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Is France’s Nuclear Shield Big Enough to Cover All of Europe?

Alexander Yermakov

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At the end of the third year of his presidency, Emmanuel Macron delivered his long-awaited policy speech on the country’s defence and deterrence strategy. The long-awaited indeed: many have been expecting France to step up its nuclear role in recent years, including heading up the establishment of the EU Nuclear Forcete. Did the President deliver on these expectations? Yes and no.

From the get-go, Macron has been keen to play up the historical significance of his February 7 speech. The eighth president of the Fifth Republic noted that the last head of state to visit the École de Guerre in Paris was Charles de Gaulle himself, who delivered his famous speech on the creation of the Force de frappe, or the French Strategic Nuclear Forces (SNF), here on November 3, 1959.

The previous resident of the Élysée Palace, François Hollande, delivered his address on the nuclear deterrence at the Istres-Le Tubé Air Base on February 19, 2015, where one of the French Air Force’s two nuclear squadrons was stationed at the time. Macron’s predecessor gave a speech that was rather typical of the French nuclear policy, reminding his fellow countrymen that the world is still full of threats and that, despite the commitment to nuclear disarmament (someday, like other powers), it was vital to “keep the powder dry.” The President reiterated the promise to not use nuclear weapons against those countries that had signed and honoured the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).

According to Hollande, the French Strategic Nuclear Forces contribute to the pan-European security, yet remain ‘sovereign:’ Paris will neither, as a matter of principle, be part of the NATO Nuclear Planning Group nor will it participate in the NATO’s Nuclear Sharing [1]. Notwithstanding European solidarity and the special nuclear cooperation that France enjoys with the United Kingdom, Hollande stressed that, “our [France’s] deterrence is our own; it is we who decide, we who evaluate our vital interests.” It was France’s rather unique attitude to defence policy issues, and to the independence of its Strategic Nuclear Forces in particular, that was partly to blame for the falling out between the United States and NATO during de Gaulle’s presidency and that half a century later forced special provisions to be included in the Treaty of Lisbon [2].

But the Euro-optimists, who are eager to make the European Union a great nuclear power, have been unhappy with the Treaty of Lisbon for some time now. In 2016, For example, prominent Bundestag member and international politics expert Roderich Kiesewetter of the ruling Christian Democratic Union proposed using the joint European military budget to strengthen nuclear forces of the United Kingdom and France and to ensure the continent’s nuclear deterrence potential independent of the United States, a proposal that was supported on the eastern flank of the European Union by Jarosław Kaczyński. These sentiments were further bolstered by the onset of the Ukrainian crisis and even more so by the election of Donald Trump, who has long been sceptical of NATO. The Brexit actually played into the hands of those calling for a more robust nuclear umbrella in Europe, as the United Kingdom always served as a key instrument of U.S. and NATO policies in the European Union, opposing ‘separatist’ attempts to build non-Atlantic security institutions. This is precisely what the French Supreme Commander-in-Chief advocated, albeit somewhat cautiously, in his 2020 address.

Thermonuclear Assets

What does France have to offer to Europe? According to conservative estimates, the third largest nuclear arsenal in the world after that of Russia and the U.S., no less, with almost 300 warheads (the actual number is not known: Hollande mentioned 300 in 2015, while Macron stated “under 300” five years later). This figure is conservative because numbers given for China vary wildly depending on individual preferences and the degree of Sinophobia of whoever is making estimates. It should be noted that in 2019 the respected Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists stated that the Chinese nuclear arsenal included “about 290 warheads.” There is no need of a pack of tarot cards to reveal that France and China are in the second group of states in terms of the number of nuclear warheads in their possessions, way behind the United States and Russia and far outstripping other countries.

The French Strategic Nuclear Forces currently consist of two components: an airborne and a seaborne. There used to be a land component with 18 intermediate-range ballistic missiles holed up in silos in the south of the country; that component existed from 1971 to 1996 [3]. As was the case for most nuclear powers, France initially used bombers to carry its warheads, namely the Dassault Mirage IV, which was introduced in 1964 and could carry a single AN-11/22 nuclear bomb with a charge of approximately 60 kilotons. In January 1972, the French ballistic missile submarine Le Redoutable set out on its maiden patrol.

The French government initially had high hopes for nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), but the program to develop and construct these complex systems ended up falling desperately behind the schedule. Yet the fact that in 1960-1970s France was able to create its own SSBNs and missiles to go with them (SLBMs) is quite a feat in itself, as it was only the third country in the world to do this, not lagging too long behind the two superpowers of the time that possessed far more resources [4]. China only built its first serial SSBNs in the 21st century (the Type 094 submarine set off on its maiden nuclear deterrence patrol in December 2015), while India is still testing its first vessel.

