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World Ocean Safety and Logistics: Chinese “Diplomacy of Straits”

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The world ocean has always been considered an arena of confrontation between the strongest powers in the struggle for control of resources and trade routes. The dominance on the sea has always allowed strong countries to dictate their terms of the world order (for example, the Great Geographical Discoveries of the UK, Spain, Portugal; the colonial policy of the UK, France, Spain, Portugal, etc.). States discovered and conquered new territories, carried their own orders and faith. In the XXI century, the situation with the redistribution of borders at sea has changed in comparison with history, but the presence of the large fleet still remains a huge advantage.

Statistics on the number of ships change every year: some countries, due to the lack of funds for modernization, reduce the fleet, others build new ships. (See Map 1).

Map 1.: Military Infographic (2020)

Source: SIPRI Military Expenditure Database, 2020

Thus, in accordance with the recent US defence report estimations, China  has the largest  navy in the world in 2021 in terms of the naval fleet. China’s navy has rapid growth in its offensive arsenal by building new warships and submarines and is still building out new ships. China’s navy considered the fastest-growing fleet in the world. Every year, the State increases units of marine equipment. China is now standing up to Japan, and it also raises legitimate concerns of the US government. The number of ships of various types at the end of 2018 is about 465, troops-more than 324,000 people. It is important to note that the US amphibious ships outnumber the Chinese in tonnage and capacity. To ensure the uninterrupted supply of fuel to the fleet, China is creating external bases in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. Thus, for refuelling under a special agreement, Chinese ships enter the ports of Gwadar (Pakistan), Victoria (Seychelles), Yangon (Myanmar) etc. on a regular basis.

Comparatively, the Chinese navy has a numerical advantage in terms of the total fleet, the US still is the world’s most powerful navy for the superior technological edge. The most powerful as well as strongest army in the world, the US also has by far the most aircraft of any country. The country has cutting-edge technology like the Navy’s new rail gun, also a large and well-trained human.

According to the Naval Vessel Register and published reports, the US Navy as of early 2021, the U.S. Navy has over 490 ships in both active and reserve operations. In addition, the United States is the world leader in the number of aircraft carriers. The composition differs not only quantitatively, but also qualitatively. The US ships are equipped with modern equipment. There are 332,507 people in the navy. They have a dominant position in the Pacific Ocean, which was secured in the Second World War by ousting Japan.

Third most powerful military in the world is Russia, which total number of vessels at the end of 2018 is 270, but they also include those that are in reserve and on modernization. Half of them is actively used. Russia’s naval fleet includes one cargo carrier, one battlecruiser, three cruisers, 13 destroyers, eight frigates, 78 corvettes, 17 submerged SSNs, 22 submarines, 13 submarines for ballistic weapons, 7 submarines of cruise-missiles, 3 submarines for special purposed purposes. The priority area is submarines carrying modern missile weapons.

The fourth-ranked Japanese navy, which is considered to have 70 warships, including 17 submarines, 3 light aircraft carriers, and about 40 destroyers. Japanese Navy has 50,800 active naval personnel and around 155 ships. The Japanese Navy is one of the  largest  navies in the world. 

It currently has around 345 naval aircraft of which around 145 are helicopters. F-35 Lightning II is going to be the main fighter jets of the Japanese Navy in the future. At present, it has 4 helicopter carriers, 40 destroyers, 20 submarines, 0 frigates, 6 Corvettes, 6 patrols and 25 mine warfare.

The Japan Self-Defence Maritime Force (JMSDF) is the maritime warfare branch of the Japan Self-Defence Forces consisting of 50,800 personnel, 150 ships, and almost 346 aircraft. The main purpose of creating troops is to ensure the security of the country, but today the law allows the armed forces to act differently if necessary.

Completing the top five is the fleet of India, which has one of the largest and most powerful fleets in the world, although in accordance with other sources its place is also occupied by the great maritime power of Great Britain. The Indian Navy pursues its origins back to the East India Company’s Marine which was founded in 1612. When India became a republic in 1950, it was named the Indian Navy. The Indian Navy currently has around 70,000 active naval personnel and around 285 ships.

Now coming to the size of naval aircraft the Indian Navy has approximately 250 aircraft of which around 100 are helicopters. Currently, MiG-29 and HAL Tejas are the main fighter jets of the Indian navy. It has 1 aircraft carrier, 10 destroyers, 16 submarines of which 3 are nuclear-powered, 19 corvettes, 13 frigates, 139 patrols and only 3 mine warfare.

The ranking of the world’s naval forces shows that the largest and most powerful are located in the Asia-Pacific region. It is also important that 4 out of 5 powers (the US, China, Russia, India) have nuclear status. These two facts indicate that their confrontation at sea is extremely dangerous for the maintenance of world order in the event of a conflict between states.

It is also important to take into account the active maritime diplomacy of the countries of the region. Thus, in accordance with the recent US defence report  and the world media, it can be noted that in this direction, the PRC takes an active position in the region. China has steadily built up its maritime capabilities over the past three decades, giving it the ability to contest its littoral seas in the event of conflict. But significant challenges remain before it can control those waters, let alone the broader Pacific Ocean.

After the end of the Cold War and the passing of the ideological confrontation between the two systems, serious changes have taken place in the Asia-Pacific region. The rapid growth and strengthening of China’s comprehensive potential, the sharp increase in its international prestige, led to the fact that the Middle Kingdom was gradually considered as a potential strategic enemy of the United States and Japan. At the same time, China’s transformation into a global factory and the world’s second economy after the United States has dramatically increased its dependence on external supplies of raw materials (especially hydrocarbons), equipment, components, etc. The main sea communications, through which the Persian Gulf countries supply more than 80% of the state’s imported oil to China, run through the waters of the South China Sea and pass through the Strait of Malacca. A significant part of the export goods produced in China goes to the world market along the same route (see Map 2).

This region is becoming particularly important for China, so China is increasingly focusing on its maritime interests, including economic development, territorial management, energy and food security, as well as trade.

Beijing has always understood that new defence mechanisms are needed for new goals and achievements. In recent decades, China has turned the whole world into a “stage” for a global procession of Chinese goods. But in recent years, Beijing has started to develop the domestic market of its country. The concept of “xiaokang” (which means a well – off family or an ideal society) has gained a special place in the Chinese external and internal political stratagems[1].

Map 2.: World’s natural resources map

Source: CIA Factbook, 2020

This concept suggests that in five years 23% of the Chinese population should significantly improve their living conditions. The goal of the concept is to give priority to the Chinese economy’s policy of stimulating domestic demand as opposed to export industries.

It should be understood that the reorientation to the development of the domestic market means that it will be more difficult for China’s partners to exert political influence on its economic development (though stock and financial pressures and speculation) [6, p.244]. The reaction of many countries to a new alignment of forces in the world may be ambiguous, for Beijing that means a change in the mechanisms for protecting their national interests.

