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Militarization of Indian Ocean and its Implications on Pakistan

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Whoever controls the Indian Ocean, dominates the Asia”-Alfred Thayer Mahan

Indian Ocean is the third largest ocean of the world. It is considered as hub of globalization as it provides connectivity between east and west. Two-Third of the world trade occurred through this ocean so it is having a tremendous strategic location which is significant for emerging power. [1]Indian Ocean also called as “Ratnakara(the mine of gems) in sansikrit. The most crucial trade route is Malacca straitin the ocean and secondly it provide passage to oil from Persian gulf to rest of the world. The economic interest and threatening security environment engaged different regional and extra regional players militarily.[2]

Oxford Dictionary stated Militarization as “preparation for an immediate combat situation or a violent conflict by nations or arms groups”. [3]It can be of various forms like deployment of troops, Building up Naval capabilities, Weapons of Mass destruction. In Indian Ocean Militarization done by many foreign countries and also other countries who are sharing border with Indian Ocean. As different states have stakes and interests. The protagonist countries are; India, China, Pakistan and USA respectively.

Major Players in Indian Ocean

India is also a fastest growing economy. It is located in the center of Indian Ocean and it’s coastline along ocean is 75, 00. This region is top priority of India as for her it is very significant as 90% of trade occurred through the ocean and it also imports LNG, 45% coming through sea. it is also dependent on resources of ocean.[4]India suspects that china is surrounding her by following her policy string of pearls. For increasing involvement of china, India has looked upon USA for making alliance or to contain china in Indian Ocean.[5] In opening of Malacca strait there are two islands; Nicobar and Andaman respectively over there they have naval presence in case of any conflict India can tackle china.

USA is another actor which is involved in ocean and playing cards, USA has its base in Diego Garcia so that in case of any conflict it can deploy its naval forces quickly. As USA is dependent on Middle East for oil so openness of passage is very crucial So second involvement is to protect its own interest that in case of any conflict Iran may block the strait of Hormuz in this case USA naval fleet will be able to prevent Iran to do so. Thirdly small Nations such as Australia having a lesser power so it ally with USA for its protection and this could only possible if USA stay over there’s also gives this justification.[6]

China is rising economically and it’s second great power after USA. It is also dependent on Indian Ocean in term of oil trade, Raw material and it’s sea lane route passing through very critical area of Indian Ocean; Malacca Strait as near to it there is presence of Indian navy so by developing it’s navy she can protect her resources. India’s growing economy and china’s growing global influence have highlight the strategic standing of ocean. China wants its regional maritime presence. Right now focusing on open sea and offshore defense[7].

In Context of Pakistan CPEC has great importance. India fears that the OBOR, undergirded by CPEC, could hand over it to the margins of both land and maritime Asia. By choosing for the Gwadar Port and CPEC, Pakistan has chosen to become a regional economic pivot and a major maritime power. In this regard, it has three fundamental and instantaneous responsibilities: to complete CPEC projects on time and take them to the next higher stage, to build national agreement behind them, and to eliminate terrorism. Pakistan is successfully moving in all these directions. Second, Pakistan will have larger naval presence in IOR; and that demands, for general maritime security, a stronger Pakistan Navy for protection of the sea lanes carrying Pakistan’s as well as international merchandize. This task would require more naval assets and related infrastructure. While China would be there to safeguard its own interests in the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean, Pakistan, which up to now has been largely oriented as a land and air power, would have to build its conventional and strategic naval muscle proportionately Indian Ocean is transforming because of three reasons; China’s rise as an emerging economy and its inauguration of maritime Silk Road; one belt one road (OBOR) and secondly rebalancing of USA pivot to Asia and thirdly emerging economies which are littoral to Indian Ocean. In Years ahead there would be rapid economic activities and would instigate rapid militarization.[8]

Implications on Pakistan

Challenges to Pakistan are originating because of power projection of different states in Indian Ocean. Side by side terrorism, piracy and environmental concerns are further adding to the scenario. OBOR also need proper security mechanism. India-USA strategic partnership is also a high stake for USA as this will help India to build up nuclear capabilities; air craft carrier technology, drones, marine helicopters and anti-submarine gear respectively. Which will in turn instigate risky situation for Pakistan and third thing is India is making partnership with other states to like Iran and other Gulf states to tackle the Pakistan and China partnership.[9]

China is continuously building its naval capabilities. China’s maritime power named, Far sea defense, aimed to achieve two objectives; firstly to secure its maritime security and secondly to protect its interest in term of economics in Indian Ocean in Indian Ocean and West Africa. As china is expanding its economic interest so presence of navy will protect transportation routes and will help to secure sea lanes and to achieve china need to have comprehensive naval capabilities. Chinese building up of naval capabilities will ultimately engage USA as well which will put catastrophic effect in the region.[10]

Moreover, militarization is also posing non -traditional security threats such as piracy, terrorism and environmental issues as well and now after the partnership of China and Pakistan in Indian Ocean, it is dire need to overcome these challenges as this is good for both to secure their interests.[11]

India has also deployed its navy in the ocean to secure its own interest. As being the major shareholder in Indian Ocean trade and commerce activities in esteem of imported crude oil, raw materials, and consumer goods, the country’s exports. It has become essential for India to ensure the security of SLOCs from the Persian Gulf, Europe, and East Asia. The security of these vigorous shipping lanes is also linked with India’s dependence on the security of the Indian Ocean, combined with its need to monitor and, if necessary, patterned the naval activity of other regional powers. The Indian Navy’s presence has moved to 40 ships and submarines, two nuclear submarines, two aircraft carriers. This would go up to have a 165-ship fleet by 2022 ranging from surface combatants, submarines to three aircraft carrier groups with a total of 400 MiG-29K aircraft and helicopters. India’s defense budget is more than Pakistan. Pakistan has also naval presence in the Indian Ocean but up till now India is leading and Pakistan is building its capabilities.

