It is generally known that the modern world has a great interest in the East Asia region, were some of the greatest super powers in terms of economy, strength, population, and military capabilities, are focused. For instance, Japan is a technological and economic giant, and at the same time it is a close ally to the United States since the end of World War II. It may not be a nuclear power, but no analyst can seriously underestimate the ability of the country’s Self-Defense Forces. Across the Chinese Sea, lies the greatest power of Asia; the People’s Republic of China. It can be seen as equal to the unique superpower of the International System, the United States. Economically and commercially powerful, it keeps a nuclear arsenal and armed forces that are constantly evolving technologically, although they are not as powerful as the US respectively.
Other states in the region with economic power and large populations, but with apparently inferior military capabilities, are India, South Korea, Vietnam and the Philippines. In addition to this, Russia should not be underestimated. Even North Korea’s isolated regime with an unpredictable leadership constitutes an unstable (or even failed) state. The United States maintains compelling forces in the region on a permanent basis (US Navy’s 7th Fleet). The excessive US presence provides security to its allies from the expansionism ambition of Beijing. As a result, East Asia hosts a colossal financial, commercial, technological, and industrial center of the planet.
Furthermore, the Chinese Sea is of strategic importance for the world’s trade and consequently, the global economy. It is the bridge between the Pacific and the Indian Ocean, as this is the fundamental trade route for sea merchandise and energy. This commercial route is indispensable for the States we mentioned above as well as the Middle East, Central Asia, Africa and Europe. The concentration of an extended number of States, with their unique interests and cross-purposes in a relatively limited geographical area, renders the concept of a fragile balance of power. The contemporary International System of States is characterized by the hegemonic competition between USA and China, which until the present day, is mainly manifested in the China Sea. The scenario which follows is hypothetical, however it is not absurd. It anticipates a sequence of events that escalate as other States try to ensure their interests. The outcome of such a conflict is highly unpredictable, thus is perilous for global peace and stability.
The Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) are conducting their annual large-scale aeronautical exercises across the Japanese archipelago near the Beijing-disputed Senkaku / Diao Islands, with the participation of allied forces from Australia, US, South Korea, and Great Britain. The presence of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) with warships, Air Force, and Coast Guard vessels for the monitoring of the Japanese forces is a given. Simultaneously, at a close range to the area of the exercises are operating naval units of the Russian Pacific Fleet, as well as warships belonging to the North Korean Navy (KPN) and Taiwan. Finally, observers of the large aeronautical exercise are from India, France, Brazil, Canada, Israel, and Saudi Arabia.
The accident drives to an unexpected escalation
During the first two days of the exercise nothing noticeable happened. However, during the third day of the exercise, a small Chinese Coast Guard vessel executed dangerous maneuvers near a Japanese Naval Destroyer. These precarious maneuvers combined with adverse weather conditions caused a major maritime accident. More specifically, the two vessels collided, resulting in the instantaneous sinking of the lighter Chinese ship along with all of its crew members. From this moment, a dramatic escalation began as their respective Governments were informed of the incident. What is crucial in this similar circumstance is the interpretation that will be given by each respective party involved. Tokyo and Beijing were definitely in the forefront, as those actors are directly involved in the accident.
Just two hours after the collision, China’s Foreign Ministry issued a vicious statement against Japan as it blamed the latter for an uninvited and highly aggressive move that cost lives of Chinese sailors. China claimed to reserve the right to respond appropriately to the Japanese challenge. As expected, the Japanese responded to the Chinese provocative statement by issuing an even harsher one to Beijing, as it has accused Beijing of intentional violation of Japanese territorial waters, harassment of Japanese self-defense forces, and violation of the Law of the Sea. The Japanese demarche ended with the affirmation that the country’s armed forces were determined to defend Japan and its interests against any possible threat. Foreign Ministry Offices and diplomatic services of both countries monitored closely with great nervousness the potential announcements of war from both sides.