Chinese diplomacy of stratagems. What does this mean for today’s global geopolitical map? How does China use soft power tools and, most importantly, for what? Similar kinds of questions arise from analysts and researchers studying the growth of the Eastern dragon.

The Chinese policy of stratagems originates from ancient times. “Tossing out a brick to get a jade gem” – this is one of the 36 ancient Chinese military strategies. One of its interpretations can be translated as follows: “To get something really valuable, you first need to let the other party know the benefits”. It is believed that this is one of the first mentions of the Chinese “soft power”.

Having developed the economy at the beginning of the 21st century, China began to seriously think about new prospects in foreign policy. In Beijing, they reasoned that in addition to a modernized army and a powerful economy, “soft power” is also needed. Its importance for China in 2007 from the rostrum of the XVII Congress of the Communist Party was announced by Secretary General Hu Jintao. The stake was made on the ancient culture and values – the authorities feared that Sinophobia (hostility to all Chinese) would interfere with economic plans as well.

The 2008 Olympics in the Chinese capital became a landmark and, in many ways, a turning point. It began a new stage in the powerful promotion of China’s positive brand to the broad masses around the world.

Xi Jinping supported the promotion of Chinese culture and art from the very beginning of his rule. His first big concept, the “Chinese dream”, had a great domestic policy purpose and implied a revival of the nation in all spheres, but it was already then stressed that China’s achievements should be known all over the world. And to know, for example, not by the stereotypical “made in China”, but by the new high – quality brand “created in China”.

However, changes in domestic policy were only the beginning of global restructuring.

Let’s look at the foreign policy of China in 2014. China is actively studying the theory and practice of innovation in international relations, participates in the development of the global economy and financial management, maintains friendly relations with countries in various important areas, contributes to the peaceful resolution of conflicts in hot spots, works for the benefit of domestic development and creates a favourable atmosphere. In 2014, a strong foundation was created for Chinese foreign policy and achieved great success in this area. However, what followed next? Next was the Chinese Boom, in the form of China’s active manifestation of itself as an active and leading actor in international relations.

The second half of the first decade of the 21st century resulted in the implementation of a new foreign policy strategy. On March 25, 2016, the Politburo meeting of the CPC Central Committee recognized the urgent need for an integrated development of the military and civil sectors, since this is linked to national security and prosperity.

The speech of Chinese Rear Admiral Zhang Huacheng (the main stake was made on the fact that “China moves from coast defence to defence on the high seas”) was soon confirmed by further practice. Thus, China focused on the strategically important South China Sea. Since 2016, the PRC has ceased to make claims and historical substantiations for this region (it has already done it for a long time) and moved on to a policy of direct presence.

While analysing Chinese diplomacy of Straits, certain world’s regions should be taken into account:

Sino – Pakistan ties. The construction of the port and railway in Gwadar allowed the PRC to get a transport corridor to the Indian Ocean, which can work in both directions (see Map 3). Chinese goods will flow to the East and to Africa, and minerals and Middle Eastern oil will flow back. Beijing has always been concerned about the presence of the United States in the Persian Gulf, which controls up to 60% of the energy resources transported for the needs of the American economy in this area. Thus, the exploitation of the Gwadar port will increase the energy security of the People’s Republic of China in case of a global military conflict.

Map 3.: Gwadar

Source: Institute for Conflict Management, 2016

Finally, Gwadar will enable China to establish an “intercept and listening post” to “monitor U.S. naval activity in the Persian Gulf, Indian activity in the Arabian Sea, and possible U.S.Indian maritime cooperation in the Indian Ocean”. The Chinese military presence in the region is of extreme concern to both the United States and India. At the same time, the naval capabilities of Pakistan itself are not dangerous for India, but the combination of Chinese and Pakistani naval forces can really become a serious problem. In addition, New Delhi fears that Islamabad will allow Beijing to use Pakistan’s military infrastructure without public disclosure, which will further complicate the work of international observers in this area.

It is also necessary to take into account that Gwadar is located on the territory of Balochistan a province that American strategists consider in various geopolitical scenarios as part of a possible new state that unites Baloch Pakistan, Iran, and Afghanistan. We cannot exclude the possibility that in the case of a war with Iran and complete internal political destabilization in the IRP, the United States itself will go to the creation of an independent Balochistan, using the Baloch rebel forces in Iran and Pakistan. In this case, the United States will win a landslide victory over China, depriving it of the possibility of unhindered access to the Persian Gulf.

Emphasizing the strategic importance of Gwadar, it should be noted that it is located on the watershed of the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Oman – i.e., is the “door” to the Strait of Hormuz between the Omani and Persian Gulfs. This location means that 40% of all contracted crude oil on the planet passes through the Strait of Hormuz. Important is the fact that the owner of the eastern side of Hormuz is a strategic ally of Beijing and an active political player – Iran. On the west side, there are rich, but militarily weak monarchies of the Persian Gulf, which raises the question of the possible arrival of a new geopolitical force from the East into a potential hot spot.

China – Bangladesh. This country is one of the priority partners of the PRC in the military sphere, and there is a logical explanation for this. Since the mid-1970s, Bangladesh’s relations with India have deteriorated rapidly. In these circumstances, to ensure its own security, Dhaka began to actively develop cooperation with countries that had pursued an anti-Indian policy in the region. Quite naturally, Bangladesh quickly established ties with China, which at that time was in a state of acute confrontation with India. Beijing, in line with its desire to surround its rival with a “hostile cordon”, immediately began to provide significant military and economic assistance to Bangladesh. As analysts emphasized, in the 1980s, the PRC fully provided the armed forces of Bangladesh with everything necessary. By the early 1980s, almost all of Bangladesh’s military equipment was Chinese made. Since the late 1980s, Sino-Indian relations have gradually begun to normalize, but China continues to actively support Bangladesh in various fields: politics, economy, public life, culture, etc. In recent years, economic cooperation between the two countries has been developing particularly rapidly.  

Regarding the construction of a container port in Chittagong (Shetgang) on the territory of Bangladesh, the Chinese leadership has repeatedly stated that its participation in this project depends on the independent decision of Chinese enterprises (see Map 4). According to Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang, the Chinese government always encourages and supports its companies in friendly and equal cooperation with different countries of the world, including Bangladesh.

Western scholars, however, believe that China is building container port facilities in Chittagong for its merchant and naval fleets. The authorities of Bangladesh, according to foreign experts, fall under the pressure from the leadership of the People’s Republic of China and agreed to supply nuclear technology to their country in exchange for providing the Chinese navy with naval bases in the Bay of Bengal. In March 2010, China agreed to invest $ 8.7 billion in a project to build a deep-water port in Bangladesh, as well as roads and railways between the two countries. The new container port, according to the plan, will be able to receive up to 100 million tons of cargo at the same time by 2055, which is more than three times higher than today’s figures. According to some experts, China is also interested in the project because it expects to use the port in Chittagong as a gateway to the sea for its southern province of Yunnan.