Summary of forces

Cordesman,Abdullah Touken, “The Indian Ocean Region: A Strategic Net Assessment”, Center for Strategic and International Studies,july,2017

This bar chart showing that Pakistan’s forces are far behind from India.Pakistan is also struggling for building capabilities in term of maritime security.Aman Exercise first time happened in 2007 and at that time 28 countries contributed but now Multinational Aman(Together for peace) Exercise 2017 happaened in arbian sea in which navies of 35 states joined the exercise and this representation was shown with boarded helicopters,explosive ordnance diposal,special operation forces and maritime observers. PLA Navy conducting major naval manoeuvres with Pakistan Navy in the North Arabian Sea in a exhibition of resolve to guard multibillion dollar innovativeness CPEC.Pakkistan  Navy has elevated a Special naval Task Force to protect and defense the Gwadar port. The newly-instituted special Task Force will include ships, fast attack craft, drones and surveillance possessions to guard the port as well as contiguous sea.[12]

India’s blue Navy is putting great implication on Pakistan.Pakistan is uptill now lag behind naval capabilities. Pakistan newly tested a 700 km land-sea version of cruise missile, Babur. Not too long ago, India test fired submarine launched Intermediate Range Ballistic missile, K-4. On December 26 last, India tested Agni-V, Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). With a strike range of over 5,000 km, Agni V can reach southern parts of China. To ensure satisfactory stability, Pakistan tested its version of submarine launched cruise missile, Babur III early this January.Pakistan has also signed deal with China (PLA Navy) and according to this deal Pakistan will buy Hangor class of submarine also negotiationg on corvettes to further extend the strategic partnership.it can create balance in indian cocean.Pakistan has to build its conventional and navy muscles correspondingly.As it is necessary for pakistan to tackle India and alone Pakistan can’t do that.[13]

Modernization Plans of Pakistan in Indian Ocean

Indian Ocean is though hub of globalization but side by side it’s posing a threat to Pakistan’s national security. To secure its survival Pakistan is developing new capabilities as according to realist perspective 3s (statism, survival, security) are very crucial for a state.Inspite of significant geopolitical position, Pakistan has not paid attention to its own country and this lack of attention has put her far behind from India but now the current nuclearization of Indian Ocean by many other countries has  opened the eyes of Pakistan and also due to project of CPEC, Pakistan is now focusing on its navy to tackle any difficult situation in Indian Ocean. As Pakistan is not economically well off so that’s why she will focus on upgradation of existing arsenals rather to make new one.

Pakistan is building up its arsenal with the help of China, Russia and Turkey. Chinese are providing support in building of not only arsenals but side by side giving training to Pakistani technicians. China is not only supporting Pakistan economically but also building human resource. Russia will supply F-22 frigates with enhanced capability of sensors and possibly will also include SAM, surface to air missile. Pakistan has also hired second fast attack craft missile (FACM) named PNS HIMMAT and this is under the program of AZMAT fast attack craft missile which was initiated in 2013 with the collaboration of China and now Pakistan has made its indigenous second FACM and first one was PNS DEHSHAT.Though it is a small vessel but still has capability to hit surface ships. Fast attack craft is also equipped with other arsenals like guns and other electronic combat equipment and it has fast speed but it can be used in operation beyond 100-150 nautical miles from its respective coast. No doubt it’s an appreciated accumulation in the operational capability of Pakistan .But disadvantage is its small size and it can’t be operated in area which is far from its range. But FAC’s capability can be improved by investing in supersonic anti-ship missile ASHM and ASHM which is longer in range which can provide long range surveillance and this can effectually extend the range of fast air craft FAC.[14]

Gwadar port has brought Pakistan and China more closer and now Pakistan is enhancing its naval assets with the collaboration of China. Pakistan has finalized the agreement over submarines with China and China will deliver eight submarines; S20 and SSK respectively. Among eight submarines, four of them will be constructed in Pakistanand rest of four will be constructed in China. Pakistan has also done agreement with Turkey in upgradations of its naval assets; in term of undersea combat competences. In June, agreement between Pakistan and Turkey over 3 Agosta 90B-class (aka Khalid-class) which is “diesel-electric attack submarines” furnished with air-independent impulsion schemes.Anti-ship warfare capability will further enhance the chance to prevent the naval blockade and these steps like upgradation of existing arsenals, training programs is a clear message that Pakistan is ready to counter existential threats in Indian Ocean.[15]

Modernizaton plans of India in Indian Ocean

Chinese presence and its partnership with Pakistan have alarmed India and she is also developing and heavily investing in naval assets to tackle its major rivals; Pakistan and China respectively. India is focusing on its indigenous capabilities to modernize its weapons and in term of extension of its naval forces. Since 2014 India has different type of vessels which are 41 in number. These includes; corvettes, frigates, aircraft carriers, nuclear and conventional powered submarines and these are still under construction[16]. Side by side India is also investing in Anti-submarine shipscapabilities like “Kamorta-class corvette”. Long range surveillance maritime aircraft and ships which include “Saryu-class petrol vessel “and UAV’s (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) like “IAI-Heron-1”but still India is lagging behind in term of submarine armada which has put very bad impact on its other naval capabilities[17]

India is also building aircraft carrier but still under development.one aircraft is INS Vishal which is 65,000 in weightage and will be able to house almost 55 aircrafts and aircrafts will be launched by a system (CATOBAR) “catapult assisted take-off but arrested recovery”. This system will help aircraft in launch from carrier and aircraft will able to carry heavier armaments payload and this aircraft carrier is expected to be commissioned in Indian navy in 2030s.it will be driven by nuclear apparatus. But India has no experience in term of nuclear impulsion in surface vessel so there is chance that India may cooperate with US and France in term of this aspect[18]. Since 2012 India has only one nuclear driven submarine which she has taken from Russia on contract[19]

India is also building nuclear city where she is developing both nuclear and conventional weapons and located in South India.She is also developing thermonuclear weapons and this will disturb the balance of whole region.Already there is conventional assymetry between India and Pakistan but this will instigate full fledge arms race in the region[20].It is commonly said that she is developing its nuclear city but still there is no credible information about it, whether she is developing or not.

Second strike capability of Pakistan

Pakistan’s full spectrum deterrence will not be complete without a triad vis-a-vis India, including a symmetric and credible naval component. The stronger a country’s economy, the stronger security cover it would need to protect and sustain it. Pakistan has a narrow window to build its naval capabilities. The opportunity will shrink if  this task belongs to the distant future and the precipitation of spying networks around Pakistan’s coastline and the mainland would thicken more vigilance and cooperation with friendly countries will be required to combat this threat.[21]

Second strike capability is traditionally acquired by having submarine-launched ballistic/cruise missiles. They serve as credible deterrence tanks to their survivibility and give a great boost to the defence of a state.Both states are working on second strike capability.First India tested SLBM (Submarine Launched Ballistic Missile) K-4 and K-15.India is trying to test its missiles and when tests will successful India will deploy missile on its nuclear powered submarine.Pakistan tested its second strike capbility after India by launching first ever nuclear capable submarine launched cruise missile Babur-III. In near future India has 2 nuclear submarines and this missile only launched through this submarines rest of the submarines are not capable whereas in term of pakistan ,have all conventional submarines and Babur-III launched from any of these without any modification.Pakistan doesn’t have nuclear powered submarine.while coming to range Indian missile has wide range as compare to pakistan’s missile.From both sides this project will take 10-15 years.[22]

Future scenarios of Naval Upgradation in Pakistan

Pakistan has signed agreement with Germany to buy ATR-72 which is basically plane spotter and there are chances that pakistan navy convert it into Anti-ship warfare and this will allow it to proficient of Anti-ship wrafare plateform.In coming years Pakistan will upgrade it with airborne surviellance radar.[23]Pakistan has also inaugurated its Pakistan Airbase(PAF) in Bholari which is situated in Karachi.It is operational now and this base will play a supportive role both for land and sea.Though Pakistan is lagging behind India but Pakistan still able to tackle India.This will deliver aerial defese to our land and side by side will also protect China-Pakistan economic corridor(CPEC) project[24]In future ahead cooperation of China and Pakistan will help to modernize Pakistan’s naval assets.

