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United States Presence in Indian Ocean: Counter Strategy For China

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In 1890, Alfred Mahan affirmed, that “whoever controls the Indian Ocean will dominate Asia, the destiny of the world will be decided on its waters” .In 1968, after United Kingdom withdrawal from Indian Ocean region the United States (US) presumed the responsibility of sustaining the order in the Indian Ocean. In earlier era, its overwhelming power-projection capacity, the US endorsed the moderate policy thwarting by outer hegemony and the rise of other intimidations to the Indian Ocean region. Indian Ocean appears as the essential battlefield of struggle in global political views. Strategic position of the Indian Ocean region in terms authority and significance of its Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOCs) makes it important for the littoral and external hegemons. The geostrategic competition among major power like the US, China and India, in the contemporary era this region has determined its regional states to boost their military forces in the Indian Ocean.

Formerly, the Indian Ocean considered as a deserted ocean and today it has turn out to be a center of political and intentional activities. Moreover, The US has established its military naval base Diego Garcia on the isolated land mass of Chagos archipelago in the Indian Ocean region due to its interests in this region.Due to strategic importance of Indian Ocean and the competition among major regional powers the US always supports India, to counter Chinese hegemony in this region.

Keeping in view Indian geo-strategic position, the US developed strategic partnership with India to contain China. The Indo- US partnership presumes to efficaciously hedge against Chinese designs in the Indian Ocean. The present study aims to discuss the US security strategy for the Indian Ocean and its implications for China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

The Indo-US partnership in Indian Ocean has unsurprisingly made cautious Pakistan and China regarding the strategic stability in this region. Pakistan is conscious of its instant and extensive neighborhood in the Indian Ocean. Pakistan has to appraise its alternatives and ready to handle any challenge that Indian Ocean can tender in the future. China has already exceeded the America as the largest energy consumer and now it has turned into more reliant on overseas oil and gas.

This era is most dynamic and emerging era with all respects.  It brought lot of changes in international map and as well as in technology and all walks of life.  This era is marked as Global era and globalization is its key importance.   The 20th century was dominated by most of mega events of history which redefined the shapes of mankind on surface of world.  Events like World War I and World War II, Nuclear power exploration and its control, chauvinism and decolonization, establishment of UN, massive improvements in science and technology, awareness of environmental degradation, digital revolution, and massive advancement in information technology shaped life in new patterns. This also affected the Indian Ocean with multiple ways like politics, technology, emerging of powers, trade, communication and navigation and changing boundaries of territories.

With increase in trade and discovery of fusel fuels, industrial revolution exaggerated.  Oil, Gas and other petroleum products became strategic commodities.  This also caused to ship petroleum from its origins to Europe and other industrial countries.  The world has been affected tremendously by petroleum and its byproducts particularly in 20th century.   These petroleum products have become central to our lives.  Crude oil found in inside earth and in rocks is processed to form different petroleum products. From lighting and cooking inside homes to running of gigantic machinery of heavy industrial complexes all are mostly based on petroleum.  The Indian Ocean region is very important in this regard as five of world’s largest oil producers are located in this region.  Out of world total trade of oil and petroleum 40% petroleum products are traded from Indian Ocean and its shipping lanes are backbones of most of international economies.

The strait of Bab al Mandab known as “Gate of Lamentation” is a narrow strait only twenty miles wide that allows ships to pass from the Red Sea to Gulf of Aden and to Arabian Sea. This strait is divided into Eastern Channel, Alexander’s Strait’ two miles wide and western channel “Dact al Mayun’ 16 miles wide by an island “Perim” in the center of Bab al Mandab.  The oil came from Middle East must have to pass through this strait to their way to Suez Canal and it save extra time and money of ships that carry oil from Middle East to Europe and America. Thus Bab al Mandab became very strategic connection among Indian Ocean and Mediterranean Sea and similar for rest of the world. Further this era comprises on the emergence of regional and extra regional power in Indian Ocean region such as US, China, India and Pakistan. China is meticulously emerging and constructing up its naval occurrence in Indian Ocean, which is being sighted as rising threats for the wellbeing of India and US as well.

The US armada was initially founded as the Continental Navy times ago, in 1775 during the American innovative war. Initially the US fleet was operated in Pacific and Atlantic but later due to the trade awareness and Indian Ocean’s growing importance tilted the United States towards it. In the 19th century and first half of the 20th century, the Indian Ocean considered as a British lake, the British not only acquired  India but also  got control the various choke points of Indian Ocean to protected the trade routes of their favor. At that time the American presence in this part of world was minimal.

American concern in the Indian Ocean region rose extensively during and after the II World War. Ultimately, the US happen to be the main sponsor of protection on the high seas in the Indian Ocean region, on the other hand, after the British draw down from east of Suez canal in 1970s. Additionally, for the future of this region the American President “Franklin Delano Roosevelt” congested in the Suez Canal while he returns from the Yalta Conference in 1940s. So in particular he met the founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz ibn Saud on a ship voyage. The king had brought a number of sheep on slat, butchered and roasted for the American bunch.At the same time, the protection of oil assurances was converse by the pertinent parties.

Nowadays, it is stiff to envisage the Indian Ocean region, particularly the Arabian Sea region without the US maritime attendance, but the US occurrence in the Indian Ocean is not as mature or as profound, as it has presence in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The US naval presence in the Indian Ocean is consequently reliant on the benevolence of its associates. However, there is no distrust this goodwill would continue in near future. The Indian Ocean and the land of its surroundings have been developed its significance and it is expected to become imperative to the US navy.

Economic concerns always played most important task in the formulation of US overseas strategies and foretelling its supremacy in abroad. US economic concerns in the Indian Ocean region are the main cause of the main possessions like oil, decisive supplies and raw materials and the sea lanes of communication are worth mentioning. Though, for the US the Indian Ocean has turned out to be a vital tip of foreign its and financial strategies and it has grown impact on its defense. Thus, for the economic survival of US allies of US the unhindered shipping of raw materials, oil and other products through the Sea Lanes of Communication was mandatory.  According to the President Nixon report on foreign policy to congress in May 1973, the US and other industrial nation’s demands of energy are rising in world so in this case the need of Persian Gulf oil would increase in the near future. Consequently, the assertion of the ongoing flow of Middle East energy resources are increasing its importance for the US, Western Europe and Japan. In today’s world the significance of constant supply of oil and other Mineral Resources to the US and its allies have happened as the milestone for the American foreign and defense policies. In the post Second World War the main concerns of US were to deter the expansion of communism in Europe and other parts of the World. In post II World War Era Indian Ocean region lost its strategic significance due to the rising tensions between superpowers, in Europe. Moreover, France and England had colonies in Indian Ocean’s littoral States, the Britain thus, provided a sagacity of safety to the US interests in Indian Ocean.