However, this nervousness escalated over time. Analysts from every corner of the planet were seeking for valid and quick information. Kremlin spokesman, in a public statement, plead for restraint, but blatantly sided with Beijing. They urged Japan to compensate Beijing. This apparently after a conversation between the Chinese and Russian President’s. Several analysts claimed that Russia’s stance reflected the dispute with Japan over the Kuril Islands, located close to the Kamchatka Peninsula, which Stalin annexed from Japan after the end of WW II. The Japanese government has not accepted the Russian occupation over the Islands ever since then. Tokyo did not formally respond to the Russian objections, as the majority of analysts might expect, but instead it was the White House spokesman, who in turn called for restraint and emphasized that the US government, having the 7th Fleet in the region, was ready to provide any assistance to its allies, including Japan.
It was commonly known that Washington was committed to the Japanese protection over any external threat. Consequently, the United States could not back down from this obligation as it would be perceived as a weakness by its competitors. The European Union was embarrassed by the developments. While the French President called for an immediate convergence of the UN Security Council to discuss the crisis in the China Sea. After all, the permanent seats of the UNSC were held by the United States, China, Russia, France and the United Kingdom, almost all the states which were directly or indirectly involved in this confrontation.
Notwithstanding, the Chinese side had a different perspective on the issue. For the Chinese Communist Party’s (CPC) leadership, it was just implausible to shrink back on such an affair, especially since the news of the incident had been spreading rapidly around the world. A significant number of Western analysts regarded that Chinese authorities spread the news deliberately in order to apply pressure on the Japanese side. Simultaneously, the country’s government put military units on alert, especially in the navy, the air force as well as its strategic missile forces. People around the World watched of the breaking news of the gigantic Chinese military mobilization. Public opinion in China was offended by the Japanese challenge while hostility between the two nations resurrected as protestors outside the Japanese embassy in Beijing demanded an immediate response from China even if it entailed a full scale war. On the other hand, the Japanese public opinion was watching the developments with self-discipline, but a vivid minority demanded a fearless response to the Chinese threats. The Chinese government’s announcement left no room for misinterpretation. For the country, the Japanese movement was undoubtedly offensive. To make matters worse, the Chinese unhesitatingly rejected the French President’s suggestion regarding the convergence of the UNSA, as they considered the issue to be bilateral and demanded reparation from Japan. The announcement was so belligerent that it was essentially considered as a Chinese ultimatum to Japan which no one expected it to be accepted.
This was the time when a war in the China Sea was suddenly a serious possibility rather than just a scenario. Without warning, two Chinese warships fired missiles at a Japanese frigate, destroying it almost completely. At the same time, the Chinese Foreign Ministry announced that it was stopping all diplomatic relations with Tokyo until Japan officially apologized for the accident and agrees to compensate. All the military forces which deployed in the area during the exercise were ordered to be on high alert. An US destroyer rushed to aid the burning Japanese frigate only to be fired upon by the Chinese as well. An uncontrollable escalation was just around the corner. All US warships in the area were ordered to respond immediately to the Chinese fire. The Chinese side apparently did not expect such a dynamic and immediate response on behalf of the United States. As so, the Chinese did not return fire on the American Naval War ships. This inaction by the Chinese navy resulted in the irreparable damage of three warships and hundreds of deaths of its sailors. Eventually, the Chinese Air Force did not show the same inaction shown by the Chinese fleet. A critical strategic advantage was the proximity to the area of operations and the fact that, Chinese pilots, did not have to encounter with the Japanese air force and not with the advanced US Air Force in great numbers. The result was devastating for the allied force.
The General Staff of the belligerent sides as well as the intelligence agencies and embassies were in red alert. Information coming from the area of operations was cataclysmic and often contradictory. For the Japanese side, this was the result of the Chinese Cyber and Secret Services asymmetric warfare against the allied surveillance and communication systems. The situation could easily be described as total chaos. Military units were be deployed in strategic positions while the 7th US Fleet was ready to assist its close ally in full strength. The balance of power was shifting at the expense of Beijing, a fact that the Chinese side realized in time. The country’s military Chief of Staff held a press conference in which he announced that the Chinese Strategic Forces were prepared to strike hard against the Japanese islands with nuclear weapons in the event of allied ships striking the Chinese fleet. This threat of nuclear escalation, by a direct nuclear strike, was reminiscent of 1962 and the almost nuclear war between the two super powers during the Cold War era.