Conclusion

Introduction of nukes in Indian ocean has raised new multi challenges for Pakistan. Despite of Pakistan wish to keep waters clean from nuclear weapons, India has taken first step to furthur complicate the strategic enviroment of South Asia. Though Pakistan is in the process of development of possible counters, however over all such developments will initiate a cold war type competion between India and Pakistan thus creating arms race. Though idea of sea based ‘’assured second strike’’ capability may serve as major deterrent factor to avoid all out conflict but development of other conventional naval build up might increase friction in the context of Arabian Sea – Indian ocean security paradigm.Pakistan and India are traditional rivals. They have apprehensions from each other which are deep rooted. The Indian Ocean is the most significant and relevant water body. It has political, economic, security and energy imperatives for whole world. It is the global trade route encompassing oil and energy trade which is the driving force of whole world’s industry. The Indian Ocean is the theatre of new game for global powers. There are various rivals in competition for influence.Indian designs are to become a global power with active role in every sphere. It has a first priority to compete Chinese influence. Pakistan has a main security threat from India. Its foreign policy has long been hostage to this threat. The rivalry, which reached to the nuclearization of both states may reach Indian Ocean as Pakistan has always been in quest of balancing the power as against India.Pakistan needs robust efforts to achieve security in Indian Ocean to safeguard its interests.


[1]Pejsova,Eva, “Scrambling for the Indian Ocean”, European union institute of strategic studies,2016

[2]“Strategic importance of Indian Ocean”,Himfact,2015,http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=997KUreZIA

[3]“Militarization in the Indian Ocean Region” ,Indian Defense Forum,2015

[4]Jaishankar,Dhruva, “Indian Ocean Region: A pivot for India’s growth”, Brookings institution India center,2016

[5]“Militarization in the Indian Ocean”, Indian Defense Forum,2015

[6]Ibid.

[7]Albert, Eleanor, “competition in the Indian Ocean”, council on foreign affairs,2016

[8] Masood khan,Sardar, “Indian Ocean Region: Strategies and challenges”, Pakistan observer,2016

[9]“Emerging Challenges in Indian ocean pose serious threat to Pakistan’s security interest”, Pakistan today,Islamabd,2017

[10]Qamar Fatima,Asmajamshed, “The political and Economic significance of Indian Ocean: An analysis, A research journal of South Asian Studies,2015

[11]“Indian Ocean maritime security challenges: Is Pakistan ready”,Times of Islamabad, 2017

[12]Muhammad Azam Khan, “Aman 17 and Balance of power in Indian ocean”, The News,2017

[13]Ibid.

[14]Usman Ansari, “Pakistan Seeks To Energize Naval Modernization”, Defense News, 2015

[15]Bilal khan, “The Pakistan Navy 2016 and beyond”, QUWA (Defense News and Analysis group)

[16]“Why India’s ‘Blue Water’ Ambitions Matter”. Archived from the original on 2014-11-23.

[17]“India’s Growing Unmanned Naval Fleet“. Archived from the original on 2014-10-30.

[18]Franz-Stefan Gady, “Confirmed: India’s Next Aircraft Carrier Will Be Nuclear”, 2016.

[19] VIVEK BHARDWAJ, “TOP 10 Most Advanced Upcoming Projects,Future,Indian Navy”, 2015.

[20]Adrian Levy, “India Is Building a Top-Secret Nuclear City to Produce Thermonuclear Weapons”, Foreign Policy Magazine, 2015.

[21]Sardar Masood Khan, “Indian Ocean Region: stratregies and challenges”, Pakistan Observer, 2015.

[22]Zarnab Tahir, “Deterrence and second strike capability of South Asia”, Center for Strategic and contemporary Research,2017

[23]Bilal khan, “Is it finally the Pakistan’s Navy turn”, QUWA, Defense news and analysis group, 2015

[24]“PAF inaugurates new operational air base at Bholari near Karachi”, 2017

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Presidential Irrationality and Wrongdoing in US Nuclear Command Authority

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Credit: U.S. Air Force

Abstract: In post-World War II memory, no greater political danger has confronted the United States than the presidency of Donald J. Trump. Endowed with nuclear command authority, this unstable and openly law-violating American leader pointed the United States toward existential harms.[1] Recognizing this threat to the nation’s physical survival, General Mark Milley acted honorably and effectively to protect an imperiled republic. By expanding pertinent safeguards against any presidential abuse of nuclear command authority,[2] the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff did what was necessary and proper. The following assessment by Professor Louis René Beres, who has been publishing on nuclear war-related issues[3] for more than half a century, underscores what should never again be allowed to defile America’s national security decision-making. “The safety of the people,” reminds Cicero in The Laws, “shall be the highest law.”

——————

“As to dangers arising from an irrational American president, the best protection is not to elect one.”

General Maxwell D. Taylor, from personal letter to the author, 14 March 1976[4]

Meanings of Decisional Irrationality

Strictly speaking, irrationality is not a proper medical or psychiatric term; rather, it is a more-or-less scientific description of human distortion and behavioral disposition.[5] Still, as a convenient shorthand for exploring mental or emotional debility in US presidential decision-making, this colloquial reference is adequate, timely and potentially useful. In essence, though now just retrospective, America’s most senior general officer revealed assorted verifiable grounds for questioning former President Donald J. Trump’s mental stability. Now, looking ahead, it is necessary to take a longer term and generic look at US presidential nuclear authority.

               This look must become a task for disciplined strategic thinkers, not politicians.

               How to begin? This uniquely critical area of presidential decision-making – one that has remained ambiguous or deliberately “opaque” – concerns both the right and capacity to order a launch of US nuclear weapons. To be tangibly meaningful, these intersecting decisional components must always be examined together. This is the case though any presidential nuclear capacity functioning without correct antecedent authority would be worrisome per se.

