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From Kargil to the Coup: Events That Shook Pakistan- Book Review

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The Author Nasim Zehra is a national security specialist and a prominent journalist. She has vast experience as columnist, television host, and teacher with extensive experience in the development field. She also writes and lectures widely on national security and global politics. She qualified MBA from the Quaid-e-Azam University and Master degree in Law and Diplomacy from the Fletcher School of Law, Tufts University in 1989. She has been a Fellow at Harvard University Asia Center, on the visiting faculty of the Quaid e Azam and National Defense Universities Islamabad and at the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University.

The book has been published in 2018 after a period of 19 years of the Kargil conflict.  It is spread over 20 chapters and 529 pages. The operation which started in October 1998 and completed on 4 July 1999 has been comprehensively explained with maps and figures. The book starts with the description of importance of Kargil and major outstanding   disputes between India and Pakistan including Kashmir, Siachen, Sir Creek, water and trade. The author has referred a large number of books, relevant published documents, and interviews of concerned civil and military officials. The writer has been remarkably honest, un biased, bold, diligent and concise while penning down the events. She has eloquently explained the facts of Kargil.  The book has also covered facets like civil- military relations, decision making process in Pakistan, comparison between Kargil operation and the operation Gibraltar of 1965. Lot of efforts has been made to collect the data to make it an authenticated and unbiased accumulation of facts. The author deserves praise for the meticulous collation of proofs and weaving into a coherent narrative.  This can be considered a book containing unbiased details on the Kargil conflict. It will prove a good document for students as well as researchers who want to identify the facts about the Kargil conflict. However, there are few repetitions of narration of events which may have been avoided. A list of abbreviation may have been included.  The Kargil  operation is summarized in the succeeding paras.

From Kargil to the Coup: Events That Shook Pakistan- Nasim Zehra (Lahore: Sanga-e- Meel Publication, 2018)

The objective of  Kargil operation was to block Indian National Highway -1 (NH-1) Which is considered the lifeline to its troops in Siachen which it occupied in 1984.  The secretive operation(ops) was to cross the line of Control (LoC) and occupy Indian vacated posts. The appreciation of the planner was that Pakistan’s nuclear leverage has driven a full scale confrontation out of realm of possibilities. It was also assessed that India will not fight back like Pakistan did not react very strongly when India occupied Siachen in 1984. In the planners assessment the military and diplomatic success of ops was sure. Soon after taking over command as COAS on 7 Oct98 Gen Pervez Musharraf appointed general officers on the key posts who had similar views about the Kargil plan to be executed shortly. Maj Gen Aziz Khan was promoted to Lt Gen and appointed Chief of General Staff (CGS), Lt Gen Mahmud Ahmed who was president National Defense University (NDU) asCorps Commander (Cdr)10 corps, responsible for the defense of  entire northern areas.  Maj Gen Javed Hassan was already Force Commander Northern Areas (FCNA). These four generals were mainly the planners and executer of Kargil operation code name Koh-e- Paima (Ops KP). The plan was almost the same which had earlier been reviewed, and rejected by the former CJCSC & COAS Gen Jahangir Karamat and the DG ISI. The troops of Northern Light Infantry (NLI) the main arm of FCNA were given order to cross the Line of Control (LoC) in the last week of October 1998.   The Indian maintaining their normal routine had pulled back from the Drass Kargil area at the end of summer so no opposition except the extreme weather was faced by the troops. Initially it was planned to occupy 10 to 12 posts but by executing extended operation more than 100 posts were captured without detection by Indians.

A DCC meeting was held on 9 November 98 chaired by Prime Minister (PM) Nawaz Sharif which was attended by the services chiefs as well. By this time PM was unaware that our troops have already crossed the LoC. The PM visited USA in Dec 98 the US president lauded the normalization of relations efforts being made by Pakistan with India.   In Dec 98 Pakistan government was preparing for the summit with the Indian delegation to be held in Lahore in Feb 99 after a gap of 28 years.              In the same time frame a meeting was held on 16 Jan 99 in GHQ in which formal approval of Ops KP, already in progress was sought from COAS. He approved the plan on the surety of success   given by FCNA and Corps Cdr 10 Corps. The PM was taken to Skardu by COAS on 29 January, and was told that in order to give boost to the Kashmir struggle, they needed to become active along LoC. Local level operations are being under taken. He was not apprised that troops had already crossed LoC.

