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China’s Effect: A Global NATO

Emil Avdaliani

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NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg welcomes Zhang Ming, Ambassador of China to the European Union, 2019, photo via NATO Flickr CC

A shift is taking place in global military thinking. NATO, arguably the most successful military alliance in history, is slowly but steadily edging toward casting China as an outright military competitor. Previously, the collective West avoided involving NATO in the context of the rising China.

Much changed with the advent of Donald Trump. NATO has been undergoing a profound evolution in which it is recalibrating its priorities. We are gradually moving toward a more global NATO with interests that spread beyond its classical zone—Europe—and into the Indo-Pacific region.

Many would argue that the foundation for a global NATO was established long ago. Indeed, for more than a decade, the alliance has been operating in Afghanistan, where it led the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF). NATO naval forces were among the first to fight off pirates via the OCEAN SHIELD operation along the east African coast in 2008.

Military training missions have been a common element of NATO involvement in the Middle East. The alliance also responds to terrorism, cyber-threats, and disinformation. Moreover, it enjoys special partnerships (consultative in nature) with Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, Japan, and Mongolia.

However, China’s military and economic rise, ambitious Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and growing appetite in the Indian and Pacific Oceans in the last decade have brought it into sharp opposition with the US. The latter now sees NATO playing a bigger role in Eurasian affairs, which means taking a tougher stance toward Beijing through the development of a new vision for its outdated Euro-Atlantic-centric model.

This evolution in thinking is reflected in statements by NATO officials. Last December, at the NATO summit, China was declared a concern in a document that said: “[W]e [NATO] recognize that China’s growing influence and international policies present both opportunities and challenges that we need to address together as an Alliance.”

The reasons for this shift are fundamental in nature. It has been argued that China’s official $260 billion defense budget could mask far greater purchasing power, potentially reaching up to 70% of the US defense budget. China’s military cooperation with Russia continues to grow and now covers Central Asia, the Mediterranean, the Persian Gulf, and even the Baltic Sea. Moreover, Beijing’s expanding supply of nuclear weapons can now reach Europe, which, in NATO’s thinking, requires a rethinking of its approach to the Asian giant.

More painful for the alliance is the realization that China has made significant inroads into the European defense market. Recently, Serbian President Aleksandar Vucic announced his country’s purchase of six Chinese-built CH-92A combat drones (UCAVs). This will make the Serbian army the first European military to use Chinese combat drones. Economically, too, China’s rise in Europe is visible in its BRI-related cooperation with Italy, purchase of ports in Greece, extensive relations with Turkey, and establishment of the 17+1 mechanism, which involves Central and Eastern European states.

It can be argued that it is China that came to NATO and not the other way around. China could, indeed, serve as a driver for cohesion within the alliance, which over the past few years has seen internal strife among its member states. NATO was created to counter the Soviet Union on the European mainland, but it must now rise to the new “China reality.” It will have to change its geographical scope and methods of activities.

Though that shift in thinking is taking place within NATO, the alliance remains attached to its vision and wishes to avoid casting China as an outright military enemy. It leaves open the possibility for cooperation, as statements by NATO General Secretary Jens Stoltenberg attest. In recent interviews, Stoltenberg said, “[NATO] does not see China as the new enemy,” “This is not about moving NATO into the South China Sea,” and “It’s about taking into account that China is coming closer to us—in the Arctic, in Africa, investing heavily in our infrastructure in Europe, in cyberspace.”

China does not pose a direct military threat right now, and that is unlikely to change any time soon. But there is an inescapable geopolitical dimension in which China becomes more active in the Arctic, the African continent, and the Indo-Pacific region. In addition, Beijing is negotiating a mammoth trade and economic cooperation treaty with Tehran that will give China the ability to position itself in the Persian Gulf and the Arabian Sea—a major artery for its oil supplies. All of this will require greater coordination and cohesion within NATO.

Critical changes to elements of NATO’s vision could be forthcoming. As China’s power grows, there will be a greater need for the establishment of a NATO-China Council, similar to what the alliance has had with Russia since 1997.

Perhaps deeper engagement with its Pacific partners—Australia, New Zealand, the Republic of Korea, Japan, and Mongolia—will become a necessity. Even a permanent military presence could be negotiated.