Map 4.: port in Chittagong (Shetgang)

Source: Anadolu Agency Research, 2020

The actions of the PRC caused great alarm in New Delhi. In 2010. India has agreed to sell electricity to Bangladesh, provide it with a $ 1 billion credit line for infrastructure projects, and reduce import tariffs. In exchange, Dhaka allowed Indian ships to use the port, which is currently being rebuilt by China.

China – Sri Lanka. In March 2007 Beijing has signed an agreement with Colombo to finance the construction of the Hambantonta development zone on the southern tip of Sri Lanka (see Map 5). This zone included a container port, a bunkering system, and an oil refinery. The Export-Import Bank of China financed 85% of the cost of the $ 1 billion project, and China Harbour Engineering, which is part of a state-owned corporation, was engaged in its implementation. The same conditions have been achieved for the construction of an international airport, which was located nearby.

In the United States, the Hambantonta project is regarded as part of the “string of pearls” strategy, considering that China plans to use the port as a refuelling and maintenance station for its fleet while patrolling the Indian Ocean. However, the official Beijing insists that the port on the southern coast of Sri Lanka is a normal commercial enterprise. Despite the fact that the United States uses a naval base on the neighbouring island of Diego Garcia, the PRC has no immediate plans to build a full-fledged naval base, although it seeks to create a similar foothold in the Indian Ocean to protect its oil resources from pirate attacks or blockades by a foreign power.

Map 5.: Hambantota development zone

Source: South China Morning Post, Infographics, 2019

China – Myanmar (Burma). Deepening ties with this country is of great importance for China.  Of particular interest to Beijing are the rich mineral resources of Myanmar, primarily the oil and gas resources of this country. It is worth noting that in August 2011, the construction of the Myanmar section of the China—Myanmar oil and gas pipeline began (see Map 6). The length of the Chinese section of the oil pipeline is 1,631 km, and the length of the gas pipeline is 1,727 km. The length of the oil and gas pipeline of the Myanmar section is 771 and 793 km, respectively. According to the construction plan, these pipelines were constructed and put into operation in 2013.

China – Thailand. Relations between China and the Kingdom of Thailand, for which China is the largest trading partner, are also developing dynamically.

Map 6.: China—Myanmar oil and gas pipeline

Source: Shwe Gas Movement, 2012

In 2005, The Washington Times newspaper reported from a report by the US Secretary of Defence that, as part of improving its energy security, China plans to participate in the construction of the Thai Kra – Canal (the Thai Canal through the Malacca Peninsula of Thailand), connecting the Pacific (Siamsky Bay) and the Indian (Andaman Sea) oceans) on the isthmus in the northern part of the Malay Peninsula belonging to this state (see Map 7). According to the Chinese side, the project will take 10 years and will require the involvement of 30 thousand workers and 20-25 billion dollars.

Western experts argued that by crossing the isthmus (at its narrowest point, its width is less than 50 km), it is possible to connect the Andaman Sea with the South China Sea, and therefore the Indian Ocean with the Pacific. Chinese ships, thus, will be able to go around the strategically important Strait of Malacca.

According to some Chinese scientists, in particular Sun Lingshun, the project the Kra – Canal is not in the interests of China’s national security. The researcher claims that for the PRC, the main goal of this project is to get out of the difficult situation in the field of oil and gas imports through the Strait of Malacca. Currently, the US Navy controls the entire Pacific and Indian Oceans, and Thailand is traditionally among the American “friends”, hence it is allowed to Thailand from time to time to revive the idea of “the Kra – Canal project” and bring it to one or another degree of embodiment. If there is a military conflict between China and the United States over the Taiwan issue, the United States can easily close the Kra – Canal.

Map 7.: the Thai Kra – Canal

Source: Deutsche Welle analytics, 2016

Sun Lingshun also believes that the implementation of this project will improve the strategic position of not only China, but also other important players in the region. The Kra – Canal is primarily beneficial to Thailand itself, as well as to South Korea. Korea and Japan, which also have to transport up to 80% of oil imports through the Strait of Malacca. Despite this, from the point of view of eliminating the threat to the security of Chinese oil transportation, the Kra – Canal project is less effective than the China – Myanmar pipeline project”.

China’s choice of precisely the Kra – Canal concept was dictated by very pragmatic facts. Thus, it should be noted that the Kra – Canal can reduce the path of ships from the Pacific Ocean to the Indian by more than 1,800 kilometres and eliminate the need to follow the dangerous and downtrodden channel of the Strait of Malacca. 

Beijing’s ambitions are not limited to the Straits of Malacca. Thus, the China – Pakistan economic corridor (CPEC), which connects Northwest China and the Persian Gulf, came in sight in the field of view of the PRC’s interests. This is a grandiose 45.6 billion – dollars logistics project, which is a network of highways and railways, as well as oil and gas pipelines. Until recently, each of the countries protected its network section: China – Xinjiang Uygur region, Pakistan – Baluchistan. However, in March 2016, the Afghan agency Khaama Press, and a number of Indian media reported the news that Chinese troops will be stationed in Pakistan to protect the CPEC. Analysts noted that China is striving for the Strait of Hormuz (because its extreme western CPEC point is Pakistan’s seaside Gwadar – a major modern port city given to the management of the Chinese state – owned company Chinese Overseas Port Holdings).

The South China Sea. According to Western experts, in the South China Sea, the PRC is developing systems that allow for large-scale deployment of naval and air force units, by strengthening bases on Hainan Island, the Paracel Islands and the Spratly Islands, as well as in coastal areas in southern China (see Map 8).

Map 8.: South China Sea territory disputes

Source: Money Morning staff research, NPR, 2020

Hainan Island is known as a “tourist Mecca”. In April 2011, the 3rd summit of the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) was held here. According to Indian scientists, this island is home to a deep-sea Chinese naval base, which is capable of receiving large aircraft carriers. It has 4 entrance tunnels to the underground storage facility, where you can place submarines with ballistic missiles on board. This base, located about 2,200 km from the Strait of Malacca, is the starting point of the chain of strongholds of the PRC, which stretches along the northern coast of the Indian Ocean to the Southwest Asia.

In the Spratly Islands and Paracel Islands, China is building port facilities for mooring large ships and runways for long-range bombers. In fact, the PRC is in the process of building a group of unsinkable aircraft carriers in the centre of the South China Sea, according to Japanese scientists.

Shortly before the global financial and economic crisis of 20082009, one of the world’s largest port operators, Dubai Ports World, which has its own infrastructure on all continents, supported the Chinese proposal to build a canal to Malay the peninsula and the bridge over it, as well as ways to connect the ports on both sides of it with high-speed rail and highways. Malaysia had hoped to join the project because it was interested in building pipelines parallel to the channel from the Bay of Bengal to the South China Sea. Such a transport network, resembling the infrastructure of the Panama Canal, would become a crossroad of routes that are extremely important not only for Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and other countries of Southeast Asia, but also for the entire Asian region. The crisis prevented the implementation of the project, and it was postponed until better times.