The US war with Korea in 1950s had deep effects on the US economic concerns, which was extended to comprise a great part of the Asia. Therefore, the alliances were established with the littoral countries of Indian Ocean I-e India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Further, US entreated the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) the aim of this treaty was to check the South–West extension of China, which was measured to be a Soviet ally. Washington also created another accord among Australia, New Zealand, and the United States (ANZUS) for the assure protection of European nations. Likewise, US encouraged the configuration of Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) in 1979, to take initiative as an observer. In all these provisions, US sought and protected major participation of Great Britain, and it kept its presence in the area which limited to flag -showing profile at Bahrain based Mideast force. The Suez crises in 1956 and the Colonial rule in Subcontinent brought home the fact that the British cannot continue its presence in the region for an indefinite period, nevertheless later on the announcement of British withdrawal came as a surprise for the whole world. The inspiring Soviet entry into the region in the wake of the British decision to withdraw from the area was seen as a part of intended Russian move to fill the vacuum created by the withdrawal of British. These historic events led US to believe that in an area as important as the India Ocean, it is dangerous to let the Soviet Union attain a potential that would be significantly greater than its own .

The Nixon doctrine, “for the security concerns the arrangements were modified to make available a more secure US role in Indian Ocean Region, the burdens and responsibilities were shared within the allies for their own protection and security and for more bitterly sharing of materials and manpower”. This doctrine highlighted that, in some cases and area US would be militarily involved, and in some cases the involvement would be much lesser. The US key objective was to maintain a balance role in Indian Ocean Region that would continue to represent US interests in the area. It also encouraged littoral states to contribute for their own security issues, further the US would help to provide the Naval and Air presence as a possible prevention and the allies would help to supply their own ground troops.

The naval units of the US which were desired by maintained a viable presence due to its elasticity and comparative autonomy in the global waters. For the preservation of necessary deterrence, it was essential that they can approach to any part of the Indian Ocean in the undeviating time.  In the perspective of the Nixon doctrines, the “Island strategy” naval base Diego Garcia considered a vital to US naval wellbeing in Indian Ocean. In gulf war era, the US persists to set up the coalitions in Indian Ocean region for security concerns.

On the other hand, the post 9/11 era has marked a rising involvement of the US Administration in this Region. In the light of 9/11 attack on US, President Bush highlighted two superseding security concerns in his speech, Bush provided policy guidelines for the US involvement in the Indian Ocean. According to Bush two major features of the US involvement includes first, to countering china and second, securing oil trade routes. The most significant key factor for extensive involvement of the US can be measured as that the US said that the war in Afghanistan is a war for justice. But the War in Gulf, it is the underlying motivation for the US involvement. George W. Bush said that the Taliban defeat is the most repressive regime in the history of the world. According to a journalist, in the past, it was the US who expectant the Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to help the Taliban regime. So when the Taliban took the power, the US considered nothing obnoxious in the Taliban’s rule and campaign to compel the stringent Islamic laws.

The premeditated concerns of Washington in the Indian Ocean can be measured by a comprehensive foreign policy stance. Further, that viewpoint is prejudiced by the essential regional interests and also comprised on state’s explicit purposes. On the other hand the Washington’s key objective is to curtail and eliminate those threats which are alarming for the US interests in this region.

Due to the vital strategic location, rich resources, important trade ways, the just beginning Sino-US and Sino-Indian contentions, programmed of uncertain purpose, and Islamist extremists. Because of these scenarios the Indian Ocean region seems successful to get the consideration of the US representatives and strategists.

The United States foreign policy, specifically regarding the Indian Ocean and, particularly related to China, India and Pakistan, it can be recapitulating in a hierarchical way to describe the core objectives of the US policy. So in this regard there are two notable points to explain. First of all, in the US as like other States, the national and global concerns are extremely linked up with external strategy statements. Secondly, the US contemporary economic conditions would have consequences for the foreign and defense policies.

There are diverse strategic schools of thoughts I-e the renowned American strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan, Lord Horatio Nelson, J.C Wylie and John talkie when that derives to ponder about the prominence of the strategic purposes of the US in this region.

One School of thought argues that Indian Ocean region will turn out to be more imperative for the US, due to its ongoing dependency on oil imports from the Middle East. Further, the US allied need is to preserve the strategic supremacy to counter Chinese activity in this region, it also wants to curtail the influence of Iran. In the case of a competition with China, the Indian Ocean would have a great implication in trade, mainly related to the supply lines.

There is another school of thought which suggests a fascinating amalgamation of the above school of thought. It is about that this Indian Ocean region will always have been attractive for the policymakers of United States. Despite the fact, the focus of United States is growing day by day in this region.  .

To put aside the above considerations, it comes into view that there would be an intensive practice of multifaceted measures by the US to look closely the issues of this region with its particular partners. This is also source to increase the awareness about all the issue on local level, which is not in the favor of The US interests. Likewise, for the sake of sustainability the US can confront with other powers for the security of its interests. Furthermore, the Washington’s nature of assets and capabilities are likely to change in Indo-Pacific region. US also may get force to step back from its presence in Indian Ocean Region after the fulfillment of its interests, and then it will definitely consider the other partners of this region like India, Indonesia, and Australia to pursue its interests.

There are different key factors of ongoing rapid transformation in Indian Ocean Region. China is emerging as the second leading economy globally and its transnational mammoth project and Silk Road Economic Belt project with Pakistan and other Asian States. Secondly the US counter strategy towards china’s rise and pivot strategy to Asia, furthermore, the US also concerned to ascent several emerging economies of the littoral states in this region like India, Indonesia, Pakistan and others. In near future, it seems there will be rise of intensive economic activities within and through the Indian Ocean and there would be high possibility of militarization among littoral and external powers.  In this context the CPEC presumes a vital importance in this region. India have fear that, this mega venture by China and Pakistan can encircle the India’s boundaries of both land and maritime. Further that the Indian Ocean is desirable for India to endure its limited naval front both economically and militarily. Moreover, with the influence of US, the other key regional countries such as India, China, United Kingdom, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, France, South and the United Kingdom will play a vital part in the Indian Ocean region on different levels. There are some major features of United States objectives in the Indian Ocean are seeing moderately clear. Similarly the United States conceives the alarming threats to its interests in Indian Ocean Region from the regional countries like China and Iran.

