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From Trade War to Strait War: China Warn U.S. Stop Stretching its Muscles in the Contested Waters

Asad Ullah

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Up till now, no one distinguishes the actual explanations behind the hostile faces. If a trade war isn’t the exact cause, the rise of China, the Hong Kong and the South China Sea questions added further fuel to the fire.  

War of words or trade war no one knows as the dust has not settled yet. When the dust settles, the practical ins and outs for the aggressive faces will appear. Peter Navarro, the US Director of Trade and Industrial policy, said Chinese wish to get Trump to the so the called bargaining table and let them keep having their will with the US. Whereas Wang Yi (王毅), China’s foreign minister, said, the US never desires to negotiate, and we still don’t know if they wish to transact over many issues or not?

More convincingly, the leading cause of the degraded relation isn’t just the trade war, America is trying to keep its universal notion fixed, for which the US considered China is a direct threat. To undermine Chinese strength, the US deliberately interfering in Chinese domestic affairs, recently in Hong Kong, and the South China Sea. China considers such actions a direct threat to China’s sovereignty and taking all possible measures to counterweight such moves. Such US actions are not just undermining Chinese strength but also pose a significant danger to regional stability and harmony. In the international arena, if power is essential for self-survival under the so-called anarchistic system, in the same vein undermining someone’s strength can be detrimental for both states, as China and the US are now not only economically abundant but also possess more sophisticated weapons then ever before.

As trade war favour China up to some scope, Trump Administration is looking for alternatives to overwhelm China of fortifying their universalism notion. The recent intervention in Hong Kong, the Human Rights and Democracy act by supporting the pro-democracy movement there, and more freedom of Navigation in the South China sea,  Trump still losing all his strategies against China. To some degree, the dyadic relationship trapped in the cross-fire, the US aggressive actions against China, and the lenient Chinese response against the US dazed the rest of the world.

In the international arena, the US, instead of a trade war, now moving its muscles in the contested water in the South China Sea. The issue became more exposed when the US Defense Secretary Mark Esper concluded his Asian tour aimed to build a coalition against China in the South China Sea. Esper tour came amid annoying stiffnesses in the South China Sea, with China deploying its new aircraft carrier while warning the US against “moving its muscles” in the disputed waters. Recently both the states have increased their navy and used evermore armada, weapons and military assets in regional contested water.

As the US navy increased its freedom of navigation operations in the disputed water lately, the tension between the two power intensified. A few months ago, China, for the first time deployed domestically, builds aircraft called Type 001A to the disputed water through Taiwan strait. Responding to China’s action, the US deployed the USS Gabrielle Giffords littoral combat ship stationed in Singapore’s Changi naval base. Such action-reaction spiral is the leading cause of their fragile relationship. Chinese officials claimed that the deployment of new aircraft means to allows the crew to become familiar with water, where it will often sail in the future. In the same vein, the US officials claimed that deploying any combat ship to the South China Sea is not that we are opposing China. We all believe and stand for international rules and laws and want China should abide by them as well.

The possibility of a hot war between China and the US is inevitable, as argued by the legendary diplomat Kissinger. Pointing towards China and the US, he said that the two most powerful economies could spill over into a military conflict.  He argued that the trade war is not the leading cause of hostility. The chief objective he mentioned is Honk Kong recently and the South China Sea. The devasted world war 1st was broke out because of the minor issue. Today, US-China hostile relation is because of a small issue but now the weapons are more potent than ever before he described.

The dyadic relationship between the US and China is getting shoddier day-by-day. The Chinese side has extended hands for peaceful resolution of the issues; being a dominant state, the US is always looking at the world more radically. Recently the US passed two bills into laws, supporting the pro-democracy movements in Hong Kong, and imposed sanctions on Chinese and Hong Kong officials alleged responsible for the human rights violation.

