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China’s Overseas Military Bases

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The 20th century ended on a high note for the Liberal-Capitalist world, with the fall of the communist states of the Soviet Union, leaving the United States as the single remaining, unipolar power of the world, asserting its national interests and objectives on states across the globe. The dawn of the 21st century saw the coming of the long and bloody, global war on terror with theatres of war across the Islamic world i.e. West Asia & North Africa, Central Asia, in South Asia as well as instances in Southeast Asia. This century has also witnessed the return of the Russians as an important player in these regions. However, one of the main causes of concerns in today’s geopolitical domain is the uncontainable rise of an aggressive and expansionist People’s Republic of China, under the helm of the dictatorial leader – Xi Jinping – considered to be one of the strongest, most assertive leaders of the communist country since Mao Zedong.

The Chinese Premier has previously managed to gather enough support among the ranks of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to win an important vote in 2018, through which the National People’s Congress permitted Xi to remain leader for life, by amending constitutional guidelines which enforced a two-term limit on its Presidents (BBC 2018). Since then, however, things in China have been going south for the CCP’s chosen one. While we may not talk a lot about it due to lack of information from China, the country and the leadership is in fact submerged in domestic issues in challenges. Being a dictatorial country with extremely low political and civil freedoms, much of the news in China is monitored and censored by the government; therefore, neither Chinese citizens nor foreign media outlets are privy to the happenings inside China. The communist government has alongside private citizens in the IT sector developed an entirely independent internet ecosystem, preventing outside/western contact and connections within China. These independent social media platforms provide Beijing with a backdoor entrance to conduct internet surveillance on its citizens. While this prevents western influence and contact with its citizens, it also prevents Chinese citizens from spreading ‘misinformation’ to the outside world. However, we know for a fact that the Chinese government is engaged in civil rights abuses against certain Muslim communities in the North-western autonomous province of Xinjiang, where – what may be over a million – Uyghur Muslim citizens are detained in mass detention camps, going through ‘re-education’ and to ensure citizens’ adherence to the CCP. We also know for a fact that the controversial National Security Law passed in Hong Kong undermines the 1997 One Country, Two Systems principle, based on which Hong Kong and Macau were returned to the Chinese by the British and the Portuguese.

The National Security Law is athwart to the cause for which all protestors and activists who have been staging events and raising their voices against Beijing’s excessive authority and assertiveness in the Special Administrative Region. Most recently, Jimmy Lai – the pro-democracy activist and founder of Apple Daily – was arrested on charges of collusion with foreign organisations and agents. The law makes even the mildest form of activism against Beijing a crime against the state. Infrastructure in China is also posing a major threat to citizens. Experts suggest that China has over 94,000 dying dams, with most of them built in the Mao era. The Guangxi dam collapsed on June 7 this year, hitting the nearby plains with some of the worst floodings it has experienced. The main cause of concern would be the Three Gorges Dam on the Yangtze river, which is also one of the dams at risk. The collapse of this dam could very well add tens of thousands of residents to the death toll, with over 500 million people living in and around the basin of the river. This is not all; many ranks among the CCP are unhappy with Xi’s management of the outbreak of the coronavirus in Wuhan. Due to this mismanagement, the entire world is experiencing a major economic slowdown, and China has been under the spotlight.

Therefore, the Chinese regime has, over the years, resorted to the political tactic of distraction, many a time through the use of coercive force. The People’s Liberation Army (Navy) (PLA(N)) alongside the Chinese militia has been increasingly becoming assertive in the South China Sea and the broader Indo-Pacific region. It has boosted its naval capacity through the commissioning of the Liaoning and Shandong aircraft carriers, providing it with formidable naval air cover in the South China Sea, as well as giving it the strong arm it needs to flex against the Indian Navy in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).The United States has regularly engaged in the enforcement of freedom of navigation in the sea through which trillions of dollars’ worth of cargo passes every year, with several naval exercises supported by aerial operations. While the Chinese are gaining a foothold in the region through the construction of full-fledged military bases on shoals and reefs, one should not forget the foothold that the United States already has in the region through its network of alliances and cooperation treaties with almost all the states engaged in the dispute against the Chinese. Amid high tensions in the region, Washington’s Pacific Command (USPACOM) very recently conducted naval exercises involving the USS Ronald Reagan Strike Group. “Integration with our joint partners is essential to ensuring joint force responsiveness and lethality, and maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said US Navy Commander Joshua Fagan, Task Force 70 air operations officer aboard USS Ronald Reagan(Goh and Navratnam 2020).

Tensions are also at an all-time high between New Delhi and Beijing. Over the night of 15th June, 20 soldiers of the Indian Army were killed in action in the Galwan Valley area of Eastern Ladakh sector. Since then, both sides have mobilised along the Line of Actual Control in Ladakh as well as other areas along the International Boundary shared by the two Himalayan states. While talks have been taking place at both military and diplomatic levels, not much progress has been made toward de-escalation of build-up. The Ministry of Defence and the Indian Army has over the months made it explicitly clear to Beijing that India’s bravest will not stand down until the PLA withdraws from the LAC. The Chinese Communist Party and Xi speak of how the border disputes with India are of equal importance to the Chinese government as is the South China Sea dispute; both of which have portrayed Beijing’s aggressive expansionist policies. Beijing speaks of solving disputes through peaceful means and diplomacy, while the PLA flexes its muscles and threatens coercion through the conduct of live-fire military drills & exercises in Tibet. As per a report by the CCP’s People’s Daily, “the exercise … tested the coordinated strike capability of multiple units and put new equipment to the test in a combat situation”(Zhen 2020).

As such, China under Xi Jinping has gotten itself involved in several military disputes across the continent, from East Asia to the IOR. While several world powers critique its aggression, Beijing is engaged in establishing overseas military reach and capability through the construction of military bases and ports. China is attempting to gain a strong foothold not only in its backyard but also across the Indian Ocean Region and thePacific. The Chinese regime has been using its economic might (while it lasts) to coerce nations into granting the PLA and its several branches access to land suitable for the construction of bases. Some of the states that are being bullied by Beijing include of tiny Pacific island nations such as Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu and Tonga; South Asian countries such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are falling into Chinese debt traps and there already exists a PLA Base in Djibouti, with Gwadar in Pakistan another potential threat.

Pacific & Oceania

The United States has traditionally maintained dominance in the Pacific since the late 1890s when it acquired the Philippines as a protectorate from the Spaniard crown. It shared dominance in the region alongside the British in Southeast Asia. This dominance was challenged in the second world war, with the large-scale Japanese invasions of Southeast Asia with the intent of creating a Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere ‘liberated’ from the grasp of Western colonial rule. However, this imperialist Japanese concept quickly faded away with the end of the war in 1945. Since then, the American Navy has been the undisputed power in the Pacific and the regions surrounding it.

However, with the onset of the 21st century, the Chinese have risen to a comfortable position of power supported heavily by its thriving industrial base and capacity. The world’s factory – China – has benefitted heavily from its ties with business organisations from across the world, all seeking a base of production with minimal costs and maximised profits. Since the late 1980s, China made commendable efforts in opening up its closed economy to the private sector – both domestic and international. 30 or so years later, China is second only to the world’s largest economy – the United States. This economic might has enabled the Communists in Beijing to assert their interests in its backyard – in the South China Sea and increasingly in the East China Sea.

In the South China Sea, Beijing has imposed sovereignty over vast territories, violating the sovereignty of all neighbouring states’ exclusive economic zones. The Chinese abide by a self-imposed demarcation on maps, called the ‘Nine-Dash Line’, which vaguely demarcate Chinese claims over a major part of the Sea and claim sovereignty over the disputed Paracel and Spratly islands. The Chinese justify this demarcation through attempts of connecting dots from ‘historical claims’ of Chinese presence in the sea. Beijing contests the sovereignty of Malaysian, Vietnamese, Bruneian, and Filipino exclusive economic zones. The Philippines has in the past brought the dispute before an international tribunal, which said that there was no evidence that China had historically exercised exclusive control over the waters or resources. The tribunal in The Hague, in 2016, said China had violated the Philippines’ sovereign rights. It also said China had caused “severe harm to the coral reef environment” by building artificial islands (BBC 2016). The aggressive expansionist policies adopted by Beijing are a major threat to the continuance and sustenance of an international, multi-polar world order, which threatens basic maritime norms – freedom of navigation. The South China Sea and the Indonesian straits to its south (specifically the Malacca) are one of the busiest transit areas in the world of commercial shipping, with trade worth over 3.4 trillion USD passing through annually. As such, the United States, Japan, and Australia have all expressed major concerns regarding the dispute.

As mentioned in previous paragraphs, China has been engaging in coercive diplomacy to acquire permissions to build military bases and ports in the regions surrounding the South China Sea. Beijing has its eyes on the Southern Pacific island country of Tonga. This region has not seen such ‘strategic competition’ since the island-hopping campaign of the second world war. As per reports by the UK based Oxford Analytica, the Chinese have four objectives in extending their foothold into the Southern Pacific island complex:

“One is to extend its security perimeter into a region hitherto the preserve of the US and its allies and to create a buffer between China and its neighbours.

The second is to press forward with its diplomatic contest with Taiwan. Of the 17 countries worldwide that still have full diplomatic relations with Taiwan and none with Beijing, six of them are Pacific Island states – the Solomon Islands, Palau, Nauru, Kiribati, Tuvalu, and the Marshall Islands.

Beijing’s third objective is to gain access to the natural resources of the South Pacific and its islands, especially fish and timber. China is already the largest trading partner for most of the islands and has about $30 billion invested among them.

The fourth objective is to draw the South Pacific nations into Beijing’s Belt and Road Initiative by selling them infrastructure, especially port facilities to benefit Chinese commerce and the long-range deployment of its navy”(Manthorpe 2019).

The entrance of the Chinese in the South Pacific is an especially alarming event for the Australians. Canberra has been actively speaking up against Chinese aggression in the South China Sea and is a long time critique of Beijing’s expansionist policies. Being a member to QUAD, Australia regularly holds military exercises alongside India, the United States, and Japan to boost military-level cooperation and countering the growing Chinese sphere of influence in the region. However, bilateral and/or multilateral drills aimed at deterring PLA(N) influence will not be enough if Beijing were to set up a military base in Australia’s backyard. The only time that the Australians imposed national emergency and curfews was during world war two with the onset of the Japanese occupation of Southeast Asia, which was also localised only to the areas surrounding the northern portcity of Darwin which came in the crosshairs of Japanese aerial bombers. The establishment of a Chinese base in the South Pacific region will put all of Australia in a state of constant alarm for the first time since the second world war. In order to access the Pacific, the Chinese have to navigate through the American-friendly waters of  Taiwan, the Philippines and Japan. However, a base in the Southern Pacific islands can provide the Chinese with direct access into the Pacific and threaten American and Australian presence in the oceanic region.

Tonga is an island country with a population barely creeping over 100,000 citizens and a GDP of about 450 million USD. Beijing in 2006 provided the country’s government with 108 million USD in loans for reconstruction and infrastructure development after notorious rioting in its capital – Nuku’alofa. This loan amounts to nearly 25% of the tiny nation’s GDP, thereby placing itself in a cycle of debt. This makes the 171 island country a prime target for the Chinese to set up a military base, in return for covering Tongan debt to Beijing. As per the Lowy Institute – an Australian think-tank, the Chinese have paid 1.5 billion USD in loans and aid to the several island nations of the Southern Pacific since 2011, enabling Beijing to employ its debt-trap tool of coercive diplomacy. China uses the Belt and Road Initiative to better facilitate trade between member-states; and at the same time uses debt-traps to take over ports for uses of both civilian as well as military nature, for example – Hambantota in Sri Lanka (Perry 2019).

