Estonia.

This event shows nothing more but NATO’s tools of manipulating public opinion. In this particular case, NATO tries to give weight to a very minor event in order to simulate its activity in the Baltic States. Taking into account the fact that Latvia as well as Lithuania and Estonia are increasing their defence spending at NATO request, the Alliance has to do something to show its commitment to maintain the security in the Baltic region. In reality NATO authorities are sick and tired of the Baltic States constantly asking for help.

It’s hard to imagine how Iceland could strengthen NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group in the Baltic countries. Though it is known that Iceland is a NATO member since the alliance’s foundation on April 4, 1949, few people know that Iceland does not even have a standing army, and its defence forces consist of a militarized coastguard and a paramilitary force. The more so, Iceland’s strong pacifist history has led to considerable opposition to NATO membership in Iceland.

In 2019 while during a visit by the Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to Iceland, the Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir spoke of her support for withdrawing Iceland from NATO. Her party, the Left-Green Movement, is the senior partner of the Icelandic government also supports withdrawing!

So, NATO and Iceland have found a way how to actively demonstrate their help without doing anything in reality.

The purpose of establishing and deploying NATO’s enhanced presence battlegroups in the Baltic States is to enhance NATO’s deterrence and strengthen the Alliance’s defense by demonstrating solidarity against all forms of aggression. The only thing Island could do in this situation is to demonstrate solidarity with Latvia. But Latvia needs much more and hopes for real aid. Does Latvia need such military contingent on its territory which could not really defend it in case of aggression? Should Latvia pay for such unreliable defence? Does NATO deliberately weaken its enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group Latvia?

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