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.
European security becomes a matter of the EU only
A rift between the U.S. and the E.U. in the military sphere has become wider. On November 22 the U.S. formally withdrew from the open-sky treaty that accelerated European security.
The 1992 treaty allows the 34 member countries to conduct short notice, unarmed, reconnaissance flights over the other countries to collect data on their military forces and activities.
“Russia didn’t adhere to the treaty, so until they adhere, we will pull out,” Trump told reporters outside the White House in May. Now he has realized his threats.
America’s European allies do not support the Trump administration’s decision to exit Open Skies.
Thus, Germany regrets US withdrawal from Open Skies Treaty and remains committed to it, German FM Heiko Maas has said.
Germany considers the Open Skies Treaty, allowing military observation flights over the territories of signatory states, as an important part of arms control, he said.
Maas said that he regretted the decision made by the Trump administration. He pointed out that the Open Skies Treaty contributes to confidence building and the promotion of security in the whole northern hemisphere “from Vladivostok to Vancouver.”
Eleven member countries even issued a statement in May expressing their “regret” about the Trump administration decision.
France, Belgium, Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Greece, Italy, Luxemburg, Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Sweden declared that they “will continue to implement the Open Skies Treaty, which has a clear added value for our conventional arms control architecture and cooperative security. ” They reaffirmed that this treaty remains functioning and useful.
The treaty gave without sophisticated satellite capabilities a way to gather and share – all the member countries could access imagery gathered on flights.
It could be concluded that the U.S. as usual does not care. It pursues exclusively its own goals and does not intend to sacrifice its national interests and ambitions for the sake of Europe.
As soon as Europe was convinced of this the European Union decided to take measures to neutralize the emerging gaps in the system of ensuring European security.
Josep Borrell, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, as well as other European politicians think that such significant contradictions in views of the U.S. and the EU on ensuring regional security show the urgent necessity to develop a new EU military doctrine.
Today the European Union aims to draw up a master military strategy document to define future threats, goals and ambitions in defence while focusing on six new areas of joint weapons development including tanks, officials and diplomats said.
“After four years of hostility towards NATO by U.S. President Donald Trump, the EU, led by France, wants to become a stand-alone military power in the long term, strong enough to fight on its own. We need to build a compass. This is a common way of looking at the world, of defining threats and addressing them together,” said a senior EU official.
Borrell has cited “an increased momentum to strengthen our collective capacity” since a December 2017 EU defence pact to develop more firepower independently of the United States.
Defence ministers will also review the bloc’s first annual review on joint capabilities, which is expected to set out 100 areas for governments to develop together from 2025 over six areas, including battle tanks, maritime patrol vessels, countering drones and jamming technology.
France, Germany, Italy and Spain hope that by developing national defences together, the EU will save money by putting an end to competing national industries that duplicate weapons.
It is absolutely clear that it is time for the European Union to stop flattering itself about the U.S. assistance. It’s time for Europe to learn to rely only on itself and to be independent.
The next step for Europe is to convince zealous U.S. supporters like the Baltic Sates to acknowledge this need.
The Future of QUAD grouping
With the ever changing dynamics of geopolitics in Eastern Hemisphere, the consolidation of QUAD countries in recent time presents a considerable window to wane the influence of China in the region. On Oct 6, the foreign ministers from four QUAD countries met in Tokyo and expressed their views to maintain the Free & Open Indo-Pacific. Amid all the chaos and disturbance in the world, where most of the meeting and submit held virtually, foreign ministers from Japan, the USA, India and Australia met in person. This was a significant step as it was the second ministerial meeting among these countries. In 2017, during the ASEAN summits, the four leaders from these countries discussed the plans to revive the Quadrilateral alliance. The continuous growing threat from Beijing is becoming a major concern for all these nations. Where one side the USA and Australia are on the receiving end of Trade war with China, On the other hand, India and Japan has their territorial disputes with Beijing.
The obvious focus of the recent meeting was China, the constant muscles flexing of the PLA Navy has been one of the major threat for the regional economic and security architecture. These four countries emphasized on the rule-based order, US Secretary of State Michael R Pompeo targeted China and asked for better collaboration with in the 4 countries to safeguard everyone’s right from Chinese aggressive policies. From last 2 years, there was a pattern of collaboration among these four nations in the regions. In 2019, India and Japan jointly signed a port deal with Sri Lanka for the development of East container Terminal at the Port of Colombo. This Step was a big leap to project the QUAD countries economic collaboration. Soon in July 2019, India and Myanmar signed an MOU to increase their partnership in the military ties in the fields of training, joint surveillance, maritime security etc. The current meeting will surely enhance the better partnership among these nations.
Security Architecture In the region
India announced the participation of Australia in the Malabar exercise, and a sharp reaction came from the Chinese side. India has already inked the military logistic pact with the US, France, South Korea, Singapore, Japan& Australia. But these are not only four countries having an interest in Indo-Pacific, recently Germany has announced to send a warship to patrol in the Indian ocean. This shows the growing importance of Indo-pacific in the future. In recent time, south Asia is becoming a playground for the major nations not only militarily but also economically. The QUAD plus countries which also includes New Zealand, South Korea and Vietnam. The cooperation among these nations continuously evolving day by day, These nations are already helping each other in the health sector for the better management to counter COVID. Covid situation raised a lot newer problems in front of India, with this regard Indian Government asked for the coordinated response for the new challenges in between of coronavirus and stressed upon better management of supply chains and access of vaccine.