               By definition, as I have discovered personally over the past half century, these are all complicated intellectual matters. In 1976, then just five years out of Princeton as a newly-minted Ph.D., I began work on an original book about nuclear war and nuclear terrorism.[6]  From the start, I focused especially on US presidential prerogatives to order the firing of nuclear weapons.  I was most particularly interested in the potentially-plausible prospect of presidential nuclear irrationality and/or wrongdoing.

               In technically scientific terms, this did not mean a US president who was “clinically insane” (obviously the most fearsome sort of scenario), but “only” a Head of State who might sometime value some specific preference or combination of preferences more highly than American national survival. Today, at least until General Milley’s revelations, we worry more about leadership irrationality in certain other countries, most conspicuously in North Korea and Iran.[7] Nonetheless, as the JCS Chair recently disclosed, the worst atomic decisional errors could happen here. Even if this were not the case, there could still take place  variously unforeseen decisional synergies between (1) a fully rational American president and his irrational negotiating counterparts in Pyongyang or Tehran;[8] or (2) an irrational American president and his expectedly rational counterparts in such conspicuously adversarial states.[9]

In the Beginning

               Back “in the early days” of apocalyptic nuclear issues, and with an expressly American decision-making focus in mind, I entered into ongoing communication with then-former JCS Chairman Maxwell Taylor. In my last correspondence with the distinguished and decorated general, he responded with a handwritten letter (attached hereto) dated 14 March 1976. As the Taylor response explicitly referenced only the dangers of an “irrational American president,” I could legitimately undertake no automatic extrapolation of his diagnosis to other strategic risks.[10]

Still, there are various related hazards that ought never be disregarded prima facie.  For example, we must become better prepared to deal with a US Chief Executive who appears more than irrational. This means a president who was seemingly “crazy,” “insane,” or “mad.”[11]

               It is difficult for me to imagine that General Taylor would have hesitated to adapt these characterizations of more advanced decisional “pathology” to the extant subject-matter scope of nuclear decision making. This is the case even though such characterizations could never be seriously scientific. To obtain authentically scientific assessments of nuclear event probability, there must first exist a determinable frequency record of pertinent past events. Unassailably (and fortunately), there has never been a nuclear war from which to draw valid strategic inferences.

               There is more. Any US presidential order to launch nuclear weapons would be effectively sui generis. The US bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II did not constitute a nuclear war, but rather the American use of nuclear weapons in an otherwise conventional war. In August 1945 (the month of my own birth in war-torn Europe), there were no other atomic bombs anywhere on earth.

               Not a one.

Whether concerned with presidential irrationality or madness, present analytic concern should be focused upon an emotionally or mentally debilitated president.[12]  Whichever applies, the truly vital questions going forward will have to do with Constitutional, statutory and other recognizable sources of US war-making authority, especially presidential right to order the use of nuclear weapons.

International Law and US Law

Urgent questions here will relate to assorted and sometimes subtle intersections of international law and US law. From the beginning of the United States, international law has been an integral part of its national law. Early on, Chief Justice John Marshall asserted and reasserted that all international law – whatever its source – had been incorporated into the domestic law of the United States.[13] Before Marshall, William Blackstone’s Commentaries on The Law of England clarified that the “law of nations” is always “a necessary part of  the law of the land.”

These Commentaries represent the authoritative foundation of all United States law.

               Under current US law, whatever its apparent jurisprudential origins, a president may correctly use military force once Congress has declared a war or after the US (and/or its citizens) have been attacked.[14] As to the permissible kinds of force and levels of force, these operational decisions would have to be determinable according to longstanding laws of war of international law (the comprehensive law of armed conflict or humanitarian international law), and also the municipal law of the United States. In any such foreseeable circumstances, there would exist no clearly identifiable prohibitions against nuclear force per se.[15]

               For better or for worse, non-weapon-specific prohibitions would apply broadly, to the extent that any US retaliation or counter-retaliation would violate the always-binding expectations of discrimination (sometimes called “distinction”), proportionality,[16] or military necessity.[17]

               Both the US Constitution and the War Powers Act place strict limits on any president’s authority to initiate hostilities with a foreign power, whether by conventional or nuclear means. A significant grey area has to do with the Commander-in- Chief’s right to strike first defensively or preemptively; that is, as a presumptive expression of “anticipatory self-defense.[18] Here, the authorizing component of permissibility must be the perception of any grave danger that is “imminent in point of time.”

               Logically, the relevant criteria of “imminence” could not reasonably be the same today as they were back in a pre-nuclear 1837. That was the year of the Caroline, the classic case setting the correct legal standard for all subsequent preemptive national action.[19]

Matters of Chronology and Crisis

               What should we have expected from former President Donald Trump if he had sometime reasoned that a nuclear attack on the United States or its allies was “imminent in point of time?” Should we have remained comfortable with leaving such a prospectively existential judgment to his own personal decisional standards of the moment? Or should this eleventh-hour option have been be a matter of more plainly shared or “concurrent authority” with the US Congress?[20]

               In actual state practice, applicable questions of law are apt to be subordinated to the overarching and ubiquitous assumption[21] that any  president’s final authority in defending the United States should never be challenged during an impending or already-ongoing crisis. This sort of assumption would become especially worrisome in circumstances where an enemy nuclear attack could be contemplated and anticipated. In brief, this means that a verifiably irrational or mad American president would likely have his military commands obeyed, up to and including an order to use nuclear weapons. This reasoning applies also to preemptive American strikes, whether launched in retaliation or counter-retaliation. It also means that while a wide variety of redundant safeguards already exists to prevent unauthorized uses of American nuclear weapons up and down the identifiable nuclear chain of command, no parallel safeguards can exist at the top or apex of this unique decisional hierarchy.

               This was the precise conclusion reached in General Maxwell Taylor’s 1976 letter to me (attached hereto) on nuclear command authority.

               There is more. It remains possible, of course, and even potentially desirable, that a presidential order to use nuclear weapons would be disobeyed at one or another recognizable level of implementation. Strictly speaking, however, as any such expression of disobedience would be “illegal,” it is not sufficiently probable or reliable in extremis atomicum. The staggering irony of actually having to hope for certain high-level instances of disobedience or chain-of-command failures ought not be too casually set aside.

               Prima facie, this irony reveals that extant US nuclear-decision safeguards are sorely and overwhelmingly inadequate.