Another island country in the region was previously under the Chinese scanner for establishing a PLA base on its soil. East Timor is placed in a strategically relevant position, right off the Wetar Strait – one among the four major straits of Southeast Asia. The Chinese proposal to build and operate a surveillance radar facility on East Timor’s north coast was made in December 2007 but was viewed with suspicion by senior East Timorese officials who consulted with the US and Australia before rejecting the project(Dorling 2011). These radars and surveillance could be used by the PLA to survey American and Australian Naval manoeuvring in the region and provide Beijing with valuable Naval intelligence and a pair of eyes looking down over the Australian continental shelf. Since then, the Chinese have shifted their attention to other countries in the region, such as Vanuatu. As per reports from 2018, Beijing had approached the government of the 80 island country to establish a permanent military base and presence in the region. Vanuatu also declined Beijing’s unofficial proposal to set up a base on their soil, citing their non-aligned status and disinterest in militarisation. Canberra and Wellington have both expressed their concern about the growing Chinese sphere of influence in the region and have jointly decided to invest in these countries, in order to prevent the poverty-struck region from slipping into Chinese debt-traps. All of this comes as the Chinese regime’s attempt to project power beyond its traditional backyard. To ensure that this expansion remains in check, Australia and New Zealand have in the past practised a policy of ‘strategic denial’ – ensuring that no foreign, unfriendly power gains influence in the region that it maintains as its own ‘patch’. The Australians have also set up committees for providing financial assistance to Pacific island countries in the fields of both infrastructure development and trade, promising amounts up to 2.5 billion AUD (Köllner 2020).

The Americans and Australians currently have in place an arrangement with Papua New Guinea, another nation in the Indo-Pacific region, which permits their navies access to and dock at the Lombrum naval base on Manus Island, in return for its development. The governor of the island claimed that the signing parties had failed to deliver on their promise, resulting in the federal government announcing its intention of reviewing the deal.  The Chinese almost secured a deal for ports in PNG earlier, however, the deal fell through at the last minute. Experts say that in a post coronavirus world with devastated economies, PNG will be eager for aid and assistance and there is a possibility that they could turn to China for help(EurAsian Times Desk 2020). At the same time, research vessels of the PLA(N) are being sighted more often in the region, mapping the deep waters of the Pacific and the many straits connecting the Indo-Pacific. Military analysis of GPS satellite data from 2019 revealed two Chinese research vessels entered PNG’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) north of Manus Island, just weeks after US Vice President Mike Pence announced a joint redevelopment of the ageing Lombrum naval base.(Greene 2019). The ABC News Network in Australia interviewed a retired two-star admiral James Goldrick, who once headed Australia’s Border Protection Command believes Chinese mapping of the world’s oceans is now on the same scale as Soviet maritime operations during the height of the Cold War.

“It’s very similar to the pattern of Soviet Union behaviour in the 1960s, 70s and 80s and the Soviets’ knowledge of the world’s oceans was really quite enormous. Chinese naval intelligence gatherers will not be shining a (GPS satellite) beacon, they’re not required to by law, and of course, it’s quite possible some of the government-owned ships aren’t always radiating on their beacons to show where they are and who they are.” (Greene 2019)

Indian Ocean Region

As of today, Beijing has just one overseas military base in Djibouti – a country which also hosts American, French, Italian and Japanese military bases, some of which also host British, German and Spanish troops. India has for longhad a goal of gaining a foothold in the strategically important Horn of Africa, which was realised in 2018 when Japanese PM Shinzo Abe and PM Narendra Modi agreed to host Indian troops in the Japanese base in Djibouti;with the objectives of countering the threats faced due to piracy activity as well as to keep in check aggressive Chinese expansionism – through its ‘String of Pearls’ strategy in the IOR. However, New Delhi is looking to solidify its position in the region and is on the lookout for establishing a permanent Indian military base in the strategically placed African country.

In Djibouti, the PLA and the PLA(N) hold the fort at a 590 million USD support base, located 5 km west of Djibouti City. The support base is placed right next to the Chinese operated Port of Doraleh. Lying next to the mouth of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden, connecting to the Indian Ocean, the strategically placed base provides China with the means to secure its major commercial shipping interests coming from or via West Asia and North Africa. An estimated 60% of China’s oil imports find their origin in this region – another reason justifying the purpose of the establishment of an overseas military base. Djibouti is involved in several other Chinese developmental projects, including sub-projects of the BRI such as the Ethiopia-Djibouti Railway project. The setting up of this base also gives the Chinese the clout they are seeking, establishing themselves as an international economic – and now also – a military power with overseas bases. It provides a central command in the region for the conduct of peacekeeping operations in Northern Africa and also counter-piracy ops in the Arabian Sea off the Somali coast.

The establishment of this base comes as a discomfort to the West, who have traditionally maintained a presence in the region of such comparable scale. The United States and its allies are all concerned with the presence of a PLA base within 10 km of their own. Worries about espionage are constant and so is the ‘tit-for-tat’ game of accusations. In 2018, the US Department of Defense accused the PLA Support Base of using laser weapons against pilots attempting to land in Western bases, adding on that in one case, two pilots on a cargo plane suffered minor eye injuries as they approached to land. China has rejected the allegations, saying they are “inconsistent with facts”(BBC 2018).In 2017, the PLA held their first-ever live-fire exercises from their first-ever overseas base. The exercises saw the deployment of the PLA’s Marine Corps, using a wide array of personal weapons and elaborate weapons systems – from pistols to ICVs to mortar and artillery. Beijing-based military expert Li Jie said:

“The troops had to be on combat alert at all times because of the region’s complex political conditions and Djibouti’s geographic importance. The PLA troops based in Djibouti should be able to protect themselves and resist attacks from terrorists, pirates, local armed forces, or even foreign troops” (Chan 2017).

Beijing-based military commentator Zhou Chenming said the high-profile drills were a message to local militants “not to harass” the PLA troops.

“Since the political situation in Djibouti is very unstable, the troops need to let local armed groups know of their combat strength. They need to tell them that the Chinese forces are there not only to set up the logistics base but must also be able to deal with all kinds of security challenges” (Chan 2017).

The PLA support base in Djibouti since last year has been going through a phase of construction and renovation to expand its capacity to handle military ware and equipment. Through open-source intelligence, analysts have been able to find new developments at the base. The naval pier along the base has been extended to +330 metres in length on both sides, which is more than enough to help facilitate China’s latest additions to its Navy – the Liaoning and Shandong aircraft carriers, Type 071 and the under-construction Type 075 amphibious assault vessels as well as Destroyers. This new development increases the capability and overall lethality of the base. Construction material and equipment was also seen along the large Heliport in the centre of the base, suggesting that the Chinese are looking into further expand their hangars and improve on existing helicopter facilities. The construction of a new quay may also suggest that the PLA may expand on the number of in-house piers at the base(Sutton 2020).

China’s Belt and Road Initiative also extends into India’s staunch terror-supporting neighbour Pakistan via the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor, stretching between Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region in China and all through the length of Pakistan – from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa to Baluchistan. The CPEC ends at the civilian port of Gwadar in western Pakistan which is being developed by Chinese and is under the operational control of the China Overseas Port Holding Company, leased to the same company till the year 2059. Therefore, questions arise in New Delhi and indeed Washington as to China’s intentions with the deep-sea port. While Beijing denies any military or naval involvement in the project, sources report what seems to be a high-security compound being built by the Chinese, which some believe could support naval operations. From a Chinese perspective, it would be ideal to build barracks for a garrison of Chinese marine corps in the insurgent region to protect what is a major investment in Gwadar.The compound comes complete with sentry towers and pillboxes along with fortifications and high walls with barbed wire (Sutton, China’s New High-Security Compound In Pakistan May Indicate Naval Plans 2020).

However, it remains unclear whether Islamabad has handed over the operations of the port for the PLA(N) as well, considering that a majority of Sino-Pak agreements go unannounced to the public or are not available to the public. The port is protected by Pakistani soldiers stationed there to protect the hundreds of Chinese workers working on its development and construction. Gwadar would be of great benefit to the Chinese, not only because it helps strengthen its foothold in the IOR, but also because once completed and secured, it can act as the economic lane of communication which would free Beijing of its dependency on the Malacca straights. The CPEC would secure the roadways and railway transit lines of its energy resources coming from West Asia and Africa, and a naval base at Gwadar would ensure its safety. The mouth of the Malacca is under the keen eyes of the Indian Armed Forces’ Andaman & Nicobar Islands tri-services joint command which undermines China’s economic security in case of conflict. As of today, a blockade of Chinese commercial shipping would severely cripple Beijing, which depends on West Asia and North Africa for a majority of its oil imports coming via these straits.

It is known to the world that Beijing has been looking into the Maldives as a potential location for a sub-pen since 1999. However, these aims were side-lined and not given much attention until the arrival of Xi Jinping on the hot seat of the CCP. Fast forward to the year 2017, reports by Maldives based anti-corruption NGO Transparency MV suggest that the country during the administration of the Chinese puppet Abdulla Yameen leased the Feydhoofinolhu atoll (land area: 38,000 square metres) to Beijing for 50 years, for four million USD. As of February 2020, China has destroyed surrounding reefs to build a man-made island structure to expand the size of the island to 100,000 square metres: similar to what it does in the South China Sea (Spratly islands).

Open-source intelligence portals showed the presence of a lot of construction material and equipment on the new man-made portion of the island, along with fish farms on the existing shorelines (Francis 2020). The island is barely 1000 km from the South Indian coastlands and even closer to the Lakshadweep islands, posing a major security risk to New Delhi. However, since the coming to power of Ibrahim Solih, New Delhi has poured its resources unto Malé with several infrastructure projects and credit in a bid to counter Chinese expansionism in the region. At present, India is engaged in an array of projects in the Maldives including water and sewerage projects on 34 islands, airport redevelopment at Hanimadhoo, and a hospital and a cricket stadium in Hulhumale(Ramachandran 2020). The Indian Minister of External Affairs also recently announced India’s intention of funding the Greater Malé Connectivity Project, a 6.7 km-long bridge and causeway link that will connect the Maldivian capital Malé with the neighbouring islands of Villingili, Gulhifahu and Thilafushi. It also includes the building of a port at Gulhifahu and an industrial zone in Thilafushi(Ramachandran 2020). The Maldivian economy, however, remains in a grey area, drowning in a tremendous debt of over a billion USD to China. Perhaps New Delhi’s granting of credit to Malé could sway the Maldives to India’s sphere of influence in the region – a paramount interest for South block in New Delhi.