The Chinese statement shocked the world’s public opinion. No one could be certain about the Chinese intentions. Governments, International Organizations, NGO’s and multinational corporations were more than restless. No official reaction came from any party involved, not even from the UN for a long period of time. Of course, away from the spotlight was intense behind the scenes conferences and meetingsto de-escalation the situation. The initiative was taken by the UN Secretary General, who, using secret diplomacy, was struggling to prevent a nuclear war. The stakes were high as it was assumed that the US Strategic Command was in high alert and ready to retaliate if there was a possible Chinese nuclear strike against Japan. This of course would have resulted with unpredictable consequences for the entire planet. Those hours were truly dramatic.
Twelve hours after the Chinese’s initial announcement and threat international observers noticed that some of the naval forces of both sides withdrew to their bases. The same happened for the naval forces of Russia, North Korea, Taiwan, as well as the other’s participants of the naval drill. Progressively military forces were evacuating the Chinese Sea. De- escalation was a reality and the news spread rapidly around the world causing a deep feeling of relief to everyone. It was clear that no one desired a nuclear war. At the same time, at UN Headquarters in NYC, the Secretary-General informed the World’s public opinion about an agreement regarding a round of negotiations in Zurich, Switzerland, between the Chinese President and the Japanese Prime Minister which has been scheduled in the forthcoming weeks. An hour later the Japanese Foreign Office confirmed the agreement as well as the Chinese side. US State Department spokesman confirmed that the situation in the region was heading to detente. Eventually peace had returned but for how long until the next crisis was another matter of discussion.
This scenario is hypothetical, as the title admits. However, our intention is not to sound as if we are warlike but instead to give an example of how easily tensions can rise due to an accident. The assembly of great military strength in a relative small area, like the China Sea, has the dynamic to cause a maritime or an air accident/disaster, as has happened in the past, with unpredictable consequences for the region, the global economy and eventually the entire planet. The hegemonic competition between China and USA is rather easy to be escalated from a current trade war to a full scale military conflict unless the two sides show self-restrain. The Asia-Pacific region is of high importance to the global economy and trade. The rise of China consists of a threat to the global interests of the United States and its hegemonic position but also intensifies the security dilemma of the others states in the region which seek to enforce their military capabilities. This course of events will drive eventually to an arms race in the region which is a reality as military spending in 2019 is at the highest level since 1988. On the other hand, the US presence in the region is considered from Beijing as an effort to place obstacles to the Chinese dominance. A possible destabilization of this region could be proved catastrophic to our modern world. This is a scenario which utterly must be avoided.
Israel Shines in the Gulf Where Big Powers Falter, but That Could Prove Tricky
The Firefly, an Israeli-built loitering kamikaze drone, part of the Spike family of missiles that the Jewish state has sold to various European nations, may be one reason why Gulf states, and particularly Saudi Arabia, have cozied up to Israel in a seeming reversal of their past support of Palestinian rights.
If there is one lesson that Gulf states have learned from the United States’ reduced commitment to the region and the strains in US-Saudi relations, it is that putting one’s eggs in one basket is risky business.
That has not prevented the United States from continuing to secure its place as the region’s foremost arms supplier as this month’s arms and related commercial deals prove.
The US Defense Department announced a $2.6 billion USD Saudi deal to acquire 1,000 air-to-surface and anti-ship missiles from Boeing. Within days, Saudi Arabia’s Al Tadrea Manufacturing Company tweeted that it had reached agreement with Oshkosh Defense to establish a joint venture to manufacture armed vehicles in the kingdom.
The Public Investment Fund, Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, disclosed separately that it had recently taken a $ 713.7 million USD stake in Boeing at a time when the company, already suffering major setbacks because of its 737-Max fiasco, took a significant hit as a result of a collapse of the civilian aviation industry.
The continued Saudi arms focus on the United States has not deprived China of opportunities. China has stepped in to help Saudi Arabia produce unmanned military vehicles after the United States refused to sell its MQ-9 Reaper killer drone to the kingdom. Saudi Arabia expects production to start next year.