The Best Protection Lies with the American Voter           

               Is the US nuclear presidential authority dilemma remediable in any still-promising ways? “The best protection,” I learned from General Maxwell Taylor almost fifty years ago, is “not to elect” an irrational president. But now, as such straightforward advice cannot be acted upon retroactively, the residually “best protection” must lie elsewhere Among potentially gainful sources, this suggests more vigilant statutory oversight by the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Advisor and certain select others. This oversight also includes a more predictably reliable willingness – either singly or in appropriate collaboration with the others – to disobey any presumptively irrational or insane presidential nuclear command.

               Such willingness could be correctly defended as law-enforcing under those universally binding Nuremberg Principles (1946)[22] that obligate all persons (especially senior government officials everywhere)  to resist “crimes of state.” Because war and crimes against humanity are not mutually exclusive, compliance with overriding Nuremberg Principles could become necessary not only to limit aggression, but also to prevent genocide.[23]

               Ultimately, America’s best chance of avoiding or surviving such a grievous threat could depend less upon any codified law or tangible institutions than the last-minute or impromptu courage of a handful of senior officials. Though any such estimation must be less than ideal or optimal, it may simply be “realistic.” To wit, it was the courage and insight of a single senior decision-maker, JCS Chair Mark Milley, that firmed up necessary Constitutional protections against a severely debilitated commander-in-chief.

Buttressed by national and international law, it is incumbent upon voting American citizens to act upon General Maxwell Taylor’s 1976 warning.[24] That earlier alarm, which cautioned “not to elect” a potentially “irrational” American president, should be extended to include even a potentially “insane” Commander-in-Chief. In the final analysis, however, we may not be able to rely upon prudential and law-oriented voters to effectively save the United States from itself – that is, from prospectively aberrant nuclear decision-making. In that intolerable case, all narrowly statutory or technical directions on nuclear decision making would be overtaken by  visceral expectations of American “mass.”[25]

               Then it would be too late.

 American democracy owes a sincere debt to US General Mark Milley. In the sycophancy-driven Trump world, a world of determined anti-reason, Milley’s reliance upon law and virtue was much more than merely acceptable.[26] For US national integrity and survival, it was indispensable.

But what should we do now?


[1] For informed accounts by this author of nuclear attack effects, see: Louis René Beres,  The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis (1973); Louis René Beres, Transforming World Politics: The National Roots of World Peace (1975);  Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy ((Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books, 1984); Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books, 1986); and Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (2016; 2nd ed., 2018).

[2] This expansion included urgent consultations with chiefs of the armed forces and conversations with foreign leaders concerned about Trump-induced US instabilities.

[3] These publications have been both strategic and legal in focus.

[4] General Taylor was an earlier Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. His handwritten letter to Professor Beres follows this article and the author’s bio. On August 18, 2017, Rep. Zoe Lofgren introduced a bill to the US House of Representatives that would have required President Donald Trump to undergo a mental health examination to determine if he is emotionally stable enough to remain in office. The proposed legislation expressly invoked the 25th Amendment, a rarely-used Constitutional provision allowing the vice-president and members of the Cabinet to remove a president from office. Rep. Lofgren’s bill did not become law.

[5] “Science,” says 20th-century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset in Man and Crisis, ” by which I mean the entire body of knowledge about things, whether corporeal or spiritual – is as much a work of imagination as it is of observation…. the latter is not possible without the former.”

[6] This book was published by the University of Chicago Press as Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (1980).

[7]Irrational adversaries would likely not be deterred by the same threats directed at presumptively rational foes. On pertinent errors of correct deterrence reasoning (here regarding Iran in particular) see: Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Could Israel Safely Deter a Nuclear Iran?”  The Atlantic, August 2012; and Professor Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Israel and Iran at the Eleventh Hour,” Oxford University Press (OUP Blog). February 23, 2012. General Chain (USAF/ret.) served as Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC).

[8] Expressions of decisional irrationality could take different or overlapping forms. These include a disorderly or inconsistent value system; computational errors in calculation; an incapacity to communicate efficiently; random or haphazard influences in the making or transmittal of particular decisions; and the internal dissonance generated by any structure of collective decision-making (i.e., assemblies of pertinent individuals who lack identical value systems and/or whose organizational arrangements impact their willing capacity to act as a single or unitary national decision maker).

[9] Nuclear risks threatening US security could form an intricately interconnected network. Capable assessments of such risk must eventually include a patient search for synergies, and also for possible cascades of failures that would represent one especially serious iteration of synergy. Other risk properties that will warrant careful assessment within this genre include contagion potential and persistence.

[10] One such generally ignored risk is “playing to the audience,” that is, seeking personal popularity at the expense of national security. Accordingly, see Sophocles, Antigone, Speech of Creon, King of Thebes: “I hold despicable and always have…. anyone who puts his own popularity before his country.”

[11] Donald Trump’s presidency brings to mind those fragments of Euripides that concern tragic endings. Here we may learn from the classical playwright, “Whom God wishes to destroy, He first makes mad.” Inter alia, Greek tragedy explores the wider civil harms that any deranged “sovereign” mind can produce. Looking at the United States today, struggling with rampant “plague” and with extraordinary domestic instability, there is a still-discoverable wisdom in classical Greek tragedy.

[12] Significantly, neither the irrational/rational nor insane/sane distinction is narrowly dichotomous. There are, rather, multiple or “continuous” variations of each pairing, an indisputable fact that makes any more far-reaching psychological or legal analysis of these already-complex nuclear decision-making issues even more problematic.

[13]  See also “Supremacy Clause” of the US Constitution (Article VI); The Paquette Habana, 175 US 677,700 (1900); and Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, 726, F.2d. 774, 781, 788 (D.C. Cir. 1984) per curiam).

[14] For the crime of aggression under international law, see: Resolution on the Definition of Aggression, adopted by the UN General Assembly, Dec. 14, 1974. U.N.G.A. Res. 3314 (XXIX), 29 UN GAOR, Supp. (No. 31), 142, UN Doc A/9631 (1975) reprinted in 13 I.L.M., 710 (1974).

[15] See, on such issues: Summary of the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons (Advisory Opinion), 1996.

[16]  The principle of proportionality has its jurisprudential and philosophic origins in the Biblical Lex Talionis, the law of exact retaliation. The “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” can be found in three separate passages of the Jewish Torah, or Biblical Pentateuch.

[17] The principle of “military necessity” is defined authoritatively as follows: “Only that degree and kind of force, not otherwise prohibited by the law of armed conflict, required for the partial or complete submission of the enemy with a minimum expenditure of time, life, and physical resources may be applied.” See: United States, Department of the Navy, jointly with Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps; and Department of Transportation, U.S. Coast Guard, The Commander’s Handbook on the Law of Naval Operations, NWP 1-14M, Norfolk, Virginia, October 1995, p. 5-1.

