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Could a maritime chain hub between US-Japan-Viet Nam-India to tackle China?

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The rise of China in the last few years has been a cause of concern and as China grew economically, it strengthened its claws in the realm of defense and has been expanding its paws into the territories of other countries which is a violation of a country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Chinese aggressiveness has become the bone of contention and this is a serious matter of concern for all the countries who are facing the China threat. China’s need to dominant certain trade routes; sea-lanes of navigation and communication jeopardizes the concept of a free and open navigable sea route which is unacceptable as no one country completely owns any sea-lanes and routes of trade and communication. Therefore, in order to protect the national interest and freedom of navigation of many countries, this article tries to build an argument on could there be a possibility for a formation of a maritime chain hub consisting of Guam, Okinawa, Cam Ranh Bay and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands which could tackle China’s maritime aggressiveness.

Guam, a former Spanish colony and now one of the 17 non-self-governing territories of the United States of America. Guam has been a military asset since the World War II as the U.S. moved its military aircraft.  Also, during the Viet Nam War, Guam was a major asset in the Pacific as it was a base used by the Americans. Presently, it serves as a major military base for America and has the U.S. Air Force and Navy installations and is also a major hub for the submarine communications cables between the western United States of America, Hawaii, Australia and Asia. There is a huge military presence in Guam and the United States of America moves its military assets and personnel to Okinawa, the Japanese island.  Guam as a naval base port plays a rather important part as it is home to the four nuclear-powered fast attack submarines and two submarine tenders. Also, Guam has the Andersen Air Force Base which hosts the Navy helicopter squadron and Air Force bombers and along with this has two-three kilometers runways and also caters as a storage facility for fueling purposes.

In June 2020, the U.S. Naval Base Guam has been designated as a ‘safe haven liberty port’ and the U.S 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge(LCC 19) and the USS Bunker Hill(CG 52) have been placed here and eventually, on 24 June 2020, the Nimitz Carrier Strike group which consists of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN68), Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG 59) and the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers USS Sterett (DDG 104) and the USS Ralph Johnson (DDG 114) all placed in the safe haven liberty port in Guam. This move to make Guam a safe heaven liberty port should be seen from the perspective of a potential logistical re-supply, possible repairs and a safe place where the sailors could rest and rejuvenate themselves amidst the global Coronavirus pandemic. One needs to understand that Guam needs to be militarized to ensure that North Korea doesn’t attempt any form of attack on Japan which is under the Security umbrella of the U.S. and also, Guam which is an American territory needs to protect itself from North Korea it is in a feasible striking distance and so, this military buildup in Guam by the United States of America is justified.

Japan’s Okinawa is strategically very important for the United States of America as it is a vital component in America’s grand strategy towards the region of East Asia.  Also, the geographical location of Okinawa has a greater meaning as Okinawa is placed between the Philippines, East China Sea and the South China Sea and also the neighbourhood consists of China, Taiwan, the Korean Peninsula and of course the mainland Japan which is a sure game-changer. Okinawa makes an important military outpost, protects the freedom of navigation and the American national cum security interests which inevitably help in the stability of this region. The bases at Okinawa are of geostrategic value as it deals with a fairly flexible range of positions to counter any potential threat and so, help keep interests of Japan safe especially with regard to the Senkaku Islands and the presence of America at Okinawa is a clear deterrent for China incase it tries to create any provocation. Also, South Korea is in an alliance with the United States of America and so, Okinawa also acts as a critical component in dealing with North Korea and in order to maintain peace in this region, the American marines plays a vital role as protectors. Also, for Taiwan, the presence of American forces at Okinawa helps Taiwan from China’s threats. Therefore, Okinawa plays the role of a major game-changer in the region of East Asia.

Viet Nam’s Cam Ranh Bay has always been a melting point of strategic interest since the 19th century as it was a hub of continuous positing of countries like France, Russia, Japan and the United States of America where their navies were stationed well as the Cam Ranh Bay acted as an excellent protected natural harbour along with being a refueling station. The geostrategic location of Cam Ranh Bay is near the South China Sea and this is therefore called the ‘Apple of the Eye of the East’ as it can help contain Chinese aggressiveness in the region. Also, the Japan-Guam-Australia Fiber-Optic Submarine Cable System Project is being developed with the help of Japan and the United States of America. Cam Ranh Bay if redeveloped could the most valuable asset that Viet Nam has.