The following analysis briefly explains the aspects of US involvement on Indian Ocean Regional key countries.

China’s naval projection can be traced back to the heyday of Qing dynasty; the China’s naval legacy was not prolonged far beyond the Cape of Good Hope. As long as Chinese objects in Indian Ocean, China has already obtained the shore operational capabilities. China seeks to build blue water navy to maintain its presence and fulfillment of its long term objectives in Indian Ocean Region. Concurrently, China is also eagerly increasing its participation in multilateral institutions like wise, its participation in the UN peacekeeping missions, international disaster relief campaigns such as counter-terrorism and counter-piracy mission..

The regional neighbors of China view the naval projection as a fearsome offensive force in Indian Ocean.  That’s the reason the US and its regional allies consider the naval modernization of China in Indo-Pacific as a potential threat to its interests. Likewise the dominant naval position of China is becoming the cause of clash of interests between the two major states China and the US.

The US considers China as a potential source of instability in Indo-Pacific region so in 2010 one of the US official warned China to cultivate its activities in this region. The US Pivot to Asia strategy with its allies to encircle China along the eastern and southern island chain periphery. Further for the containment of China, the US also built strategic rings and also expands its defense treaties with its South Asian regional allies to encircle China in this region. China on the other hand considers the US as a major threat to the security. Beijing is also making substantial efforts to counter the US in the Indian Ocean, for example in 2013, Beijing warned the US not to interfere in the region. Secondly, China imposed no-fly zone in the South China Sea area.

Likewise, the emergence of China as booming economy and also dominant superpower in Asia-Pacific regard as a major player in this region. The aggressive and strong emergence of China has changed the geopolitics of Asian region, as long as it also affects the international order. Now China has become the most significant partner of Asian countries due to its economic rise. The rapid rise of china also poses the major threats to its neighbors and other countries such as for the US. The general views of engagement of China’s in this region considered by many countries as a threat to its interests.

China is ever more signifying its assertiveness in various strategies to make best use of its interests in this region. The assertion of Chinese president Xi Jinping of China’s aims to start a “New 21st Century Maritime Silk Road,” another part of the “One Belt One Road” inventiveness which is related to the newest proposal of grander economic collaboration among the States. China invested with the assurance of US$40 billion in this mega venture, China intends to expand the structure along with the sea routes and road routes, through these exertions china wants to amalgamate its ongoing ventures. This offer not only unwraps better opportunities for China, but it will also contribute to enlarge its domain of encouragement.

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Defense

Arctic Security and Dialogue: Assurance through Defence Diplomacy

Troy J. Bouffard

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Authors: Troy J. Bouffard, Elizabeth Buchanan & Michael Young*

For over two decades, key stakeholders have been confident that the Arctic Council was the appropriate forum for discussing most non-military Arctic issues. At the same time, UNCLOS, IMO and various international legal agreements, along with numerous forums, helped to manage a significant portion of the remaining challenges. Today, security concerns are heightening with new Arctic players and the days of a stable Arctic region, free from intervening security concerns, may be facing headwinds as military activity and rhetoric have increased over the past few years. Strategic competition in the Arctic has reemerged and is bolstered by recent rhetoric and increased investment from Washington in its national security agenda in the Arctic as well as associated NATO military activity.

Russia uses these developments as further justification to securitize the state’s largest open frontier. It is unsurprising Moscow views this behavior as foreign strategy to undermine Russia’s legitimate interests in the Arctic. In effect, the Arctic may be host to a new security dilemma which is driving militarization and strategic competition in the region. The problem is: there is no effective forum for Arctic defence authorities to discuss the potentially emerging security dilemma or the spectrum of associated and relevant issues involving Arctic non-/State interests.

Recognizing this apparent strategic forum gap, there have been recommendations from Arctic security scholars and strategists to consider the establishment of a designated Arctic security forum to lead collective and inclusive military-security dialogue. These calls are now echoed in some Arctic state policy circles, indicating the appetite for a security forum is growing. Tellingly,   Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, during a high-level Arctic international conference with Putin in April 2019, suggested that annual meetings of the Chiefs of General Staff of the Arctic Council’s member-states should reoccur. For Lavrov, such meetings could become an effective mechanism of maintaining regional security, stating, “unfortunately, since 2014 these meetings have been suspended. For the purposes of resuming joint work we suggest as a first step to establish contact at the level of military experts of Arctic states.” In theory, such a proposal could effectively manage a growing security dilemma, in order to confront concerns of militarization and sharpened strategic competition in the Arctic. However, implementation of high-level security discussions between Arctic Council member states would not be easy in the contemporary political environment. Moreover, there must be an absolute separation between the purpose of the Arctic Council and any Arctic defence issues and forum. Such a requirement is not only based on the Council’s charter mandate, but also from a practical standpoint to avoid undermining or overlapping well-established practices.

Some current security forums capable of hosting dialogue on Arctic military-security affairs do exist, but these are inadequate for any real strategic discourse due to the fact that the Arctic’s largest stakeholder is not considered an ‘equal member’ in these fora. To date, limited study has been conducted into the feasibility of a circumpolar Arctic security forum, of which all Arctic-rim powers are considered equal. The authors explore the concept of establishing an Arctic military-security forum to navigate the resurgence of strategic competition in the region. To do so, the article examines challenges and opportunities associated with the establishment of an effective Arctic security forum through diplomatic aspects, including 1) establishing acceptable protocols, 2) the role of military diplomacy and 3) sustaining meaningful diplomatic commitments and outcomes.

Establishing Acceptable Protocols

The central goal of establishing formal protocols through a forum to discuss Arctic security issues is to prevent security related actions by one state from escalating to higher level military conflict due to misunderstandings among other Arctic states. There are already several agreements that include the United States and Russian Federation which govern the behavior of military forces when operating in close proximity to each other or in international waters, such as the Incidents at Sea Agreement (INCSEA, 1972), the Dangerous Military Activities Agreement (DMA, 1989), and the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES, 2014).

Given that these agreements have no geographical limitations, they would also apply to military actions in the Arctic. What is not covered by these agreements, and what is missing in the Arctic currently, is a formal dialogue between Russia and the other Arctic states regarding issues of national security in the Arctic. Such dialogue is important so that all sides understand each other’s actions and the motives behind them, or at least provide a forum to discuss misunderstandings. There have been fora in the recent past which attempted to accomplish this in the Arctic, such as the Arctic Coast Guard Forum (ACGF), the Arctic Security Forces Roundtable, and the Arctic / Northern Chiefs of Defence meetings. These ended in 2014 after the Russian annexation of Crimea when mil-to-mil engagements with Russia were suspended. However, an exception was later made for the ACGF. The ACGF now regularly meets and rotates chairmanships every two years according to the same schedule as the Arctic Council. The ACGF is an excellent forum for the Arctic states to “foster safe, secure and environmentally responsible maritime activity in the Arctic,” but it does not specifically address military or national security issues. This is precisely why it was able to obtain an exemption from the ban on mil-to-mil activity. This is to Arctic security’s detriment.

