Authors: He Jun and Chan Kung
The war between Russia and Ukraine has lasted 35 days since it began on February 24. For a long time, Russia has had the image and influence as a great power, which is mainly reflected in its military strength, and in its 2,000 nuclear weapons, as well as its powerful conventional armed forces and combat effectiveness. However, judging from the actual progress of this war, although the Russian army is still on the proactive side of the war as a whole, its actual combat performance is quite different from what the world imagined it to be. To some extent, the Russian army was even “trapped” by the resistance of the Ukrainian army.
An important revelation brought by this war is that the world now sees clearly what are a country’s actual “strategic resources”.
According to a general understanding, “strategic resources” refer to human resources, natural resources, and artificial resources that play an important role in the overall situation of the war. Among them, human resources refer to the quantity and quality of the population with the necessary labor capacity, including the ability to perform military service. Natural resources include land resources, mineral resources, hydraulic resources, biological resources, and marine resources. Artificial resources are substances developed and processed by human beings, including means of production and consumption.
A country’s strategic resource status depends on its geographic location, land mass, population quality, topography, geological structure, as well as whether these resources can be reasonably developed, transported, stored, distributed, and consumed. Strategic resources are the material basis for preparing for and conducting wars. They determine a country’s potential ability to support wars, directly affect the process and outcome of wars, and are an important basis in formulating national and military strategies. When a country determines its strategic intentions, it must be based on the practical limits that strategic resources can provide. If the strategic attempt exceeds the limit of strategic resources, it will inevitably reduce the ability to continue the war and eventually lead to the defeat.
The above understanding is closer to research definition, which is a systematic description of national strategic resources and their roles. Strategic resources in actual warfare would have simpler answer. Looking at the war in Ukraine, researchers at ANBOUND believe that the “strategic resources” that matter to national security the most are energy, food, military, and industrial sectors that can be “weaponized”.
Undoubtedly, the importance of energy is not only the guarantee for the military’s combat operations but also the basic driving force for the economic and social operation of the country during wartime. In the Russia-Ukraine war, the importance of energy is extremely prominent. It is not only an important means for the United States to sanction Russia, but also a crucial weapon for Russia against European countries. For the world’s major energy-demanding countries, in the event of a war, ensuring basic energy security will be an extremely important issue.
Food is also a critical strategic resource in times of national war. Simply put, food is required during war time, not only to feed the army but also for the common people to survive. Widespread food shortages during war may cause more panic than the army losing a battle. Especially if the war continues, the nation’s ability to reserve and obtain food from various markets becomes as important as the ability to obtain weapons and ammunition.
The army is the protagonist and the most important strategic resource during the war. It involves the quantity, quality, combat effectiveness, morale, and cooperation of different branches of the military, and is also tied to a country’s ability to supply and train soldiers. In the Russia-Ukraine War, the size of the Russian Federation army exceeded 1 million (approximately 1.027 million), while the Ukrainian army was only about 200,000. Although the size of the Russian military is five times that of the Ukrainian military, the actual Russian troops that can be put into the Ukrainian battlefield are not more than 200,000. With the stalemate of the war, the number of troops available to Russia has become insufficient, thus troops from Russia’s Far East were also transferred to Ukraine. Russia later adjusted its war goals to focus on the Donbas, which had something to do with the lack of troops.
The weaponizable industrial sector is also an important key to the country’s strategic resources. It can be seen in the Russia-Ukraine war that energy has become an important weapon in the game between Russia and the West. The energy industry sector has also become a crucial strategic resource affecting the war. The industrial sectors that can be weaponized are not only energy. The semiconductor and electronics industry, various military industries, shipbuilding, aerospace, food production, and some mineral resource sectors can be included in national strategies resources as well.
For a long time, to gain the preferential treatment from national policy, “national security” has become ubiquitous label worldwide, where different sectors are claimed to be related to it. However, as soon as the war begins, the actual “national security” sectors will be revealed. Only the strategic resources that have real strategic value, affect the success or failure of wars and are related to national stability during wartime, such as energy, food, army, and industries that can be “weaponized”, are the real foundations of a country’s security.
It should be emphasized that a country’s shortcomings in strategic resources can become a its weakness in wartime. Even in peacetime, it will also become a flaw that may be exploited by others. In old Europe, in the case of France and Germany, their national policies were strongly constrained by Russia because of their energy dependence. Other countries in the world are affected by food shortage, and inflation has even led to the constraints of financial policies in some countries.
We must be soberly aware that any country’s resources are limited, and it is impossible to invest limited resources in too many areas. Therefore, the focus should be on areas that involve national security. This is the basis of a major national policy. From the perspective of China’s economic situation and resources, energy source and agriculture are the national foundations that will affect its national security in the future. These two strategic resource areas are not without incidents. Due to the high degree of external dependence, there are potential risks.