Some elements of this future strategy are already here. Stoltenberg raised the need for the alliance to take on a greater political role in world affairs and even to help nations of the Indo-Pacific compete with China’s rise. “As we look to 2030, we need to work even more closely with like-minded countries like Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and [South] Korea to defend the global rules and institutions that have kept us safe for decades, to set norms and standards in space and cyberspace, on new technologies and global arms control,” Stoltenberg said.

We are witnessing a trend toward a more global NATO in which the alliance’s security agenda is no longer Europe- and North America-centric. This will take at least a decade. A shift in NATO’s vision will also mean that Moscow and its activities in Eurasia will be deemed to be at a lower level of threat.

NATO will have to move eastward. This does not necessarily mean stationing permanent military installations or personnel across Asia, but the alliance will have to pay more attention to Chinese activities. Doing so will draw it closer to Asia and the Indo-Pacific in particular.

Author’s note: first published at BESA Center

Emil Avdaliani specializes on former Soviet space and wider Eurasia with particular focus on Russia's internal and foreign policy, relations with Iran, China, the EU and the US. He teaches history and international relations at Tbilisi State University and Ilia State University (Georgia).

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COVID-19 and Challenges to the Indian Defence Establishment

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The COVID-19 pandemic has created an uncertain situation all over the world. It is defined as the greatest challenge faced by the world since World War II. At a certain point, the pandemic had forced world governments to announce lockdowns in their respective countries that led to more than half of the human population being home quarantined. Since then, social distancing, travel bans, and cancellation of international summits have become a routine exercise. Most sectors such as agriculture, health, education, economy, manufacturing have been severely hit across the globe. One such sector which is vital to national security that has been impacted due to the pandemic is defence.

The effect of influenza and pneumonia during WWI on the US military was huge. The necessity to mobilise troops across the Atlantic made it even ideal for the diseases to spread rapidly among the defence personnel and civilians. Between mid-1917 and 1919, the fatalities were more so due to the disease than getting killed in action. Due to COVID-19, there have been many implications within the defence sector. Amid the ongoing transgressions in Ladakh, it becomes imperative to analyse the preparedness of the Indian defence establishment to tackle the challenges at hand.

Disrupting the Status Quo

Many personnel in the Indian armed forces have been tested positive for COVID-19. This puts the operational capabilities at risk. In one isolated incident, 26 personnel of the Navy had been placed in quarantine after being tested positive for COVID-19. The French and the Americans had a great challenge ahead of them as hundreds of soldiers were getting infected onboard their Naval vessels. Furthermore, the Army saw some cases being tested positive as well. In one such incident, the headquarters of the Indian Army had to be temporarily shut down because of a soldier contracting the virus. These uncalled disruptions are very dangerous for our armed forces. These disruptions challenge the recruitment process and training exercises.

Since the Indian Army has been involved in quarantining tasks, this exposes the personnel to the virus. As a result of this, the first soldier was tested positive on March 20 in Leh. Among them, those who work as medical personnel are even more exposed to the virus. In order to enforce damage control to the operational capabilities, the Army made sure that the non-essential training, travel, and attending conferences remained cancelled. They called off any foreign assignments and postings for the time being. The Army also made it a point to extend leaves for that personnel who were already on absence. This was a major preventive measure adopted to prevent further infection.

As a result of the lockdown that had been imposed nationwide, the defence services were forced to temporarily stall all the activities that relate to soldiering during peacetime. These activities include training, pursuing professional qualification, fitness tests and regimes, equipment maintenance such as unit assets and stores, up-gradation of the cadres among others. Since the Indian Army boasts of a force that has signed up voluntarily to guard the borders, most of the troops are away from their families, which makes it even more difficult during the times of crises. The mega biennial naval exercises scheduled to be held in Vizag were cancelled due to COVID-19. A total of 41 navies were planned to be a part of the joint exercises called MILAN. The Service Selection Board (SSB) training and the recruitment process have been put to a halt as well. This will severely impact the intake process for this year.

Handling Biohazards

The Army’s capable of operating in a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) environment and has sufficient equipment like infantry vehicles, helicopters and tanks which can operate without any hassles. Since instances of chemical warfare have been witnessed in West Asia and other regions in the last two decades, the focus of the Army has been on that and not on biological warfare. Most Armies believe that bio-weaponry is still fictional and won’t come into play any time soon. Naturally, due to this mindset, most Armies are not capable of handling biohazards. This is a major setback in the time of COVID-19 and has to be addressed.