Like China, Russia has been urging Saudi Arabia to purchase its acclaimed S-400 anti-missile defense system. So far, the kingdom, having watched the United States cancel NATO-member Turkey’s purchase of US F-35 fighter jets and its co-production agreement of some of the plane’s components after it acquired the Russian system, has been reticent to take the Russians up on their offer.
The limitations of Saudi-Russian cooperation have since become obvious with April’s price war between the two major oil producers that sent oil markets into a tailspin from which they are unlikely to recover any time soon.
Israel, like China and Russia and unlike the United States, puts no problematic restrictions such as adherence to human rights and use of weaponry in accordance with international law on its arms sales.
But Israel has one leg up on its Chinese and Russian competitors who maintain close ties to Iran. Israel shares with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) a perception of Iran as an existential threat and a destabilizing force in the Middle East that at the very least needs to be contained.
To be sure, that is a perception that Saudi Arabia and the UAE see reflected in the United States’ maximum pressure policy towards Iran which aims to force the Islamic Republic to “change its behavior,” if not change its regime.
The problem is that maximum pressure two years into the imposition of harsh US economic sanctions has produced little result.
Add to that the fact that the United States has proven to be an unreliable ally when the chips are down, persuading the UAE and other smaller Gulf states to reach out to Iran to ensure that their critical national infrastructure does not become a target in any future major US-Iranian military conflagration.
The watershed moment for the Gulf states was when the United States failed to respond forcefully last spring and summer to alleged Iranian attacks on key Saudi oil facilities as well as oil tankers off the coast of the UAE.
The Trump administration, in a bid to reassure Gulf states, weeks later sent troops and Patriot anti-missile defense systems to Saudi Arabia to help it protect its oil installations, although the United States withdrew two of those systems earlier this month.
It took the killing of a US military contractor in December 2019 for the United States to respond to tens of Iranian-backed attacks on American targets in Iraq. And when it did, with the killing in January of Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, Gulf states privately celebrated the demise of their nemesis, but also feared that it was overkill, bringing the Middle East to the brink of an all-out war.
Gulf states are likely to find that cooperation with Israel has its limits too. Israel may be eager to sell weaponry and have the capability to push back at Iran in Syria. If need be, Israel can also severely damage, if not take out, Iranian nuclear and missile facilities in military strikes that Gulf states would be unable to carry out.
But ties to Israel remain a sensitive issue in the Gulf and elsewhere in the Arab and Muslim world. And Israel has so far restricted sales to non-lethal equipment and technology. That could change with a resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the establishment of formal diplomatic relations.
Public opinion, however, may be one reason Gulf states have refused to turn unofficial relations into diplomatic recognition, suggesting that there may be greater public empathy for Palestinians than Gulf rulers wish to admit.
That could count for more with Gulf rulers finding it increasingly difficult to provide public goods and services, among which first and foremost jobs, as a result of the global economic crisis and the collapse of oil prices.
Author’s note: This story was first published in Inside Arabia
China’s Revolution in Military Affairs with Chinese Characteristics
China’s political leadership had ascribed the first two decades of the 21st century as a “period of strategic opportunity.” After considerable and due evaluation of the prevailing international conditions, China’s politburo determined that the weather was conducive to conduct domestic development and expand Beijing’s “comprehensive national power,” a term that embodies all components of state power in addition to economic capacity, military prowess, and diplomacy. The Chinese Communist Party (CCP), had engineered a successful model to utilise the paradigm of national power to cater to Beijing’s overarching strategic aspirations, as well as to guarantee the protection of the CCP’s control in the state while ensuring domestic political stability.
Besides, the CCP also envisaged a positive sustainable trajectory for its economic development and postulated a comprehensive plan for the defence of its national security, with the purpose of expanding globally its national status as a great power. In contrast, there was considerable reservation regarding the success of this ambitious drive within the academic community in China, questioning Beijing’s capabilities to sustain the “period of strategic opportunity” during the two decades. However, the Chinese authorities in their defence pointed out the urgent need for achieving the strategic objectives, to claim the global hegemonic status. The call for an immediate rehaul of its National Defence edifice, is also the result of the constant dynamic changes in the international security structure. Rising hegemonism, power politics, and regular regional conflicts and wars have also undermined the global security order. In view of the growing global strategic competition, China is attempting to expedite its modernisation drive to achieve its twenty-year plan, with utmost focus on innovation, science & technology.