[18] Long before the nuclear age, Swiss scholar Emmerich de Vattel took a position in strong favor of anticipatory self-defense. Vattel concludes The Law of Nations (1758) as follows: “The safest plan is to prevent evil, where that is possible. A nation has the right to resist the injury another seeks to inflict upon it, and to use force and every other just means of resistance against the aggressor.” (See Vattel, “The Right of Self-Protection and the Effects of the Sovereignty and Independence of Nations,” reprinted in 3 Classics of International Law, 130 (Carnegie Endowment Trust 1916 (1758). Vattel, in the conspicuously earlier fashion of Dutch scholar Hugo Grotius, (The Law of War and Peace, 1625) drew widely upon ancient Hebrew Scripture and Jewish law.

[19] The Caroline concerned the unsuccessful rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada against British rule. Following this case, the serious threat of armed attack has generally been sufficient in law to justify certain appropriate militarily defensive actions. In a formal exchange of diplomatic notes between the governments of the United States and Great Britain, then US Secretary of State Daniel Webster outlined a framework for national self-defense that did not require antecedent attack. Accordingly, the authoritative jurisprudential framework now permitted a military response to threat as long as the danger posed was “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” Naturally, this standard could sometimes be more easily met in our time-compressed and prospectively apocalyptic nuclear age.

[20] Reflecting this second point-of-view, Congressman Ted W. Lieu (D, LA County) and Senator Edward J. Markey (D, Massachusetts) introduced H.R. 669 (Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017) back on 24 January 2017. Although this proposed legislation would have prohibited the president from launching a nuclear first strike without a Congressional Declaration of War, it’s not clear that it could also have dealt satisfactorily with the irrationality/insanity issues herein under discussion. Moreover, the proposed legislation seemed to make no meaningful distinction between a nuclear first-strike and a nuclear first-use. https://lieu.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/congressman-lieu-senator-markey-introduce-restricting-first-use-0

[21] In part, at least, this implicitly core assumption is rooted in our continuously-anarchic system of international relations, a decentralized structure often referred to by the professors as “Westphalian.” The reference here is to the landmark Peace of Westphalia (1648), which concluded the Thirty-Years War and created the still-extant state system. See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1, Consol. T.S. 119. Together, these two major agreements comprise the historic “Peace of Westphalia.”

[22] See Affirmation of the Principles of International Law Recognized by the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal, Adopted by the UN General Assembly, 11 December 1946. Inter alia, these Principles underscore the formal jurisprudential assumption of solidarity between states. This peremptory expectation, known in formal law as a jus cogens assumption, was already evident in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis (533 CE); Hugo Grotius, 2 The Law of War and Peace (1625; Chapter 20); and Emmerich de Vattel, The Law of Nations (1758; Chapter 19).

[23] See Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 9 December 1948; Entered into force, 12 January 1951.

[24] “The safety of the people,” Cicero warns prophetically in The Laws, “shall be the highest law.”

[25] The “mass-man,” we may learn from 20th century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset The Revolt of the Masses, “learns only in his own flesh.” Seem, also, by Professor Beres, at Yale: Louis Rene Beres,  https://archive-yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/call-intellect-and-courage; and at Princeton: Louis Rene Beres: https://www.dailyprincetonian.com/article/2018/02/emptiness-and-consciousness

[26] There is no longer a virtuous nation,” warns the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, “and the best of us live by candlelight.”

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Defense

American Weaponry in the Hands of the Taliban

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Source: Twitter

The hasty withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Afghanistan attests to both the indifference of the U.S. administration as regards the future of Afghanistan as a state and the neglect for its obligations to its allies. Besides, Washington has clearly violated the current UN Security Council sanctions regime against the Taliban, which was established in accordance with Resolution 1988 (2011).

Paragraph 1, subparagraph (c), of the Resolution calls on all countries to “prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale, or transfer of arms and related material of all types including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary equipment, and spare parts” to the Taliban and other individual groups, undertakings and entities associated with them [1].

Washington faced serious backlash for violating the UN sanctions regime upon abandoning weaponry and ammunition during an abrupt evacuation of troops from the country—such as when U.S. troops left Bagram, the largest airbase in Afghanistan, without warning the local Afghan army in early July, 2021. General Mir Asadullah Kohistani, the new commander of Bagram Air Base, stated that Afghan soldiers only later learned of the Americans having departed, once they had all “disappeared into the night.” This is important as this proves that the Americans did not transfer weaponry and ammunition to the Afghan army through official channels. Since U.S. troops had turned off electricity at the airbase, looters soon found their way in, with barracks and storage tents ransacked. Among the “trophies” left by the Americans were hundreds of armored vehicles and ammunition, all of which ended up in the hands of the Taliban, either that very night or after Bagram being taken over (see image 1).

Image 1: Armored vehicles (left) and ammunition (right) deserted by the Americans at Bagram Airbase.

Source: RIA Novosti (left) and Haroon Sabawoon – Anadolu Agency (right)

According to The Military Balance, a military journal published annually, Afghan government forces had 640 MSFV armored security vehicles, 200 MaxxPro armored fighting vehicles and several thousand Hummers at their disposal. The Afghan Air Force had 22 EMB-314 Super Tucano (А-29) light attack aircraft (see image 2), four C-130H Hercules transport aircraft, 24 Cessna 208B and 18 turboprop PC-12s. The Army Air Corps boasted 41 MD-530F light turbine helicopters and as many as 30 multi-mission UH-60A Black Hawk helicopters (see image 2).

Image 2: A light attack EMB-314 Super Tucano (А-29) aircraft captured by the Taliban at Mazar-i-Sharif International Airport (left) and a light MD-530 F multi-role helicopter (center); a multi-mission UH-60A Black Hawk helicopter in the sky above Qandahar with what seems to be a person hanged by the Taliban (right).

Source: Twitter

On August 17, 2021, Jake Sullivan, U.S. National Security Advisor, confirmed that a significant amount of U.S. weapons had fallen into the hands of the Taliban. “And obviously, we don’t have a sense that they are going to readily hand it over to us at the airport,” he noted, thus confirming that the United States allowed the indirect transfer of weapons to what the UN Security Council has designated a terrorist organization.

This is not the first time that Washington has violated a UN Security Council Resolution. For example, a statement by Sergei Ryabkov, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, suggests that the United States released four Taliban members from Guantanamo in 2014, all of whom were on the Security Council sanctions list, to send them to the Middle East.