In response, the Chinese government suspended the US military and ships from visiting  Hong Kong and spanked sanctions on some  US-based non-governmental organisations believed for alleged spaying and encouraging Hong-Kong anti-government protest. Beijing also warns Washington to correct their mistakes and stop interfering in Chinese domestic affairs. Beijing correspondingly said, they would take all measures against any actors, who are allegedly interfering in China’s internal affairs.

The competition between the two significant power poses a great threat to regional stability. Since 2017 the US interference in the South China Sea increased than ever before. Till now, the US dispatched almost two or three destroyers to the contested water and enhanced their routine based freedom of navigation. Beijing warns such actions repeatedly and called the US to stop such illegal activities in the contested water; although the US never responded to Beijing. Probably such actions reactions would spill over into a hot war. For a reason, we know that, as long as there are potent nations with devastating weapons, conflict is inevitable. 

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Defense

Trump is sending NATO east – the Middle East

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The assassination of General Qassem Soleimani and Iran’s retaliatory strike against US bases in Iraq brought the situation in the region to a head with President Donald Trump initially urging NATO to participate more actively in Mideast affairs and later proposing to expand NATO’s membership to include Middle Eastern nations, albeit without specifying any concrete candidates.

“I think that NATO should be expanded, and we should include the Middle East. Absolutely,” Trump told reporters, adding that “contending that North Atlantic military alliance should take over for the US in the region “because this is an international problem.”

The White House owner even proposed a new name: NATO-ME (from Middle East).

All this is taking place amid Washington’s rising tensions with Iraq, which “allowed itself” to be outraged by the US drone attack on the Baghdad airport. As to Washington, it has long stopped looking at Iraq as an independent actor, ever since it ousted Saddam Hussein destroying the fragile balance of power in the region and effectively making Iran a regional superpower. And all this time, Iraq has been desperately trying to maintain its territorial integrity. Whether it will eventually succeed in doing this is a big question though.

So, the US drone attack on the Baghdad airport and Iran’s retaliatory missile strikes against bases in Iraq housing US troops, “sparing” as they were, resulted in the Iraqi parliament’s demand to withdraw all foreign troops currently stationed in the country. Donald Trump saw this as a sign of “disrespect” for the United States (as if ordering a missile strike on a foreign country’s airport is a show of respect) and is poised to slap Baghdad with tough sanctions. In addition, due to his predilection for measuring everything with money, Trump added that the US forces would not leave Iraq until Baghdad fully repaid the cost of the air base built there by the United States.

As for Trump’s idea (NATO-ME), we have already seen something similar happening before. In 2008, there was much talk going on about creating, under US auspices of course, a new bloc of eight regional states, namely Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, Egypt and Jordan – the so-called Middle East Strategic Alliance, MESA, or “Arab NATO.” Conceived by Washington, the alliance was to create a common front against terrorism, including Iran, which the US views as the main sponsor of terrorism. The idea fell through though, as Qatar has business, almost allied, relations with Iran; Oman actively cooperates with Tehran; Kuwait, mindful of its Gulf neighbors’ onetime failure to help it against the Iraqi aggression, chose to stay out of it. Egypt likewise refused to join in.

Almost two years on, these eight countries’ position remains pretty much the same. Moreover, NATO itself is going through hard times: some of its members continue to honor the provisions of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran; in Syria, Americans, British, French, and other allies act as part of a coalition that exists outside NATO’s fold; Emmanuel Macron talks about the “brain death of NATO,” and that’s not to mention Turkey. As for the European Union, it is now suffering from a kind of foreign policy impotence and is showing little interest in NATO affairs.

Even though Donald Trump said that NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg was “delighted” with the prospect of the bloc’s expansion to the Middle East, NATO’s leading European members do not seem too eager to “get into” this region. First, because “getting out” of there won’t be easy, and secondly, because they are eager to keep doing business with Iran. It looks like NATO neophytes from Eastern Europe will be the only ones to once again respond to Washington’s call to show how true they are to the values of the “free world,” and, of course, to Washington. This leaves Britain the only NATO “oldie” the US can count on.