Riding Down the Slope

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the Indian economy has been nose-diving day by day. This is some bad news for the defence sector since the military spending will possibly be reduced as a result of the slowdown. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), India’s GDP will grow at 1.9 per cent. This is one of the lowest in the history of post-independent India. Allocations and spendings will naturally take a hit and will take a long time to revive again. Defence manufacturing will also face a setback and discourage indigenous players who are looking at getting involved in the manufacturing and innovation sector. MoD has already received the Ministry of Finance’s circular that called for the defence spending to be limited to 15-20 per cent of the total amount allocated. This will ensure that the defence budget is not the priority for the finance ministry. A gap of Rs. 1,03,000 crore has been highlighted between the requirement and the allocated money. More than 60 per cent of this allocated amount anyway goes towards paying salaries and pensions. This means that the modernisation efforts will face a major slowdown in the next two years. Defence procurement is already difficult due to the bureaucratic hurdles, now the monetary crunch only adds more woes.

Moreover, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had announced earlier that more than 9,000 posts belonging to the Military Engineering Services (MES) will be abolished in the said industrial division. The reason cited was that this would bring about a balance to the expenditure. Due to the lockdown, the military development has taken a hit and has seen a decline in the production of freights. As of now, there is no manufacturing that is ongoing as far as fighter planes or aircraft, in general, is concerned. Some of the signed defence deals and contracts are said to be reviewed due to the financial crunch. India’s defence budget is expected to see some cuts due to the economy slowing down. The pandemic has worsened this even further. There is already an existing order to cap the spending for the first quarter of this fiscal year. Most of the payments that are being disbursed is largely that of paying for the existing contracts. This will diminish any scope for procurement of newer defence equipment that helps in modernising the armed forces in the long run. According to a report, it says that the Ministry of Defence is looking at a savings of anywhere between Rs. 400 and 800 billion in the 2020-21 financial year. To quote Yuval Noah Harari from his recent article in the Financial Times would seem relevant in this case, “Many short-term emergency measures will become a fixture of life. That is the nature of emergencies. They fast-forward historical processes. Decisions that in normal times could take years of deliberation are passed in a matter of hours.”  India has displayed the significant political will to make impactful decisions during the pandemic. The question is, how far and how soon can we push ourselves to be prepared on all fronts?

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Rafale deal: A change in aerial balance in South Asia?

Shaheer Ahmad

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The induction of the first consignment of five Rafale jets in the Indian Air Force inventory is considered to be a game-changer in the aerial balance of the South Asian region. A multi-billion-dollar package will be beneficial to increase the air prowess of Indian Airforce. While equipped with weapons of tangible accuracy including long-range SCALP and Meteor missiles, it will be able to hunt any target with accurate precision.  The arrival of French-made engines has concerned neighboring Pakistan and China due to its high accuracy of conducting sea and ground attacks.

The experience of operation ‘Swift Retort’ and Chinese intrusion in Ladakh, compelled New Delhi to introspect the efficiency of IAF in any major or minor engagement in the future. The deal to acquire Rafale fighting jets to plug the loopholes in the aerial power of IAF was inked in September 2016.  This induction is meant to enhance the Indian Air force’s operational capabilities and will also assist it to overcome the technological disparity with the US manufactured Pakistan’s F-16 and Chinese Chengdu JF-17 thunder. However, the task for PAF to restrict IAF moves in the future has become more challenging. Despite its competence and better training of its personals as compared to IAF the air superiority is still not guaranteed if the technological gap between IAF and PAF gets wider. Notably, it’s hard to assess the proficiencies of one jet over another because the ‘man behind the machine is more critical’. 

Rafale is a twin-engine Medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRC) whose design instigate from Dassault Mirage with an up to date frame of the 1990s, already used by the French Navy and air force as well as by Egypt and Qatar. Furthermore, these jets were also engaged in combat missions in Afghanistan and Libya where they demonstrated a high proficiency. Whilst JF-17 thunder holds a conventional design originating from Mig 33 having an airframe of 1980s and it also demonstrated its capabilities in PAF’s Operation “Swift Retort”.