In addition, China plans to complete the creation of a high-speed railway network by 2021, which will connect it with the states of Southeast Asia with Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand (so-called 3,000-km pan-Asian railway network). As of January 2014, construction of sections connecting China with Vietnam, China with Myanmar and Laos with Vietnam were under way. Work on sections in Laos began in December 2017 and is expected to be completed by the end of 2021 with Chinese assistance. According to Western experts, this line is of strategic importance, since it provides the southern part of China with access to the sea.

It should be noted that China established control of the northern part of the sea (the Paracel Islands, Chinese – Xīshā Qúndǎo) back in 1974, but then it was not so much related to economic opportunities as to the blocking of Kuomintang Taiwan. In recent years, China has confidently taken control of the Spartly archipelago (Chinese – Nansha Qingdǎo), located in the southwestern part of the South China Sea (see Map 8).

According to the director of the Asian Maritime Transparency Initiative (AMTI), Greg Pauling, in 2016, several Chinese reefs of the Spartly archipelago (Mischief, Subi and Fiery Cross) have been turned into artificial islands, and now space images show “rectangular areas with a retaining wall, 3,280 yards long”. Thus, Western analysts note that China is building three naval airbases in the southwestern part of the South China Sea with a runway three kilometres long.

Today, not only China, but also Taiwan, Vietnam, and the Philippines are making claims to the Spartly archipelago(see Map 8). However, the military power there is currently on the side of Beijing. The PRC, with the brilliant serenity of a strong player, ignores both the protests of Taipei, Hanoi and Manila, as well as the “deep concern” of the US, sometimes raising the issue of the threat of war[2].

By such actions, China has actually placed under its control all the South China Sea, through which about $ 5 trillion of world trade turnover passes and has come “close” to the shores of Indonesia and Malaysia, i.e. to Singapore and the Strait of Malacca – to places through which a third of the world’s trade flows.

This PRC activity in the seas of South – East Asia did not bypass the Chinese partners in the region, provoking a negative reaction. Indonesia first started to contract, deploying in November 2015 a squadron of seven ships in the area of the Riau Archipelago, which is located halfway between Spartly and Singapore.

China – Africa. The African vector of Chinese “strait diplomacy” has not lost its relevance. On February 25, 2016, the spokesman for the Chinese Ministry of Defence, Colonel Wu Qian, stated that in Djibouti (the African side of the Bab el – Mandeb, connecting the Gulf of Aden (and hence the entire Indian Ocean basin and the Asia – Pacific region) to the Red Sea and further, through the Suez Canal, with the Mediterranean Sea), in the port city of Obock, work on the construction of a naval base of the PRC began. Chairman of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping agreed on this construction in January 2016 during his trip to Johannesburg for the summit of the Forum on China – Africa Cooperation (see Map 9).

Map 9.: Transhipment corridors

Source: Chinese Defense Ministry, EIA, Yonhap, 2019

It should be understood that the base in Djibouti will not only enable Beijing to control the Bab – el Mandeb Strait to some extent, but also will serve as a military guarantee of Chinese interests on the African continent, which is (for 2014) $ 210 billions of trade turnover and $ 20 billions of direct Chinese investment.

China is positioning itself as a “responsible” player in the global arena, not focusing on political issues, but focused on the economy and taking care of trade and the prosperity of at least half the globe. If in 2012, China invested $ 40 billion in Africa, in 2016 this figure was already $ 90 billion. China is a leader in developing countries who understands and shares the problems of these countries. For this reason, the deployment of troops of the Chinese army in Africa does not seem to be an adequate solution to the security problem. No one wants to adopt the Western colonial policies and acquire a negative image of invasion of internal affairs.

Although it is impossible not to recall that China officially opened its base in Djibouti (Camp Lemonnier) (see Map 10). In theory, the base can accommodate up to 10 thousand Chinese military, but so far in Beijing will be limited to a couple thousand people. The base in Djibouti will first of all allow the Chinese Navy to increase its presence in the Indian Ocean, it will also become a stronghold in the event of an emergency evacuation of Chinese citizens from Africa. Recently, by the way, it became known that China is expanding the port infrastructure in the territory of its base, extending the space for mooring ships.

Map 10.: Chinese and US bases in Djibouti

Source: The New York Times: Straits Times Graphics, 2018

It can be noted here that the rumours about China’s plans to create 18 naval bases all over the World Ocean have been circulating for more than one year, at least since 2014. The Xinhua News Agency at one time “recommended” the establishment of bases in such ports as Chongjin (North Korea), Port Moresby (Papua – New Guinea), Sihanoukville (Cambodia), Koh Lanta (Thailand), Sittwe (Myanmar), Djibouti, Maldives, Seychelles, Gwadar (Pakistan), Port of Dhaka (Bangladesh), Lagos (Nigeria), Hambantota (Sri Lanka), Colombo (Sri Lanka), Mombasa (Kenya), Luanda (Angola), Walvis Bay (Namibia), Dar es Salaam (Tanzania). As it can be seen, not only Africa is here in the sphere of attention of Chinese analysts.

In addition to purely security issues, Africa is also a market for Chinese weapons and a huge storehouse of natural resources that China needs for its development (see Map 11). From 2013 to 2017, exports of Chinese weapons to Africa grew by 55% compared with the previous five years. From 2008 to 2017, China exported $ 3 billion worth of arms to Africa. Algeria already purchases 10% of all exports of Chinese weapons, including warships.

Map 11.: Natural resources of Africa

Source: CIA Factbook, 2020

But at the same time, if the USA and Russia in Africa sell the lion’s share of weapons to several countries (for the USA, this is Egypt and Morocco, for Russia, Algeria and Egypt), then China supplies weapons on a smaller scale, but to a much larger number of African countries. In the long run, this may be a more effective strategy (stratagem “Feign madness but keep your balance”). One of its interpretations can be translated as follows: “Hide behind the mask of a fool or a madman to create confusion about your intentions and motivations. Lure your opponent into underestimating your ability until, overconfident, he drops his guard. Then you may attack”).

Thus, it can be seen that over the past few years, Beijing not only took control of the South China Sea, but also loudly declared itself in the three most important “bottlenecks” of world trade: in the Malacca, Hormuz and Bab – el Mandeb straits, while other Major powers of international relations (the United States, Russia, the EU) “were searching for democracy and human rights” between the black earth of Ukraine and the sands of Syria.

However, today the task of protecting maritime communications remains very difficult for the Chinese Navy. From the point of view of Western scientists, in its development, China simply follows in the footsteps of other world powers that have established military bases abroad to protect their interests. A great power is necessarily expansionist, and China, according to Western experts, will not be an exception, so the whole of Asia should be ready for the strengthening of the position of the PRC in the World Ocean, and Japan, the United States and other traditional maritime powers should again consider their “sea power” in this region as a key component of protecting their own national interests. Chinese scientists, in turn, say that such statements excessively inflame the situation around this problem and are ultimately aimed at deterring the PRC.