About 950 km to the northwest of the Maldives lies the Democratic Socialist Republic of Sri Lanka, with which India has had mixed relations. Sri Lanka’s former President and current Prime Minister – Mahinda Rajapaksa, has led the country into a Chinese debt trap. The long-time politician requested for loans multiple times, without any denial from Beijing. Loans were procured to build a major deep-sea port along one of the busiest sea lanes of communication of the world at Hambantota in the southern part of the island country. However, the 1.4billion USD worth project failed to attract trade and commerce, with only 34 vessels docking at the port. With the tremendous amounts of debt owed to China running the country deeper into the debt trap, the Sri Lankan government agreed to lease the port at Hambantota and 60 square kilometres of land surrounding it for 99 years, as repayment for debt owed to Beijing. The debt deal also intensified some of the harshest accusations about President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative: that the global investment and lending program amounts to a debt trap for vulnerable countries around the world, fuelling corruption and autocratic behaviour in struggling democracies(Abi-Habib 2018). With the Rajapaksa administration being voted out of office in 2015, the new government under Ranil Wickremesinghe had little choice but to comply with Beijing’s will. However, the Prime Minister also made it very clear to the world that Sri Lanka’s Port Authorities were in fact in a commercial joint venture with Chinese merchants and port authorities. Addressing a programme at London’s Oxford University on Monday, Wickremesinghe said some people are seeing “imaginary Chinese Naval bases in Sri Lanka” (PTI 2018). However, it remains unclear as to what Beijing’s intentions truly are. It is perhaps another move to secure sea lanes of connections that connect the Chinese mainland to its energy interests in West Asia and Africa passing through the straits of Malacca. Even if Hambantota remains a civilian project, access to it by PLA(N) assets such as frigates and submarines in the IOR could provide it with the resources these assets may require to extend the duration of operations in the region.

China is also present in the former war-torn state of Myanmar. China is notorious for using debt diplomacy as a tool to gain control over infrastructure assets. Tensions of the same have ensured that Myanmar reduced the amount of funds China has invested to 1.3 billion USD for the Kyaukpyu port project. The port, on the eastern shores of the Bay of Bengal is not very far from Vishakhapatnam, the Indian Naval headquarters of the Eastern Command. This investment has the potential to act as one of the many pearls of China’s String of Pearls strategy in the IOR. The Kyaukpyu port will be an addition to China’s global Belt and Road Initiative, connecting the port to China by sea and also through a road link for which construction plans and agreements are being drawn up. Following Myanmar’s concerns of falling into a debt-trap, China will invest 70 per cent of the $1.3 billion while Myanmar will finance the rest in the initial phase(Patranobis 2018). This port could be of equal importance to Beijing as is the port in Gwadar. The Kyaukpyu port could further liberate the Chinese dependence on the Malacca strait for trade and commerce. Beijing will definitely push for the construction of an all-weather road to connect the port to China by road, similar to CPEC.

Central Asia

Many have believed that Gwadar would be the PLA’s second and latest addition to its overseas bases, if at all. However, without gaining much attention, Beijing managed to reach an agreement with the Central Asian nation of Tajikistan to establish a military/paramilitary base in the country’s eastern borderlands, near the Wakhan corridor.

The Chinese base is located at a strategically important region, placed approximately 12 km from the Wakhan Corridor in Afghanistan and 30 km from the Chinese border, at an altitude of 3860 m above sea level. The base is seen to have three main buildings and supported with storage facilities and/or garrisons. It is connected with a roadways system, however, not with power lines, which imply the reason why solar panels can be seen supporting what could be power generators, in the north-western part of the facility. The base also hosts a helipad in the south-western corner. It is guarded by a series of pillboxes and sentry watch posts along the multi-layered fencing/wall.

Beijing has formally denied the presence of its troops in Afghanistan in the past. However, the presence of a base in Tajikistan would imply its interest in entering the country to secure strategic interests alongside the Afghans. The Chinese have also in the past conducted joint military exercises with the Afghan Armed Forces in counter-terrorism and anti-insurgency operations. China has had a long-lasting border dispute with the Tajiks, claiming that Dushanbe is unable to grasp control over its border with neighbouring war-torn Afghanistan, and as a result of that radical Islamists have been causing troubles at the Sino-Tajik border. These Islamists – China claims – are the same who brew up tensions in the Xinjiang autonomous region and ‘poisons’ the minds of the native Uyghur Muslims with propaganda directed against the Chinese state.

While the international community worries about these developments, Beijing’s eagerness to have boots on the ground in this spot appears to stem from concern about the potential for unrest from Islamist Uyghur militants. An unknown number of Uyghurs are believed to have left their homes in the Xinjiang region in the last five years or so to join the ranks of militant groups in West Asia. Like other governments in Central Asia, China is uneasy about the arguably implausible prospect of those fighters returning to their native land(Eurasia Net 2019).

Being a former Soviet Republic, Tajikistan is party to the Commonwealth of Independent States – a multi-national organisation led by Russia to protect the sovereignty and improve regional ties between all former Soviet States. As such, Russia considers China to be ‘creeping into its strategic backyard’. Beijing is by far Tajikistan’s more generous creditor. At last count, the outstanding debt stood at around $1 billion, although this figure may be even greater depending on how one is counting. This lending has not been without its costs. In 2011, Tajikistan ceded territory to China in return for an unspecified amount of debts being wiped off the slate. Officials in Dushanbe have spoken little about this deal, but have sought when quizzed to sell it as a financially advantageous way to settle what had been a long-standing territorial dispute(Eurasia Net 2019).

As of today, it remains unknown whether Beijing has any interests in Afghanistan, other than protecting its domestic issues, i.e. the issue of Uyghur Muslims being rallied against the Communist Party of China.

Conclusion

The Chinese government under its dictatorial Premier, Xi Jinping- has adopted several aggressive and expansionist policies & stances across multiple fronts. It has decided to undermine the cruciality that its domestic policies hold in the eyes of its citizens and is constantly distracting them through an aggressive foreign policy. Being a totalitarian, communist state, China has also actively engaged in the censorship of social media and through the development of an independent internet ecosystem has managed to rid its citizens of viable access to the world outside of the Chinese borders.The People’s Liberation Army of China and its various branches have been one of the largest benefiters of Xi’s expansionist policies. Some consider the Premier to be the strongest man on the captain’s seat since the time of Mao Zedong.

Over the years, tensions between Beijing and Washington plus allies has been on the increase, and the American administration has decided not to take lightly China’s increasing aggression. The South China Sea has become one of the most important fronts for the cold war that is going on between the Americans and the Chinese, with neither willing to compromise on their national interests. The Pacific has always been America’s stronghold, since the end of the second world war. However, China has come to challenge that dominance by increasing the presence of its naval and air assets in the region. Up till now, vessels of the PLA(N) have had to steam through the sovereign waters of Japan, Taiwan and the Philippines to access the vast ocean. Beijing has been on the lookout for land to develop a naval base in the Southern Pacific Islands in a bid to gain direct access to the ocean. However, this effort has returned little to no results, with the Australians and New Zealanders investing in their backyard to keep out the risk of Pacific states falling to Chinese debt traps.

In the Indian Ocean Region, China has had much more success due to the comparative lack of western assertiveness in the region. The United States and its allies have a high military reach and presence in West, South and Southeast Asia, but have been unable to prevent marginal countries from making consequential deals with Beijing. China’s debt traps intensified some of the harshest accusations about President Xi Jinping’s signature Belt and Road Initiative: that the global investment and lending program amounts to a debt trap for vulnerable countries around the world, fuelling corruption and autocratic behaviour in struggling democracies, says Maria Abi-Habib. Sri Lanka and the Maldives (and soon possibly Myanmar) have fallen for such deals with Beijing, handing over the Hambantota port and the Feydhoofinolhu atoll respectively under Chinese authorities’ control as repayment for deferred loans. China’s String of Pearls strategy in the IOR is unfolding with success – slow but steady: From the East African coastline in Djibouti, to a deep-seaport in the Arabian Sea at Gwadar, Pakistan; from the southern port of Hambantota in Sri Lanka to Kyaukpyu in Myanmar and Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh along the Bay of Bengal.

The world has seemed to have taken a Chinese base in eastern Tajikistan with a pinch of salt. No one is asking what China’s intentions really are, being so close to the Afghan border. If it is really to prevent Uyghur escalation in Xinjiang, then one must ask: what is China doing in the autonomous region that it feels can radicalise the Muslim community against the Chinese Communist Party and the state?India’s interests in Central Asia are at risk, with Dushanbe’s Ayni Airbase and Farkhor Airbase being the Indian Air Force’s steppingstone into helping rebuild war-torn Afghanistan.

Perhaps China’s intentions and its outlook toward the world outside of its borders can be summarised into one line: “’Remember’, a Chinese soldier told a reporter nosing around a remote spot in eastern Tajikistan. ‘You never saw us here’”(Eurasia Net 2019).

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Abi-Habib, Maria. 2018. How China Got Sri Lanka to Cough Up a Port. 25 June. Accessed August 22, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/06/25/world/asia/china-sri-lanka-port.html.

BBC. 2018. China’s Xi allowed to remain ‘president for life’ as term limits removed. 11 March. Accessed August 15, 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-43361276.

—. 2016. South China Sea: Tribunal backs case against China brought by Philippines. 12 July. Accessed August 19, 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-36771749.

—. 2018. US accuses China of pointing lasers at its pilots from Djibouti base. 4 May. Accessed August 20, 2020. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-china-43999502.

Chan, Minnie. 2017. Live-fire show of force by troops from China’s first overseas military base. 25 September. Accessed August 20, 2020. https://web.archive.org/web/20170926034001/http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2112780/live-fire-show-force-troops-chinas-first-overseas.

Dorling, Philip. 2011. Timor rejected Chinese spy offer. 10 May. Accessed August 20, 2020. https://www.smh.com.au/world/timor-rejected-chinese-spy-offer-20110509-1efv1.html.

Eurasia Net. 2019. Tajikistan: Report confirms significant Chinese security presence in Pamirs. 19 February. Accessed August 23, 2020. https://eurasianet.org/tajikistan-report-confirms-significant-chinese-security-presence-in-pamirs.

EurAsian Times Desk. 2020. Can Australia Lose A Strategic Naval Base To China In Papua New Guinea? 12 June. Accessed August 20, 2020. https://eurasiantimes.com/australia-could-lose-strategic-lombrum-naval-base-as-papua-new-guinea-could-review-deal/#:~:text=Australia%20could%20lose%20access%20to,Chinese%20presence%20in%20the%20region.

Francis, Xavier. 2020. Beijing Expanding Presence In Maldives Could Trigger Another Clash Between India, China? 13 May. Accessed August 22, 2020. https://eurasiantimes.com/beijing-expanding-presence-in-maldives-could-trigger-another-clash-between-india-china/.

Goh, Brenda, and Shri Navratnam. 2020. U.S. Navy carrier conducted exercises in South China Sea on Aug. 14. 15 August. Accessed August 15, 2020. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-southchinasea-usa-defence/us-navy-carrier-conducted-exercises-in-south-china-sea-on-aug-14-idUSKCN25B065.

Greene, Andrew. 2019. Chinese surveillance near PNG expanding as Australia and US begin Manus Island naval upgrades. 21 April. Accessed August 20, 2020. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-04-21/china-increases-surveillance-near-png/11028192.

Köllner, Patrick. 2020. Australia and New Zealand Face Up to China in the South Pacific. July. Accessed August 20, 2020. https://www.giga-hamburg.de/en/publication/australia-and-new-zealand-face-up-to-china-in-the-south-pacific.

Manthorpe, Jonathan. 2019. China targeting Pacific isles for strategic bases. 10 June. Accessed August 19, 2020. https://matangitonga.to/2019/06/10/china-targeting-pacific-isles-strategic-bases.