Beijing’s politico-strategic community has often reiterated the importance of achieving two critical goals of economic and military landmarks by the year 2020. The first goal is meant to oversee the inclusion of a successful model of an economic structure to help sustain the growth and improve the quality of life of its people while ensuring a socio-economic stability in the state, while the second goal is intended to rehaul the national defence and armed forces through the process of mechanisation and the inclusion of “informatisation” warfare in view of enhancing its “overall strategic capabilities”. These military initiatives are intended to spur the Chinese military in acquiring the capacity and strength to win potential regional conflicts, to safeguard the Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs), to defend territorial claims in the East China Sea and the South China Sea and to protect its territorial sovereignty on the western borders.
Through multiple official press statements, prominent Chinese leaders have accentuated the imperative for a military modernisation in the 21st century, presuming Beijing aspires to gain the great power status. These statements also endorse Beijing’s view that a modern military is an imperative form of deterrence against enemies and prevailing threats to Chinese interests, globally. The Chinese leadership has further articulated and justified the ongoing military modernisation programme in the Chinese defence white paper of 2019, by stating that China’s strong military is a force for ensuring “world peace and stability,” while assuring a “comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable security by upholding justice while pursuing shared interests” with its various stakeholders. To commensurate with what was earlier said, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang stated, “We will stick to Chinese path in strengthening our armed forces, advance all aspects of military training, war preparedness and firmly and resolvedly safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests.” In the background of all the rhetoric concerning the modernisation, one thing is certain, Beijing has systematically induced and justified the obligation for the military modernisation not only to its people but also to the global audience, by depicting a political idealist narrative.
Elements of the Modernisation Program
In the last 20 years, Beijing, in a comprehensive effort to bolster its military power, has undertaken the modernisation and upgradation programme of its services. The rationale for such an initiative accounts for achieving multiple objectives in a single stroke, such as, attaining the status of a world power, accruing of “hard” power through military reformation, harnessing and protecting the state’s interests of “soft” power components of a growing economy, and enhancing diplomatic and cultural ties. Time and again, Beijing has preferred the use of hard power to protect and project its regional interests, settle its territorial claims in the South China Sea and its border disputes along the North East border with India, and also to safeguard the SLOCs which are instrumental for its energy supplies and maritime commerce.
Since the currency of military power has been identified as the primary instrument to protect, project and resolve its national interests, the Chinese leadership has initiated the revamping of its military structure by transforming it into a leaner, robust, technologically advanced force, while increasing its naval capabilities in order to serve its core national strategy. As part of this initiative, China had retired 300,000 troops in a single year in 2018, to improve the quality of recruitment by inducting elite technocrats in the ranks. Parallelly, China wants to upscale its capacities for the Military Operations Other Than War (MOOTW), with the aim of maintaining its growing global interests, by engaging and participating actively in activities such as peacekeeping missions, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations, anti-piracy operations and play the constabulary role of securing and maintaining the global passages. The agenda behind China’s modernisation programme is the creation of a war machine that not only challenges the presence of the American might in the Indo-Pacific region, but which also establishes itself as the sole hegemon in the region.
Additionally, China’s defence programme is aimed at constructing a technologically advanced force, adequately capable of engaging and winning “limited local wars under conditions of ‘informatisation’.”
In such a scenario, the nature of battle would be short, intense and decisive, complimented by elements of speed, agility and precision of long-range assaults, a synchronized deployment of joint operations by air, land, sea, space, and electromagnetic space (a five-dimensional warfare) which will be assisted by the state-of-art munition systems. To achieve victory in the shortest span of time without any attrition to the troops, the doctrine underscores the importance of three tactical elements of pre-emption, surprise, and shock value, since these elements are critical in defining the outcome of any conflict at its earliest stage. As a result, the Chinese modernisation programme is restructuring and adapting itself on the basis of agility, flexibility, power projection, accuracy of precision-strikes. Furthermore, it is striving towards achieving a smooth functioning of joint operations to ensure effectiveness on the battlefield which in turn will result in a comprehensive victory in the shortest time with minimum casualty.