This was quite in line with the U.S. policy incepted back in 2010 and aimed at engaging in direct dialogue with the Taliban. This led to the UN Security Council Committee—established pursuant to Resolution 1267 on sanctions against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda—breaking up into two independent sanction mechanisms[2]. The UN Security Council Committee established pursuant to Resolution 1988 devised procedures that allow for a more liberal approach to the Taliban list (compared to those involved with Al-Qaeda), excluding those mentioned in consolidated lists of persons, groups and entities subject to restrictions.

Such facts should, in fact, be subject to the scrutiny of the UN Security Council Committee established pursuant to Resolution 1988 (including its Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team), in whose proceedings the Russian Federation takes part and whose mandate implies monitoring compliance with Taliban-related sanctions as well as presenting periodic reports on sanctions measures to the Security Council.

Prospects of the U.S. imposing sanctions against Russia in connection with the Taliban

It is important to recognize that the “Taliban issue” could become somewhat of a scapegoat for Washington, especially in the eyes of its allies, to impose even more anti-Russia sanctions. In addition to the Executive Order on Blocking Property with Respect to Specified Harmful Foreign Activities of the Government of the Russian Federation signed on April 15, 2021, the White House published a Fact Sheet outlining key accusations against Russia, which include reports on rewards for the murder of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. According to the document, the Biden administration is taking measures following the intelligence reports of Russia having encouraged Taliban attacks on the U.S. and alliance contingent in Afghanistan. Since such allegations directly affect the safety and well-being of U.S. troops, a solution can be found through diplomatic, military and intelligence channels.

Biden’s executive decree foresees the introduction of blocking sanctions for attempts to challenge the credibility of elections in the United States and allied countries, malicious hacker activities, spreading corruption internationally, crackdowns on dissidents and journalists, undermining security and stability in countries and regions important for U.S. national security interests, and the violation of international law, including the territorial integrity of states.

The reason for the Biden administration’s concern is likely a story published in The New York Times in June 2020 claiming that Russian military intelligence had offered Taliban-affiliated militia a reward for the murder of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Sources of the newspaper claimed to have uncovered such information during interrogations of Afghan militia.

As a result, senator Robert Menendez suggested in September 2020 that the U.S. Congress move forward with yet another anti-Russia sanctions package, the Russia Bounty Response Act of 2020. The Act implied freezing assets, visa restrictions for President Vladimir Putin, Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu and other high-ranking officials, as well as restrictions on defense enterprises. The initiative was supported by Dem. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. In an interview with MSNBC, she emphasized the need to immediately impose sanctions against Russia for “colluding” with the Taliban.

In his turn, however, former President Donald Trump called The New York Times story “a fake,” stating that the article had been ordered for political reasons. Trump went on to state that the U.S. intelligence had acknowledged the information used in the publication was misleading. Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said there was no evidence of a “conspiracy” between Russia and Taliban officials. The Taliban also denied information from The New York Times about existing ties with Russia.

One should bear in mind that the United States and Russia are adopting more polarized stances regarding the situation in Afghanistan, which became evident during the UN Security Council meeting on August 30, 2021, when Moscow and Beijing refrained from supporting the West-drafted resolution on Afghanistan. Thus, Washington will look for any excuse to discredit Russia. An effective instrument in counteracting such sanctions, hoaxes and other foul play common for the United States should be that of keeping a meticulous record of Washington’s violations of the UN Security Council sanctions regime against the Taliban to present the findings to the international community.

  1. The Taliban is a terrorist organization that is banned in Russia under Decision No. 03-116 of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation dated February 14, 2003, which entered into force on March 4, 2003.
  2. Al-Qaeda is a terrorist organization that is banned in Russia under Decision No. 03-116 of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation dated February 14, 2003, which entered into force on March 4, 2003.

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Defense

A Glimpse at China’s Nuclear Build-Up

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Photo:Xinhua

The People’s Republic of China is now the second largest military spender after the United States, and the country has proven that it has the technical capability to develop revolutionary outer space technology, which is often related to military purposes. Nevertheless, China’s armed forces continue to lag behind when it comes to nuclear military technology, as Beijing only has 270 to 350 nuclear warheads, slightly more than the French armed forces.

Thus, China is investing in innovative research on civilian thorium nuclear facilities to become a leader in civilian nuclear, while it is reportedly not investing as much in the military nuclear sector.

This article explores the latest developments concerning “Made in China” nuclear weapons to explain why China’s armed forces are rather sluggish to increase the number of warheads due to the parallel development of other components of the military (e.g. nuclear submarines).

A brief history of Chinese nuclear weapons

China’s first nuclear weapons experiment took place in 1964, followed by its first hydrogen bomb test in 1967. Further development continued well until 1996, when China signed the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (CTBT).

In order to do so, China started building uranium enrichment plants in Baotou and Lanzhou as early as 1958, followed by a plutonium facility in Jiuquan and the Lop Nur nuclear test site in 1960. It is no secret the Soviet Union assisted in the early stages of the Chinese programme by sending advisers to the fissile material production facilities, having even agreed to provide a prototype bomb, missiles and related technology in October 1957.

In 1958, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev told Mao that he planned to discuss arms control with the United States and Great Britain, while Beijing was adamantly opposed to Khrushchev’s policy of “peaceful coexistence” after the fall of Stalin. Although Soviet officials assured the Chinese leadership that the country will remain under the Soviet nuclear umbrella, the disagreements widened the emerging Sino-Soviet rift. In June 1959, the two nations formally terminated their military and technological cooperation agreement, and all Soviet assistance to China’s nuclear programme was abruptly terminated by July 1960, with all Soviet technicians withdrawn from the programme.

This brief history of nuclear weapons in China tells us a lot about the current reason for Chinese weak nuclear capabilities, which had to be developed without the support of the USSR since the 1960s. Moreover, the desire for nuclear capabilities is closely related to the conflict with Taiwan and, as such, Beijing does not need to radically increase its capabilities since the island remains a non-nuclear territory to this day. Furthermore, increasing capabilities would worry the United States and Russia, the other two major nuclear powers—and Beijing had no interest in doing so, especially during the Cold War.

China’s nuclear posture and policy

The Chinese approach is focusing on quality over quantity, which explains the low number of warheads to this day. As of today, most nuclear warheads built during the Cold War can be intercepted by anti-missile systems in NATO and Russia as they are relying on outdated technology, which explains Russia’s desire to build the hypersonic glide vehicle such as the “Avangard”.

The same is true for China. As the U.S. strengthens its missile defenses capabilities, China is likely to further modify its nuclear posture to first ensure the credibility of its retaliatory strike force, including deploying hypersonic glide vehicles rather than increasing the number of warheads.