The PM of India Atal Bihari Vajpayee visited Pakistan by bus through Wagah border from 20-22 Feb 99. He went to Yadar e Pakistan and wrote in the visitor’s book “I want to assure the people of Pakistan of my country’s deep desire for lasting peace and friendship.” I have said and say this again, that a stable and prosperous Pakistan is in India’s favor. The Lahore declaration was signed on 21 Feb. The important clause is“ recognizing that the nuclear dimension of the security environment of the two countries adds to their responsibility for avoidance of conflict between the two countries”. After the visit relations between India and Pakistan had much improved which got strained after nuclear detonation by both countries in May 98.

As a part of Ops KP the Pakistani troops, between March and April 99 had occupied about 140 posts and pickets across the LoC, out of these few were very close to NH-1. Movements in the peaks were detected by the Indians in mid-April in Turtok sector after a firing incident on the Indian troops. It was assessed by Indians as infiltration of Mujahideen hence was not reported to higher command.  Pakistani troops launched an offensive on 13 May which resulted huge losses of Indian ammunition dumps in Kargil. This action appeared in Indian newspapers. India retaliated with concentrated fire power which resulted depletion of ammunition of our soldiers. The planners of Ops KP started realizing enforcement of troops and the logistic supply. By middle of May the governments of Pakistan and India were not clear about situation on LoC. Indian army was caught by surprise therefore they were reluctant to inform and finally apprised govt in the last week of May. The Indian Army started Operation Vijay on 27 May in which Indian Air Force also participated. This resulted shortage of ammunition and compromised supply lines for Pakistani troops. In addition diplomatic pressure started building. There was strong criticism that Pakistan as a nuclear state should not have crossed LoC.  The peace initiative “Lahore Declaration” which they initiated themselves has been sabotaged. 

The first formal briefing on Ops KP was given to PM   on 17 May at ISI Ojhiri camp which was attended by Sartaj Aziz, finance minister, Lt Gen (r) Majeed Malik, minister for Kashmir affairs, foreign secretary, Shamshad Ahmed, defence secretary Lt Gen(r) Chaudhry Iftikhar, and principal secretary Saeed Mehdi. All the concerned senior military officers from GHQ and Dte Gen ISI were present including COAS. DGMO started briefing saying Sir, we have made a plan to upgrade the freedom movement in Kashmir. It would be in five phases and the first has completed. There was no mention of troops crossing the LoC. The COAS guarantee the success of the operation. Lt Gen Aziz Khan(CGS) said Sir” Pakistan was created with the efforts of Quaid, and now Allah has given the opportunity and chance to you to get Indian held Kashmir, and your name will be written in golden letters. You will be remembered as Fatah-i- Kashmir.”However, no formal approval was requested nor the PM gave.  

The PM was presented with a fait accompli. The civilian officials present did not support the plan primarily it was against Lahore declaration. However, PM termed it an opportunity to take Kashmir. The defence secretary present was perturbed but did not ask questions. However Gen(r) Majeed Malik, grilled DGMO and was not in favor of this operation. The flattery about success of Ops KP was in abundance. After the meeting the Defence Secretary explained the PM that our forces have crossed the LoC and it has repercussions for war. The PM called the meeting of the concerned ministers the next day.  The Army Chief was called and asked on whose responsibility the troops have crossed LoC. The reply was on my own. However, these can be withdrawn if desired. Thereafter it was decided that government will provide support to Army. Broad understanding to general public was that fighting is going on close to LoC by Mujahedeen.In late May conversation of COAS visiting Beijing with CGS at GHQ was intercepted by Indians in which Gen Musharraf was giving instructions how to engage Delhi and the international community on Ops KP. Indians exploited this which resulted diplomatic uproar. It became awkward for the govt. The meeting of Defense Committee of Cabinet (DCC) was convened on 25 May to discuss the Ops KP, which was also attended by Lt Gen Saeed uz Zaman as acting COAS, CNS and CAS. The Army command indicated that there should be no panic. However, secretary defense had expressed his strong reservations. The CAS opposed the GHQ request for airpower to be deployed in this area saying that re- deployment    would leave Lahore and Karachi unprotected. The Naval Chief Admiral Fasih Bokhari did not rule out the possibility of naval blockade. After a lot of deliberations, the DCC gave go ahead to the Army plan. It was also decided that India be declared as aggressor, Kashmir and Kargil are linked. The resolution of Kashmir dispute can only defuse the crisis. The PM sent a letter to UN Secretary General to play an active role in de- escalating the tension between the two nuclear armed states.