Clearly, after six years it is apparent that the ban on mil-to-mil engagement with Russia is adversely affecting all Arctic states. There is an obvious need for crafting a defence forum for the Arctic states. As such, it would be useful to establish a mechanism for all Arctic states’ senior military leaders to engage annually for the purpose of discussing Arctic security issues. And this is in the US national interest. The question now becomes what the format, protocols and limitations should be so that such a forum could prove successful for all participants. It should also be considered apart from other mil-to-mil engagements with Russia, and therefore mostly exempt from sanctions. The following proposed components should be considered with regard to development of an Arctic security forum:

-Heads of delegation from each Arctic state would be their senior commander who has responsibility for their country’s Arctic defence.  For example, the US would send the Commander, US Northern Command (4-star), Russia would send the Commander, Northern Fleet Military District (3-star Joint Arctic Command) and the Deputy Defence Minister of the Russian Federation – Chief of Main Directorate for Political-Military Affairs of the Russian Armed Forces (3-star). Normally equivalent rank and position is a basic protocol requirement. However, Russia does not maintain nearly the same amount of 4-star generals as does the United States. As a result, the disparity would not be considered inappropriate or detrimental to the process. Each commander could designate a subordinate as the working representative during the year in the lead up to the conference, but each defence principal would be expected to attend the actual conference in person.

-Hosts for each annual meeting would rotate every year on a prescribed schedule among each of the eight Arctic states.

-The agenda for the annual meeting would have set, required topics each year, which at a minimum would include: 1) Arctic defence philosophy, 2) most important defence challenges in the Arctic, and 3) greatest threats to Arctic security, as perceived by each state. An additional mandatory topic would be ways to improve Arctic security cooperation and reduce tensions.

-The deliverable from the conference would be a report to all member states from the host country summarizing the discussions and outcomes. A joint statement would be optional.

-The conference would be nominally scheduled for one full working day, unless an extension is agreed to by all parties in advance.

However, this forum must stand completely apart from other forums, such as the Arctic Council, even though its membership would still consist of the eight Arctic states that hold sovereign territory in the Arctic. The Arctic Council functions well as an intergovernmental forum on Arctic issues, but its founding documents specifically exclude any discussions on defence or security.  Trying to bring security issues into the Arctic Council runs the risk of damaging a well-functioning mechanism.

It should also not involve NATO specifically, even though seven of the Arctic states are also NATO members. Since the purpose of the forum is to engage in Arctic-specific security issues, the involvement of NATO could detract from the Arctic nature and openness of any discussions. Any NATO role in an Arctic security forum must be defined and accepted by Russia, if at all. First and foremost, the forum must be able to function from a setting of sovereign equals, of which any alliance would certainly complicate to say the least – a notion that diplomatically parallels the exact difficulties presented by consideration of the EU as an official Arctic Council observer. In the Arctic security forum, membership would only consist of the eight Arctic states – no observers.

While an Arctic defence forum described above is important, it should not exist as the only engagement between the Arctic states in understanding each other’s defence postures.  Ongoing traditional diplomacy and military diplomacy would continue to play important roles, as will existing bilateral security agreements. However, as mentioned previously, a new Arctic security forum must be able to function unilaterally with defined authority and jurisdiction.

The Role of Military Diplomacy

The role of military power in today’s world exemplifies a much different meaning from the past. Use of military might by developed nations to resolve or influence global issues increasingly represents options to be employed only as a last resort, if at all. The ever-growing economic interdependence and strong institutional architectures that help facilitate global relationships provide just an initial understanding concerning such world order, and such forces likely apply throughout the Arctic region also. One of the ways in which military organizations could integrate into constructive circumpolar affairs is through use of defence diplomacy. The Oxford Handbook provides a definition as ‘the employment, without duress, in time of peace of the resources of Defence to achieve specific national goals, primarily through relationships with others” as seen by “the shift from ‘club’ to ‘network’ diplomacy” reflective of advanced civilization. The Arctic Eight all have significant military resources and capabilities as well as experience around the world managing tensions. Certainly, the degree to which Russia participates in such endeavors remains difficult to ascertain meaningfully, but it does occur, and moreover, the Arctic region is somewhat of an exceptional case.

Defence diplomacy involves a desire to use military channels, and/or those of experts on defence issues, to help create a climate of trust and a convergence of interests. Those familiar with the Arctic region and its many issues might already be thinking of how the military could contribute within these definitional understandings. The most concerning defence-related issue still centers on continued Russian military buildup in their north, including significant bastion defence, several dedicated brigades, and an advanced coastal and offshore air-defence network. Such developments outpace the rest of the Arctic Eight combined by an order of magnitude, although not necessarily representative of individual or cumulative national capability. The lack of post-Crimea Western mil-to-mil contact with Russia as well as a collective Arctic security forum continues to suppress opportunities to build trust and confidence with purpose. Eventually, the United States and NATO will increase military capabilities and presence in the Arctic, and without dialogue, misunderstanding of intent and perceptions, among other things, will likely worsen.

Defence organizations often track sensitive, conflict-laden issues within categories often known as elevated, escalated, and the most dangerous, zones of miscalculation. Other issues involve tensions regarding international maritime law and increased control over disputed Arctic waters Russia considers internal. Such an ‘excessive maritime claim’, per the United States, would likely benefit from defence discussions and subsequent counsel amongst individual national authorities. Most recently, the United States and United Kingdom conducted a naval exercise in the Barents Sea from 03 – 08 May 2020. Although advanced notification was provided to Russia and the media largely conflated the event and meaning, Russian authorities were able to conduct observations and consequently reported findings (figure 1). While characterizing the exercise as provocative, Russian authorities noted that Northern Fleet capabilities effectively deployed to track NATO weapons and thereby avoid any incidents. When conducting the official briefing, Colonel-General Rudskoy stated that “the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation has always adhered to a course aimed at building a constructive dialogue with NATO” and furthermore, emphasized European concerns that “all our proposals to reduce military tension and prevent incidents were set forth in a letter from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. In fact, our suggestions were ignored.” Although possibly a demonstration of aggrandized rhetoric, such messages could be much different through use of military diplomacy and dialogue. National interests are often conveyed through strategic communications and military activities, and as a component of foreign-policy objectives already, the addition of deliberate discourse can leverage the influence of military capability and experience toward purposeful defence diplomacy.