Thus, the Chinese leadership is faced with the task of reducing the resistance to its rise as a maritime power. On the one hand, Beijing needs to pay special attention to the realization of its maritime interests and, to this end, increase its maritime power. On the other hand, China should strengthen political and economic cooperation in the Indian Ocean and the Asia – Pacific region with Japan, the United States, India and the ASEAN countries. Thus, most likely the maritime policy of the People’s Republic of China will try to find a solution to this dilemma in the near future.


[1] Confucius began to develop this concept two and a half thousand years ago. In 1984, the father of Chinese reforms, Deng Xiaoping, noted that “a per capita GNP of $ 800 by the end of this century is Xiaokang.” In November 2002, at the 16th Congress of the Communist Party of China, the previous leader Jiang Zemin announced new “frames” of the Xiaokang: by 2020, 4 times increase in GNP against the level of 2000 or up to $ 2,000. And in October 2015, at the Plenum of the CPC Central Committee, Xi Jintao set the task of doubling the country’s GDP and building a “medium prosperity” society in China by the centenary of the founding of the CCP in 2021. The real president of China, Xi Jinping, continued the idea of realizing of the strategy in 2016.

[2] The possibility of “provoking a war” was declared by Chinese admiral Wu Shenli when in October 2015 an American destroyer “Lassen” passed in 12 nautical miles ( 22 kilometers ) from the reefs Mischief and Subi.

Dr. Maria Smotrytska is a senior research sinologist and International Politics specialist of the Ukrainian Association of Sinologists. She is currently the Research Fellow at International Institute for Middle East and Balkan Studies (IFIMES), Department for Strategic Studies on Asia. PhD in International politics, Central China Normal University (Wuhan, Hubei province, PR China) Contact information : officer[at]ifimes.org SmotrM_S[at]mail.ru

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Intelligence

An Underdeveloped Discipline: Open-Source Intelligence and How It Can Better Assist the U.S. Intelligence Community

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Open-Source Intelligence (OSINT) is defined by noted intelligence specialists Mark Lowenthal and Robert M. Clark as being, “information that is publicly available to anyone through legal means, including request, observation, or purchase, that is subsequently acquired, vetted, and analyzed in order to fulfill an intelligence requirement”. The U.S. Naval War College further defines OSINT as coming from, “print or electronic form including radio, television, newspapers, journals, the internet, and videos, graphics, and drawings”. Basically, OSINT is the collection of information from a variety of public sources, including social media profiles and accounts, television broadcasts, and internet searches.

Historically, OSINT has been utilized by the U.S. since the 1940s, when the United States created the Foreign Broadcast Information Service (FBIS) which had the sole goal (until the 1990s) of, “primarily monitoring and translating foreign-press sources,” and contributing significantly during the dissolution of the Soviet Union. It was also during this time that the FBIS transformed itself from a purely interpretation agency into one that could adequately utilize the advances made by, “personal computing, large-capacity digital storage, capable search engines, and broadband communication networks”. In 2005, the FBIS was placed under the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (ODNI) and renamed the Open Source Center, with control being given to the CIA.

OSINT compliments the other intelligence disciplines very well. Due to OSINT’s ability to be more in touch with public data (as opposed to information that is more gleaned from interrogations, interviews with defectors or captured enemies or from clandestine wiretaps and electronic intrusions), it allows policymakers and intelligence analysts the ability to see the wider picture of the information gleaned. In Lowenthal’s own book, he mentions how policymakers (including the Assistant Secretary of Defense and one of the former Directors of National Intelligence (DNI)) enjoyed looking at OSINT first and using it as a “starting point… [to fill] the outer edges of the jigsaw puzzle”.

Given the 21stcentury and the public’s increased reliance upon technology, there are also times when information can only be gleaned from open source intelligence methods. Because “Terrorist movements rely essentially on the use of open sources… to recruit and provide virtual training and conduct their operations using encryption techniques… OSINT can be valuable [in] providing fast coordination among officials at all levels without clearances”. Intelligence agencies could be able to outright avoid or, at a minimum, be able to prepare a defense or place forces and units on high alert for an imminent attack.

In a King’s College-London research paper discussing OSINT’s potential for the 21stcentury, the author notes, “OSINT sharing among intelligence services, non-government organizations and international organizations could shape timely and comprehensive responses [to international crises or regime changes in rogue states like Darfur or Burma],” as well as providing further information on a country’s new government or personnel in power. This has been exemplified best during the rise of Kim Jong-Un in North Korea and during the 2011 Arab Spring and 2010 earthquake that rocked Haiti. However, this does not mean that OSINT is a superior discipline than other forms such as SIGINT and HUMINT, as they are subject to limitations as well. According to the Federation of American Scientists, “Open source intelligence does have limitations. Often articles in military or scientific journals represent a theoretical or desired capability rather than an actual capability. Censorship may also limit the publication of key data needed to arrive at a full understanding of an adversary’s actions, or the press may be used as part of a conscious deception effort”.

There is also a limit to the effectiveness of OSINT within the U.S. Intelligence Community (IC), not because it is technically limited, but limited by the desire of the IC to see OSINT as a full-fledged discipline. Robert Ashley and Neil Wiley, the former Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) and a former Principal Executive within the ODNI respectively, covered this in a July article for DefenseOne, stating “…the production of OSINT is not regarded as a unique intelligence discipline but as research incident to all-source analysis or as a media production service… OSINT, on the other hand, remains a distributed activity that functions more like a collection of cottage industries. While OSINT has pockets of excellence, intelligence community OSINT production is largely initiative based, minimally integrated, and has little in the way of common guidance, standards, and tradecraft… The intelligence community must make OSINT a true intelligence discipline on par with the traditional functional disciplines, replete with leadership and authority that enables the OSINT enterprise to govern itself and establish a brand that instills faith and trust in open source information”. This apprehensiveness by the IC to OSINT capabilities has been well documented by other journalists.

Some contributors, including one writing for The Hill, has commented that “the use of artificial intelligence and rapid data analytics can mitigate these risks by tipping expert analysts on changes in key information, enabling the rapid identification of apparent “outliers” and pattern anomalies. Such human-machine teaming exploits the strengths of both and offers a path to understanding and even protocols for how trusted open-source intelligence can be created by employing traditional tradecraft of verifying and validating sourcing prior to making the intelligence insights available for broad consumption”. Many knowledgeable and experienced persons within the Intelligence Community, either coming from the uniformed intelligence services or civilian foreign intelligence agencies, recognize the need for better OSINT capabilities as a whole and have also suggested ways in which potential security risks or flaws can be avoided in making this discipline an even more effective piece of the intelligence gathering framework.

OSINT is incredibly beneficial for gathering information that cannot always be gathered through more commonly thought of espionage methods (e.g., HUMINT, SIGINT). The discipline allows for information on previously unknown players or new and developing events to become known and allows policymakers to be briefed more competently on a topic as well as providing analysts and operators a preliminary understanding of the region, the culture, the politics, and current nature of a developing or changing state. However, the greatest hurdle in making use of OSINT is in changing the culture and the way in which the discipline is currently seen by the U.S. Intelligence Community. This remains the biggest struggle in effectively coordinating and utilizing the intelligence discipline within various national security organizations.