Intensive diplomatic efforts by India managed to convince USA, Russia, UK and France that we were looking for peace with Pakistan but it has stabbed on our back. By end May the Indian foreign minister had received assurance from Washington, Moscow, London and Paris that they accept the Indian position that infiltrations had been pushed in by Pakistan.  Pakistan was in difficult position to convince the world that Mujahedeen have crossed LoC.The PM, Nawaz Sharif telephonic conversations with Vajpayee, Clinton and Tony Blair linking Kargil operation with Kashmir was not productive.  They demanded unconditional withdrawal. Our foreign minister visited China on 11 June to seek support, Chinese categorically told that dispute had to be resolved bilaterally.  Chinese also conveyed that they have no influence over India.  By 10 June India had assembled a large number of artillery regiments in extremely difficult terrain. Approximately 5,000 shells, mortars bombs and rockets were fired from 300 guns daily. Due to the devastation caused by heavy shelling our posts started falling. A restricted high level meeting was held in governor House Lahore on 13 June which was attended by all DCC members and services chiefs. The Naval and Air chiefs along with secretary defence were travelling in the same aircraft to Lahore decided to apprise PM the factual position. The PM, they believed, was still being misled that Pakistan is doing well and Indians would not escalate and go to war. They were also concerned to explain the PM the risks involved in this situation. In the meeting the naval chief asked COAS what is the objective of Ops PK. Fear of all-out war was also expressed by other participants.  However there was no satisfactory answer.

In this conflict officers and soldiers of Pakistan Army fought fearlessly. Some of them preferred to embrace shahadat rather than vacating the posts under extensive shelling. Capt.Kernal Sher Khan had the determination to go all over against the enemy. Carrying LMG Sher Khan alone dashed into the Indian camp, killing several soldiers before embracing shahadat.  However, the planner of Ops KP started worrying as the posts started falling in middle of June. The track- II diplomacy was also made active. R. K Mishra, point –man of Vajpayee arrived Pakistan and met Nawaz Sharif,and Niaz ANaik on 25 June. He gave message of Indian PM saying that, Pakistan and India were an inch from war, half an inch because of Vajpayee and half an inch because of Nawaz Sharif. This channel also did not succeed because India insisted on unconditional withdrawal.  The PM visited China in the last week of June to request them to mediate to work out an honorable exit for Pakistani troops but Chinese declined.  Infect their stance was also unconditional withdrawal similar toUS and other western countries.  A DCC meeting was held on 2 July chaired by PM attended by the three services chiefs. The PM briefed about his visit to china. The Ops KP came under heated discussion. Gen Musharraf gave detailed briefing .When Army rep was asked how they are losing the heights now.

The reply was we never thought that this would happen, that India would pay such a heavy price. The PM pointed out that our communication lines are being compromised and hence the sustenance for our troops was weakening. The naval and Air chiefs were critical about the operation. When asked for how long the presence can be maintained in the occupied posts. Gen Musharraf replied by August or September we have to vacate due to extreme weather. The consensus was for the withdrawal of troops. The PM got an appointment with the US president for 4 July in Washington.  Prior proceeding to USA he chaired a meeting at Chacklala airport which was attended by concerned ministers, COAS and DG ISI. The PM briefed about his discussion on telephone with the President of USA. During the meeting at Washington the US President Clinton informed Sharif that Kargil was a serious mistake, two nuclear powers were at the brink of war. The meeting ended with the declaration that Pakistan would withdraw its troops behind LoC to the pre – operation positions. Although PMtried his best to bring the point of Kashmir issue in the declaration to be resolved by American mediation but it was not agreed.  The withdrawal agreement was not liked by the Pakistani public in general.