Figure 1: Russian Ministry of Defence briefing on recent NATO activity in the Arctic

Source: Russian Ministry of Defence

Sustaining Meaningful Diplomatic Outcomes

The pace at which media attention and policy rhetoric is focusing on calls of a ‘new’ Cold War in the Arctic is representative of renewed global attention in the High North. Ultimately, in an age of social media, this attention creates strategic fog for northern stakeholders and indeed can cultivate strategic distrust further between Arctic neighbors. All the official dialogue in the world matters little unless it can be sustained and implemented meaningfully. Nor can a representative principal and staff conduct hasty preparations and expect to be effective during diplomatic maneuvering and negotiations. An established cycle of dialogue helps to develop and enable an active national program that requires substantial time, money and effort toward preparations that categorically culminate through the dialogue events. Such processes foster purposeful information development and sharing by Arctic defence staffs, both domestically and within the network, further elevating an understanding of each other’s’ policies, strategies and intent. Furthermore, regularly scheduled diplomatic events require continuous learning and processing, leading to more sustained and confident diplomatic outcomes as opposed to sporadic events.

Preparation involves more than studying different tier-level issues. A delegation must be effectively empowered to participate in a diplomatic setting, to include delivery and status of domestic positions on matters, extent and limits of compromise on issues, and introduction of propositions and interests, to name a few. Such preparations also require domestic prioritization of issues and executive agency synchronization as well as input in order to avoid inadvertent internal marginalization of national interests – again, not nearly as efficacious in an ad hoc fashion. At the same time, a major component of successful preparations – far more complex and difficult – requires an understanding of adversarial as well as competitive positions on agenda and relevant non-agenda items. Indeed, it can be a very bad day when a delegation is diplomatically outmaneuvered as a result of inadequate preparation on a reasonably expected issue. This circumstance might represent a best-case scenario when a competitor out-prepares another and scores a diplomatic win without the need to give up anything through a compromise on equal settings. Such an instance occurred on Day 10 of the Cuban Missile Crisis at a UN Security Council meeting, when US Ambassador Adlai Stevenson thoroughly ‘dressed down’ Soviet Ambassador Zorin through superior preparation in anticipation of the USSR position. Similarly with regard to the Arctic, having a forum ready to host this security discussion could be the difference in preventing Arctic conflict, especially when domestic and foreign goals tend to universally prefer that issues remain within the cooperative or competitive realm. The Arctic is naturally geared for sustaining diplomatic outcomes and ironically, all Arctic states hold a common strategic interest: stability.

Additionally, the value of multinational defence dialogue not only benefits from agreements, but  also in the development and implementation of national strategies. Domestic policies can significantly gain advantage from positive results of dialogue as well as clarification of issues involving tension, not to mention reference to the forum itself as a venue of reliable structured discussion. Furthermore, such fora often facilitate and promote inclusivity and coverage of issues through agenda setting. However, while agendas can be abused by more influential states, today’s advanced understanding and conduct of diplomacy and negotiation can help overcome inequalities through thoughtful charter establishment.

Conclusion

Many fora already exist to address most issues in the Arctic from a circumpolar perspective (see Figure 2). The Arctic Council provides an excellent forum to jointly tackle environmental issues and scientific research, and it also has provided an excellent platform to negotiate several joint agreements between the Arctic states, such as search and rescue, oil spill response, and scientific cooperation. The International Maritime Organization provided a framework to negotiate the Polar Code for shipping traffic in the Arctic. The Arctic Coast Guard Forum proves to be excellent at discussing and solving shared maritime law and regulatory challenges across the Arctic. The Arctic Economic Council facilitates sustainable Arctic economic and business development. A glaring gap in these fora is one that addresses Arctic security or defence issues. The need for an Arctic security forum is clear. Given the increasing re-militarization of the Arctic in recent years and unproductive rhetoric likely to continue, the time to establish an Arctic security forum has already passed. Dialogue between senior Arctic defence leaders and their staffs could complement other Arctic national efforts through the conduct of military diplomacy, leading to enhanced mutual understanding of defence challenges as well as the prevention of unintended conflict escalation.

Figure 2. Example of Current Arctic Organizations and Responsibilities

To move our proposal forward, we offer the following considerations as areas for further research. First, initiative could be seized by Moscow during its forthcoming Arctic Council Chairmanship (2021-2023) to officially propose and promote a forum – an enterprise opportunity completely separate from the work of the Arctic Council yet benefits from the overall Arctic emphasis during its leadership. Moreover, Russia could craft the forum and keep it void of mandated leadership, instead recommending an acceptable rotation schedule – similar or otherwise to the Arctic Council. Second, in terms of the security forum’s construct, we see three viable options. Option A: The forum is limited to the Arctic Eight defence authorities and their select delegations. This is the ideal approach as it affords the most lateral movement for military diplomacy in the Arctic. Option B: Implement Option A but also develop an observer mandate. Using similar criteria to that of the Arctic Council, this would allow for NATO to engage as a clear subordinate to Russia. This signal acknowledges Moscow’s concerns and perhaps also helps get around NATO’s ‘limited engagement with Russia’ policy still in effect. Most importantly, this option ensures that any potential NATO forum role develops under Russian required consensus. This option also easily extends toward further research consideration and potential roles of other interested participants, such as China. A final study option is Option C: the development of a security forum led by the Arctic ‘Western’ states with an offer extended to Russia to join. This may be the least viable option given Moscow would likely reject ‘junior partner’ overtures. Additionally, the current fragmented Arctic defence efforts somewhat demonstrate problems with this option.

The Arctic needs a productive forum for military dialogue – one already established, functioning well and possessing the institutional maturity ready to confront future strategic challenges. It is in the best interests of the Arctic region to have a credible body in place to navigate and preemptively negotiate military-security issues and threats involving mutual interests. Military tensions in the Arctic could severely marginalize years of stabilizing accomplishments, not the least of which includes critical natural resource and environmental activities. Compelled dialogue driven by negative incidents will only invoke frustrated hindsight from stakeholders and concerned advocates. The situation is clear, and prospects obvious. Defence authorities should pursue the opportunity to effectively steer military-related Arctic security issues before circumstances force preventable crisis management.