Beijing has initiated the march to transform the PLA into a lean and mean technologically oriented force while paving way for “informatisation” warfare. This domain of warfare consists of capabilities that are tantamount to C4ISR and are considered quintessential for operational effectiveness on battlefields. In order to build this kind of techno-electronic warfare system, it is a prerequisite to integrate multiple high-end electronic and technological compounds such as the control of the electromagnetic spectrum through an integrated network electronic warfare grid while also, utilising technological advances in the field of microelectronics, sensors, propulsion, stealth technology, and other special materials. The integration of all these various components have helped arm the PLA with nuclear weapons and facilities, precision-strike weapons, including ballistic, anti-ship and cruise missiles, stealth technology and an “integrated network centric warfare” system.
With the advent of the concept of “informatisation” warfare, the Chinese military has moved from being a platform-centric to a network-centric force, where the PLA is principally dependent on the coordination of network linkages between platforms, which stands in dire contrast to the mandates of individual platforms themselves. Observing a quantum leap in the sphere of warfare strategy and in its military arsenal, the PLA has similarly witnessed a revolution at the operational level, switching from simple joint operations to a more dynamic and complex form of an Integrated Joint Operations (IJO). Formerly, joint operations were when two services operated together in any given environment, while one typically played the supporting role for the other, leading to very little coordination and integration in the command and control structure between the two services. However, with the inception of “informatisation” warfare and the induction of the IJO, the PLA has been provided with more flexibility and mobility pertaining to multi-service operations, which include non-PLA forces such as the reserved forces of the paramilitary and the local police force in certain measures.
In order to successfully operationalise the IJO system, the PLA is been tasked with the challenge of formulating a new kind of command and control structure that enables a seamless exchange of information between the three services and aids in multilevel synchronization in the decision-making process on real-time basis, during live operations. Lack of coordination between the military services has stymied the successful implementation of the IJO.
Other dimensions of technological warfare in the modernisation programme include the development of cyber and outer-space security. In the era of science and technology, cyberspace is an essential domain that needs to be controlled. It is not only a repository of data and information but also plays a vital role in building national security, economic and social growth, and development. The Chinese military has focussed its attention on its cyber security cell and has built cyber defence capabilities to rival other technologically superior countries, aiming to establish itself as the fore runner. A cyber division has been operationalised to detect and counter all foreign network intruders. The role of this organisation is to guarantee the safety of cyber data and information and asseverate sovereignty in the cyber realm.
The other key focus is on the development of the outer-space programme which Beijing perceives as a crucial domain of strategic international competition. Beijing has undertaken several international space cooperation and programmes and has initiated the development of space specific technologies and capabilities with the interest of providing strategic assistance for national and social development. It is also engaged in rendering advanced integrated space-based information resources, enhancing space situation awareness, protecting space assets, while also working to ensure free movement in the outer space.
China’s military is gearing towards the optimisation of its arsenal composition, by inducting the state of art machinery. Obsolete hardware and equipment are being decommissioned paving way for high- tech weaponry. At the same time, it is fiercely working towards the successful formation of a network centric warfare system, where it can shape an efficient battle environment for smoother interoperability between different services. Complying with the era of information, science and technology, China is working unceasingly to build a military that is harnessed and powered by information and technology, in order to create a military unlike any other in the world.
China’s fundamental perception of modern warfare transmuted after the debacle of the first Gulf War in 1992, where America displayed conspicuous military superiority and operational efficiency over their adversary through the use of technology, to conduct clinical strikes on the battle-field with minimum loss of life. Having witnessed a phenomenal exhibition of the use of military technology in a theatre of war, China recognised the significance and the indispensability of the use of technology in modern warfare and thus initiated the modernisation programme of its armed forces. Instead of engaging in protracted wars, local wars were preferred wherein, “quick battles to force quick resolution”.