However, the army chief supported it by saying,” there is complete harmony between the government and the army about the PM visit to Washington”. In addition, an official narrative originating from policy making institutions including the DCC fully supported the withdrawal decision. However, it became difficult for PM to convince public that withdrawal was the only solution to avert all -out war. Similarly it became difficult for Army chief to satisfy his own officers that why this operation was initiated and ended without achieving its objectives. Gen Musharraf used to say that it is the govt which has decided unconditional withdrawal.  The mistrust between the PM and COAS started increasing on the issue of obtaining approval before starting the operation. The COAS version was that we have kept the PM informed.  The govt point of view was that approval has not been taken by GHQ before starting the ops. The mistrust increased to the extent that by end Sep extra troops were employed around PM house, all his communications were being monitored. Another bone of contention was the retirement orders of Lt Gen Tariq Pervez, Corps Cdr at Quetta on the recommendation of COAS that he has publically talked against the Kargil operation. In the same time frame Gen Musharraf had talked against govt while visiting CNS at his residence. In this backdrop the PM issued retirement orders of Gen Musharraf when he was in the aircraft returning from official visit to Sri Lanka and appointed Gen Zia ud Din as new Army Chief on 12 October 1999. The Army imposed Martial Law and PM, Nawaz Sharif was arrested from the PM house the same night. In my opinion the lessons learnt from the Kargil episode for Pakistan are many but most important is the saying of French statesman George Benjamin Clemenceau who led France in WW1 that “war is too serious a matter to entrust to military men”.      

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Why shouldn’t Israel Undermine Iran’s Conventional Deterrence

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When Naftali Bennett took over as the prime minister of Israel, it was expected that he would take a different approach compared to Netanyahu. This could be a probable expectation, save for the issue of Iran, since Iran is considered a consistent strategic and existential threat in the eyes of Israeli political and military officials same way that Israel has always been considered an enemy in the strategic culture of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Therefore, with the resumption of the Iran nuclear talks in Vienna, Israel has intensified its campaign for an imminent military strike on Iran. On the other hand, Iran has tried to create a balance of missile threat against Israel based on valid deterrence during the past years.

However, the level and the nature of performance and deterrence of these two influential actors of the Middle East are fundamentally different. While Iran has defined its deterrence based on hybrid missile deterrence concepts—including direct and extended deterrence—, Israel’s deterrence is based on preemptive warfare, a.k.a. “immediate deterrence,” irrespective of its nuclear capabilities, policies of “strategic ambiguity” and “defensible borders strategy.”

From a direct deterrence perspective (i.e., the strength of a large missile fire from within Iranian territory) and given the extended and asymmetric dimensions (i.e., strengthening missile capabilities of the axis of resistance), the Islamic Republic of Iran believes that Israel will gradually become weaker and more fragile defensively, considering the importance of objective components in the area of ​​deterrence—such as geographical depth and population, and this will derive Israeli leaders to consider their fragile security and survival before any attempt to take on a direct military confrontation with Iran. For instance, when the tensions over Iran’s nuclear program escalated between 2010 and 2013 during the Obama administration, none of Iran’s nuclear facilities was attacked, despite Israel’s repeated expression of its willingness to do so. Former defense minister Ehud Barak justified this inaction with the pretext of Barack Obama’s opposition and lack of support.  In fact, the Netanyahu administration sought to instill this idea to the world that Israel has both the “determination” and the “ability” to attack Iran should this preemptive action not have been faced with Washington objection. The fact that Netanyahu still failed to implement the idea even during Trump administration—as John Bolton points out in the first chapter of his book—despite his overwhelming support for Israel, indicated the fact that Israel does not have independent military capabilities and determination to take such hostile action at no cost without the support of the US.

Therefore, despite the constant claims of Israeli officials, this country’s general strategy so far has been to avoid direct military confrontation with Iran and to focus on less intense and covert warfare. This has changed since 2017 due to Israel’s objection to pro-Iranian forces regaining the control over Al-Bukamal Qa’im border crossing on the Iraqi-Syrian border, and the consequent lack of a proportionate and retaliatory response from Iran to Israel’s ongoing operations in Syria. In fact, inaction of Iran has allowed Israeli army to expand its campaign from northern borders and the Golan Heights (as the first ring) to the province of Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria, then to the depths of Iraq in cooperation with the US (as the second ring), and eventually, inside the Iranian territory (as the third ring). The expansion of Israel’s subversive actions deep inside Iran is an effort to discredit Iran’s deterrence as well as undermining Iran’s strategic stability, while also dismantling Iran’s military and nuclear capabilities.