*Dr. Elizabeth Buchanan is Lecturer of Strategic Studies with Deakin University for the Defence and Strategic Studies Course (DSSC) at the Australian War College and a Fellow of the Modern War Institute at West Point. Dr. Buchanan holds a Ph.D. in Russian Arctic strategy from the Australian National University and was recently the Visiting Maritime Fellow at the NATO Defense College. Experiences also include a recent discussion she moderated with NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, during an official visit to Australia.

Michael Young served in the US Navy as a Surface Warfare Office. Afterwards, he became a Foreign Services Officer with the US State Department in the Office of Oceans and Polar Affairs, where he chaired an Arctic Council working group as a Track I diplomat. Following the US chairmanship of the Arctic Council, Michael went on the work with the Special Operations Command – North (SOCNORTH) with USNORTHCOM – one of the lead U.S. Combatant Commands with Arctic strategic defense responsibilities.

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Defense

Erdogan Slapped On The Wrist In Libya -Is More To Follow?

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A series of successes by Turkey-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya came to a sudden halt July 4th when the Al-Watiya airbase recently captured by the GNA factions was struck by unknown jets. Forces loyal to GNA entered Al-Watiya just a few weeks ago after a rapid offensive supported by Turkish drones. Back then, the GNA fighters took selfies with the Pantsir S-1 systems abandoned by the Libyan National Army (LNA). Instead of Russian-made Pantsirs Turkish MIM-23 HAWK systems were positioned at the base.

The latest satellite pictures of Al-Watia make it clear that these very systems were damaged or possibly destroyed in the attack. These developments surely dealt a huge blow to the pride of the Turkish leadership, all the more so because the attack happened just hours after Turkish defense minister Hulusi Akar concluded his visit to Tripoli.

Spokesman for the Volcano of Rage operation carried out by GNA units Abdul-Malik al-Madani claimed that Al-Watiya was attacked by Dassault Mirage 2000-9 multi-role fighters of the United Arab Emirates Air Force that used the Egyptian Sidi-Barrani airbase located closed to the Libyan border. The UAE did not comment on the statement.

The incident did not come as a complete surprise. Recep Erdogan’s aggressive policy in Libya has long been a concern for quite a few regional and global powers who could have deemed it necessary to slap the Turkish president on the wrist.

First, Turkey’s provocative actions endanger the interest of Libya’s closest neighbor, Egypt. The Egyptian leader Abdelfattah al-Sisi has already declared his readiness to conduct a full-scale military operation in Libya. Second, Turkish intervention in Libya is frown upon in the United Arab Emirates, one of the Egypt’s allies. Third, France has been consistently critical of Erdogan’s Libyan policy. Evidently, all of Paris, Abu-Dhabi and Cairo support the LNA leader Khalifa Hafter.

Probably the most thorough analysis up to date of the possible identity of the culprits behind the Al-Watiya attack was conducted by an independent researcher Akram Kharif. The analyst concluded that Russian involvement is least likely, as Russia lacks necessary military assets in Libya and is wary of damaging the relation with Turkey. Besides, Libya is off limits for the Russian spacial intelligence and targeting systems. Kharif argues that the operation was likely carried out by the UAE jets from Egypt’s soil with information support provided by France. If we accept this conclusion, the attack should be viewed as a “red line” drawn for the Turkish authorities.

Turkey and the GNA did not disclose the scale of casualties suffered in the attack, but it is of little relevance really. What’s more important is the symbolic meaning behind the attack that gave Ankara’s ambitious plans for capturing strategic areas of Sirte port and Jufra airbase a reality check. The future of the Libyan conflict now depends on the ability of the Turkish authorities to decipher this message.

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Three Turning Points of China’s Military Strategic Thoughts

Chan Kung

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The Chinese army is long known for its experience in the ways of strategic and tactical warfare. Being a country that boasts a large population, it has an endless supply of troops. Having adopted the core values of Western military warfare, Chinese strategists like Mao Zedong and many others came up with unique political and military ideological systems to suit China. These days, most of its military school of thought have been successfully passed down. Despite China’s somewhat extensive military ideological system, the core of its system boils down to two values, namely highly mobile operations, and a highly self-sacrificial spirit. For instance, the Chinese army, known for its Guerrilla Warfare, which is a part of mobile operations, is itself an understanding and application of the knowledge. Military strength on the other hand, is a manifestation of the country’s strong self-sacrificial spirit, a trait that is observed in political warfare too. These two attributes are what make up the core of China’s military strategic thinking and served as a catalyst to propel the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to greater heights.

Both core values are largely related to China’s long years of warfare. The guerrilla warfare in the region of Jinggang Mountains during the 1920s allowed Chinese army leaders to realize that mobile operations were key to surviving and coming out on top. Meanwhile, the war against Japan during the 1930s to 1940s taught the then highly illiterate and disorganized Chinese army, the importance of sacrificial spirit. Consequently, China’s military leaders began emphasizing the importance of practical knowledge and downplayed the importance of military ideology and theory, whichthey were known to blindly uphold, owing to their military tradition and long years of wars.

Following decades of peace, China eventually entered a political stalemate. Though when the Cultural Revolution swept over the country, and politics took a turn for the extreme, it affected the Chinese military and strategic ideology and caused the systems to be expressed in an abstract and overly simplified multi-faceted manner. To cite some examples, these were the words spoken by Lin Biao, then marshal of China.“First of all, you must fear no hardships. Second, you must fear no death”. To which PLA General Xu Shiyou added, “There is only death in failure”. Given China’s political environment then, the Chinese army turned into a political organization and its military power fell.

Even in that political environment, the Chinese commanders’ speeches varied based on the context. For example, while most of Lin Biao’s publicized speeches were political, in some unique occasions, however, they were spoken with foresight and showed Lin Biao’s true capability. During the meeting at the Military Commission on February 27, 1960, he was reported saying, “(1) In the future, wars are determined by the press of a button. (2) The most urgent, most important, and largest priority in our preparation for war is to revolutionize cutting-edge weapons. (3) Future wars will not only rely on infantry, but the air force and missiles too. Air forces will play a greater role on the battlefield, it may even determine the outcome of the war at some point, and we need to prioritize its development.” Lin Biao’s speech gave China the wake-up call that it needed to revamp its military, though it was ultimately three major events that truly allowed the country’s military to break away from politics and begin redefining their objectives.

The first major event took place in 1979.