Meanwhile, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has maintained a “low alert level” for its nuclear forces and keeps most of its warheads in a central storage facility in the Qinling Mountain Range, although some are kept in smaller regional storage facilities around the country. Although there are rumors that China has coupled warheads to some of its missiles to increase their availability, we have not seen official sources confirming this. In fact, the latest Pentagon report explicitly states that “China almost certainly retains the majority of its peacetime nuclear force—with separate launchers, missiles, and warheads”.

Both the United States and Russia operate early warning systems to detect nuclear attacks and launch their missiles quickly, and a Chinese early warning system could also potentially be designed to enable a future missile defense system to intercept incoming missiles. The latest Pentagon report indicates that China is developing an HQ-19 mid-course missile defense system that could intercept Intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBMs) and possibly intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBMs), although this would take many more years to develop. In addition, the Chinese government has a long-standing policy of not using nuclear weapons first and not using nuclear capabilities against non-nuclear countries or nuclear-weapon-free zones.

Military nuclear capabilities on land, air and sea

China has continued to field the DF-26, a dual-capable mobile IRBM, and is replacing the older DF-31A road-mobile ICBM launchers with the more maneuverable DF-31AG launcher. It is also in the early stages of commissioning the new DF-41, a road-mobile ICBM that would be capable of carrying multiple independent target re-entry vehicles (MIRVs) like the old DF-5B based on a liquid fuel silo.

At sea, China is adding two more ballistic missile submarines and developing a new type. Additionally, China has recently reassigned a nuclear mission to its bombers and is developing an air-launched ballistic missile to have a nuclear capability.

It is estimated that China has produced a stockpile of about 350 nuclear warheads, of which about 272 are intended to be launched by more than 240 operational land-based ballistic missiles, 48 sea-based ballistic missiles and 20 nuclear gravity bombs assigned to bombers. The remaining 78 warheads are expected to arm additional land- and sea-based missiles that are being installed.

Land

The People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force, supervised by General Zhou Yaning (commander) and General Wang Jiasheng (political commissar), is in charge of the ground nuclear forces. Since the Cold War, China is continuing the gradual modernization of its nuclear-capable ground missile force, and it is estimated that the PLA rocket force has about 240 land-based missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads. Of these, about 150 can strike parts of the United States (Hawaii). The number of ICBMs that can strike the continental United States is smaller: about 90 missiles with some 130 warheads.

These capabilities are easily explained by the fact that land-based missiles have a greater range than sea- and air-based ones, at least until China upgrades its sea-based systems. Thus, land-based missiles increase range and allow targeting of distant nuclear counterparts—the United States, France and the United Kingdom—while ensuring capabilities against the other four nearby nuclear powers: Russia, North Korea, India and Pakistan. It is likely that land-based capabilities will remain a major component until submarine capabilities are expanded. Once submarines are as advanced as those of other nations, then—like the United States, Russia, France and the United Kingdom—China is likely to focus more and more on submarines rather than land-based capabilities.

Sea

China has introduced six Jin-class (Type 094) nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs), which are based at the Longposan naval base near Yulin on Hainan Island (only four of them are currently operational). The two newest SSBNs, which were handed over to the PLA Navy in April 2020, are said to be variants of the original Type 094 design, known as Type 094A. These boats have a more prominent hump, which has led to a speculation that they could carry up to 16 JL-2 submarine-launched ballistic missiles (CSS-N-14), instead of the usual 12. However, satellite images confirm that the new submarines are equipped with 12 launch tubes each.

Each JL-2 is equipped with a single warhead and, possibly, penetration assistance. The JL-2, which is a modified version of the DF-31, is supposed to have a range of about 7,200 km, although U.S. estimates of the range have varied over the years. Such a range would be sufficient to target Alaska, Guam, Hawaii, as well as Russia and India, from waters near China.

Unlike the land-based approach, the nuclear submarine can move around the world, have an unknown destination and a changing position, and it can retaliate up to several months after a nuclear conflict has ended. As such, submarines are now the main component of the French and British nuclear forces, and are vital to the U.S. and Russia. However, this requires advanced technology, which China does not yet have (nor do India and Pakistan). Therefore, the People’s Liberation Army is upgrading its submarine capabilities and technology, which should lead to increased relevance of submarines for nuclear operations in the long term. China’s new-generation Type 096 SSBNs will carry an extended-range SLBM, the JL-3, which, according to unofficial sources, could have a range of over 9,000 km. Chinese media describe the JL-3 as an SLBM “equivalent or similar to the French M51,” pointing out that its diameter has been increased compared to the JL-2 and that it incorporates a carbon-fiber casing, giving it an increased range.

Air

China developed several types of nuclear bombs and used aircraft to carry at least 12 of the nuclear weapons it detonated as part of its nuclear test programme between 1965 and 1979. However, the PLA Air Force’s nuclear mission remained dormant until the 2000s, presumably because its older bomb-equipped aircraft were unlikely to be relevant in a nuclear conflict.

Countries such as France, the United Kingdom, Pakistan and India, are not focusing on long-range bombers, as they are easier to track, they move slowly and they are no major asset compared to submarines and land-based missiles. In this respect, only two nuclear powers—the United States and Russia—are investing in bombers. China wishes to become the third nuclear power and has therefore developed the H-6 bomber, which is technologically advanced enough to compete with its American counterparts Northrop Grumman B-2 “Spirit”, Rockwell B-1 “Lancer” and Boeing B-52 as well as the Russian Tupolev Tu-22M, Tupolev Tu-95 and Tupolev Tu-160. The Chinese H-6 should be complementary to the Xian H-20, as the bomber world is rapidly evolving with the introduction of the new American Northrop Grumman B-21 “Raider” and the Russian Tupolev PAK DA.

In conclusion, China is most certainly on its way to becoming the third largest nuclear power with growing capabilities to rival Washington and Moscow. In order to do so, it will need to increase its nuclear submarine capabilities to catch up with France and the United Kingdom, as well as the continued development of the H-20 bomber project to compete with the United States and Russia. Beijing has surely decided to invest in quality rather than quantity, preferring to slowly and precisely increase the number of warheads when it will first have the ability to defeat anti-missile systems.

Interestingly, China’s military nuclear approach is more about catching up with the other nuclear powers, in contrast to the civilian nuclear sector where the country is more innovative, as evidenced by the two thorium nuclear reactors under construction in the Gobi Desert (China plans to bring thorium reactors into commercial operation by 2030). Thus, China could become the leader in civil thorium nuclear power before it closes the gap as a military nuclear power.

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