In the meantime, Israel’s embark on the strategy of Third-Circle Directorate based on intensifying low-level but effective military actions on Iranian soil has played a greater role in undermining Iran’s conventional deterrent advantages. Israel’s repeated operation and its recklessness in accepting responsibility for such actions has taken Israel’s belief and determination that it can target Iran’s assets and strategic resources inside and outside of Iran with numerous intermittent actions to a new level. Therefore, it can be said that while the previous positions of Israeli officials regarding the bombing and cessation of Iran’s nuclear capabilities were mostly focused on the assassination of Iranian scientists, targeted cyberattacks, sabotages, and bombings of industrial, security, and military facilities, there is no guarantee that the Third-Circle Directorate would not extent to explicit and direct entry of Israeli fighters, bombers or ballistic missiles to bomb Iran’s nuclear and military facilities in cooperation with the United States or independently.

If Israel mistakes Iran’s inaction with inability to respond and decides to extend Mabam Campaign to air or missile strikes inside the Iranian borders, it should not be sure of the unpredictable consequences. Iran has not yet responded decisively to cyber-attacks, the assassination of its scientists, and the Israeli sabotages due to the fact that these actions have been designed and carried out in such a way that Iran has assessed the damage as compensable. That is, a long set of low-level attacks were conducted to change the state of the field without taking actions that justifies an extensive reaction. Iran’s failure to respond to the recent Israeli attack on the port of Latakia is a clear example of the success and effectiveness of Salami Slicing strategy. Such strategies are designed to engage Iran in a polygonal dilemma: that it cannot respond to every individual military actions and small-scale sabotage, while inaction against these multiple small and non-intensive attacks will gradually result in losing its strategic position and deterrent credibility.

This very, unique Israeli strategy in military confrontation with Iran has reinforced the assessment of the Bennett administration about the serious weakness of Iran’s conventional deterrence. As a clear case Foreign Minister Yair Lapid claimed that “Israel could attack Iran if necessary without informing the Biden administration, which is looking to rejoin the nuclear deal”. This problem became more apparent after the assassination of the commander of the Quds Force of the IRGC, especially in the last months of Donald Trump’s presidency. In other words, if Tehran decided to respond directly to various Israeli actions, such as the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh and attacks on its military and industrial centers, the risk of a war with Israel with the support of the US would increase. By the same token, this has in fact given Tehran an opportunity not to retaliate based on the concept of conventional strategic stability. That is, at this level of conflict, Iran’s confidence in its ability to retaliate makes it easier for this country to limit and delay the response. From Iranian perspective, therefore, conventional strategic stability means preventing armed conflict in the Middle East, especially a level of conflict that directly threatens its security and territory.

However, if Israel tries to discredit Iran’s conventional deterrence and strategic stability by launching a direct air strike into Iranian territory, Iran’s retaliatory response will not be as limited and symbolic as the attack on the US base of Ain al-Assad in Iraq, because Tehran would face the so-called “Sputnik moment” dilemma, which forces it to test its missile credibility. In such a situation, Iran will be forced to first, launch a decisive comprehensive missile response against Israel and then change its deterrent structure from conventional to nuclear by leaving the NPT in order to contain pressure of domestic public opinion, maintain its credibility with regional rivals such as Turkey, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and even the Republic of Azerbaijan, and to reassure its proxy forces in the axis of resistance.