The airborne component of the French Strategic Nuclear Forces currently consists of Rafale B twin-seat fighter jets, which replaced the Mirage 2000N in 2018 and are equipped with ASMP-A supersonic cruise missiles (54 supersonic thermonuclear warheads with a range of up to 500 kilometres and a charge estimated at approximately 300 kilotons, some of which was spent during testing). Unlike previous generations of fighters, Rafale’s aircrafts were not specially modified for carrying nuclear warheads; instead the Air Force personnel receive a special training to operate them.

Two nuclear squadrons are deployed at the Saint-Dizier-Robinson Air Base: Fighter Squadron 1/4 Gascogne and Fighter Squadron 2/4 La Fayette, with at least 40 fighter jets in service. In addition, the Strategic Air Forces Command (Forces Aériennes Stratégiques, FAS) possesses “privileged rights” to the Air Supply Group 2/91 Bretagne, a combined regiment of 14 Boeing KC-135 Stratotankers manufactured in the U.S., which from 2018 are being gradually replaced by the modern European-made Airbus A330 MRTT Phénix. The second A330 MRTT was delivered in late 2019. The initial contract for 12 aircrafts is set to be fulfilled by 2023; three more tankers may be ordered. Tanker aircrafts are vital for delivering strikes at considerable distances, as the Rafale are still fighters and not long-range bombers.

What sets France apart is that the country has had the naval nuclear aviation force (Force aéronavale nucléaire, FANu) in addition to its land-based nuclear aviation component since the late 1970s. Currently, the FANu consists of carrier-based aircrafts, specifically Rafale M single-seat fighters that can also be equipped with ASMP-A cruise missiles. Unlike the immediately ready specialized land units, the FANu are set up on an as-needed basis, and all naval squadrons undergo a basic nuclear weapons training. France’s sole aircraft carrier R91 Charles de Gaulle does not carry ASMP-A on a permanent basis and missiles are stored in the Air Force’s arsenals during peacetime; however, positioning the aircraft carrier as part of the country’s Strategic Nuclear Forces is a somewhat strange move itself. Nuclear weapons were offloaded from all U.S. aircraft carriers by the middle of 1992 and modern carrier-based F/A-18E/F and F-35C fighters are not intended for such purposes [5].

The employment of an aircraft carrier as a platform for fighters armed with nuclear cruise missiles is consistent with the French approach to the air component of its Strategic Nuclear Forces. It is seen as a visible part of its deterrence forces that can be used to deal with explicit threats and manage escalations. In addition, high-precision ASMP-A missiles are well-suited for surgical strikes and a warhead that has more power than SLBM may be useful for destroying specially fortified underground objects. ASN4G air-launched missiles are currently under development that looks very promising. The plan is to start phasing out ASMP-A missiles in the mid-2030s and replace them with ASN4Gs. All specifications have not been publicly disclosed, but given current trends, a fair guess is that it will be hypersonic (a glider or a cruise missile with a hypersonic ramjet engine).

Nevertheless, much of France’s nuclear potential is concentrated on a hidden yet permanently combat-ready component of its Strategic Nuclear Forces, namely its fleet of Triomphant-class nuclear-powered missile submarines. Four of these vessels were put into operation between 1997 and 2010, replacing Le Redoutable-class boats. Triomphant-class submarines are armed with 16 SLBMs. By 2020, all these boats should be equipped with the newest M51.2 missiles carrying new TNO nuclear warheads, which, according to unconfirmed reports, boast a charge of approximately150 kilotons. The payload range depends on its size, with conflicting reports suggesting upwards of 9000 km for minimal payloads and significantly less when carrying six or more individual guidance units [6]. Each submarine obviously has missiles with various combinations of warheads. According to official statements, the French Navy possesses 48 missiles and three weapons systems, one for each submarine, while the fourth is undergoing a major overhaul. According to various estimates, 80–90% of the almost 300 warheads are intended for the marine component of the Strategic Nuclear Forces [7], even though its surpluses are probably very small compared to those of other nuclear powers [8].

The design work on promising SNLE-3G nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines has already begun, with the construction set to start in 2023 and commissioning projected for the first half of 2030s. Meanwhile, the development of M51 SLBMs continues: a modified M51.3 is expected to appear in the middle of this decade. The new missile will have an additional third stage, which will increase its range and throw-weight in terms of a more advanced equipment for defeating missile defence. New SSBNs will be equipped with promising M51.4s, which are in early stages of development.

The EU Nuclear Sharing

France’s Strategic Nuclear Forces are small compared to those of the United States and Russia, but they are cutting edge and updated constantly. Unlike the United Kingdom, which continues to reduce its nuclear arsenal unilaterally and where the public sentiment is largely anti-nuclear, France enjoys a greater popular support for nuclear deterrence. Arguably, this is explained by historical reasons. France has always viewed nuclear weapons as a vital instrument for gaining more independence from the United States and as a guarantee that catastrophes the country faced during the First World War and in 1940 will not repeat themselves.