Patranobis, Sutirtho. 2018. Too close for comfort: China to build port in Myanmar, 3rd in India’s vicinity. 9 November. Accessed August 22, 2020. https://www.hindustantimes.com/india-news/china-myanmar-ink-deal-for-port-on-bay-of-bengal-third-in-india-s-vicinity/story-Lbm4IwOMuqrNvXGv4ewuYJ.html.

Perry, Nick. 2019. China Comes to Tonga. 10 July. Accessed August 20, 2020. https://thediplomat.com/2019/07/china-comes-to-tonga/.

PTI. 2018. Sri Lanka rejects US claims, says no Chinese military base at port. 11 October. Accessed August 22, 2020. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/sri-lanka-rejects-us-claims-says-no-chinese-military-base-at-port/articleshow/66163389.cms?from=mdr.

Ramachandran, Sudha. 2020. Has India Won the Match Over the Maldives? 19 August. Accessed August 22, 2020. https://thediplomat.com/2020/08/has-india-won-the-match-over-maldives/.

Shih, Gerry. 2019. In Central Asia’s forbidding highlands, a quiet newcomer: Chinese troops. 18 February. Accessed August 23, 2020. https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/asia_pacific/in-central-asias-forbidding-highlands-a-quiet-newcomer-chinese-troops/2019/02/18/78d4a8d0-1e62-11e9-a759-2b8541bbbe20_story.html.

Sutton, H I. 2020. China’s New High-Security Compound In Pakistan May Indicate Naval Plans. 21 August. Accessed June 2, 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/hisutton/2020/06/02/chinas-new-high-security-compound-in-pakistan-may-indicate-naval-plans/#312210a1020f.

—. 2020. Satellite Images Show That Chinese Navy Is Expanding Overseas Base. 10 May. Accessed August 20, 2020. https://www.forbes.com/sites/hisutton/2020/05/10/satellite-images-show-chinese-navy-is-expanding-overseas-base/#21ae60726869.

Zhen, Liu. 2020. China-India border dispute: PLA flexes military muscle with live-fire drill in Tibet. 18 August. Accessed August 19, 2020. https://www.scmp.com/news/china/military/article/3097868/china-india-border-dispute-pla-flexes-military-muscle-live-fire.

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Defense

To Prevent a Nuclear War: America’s Overriding Policy Imperative

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Hieronymus Bosch, Last Judgement

Abstract: Though current US defense policy centers on matters of conventional war and terrorism, other problems remain more existentially worrisome. Most conspicuous in this regard are variously intersecting issues of nuclear war avoidance. The following article examines these always-complex issues with systematic references to pertinent risks and to the core global obligation to confront them as intellectual challenge.

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“The fox knows many things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing.”-Archilochus, Fragments[1]

In the Beginning

First things first. On existential national security matters, candor is indispensable. In essence, we inhabit a world that generally prefers the study of “many things” to “one big thing.”

This usual preference is easy to understand. After all, thinking about things organically or holistically is more complex and potentially bewildering. Still, in the inherently vital matters of military strategic assessment, a theoretical perspectiveis indispensable.

Always.

There is more. In the final analysis, learning about “one big thing” is a demanding matter of theory-building.  Without a comprehensive theory of nuclear war avoidance, the “worst” will happen.[2]

 By definition, there can be no proper theory without a prior and underlying focus on discernible commonalities. Indeed, the systematic discovery of commonalities or regularities constitutes the beginnings of any science, and science represents the only reasonable way to approach the many-sided issues of nuclear war avoidance. There are, to be sure, alternative patterns of inquiry, but these distracting patterns must be based on faith, “common sense” or overt anti-reason.[3]

They ought never be relied upon.

Correspondingly core questions should now arise. Where, exactly, does the United States stand with regard to existential nuclear threats? Once upon a time, beginning in the 1950s, nuclear war avoidance became humankind’s main survival imperative. This entirely sensible rank-ordering was plain, visible in the newspapers, on evening news programs and in the movies.[4] It was a conspicuous, urgent and infinitely perplexing focus. Among other things, this focus reflected the more characteristic preference orderings of rich nations than poor ones, but one central fact remained clear:

If the world failed to prevent a nuclear war,[5] all other essential human values would thereby be imperiled.[6]

There is more.  In the “old days,” scholars could speak more-or-less reasonably about “nuclear disarmament” or “denuclearization.”[7] But we still don’t live in a reasonable or reasoning world, and purposeful peace strategies will need to include various compromises or “tradeoffs.”

 On specific matters of nuclear war avoidance, this means, inter alia, continuously refining the threat-based strategies of“escalation dominance”[8] and nuclear deterrence. At an even more rudimentary or “molecular” level, citizens of nuclear and near-nuclear states, long accustomed to coarsely competitive postures of belligerent nationalism, will finally need to change. More precisely, they will need to achieve certain basic transformations of consciousness.

 Though rarely understood, this means that they will need to detach their diverse and accumulated hopes for immortality from the nation’s presumed geopolitical success.[9]

What can this possibly mean? This is hardly a statement for mass-based understanding. It is also very unlikely to make sense to political leaderships nurtured by epiphenomena, or what Plato would have called “mere shadows of images.”

Who actually thinks about “immortality” and politics in the same context? The philosopher Emmanuel Levinas cuts to the core: “An immortal person is a contradiction in terms.” Could anything be more obvious?

Ultimately, the answer depends on science. Are we humans fully prepared to abandon the incomparable promises of Faith in the abstract interests of Reason? One needn’t be a disciplined analytic thinker to answer this query honestly. Faith, we learned earlier from Sigmund Freud, is largely a matter of “wish fulfillment.” And there can never be any more compelling human wish than the express “will” not to die.[10]

Students of world politics have always been instructed that their subject centers on some vague quality typically called “power?” These instructions have not been wrong ex hypothesi, but they have until now failed to identify the greatest conceivable form of power.  This is power over death or the apparent promise of immortality.

Nowadays we see the attraction of this particular kind of power most plainly in matters of Jihadist terrorism, but it can also animate the all-too-many perpetrators of both war and genocide.

 These allegations are “only” intellectual arguments. What then could they signify to citizens of any nation that has traditionally prided itself on being “practical?” The most plausible short answer here is endless belligerent nationalism and in more selective situations, nuclear deterrence.

There is more. Inevitably, nuclear deterrence is a “game” that certain world leaders may have toplay. Accordingly, these leaders can choose to learn the game purposefully and skillfully or simply deal with it inattentively or inexpertly. In any such game, calculably gainful plays would still be theoretically possible, but these would necessarily be based upon variously enhanced capacities for threat assessment and strategic decision-making.

In the final analysis, as all ought to have learned from history – including the still-ongoing unraveling history of American power in Afghanistan – “winning” will not mean what it meant originally. Victory will not be about acquiring geopolitical supremacy and hegemony, but enabling broadly systemic cooperation and a more reassuringly continuous dynamic of serious crisis de-escalation.

Incontestably, a viable global civilization represents a sine qua non for absolutely every nation’s physical survival. Ultimately, however, any such civilization[11] will have to be constructed upon more than some presumptively favorable “balance” of military power. Inter alia, it will have to be founded upon suitably  fashioned visions of “cosmopolitanism”[12] or human “oneness.”[13]

The Intellectual Core

               We nay return to our opening metaphor. Such re-fashioning will require “many things” seen by “the fox,” especially high-quality scholarship. Though our national foreign policy makers will insist that this emphasis on theoretic refinement has always been the case, sending capable flag officers to exemplary graduate programs is not enough. To wit, nuclear strategic inquiries must become more expressly grounded in logic and scientific–method and less in political clichés or the tortured syntax of an American  leader who “loves the poorly educated.”[14]

Foreseeably, controlling nuclear proliferation will become an increasingly important and potentially overriding national imperatives. Under no circumstances should any sane and capable scholar or policy-maker ever recommend the proliferation of nuclear weapons. Earlier, this fallacy of strategic reasoning had been called the “porcupine theory.”[15]

On its face, any such endorsement must represent the reductio ad absurdum of all possible intellectual misjudgments. Among relevant hazards of strategic judgment, it would be problematic to assume that nuclear deterrence credibility needs to be positively correlated with threat destructiveness. Indeed, from the standpoint of creating stable nuclear deterrence, the likelihood of any actual nuclear conflict between states could sometime be inversely related to the plausibly expected magnitude of catastrophic harms.[16]

This is only an “informal” presumption, however, because we are presently considering a unique or unprecedented event, one of inherently limited predictive capacity. Because any true mathematical probabilities must always be based upon the discernible frequency of relevant past events, events that are sui generis (such as a nuclear war) can be “predicted” only with less than scientific methods. Any such “prediction,” therefore, could have no proper policy-making value.

Concerning the ascertainable probability of a nuclear war, one derivative understanding is primary and axiomatic.  This understanding stipulates that differences in probability must depend on whether the particular conflict in question would be intentional or inadvertent.  A further division must then be made between an inadvertent nuclear war caused by errors in calculation (nuclear war by miscalculation) and one occasioned by accident, computer hacking or computer malfunction.

Absolutely no meaningful scientific estimations of nuclear war likelihood could ever be made apart from such antecedent conceptual divisions.

Relevant Military Exercises

During August 2021, four expansive military exercises were undertaken across the world. These US operations included an exercise staged by the US Navy 5th and 2nd fleets (close to Mediterranean Sea and Black Sea respectively) and Large Scale Global Exercise 21, led by the US and allied forces with a focus on the Indo-Pacific Ocean area. All exercises were conducted with China and Russia openly identified as “hypothetical” adversaries.

In response, China conducted a large-scale military exercise in the South China Sea during the same period, and another joint exercise with Russia in China’s Northwest Region. The American exercises were conducted far from the US homeland, but the China/Russia exercises were launched close to home. Cumulatively, such exercised maritime and troop movements expressed various determinable elements of “Cold War II.”[17]

Looking ahead in Washington, air space and outer space are both apt to become further militarized, thereby rendered subject to steadily expanding nuclear war preparations. Most expectedly worrisome, in this regard, would be correspondingly greater risks of nuclear crisis and actual nuclear war, especially a nuclear war by accident or miscalculation.

There is more. Nuclear proliferation has been dealt with by competent nuclear strategists for decades, sometimes by gifted thinkers who understood that any alleged benefits of nuclear spread would necessarily be outweighed by staggering costs.[18] Most obvious here are proliferation-associated risks of inadvertent nuclear war, accidental nuclear war, nuclear war by irrationality/coup d’état and nuclear war by miscalculation.[19]

               To date, this has been an unassailable presumption. Foreseeably, it will not change. the “Westphalian”[20] system of international relations and international law first bequeathed by treaty law in 1648. This system of belligerent nationalism remains rooted  in persistent anarchy and is already being steadily worsened by chaos.[21]

The Changing Balance of World Power

Historically, the idea of a balance of power – an idea of which the nuclear-age balance of terror is a variant[22] – has never been more than facile metaphor. In fact, it has never had anything to do with ascertaining any true equilibrium. And as any such “balance” is always a matter of individual and subjective perceptions, adversary states can never be sufficiently confident that strategic circumstances are tangibly oriented in their favor. In consequence, each side in a still-Westphalian world order must perpetually fear that it will come out “second best” or even be left behind. Among nation-states, the continual search for balance, though traditionally reassuring, can only produce ever-widening patterns of insecurity, inequality and disequilibrium.