Beyond the Military Ties
Economic ties between the QUAD members and Beijing will tell you how strong and deep Chinese investment has its roots in some of the prime sectors. Australia can be present as a key example, where Chinese investment can be seen from infrastructure projects to even national politics. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said that China bore no responsibility for the sharp downturn in the economic ties between two countries. Though recently Both countries signed the RCEP agreement but the normalcy in relations will not be there any soon. QUAD countries need to understand the better collaboration should also be there in the economic sense also. The recent skirmish between Indian & Chinese security forces has changed Delhi’s perspective and made Indian policymakers to look out for other alternatives even in the technological domain. As every country has its different perspectives regarding Indo-Pacific, Japan’s strategy complements the rule-based order and promotes maintaining of regional order. With the ageing population, Japan focused more on promoting economic ties and securing its islands from any kind of threats.
Strategically the importance of the recent meeting can be seen through the addition of Australia in the Malabar exercise, Which will change the security dynamics of the region. Though the importance of the regional partners to maintain the rule based order will have a long way to go. Everyone was looking towards the USA’s election result for the future of QUAD. As President-Elect of the USA and India’s Prime Minister talked over the phone and soon Biden stated that his priority is to secure a Free and Open Indo-Pacific. Though the future of QUAD will be blurred if these nations will not able to cooperate in economic terms. In the last few years, Washington is struggling to maintain its regional hegemon in the region because of the economic constraint. USA’s attempt to pass down its responsibility to regional stakeholders can be seen through the whole QUAD block formation, where one side USA wants to formalize this block in order to maintain its superiority in the region and to restrain Bejing. On the other hand, India’s & Japan’s perspectives are poles apart from the USA’s version. These countries refrain themselves to name China directly and described this grouping as to maintain the regional order. The understanding between each nation in the formal platform cannot be described as one and will take many years to form a proper economic bubble. Which will be serving as a genuine platform mechanism in order to keep free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific. The deadly clashes between Indian and Chinese forces worked as a reactant for more cooperative behaviour between the four countries. China’s Continuous interference in the internal affairs of Australia made this nation to grow their defence forces budget, which shows their growing concerns over Chinese authoritarianism. Even after so many ups and downs in the QUAD proper functioning, these countries also have to face the change of government in their respective. The success of QUAD will depend on the collaboration between like minded nations which will not work on to contain any particular country but will propose some kind of opportunities and chances for every member state benefits.
NATO’s expanded presence in Latvia is myth
In November NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group Latvia was strengthened by Iceland. This information was disseminated across Europe. But what is behind this fact?
November 3, at Ādaži base, Minister of Defense Artis Pabriks and Commander of the National Armed Forces Lieutenant General Leonīds Kalniņš marked Iceland’s accession to the NATO Battlegroup in Latvia.
It is reported that as part of NATO’s expanded presence in Latvia, Iceland will make a contribution in the field of strategic communication. Communication experts from Iceland have also joined NATO’s expanded presence battlegroups in Lithuania and Estonia.
This event shows nothing more but NATO’s tools of manipulating public opinion. In this particular case, NATO tries to give weight to a very minor event in order to simulate its activity in the Baltic States. Taking into account the fact that Latvia as well as Lithuania and Estonia are increasing their defence spending at NATO request, the Alliance has to do something to show its commitment to maintain the security in the Baltic region. In reality NATO authorities are sick and tired of the Baltic States constantly asking for help.
It’s hard to imagine how Iceland could strengthen NATO’s enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group in the Baltic countries. Though it is known that Iceland is a NATO member since the alliance’s foundation on April 4, 1949, few people know that Iceland does not even have a standing army, and its defence forces consist of a militarized coastguard and a paramilitary force. The more so, Iceland’s strong pacifist history has led to considerable opposition to NATO membership in Iceland.
In 2019 while during a visit by the Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg to Iceland, the Prime Minister Katrín Jakobsdóttir spoke of her support for withdrawing Iceland from NATO. Her party, the Left-Green Movement, is the senior partner of the Icelandic government also supports withdrawing!
So, NATO and Iceland have found a way how to actively demonstrate their help without doing anything in reality.
The purpose of establishing and deploying NATO’s enhanced presence battlegroups in the Baltic States is to enhance NATO’s deterrence and strengthen the Alliance’s defense by demonstrating solidarity against all forms of aggression. The only thing Island could do in this situation is to demonstrate solidarity with Latvia. But Latvia needs much more and hopes for real aid. Does Latvia need such military contingent on its territory which could not really defend it in case of aggression? Should Latvia pay for such unreliable defence? Does NATO deliberately weaken its enhanced Forward Presence Battle Group Latvia?
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