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Indo-Pacific strategy and the new China-IDF relationship

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The signing of the United States of America (the new Aukus defense agreement and the Quad Quartet agreement with Japan, India and Australia), had significant future repercussions on the Middle East region and the balances of power and influence within it, given its great geopolitical importance, according to these new American agreements in the “Indo-Pacific region”, China will have to (face a new strong defense alliance in the Indo-Pacific region, then transfer this entire Chinese conflict to the Middle East and the Iranian nuclear file and increase Chinese influence in the sea straits and waterways in the Middle East), an alliance welcomed by regional partners such as  Japan. The three countries in the new US regional alliances and polarizations of “Japan, India, and Australia” also make it clear that such agreements with the United States of America are a (historic opportunity for them and their allies to protect common values ​​and enhance security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region). On the other hand, we find that those American agreements and alliances in the “Indo-Pacific” region surrounding China will be reflected in one way or another and may increase in the Middle East, for China will have to transfer conflict and competition with Washington to the region, Israel and Iran, and this will have future consequences and repercussions.  The countries of the region in the Middle East and the Arabian Gulf, as follows:

The equation of competition between the United States and China in the Middle East has increased since the Biden administration took office, and here (placing the neutral countries in the middle became more difficult). One of the areas that may witness an escalation in the intensity of competition between the two sides is the Middle East.

To understand the vision of regional countries for their interests with the two powers, it is necessary to look at the initial indicators issued by the Biden’s administration towards the region. It has become clear that the US administration has a desire to reformulate its approach towards the region, but (it is not yet clear how deep this American step and its impact on the regional security structure sponsored by the United States, especially in the Arab Gulf region).

The US Defense Secretary “Lloyd Austin” announced a comprehensive strategic review of the status of US forces around the world, including the Middle East. It seems that officials in the US Department of Defense “Pentagon” are tending to reconsider the status of US forces in the Middle East, which may be understood (not a condition of reducing them), in favor of increasing the size of the forces in the “Indo-Pacific” region.

At the present time, the Biden administration’s focus was on (ending the war in Yemen, reviving the negotiation track over the Iranian nuclear file), and it did not show much interest in other pivotal files.

In parallel with the previous US approach, the US National Security Adviser “Jake Sullivan”, reduced the number of Middle East experts in the US National Security Council, and significantly increased the number and hierarchy of Indo-Pacific experts.

Defense Minister “Lloyd Austin” also appointed three advisers to him, all of them are Asian experts, and none of them specialize in Middle Eastern issues, in contrast to the approach of all previous US administrations, due to the danger of China, according to the current US security strategy.

These American steps toward China reflect the Biden administration’s vision of the world from the perspective of “the theory of the great power conflict”, which prevailed during the Cold War, and the decline of the Middle East on its list of priorities.

On the Israeli-Chinese side, Beijing will try to play an increasing role inside Israel in order to bring about rapprochement with Tel Aviv at the expense of Washington.  Here, we note the (extent and seriousness of Chinese companies sought to obtain contracts to operate the main Israeli ports, as Washington was particularly concerned about a Chinese company winning a tender to manage a port in Haifa, where the US Navy’s Sixth Fleet is anchored).

Perhaps the future analysis will come in (China’s attempt to play a challenge to American interests inside Israel, and China’s future planning in order to manage all Israeli ports, and thus control the shipping lanes in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea). Which is what Washington fears the most.

In addition to China’s desire to invest and be present in vital infrastructure projects in Israel, (China is trying to obtain this advanced Israeli technology, and trying to obtain any monopoly information that can be harvested in China by Israeli companies to benefit from it in the aspects of Chinese progress and innovation), thus, he challenged American technological progress from the Israeli gate.

The most important and most dangerous for me, analytically, is the attempts of the People’s Republic of China to obtain all Israeli trade secrets related to the United States of America, and even more dangerous in the future is (the rapprochement of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army with the Israel Defense Forces, which relies heavily on advanced American equipment such as  Fighter “F-35”).

From my analytical point of view, the expectation remains that (if China succeeds in increasing its ability to exist, monitor and infiltrate the Israeli army), this may allow Beijing to obtain all American military technological secrets from Israel directly, and here is the danger for the United States of America being  Israel is a conduit through which the (People’s Liberation Army of China) “PLA” achieves greater parity with the US armed forces. This is what Washington is trying to confront from Tel Aviv to counter Chinese influence there, as the United States of America cannot in any way allow its military technology to fall into the hands of its main opponent, China.