               At the start of the Cold War (what the present author now calls (Cold War I), the United States first began to codify rudimentary orientations to nuclear deterrence and nuclear war. At that simpler time, the world was tightly bipolar and the overwhelmingly clear enemy was the Soviet Union. Tempered by a shared knowledge of the horror that had ceased (temporarily) in 1945, each superpower understood a conspicuously core need to expand global cooperation (especially the United Nations) as a necessary adjunct to national conflict preparedness.

With the start of the nuclear age, American national security was premised on grimly primal threats of “massive retaliation.” Over time, especially during the Kennedy years, this bitterly corrosive policy was softened by subtler and more nuanced threats of “flexible response.” Along the way, a coherent and generalized American strategic doctrine was crafted, in increments, to more systematically accommodate almost every conceivable kind of adversarial military encounter.

Scientific and historically grounded, this doctrine was developed self-consciously and with deliberate prudence. In its actual execution, however, much was left to visceral or “seat-of-the-pants” calculations. In this particular regard, the 1962 Cuban missile crisis speaks for itself.

Strategic doctrine, as earlier generation “defense intellectuals” had already understood,[23] is a “net.” Reasonably, only those who “cast” can expect to “catch.” Nonetheless, even the benefits of “casting” must ultimately remain subject to specific considerations of individual human personality. In the terms of professional strategic thinkers, there must always remain an “idiosyncratic factor.”

Individuum est ineffable. At some point, an individual decision-maker could lie beyond predictive and understanding. Then, looking ahead to potential nuclear war threats and crises, the ungraspable individual could interact in unforeseen ways with other complex factors, possibly creating variously unseen synergies. What then?

In strategic planning and thinking, there will always be certain irremediable uncertainties. In the face of such uncertainties, the point will be not to prevent them altogether (that would be impossible), but to prepare for all known and foreseeable contingencies intellectually and analytically.

Cold War II

For a time, following collapse of the Soviet Union, the world became increasingly multipolar. But now we seem to be witnessing the evolution of a second cold war. This time around, there will likely be more conspicuous points of convergent interest and cooperation between Washington and Moscow. In principle at least (e.g. current mutual concerns about controlling Jihadist terrorism) “Cold War II” could offer an improved context for identifying overlapping strategic interests. But now there are also apt to be other primary “players,” most plausibly China.

               Details matter. Even after the extension in force of New START agreement between the U.S. and Russia, Moscow continues to reinvigorate its production of intercontinental ballistic missiles and ICBM supporting infrastructures. In part, this represents a predictable Russian response to ongoing fears that America may be expanding its plans for expanded ballistic missile defense in Europe[24] and (as corollary) for enlarging NATO blueprints to advance aggressive strategies of “encirclement.”

At this fragile moment. foci are easy to identify. Strategic planners are now thinking especially about already-nuclear North Korea and Pakistan and a prospectively nuclear Iran. Among other key  issues,Tehran’s repeated calls for “removing” Israel as a state have been exterminatory;[25] in law, they therefore represent a documented “incitement to genocide.” Furthermore, military nuclear developments in North Korea, Pakistan and Iran could quickly prove synergistic,  circumstances that are largely unpredictable and potentially even overwhelming.[26]

 There must also be apt legal considerations of justice. Nullum crimen sine poena; “No crime without a punishment,” was a key principle of justice reaffirmed at Nuremberg, in 1946. This peremptory principle originated in the Hebrew Bible and its Lex Talionis, or law of exact retaliation.

               Popular viewpoints notwithstanding, the Trump-brokered Abraham Accords will have no discernible effects on preventing nuclear war in the Middle East.[27] If anything, Iran was made more belligerent by the Accords’ explicit intent to diminish Iranian power. Soon, certain major Sunni Arab states (plausibly Egypt and/or Saudi Araba) may feel compelling new incentives to nuclearize themselves. And with the Taliban in control of Afghanistan, an already-nuclear Pakistan will likely become more tangibly influential in the region.

How will this expanded influence affect China, India, Russia and Israel?

In all these ambiguous cases, there could emerge more-or-less credible issues of enemy irrationality.[28] Regarding such “special” situations, ones where leadership elites in Beijing, Islamabad, Delhi, Tehran or elsewhere might sometime value presumed national or religious obligations more highly even than national survival itself, the precarious logic of deterrence could fail. Such failure need not be incremental and manageable. Instead, it could be sudden and catastrophic.

                Any such fearful scenario is “probably improbable,” but it is by no means inconceivable. This hesitancy-conditioned probability calculation is effectively mandated by variously fixed limitations of science. As indicated earlier, one can never speak reliably about the probability of unique events (all probability judgments must be based upon the determinable frequency of past events). Fortunately, of course, there has never been a nuclear war, but this absence also means a scientific incapacity for certain meaningful predictions.

Further Importance of Synergies[29] and Nuclear Doctrine

               Always important for leaders to understand will be possible interactions or synergies between changing adversaries and their particular ties to China, Syria and Russia. In managing such strategic threats, a new question should arise: Will “Cold War II” help our steeply imperiled planet, or hurt it even more?

               Such queries should always represent intellectual questions, not narrowly political ones. Above all, they will need to be addressed at suitably analytic levels.

There is more. Strategic policies will have to deal with a variegated assortment of sub-national threats of WMD terrorism. Until now, insurgent enemies were sometimes able to confront states with serious perils and in widely assorted theatres of conflict, but they were never capable of posing any catastrophic hazards to a nation’s homeland. Now, however, with the steadily expanding prospect of WMD-equipped terrorist enemies – possibly, in the future, even well-armed nuclear terrorists[30] – humankind could have to face strategic situations that are prospectively more dire.

For the United States in particular, the unraveled situation in Afghanistan portends heightened chances of WMD terrorism, against the homeland and certain allies, especially Israel. The adversarial particulars remain unclear, but ISIS-K resurgence/reconstitution and the strengthening of other Islamist groups may also bode ill for rational enemy decision-making. What then?

               To face any such unprecedented security situation, national leaders will need to “arm” themselves with previously-fashioned nuclear doctrines and policies. By definition, any such doctrines and policies ought never represent “seat of the pants” reactions to ad hoc threats. Rather, because generality expresses a trait of all serious meaning in science – “one big thing” – such doctrines and policies will have to be shaped according to variously broad categories of strategic threat. In the absence of such previously worked-out conceptual categories, human leadership responses are almost certain to be inadequate, or worse.

               A concluding thought about synergies: Such portentous intersections could occur between military and non-military threats. For example, and prospectively most ominous, would be synergies that arise between nuclear proliferation and disease pandemic. In the conceivably worst case, a man-made “plague” of nuclear war would coincide with a natural plague of pathogens.[31] Prima facie, any such “force multiplication” should be avoided at all costs.

The Question of Rationality

                From the start, all strategic policies have been founded upon some underlying assumption of rationality.[32] Americans have always presumed that their enemies, both states and terrorists, will inevitably value their own continued survival more highly than any other preference or combination of preferences. But this core assumption ought no longer be taken for granted.

Expressions of decisional irrationality could take various different and overlapping forms. These forms 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 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).

Confronted with Jihadist enemies,[33] states and terrorists, world leaders must quickly understand that our primary threats to retaliate for first-strike aggressions[34] could sometime fall on deaf ears. This holds true whether America would threaten massive retaliation (MAD), or the more graduated and measured forms of reprisal termed nuclear utilization theory (NUT).[35] In the months and years ahead, threateni8ng anti-American terror groups (e.g., Taliban, ISIS-K, etc.) that “we will hunt down and destroy you” is apt to fall upon deaf ears.

               There is more.Ultimately, any sensible. nuclear doctrine should recognize critical connections between law and strategy. From the formal standpoint of international law,[36] certain expressions of preemption or defensive first strikes are known as anticipatory self-defense. Expecting possible enemy irrationality, when would such protective military actions be required to safeguard the human homeland from diverse forms of WMD attack?  

This now becomes an all-important question.

The Legal Standpoint and Nuclear Targeting

               Though often subordinated to strategy, there are also pertinent jurisprudential issues for decision-makers and commanders. Recalling that international law is part of the law of the United States,[37] most notably at Article 6 of the US Constitution (the “Supremacy Clause”) and at a 1900 Supreme Court case (the Pacquete Habana), how could anticipatory military defense actions be rendered compatible with conventional and customary obligations? This critical question must be raised and plausibly answered.

               From the standpoint of international law, inter alia, it is always necessary to distinguish preemptive attacks from “preventive ones.” Preemption is a military strategy of striking first in the expectation that the only foreseeable alternative would be to be struck first oneself.  A preemptive attack is launched by a state that believes enemy forces are about to attack.  A preventive attack, on the other hand, is not launched out of any genuine concern about “imminent” hostilities, but rather for fear of some longer-term deterioration in a prevailing military “balance.”

                In a preemptive attack, the length of time by which the enemy’s action is anticipated is presumptively very short; in a preventive strike, however, the anticipated interval is considerably longer. A related problem here is not only the practical difficulty of accurately determining “imminence,” but also the implicit problems of postponement. Delaying a defensive strike until an imminent threat would be more tangibly ascertainable could invite existential harms. In any event, any state’s resort to “anticipatory self-defense” could be nuclear or non-nuclear, and be directed at either a nuclear or non-nuclear adversary.

               Ipso facto, any such resort involving nuclear weapons on one or several sides could prove catastrophic.

My late friend and frequent co-author, General John T. Chain, a former USAF SAC Commander-in-Chief (CINCSAC) and Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff director (JSTPS) understood that pertinent world leaders would need to consider and reconsider key issues of nuclear targeting.[38] Relevant operational concerns here concern vital differences between the targeting of enemy civilians and cities (so-called “counter value” targeting) and targeting of enemy military assets/infrastructures (so-called “counterforce” targeting). Oddly enough, most national leaders likely still don’t realize that the essence of 1950s/1960s “massive retaliation” and “mutual assured destruction” (MAD) was always an unhidden plan for counter-value targeting.

 Any such partially-resurrected military doctrine could sound barbarous or inhumane, but if the alternative was to settle for less credible systems of nuclear deterrence, explicit codifications of counter value targeting posture could still represent the best way to prevent millions of civilian deaths (i.e., deaths from nuclear war and/or nuclear terrorism). Neither preemption nor counter-value targeting could ever guarantee absolute security for Planet Earth. Nonetheless, it remains imperative that the United States and other nuclear weapons states put capable strategic thinkers[39] to work on these and all other nuclear warfare issues.[40]

In The End

The first time[41] that a world leader has to face an authentic nuclear crisis, his/her response should not be ad hoc. Rather, this response should flow seamlessly from broad and previously calibrated strategic doctrine. It follows that national leaders should already be thinking carefully about how this complex doctrine ought best to be shaped and codified. Whatever the particulars, these leaders must acknowledge at the outset the systemic[42] nature of our “world order  problem.”[43]

Any planetary system of law and power management that seeks to avoid a nuclear war must first recognize a significant underlying axiom:As egregious crimes under international law, war and genocide[44] need not be mutually exclusive.On the contrary, as one may learn from history, war could sometimes be undertaken as an “efficient” manner of national, ethnical, racial or religious annihilation.[45]

When the war in question is a nuclear one, the argument becomes unassailable.