A war where the machine decides who to kill! (LAWs wars)
Which country wants to be attacked by an AI-controlled system with no one in command? Which country wants their soldiers to be killed by an autonomous machine, and potentially, some civilians by mistake? The answer is evidently no one! No country wants that. But which country intends to possess such weapons, then the answer is more ambiguous. The last report of the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) reflects this. After a week (25-29 July) of discussion at the Palais des Nations, UN Geneva, the adopted report is hollowed without meaningful conclusion or commitments.
Lethal autonomous weapons
Lethal autonomous weapons (LAWs) are military system that can autonomously search for and engage targets based on programmed constraints and descriptions. LAWs are also known as killer robots.
Autonomous weapons have existed for many years; for example, land mines trigger and kill or an injury without any human action. With emerging technology, including AI, we understand the interest of certain states to include these technologies in weapons to improve their autonomy. Since the 70s, the US has used the Phalanx CIWS, which can autonomously identify and attack incoming missiles. With AI, its capacities are considerably increased! Continuing with the example of mines, Russia’s anti-personnel mines of the POM-3 type are particularly deadly. They are disseminated in the land of operations but do not explode immediately. When activated, they rise in the air before exploding and causing multiple ravages, which can be fatal within a radius of 16 meters. Equipped with sensors and software, they choose their target, when they explode or not, depending on the identity of the people or equipment that approach. There are, unfortunately, so many other systems that will be too long to cite here. To conclude this part, in Libya in 2020, a Kargu 2 drone hunted down and attacked a human target. According to a report from the UN Security Council’s Panel of Experts on Libya, published in March 2021. This may have been the first time an autonomous killer robot armed with lethal weaponry attacked human beings. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_robot]
We quickly understand all potential ethical and legal issues. Autonomous systems can make mistakes; who is responsible then? Like mine killed millions of civilians, new systems may have bias and kill unstintingly, with no one to stop them. The range of potential problems is extensive.
A slow-downed convention
For nine years, the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons or CCW, also known as the Inhumane Weapons Convention, has tried to regulate it with its GGE. For the most ambitious, it would be a question of agreeing on a treaty, or another international instrument, which would guarantee the prohibition that a weapon can operate autonomously, i.e., without the intervention of human supervision. Many Latin Americans, and European states are now advocating for this outright ban. The answer is less clear-cut for other states, including the USA. They consent to the prohibition of specific weapon systems as well as to a certain regulation but refuse a binding legal framework. Finally, Russia is slowing down all negotiations and reducing its content.
Russia and the game of consensus
A majority of States are now convinced of the need to act significantly, even asking for more days to debate in 2023. But the main problem is the rule of consensus, which prohibits any discussion breakthrough”.
Many little disagreements, for instance, delegations, wasted time discussing whether the CCW is an appropriate forum or the only appropriate forum for dealing with the issue of autonomous weapons.
These discussions have even been theatrical when Russia attacked many times the presence of civil societies to limit their intervention and participation in informal meetings. It was a tool to slow down the discussion, focusing the debate on organizational points. At the same time, we can also be afraid that this Russian posture is appearing in others GGEs. Meanwhile, some other states, like Israel and India, are discrete and do not oppose it. They probably use this condition to their advantage. Russia is doing all the work for them.
Therefore with the refusal of a few states, all the details about elements and possible measures for an agreement on autonomous weapons were removed. All conclusions about what kinds of control are necessary, and possible processes to achieve that control, were taken out. The present conclusions section just outlines the types of proposals discussed, recognizes ethical perspectives, and repeats the respect for international humanitarian law. It confirms then that states are responsible for wrongful acts in accordance with international law [link to report], so no new laws.
Not only are the conclusions disappointing, but the way the discussion was carried out was disappointing, and the mandate for 2023 remains uncertain.
We can not wait on CCW, the urgency of the problem is too critical.
The slow process is to the advantage of countries using these technologies. The Russian POM-3 mines, for instance, have been used in Ukraine, accordingly to Human Right Watch. The development and deployment by Russia and other countries will continue as long as no agreement is reached. LAWs have to be outlaws! And the CCW seems not to be anymore the right platform.
Escalating Big Power Contestation on Taiwan: Can It Lead to War?
Xi Jinping is seeking to hide his humiliation over US Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. His premature and unjustifiable warning to the US about the visit caused him embarrassment, and Pelosi’s purposeful visit after the warning not only hyped it, but humiliated him. China is using its Three Warfare Concept which entails public opinion warfare, psychological warfare, and legal warfare along with aggressive military posturing, air violations, firepower power exhibition and some symbolic economic boycott of Taiwan, thus creating heightened tension around Taiwan as a face saving exercise to amuse its domestic constituency. China is attempting to turn it as an opportunity to stoke national sentiments in favour of Xi Jinping on ‘Anti America’ theme highlighting Chinese mutilated version of his heroics to ensure that he doesn’t lose out on his third term in the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) later this year.