At the January 6 meeting of the NATO Council, the participants urged the US and Iran to show maximum “restraint” and reduce bilateral tensions. Jens Stoltenberg said that nobody needs a new conflict, apparently because he knows that no effective military assistance from the Arab countries will be forthcoming. Indeed, the Saudi-led Peninsular Shield Force, created in 1984 as a military arm of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), proved unable to repel the 1990 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. In Yemen, the Sunni coalition is equally unable to defeat the Shiite rebels. The results of the Arab-Israeli wars also speak for themselves. All this meaning that if necessary, it is the Europeans who will have to fight. But the Arab sheikhs have the money.

In a nutshell, Trump’s idea is to have European soldiers do all the fighting in the Middle East, and finance the military operations with Arab money (Trump never tires of complaining about NATO allies not contributing enough to the Alliance’s funding, and apparently doesn’t expect them to pay more).

“And we can come home, or largely come home and use NATO … now the burden is on us, and that has not been fair,” Trump said.

Just like that – simple and clear. Besides, this is exactly what the “average” American, who will go to the polls this fall to choose the country’s next president, wants to hear.

From our partner International Affairs

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Defense

Challenges to Eurasian Security in the Coming Decade

Alexander Yermakov

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Confrontation between Russia and the USA/NATO

There is no reason to believe that the worsening relations between Russia and the West, a process that began six years ago following the Ukrainian crisis, will be rectified in the near future. The current conflict is largely due to the fact that, since Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential victory, Russia has become the bogeyman of the US domestic political agenda and is believed by the president’s opponents to be a partial factor in his election. Irrespective of who wins the 2020 US presidential election, the new president will continue to feel the inertial anti-Russian pressure from the establishment and the media. The most we can hope for is a cessation of further confrontation and any actual improvement in bilateral relations should not be expected until the mid-2020s.

The US position influences that of European countries, which have been so far mainly following in the footsteps of Washington’s policy, despite individual initiatives to improve relations with Russia (for example, by French President Emanuel Macron). In terms of security, this trend is manifested in European remilitarization, for the first time since the end of the Cold War. What is particularly inconvenient for Russia is that this process involves a return to Europe by US troops, which had all but left the continent by the mid-2010s. This time, US forces are being deployed not in Western Europe but right on the border with Russia, in the Baltics and Poland, the new NATO members that need protection from Moscow’s “revanchist aspirations”. These developments naturally find strong support among local politicians that have been exploiting anti-Russian rhetoric for decades.

It would be fair to say that Moscow’s worst fears about the consequences of NATO’s eastward expansion have materialized and that the previous agreements, including the promise enshrined in the NATO-Russia Founding Act that the Alliance would not deploy significant forces on the territories of new member states, are turning into a farce. Even though US troops are rotated seamlessly, without any intervals, Washington explains this away as temporary deployment of individual units, implying no violation of the standing agreements. This effective long-term deployment allows the US military to explore the hypothetical war theatre and conduct joint exercises with allies; long-term depots are being set up for weaponry and military equipment that would only require personnel for combat deployment.

Fortunately, despite all the belligerent rhetoric, it is difficult to imagine, even in the distant future, an intentional military confrontation that would be consciously approved by the two countries’ leaders: the price of the conflict escalating would be too high. Yet, in a crisis, the high level of militarization in the contact zones between the two blocs, especially involving a large number of actors representing other countries, could result in accidental skirmishes fraught with severe consequences.