Global rescue must always go beyond narrowly physical forms of survival. At stake is not “just” the palpable survival of Homo sapiens as a distinct animal life form, but also the species’ essential humanitas, that is, its sum total of individual souls[46] seeking “redemption.”[47] For now, however, too-few species members have displayed any meaningful understanding of this less tangible but still vital variant of human survival.[48]

It’s time to start worrying again about nuclear war avoidance, but this time worrying won’t be enough. The only reasonable use for nuclear weapons on this imperiled planet will still be as controlled elements of dissuasion, and not as actual weapons of war. The underlying principles of such a rational diplomatic posture go back long before the advent of nuclear weapons. In his oft-studied classic On War (see especially Chapter 3, “Planning Offensives”), ancient Chinese strategist Sun-Tzu reminds succinctly: “Subjugating the enemy’s army without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence.”

There can be no more compelling strategic dictum. Indeed, this distilled wisdom represents the “one big thing” for US strategists, commanders and policy-makers “to know.” It would be best not to have any enemies in the first place, of course, but such residually high hopes would be without any intellectual foundation. Hence, they would always remain unsupportable.

For the United States, unwelcome outcomes in Afghanistan do not portend actual nuclear warfare prospects per se, but they do suggest a general widening diminution of American power. Among other things, this diminution could spawn various regional or global crises that bring the United States into a much larger ambit of WMD scenarios, ones involving both war and terror. Even if the US were not itself involved in any such crises directly, other states or the world as a whole could quickly become entangled in extremis atomicum.

What then?

Immediately, to the extent possible, national leaders should make all appropriate intellectual and analytic preparations. In carrying out this responsibility, careful attention should be given to scenarios of inadvertent nuclear war, narratives pertaining both to accidental nuclear conflict and to nuclear war as the result of a miscalculation. Though prospects for a deliberate nuclear war ought never to be downplayed, preparations for credible nuclear deterrence must be continuously maintained at the highest possible levels.

Now, it is nuclear war by inadvertence that warrants exceptional intellectual attention.

To meet these interrelated security requirement, leaders of both nuclear and near-nuclear states must first acknowledge the overriding seriousness of our global atomic threat. Instead of ad hoc or seat-of-the-pants strategizing – a characteristic policy failing of America’s “Trump Era” geopolitical calculations – these leaders should be reminded that there can be nothing more plausibly practical than good theory. Specifically, they can learn from philosopher of science Karl Popper’s classic The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959): “Theory is a net. Only those who cast, can catch.”[49]

To prevent a nuclear war, humankind will need the best possible “nets.”


[1] Greek poet, cited by Sir Isaiah Berlin, The Hedgehog and The Fox (1953).

[2] Says Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt about human life in general, “The worst does sometimes happen.”

[3] We learn from Karl Jaspers’ Reason and Anti-Reason in our Time: (1952): “Reason is confronted again and again with the fact of a mass of believers who have lost all ability to listen, who can absorb no argument and who hold unshakably fast to the Absurd as an unassailable presupposition, and really do appear to believe.”

[4] One may recall popular films On the Beach; Fail Safe; and Dr. Strangelove (or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb).

[5] The atomic bombings of Japan in August 1945 did not constitute an authentic nuclear war, but “only” the use of nuclear weapons in an otherwise conventional conflict. Immediately following Hiroshima and Nagasaki, no other atomic bombs existed anywhere on earth. Prima facie, in contrast to the present moment, those were very different times from the standpoint of nuclear deterrence.

[6] These other values meant population stabilization, ecological stability and justice/human rights.  On the broader civilizational issues involved, see: early on:  Louis René Beres, “Steps Toward a New Planetary Identity,” The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 1980 Rabinowitch Award Essay winner, Vol. 37., No. 2., February 1981, pp. 43-47.

[7] From the standpoint of North Korea, unilateral denuclearization would represent an irrational option.  For Kim Jong Un, getting rid of extant atomic arms and infrastructures must remain contrary to Pyongyang’s basic security presumptions. In June 2020, two years after the Singapore Summit, Kim’s Foreign Minister Ri Son Gwon announced that any earlier-expressed hopes for accommodation with then President Trump had “shifted into despair.”

[8] On “escalation dominance,” see article by Professor Louis René Beres at The War Room, US Army War College, Pentagon:  https://warroom.armywarcollege.edu/articles/nuclear-decision-making-and-nuclear-war-an-urgent-american-problem/  See also, by this author, Louis René Beres: https://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/united-states-nuclear-strategy-deterrence-escalation-and-war    

 

[9] Throughout history, geopolitics or Realpolitik have often been associated with personal immortality. In his posthumously published lecture on Politics (1896), German historian Heinrich von Treitschke observed: “Individual man sees in his own country the realization of his earthly immortality.” Earlier, German philosopher Georg Friedrich Hegel opined, in Philosophy of Right (1820), that the state represents “the march of God in the world.” The “deification” of Realpolitik, a transformation from mere principle of action to a sacred end unto itself, drew originating strength from the doctrine of sovereignty advanced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Initially conceived as a principle of internal order, this doctrine underwent a specific metamorphosis, whence it became the formal or justifying rationale for international anarchy –  that is, for the global “state of nature.” First established by Jean Bodin as a juristic concept in De Republica (1576), sovereignty came to be regarded as a power absolute and above the law. Understood in terms of modern international relations, this doctrine encouraged the notion that states lie above and beyond any form of tangible legal regulation in their interactions.

[10]Modern philosophic origins of “will” are discoverable in the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer, especially The World as Will and Idea (1818). For his own inspiration, Schopenhauer drew freely upon Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Later, Friedrich Nietzsche drew just as freely and perhaps more importantly upon Arthur Schopenhauer. Goethe was also a core intellectual source for Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y’Gasset, author of the singularly prophetic twentieth-century work, The Revolt of the Masses (Le Rebelion de las Masas;1930). See, accordingly, Ortega’s very grand essay, “In Search of Goethe from Within” (1932), written for Die Neue Rundschau of Berlin on the centenary of Goethe’s death (Goethe died in 1832). It is reprinted in Ortega’s anthology, The Dehumanization of Art (1948) and available from Princeton University Press (1968).

[11] Swiss psychologist Carl G. Jung’s definition of civilization in The Undiscovered Self (1957) can be instructive here; it is “the sum total of individual souls seeking redemption.”

[12] The history of western philosophy and jurisprudence contains many illustrious advocates of cosmopolitanism or “oneness.” Most notable among these names are Voltaire and Goethe. We need only recall Voltaire’s biting satire in the early chapters of Candide, and Goethe’s comment (oft-repeated) linking the contrived hatreds of belligerent nationalism to variously declining stages of human civilization. We may also note Samuel Johnson’s famously expressed conviction that patriotism “is the last refuge of a scoundrel;” William Lloyd Garrison’s observation that “We cannot acknowledge allegiance to any human government…Our country is the world, our countryman is all mankind;” and Thorsten Veblen, “The patriotic spirit is at cross-purposes with modern life.” Of course, there are similar sentiments discoverable in Nietzsche’s Human, all too Human and in Fichte’s Die Grundzűge des gegenwartigen Zeitalters.” Finally, let us recall Santayana’s coalescing remark in Reason and Society: “A man’s feet must be planted in his country, but his eyes should survey the world.” The ultimate point of all these cosmopolitan remarks is that narrow-minded patriotism is inevitably “unpatriotic,” at least in the sense that it is not in the long-term interests of citizens or subjects.

[13] “Civilization,” adds Lewis Mumford, “is the never-ending process of creating one world and one humanity.” Still the best syntheses of contemporary creative outlines for a world civilization are W. Warren Wagar, The City of Man (1967) and W. Warren Wagar, Building the City of Man (1971).

[14] The curious mantra “I love the poorly educated,” was repeated several times during the 2016 presidential election campaign by then candidate Donald J. Trump.” Consciously, perhaps, it echoed Third Reich Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels at a Nuremberg rally in 1934: “Intellect rots the brain.”

[15]  See at Parameters: https://press.armywarcollege.edu/parameters/vol9/iss1/7/ Lest anyone think this sort of recommendation is absurd or inconceivable, there is actually a long history of nuclear “porcupines,” strategists and observers who correlate expanding nuclear proliferation with expanding global security. See, by this author, at Parameters: Journal of the US Army War College, Louis René Beres: https://press.armywarcollege.edu/parameters/vol9/iss1/7/

[16] As part of an always-escalating bravado detached from intellectual moorings, former US President Donald J. Trump favored such vaporous threats as “complete annihilation” or “total destruction” over dialectically well-reasoned preferences. What once sounded reasonable or “tough” to an anti-intellectual and law-violating American president could only have reduced US nuclear deterrent persuasiveness. During the dissembling “Trump Era,” America’s nuclear security was substantially weakened on multiple fronts.

[17] See by present author at Modern Diplomacy: Louis René Beres.  https://moderndiplomacy.eu/2019/12/28/trumps-space-force-a-predictable-future-of-war-and-chaos/

[18] Seventeenth-century English philosopher, Thomas Hobbes, instructs that although international relations are in a “state of nature,” it is nonetheless a more benign condition than that of individual man in nature. With individual human beings, Hobbes reflects, “the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest.” Now, however, with the advent and probable continuing spread of nuclear weapons, there is no longer any reason to believe the state of nature to be more tolerable.

[19] Also worrisome here are prospects for irrational decision-making by national leaders, including the president of the United States. See, in this connection:  Louis René Beres,  https://thebulletin.org/2016/08/what-if-you-dont-trust-the-judgment-of-the-president-whose-finger-is-over-the-nuclear-button/

[20] 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.   This “Westphalian” anarchy stands in stark contrast to the legal assumption of solidarity between all states in the presumably common struggle against aggression and terrorism. Such a peremptory expectation (known formally in international law as a jus cogens assumption), is already mentioned in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis (533 C.E.); Hugo Grotius, 2 De Jure Belli Ac Pacis Libri Tres, Ch. 20 (Francis W. Kesey, tr., Clarendon Press, 1925) (1690); and Emmerich De Vattel, 1 Le Droit des Gens, Ch. 19 (1758).

[21]Although composed in the seventeenth century, Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan may still offer us a vision of this condition in modern world politics. During chaos, which is a “time of War,” says the English philosopher in Chapter XIII (“Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery.”):  “… every man is Enemy to every man… and where the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Still, at the actual time of writing Leviathan, Hobbes believed that the condition of “nature” in world politics was less chaotic than that same condition extant among individual human beings. This was because of what he had called the “dreadful equality” of individual men in nature concerning the ability to kill others. Significantly, this once-relevant differentiation has effectively disappeared with the continuing manufacture and spread of nuclear weapons, a spread soon apt to be exacerbated by an already-nuclear North Korea and by a not-yet-nuclear Iran.

[22] See especially Albert Wohlstetter, “The Delicate Balance of Terror,” 1958.

[23] One thinks here especially here of Thomas Schelling, Bernard Brodie, Albert Wohlstetter and Herman Kahn.

[24] On related issues of active defense for US ally Israel, see: Louis René Beres and Isaac Ben-Israel (Major-General, IDF/res.), “The Limits of Deterrence,” Washington Times, November 21, 2007; Professor Louis René Beres and Major-General Ben-Israel, “Deterring Iran,” Washington Times, June 10. 2007; and Professor Louis René Beres and Major-General Isaac Ben-Israel, “Deterring Iranian Nuclear Attack,” Washington Times, January 27, 2009.

[25] Israel’s anti-missile defense shield has four overlapping layers: The Iron Dome system for intercepting short-range rockets; David’s Sling for medium-range rockets; Arrow-2 against intermediate-range ballistic missiles; and Arrow-3 for deployment against ICBM’s and (potentially) satellites.