India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands is as of today one of the most sort after strategic hub of islands as it is being developed into a maritime and startup hub and the recent inauguration of the submarine optic fiber cable between Chennai and these islands would change the face of digital connectivity. India has also proposed transhipment hub in the Andamans helping these group of islands become a major centre for blue economy and maritime cum startup hub. Also since 2019, the Indian Naval Air Station-INS Kohassa has been developing the island in full swing and this could well become a vital strategic outpost for India  and can easier watch and monitor the rival navies activities along with set an integrated surveillance network.

The question is how does Guam-Okinawa-Cam Ranh Bay-Andaman and Nicobar Islands form a strategic maritime chain hub?

First, Guam is an American territory, Okinawa, a Japanese territory, Cam Ranh Bay, a Vietnamese port and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, an Indian group of islands and so, all these countries are a part of the Quad and this Quad grouping is believed to tackle China’s aggressiveness.

Second, all these countries have excellent relations with another and aim for stronger strategic relations. Japan is in a Security Alliance with the United States of America and Japan is India’s all-weather friend. Due to Japan as a common friend between India and the U.S, they too have excellent strategic partnership with one another. Viet Nam and the United States have been developing relations and are working towards becoming strategic partner. Japan’s relations with Viet Nam has been a major part of their ASEAN relations and separately too, Japan has been working on strengthening stronger relations with Viet Nam and in fact, the first visit of Prime Minister Suga is to Viet Nam which highlights Viet Nam’s importance for Japan. India also has wonderful relations with Viet Nam and Viet Nam being the ASEAN Chair in the times of pandemic has played a vital role in medicine, rice and mask diplomacy and has created its niche as a vital and understanding partner in the ASEAN along with evolving as a regional and a global partner in the Indo-Pacific region.

Third, all these four countries are facing security concerns with China.  China has off late made several advances in the East China Sea, South China Sea and the Indian Ocean and all this has impacted the United States of America, Japan, India and Viet Nam as their geostrategic locations are of prime importance to these countries. China has been making aggressive claims in these waters is a violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the US, Japan, India and Viet Nam.

Fourth, Japan has been the pioneer of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific region aiming for a rules-based order so as to have the freedom of navigation and access to sea-lanes and routes to all the nations. After Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy at the 196thSession of the Diet in January 2018, this strategy was soon adopted by the United States of America and India. ASEAN too adopted this strategy which meant that Viet Nam too has accepted this strategy. Many believe that this Indo-Pacific Strategy is to tackle China’s aggressiveness.

Fifth, Japan’s initiative of the Expanded Partnership for Quality Infrastructure is aimed to promote infrastructure and development cooperation among the countries could also pave the way for port infrastructural development among thee US, India and Viet Nam.

Therefore, keeping in mind, the above-mentioned arguments could well pave the way for a possible formation of a maritime chain hub consisting of Guam, Okinawa, Cam Ranh Bay and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands which could tackle China’s maritime aggressiveness.

The views expressed are personal

Gitanjali Sinha Roy is a research associate at the Centre for Security and Strategy Studies (CesCube) and also fellow at the Japan desk at Cescube.

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Defense

Urgency of Reviewing India-Pakistan’s CBMs & Risk Reduction Measures

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In an unprecedented event on March 9, 2022, India launched a missile, reportedly identified as the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, which landed in Pakistan. After crossing the international border, the missile travelled 124 kilometres at an altitude of 40,000 feet into Pakistani airspace before impacting near the city of Mian Channu, Khanewal District. Following the incident, India started issuing clarification statements only after Pakistan reported the matter. In its first statement, India noted that the missile was accidently launched owing to a technical malfunction. Later, the Indian government changed its statement and termed it a human error, involving ‘possible lapses on part a Group Captain and a few others.’ Around six months later, India terminated the services of three Indian Air Force (IAF) officers, after a Court of Inquiry found ‘deviation from the Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)’ by the officers and held them responsible for misfiring the missile.

Pakistan has rejected the purported closure of the incident and called the findings of the Court of Inquiry unsatisfactory and inadequate. While reiterating its call for a joint probe, Pakistan not only termed Indian clarifications ‘simplistic’ but also criticised the country for failing to immediately inform when the missile was launched. India’s failure to communicate the incident violated the 1991 agreement with Pakistan on preventing air space violations. Under the agreement, both India and Pakistan have to inform and investigate inadvertent violations of airspace promptly. Meanwhile, India also failed to activate the high-level military hotline to inform Pakistan. Both the countries maintain mechanisms of hotline contact between their Director Generals of Military Operations (DGMOs) to resolve misunderstandings.