In an overall assessment, JF17 is a lightweight, conventional, fuel-economical, and cost-effective jet aircraft. The most momentous factor in JF17 thunder is it’s beyond visual range capabilities and integration of AESA radar that will not only allow detecting the wide-ranged targets but also to detect and lock multiple targets instantaneously. Meanwhile, it is less disposed to jamming and leaves a low sign to radar that makes the detection of fighter difficult hence increasing its reliability. Moreover, a crop numerical advantage and training aptitude due to the use of a similar platform and its cost-effectiveness makes itself a suitable aircraft for the Pakistan air force. Similarly, the ability of any up-gradation domestically for JF-17 also increases the feasibility of this aircraft, while Rafale lacks this opportunity because Indians lack the platform that can guarantee any domestic up-gradation for Rafale. Generally, Dassault Rafale is advanced in airframe, delta wing Canard design, semi stealth specter to counter threats as well as MBDA meteor that makes it a very affluent fighter with a high operational cost.

Rafales are considered superior over existing fighter jets present in PAF inventory and with the advanced technology they will relish an edge over Pakistani jets. But in case of any aerial engagement on Pakistani soil, Experts orate that in such a scenario Pakistani fighters will enjoy an edge due to its enhanced Air defense ground environment (ADGE) and also a window will remain open for PAF that when and where to carry out a counter strike as it did during operation ‘Swift Retort’. In such case, Indian numerical advantage and war resilience will be of less significance because these factors are relished by the party having a counter-strike option and that party will decide that how much allocation of resources is needed to engage for a mission after having a careful assessment of adversary’s air defense capabilities.

It’s also important to know that PAF and IAF can carry out surprise air raids nearby to the international border in peacetime without the probability of interception by adversary radars. Neither sides have the strength and capabilities to maintain 24/7 air surveillance across a 3323-kilometer long international border. Hence it’s also necessary for Pakistan to counter or deter any kind of surgical or tactical strike in the future. But the concern is still there that after the Balakot experience will India be deterred for conducting similar strikes in the future?

While viewing this scenario and having an experience of Balakot episode, PAF efforts to enhance its capabilities of airborne intercept radar and BVR missiles in JF-17 thunder’s fleet are noteworthy.  However, PAF should pursue an up-gradation on its existing F16 squadron. The presence of Rafale and S-400 air defense system will be challenging for PAF to retaliate, but the Indian S-400 and Rafale jets can’t shield the whole international border so the PAF needs a careful assessment to choose the targets that are not under the umbrella of S-400 or the access of Rafales while keeping in mind not to carry out an action that can trigger the adversary towards any escalation.

In a nutshell, the arrival of French-made engines equipped with long-range SCALP and meteor missiles having high precision is not only beneficial for Indian air prowess but it has also concerned its neighbors notably Pakistan for countermeasures. The experience of Operation Swift Retort and the recent military standoff in Ladakh has compelled New Delhi to modernize its Soviet-era air force by the induction of Dassault Rafales that will provide IAF an edge over the existing fighter jets in PAF’s inventory. However, the crop numerical advantage and training aptitude due to the use of a similar platform increases the feasibility of JF-17 thunder in PAF’s inventory. Hence in case of any aerial engagement in future the numerical advantage will be of more concern as 100+ JF-17 thunders will relish an edge over 36 Rafales and PAF will have the option of counterstrike that when and where to carry out a retaliation after carefully assessing the adversary capabilities in light of S-400 air defense system and Dassault Rafales. Hence Rafale jets have air superiority over existing Pakistani fighter jets but it can’t alter the aerial balance in South Asian region unilaterally.

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Pakistan’s Nuclear Diplomacy: Commitment Towards Non-Proliferation

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Ever since Pakistan became a nuclear weapon state, Pakistan’s nuclear diplomacy has been in practice on the principles of restraint and responsibility. Pakistan was even reluctant to enter the club of nuclear weapon states but soon after India had conducted its first nuclear test in the year 1974, going nuclear became Pakistan’s strategic compulsion. India’s series of nuclear tests in 1998 had compelled Pakistan to demonstrate its nuclear weapon capability accordingly to restore the strategic balance in South Asia. The development of Pakistan’s nuclear weapon capability primarily serves the purpose of a credible and reliable defence against the existential threat from India and to maintain peace and stability in the region. After the inevitable nuclearization of South Asia, Pakistan has never been a part of any arms race in South Asia.  Pakistan can neither afford and nor have an intent to indulge in an arms race in the region This is evident from the very fact that Pakistan has always been open for dialogues and arms control initiatives at the regional and international levels. In this regard, Pakistan’s recent proposal at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva is also part of its responsible nuclear diplomacy to urge the international community to take steps and develop consensus on arms control and disarmament. These factors show Pakistan’s commitment and adherence to achieve the goal of nuclear non-proliferation. 