The US side has likewise been under similar pressures. Following the announcement of Pelosi’s visit and the contentious debate between President Xi Jinping and Joe Biden, the US found itself in a difficult situation. The USA was unable to cancel the trip in response to Xi’s warning because doing so would have indicated that Joe Biden was caving in to Chinese pressure. This would have been catastrophic for the Biden Administration, which is already struggling to recover from the disaster in Afghanistan and the difficulties brought on by the Russia-Ukraine War. Although the visit was a risky move, it is still unclear whether the US will follow it up by replacing strategic ambiguity with strategic clarity to support Taiwan in any prospective Chinese attack or not.
Can it Lead to War?
With unprecedented military posturing by China, live missile fire East of Taiwan close to its coastline, and US aircraft carrier and maritime forces located not too far, the situation is tense and prone to accidental trigger causing escalation. It does not make any strategic sense for China to invade Taiwan, as it has all the negatives except false bravado, with bright chances of loss of face globally and domestically, in case the operations fail; hence, likely to contend with activities short of war.
Chinese strategist Qiao Liang, a retired PLA Air Force Major General, has warned that taking Taiwan by force is ‘Too Costly’. Chinese redline of “Taiwan going nuclear/declaring independence” has not been crossed as yet, giving no justification for China to cross US red line of ‘Changing status Quo by Force’. Xi Jinping may find it too costly to take such a risk before sealing his third term. The military drills near Taiwan have been conducted by Taiwan and US also in past and the much publicised blockade of Taiwan through military drills, if prolonged may invite similar military drills by US and other democracies in Malacca Strait too, to block Chinese Sea Lines of Communication, beyond the realm of optics of the current Chinese aggressive posture, and it is well aware of this vulnerability.
Taiwanese President Tsai has bravely given bold statements during visit of Speaker Pelosi and earlier to take on Chinese aggression. Taiwan with its national spirit, modern arsenal from US, determined armed forces and US backing is unlikely to give a walkover, although the first onslaught of potential offensive will have to be borne by it, till global response gets activated. Comparisons are being made with Hong Kong, but the major differences is that leadership, hierarchy in Hong Kong and police was manipulated by CCP, whereas the leadership in Taiwan is strong and resolute refusing to give in to Chinese coercion. The need for amphibious assault due to terrain friction makes Chinese misadventure in Taiwan more difficult than Hong Kong.
Chinese amphibious capabilities to capture Taiwan are suspect, more so if US warships like the USS Ronald Reagan are around. China has enough missile arsenals to destroy Taiwan, but such a massive destruction of Han Chinese (95 percent of Taiwanese population is Han), who have relations, investments and inseparable linkages with their relatives in mainland and vice versa will not go well with domestic population of mainland. Over two million Taiwanese live in China, mostly in Coastal areas, and over 20 per cent have married there.
This will also destroy Chinese and Taiwanese economy, which does not suit Chinese leadership struggling to revive its economy marred by trade war, failing BRI and COVID effect. China is top destination for Taiwanese export accounting for approximately 40% of total exports, with Taiwan having overall trade surplus of US$104.7 billion in 2021 with China.
A public opinion poll in Taiwan in 2020 indicated 73 percent people identified themselves as Taiwanese, who were against China, and 77 percent supported democratic movement in Hongkong and this figure has increased in last two years. Getting Taiwanese under its wings will also bring a fresh democratic wave in China, which CCP may not be used to handle. Taiwanese people do not want to sacrifice their democratic freedom and prosperity, which is the main reason for success of President Tsai. The conflict if imposed by China will be deadly and Chinese, who want to win without fighting are not known for their appetite to accept body bags of Han Chinese, for a cause which doesn’t give them economic benefit but takes it away its dream of national rejuvenation, as indicated by General Qiao.
Why Taiwan is a US-China Issue?
PRC may keep claiming Taiwan to be its domestic issue, but it has much greater external dimensions. Diplomatically US may claim to follow ‘One China Policy’ but it treats Taiwan no less than an ally. The Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative (TAIPEI) Act of 2019, effective from March 26, 2020 is an indication. The Taiwan Relation Act,1973, Taiwan Travel Act signed 2019, and National Defence Authorisation Act signed earlier this year to facilitate sale of state of the art weaponry and joint exercises justify the statement. US will always like to trade and strategically partner with democratic Taiwan outside Beijing’s influence, and not Taiwan under CCP.