[26]North Korean nuclear-knowhow could impact other regions of the world. In this connection, Pyongyang has had significant nuclear dealings with Syria. Earlier, North Korea helped Syria build a nuclear reactor, the same facility that was later destroyed by Israel in its Operation Orchard, on September 6, 2007. Although, unlike earlier Operation Opera (June 7, 1981) this preemptive attack, in the Deir ez-Zor region, was presumptively a second expression of the so-called “Begin Doctrine,” it also illustrated, because of the North Korea-Syria connection, a wider globalthreat to US ally, Israel. See also: https://www.usnews.com/opinion/world-report/articles/2017-09-06/10-years-later-israels-operation-orchard-offers-lessons-on-north-korea

[27] See https://www.state.gov/the-abraham-accords/ Also to be considered as complementary in this connection is the Israel-Sudan Normalization Agreement (October 23, 2020) and Israel-Morocco Normalization Agreement (December 10, 2020).

[28] 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).

[29] Pertinent synergies could clarify or elucidate the world political system’s current state of hyper-disorder (a view that would reflect what the physicists prefer to call “entropic” conditions), and could be conceptually dependent upon each national decision-maker’s subjective metaphysics of time.

[30] Both Saddam Hussein’s regime in Iraq and Palestinian terror-group Hamas fired rockets at Dimona. Though unsuccessful, Israel must remain wary of the consequences of any future attack that might prove more capable. For early and informed consideration of reactor attack effects in general, see: Bennett Ramberg, DESTRUCTION OF NUCLEAR ENERGY FACILITIES IN WAR (Lexington MA:  Lexington Books, 1980); Bennett Ramberg, “Attacks on Nuclear Reactors: The Implications of Israel’s Strike on Osiraq,” POLITICAL SCIENCE QUARTERLY, Winter 1982-83; pp. 653 – 669; and Bennett Ramberg, “Should Israel Close Dimona? The Radiological Consequences of a Military Strike on Israel’s Plutonium-Production Reactor,”Arms Control Today,May 2008, pp. 6-13.

[31] Says Albert Camus in The Plague: “It is in the thick of calamity that one gets hardened to the truth – in other words, to silence.”

[32] Rationality and irrationality have now taken on very specific meanings. More precisely, an actor (state or sub-state) is presumed determinedly rational to the extent that its leadership always values national survival more highly than any other conceivable preference or combination of preferences. Conversely, an irrational actor might not always display such a determinable preference ordering.

[33] This brings to mind the issue of Palestinian statehood and nuclear risk, For Israel, the main problem with a Palestinian state would not be that state’s own prospective nuclearization, but rather its generally weakening effect on the Jewish state.  Along somewhat similar lines of reasoning, the recent loss of Afghanistan does not create any specifically nuclear war risks for the United States, but it does contribute to an incremental diminution of US military influence. (especially in the region). Moreover, Islamic Pakistan, which is already nuclear, has been strengthened by the American loss and could, among other reactions, become more expressly risk-tolerant on certain strategic challenges from India.

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

[35] Conspicuous preparations for nuclear war fighting could be conceived not as distinct alternatives to nuclear deterrence, but as essential and even integral components of nuclear deterrence.  Some years ago, Colin Gray, reasoning about U.S.-Soviet nuclear relations, argued that a vital connection exists between “likely net prowess in war and the quality of pre-war deterrent effect.”  (See:  Colin Gray, National Style in Strategy: The American Example,” INTERNATIONAL SECURITY, 6, No. 2, fall 1981, p. 35.)  Elsewhere, in a published debate with this writer, Gray said essentially the same thing:  “Fortunately, there is every reason to believe that probable high proficiency in war-waging yields optimum deterrent effect.”  (See Gray, “Presidential Directive 59: Flawed but Useful,” PARAMETERS, 11, No. 1, March 1981, p. 34.  Gray was responding directly to Louis René Beres, “Presidential Directive 59: A Critical Assessment,” PARAMETERS, March 1981, pp. 19 – 28.).

[36] For the authoritative sources of international law, see art. 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice; done at San Francisco, June 26, 1945. Entered into force, Oct. 24, 1945; for the United States, Oct. 24, 1945.  59 Stat. 1031, T.S. No. 993, 3 Bevans 1153, 1976 Y.B.U.N., 1052.

[37] In the words of Mr. Justice Gray, delivering the judgment of the US Supreme Court in Paquete Habana (1900): “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained and administered by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction….” (175 U.S. 677(1900)) See also: Opinion in Tel-Oren vs. Libyan Arab Republic (726 F. 2d 774 (1984)).Moreover, the specific incorporation of treaty law into US municipal law is expressly codified at Art. 6 of the US Constitution, the so-called “Supremacy Clause.”

[38] USAF General Jack Chain was this author’s longtime personal friend and frequent co-author on nuclear strategy issues. See, for example: Louis René Beres and John T. Chain (General/USAF/ret.), “Could Israel Safely Deter a Nuclear Iran?”, The Atlantic, August 2012; Professor Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Israel and Iran at the Eleventh Hour,” Oxford University Press (OUP Blog), February 23, 2012; and Beres/Chain at BESA (Israel): https://besacenter.org/living-iran-israels-strategic-imperative-2/(Israel). General Chainalways remained committed to science-based strategies of nuclear war avoidance. He died on July 7, 2021.

[39] Prescribed thinking should generally be dialectical. Dialectical thinking originated in Fifth Century BCE Athens, as Zeno, author of the Paradoxes, had been acknowledged by Aristotle as its inventor. Further, in the middle dialogues of Plato, dialectic emerges as the supreme form of philosophic/analytic method. The dialectician, says Plato, is the special one who knows how to ask and then answer vital questions. From the standpoint of a necessary refinement in US strategic planning, this knowledge should never be taken for granted.

[40]“It must not be forgotten,” writes French poet Guillaume Apollinaire in “The New Spirit and the Poets” (1917), “that it is perhaps more dangerous for a nation to allow itself to be conquered intellectually than by arms.”

[41] Reference here is to “first time” after the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

[42] “The existence of system in the world,” says French philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man, “is at once obvious to every observer of nature, no matter whom….” (1955).

[43] “World order” has its contemporary intellectual origins in the work of Harold Lasswell and Myres McDougal at the Yale Law School, Grenville Clark and Louis Sohn’s WORLD PEACE THROUGH WORLD LAW (1966) and the large body of writings by Richard A. Falk and Saul H. Mendlovitz during the 1960s and 1970s.

[44] See Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, opened for signature, December 9, 1948, entered into force, January 12, 1951, 78 U.N.T.S. 277.

[45] This was almost certainly the case with Germany’s World War II aggressions, crimes oriented very deliberately to Adolph Hitler’s always primary “war against the Jews.” See especially, Lucy S. Dawidowicz, The War Against the Jews: 1933 – 1945 (1975).

[46] Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung both thought of “soul” (in German, Seele) as the intangible essence of a human being, its humanitas. Neither Freud nor Jung ever provided any precise definition of the term, but it was never intended by either in some ordinarily familiar religious sense. For both psychologists, it represented a recognizable and critical seat of mind and passions in this life. Interesting, too, in the present analytic context, Freud explained his predicted decline of American civilization by invoking various express references to “soul.” Freud was disgusted by any civilization so apparently unmoved by considerations of true “consciousness” (e.g., awareness of intellect, literature and history); he even thought that the crude American commitment to perpetually shallow optimism and material accomplishment would inevitably occasion sweeping emotional misery.

[47]This definition of civilization is borrowed from C.G. Jung, The Undiscovered Self (1957).

[48] Whether it is described in the Old Testament or other major sources of ancient Western thought, chaos can also be viewed as a source of human betterment. Here, in essence, chaos is that which prepares the world for all things, both sacred and profane. Further, as its conspicuous etymology reveals, chaos represents the yawning gulf or gap wherein nothing is as yet, but where all civilizational opportunity must originate. Appropriately, the great German poet Friedrich Hölderlin observed: “There is a desert sacred and chaotic which stands at the roots of the things and which prepares all things.” Even in the pagan ancient world, the Greeks thought of such a desert as logos, a designation which indicates to us that it was presumed to be anything but starkly random or without conceivable merit.

[49] Popper, in turn, drew this instructive metaphor from the classical German poet, Novalis.

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Defense

Will India be sanctioned over the S-400 Air Defense System?

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The Russian S-400 air defense system has emerged as a serious concern for US policymakers. Amongst other states, US allies are seen purchasing and acquiring this state-of-the-art technology despite Washington’s objections.  Earlier in 2019, Turkey received the S-400 setting aside American concerns. India, a critical strategic partner of the US, also secured a $5.4 billion deal for the system in 2018 despite US opposition.

The US administration was considerably confident that it would succeed in persuading India to abandon the deal. The Indian government was warned by the Trump administration that the purchase of S-400 may invoke sanctions under the ‘Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act’ (CAATSA). It was also communicated to the Indian government that presence of Russian S-400 is likely to increase the vulnerability of American weaponry stationed in India which could limit the extent of US-India cooperation. The threat was largely ignored and India went ahead to pay an advance of $800 million to Russia for the system which is indicative of India’s desire to maintain strategic autonomy and its reluctance to form an official military alliance with USA.

When President Biden took office in January 2021, efforts were made once again to convince India to let go of the deal. Then-Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III discussed the air defense system with Rajnath Singh during his visit to India in March 2021. However, India showed no willingness to change its stance over its S-400 policy. 

The issue was also discussed during the three day visit of US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on 6th October, 2021. She commented that the decision over the sanctions related to S-400 will be made by the US President and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. She further added that the US policy regarding any country that uses S-400 is considerably evident and the air defense system is not in anybody’s security interest. 

Historically, Indian air defense systems have largely comprised of Russian equipment and the Indian Air Force (IAF) predominantly operates Russian systems. India is unlikely to recede to American demands of abandoning the S-400 deal which is evident from the recent statements of two senior Indian officials. While addressing the Indian media on the 89th anniversary of IAF on 8th October, 2021, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari stressed that the S-400 should be inducted during the same year. Similarly, shortly after Wendy Sherman commented on S-400, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson gave a statement suggesting that the government was in negotiations with the US. Responding to a question on the S-400, Arindam Bagchi stated, ‘This has been under discussion between our two countries for some time. It was raised and we have discussed it and explained our perspective. And discussions on this are ongoing.’

Noting that India may receive the systems by the end of year, the US will soon be in a position where it will have to make a decision over whether to sanction India or not. The Indian attitude towards this issue suggests that it sees itself in a position where it can get a waiver by the US administration despite disregarding the latter’s concerns. Sanctioning India will erode the bilateral relationship of India and US at a time when Washington needs New Delhi in its larger objective of containing China. This is especially relevant since India is the only QUAD member which shares a border with China. Therefore, this option is not in American interest taking into account the current geopolitical situation.

The US President has the authority to waive off CAATSA sanctions if deemed necessary for American strategic interests. However, in February 2021, US openly declared that a blanket waiver was not a possibility for India. The rationale behind not providing a blanket waiver is that such an action can motivate other states to opt for the same in the hope of a potential waiver since countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar have shown interest in acquiring the S-400 air defense system. This factor will also be taken into account while devising the sanctions.