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Online Radicalization in India

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Radicalization, is a gradual process of developing extremist beliefs, emotions, and behaviours at individual, group or mass public levels. Besides varied groups, it enjoys patronization, covertly and even overtly from some states. To elicit change in behavior, beliefs, ideology, and willingness, from the target-group, even employment of violent means is justified. Despite recording a declination in terror casualties, the 2019 edition of the Global Terrorism Index claims an increase in the number of terrorism-affected countries. With internet assuming a pivotal role in simplifying and revolutionizing the communication network and process, the change in peoples’ lives is evident. Notably, out of EU’s 84 %, daily internet using population, 81%, access it from home (Eurostat, 2012, RAND Paper pg xi). It signifies important changes in society and extremists elements, being its integral part, internet’ role, as a tool of radicalization, cannot be gainsaid. Following disruption of physical and geographical barriers, the radicalized groups are using the advancement in digital technology:  to propagate their ideologies; solicit funding; collecting informations; planning/coordinating terror attacks; establishing inter/intra-group communication-networks; recruitment, training and media propaganda to attain global attention.  

               Indian Context

In recent times, India has witnessed an exponential growth in radicalization-linked Incidents, which apparently belies the official figures of approximate 80-100 cases. The radicalization threat to India is not only from homegrown groups but from cross-border groups of Pakistan and Afghanistan as well as global groups like IS. Significantly, Indian radicalized groups are exploiting domestic grievances and their success to an extent, can mainly be attributed to support from Pakistani state, Jihadist groups from Pakistan and Bangladesh. The Gulf-employment boom for Indian Muslims has also facilitated radicalization, including online, of Indian Muslims. A close look at the modus operandi of these attacks reveals the involvement of local or ‘homegrown’ terrorists. AQIS formed (2016) ‘Ansar Ghazwat-ul-Hind’ in Kashmir with a media wing ‘al-Hurr’.

IS announced its foray into Kashmir in 2016 as part of its Khorasan branch. In December 2017 IS in its Telegram channel used hashtag ‘Wilayat Kashmir’ wherein Kashmiri militants stated their allegiance with IS. IS’ online English Magazine ‘Dabiq’ (Jan. 2016) claimed training of fighters in Bangladesh and Pakistan for attacks from western and Eastern borders into India.Though there are isolated cases of ISIS influence in India, the trend is on the rise. Presently, ISIS and its offshoots through online process are engaged in spreading bases in 12 Indian states. Apart from southern states like Telangana, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, and Tamil Nadu — where the Iran and Syria-based terrorist outfit penetrated years ago — investigating agencies have found their links in states like Maharashtra, West Bengal, Rajasthan, Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh, and Jammu and Kashmir as well. The Sunni jihadists’ group is now “most active” in these states across the country.

               Undermining Indian Threat

Significantly, undermining the radicalization issue, a section of intelligentsia citing lesser number of Indian Muslims joining al-Qaeda and Taliban in Afghanistan and Islamic State (IS) in Iraq, Syria and Middle East, argue that Indian Muslim community does not support radicalism-linked violence unlike regional/Muslim countries, including Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Maldives. They underscore the negligible number of Indian Muslims, outside J&K, who supports separatist movements. Additionally, al- Qaeda and IS who follows the ‘Salafi-Wahabi’ ideological movement, vehemently oppose ‘Hanafi school’ of Sunni Islam, followed by Indian Muslims. Moreover, Indian Muslims follows a moderate version even being followers of the Sunni Ahle-Hadeeth (the broader ideology from which Salafi-Wahhabi movement emanates). This doctrinal difference led to the failure of Wahhabi groups online propaganda.  

               Radicalisation Strategies/methods: Indian vs global players

India is already confronting the online jihadist radicalization of global jihadist organisations, including al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), formed in September 2014 and Islamic State (IS). However, several indigenous and regional groups such as Indian Mujahideen (IM), JeM, LeT, the Taliban and other online vernacular publications, including Pakistan’s Urdu newspaper ‘Al-Qalam’, also play their role in online radicalisation.

Indian jihadist groups use a variety of social media apps, best suited for their goals. Separatists and extremists in Kashmir, for coordination and communication, simply create WhatsApp groups and communicate the date, time and place for carrying out mass protests or stone pelting. Pakistan-based terror groups instead of online learning of Islam consider it mandatory that a Muslim radical follows a revered religious cleric. They select people manually to verify their background instead of online correspondence. Only after their induction, they communicate online with him. However, the IS, in the backdrop of recent defeats, unlike Kashmiri separatist groups and Pak-based jihadist mercenaries, runs its global movement entirely online through magazines and pamphlets. The al-Qaeda’s you tube channels ‘Ansar AQIS’ and ‘Al Firdaws’, once having over 25,000 subscriptions, are now banned. Its online magazines are Nawai Afghan and Statements are in Urdu, English, Arabic, Bangla and Tamil. Its blocked Twitter accounts, ‘Ansarul Islam’ and ‘Abna_ul_Islam_media’, had a following of over 1,300 while its Telegram accounts are believed to have over 500 members.

               Adoption of online platforms and technology

Initially, Kashmir based ‘Jaish-E-Mohammad’ (JeM) distributed audio cassettes of Masood Azhar’s speeches across India but it joined Internet platform during the year 2003–04 and started circulating downloadable materials through anonymous links and emails. Subsequently, it started its weekly e-newspaper, Al-Qalam, followed by a chat group on Yahoo. Importantly, following enhanced international pressure on Pak government after 26/11, to act against terrorist groups, JeM gradually shifted from mainstream online platform to social media sites, blogs and forums.   

 Indian Mujahideen’s splinter group ‘Ansar-ul-Tawhid’ the first officially affiliated terror group to the ISIS tried to maintain its presence on ‘Skype’, ‘WeChat’ and ‘JustPaste’. IS and its affiliates emerged as the most tech-savvy jihadist group. They took several measures to generate new accounts after repeated suspension of their accounts by governments.  An account called as ‘Baqiya Shoutout’ was one such measure. It stressed upon efforts to re-establish their network of followers through ‘reverse shout-out’ instead of opening a new account easily.

Pakistan-backed terrorist groups in India are increasingly becoming  technology savvy. For instance, LeT before carrying out terrorist attacks in 2008 in Mumbai, used Google Earth to understand the targeted locations.

IS members have been following strict security measures like keeping off their Global Positioning System (GPS) locations and use virtual private network (VPN),  to maintain anonymity. Earlier they were downloading Hola VPN or a similar programme from a mobile device or Web browser to select an Internet Protocol (IP) address for a country outside the US, and bypass email or phone verification.