Regular meetings between Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of Russia’s Armed Forces and NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (who doubles as the commander of the US European Command) serve as very positive signals. These events are rarely covered by the general media and the topics discussed are not publicized, but both sides regularly emphasize the importance of this dialogue. It would be no exaggeration to say that the two officers are perhaps the most senior representatives of the Russian and US military-political leadership who meet in person and on a regular basis. It appears extremely important not only to preserve this channel of communication (in fact, it would probably be best for such contacts to be as low-profile as possible, pointedly professional and distanced from politics) but also to develop its potential to include a dialogue between military experts at the regional level or a permanent hotline for resolving potential conflict situations in the Baltic region. Similarly, conducive to resolving crises would be the preservation of the Treaty on Open Skies and other transparency measures (observer missions during exercises and mutual notifications about planned drills and missile launches).

Belarus as an island of stability

Belarus has long remained an island of stability and security on the post-Soviet territory. It happily avoided the numerous nationalist and separatist conflicts that erupted following the USSR’s collapse. In fact, Belarus strives to pose as an honest broker in regional conflicts: the Minsk format and the Minsk agreements have become world-class brands (Minsk is not to blame for the hiccoughs in implementing them). It would be highly desirable for this state of affairs to continue into the next decade.

Yet one cannot be entirely certain that this will, indeed, happen. The Russian-US confrontation is stimulating Washington’s interest in the situation in Belarus and reducing Moscow’s tolerance for Minsk’s multi-vector foreign policy. The upcoming changes in the country are also a factor adding unpredictability: the political reforms currently being discussed imply a greater role for parliament and political parties.

With these processes afoot, it is not surprising that the US Congress holds conferences on how best to educate Belarusian youth, who are supposed, in the future, to choose Western values, and how to indoctrinate them with detailed talks about the threat Russia poses to their country’s sovereignty. Equally unsurprisingly, authoritative analytical centres, such as the RAND Corporation, publish reports on the possibility of providing international security guarantees to Belarus, which, following a hypothetical regime change, is expected to leave the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) and thus face the threat of Russian intervention.

The only hope that Belarus will not become the next battlefield for internal and external actors stems from the fact that, at least in this sense, the country has successfully survived the previous several decades. It is, however, evident that Russia will perceive the potential threats associated with Belarus very painfully and certain forces might attempt to take advantage of this.

Moldova and Transnistria: continuing freeze

Transnistria can be described as a textbook post-Soviet example of a frozen, unresolved conflict. The territory is entering the new decade with its status still unrecognized, which complicates economic and social development; it is in a diplomatic dispute with Moldova over the presence of a small Russian peacekeeping force on its soil and its relations with Ukraine have worsened owing to the latter’s contradictions with Russia.

Unlike the other long-standing conflicts, however, the probability of the Transnistria situation escalating into an open confrontation remains extremely small. On the contrary, Moldovan President Igor Dodon’s Socialist Party, which concentrated power in its hands after the grey cardinal Vladimir Plahotniuc was overthrown, intends to resolve the Transnistrian problem by reintegrating the territory as an autonomous region within the federal state.

This scenario is supported by Russia and might be of interest to the EU, on which Moldova depends economically. On the other hand, it has many opponents, including unionists, who support unification with Romania. Given that Romania is actively developing its military might and gradually becoming a key NATO member in the south of the Alliance’s “eastern flank”, the prospects of that country integrating Moldova are worrying Moscow.

So far, the unionists’ chances of making Moldova part of Romania appear even less realistic than the prospects of the Transnistrian conflict being resolved through federalization of Moldova. Yet the confrontation might aggravate the situation, if not to the level of the tragic 1992 events.

Ukraine: a tangle of contradictions

Ukraine is likely to remain the key area of conflict in the post-Soviet space in the coming decade owing to the huge associated tangle of contradictions, including the political confrontation between Russia and the USA, the economic standoff between the EU and the EAEU, unresolved Soviet-era issues and even more ancient ideological constructs.

The key security challenges for Russia concerning Ukraine will be posed by the need to secure freezing the conflict in the east of that country, provide for Crimea’s security, facilitate reliable navigation in the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov, maintain control over the Kerch Strait, and prevent deployment of NATO troops in Ukraine. Even in the best-case scenario (which we may be observing at the moment, because the situation could certainly be much worse), these issues cannot be entirely resolved in the foreseeable future; they will continue to demand Russia’s attention and resources.