Between February 17 to March 16, 1979, a brief but large-scale, heavy casualty war broke out between China and Vietnam. China had invested in a total of 9 infantry and 29 army division of alarming sizes in the east and west lines, namely the 11th Army, 13th Army, 14th Army, 41st Army, 42nd Army, 43rd Army, The 50th Army, 54th Army, 55th Army and 20th Army 58th Division, Guangxi Military Region Independent Division, Yunnan Provincial Military Region Independent Division, 2 Guangxi Military Region Frontier Regiments & 1 Frontier Battalion, 4 Yunnan Provincial Military Region Frontier Regiments and 3 border defence battalions, 2 artillery divisions (1st artillery, 4th artillery), 3 anti-aircraft artillery divisions (65th artillery division, 70th artillery division, 72th artillery division), and finally, military units such as railway, engineering, and communication troops. The troop size was estimated to be 220,000, rivalling the military strength of the Korean War at one point, though with further and better technical equipment. The Vietnamese troops confronted China with 6 infantry divisions (3rd, 345, 346, 316A, 338, 325B divisions), more than 10 local regiments & 20 independent battalions, and 4 artillery regiments. Later, they were joined by the infantry 327, 337 divisions and several independent regiments, independent battalions, special battalions, artillery, engineering, communications among many other units. About 100,000 people joined Vietnamese’s army forces, which depended on local troops and large numbers of armed militias to coordinate assaults. The entire battle stretched up to hundreds of kilometers and the Chinese army seized more than 20 small and medium-sized cities, and rural counties in northern Vietnam within a month.

Many officers’ account and battle records about the war were declassified from 2018 to 2020 and made public. Unlike most conventional news or qualitative reports, the records detailed the brutalities of the war and the Chinese PLA’s actual combat capabilities at the time. This includes blind commands issued by senior generals and plans revealing the detachment strategy formulated based on the battlefield. To quote an example, during the Cao Bang Campaign, the Chinese army deployed 6 troops and 11 divisions against 1 division (15,000 troops) from the Vietnamese army. They employed large-scale penetration manoeuvre to surround and annihilate the Vietnamese forces. Originally, the campaign was meant to last for 3 to 5 days only, yet it dragged on for 28 days, and continued to persist even as the Vietnamese army had retreated. The Chinese commanders ordered the annihilation of all oppressing forces, though after passing through several ranks of officers, the order was misinterpreted as an attempt to defend the site at all costs, even as the Vietnamese forces had successfully penetrated into Chinese territories following a surprise attack. Since many grassroots officers lacked the cartographical concept, most senior officers within the division were demoted, and were made to replace the grassroots officers to assume command over the troops instead, veteran commanders included. Chaos broke out among the grassroots officers, soldiers were openly holding senior officers at gunpoint for food, discarding many weapons and equipment at random, regiment-level cadres faked injuries to return to China. The Chinese battalion cadres relinquished their controls over the troops, resulting in large casualties and an eventual surrender. The sight of a few Vietnamese agents was enough to send the Chinese army into panic, causing them to shoot and kill one another, resulting in hundreds of deaths and the loss all supplies.

The Sino-Vietnamese war was led by second-line generals who had experienced wars. They were pick from the best veteran generals possible who were battle-hardened and could still be called to arms. In terms of high-level strategic command, the Chinese army was commanded by Yang Dezhi during the early stages, followed by Zhang Quanxiu later at the west line, while the east was commanded by Xu Shiyou. For advanced strategic command, Wang Shangrong, head of the War Department of the General Staff, was tasked with overseeing all preparations and decision-making concerning the operation. A week before launching the counterattack, Wang Shangrong mobilized the command team into the command center. The counterattack lasted for a month. For tens of days, he did not leave his post. Looking at the Sino-Vietnamese War in the grander scheme of things, even the Western media who chose to side with China then remarked that the country relied heavily on infantry assaults in dense formations, and that it employed warfare tactics similar to the Korean War in the 1950s. The Indian army, who were closely observing the war, too found that the Chinese army was far different from the 1962 Sino-Indian War.

The tragic reality and the outcome of the Sino-Vietnamese war caused China’s military community to realize old-fashioned strategies, traditional means and conventional military school of thoughts no longer work in modern wars. Following the war, Xu Shiyou, who was infamous for his mediocrity and excessive use of brute force to resolve matters, was immediately relieved of any substantial military command post after the war. Concurrently, the issue of military reform was finally brought to attention due to the impact of the war, and the country began unifying its military school of thought, with Deng Xiaoping launching a massive disarmament eventually. That said, while the Sino-Vietnamese war served as a critical turning point for China’s strategic thought, the major problems that plagued the Chinese military remained. How should the Chinese military fight and how should modern warfare be fought? Conventional strategic thought continued to be super controversial. Be it to enhance and strengthen the original military system and strategic thought, or to carry out reforms on a larger scale, many disputes concerning these major issues could not be resolved. However, these issues were finally addressed during the second major event.

The second major turning point came in 1990.

A major event that shocked the world in 1990 was the outbreak of the Gulf War. The Gulf War refers to the war between the U.S.-led coalition consisting of 34 countries and Iraq during the period of August 2, 1990,to February 28, 1991, which was also known as Operation Desert Storm. On August 2, 1990, Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait, overthrew the Kuwaiti government, and declared the “return” of Kuwait and the “unity” of Greater Iraq. After obtaining the authorization of the United Nations, the multinational force led by the United States launched a military offensive against the Iraqi forces in Kuwait and Iraq on January 17, 1991. The main combat consisted of 42 days of air strikes and 100 hours of ground combat on the borders of Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.

The Gulf War was the first large-scale war led by the U.S. forces since the Vietnam War, and also the first war between United Nations member states. In the war, the US military put a large number of high-tech weapons into actual combat for the first time. In particular, the U.S. Air Force used various guided bombs to attack from aircraft carriers, showing overwhelming superiority in air and electronic control. The new modern war and the first live broadcast by satellite left a deep impression on the whole world and China. The U.S. Air Force conducts thousands of sorties a day, using guided bombs, cluster bombs, air-fuel bombs, and cruise missiles. The primary objective of the U.S. forces was to destroy the Iraqi air force and air defenses, a task that was quickly accomplished, and allied air forces were virtually unimpeded throughout the rest of the war. Although Iraq’s air defenses were better than expected, U.S. Air Force only lost one F/A-18C fighter (AA403) on the first day of the war.

In the ground warfare, the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions, in coordination with the 1st brigade of the 2nd Armored Division, attacked Kuwait from the east and quickly liberated Kuwait. The main American forces consist of five units of the 7th Infantry Division, including the 1st Infantry Division, 1st Cavalry Division, 1st Armored Division, 3rd Armored Division and 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, with the 1st Armored Division of the British Army in Germany. It carried out a roundabout attack in the southern part of Iraq, bypassing the key defense areas of the Iraqi army and directly entering the western desert of Iraq. This unit quickly annihilated the Iraqi Republican Guard, which was far better equipped than the Chinese army and experienced in combat after the Iran-Iraq war. At the same time, the U.S. XVIII Airborne Corps completed a spectacular detour, cutting off the main Iraqi forces and closing in. A long line of Iraqi army convoys and equipment formed on the highway leading from Kuwait to Iraq in front of live television cameras. The long convoy was so heavily bombed by U.S. aircraft that it earned the nickname “The Highway of Death”.