Rise of radicalization in southern India

Southern states of India have witnessed a rise in  radicalization activities during the past 1-2 years. A substantial number of Diaspora in the Gulf countries belongs to Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Several Indian Muslims in Gulf countries have fallen prey to radicalization due to the ultra-conservative forms of Islam or their remittances have been misused to spread radical thoughts. One Shafi Armar@ Yusuf-al-Hindi from Karnataka emerged as the main online IS recruiter for India.  It is evident in the number of raids and arrests made in the region particularly after the Easter bomb attacks (April, 21, 2019) in Sri Lanka. The perpetrators were suspected to have been indoctrinated, radicalised and trained in the Tamil Nadu. Further probe revealed that the mastermind of the attacks, Zahran Hashim had travelled to India and maintained virtual links with radicalised youth in South India. Importantly, IS, while claiming responsibility for the attacks, issued statements not only in English and Arabic but also in South Indian languages viz. Malayalam and Tamil. It proved the existence of individuals fluent in South Indian languages in IS linked groups in the region. Similarly, AQIS’ affiliate in South India ‘Base Movement’ issued several threatening letters to media publications for insulting Islam.

IS is trying to recruit people from rural India by circulating the online material in vernacular languages. It is distributing material in numerous languages, including Malayalam and Tamil, which Al Qaeda were previously ignoring in favour of Urdu. IS-linked Keralite followers in their propaganda, cited radical pro-Hindutva, organisations such as the Rashtriya Swayam Sevak (RSS) and other right-wing Hindu organisations to motivate youth for joining the IS.  Similarly, Anti-Muslim incidents such as the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 are still being used to fuel their propaganda. IS sympathisers also support the need to oppose Hindu Deities to gather support.

               Radicalization: Similarities/Distinctions in North and South

Despite few similarities, the radicalisation process in J&K is somewhat different from the states of Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Telangana and Gujarat. Both the regions have witnessed a planned radicalization process through Internet/social media for propagating extremist ideologies and subverting the vulnerable youth. Both the areas faced the hard-line Salafi/Wahhabi ideology, propagated by the extremist Islamic clerics and madrasas indulged in manipulating the religion of Islam. Hence, in this context it can be aptly claimed that terror activities in India have cooperation of elements from both the regions, despite their distinct means and objectives. Elements from both regions to an extent sympathise to the cause of bringing India under the Sharia Law. Hence, the possibility of cooperation in such elements cannot be ruled out particularly in facilitation of logistics, ammunitions and other requisite equipment.

It is pertinent to note that while radicalisation in Jammu and Kashmir is directly linked to the proxy-war, sponsored by the Pakistan state, the growth of radicalisation in West and South India owes its roots to the spread of IS ideology, promotion of Sharia rule and establishment of Caliphate. Precisely for this reason, while radicalised local Kashmiris unite to join Pakistan-backed terror groups to fight for ‘Azadi’ or other fabricated local issues, the locals in south rather remain isolated cases.

               Impact of Radicalisation

The impact of global jihad on radicalization is quite visible in West and South India. Majority of the radicalised people, arrested in West and South India, were in fact proceeding to to join IS in Syria and Iraq. It included the group of 22 people from a Kerala’s family, who travelled (June 2016) to Afghanistan via Iran. There obvious motivation was to migrate from Dar-ul-Harb (house of war) to Dar-ul-Islam (house of peace/Islam/Deen).

While comparing the ground impact of radicalization in terms of number of cases of local militants in J&K as well as IS sympathisers in West and South India, it becomes clear that radicalisation was spread more in J&K, owing to Pak-sponsored logistical and financial support. Significantly, despite hosting the third largest Muslim population, the number of Indian sympathisers to terror outfits, particularly in West and South India is very small as compared to the western countries. Main reasons attributed to this, include – religious and cultural pluralism; traditionally practice of moderate Islamic belief-systems; progressive educational and economic standards; and equal socio-economic and political safeguards for the Indian Muslims in the Indian Constitution.

               Challenges Ahead

Apart from varied challenges, including Pak-sponsored anti-India activities, regional, local and political challenges, media wings of global jihadi outfits continue to pose further challenges to Indian security agencies. While IS through its media wing, ‘Al Isabah’ has been circulating (through social media sites) Abu Bakr al Baghdadi’s speeches and videos after translating them into Urdu, Hindi, and Tamil for Indian youth (Rajkumar 2015), AQIS too have been using its media wing for the very purpose through its offshoots in India.  Some of the challenges, inter alia include –

Islam/Cleric Factor Clerics continue to play a crucial role in influencing the minds of Muslim youth by exploiting the religion of Islam. A majority of 127 arrested IS sympathizers from across India recently revealed that they were following speeches of controversial Indian preacher Zakir Naik of Islamic Research Foundation (IRF). Zakir has taken refuge in Malaysia because of warrants against him by the National Investigation Agency (NIA) for alleged money laundering and inciting extremism through hate speeches. A Perpetrator of Dhaka bomb blasts in July 2016 that killed several people confessed that he was influenced by Naik’s messages. Earlier, IRF had organised ‘peace conferences’ in Mumbai between 2007 and 2011 in which Zakir attempted to convert people and incite terrorist acts. Thus, clerics and preachers who sbverts the Muslim minds towards extremism, remain a challenge for India.

Propaganda Machinery – The online uploading of young militant photographs, flaunting Kalashnikov rifles became the popular means of declaration of youth intent against government forces. Their narrative of “us versus them” narrative is clearly communicated, creating groundswell of support for terrorism.In its second edition (March 2020) of its propaganda magazine ‘Sawt al-Hind’ (Voice of Hind/India) IS, citing an old propaganda message from a deceased (2018) Kashmiri IS terrorist, Abu Hamza al-Kashmiri @ Abdul Rehman, called upon Taliban apostates and fighters to defect to IS.  In the first edition (Feb. 2020) the magazine, eulogized Huzaifa al-Bakistani (killed in 2019), asking Indian Muslims to rally to IS in the name of Islam in the aftermath of the 2020 Delhi riots. Meanwhile, a Muslim couple arrested by Delhi Police for inciting anti-CAA (Citizenship Amendment) Bill protests, were found very active on social media. They would call Indian Muslims to unite against the Indian government against the CAA legislation. During 2017 Kashmir unrest, National Investigation Agency (NIA) identified 79 WhatsApp groups (with administrators based in Pakistan), having 6,386 phone numbers, to crowd source boys for stone pelting. Of these, around 1,000 numbers were found active in Pakistan and Gulf nations and the remaining 5,386 numbers were found active in Kashmir Valley.

Deep fakes/Fake news – Another challenge for India is spread of misinformation and disinformation through deep fakes by Pakistan. Usage of deepfakes, in manipulating the speeches of local political leaders to spread hate among the youth and society was done to large extent.

India’s Counter Measures

To prevent youth straying towards extremism, India’s Ministry of Home Affairs has established a Counter-Terrorism and Counter-Radicalisation Division (CT-CR) to help states, security agencies and communities.