Georgia on the periphery of focus

Abkhazia and South Ossetia, partially recognized Transcaucasian territories, are somewhat in between Donbass and Transnistria in terms of the situation there. On the one hand, the likelihood of direct military conflict over those territories is extremely small thanks to the presence of Russian troops. On the other hand, their status still poses a problem. Considering the way the status issue was exploited during the Russian-Georgian political confrontation in the summer of 2019, one would have thought that the August 2008 war had taken place merely a few months previously, and the information that Russia had “occupied 20% of Georgian territory” was being presented as fresh and shocking news.

It is possible that, in the coming decade, as internal problems in Georgia intensify or if the international situation takes a favourable turn, the Georgian authorities and media (not necessarily those currently in power: Georgia is known for its frequent changes of power with subsequent reprisals of predecessors) will once again exploit the “Russian aggression” narrative.

The USA will continue to view Georgia as part of the notional defensive perimeter, and joint military exercises will be held there regularly. In reality, however, Georgia, which is separated from the closest NATO member nations by the Black Sea, will remain on the periphery of the focus. One good example here is Exercise DEFENDER Europe 20, planned for the spring of 2020, which will practice new, more Cold War-like scenarios involving the defence of NATO’s eastern flank. Georgia, although formally a participant in the drill of nearly 40,000 NATO troops mainly deployed in Poland and the Baltic states, will only be involved in airdropping a small multinational force.

Armenia and Azerbaijan: a powder keg

Another hotspot in Transcaucasia is the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. Unlike other territorial disputes that sprouted up as the Soviet Union was collapsing, this one cannot possibly be frozen: clashes between special forces and exchanges of fire between border guards on the frontier between the unrecognized Nagorno-Karabakh Republic (NKR) and Azerbaijan take place several times a year. The April 2016 major aggravation, known as the four-day war, resulted in heavy losses (without delving into the parties’ diametrically opposed accounts of the losses incurred by themselves and the adversary, it can be stated with certainty that there were more than 100 fatalities) and the border getting reshaped to the benefit of Azerbaijan.

The parties to this conflict continue to militarize actively. Moreover, owing to the serious differences in economic potentials, Azerbaijan’s capabilities are much greater: the country is procuring significant quantities of advanced UAVs, armoured vehicles, multiple-launch rocket systems and even theatre missiles. Azerbaijan mainly buys its weaponry and military equipment from Israel, Turkey, Belarus and Russia. Armenia often criticizes Russia and Belarus for their active military cooperation with Azerbaijan, presenting it as nothing short of betrayal on the part of fellow CSTO members. There is, however, no doubt that Azerbaijan would find alternative ways to acquire such weapons and friendly relations with Russia are among the key factors in containing the conflict.

The same applies to the presence of a Russian military base in Armenia and deliveries of Russia-made weapons to that country at internal Russian prices and with use of preferential loans. In particular, Armenia has taken delivery of Russian Iskander missile systems (obviously to balance the procurement by Azerbaijan of Israeli site defence missile systems, which could prove effective against the Armenian Scuds) and will soon receive a small batch of Su-30SM fighters, which, given the specifics of the local theatre of operations, cannot be described as anything but a status purchase.

The domestic political agenda in both Armenia and Azerbaijan, their irreconcilable positions, regular clashes and the militarization of the parties to the conflict leave no hope of any speedy settlement. An optimistic scenario, and Russia’s objective, would be to maintain a balance and good relations with both parties and make sure that no significant conflicts break out in the coming decade.

Central Asia: Region X

Central Asia does not attract as much media attention as Ukraine or the Baltic states, which is a fundamental mistake. Russia’s “soft underbelly” may well become a source of bad news in the coming decade.