Within 100 hours of the ground warfare, then-President Bush declared victory and a multinational cease-fire. To the astonishment of the Chinese generals who commented on TV, the casualties of the U.S.-led allied forces in such a large-scale war were very small, with only 148 American soldiers killed, 47 British and only 2 French. On the Iraqi side, nearly all of its main forces, including the elite Republican Guard, have been hit hard. Most scholars believe that the number of Iraqi troops killed in war is between 25,000 and 75,000,and the number of wounded is unclear. In addition, the number of Iraqi troops captured by the Americans alone stands at 71,000.

Such a sharp contrast caused the war to have a subversive impact on China’s military strategic thinking. When Zhang Zhaozhong, an expert on Chinese military studies, and others commented on the progress of the war on CCTV, they were struck dumb by these scenes. Their error-prone comments even caused CCTV hosts to show dissatisfaction and questioning on the spot. It should be said that the modern mode of warfare demonstrated in the Gulf War deeply stimulated the whole Chinese army and completely overturned their conventional cognition. In the face of the war footage, it was not just a few television commentators who were stunned. In fact, it was the objective reflection of China’s military strategic thinking at that time. Judging from the results of the Gulf War, China’s conventional military strategic thinking, in fact, has been completely turned into “historical rubbish”, which has prompted China to reflect on its military thinking deeply. Because the objective fact is that China knows very well that it cannot defeat Vietnam in guerrilla warfare; it is no match for a modern military power like the United States in regular warfare. The practical conclusion is clear: the modern mode of warfare in the world has been completely changed, and China must carry out major reforms in military thinking and system to adapt to future wars.

Of course, the origin of China’s military reform is a long story, but it actually began after the 1990 Gulf War. It is worth noting that even with the emergence of modern war such as the Gulf War, the military reforms of that period only addressed a small number of minor issues. If the Chinese military system including the military is regarded as a person, the post-1990 reform, which involved merely the reform of the “limbs”. However, the reform of the military-strategic thinking and the military system, that is, the reform of “head of the armed forces” and the strategic thinking, were almost entirely left untouched. If there was any progress at all, it was slow and minimal. In fact, it was not until the military reform after 2012 that this problem was truly solved.

The third major turning point occurred in 2015.

Since China entered the 21st century, its national conditions have undergone major changes. First of all, population decline has become an unshakable reality. There is a widespread one-child policy throughout the country. The supply of soldiers is highly limited. The cost of recruiting is rising rapidly, andeven RMB 200,000 subsidies are required for every soldier recruited in developed regions and cities.Secondly, China’s economic growth has developed rapidly during the golden decade, with great improvement in the economic foundation and great progress in the military industry and equipment industry. The third is that after “China Can Say No” and “Peaceful Rise” thoughts, a more assertive China has moved towards the world and the vast ocean with “Belt and Road Initiative”.

In March 2014, the Central Military Commission (CMC) leading group for deepening reform on national defense and the armed forces was established, headed by President Xi Jinping, and the first plenary meeting was held, marking the beginning of the substantive progress of the reform. In January 2015, the leading group for deepening reform on national defense and the armed forces held the second plenary meeting and made arrangements for the proposed reform plan. In July of the same year, at the third plenary meeting of the leading group for deepening reform on national defense and the armed forces, the overall planning for deepening the reform of national defense and armed forces were reviewed and adopted in principle. Later, Xi presided over a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and the Standing Committee of Central Military Commission meeting to review the overall plan. On September 3, 2015, at the conference marking the 70th Anniversary of The Victory of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and The World Anti-Fascist War, Xi Announced that China would cut its troop levels by 300,000. The following month, the Standing Committee of Central Military Commission meeting deliberated and adopted the “Implementation Plan for the PLA Leadership and Command System Reform”.On November 24-26 of the same year, the Central Military Commission Reform Work Conference was held. On November 28, the Central Military Commission issued the “Opinions on Deepening Reforms on National Defense and Armed Forces”, marking the official launch of military reform.

The national defense and military reform plan are based on the principle that the CMC is in charge of the chief command, the war zone and the services, including the adjustment of military headquarters system, implement CMC multi-sectoral system, establish army leading institutions and improve the services and arms lead management system, readjust the delimited war zone, establish joint operations command structures in commands, and improve the military commission agency and other measures. With the reform of the armed forces, the “The Fourth Department of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army”, the “seven military regions” and the “continental army” were all dismissed. The “Second Artillery Corps” was replaced by the “Rocket Force”, and the strategic support force was introduced. In addition, five major war zones were established, including major streamlining, major optimization, major readjustment, and major relocation of military forces. This is the most significant military reform in the history of the Chinese armed forces. Different from previous military reforms, this reform is real reform of the organizational system of the head of the armed forces. It represents and reflects the beginning of the construction and formation of a modern strategic ideological system in the Chinese armed forces.

As the Chinese army was initially formed by guerrilla warfare, then decades of war formed the ideological system of the “Continental Army” in the Chinese army, and its progress since then is more on the basis of Rudolf’s concept of “total war”. In 2015, after the first two major transitions, China finally entered the stage of joint campaign development in the third one. The so-called joint campaign refers to the campaign carried out jointly by two or more military service groups under the unified command of the joint command. This is where the Chinese military will be after the third major turn. Such a definition can also be proved in the “Vostok-2018” strategic exercise. The large-scale strategic exercise held by China and Russia after China’s military reform was a joint campaign exercise, which showed a certain degree of confidence.

To sum up, although the Chinese army has advanced to the stage of the joint campaign in terms of modernization after the three major transitions, it still has a long way to go before it becomes a powerful military force in the modern sense. Because the strategic thinking of modern world war lays the most emphasis on the ideas of the precision strike and war efficiency, the main progress of the world army is reflected in these aspects, while the Chinese army is still in the stage of the joint campaign, and the gap is still obvious. It is worth noting that since the massive Sino-Vietnamese war in 1979, China’s military is actually the only peaceful army among the world’s major powers, and it has not waged a real war for as long as 40 years. So, even though the Chinese army has undergone three major military changes, it is still military in a theoretical sense.

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