As part of its non-proliferation efforts, in the past, Pakistan had also proposed various Confidence Building Measures (CBMs)at the regional level. For instance, in 1974 Pakistan had proposed to make South Asia a nuclear-weapon-free zone (NWFZ), in1978 proposal for the joint Indo-Pak declaration renouncing the manufacture and acquisition of nuclear weapons was presented. Similarly, in 1979 Pakistan had proposed the mutual inspection of each other’s nuclear facilities to build confidence and promote transparency. Moreover, being a responsible international player, in 1979 Pakistan had proposed to simultaneously sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)along with India as non-nuclear-weapon states. In 1988 Pakistan had proposed a bilateral treaty to ban the nuclear tests to elude overt nuclearization and reduce the nuclear risk. With the high risk attached to the emerging technologies and delivery systems, in 1994 Pakistan had proposed the South Asia zero-missile zone. Hence over the period, Pakistan has continued its efforts towards nuclear CBMs by proposing various regional and bilateral non-proliferation initiatives. These were aimed at strengthening strategic stability and to reduce the risk of any nuclear conflict in the region. Unfortunately, India has always shown a negative attitude to all such proposals and disrupted various technical, political, and strategic level talks on nuclear CBMs. This historical evidence further validates Pakistan’s appropriate nuclear diplomacy and enhances its credibility as a responsible nuclear-weapon state.

In continuation of its responsible nuclear diplomacy, most recently at the plenary meeting of CD, being held in June 2020, Pakistan has put forth its concerns regarding the nuclear disarmament. While speaking at the conference, Pakistan’s permanent representative to CD Ambassador Khalil Hashmi deliberated upon that with the emerging global conflicts, the consensus on non-proliferation and disarmament has also abraded. The likelihood of a resumption of nuclear testing by countries like the USA, Russia, and India and increased prospects of nuclear use has made the global arms control regime dormant. The increasing trend of double standards and discrimination of the western countries was also highlighted. It was pointed out that the politics of granting waivers to certain states particularly India serves as one of the reasons that the confidence in the nuclear non-proliferation regime has eroded. India’s aspiration of regional hegemony and aggressive military posture against Pakistan are the main contributing factors towards instability and turbulence in South Asia. Moreover, India’s non- compliance with international law has emboldened it to intimidate its neighboring countries and to continue its brutalities in the Kashmir region. India’s irresponsible and incendiary rhetoric combined with its enhanced and aggressive nuclear capabilities is a huge threat to regional peace and security.

To address the above concerns, Pakistan has outlined eleven points roadmap to build the global consensus on non-proliferation. Some of the important steps include; the ‘right of equal security for all states’ in both conventional and non-conventional domains at the national and international levels. The SSOD-I (Special Session on disarmament) has unanimously agreed to this principle of equal security. This shows that Pakistan’s nuclear diplomacy and its non-proliferation efforts have been acknowledged at such an international forum. Another pragmatic step would be that through a non-discriminatory Fissile Material Treaty, all the states must eliminate the current fissile material stock and abandon future production. Likewise, all non-nuclear-weapon states must be provided with security assurances until nuclear disarmament is achieved. A non-discriminatory and universal agreement must be developed to address the concerns regarding the proliferation and development of ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) systems. Furthermore, there is a need to strengthen laws to prevent the militarization of outer space and development of LAWS (Lethal Autonomous Weapons System) to be brought under international regulation. Hence to deal with the existing and future challenges to nuclear non-proliferation, international efforts are needed to rethink and re-evaluate the foundations of the non-proliferation regime.

Hence, in this nuclear age, global strategic stability cannot be achieved through discriminatory non-proliferation measures. There is a need for an enabling environment at both the global and regional levels for successful nuclear non-proliferation engagements. In South Asia, India’s offensive doctrines of a limited war under a nuclear overhang, nuclear brinkmanship, and notions of a splendid first strike have posed a serious threat to regional security. In this regard, CBMs and crisis control along with nuclear risk reduction are direly needed to help reinstate a stable regional nuclear order. This would likely serve the key to enduring peace and stability. Despite India’s perilous and pessimist role in the non-proliferation realm, Pakistan should continue to act responsibly and maintain a constructive and responsible nuclear diplomacy.

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