It is likely that India may be sanctioned under CAATSA but the sanctions will largely be symbolic with little long-term implications. However, the Indian policy of strategic autonomy raises questions on the extent of the envisaged partnership between India and the US. Increasing dependence and use of Russian equipment will become a concern owing to the interoperability problems vis-à-vis US military systems. The role of India as an effective strategic ally against China is also questionable noting its strategic decisions which will harm American interests in the region. 

As a strategic partner, India has placed the American leadership in a difficult situation by purchasing the S-400 system. It will be interesting to see how the US articulates the sanctions against India over this purchase.  

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American submarine mangled in the South China Sea

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Tensions in the western Pacific have been simmering for the past many months. The western world led by the United States has begun to transfer more assets into the Indo-Pacific, in a bid to contain, if not restrict, the rampant rise of Chinese power in the volatile region.

The Americans have continued to expand their naval presence in the Western Pacific and the China seas. In October 2021, two carrier strike groups of the Nimitz-class supercarriers were deployed around the first island chain, led by the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) and the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76). The British, in an attempt to regain lost momentum in the Indo-Pacific, deployed the HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08), which sailed through the South China Sea earlier last month. The aforementioned vessels also sailed through the Philippine Sea alongside the Japanese MSDF Hyuga-class helicopter-carrier JS Ise (DDH-182), as part of multilateral naval exercises.

These actions, however, cannot be viewed as an unprecedented act of offence against the People’s Republic of China. The mainland Chinese have since late September been upping the ante in its long-lasting dispute with Taiwan. The Taiwanese Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) has been consistently violated by aircraft of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force. On 4 October 2021 for instance, 52 aircraft of the PLAAF were identified in the southwestern sector of the Taiwan ADIZ. This included 34 Shenyang J-16 multirole fighters, 12 Xian H-6 nuclear-capable bombers, 2 Sukhoi Su-30 MKK multirole fighters, 2 Shaanxi Y-8 ASW aircraft and 2 Shaanxi KJ-500 AEW&C aircraft.

Figure 2: Illustration of PLAAF incursions into Taiwanese airspace on 4 Oct 2021 (Source: Ministry of National Defense, ROC)

Actions on such a massive scale are becoming increasingly frequent and are posing a serious threat to Taiwanese sovereignty and independence. The dynamics in the region are quickly evolving into a scenario similar to that of the cold war, with the formation of two distinct blocs of power. The United States and its allies – especially Japan – are keeping their eyes peeled on the developments taking place over the airspace of Taiwan, with the Chinese completely bailing out on promises of pursuing unification through peaceful means.

This aggression emerging from the communist regime in Beijing must be met with in order to contain their expansionist objectives. In pursuit of containing Chinese aggression and expansionism, the US Navy deployed the USS Connecticut (SSN-22) – a Seawolf-class nuclear attack submarine – on patrol in East and Southeast Asia. It made stops for supplies at Fleet Activities Yokosuka in Japan, and US Naval base Guam, before departing for the South China Sea. While the public announcement was made on 7 October 2021, the USS Connecticut was struck by an unknown underwater object, while submerged in the disputed region, on 2 October 2021. The incident did not affect the nuclear plant of the attack submarine, nor were there any serious injuries reported.

While the US Navy has not yet disclosed locations of where the submarine incident took place, Chinese think tank South China Sea Probing Initiative made use of satellite imagery to spot what they suspect as being the Seawolf-class submarine sailing 42.8 nm southeast off the disputed Paracel island group[1].

Figure 3: (Left) Map released by SCSPI marking claimed location of USS Connecticut on 3 October 2021 (R) Satellite imagery of suspected Seawolf-class submarine (Source: SCS Probing Initiative)

If this information is accurate, one cannot rule out the chance of this incident being in fact offensive action taken up by the Chinese against an American nuclear submarine sailing so close to a disputed group of shoals and isles over which Beijing adamantly claims sovereignty. But then again, the South China Sea is well known as being a tricky landscape for submarines to sail through submerged, with sharp ridges and a seabed scattered with shoals. Hydrographic and bathymetric failures have taken place in the past, resulting in devastating consequences. For instance, the USS San Francisco (SSN 711) collided with a seamount southeast of Guam in 2005. If one is to compare and contrast the claimed location of the USS Connecticut in Figure 3, with the bathymetric map of the South China Sea in Figure 4, it can be seen that the claimed sighting area is home to tricky geography, with steep ridges connecting waters as shallow as 1300 m to as deep as 3500 m.

Figure 4: Bathymetric of the South China Sea (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

However, given the vast improvement in the gathering of bathymetric and hydrographic data by US Navy Hydrography vessels, it can be possible to rule out the scenario of the USS Connecticut colliding with submarine features. One must then look into other possibilities and scenarios that incurred heavy damage onboard the USS Connecticut, which resulted in injuries to 11 of its sailors.

The possibility of this incident being the result of a nefarious Chinese attack on an American nuclear submarine sailing near territories claimed and occupied by Beijing must not be ruled out. The Chinese have exponentially increased their military aggression and activity over the past months and years, as can be viewed on the Indo-Sino border in the Himalayas and the cross-strait aggression in Taiwan. In the South China Sea, uninhabitable shoals have been converted into military bases supporting aerial capabilities as well as housing advanced radar systems and barracks. A submarine, warship, or any other vessel for that fact, can be considered to be ‘sailing behind enemy lines’.

Among several possibilities, one can be that the Chinese made use of unmanned underwater vehicles to counter the American submarine. In 2019, the PLA Navy put on exhibition its first autonomous underwater vehicle named HSU-001 (Figure 5). Submarine authority H I Sutton’s analysis of the paraded AUV described it as being worthy of long-range operations, with side-scanning sonar arrays and a magnetic anomaly detector to detect underwater targets. Such a vessel can be used for a vast variety of operations including marine surveying and reconnaissance, mine warfare and countermeasures, undersea cable inspection, and anti-submarine warfare.

Figure 5: Two of the HSU-001 AUVs on display in Beijing, 2019 (Source: Forbes).

The Chinese have also developed smaller underwater glider drones. In late December 2020, Indonesian fishermen fished out the ‘Sea Wing’ (Figure 6), which is an entirely different type of drone with no powerhouse to propel its movement. The Sea Wing family of underwater gliders depend upon variable-buoyancy propulsion that makes use of an inflating and deflating balloon-like device filled with pressurised oil, causing them to sink before rising to the surface again, moving along, aided by wings. Unlike the HSU-001, the Sea Wing is much smaller in size and does not support any fittings for combat missions.

Figure 6: Indonesian Fishermen caught a Chinese underwater glider drone in December 2020 (Source: The War Zone)

In July 2021, the communist regime in China in an unprecedented move declassified detailed results of an experimental project that has apparently spanned through decades. The results showcased the field test of an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV), seemingly in the Taiwan Strait in the year 2010. Reports stated that the UUV currently operates individually, but with future upgrades could be capable of operating in packs. The document stated that the UUV pointed its sonar arrays to various sources of sound, while artificial intelligence tried to filter out ambient noise and determine the nature of the target, firing a torpedo upon verification. The ability to fire, assumably a standard-sized torpedo, would suggest that the UUV in question would be of a larger size than the Sea Wing glider. It could, perhaps, be even larger than the HSU-001, given the physical largeness of earlier technologies. Sophisticated technologies of today, however, are also being diverted to reduce the size of torpedoes without impacting their effectiveness.

UUVs are undoubtedly going to change the path of modern warfare, being used for both detecting targets and, in the future, also eliminating them. Military designers and researchers are paying an increasing amount of attention and resources into the development of advanced platforms and assets, keeping in mind the concepts of high precision, small loss and big technology. These assets will prove to be invaluable in shallow seas, and indeed the South China Sea, with all of its treacherous hydrographic features, and being easily modifiable for mission requirements.

One remote understanding of the incident that took place in the South China Sea involving the USS Connecticut can be that the Chinese made use of a UUV to attack the American SSN. Several analysts and submarine experts in the field including former American submariner Aaron Amick suggest that the bow dome of the Seawolf-class nuclear attack submarine was severely damaged. Since no explosions were reported, we can rule out the possibility of the use of torpedoes to attack the American vessel. It could also not have been a ‘dud’ torpedo fired at the American submarine since such a non-lethal thin-metal structure could barely have a major impact on the two-inches thick HY-100 steel alloy that comprises the hull of the Seawolf. This leaves us with the scenario of a drone being used to physically ram the hull of the submarine. It is unlikely that the Chinese made use of a Sea Wing glider given its small size and nature of operations. It would be more probable that if such a scenario did take place, it involved the PLAN making use of a UUV as large as the HSU-001, if not larger.

This would raise the question of what went wrong with the equipment aboard the Connecticut? How is it that the advanced sensors and sonar array could not pick up on an incoming object? Or in the case of a collision with geographical features, what went wrong with the hydrographic and bathymetric systems onboard one of the most advanced nuclear attack submarines in the world?

Submarine navigation is a highly sensitive field of expertise requiring extremely thorough and comprehensive data of the areas in the vessel’s immediate surroundings. Navies across the world maintain classified databases storing detailed hydrographic and bathymetric data that are invaluable for submarine operations. However, submariners also make use of high-frequency sonars that calculate water depths and surrounding features to verify chart data. Active sonar pulses are used to reveal nearby underwater objects including submerged objects such as mines, wrecks, other vessels, as well as geographical features.

The USS Connecticut, alongside other vessels of the Seawolf-class SSNs, began its life with the BQQ 5D sonar system. The Seawolf was refitted with AN/BQQ-10(V4) systems which is an open architecture system that includes biennial software upgrades (APBs) and quadrennial hardware upgrades. The new system, however, continues to make use of the 24 feet wide bow-mounted spherical active and passive array and wide-aperture passive flank arrays installed on the submarine. The class of vessels was also to be retrofitted with TB-29A thin-line towed array sonar systems, developed by Lockheed Martin. The successor of the Seawolf-class – the Virginia-class – has also been fitted with the AN/BQQ-10(V4) sonar processing system, making use of a bow-mounted active and passive array, wide aperture passive array on the flank, high-frequency active arrays on keel and fin, TB 16 towed array and TB-29A thin line towed array. The Seawolf and the Virginia are both fitted with the AN/BQQ-10(V4) system and the TB-29A towed array sonar system which could become worrisome for future operations since this is a relatively newer system.

Operators of the system must look into strengthening any blind spots that the system may possess. There may also be the minute chance that the Chinese have identified such a blind spot and have attempted to exploit it. These systems have been developed by Lockheed Martin in Virginia, USA – also the developer of the F-35 Lightning II JSF. Further alleviating suspicions is the fact that the Chinese have in recent months boasted claims of having developed radar systems that are capable of detecting the most advanced and stealthy of American combat jets, including both the F-35 as well as the F-22 Raptor. This, as per the Chinese, is now possible through the use of their latest radar system – the YLC-8E – which was developed by the China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC). The research team at Tsinghua University said that the platform generated an electromagnetic storm which would serve to acquire the location of incoming stealth aircraft. To engage in the highest degree of speculation, could China have managed to acquire sensitive data from one of the largest US defence contractors, enabling it to detect and even malign some of the finest American technological suites onboard various platforms?


[1] SCS Probing Initiative [@SCS_PI]. (2021, October 8). Is this USS Connecticut? Which is reported to suffer an underwater collision in the #SouthChinaSea Oct 2. Satellite image from @planet spotted a suspected Wolf-class submarine, sailing 42.8NM southeast off the Paracel Islands, Oct 3. Retrieved from Twitter.

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