Fortunately, the missile was unarmed and no lives were lost. Pakistan also responded towards the situation with restraint. However, the incident marks an alarmist event. Whether the incident was an accidental launch, an unauthorised launch, or a simulated exercise, it suggests not only shortcomings in India’s technical and procedural system but also shows its irresponsible behaviour as a nuclear weapon state. The incident also raises numerous questions about the country’s safety protocols, Command and Control (C2) of nuclear weapons and missiles, and communication mechanisms. The situation would have escalated if the accident had led to destruction or loss of lives, since there were several indications that Pakistani authorities had considered retaliation. Second, if the incident had taken place during a crisis, it could have led to inadvertent military escalation owing to miscalculations.

In this regard, there is a great urgency that both India and Pakistan collaborate on Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) to ensure that such accidents or unauthorised launches do not take place in the future. Even if they do, the two countries should be able to inform each other before any military response.

First, India and Pakistan need to review their joint 2005 Agreement on the Pre-Notification of Flight Testing of Ballistic Missiles. The agreement covers surface-to-surface ballistic missiles only, and each country provides at least three days’ notice for a test launch. Both countries are obligated to not situate test launch sites within 40 kilometres of their shared border nor land a weapon closer than 70 kilometres from the border. However, the agreement has its limitations as it does not cover cruise missiles. In 2005, New Delhi declined to accept Islamabad’s proposal to include launch of cruise missiles in their joint agreement on pre-notification of ballistic missile launches. Currently, Pakistan and India have multiple and diverse types cruise missiles in their arsenal with high ranges. There is an urgency of expanding the pre-notification regime to include cruise missiles, including surface, air or sea-launched versions to avoid misunderstanding. Second, in order to avoid accidents in case of routine maintenance or inspection, India should efficiently and professionally ensure safety precautions regarding its missiles.

Additionally, India and Pakistan could also consider devising new Risk Reduction Measures (RRMs). For example, missiles that are scheduled to be inspected, both countries need to configure their weapons’ guidance systems to unoccupied places such as oceans or deserts where they pose minimum dangers. Moreover, the weapons’ pre-fed adversary target locations need to be removed while used for inspection, training, or simulated exercises. The maintenance of actual coordinates of adversary targets could lead to unintended escalation in accidental launches. These measures would not only help avoid accidents, they could also serve as an added layer of protocol to minimise the possibility of unauthorised launch.

However, accidents happen despite best safety protocols as there are limits of safety procedures. In such a possibility, there is a need of haste to communicate accidental launches. India needs to make use of existing channels of communication to avoid miscalculations in times of crises. The BrahMos missile incident indicates that crisis could erupt quite quickly between India and Pakistan. Unless the two countries adhere to their existing CBMs and establish new measures, mitigating such incidents and preventing risk of escalation could become a Gordian knot.

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Why Parties to Russia Ukraine War Prolonging it?

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Image source: kremlin.ru

Russia Ukraine War seems to be entering a deadly phase after seven months, witnessing significant twist in the form of Kremlin’s declaring victory in hasty referendum in four regions of occupied territory to join Russia, poising itself for complete annexation of occupied areas, having announced partial mobilization calling up 3,00,000 reservists for frontline duties. The recent successes of Ukrainian counteroffensive, as the cumulative military aid over $60 billion poured into Ukraine from US led NATO, seems to have emboldened Zelensky to talk of defeating Russia and getting back his entire territory. Angered NATO, left out of battle by nuclear threat, calling out sham referendum, is looking to table new resolution against it, knowing fully well that it will be vetoed by Russia.

Why No Party to the war is thinking of conflict termination?

This prolonged war is making everyone in the world vulnerable to inflationary pressures, triggering an unprecedented energy crisis and acute food shortages. In view of that, diplomacy and talks for conflict termination should have been the logical option long back, but no party to the war seems to be thinking about it due to own strategic interest, wanting to make more gains before getting back to negotiation table. All parties know that they can’t be outright winners in this war, but all are prolonging their agony to avoid being an outright loser.

Russian Stakes

Russia is yet to achieve its strategic aim of liberating complete Donbass Region and remaining southern Ukraine to landlock it, to join up with Transnistria. It has suffered heavy casualties and reverses in many regions like Kharkiv. It has received no worthwhile military material support from anyone in the prolonged war; hence consolidating its gains, redeployment of troops in Russian friendly areas by pulling back from unfriendly ones, along with regrouping and rejig in military hierarchy is a sensible option from military perspective.