Taking queue from “informatisation” warfare as the kernel of the modernisation programme, the PLA has pressed for a “Revolution in Military Affairs” with typical “Chinese characteristics”. It has scientifically and systematically formulated the strategic plans for its national defence and armed forces and put it into motion in 2010, while also framing a comprehensive strategy to help develop its logistics support for the development of its arms and services corps. According to its twenty-year plan, China has sought to complete the mechanisation process of its forces and has desired to make significant progress in innovation and technology to strengthen its information and communication command structure by 2020.
However, regarding the mechanisation process, the PLA “has yet to complete the task of mechanisation and is in urgent need of improving its informatisation.” Since it is unable to keep abreast with the rate of technological development, it is falling behind schedule. China’s latest defence white paper 2019, clearly outlines certain key elements of the modernisation programme which require immediate attention and application in the military domain, and those include, artificial intelligence, quantum information, cloud computing and the operationalisation of cutting edge-technologies. Driven by the need to “develop an intelligent military”, the PLA has transformed its “quantity-and-scale model military into a quality and efficient one” that is “science and technologically-intense”.
Furthermore, the PLA regards the use of innovation and information as key ingredients to the success of future combats, while assuring an asymmetric engagement. As China’s rivalry with America and its neighbouring countries keeps intensifying, it will be interesting to observe the manner in which China will tackle its modernisation challenges and technological shortcomings in the coming decades, in order to challenge the American military might and to displace their global hegemonic status.
U.S. Withdrawal From Afghanistan: Implications for Pakistan
In 2003, an influential American thinker, Noam Chomsky, in his book ‘Hegemony or Survival: America’s Quest for Global Power’ presented the case of America’s pursuit of its Imperial Grand Strategy as a threat to the global security. Imperial Grand Strategy, as defined by Chomsky is ‘USA’s unilateral pre-emptive attack on an enemy who is strong enough to pose an existential threat to USA and weak enough to be defenseless’. The theatre of USA’s Global War on Terror followed by the 9/11 incident, was set on the rugged land of Afghanistan, ruled by the Afghan Taliban. The Afghan Taliban while observing the ‘Pashtun wali’ culture provided safe havens to the mastermind of 9/11 attacks, Osama bin Laden. Consequently, the United States set its boots in Afghanistan hoping to achieve their military objectives as swiftly as they were able to achieve in Iraq. However, today, 17 years later, US military objectives in Afghanistan remain unfulfilled and consecutive governments of the super-power of the world stare at their defeat in dismay, hoping to find a way out. The Trump administration, however, as a manifestation of its neo-conservative policies, has been quite vocal in its intent to withdraw the US troops from Afghanistan. Pak-Afghan relations has provided India, a fault-line to be toed. While the Trump Administration seeks to withdraw from Afghanistan, and Pakistan becomes a part of the Afghan Peace Process, and India finds itself on the losing end (for not being able to become a stake-holder in the peace process), it becomes indispensable to study the positive and negative implications that the phenomenon will bring along.
Afghanistan is a familiar basket case for Pakistan. The more you try to remove from this swamp, the more you go down in it. The US-led NATO occupation led to negative security implications for Pakistan with which we are still dealing that another event going to emerge. If the US withdraws from Afghanistan after facilitating a rapprochement between the Afghan government and Taliban, there is a likely chance that peace would prevail not only in Afghanistan but also in the whole region. However, if the USA withdraws without succeeding to achieve a rapprochement between the Taliban and Afghan society, then effects of a most probably civil war would be recognized across the whole region. If the solution is the satisfaction of all sides, which is doubtful, that would be welcome development. Anyhow in both cases Pakistan would have to bear the brunt. However, the type of agreement would determine the scale of repercussions for Pakistan, provided other conditions remain the same. Any solution can further splinter Afghan Taliban and some of their diehard fighters and criminal elements within their ranks may join Daesh and try to wreck peace in Afghanistan and Pakistan. They can join hands with Pakistani Daesh and TTP affiliates and pose serious problems. But if Afghan Taliban succeed to capture power alone in Kabul under the garb of negotiations, and they are intent on doing it, then it would be the beginning of another long civil war, the repercussions of which can even endanger the integrity of Afghanistan and naturally would pose more serious security issues for Pakistan.