   Perhaps the final analysis here, is explaining that (the absence of American thinking of a clear strategy until now to confront the growing Chinese influence in the region and the world), and perhaps it is a continuation of the same approach of the “Trump’s administration”, as the United States shows interest in what it does not want, without presenting a clear vision of the results that you want access to this conflict.

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China, Vietnam, Philippines and United States Sustainability in the South China Sea

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The guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville during a replenishment-at-sea with the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan. Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class John Harris/U.S. Navy/Flickr

Authors : Nabel Akram, Imran Altaf, Komal Tariq

Supremacy of any world power depends upon its control over the important Geo-strategic places. A hegemon must have influence over the Geo-strategic places. This rule is generally applied for every world super power. Other factors like the will to lead, economic, political and military factors are also important but these factors are restricted in a specific sphere of influence. Influence over Geo-strategic important places enhances the influence over other countries related to that place. Britain remained the superpower due to occupation of such important places. The US as a super power and hegemon, is enjoying influence over the Geo-strategic places in the world. The US has influence over Malacca Strait, Suez Canal, and Panama Canal etc. (Oral, 2012). On strategic places, the US is facing challenges from China and Russia. Russia has occupied Crimea the strategically important place in East Europe which covers black sea and offered a way towards Mediterranean Sea. On the other hand, China is struggling hard to get control over South China Sea (SCS). The SCS is an important Geo-strategic, Geo-economic and geopolitical place for world. It contains plenty of natural resources and the hub of fishing. It covers half of the world trade passage. The US has enjoyed strong influence in this place after WWII, but, now the US is facing great resistance from China. The US does not want to lose its influence in East Asia and the SCS. The US is struggling hard with the coordination of the ASEAN states, Japan, Australia and India. China is gradually strengthening its control over the SCS. Due to economic growth, China has got influence over regional countries. Most critical area of South China Sea dispute contains two groups of islands such as Paracel Islands and Spratly Islands. Paracel archipelago comes under the rule of China (The People’s Republic of China, 2014). China has occupied this group of islands in 1974. Spratly islands are most disputed among China, Philippines and Vietnam (Ngo, 2017). This group of islands are under the different countries like China, Vietnam, Philippine, Malaysia and Taiwan. China has constructed seven artificial islands on this place (Southerland, 2016). The US has initiated Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs) in the SCS region with objective to contain China from establishing its hegemony in this region. It has increased the sensitivity of this issue in region (Harress, 2015).   

Vietnam and Philippines both are the potential rival of China in South China Sea dispute. These countries have deep economic and diplomatic ties with China. Both countries are engaging China to set up alliances with the US and other important states for restraining and hedging China. Vietnam and Philippines are making efforts to strengthen their military setup against China. The US is providing its assistance to the rival states of China and opposing Chinese irredentist claim with the help of maritime law and the right of freedom of navigation in the SCS as an international sea. In this way, China has to face potential rivalry from the US, Vietnam and Philippines in SCS.

Philippines and Vietnam have huge trade and diplomatic relations with China for hedging China. Both countries even have strong economic and strategic relations with Chinese competitors like the US, Russia, Japan and India. In this way, both countries are reducing the risk. Vietnam is consistently building its military capabilities through strong economy and making alliances with the strong countries and international and regional institutions. There are following way which cause to hedging China.

  • For hedging China, Philippines and Vietnam are engaging China through a huge trade volume and interdependence. Vietnam has become the biggest trading partner of China. Mutual interdependence will cause to stop China from taking any aggressive action against Vietnam.
  • Philippines and Vietnam are developing diplomatic, political, party to party and people to people relations with China. This will help to know about the behavior of China towards Philippines and Vietnam over South China Sea dispute.
  • Philippines and Vietnam are focusing to increase its military strength. For this purpose, Vietnam has bought large military equipment from Russia and developed its military equipment complex in Vietnam for modernizing its military equipment with the help of Russia. Philippines has increased its military alliance with the US.
  • Vietnam has made alliances with world powers like the US, Russia, India, Japan etc. to secure itself against any aggression from China. For this purpose, it has engaged itself in many exercises and joint ventures with the US and many other countries.
  • Philippines and Vietnam has improved its relations with neighboring countries who can provide help in time of difficulty. This is the reason that Philippines and Vietnam are active in ASEAN forum.