The awkward thinly veiled threat by President Putin to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, if Russian “territorial integrity” is threatened has put NATO on notice as to how it would respond. The expected annexation post referendum complicates the nuclear threat, as attack on annexed territory may invite nuclear response as per Russian nuclear policy.

Putin may not be encouraged with meek support from China, its ‘strategic partner with no limit’ seemingly responding within careful limits, and comments like ‘Not an era of war’ from otherwise impartial India. Russia might end up with extension of direct land border with NATO by over 1000 Km in terms of Finland joining it. It also continues to suffer standoff attacks from Ukraine’s recently acquired long range capabilities including drones and clandestine raids of special forces and non-state actors like blasts in Crimea.

Russia is aware of its limitations in the areas of economic, diplomatic, information warfare, and political warfare. Russia’s much-criticised partial mobilisation and call for reservists is comparable to Ukraine’s, which carried it out while under Martial Law, seven months ago and was praised by Western media, highlighting information war against Russia. As a result, it will be prone to hold onto its existing territorial gains and prolong the conflict into the winter, which could favor a new offensive to accomplish remaining military objectives to give itself a stronger negotiating position to have the sanctions lifted.

Ukrainian Stakes

Having accepted so much of political, strategic and military investment of NATO in his country and tasted some success in his counteroffensives, President Zelensky, posing to be fighting on behalf of US led NATO to weaken Russia, is not in a position to back out from prolonging the war.

Ukraine cannot overlook the fact that it has lost 15% of its original land since being independent, is left with over 10 million refugees, devastated towns, suffered significant casualties, and its hyped democracy is struggling under martial law and referendum. While US-led NATO’s military assistance and arsenal can increase its combat power to launch standoff attacks, regaining lost ground from the Russians will be very difficult because they will use built-up areas for defending their gains in a manner similar to how Ukrainian troops did, more so under nuclear hangover.

NATO’s military support to pursue war will not bring Ukraine any closer to peace; nevertheless, it may result in long-term changes to its territorial configuration, unending proxy war, and enhance long term Russian threat. President Zelensky is aware that the western narrative and information war that portrays him as a hero and clear victor is unsustainable, yet he will prolong the conflict in order to safeguard his political survival and continued aid.

NATO’s Stakes

NATO may be encouraged by successes of Ukrainian counter-offensives, and its own gains in non-kinetic, non-contact, undeclared war against Russia in economic, information, diplomatic and political domains, but concerned that it can’t take Putin’s nuclear threat lightly, because a tactical nuclear strike from cornered Russia is within the realms of possibility, if Russia declares newly acquired territory as its integral part, post successful referendum and applies the policy of escalate to de-escalate.

The United States may benefit from sales of arms, energy, and post-conflict construction contracts in Ukraine, and it may justify recent increases in aid in order to pursue its goal of weakening Russia in order to fend off potential rivals in Europe, but its biggest strategic loss is bringing Russia, China, and Iran closer than ever before in a strategic partnership. It may be beginning of adoption of alternate global/localised financial systems, undermining its grip on current global financial system.

NATO, encouraged by soft Russian response to the bid of Finland and Sweden to join NATO, is keen to add both with strong militaries, to secure its northern flank for better collective security posture in the long run. It also makes sense in context of Sino-Russian footprints in Arctic region and North Atlantic Ocean.

NATO will continue to urge Russia to end the conflict while supporting Ukraine in its proxy war until last Ukrainian remains because holding negotiations when a sizable portion of the land is in Russian hands will be viewed as NATO’s weakness. With millions of refugees mixed in with activated mercenaries and a longer border with belligerent Russia, which will reorganise itself after learning from its mistakes, the war is undoubtedly not making Europe more peaceful. It has signaled its willingness to sacrifice its energy and economic interests in order to achieve that goal. To effectively combat unfriendly Russia in the long run, the EU will need to increase its defence spending while holding some sovereign decisions hostage to the USA.

Way Ahead

Despite the narrative and rhetoric of the west, Ukraine may not recapture a sizable amount of territory, but standoff strikes, proxy war, clandestine operations, and some ground operations to cause Russian fatalities will continue in the coming days, inviting an equal or stronger Russian reaction.