The future of Afghanistan presents the greatest challenge in the region. US troops will leave the country sooner or later, whether commanded out by President Trump or his successor. The USA is already too tired of this war, which will inevitably end with the Taliban staying and Washington leaving. The conflict continues exclusively for the sake of bargaining over withdrawal terms that would help the Americans save face. The process will not necessarily have catastrophic consequences: the Taliban may yet integrate successfully into the existing Afghan state and, as the Americans would like it to, join the fight against groups loyal to the Islamic State (which is banned in Russia). Most likely, however, the civil war will continue between different groups.

This creates additional risks for the post-Soviet states. The Taliban may have so far stayed mostly within the borders of Afghanistan. Still, the same cannot be said of other radical Islamist groups, which might either step up their activity against the background of the chaos in the country or seek new areas of operation, should they be squeezed out of Afghanistan. Central Asian countries, which cannot boast consistent stability, might become their new targets.

This instability, which stems from internal economic and religious problems, the difficult transition of power and generational change within the local elites, could, in and of itself, foster civil and even inter-state wars. For this reason, Central Asia, where outbreaks of violence are virtually inevitable, will become the main field of activity, perhaps even a battlefield, for the CSTO.

From our partner RIAC

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Defense

Rising Geopolitical Tensions Boost Military Spend on Electronic Warfare Equipment

MD Staff

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The emergence of stealth and low observable aircraft along with Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) systems has made integrated air defense networks very complex and difficult to counter. Additionally, the development of new missile-seeker technologies for surface-to-air missiles poses a serious threat to aircraft as they bypass existing missile-detection systems. The presence of these new threats is driving the demand for modern electronic warfare (EW) systems that are sensitive enough to detect and engage targets before they are visually seen. A recent analysis of the global military airborne electronic warfare market forecasts the sector to rake in revenues over $30.8 billion between 2018 and 2028, with $21 billion worth of addressable opportunities arising from the planned and forecasted procurement of EW equipment.

“Many countries will be modernizing their aging fleets through upgrade or replacement programs in the next 10 years,” said Ryan Pinto, Research Analyst, Aerospace and Defense at Frost & Sullivan. “With an increased focus on EW systems, this modernization phase will provide opportunities to replace their existing EW capabilities with modern systems that can counter new threat environments.”

Frost & Sullivan’s latest research, Global Military Airborne Electronic Warfare Market, Forecast to 2028, investigates the potential of military electronic warfare (EW) equipment in today’s volatile geopolitical climate. The report explores the trends influencing electronic warfare and the factors driving sector growth, and offers a segment-wise analysis of the global electronic warfare market. The research also provides detailed revenue forecasts and identifies promising opportunities for growth in the sector.

With Russia demonstrating its advanced electronic warfare capabilities in Ukraine and Syria, China has refocused its efforts toward showcasing similar capabilities in the Pacific. The two countries see EW as an important force multiplier during a conflict. This has made bridging the EW capability gap a major priority for the US and NATO countries to maintain their advanced capabilities and remain competitive. New threats in the EW domain will drive new research and procurement programs.

“There is a growing need for indigenization and collaborative production, especially in emerging markets such as Saudi Arabia and India,” noted Pinto. “Defense majors will have to vary their market strategy accordingly to access emerging opportunities in these markets.”

Companies operating in this sector can also foster growth by:

Offering more robust EW systems that would enable assets to conduct hybrid EW and CW tasks simultaneously.

Developing faster signal processing and miniaturization to increase the sensitivity of jammers.

Integrating AI and neural networks to enable quicker reactions, faster identification, and effective suppression.

Reducing the size of EW payload to enable horizontal integration of multiple payloads.

Global Military Airborne Electronic Warfare Market, Forecast to 2028, is a part of Frost & Sullivan’s Aerospace & Defense Growth Partnership Service program, which helps organizations identify a continuous flow of growth opportunities to succeed in an unpredictable future.

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