In the past, France always took a stand-off position in matters pertaining to strategic nuclear forces. Even after it was accepted back into the NATO Military Command Structure in the beginning of the 21st century, Paris stressed that it will not be part of the Nuclear Planning Group and refused to align its nuclear strategy with that of its allies. Now, Emmanuel Macron is ready to turn this symbol of country’s independence into the embodiment of France’s role as the leader of united Europe.

It is not too much of an exaggeration to suggest that Macron’s speech was largely directed at all citizens of Europe and that he was referring to pan-European threats and objectives. One popular yet unsophisticated way of analysing political speeches that sometimes yields interesting results is to count how many times an important word is used. In his speech, Macron said ‘Europe’ almost twice as many times as ‘France.’ To compare, François Hollande mentioned ‘France’ almost ten times more frequently than ‘Europe’ in his 2015 address.

In his address, Macron pointed to a number of developing trends that may pose a serious challenge to European security in the future: first, the growing confrontation between the United States and China; second, Europe’s need for greater autonomy from the United States with regard to security in Eastern and Southern parts of the continent; and third, blurring the line between competition and confrontation. In addition, the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the “unprecedented situation” in which regional powers already are or soon will be capable of striking the European territory directly were also singled out as threats.

Another potential threat, according to Macron, is the gradual erosion of the arms control regime. The legal framework needs to be restored in this area and Europe must make efforts. A failure to do so may once again make Europe a field of confrontation for “non-European nuclear powers,” which is completely unacceptable, as far as the President of France is concerned. These calls to rebuild the arms control regimes can be seen as a tacit support for the Russian proposal to impose a moratorium on the deployment of medium-range missiles (the French President is the only Western leader who has responded positively to the idea). Macron also paid a special attention to the subject of restoring relations with Russia without which “there can be no defence and security project of European citizens.” Moreover, he has tasked himself with building bridges with Russia [9].

At the centre of Macron’s speech was the call for Europe to pursue a more independent defence and security policy. Beyond purely political, Macron drew focus to the fact that Europeans (and European states, by extension) need to control the continent’s key infrastructure themselves. This appears to be a vital element of the French President’s thinking, as he later reiterated the point during a speech on the coronavirus pandemic. By gaining a greater sovereignty for whole Europe, France will be able to obtain a “true” sovereignty for itself.

Turning to military issues, Macron noted that while European countries have continued disarmaments in the spirit of the 1990s, other players have moved in the other direction. Europe can only achieve a full political sovereignty with modern armed forces, and modernization costs money. France’s nuclear forces can be the core of this European military sovereignty—autonomous from the United States and less entrenched in NATO than the nuclear arsenal of the United Kingdom, which left the EU this year.

Of course, Macron did not utter these exact words, but he did make an extremely important message that most commentators have missed: “France’s vital interests now have a European dimension.” This is not a throw-away sentence, because according to France’s military doctrine, a perceived threat to the country’s “vital interests” is an enough reason to resort to the nuclear force [10]. Macron could not have made a more explicit offer to extend his country’s nuclear umbrella to cover the rest of the European Union as he suggested opening a strategic dialogue on this issue.

Commentators have paid more attention to the concrete proposal for willing European partners to start partaking in exercises of the French Strategic Nuclear Forces. This means, foremost, the air component, considering that the submarine one is far too sensitive. Besides, in light of the departure of the United Kingdom, the European Union no longer has a fleet that could help France out in the Atlantic. A strengthened cooperation in the air component, though, can significantly expand capabilities of France’s strategic aviation, of course, on jet fighters, but it is what it is.

It may be tempting to disperse to multiple airfields across Europe during a heightened threat, but this would require the ground personnel of allied countries to undergo necessary trainings, including in the use of ASMP-A missiles, which is a politically sensitive issue the European authorities may return to later in time. It is far more likely that the joint European fleet of Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport aircraft that the French Air Force also uses will be involved in exercises alongside French nuclear squadrons. Six countries have already chipped in to buy eight tankers: Belgium, the Czech Republic, Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Norway. The program is constantly expanding and at least three aerial refuelling tankers are expected to be ordered. Tankers deployed at airfields in dangerous regions will make it easier for French Rafale fighter jets to carry out long-distance missions. At the same time, clearly, the issue of providing cover for strike groups must be settled. This is perhaps the most interesting aspect of potential military exercises suggested by Macron.