In the Big powers’ contestation in Ukraine, the global need is that this war should end, but the negotiations are unlikely, because Russia has not yet achieved its strategic objectives on the ground, which is essential to persuade NATO to lift sanctions. On the other side, US led NATO doesn’t have any leverage to restrain Putin, so it finds weakening Russia by ongoing proxy war, without sharing any burden of body bags, as the most convenient option.  This is especially true when Zelensky is prepared to take this move because he understands that without US support, he will lose his position of power.

In current phase of offensive, Russia seemed to have reached its culmination point before seizing center of gravity of Ukrainian forces, a situation which is uncomfortable for any attacker in military campaign. The referendum and nuclear threat by Russia have pushed the war into next phase, with NATO yet to work out its responses.

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India overreacted to the US $450 million deal with Pakistan

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India registered a strong protest with the US last week over the latter’s decision to approve a $ 450 million sustainment package for Pakistan’s aging F-16 Fleet. The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency DSCA said in a statement that the sustainment program would assist Pakistan in its campaign against terrorism with a rider that it will not affect the status quo in the region. The Biden administration has ignored the “strong objections” raised by India over the proposed foreign military sale of $450 million to Pakistan in order to sustain the Pakistan Air Force’s F-16 program.

Pakistan’s arch-rival India has voiced “serious objections” to the US plan for Foreign Military Sales (FMS) worth $450 million for hardware, software, and spares for the F-16 fighter jet during official meetings with US Assistant Secretary of State Donald Lu in Delhi.

In widely published comments, Indian External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said last week that the US was not “fooling anybody” by claiming the equipment was for counterterrorism operations. Recently Indian foreign Minister cut short his trip to the US, and without attending his pre-scheduled meetings and returned back to India in protest. His behavior was unprecedented in the diplomacy world and considered an overreaction.

Prime Minister Modi is upset too and sources close to his are guessing a severe reaction from him. Unconfirmed, but a possible reaction may include cancellation of defense agreements with the US, and exclusion from “Quad” – an anti-China alliance with the US, Japan, and Australia. The Indian ideology of intolerance, extremism, and nationalism is the real threat to the region.

As a matter of fact, India has been hijacked by extremists and any extreme reaction is expected at any moment. There was a time in history when India was known democratic and secular state. But, now, under the leadership of Prime Minister Modi, all extremist political parties and groups under the umbrella of the BJP are ruling India.

The extremist and fanatics are implementing their agenda of eliminating minorities and transforming India into a “Pure Hindu State”. Especially with Pakistan, a traditional rivalry exists and they cannot see any improvement in Pakistan. 

Pakistan was in the American club for almost Seven Decades and enjoyed very cordial relations with the Western world. Whereas India was a close ally with the former USSR. Although Pakistan was a close ally of the West, yet was facing the toughest sanctions too. However, there is a realization in Washington and a visible policy shit was witnessed recently. Pakistan always welcomes and desires the restoration of traditional friendship between the West and Pakistan.

The US claims the proposed sale to Pakistan does not include any new capabilities, weapons, or munitions, but it would be hard for New Delhi to digest such claims and remain complacent. Interestingly, the fleet of F-16s has been part of the Pakistan Air Force since the early 1980s. Pakistan has always used the US-supplied defense systems in its defense only. The F-16s in their arsenals have been no exception. In February 2019, after the Indian Air Force launched its air strike on Balakot, Pakistan came to deploy its F-16s to target Indian military bases close to the Line of Control.

Apart from Pakistan, the US has sold F-16s in many countries like Bahrain, Belgium, Egypt, Taiwan, Denmark, Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Thailand, Turkey, etc. However, South Asia remains a highly volatile region. The US has been sitting on the sale of F-16s to Turkey based on security concerns in the Mediterranean region, which makes the Pakistan agreement all the more intriguing.

Department of State spokesperson Ned Price has said the relationship Washington had with Pakistan “stands on its own,” responding to criticism from India over a proposed US sale of F-16 aircraft sustainment and related equipment to Islamabad.

Answering a question about Jaishankar’s comments, the state department spokesperson said on Monday Washington did not view its relations with India or Pakistan “in relation to one another.” “These are both partners of ours with different points of emphasis in each, and we look to both as partners because we do have in many cases shared values, we do have in many cases shared interests,” Price told a briefing. “And the relationship we have with India stands on its own; the relationship we have with Pakistan stands on its own.”

There are positive signals and it seems the traditional relations between the US and Pakistan will be restored soon. Our relations are not any threat to India or any other nation, but, for promoting regional peace, stability and development. We are partners in peace, development, and the total welfare of humankind.

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