Various states, including Kerala, Maharashtra and Telangana have set up their own de-radicalisation programmes.  While in Maharashtra family and community plays an important role, in Kerala clerics cleanse the poisoned  minds of youth with a new narrative. A holistic programme for community outreach including healthcare, clergies and financial stability is being employed by the Indian armed forces. An operation in Kerala named Kerala state police’ ‘Operation Pigeon’ succeeded in thwarting radicalization of 350 youths to the propaganda of organizations such as Islamic State, Indian Mujahideen (IM) and Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) via social media monitoring. In Telangana, outreach programs have been developed by local officers like Rema Rajeshwari to fight the menace of fake news in around 400 villages of the state.

In Kashmir the government resorts to internet curfews to control the e-jihad. While state-owned BNSL network, used by the administration and security forces, remains operational 3G and 4G networks and social media apps remain suspended during internet curfews.

Prognosis

India certainly needs a strong national counter- Radicalisation policy which would factor in a range of factors than jobs, poverty or education because radicalization in fact has affected even well educated, rich and prosperous families. Instead of focusing on IS returnees from abroad, the policy must take care of those who never travelled abroad but still remain a potential threat due to their vulnerability to radicalization.

Of course, India would be better served if deep fakes/fake news and online propaganda is effectively countered digitally as well as through social awakening measures and on ground action by the government agencies. It is imperative that the major stakeholders i.e. government, educational institutions, civil society organisations, media and intellectuals play a pro-active role in pushing their narrative amongst youth and society. The focus should apparently be on prevention rather than controlling the radicalisation narrative of the vested interests.

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Is Deterrence in Cyberspace Possible?

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Soon after the Internet was founded, half of the world’s population (16 million) in 1996 had been connected to Internet data traffic. Gradually, the Internet began to grow and with more users, it contributed to the 4 trillion global economies in 2016 (Nye, 2016). Today, high-speed Internet, cutting-edge technologies and gadgets, and increasing cross-border Internet data traffic are considered an element of globalization. Deterrence seems traditional and obsolete strategy, but the developed countries rely on cyberspace domains to remain in the global digitization. No matter how advanced they are, there still exist vulnerabilities. There are modern problems in the modern world. Such reliance on the Internet also threatens to blow up the dynamics of international insecurity. To understand and explore the topic it is a must for one to understand what cyberspace and deterrence are? According to Oxford dictionary;

 “Cyberspace is the internet considered as an imaginary space without a physical location in which communication over computer networks takes place (OXFORD University Press)”

For readers to understand the term ‘deterrence’; Collins dictionary has best explained it as;

“Deterrence is the prevention of something, especially war or crime, by having something such as weapons or punishment to use as a threat e.g. Nuclear Weapons (Deterrence Definition and Meaning | Collins English Dictionary).

The purpose of referring to the definition is to make it easy to discern and distinguish between deterrence in International Relations (IR) and International Cyber Security (ICS). Deterrence in cyberspace is different and difficult than that of during the Cold War. The topic of deterrence was important during Cold Wat for both politicians and academia. The context in both dimensions (IR and ICS) is similar and aims to prevent from happening something. Cyberspace deterrence refers to preventing crime and I completely agree with the fact that deterrence is possible in Cyberspace. Fischer (2019) quotes the study of (Quinlan, 2004) that there is no state that can be undeterrable.

To begin with, cyber threats are looming in different sectors inclusive of espionage, disruption of the democratic process and sabotaging the political arena, and war. Whereas international law is still unclear about these sectors as to which category they fall in. I would validate my affirmation (that deterrence is possible in Cyberspace) with the given network attacks listed by Pentagon (Fung, 2013). Millions of cyber-attacks are reported on a daily basis. The Pentagon reported 10 million cyberspace intrusions, most of which are disruptive, costly, and annoying. The level of severity rises to such a critical level that it is considered a threat to national security, so professional strategic assistance is needed to deal with it[1]. The past events show a perpetual threat that has the ability to interrupt societies, economies, and government functioning.

The cyberspace attacks were administered and portrayal of deterrence had been publicized as follows (Fung, 2013);

  1. The internet service was in a continuous disruption for several weeks after a dispute with Russia in 2007.
  2. Georgian defense communications were interrupted in 2008 after the Russian invasion of Georgia.   
  3. More than 1000 centrifuges in Iran were destroyed via the STUXNET virus in 2010. The attacks were attributed to Israel and the United States of America.
  4. In response to STUXNET virus attacks, Iran also launched a retaliatory attack on U.S financial institutions in 2012 and 2013.
  5. Similarly in 2012, some 30,000 computers had been destroyed with a virus called SHAMOON in Saudi Aramco Corporation. Iran was held responsible for these attacks.
  6. North Korea was accused of penetrating South Korean data and machines in 2014, thus interrupting their networks in 2014.
  7. A hybrid war was reported between Russia and Ukraine in 2015 that left Ukraine without electricity for almost six hours.
  8. Most critical scandal, which is still in the limelight call WikiLeaks released distressing and humiliating emails by Russian Intelligence at the time of the U.S presidential campaigns in 2016.

While such incidents may be considered a failure of deterrence, this does not mean that deterrence is impossible. Every system has some flaws that are exposed at some point. At this point, in some cases a relatively low level of deterrence was used to threaten national security, however, the attacks were quite minor in fulfilling the theme affecting national security. Nye (2016:51) in his study talks about the audience whose attribution could facilitate deterrence. (I). intelligence agencies should make sure highest safeguarding against escalation by third parties, and governments can also be certain and count on intelligence agencies’ sources. (II). the deterring party should not be taken easy, as I stated (above) about the lingering loopholes and flaws in the systems, hence, governments shall not perceive the intelligence forsaken.  (III). lastly, it is a political matter whether international and domestic audiences need to be persuaded or not, and what chunk of information should be disclosed.

The mechanisms which are used and helpful against cyberspace adversary actions are as follows (Fischer, 2019);

  1. Deterrence by denial means, the actions by the adversary are denied that they failed to succeed in their goals and objectives. It is more like retaliating a cyberattack.
  2. Threat of punishment offers severe outcomes in form of penalties and inflicting high costs on the attacker that would outweigh the anticipated benefits if the attack takes place.
  3. Deterrence by Entanglement has the features and works on a principle of shared, interconnected, and dependent vulnerabilities. The purpose of entanglement is to embolden and reassure the behavior as a responsible state with mutual interests.
  4. Normative taboos function with strong values and norms, wherein the reputation of an aggressor is at stake besides having a soft image in the eyes of the international community (this phenomenon includes rational factors because hard power is used against the weaker state). The deterrence of the international system works even without having any credible resilience.

Apparently, the mechanisms of deterrence are also effective in cyber realms. These realms are self-explaining the comprehensive understanding and the possibility of deterrence in cyberspace. The four mechanisms (denial, punishment, entanglement, and normative taboos) are also feasible to apply deterrence in the cyber world. Factually, of many security strategies, cyber deterrence by using four domains could be a versatile possibility. Conclusively, as far as the world is advancing in technological innovations, cyberspace intrusions would not stop alike the topic of deterrence in the digital world.


[1] An updated list of cyberspace intrusions from 2003 till 2021 is available at (Center for Strategic and International Studies, 2021).

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