The joint French, German, and Spanish Future Combat Air System (FCAS) program to develop a sixth-generation jet fighter that is set to replace the Rafale and Eurofighter Typhoon in the late 2030s is worth of mention. The relevant contract was signed on February 20, 2020. Given requirements of the French side, the new jet will probably be initially designed as a nuclear delivery vehicle [11]. This will expand capabilities of the allied air forces, which may then be able to handle promising ASN4G missiles.

Obviously, France’s proposal cannot get off the ground if other EU member states, especially Germany, are not on board with it. One week after Macron delivered his speech in Paris, President of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke at the opening of the Munich Security Conference, where he supported opening a dialogue with Germany’s “closest ally,” France, in order to develop a “joint strategic culture.” Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany Heiko Maas made similar comments during his speech at the conference. In an interview given a few days before the beginning of the conference, its chairperson Wolfgang Ischinger said he did not believe that France would relinquish its nuclear weapons to the general command, but spoke positively about starting a dialogue on the common strategy and discussing “European deterrence.” The consensus was that the United States could no longer be considered a reliable partner for defending Europe.

It is important to know that the subject of nuclear weapons is extremely sensitive for European politicians. Thus, any steps in this direction will only be taken with the utmost caution and the hope that at every stage their “big brother” will step in to help. And who knows? Maybe the United States will indeed come back to its senses once a new president comes to power. The negative attitude of the European population to nuclear weapons cannot be overlooked either; however, if the European project manages to survive its current woes and if its leaders are determined to play an independent role in world politics years down the line, then they very well may decide to create an allied nuclear shield.

If that is truly the case, decades from now Macron’s 2020 speech will be referenced in the same way he alluded to Charles de Gaulle’s. Or, at least, that is the way he would like it.

[1] The practice of the United States storing its tactical nuclear weapons in Europe under its own formal control and training local forces, including those of non-nuclear powers, in their use. B61 nuclear bombs are currently deployed in Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey. For more, see: https://russiancouncil.ru/en/analytics-and-comments/analytics/ruzhe-na-stene/

[2] Many believe that France’s position on the matter was the reason why Article 49(c).7. of the Treaty, which proclaims the principle of the collective defence of the European Union, includes the provision that, “This shall not prejudice the specific character of the security and defence policy of certain Member States.”

[3] In this case, we are talking about strategic weapons only. France’s nuclear arsenal also included tactical nuclear weapons, namely, the Pluton and Hadès short-range road-mobile missile systems, from 1974 to 1997.

[4] The United Kingdom had a lot of help from the United States in building its SSBNs, and to this day they are equipped with U.S. missiles.

[5] Norris, Robert S. and Kristensen, Hans M. “Declassified: U.S. Nuclear Weapons at Sea During the Cold War.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 2016 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00963402.2016.1124664

[6] The exact numbers for the French missile are not known, but we can use the U.S. Trident II for reference. According to expert estimates, Trident II has a range of approximately 7500km when carrying eight warheads, and over 11,500km when the number of warheads is reduced to three or four. See Harvey, John R. & Stefan Michalowsk, Science & Global Security, 1994 http://scienceandglobalsecurity.org/archive/sgs04harvey.pdf.

[7] Tertrais, Bruno. “French Nuclear Deterrence Policy, Forces and Future.” Fondation pour la recherche stratégique, 2019 https://www.frstrategie.org/sites/default/files/documents/publications/recherches-et-documents/2019/201901.pdf

8. Kristensen, Hans M. & Matt Korda. “French Nuclear Forces.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 2019. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00963402.2019.1556003

[8] “As I’m carrying out this project, I am demanding […] The main objective – I have mentioned it numerous times – of my engagement with Russia is an improvement in collective security and stability conditions in Europe. This process will last several years. It will require patience, and high demands, and it will be conducted with our European partners. But we have no interest in delegating such a dialogue to others, nor lock ourselves in the present situation.”

[9] Given the fact that France’s nuclear arsenal was considerably smaller than the Soviet Union’s, the country traditionally adhered to the strategy of “the weak containing the strong,” meaning not a retaliatory, but rather a preventive strike in the event of a non-nuclear attack or nuclear threat. Euphemisms helped smooth this out somewhat. This explains why, even now, when the official documents of the United States and Russia cite “in response to an attack using weapons of mass destruction” as the main reason for using strategic nuclear forces, France’s talk about “protecting the country’s vital interests.”

[10] For example, the Eurofighter Typhoon is not capable of carrying nuclear weapons. This creates certain difficulties for Germany when it comes to replacing its Tornado bombers, which continue to be used as potential carriers for U.S. B61 bombs.

From our partner RIAC

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Defense

Israel Shines in the Gulf Where Big Powers Falter, but That Could Prove Tricky

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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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

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China’s Revolution in Military Affairs with Chinese Characteristics

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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.

Conclusion

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.

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Defense

U.S. Withdrawal From Afghanistan: Implications for Pakistan

Tahama Asadis

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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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