In any potential invasion of Taiwan, the spill over of the battle space to Japan is obvious due to geographic proximity, an ally which US is obligated to protect. Chinese initial offensive can be on Taiwan, but US could join forces with its allies in the region to use their sea and air advantages to cut off Beijing’s maritime lifeline in and outside South China Sea. Chinese supply lines outside Nine dash line are still vulnerable to choking, and it will draw out PLA to get into war outside its comfort Zone. Taking Taiwan by force, therefore involves mobilisation of all its combat resources, expecting an escalation from limited war to an all-out war, as the operation amounts to crossing US redline of “No Change in Status Quo of Taiwan”. Economically Chinese heavy reliance on the US dollar is far from over, and such a war over Taiwan would be a massive economic blow to China, that would see capital flooding out, and companies moving of the country, much sooner than it thought.
If Chinese aggressive posturing, air incursions and military drills announced for four days end as scheduled without escalation, may be that situation may still remain under control, as US and Taiwan have also done military drills in that region earlier. If it escalates into an attempt to unite Taiwan by force, it will certainly up the ante with US, prove China as irresponsible bully, may lead to loss of life of Han Chinese both ways, lead to economic destruction of its one of the largest investors and jeopardise China’s goal of national rejuvenation. Internationally, China may have miscalculated US resolve and Taiwan’s resistance and all may not go their way. If Chinese ambitions grow beyond global tolerance, it has bright chances to bring rest of the world against China. While the visit of Nancy Pelosi may have given a strong message to China, but the US resolve is still under test, because Taiwan can’t be expected to handle Chinese aggression alone, more so if it has been hyped by super power contestation. US therefore must consider starting similar military exercise in Malacca Strait with other navies to remind China of its vulnerable SLOC before it starts blocking Taiwanese shipping.
The aggressive posturing in Taiwan Strait, South and East China Sea will continue, even if the current crisis slows down. PRC’s aim is to pressurise President Tsai Not to declare independence, keep pressure on, hope DPP loses next election and work out favourable arrangements with opposition likely to be favourable to China. Neither China nor US want war, but none wants to give walkover as well, hence this strategic gaming and posturing is on and will continue.
Why would a peaceful country join NATO?
NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, is a security alliance between Europe and North America. It was established in the 1949 having goals of protecting democratic freedom but its sole purpose was to counter any future aggression from the Soviet Union and hence this organization was anti-Soviet accord that established the balance of power in Europe. Under the Article 5 of NATO it obliges all member states to protect each other in state of war, this allowed the NATO member states to share their military capabilities and pool their resources in time of attack or invasion. Besides having collective security goals and containing USSR, NATO served as an engine to democratization. NATO clearly was a threat to the sovereignty of USSR and to counter Soviet Union formed the Warsaw Pact, Moscow had all the reasons to justify formation of this pact. After the Berlin wall fell and Soviet Union disintegrated, Germany was faced by a serious question of whether to join NATO or the Warsaw pact. The US President made an offer to Russian President, suggesting that if Germany joined NATO, NATO would stop its expansion. Moscow bought this offer and demolished the Warsaw pact hoping that the west would follow suit that NATO too would dissolve. NATO continued its expansionist process and included ex-Soviet republics as well. The Russian President Putin on many instances asked NATO that against whom this expansion intended to. An organization initially targeted towards countering a country is now getting so close to them that there intensions can even be sniffed from the border, is causing a security dilemma. The war in Ukraine is the living example that US did not do as promise, a stab in the back of Russia. This act is clearly a proactive one and number of US’s political analyst opposed this step.
Ukraine being a sovereign country and knowing its history with Russia still wants to join and the question rises, why? Well Ukraine has become a country just like Afghanistan or Vietnam where the two world powers can have their proxy wars. Former Ukrainian presidents either supported to join NATO or opposed it under the influence of these foreign powers. Joining NATO means taking side with the western power and this would seriously be taken as a treat by Russia, as NATO is an organization that talks about collective security with the help of its military alliance. Why Ukraine wants it? Was Ukraine threatened by the Russians of any invasion or were they forced by the western powers to join? What benefits Ukraine would have after joining NATO?
To answer the above questions one must first understand that situation of security dilemma exits between Ukraine and Russia and to assure its security Ukraine needed backup in the form of NATO. Moscow has adopted a policy toward Ukraine and Belarus throughout Putin’s term in power based on the presumption that each former Soviet country’s national identities are artificial and thus brittle. Vladimir Putin frequently exhibits what historians refer to as the “politics of eternity,” in order to restore the lost essence of the Soviet Empire. One of the reasons why Ukraine needed security assurance. This was only possible if a state stronger than Russia supported and formed alliance with Ukraine, hence Ukraine turned towards joining NATO.
Now that Russia has annexed Ukraine, it clearly depicts the Russian insecurity as well in context with the Western imperialist nature. The people of Ukrainian are still in state of shock as to why Ukraine, a peace loving country wants to join an organization that is more in to waging war rather than building cooperation and peace. The Ukrainian President, Zelensky, recently posed for a Vogue magazine depicting in the background the war torn Ukraine, receiving a major backlash questioning whether all this is just a good background for a cover magazine.
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