One cannot overlook the innate factionalism in Afghan society and Afghan government. If some elements within Kabul Administration come to the conclusion that it would be better for them to compromise with Taliban on their own than to wait for a settlement, they can do it. Some elements feel threatened with the prospects of peace and withdrawal; they can pick up arms against Taliban and even join them against Kabul government.
It has been long since Pakistan is being blamed for supporting the Afghan Taliban and is being portrayed as the sponsor of terrorism. As the U will face humiliation in Afghanistan, it will try to find a scapegoat to shift the blame of its own failure in Afghanistan. Because Pakistan is the immediate neighbor of Afghanistan and already possesses a distorted image across the world, it will exactly be the suitable scapegoat to be held responsible for all the disaster in Afghanistan. This would lead to the western powers led by the USA, imposing various economic and diplomatic sanctions on Pakistan, which would be further detrimental for Pakistan’s already crumbling economy and tarnished global standing.
Peace has its cost. Pakistan would also bear it. The ascendancy of Taliban to power can definitely endanger the 18 years long achievements in the field of education, health, women freedom and freedom of expression and other civil liberties. In such a situation the desperate influx of another spate of refugees cannot be ruled out. The fence would not be able to stem the tide of desperate Afghans. It can be torn down with the help of vehicles. Afghans can resort to unthinkable in desperation and now they all know the weak point of Pakistani state.One cannot buy into this argument that Taliban have changed, Americans may offer such faulty justification for their fatigue and withdrawal hurry. Taliban leaders would naturally listen to them as they have been raised in that sort of interpretation of Islam. It’s very clear that America wants Indian presence in Afghanistan to contain Chinas economic rise. Indian investment in Afghanistan will rise Indian economy and will also have access to Central Asian states.
Determined efforts by the external powers are needed to avoid difficulties. Close coordination with Americans on this score is needed albeit cautiously guarding our interests. Secondly, Moscow and Beijing must be consulted on each step. One cannot avoid the spoiler role of India which is obviously perturbed over the prospects of withdrawal and they can easily wreck the peace efforts jointly with like-minded elements in Kabul administration or increase the stakes for Pakistan. The recent anti-Iranian sanctions imposed by US can also threaten peaceful solution to increase stakes for US and Pakistan.
Pakistan should stress upon Americans to lead its allies and try to keep them united as an entity prepared for peace deal. The same situation applies to Taliban and they could be persuaded to enter united for a peace deal and avoid split within its ranks which could jeopardize peace. However, they should be persuaded for an intra-Afghan dialogue and beginning of a ceasefire. Without these two internal aspects of the solution means the unilateral push of Taliban to achieve victory in the battlefield. They know that their strength lies in battlefield. But Taliban should be warned in no uncertain terms that US withdrawal and their unilateral victory will not decrease their afflictions. In such a scenario they could be prepared for a UN-sanctioned continuous US bombardment. Comprehensive, all-embracing, and inclusive peace is in the interest of Pakistan. This sort of scenario will minimize the dangers for Pakistan. This would not impel another influx of refugees and the already remaining refugees can be forced to repatriate, though unwillingly. Another dimension is that if Afghan Taliban also comes in the government formation then it would be very helpful to Pakistan as both are against ISIS and India. This government will be in favour of Pakistan to contain India in the region.
The US withdrawal from Afghanistan is inevitable and will have multiple implications as highlighted. As proposed by Barry Buzan in his theory, the security of nations situated inside a specific geographical region is trapped with one another and any weakness inside one specific nation can spread to different nations of a specific security complex. Barry Buzanaptly describes the international security of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Most importantly the security dynamics of the neighbouring countries especially Pakistan would be seriously undermined. It is important to note that what ways US adopts to exit the battle ground. It took time just to realize that the solution to conflict is non-military. Now what political model would be adopted, whether there would be a power sharing model, or the Taliban would acquire full control over the centre and periphery are the important questions which could only be answered hypothetically in the present time. If US fails to bring out rapprochement between the Afghan National Government and Taliban, then most likely a civil war will breakout to take control over Kabul that would severely impact Pakistan. So, in order to achieve durable peace in Afghanistan US must take measured and calculated steps whereby keeping in view the interest of Afghan people who have suffered from this 17-year prolonged war.
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