China would play its role as a hegemon after the US. The US should contain China through its neighboring countries like Japan, India, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, Singapore and Russia. To gain hegemonic status, it is necessary to become regional hegemon. John Mearsheimer supports regional hegemon. He gives example of the US that it first became regional hegemon in 1898 after Monroe doctrine and gained world hegemonic status after the WWII (Mearsheimer, 2004).

China has acquired economic and military power and about to become a regional hegemon. John Mearsheimer (2006) suggests China to gain hegemonic status; China must need to become regional hegemon and to get more power than its neighbors like Japan, Russia and India. China should increase its military strength and power. China has to regain Taiwan for establishing the status of regional hegemon (Mearsheimer, China’s Unpeaceful Rise, 2006).

Rising security demands of China has unsecured the neighboring countries. Arm race has been started in East Asia region. Although, China has maintained good relations with its neighbors but they have strong concerns over Chinese security measures. China’s largest economy and advanced military stimulate China to control its surroundings (Roy, 2013).

After open up policies, China has rapidly grown and become world imminent actor. To become a great power, China has to respond all challenges positively and set its priorities to overcome its drawbacks. In future, China should not claim its hegemony. China should need to advocate new world system with some reforms in economy and politics without claiming its hegemony (Bijian, 2005).

China is the largest trading partner of Vietnam. Vietnam’s second largest export partner is China with 13.2 percent of its export. The US secure biggest trading partner with 21 percent of Vietnamese export and Japan secured third with 8.4 percent of Vietnam export. Vietnam’s first largest import partner is China with 34 percent of its import and Japan secured fourth largest import partner with 6.4 percent of Vietnamese import (CIA, 2017). A huge numbers of Chinese foreign direct investment companies are working in Vietnam. It is estimated that about 833 companies are running their business in Vietnam in 2011. The quantity of these companies are increasing day by day and their total registered capital is 4.3 billion. There are following benefits of Vietnam for economic partnership with China;

Spratly Islands (Kalyan Islands Group) are the part of Philippines territory. KIG is the part of Philippines Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) under UNCLOS 1982 (Palma, 2009). Philippines has filed a case against China and its historical claim of nine dash lines in International court of Tribunal in Hague in 2013. Court has given decision in favor of Philippines on 12 July 2016 but China has rejected the decision and remained adamant in its claim (France-Presse, Agence, July 8th, 2016). Philippines and Chinese relations worsen due to Philippines case and the ongoing problem in Scarborough Shoal and Chinese construction of new islands. This was the scenario when Philippines new president Rodrigo Roe Duterte took charge on 30 July 2016 (Philippine History, 2017) and initiated new strategy that is called strategic hedging. Although Philippines previous governments have close economic and political relations but current government is leading in this respect.  Philippines started to engage China with a huge trade volume. Politically, Philippines has come closer to China (Shead, 2017).

The Geo-strategic position and bundle of resources are the main reason that China is very conscious to control this region whereas other regional actors like Vietnam, Philippine, Malaysia and Brunei are also active for sovereignty over these islands due to Geo-proximity and resources. The US as the global hegemon has become the part of this game and wants to get its part from these resources. This is the reason that it has established strong alliances with other stack holders against China and also provoking Japan, Australia and India against China due to this regional dispute. The SCS is important for the US for three purposes; first it secures the US trade and military, second, it is check to restrain and contain the Chinese hegemony in the East Asia region (Mustajib, 2016), third, it is necessary for the protection of the US allies like Taiwan, South Korea, and Japan and ASEAN member countries. On the trade basis, the SCS is the passage of the 5 trillion annual ships (Robinson, 2018) and ships related to the US trade and military activities are worth 1.2 trillion dollar trade with East Asian countries (Mustajib, 2016).

Peace lies in continuous diplomatic engagement of claimant countries of the SCS dispute. Any change in existing status quo might put the peace of whole region at risk. Philippines and Vietnam consider China as an assertive state. Both States want to establish close relations with China in order to stop China from assertive actions. The US has strong political, economic and military bilateral alliances with Philippine, Vietnam and other ASEAN countries.  The US has launched the FONE operations in the SCS to contain China. These operations show that the US wants to sustain its hegemony in East Asia.

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