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Finland: Just Say No to NATO

The Buzz

Moscow’s increasingly aggressive behavior created a frigid atmosphere around the Baltic Sea throughout 2014. Russia has taken every opportunity to provocatively illustrate its strength, prompting concerns from the Nordic and Baltic states that live in Russia’s shadow. For Finland and Sweden, European Union members lying outside NATO’s protective shield, growing concerns have prompted thoughts of seeking shelter in the alliance. Yet, despite Finnish prime minister Alexander Stubb’s endorsement of the NATO option, Finland’s entrance into the alliance would constitute a strategic mistake. While Russia’s actions may rattle neighbors, Moscow possesses little reason to intervene in Finland as it did in Ukraine. Finnish membership in NATO, however, would create a military threat that Russia could not ignore, inadvertently placing Helsinki in Moscow’s crosshairs.

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The Putin regime has antagonized the West most visibly via an exponential growth of air sorties. NATO has scrambled fighters to respond to Russian aircraft on over 400 occasions in 2014, which signified a 50 percent increase in flights from 2013, according to NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg. For Finnish president Sauli Niinistö, the recent maneuvers impinging on Finnish airspace are clear instances of Russia “testing how we’d react.” Consequently, Finnish elites are reconsidering NATO membership in order to obtain firm commitments against potential aggression. Public opinion traditionally has disfavored joining the alliance; nevertheless, as Prime Minister Stubb notes, “each threatening gesture [from Moscow] strengthens those who support NATO membership.”

Yet, one must question whether these incidents represent the tip of the iceberg of a greater danger, or mere pinpricks, designed to irritate and keep the West on edge. It is difficult to discern an imminent threat to Finland, which does not fit the pattern of aggression that has culminated in the Ukraine conflict. Unlike Kyiv or Tbilisi, Helsinki decidedly departed Moscow’s orbit, both politically and economically, twenty years ago, when it joined the European Union. Presently, there exists no struggle between Russia and West for the Finnish soul. Nor do ethnic and linguistic ties provide the cover of President Putin’s doctrine of extraterritorial protection of Russian speakers. Finland’s ethnic and linguistic composition does not mirror that of Ukraine, or even those of Estonia and Latvia. Finland lacks a sizable ethnic Russian minority; only 0.2 percent of the Finnish population speaks Russian as a first language.

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Ethnic politics represent an essential smokescreen in galvanizing popular support for Putin’s adventurism. The Russian public remains extremely uneasy with the notion of a war over Ukraine. An August poll by the Levada Center revealed that only 43 percent of respondents would “support the Russian leadership in the event of open military conflict.” The myth of “fellow Russians” struggling against the perceived death march of fascism has transformed this hesitancy into support for Ukraine’s rebels. Without the pretext of similarly imperiled ethnic brethren in Finland, it would be difficult for the Putin government to contrive a narrative that garners public backing for a campaign against the Finns—absent some other provocation.

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However, Helsinki’s accession to NATO would create a categorically different problem by militarizing the Finnish-Russian border. Geography has dictated the strategic necessity of Russia maintaining a friendly Finland since the reign of Peter the Great. Moscow’s fears of a militarily aligned Finland are not completely unfounded; the long Russian memory recalls that had Finland acted in lockstep with its German co-belligerent in 1941, Axis forces would have likely completed the siege of Leningrad.

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Finland’s entrance into NATO would more than double Russia’s border with the alliance.[1] In the eyes of the Putin government, NATO would gain an immense staging area to potentially replay the Kosovo campaign against Russia. Moscow’s interventions in Georgia and Ukraine provided an unequivocal declaration: an enlarged border with NATO represents an intolerable threat that the Kremlin will employ force to prevent. Consequently, while NATO membership would offer an Article V guarantee, the Finns would discover a bull’s-eye attached to it.

This paradox appears to leave Finland helpless on the West’s periphery. Yet, the transatlantic community can bolster Finland against the contingency of Russian interference without transforming Helsinki into a target. Perhaps most importantly, NATO can seek to check Russian aggression where it is most plausible: the Baltic States.

Establishing a credible line of deterrence in Tallinn and Riga would serve as the “first line of defense” for Helsinki in two senses. The Baltic States represent the region where Russia would be most likely to attempt to undermine NATO. A resolute stance against Russian meddling in that region, therefore, would effectively “head Moscow off at the pass.” The Baltics may not be a geographic buffer between Finland and Russia; nevertheless, successfully countering Russia there would demonstrate Western resolve, and disabuse Moscow of the notion that Europe’s east constitutes easy prey.

Second, robust deterrence in the Baltic States could thwart the one alternative scenario that places Helsinki in Moscow’s sights: a Ukraine-esque crisis in the Baltics. In such an incident, Finland’s participation in a NATO operation, particularly likely given the conclusion of a host nation support memorandum of understanding at the Wales Summit, would ignite Russian fears of NATO forces along its border. Therefore, proactive measures drawing an effective line of deterrence at the Baltic States reflect a critical step in preventing a future Finnish crisis.

Fortunately, this scenario is already a byproduct of ongoing NATO efforts to buttress the Baltic allies; unfortunately, it is accompanied by growing uncertainty that could spur a Western misstep in the interim. The deployment of additional NATO forces to the Baltics and the conduct of exercises comprise portions of a lengthy program that will reinforce regional defenses. However, these measures require time, and, in the meanwhile, Russia’s air incursions incite speculations over Russia’s intentions that could drive the Euro-Atlantic community into a strategic blunder. Russia’s air operations are illegitimate, and NATO and the Nordic countries have responded correctly in boosting air patrols. Nonetheless, these relatively minor acts reflect an inadequate basis for Finland to move toward NATO. Such a blind pursuit of tactical security while disregarding strategic context would end in Finland obtaining neither. 

Will Moreland is a master’s candidate at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Vestman/CC by 2.0

[1] This calculation excludes the Russo-American maritime border, instead detailing the cumulative Norwegian, Estonian, Latvian, Lithuanian and Polish borders that amount to approximately 755 miles, in comparison to the roughly 833-mile Finno-Russian border.

TopicsNATOSecurity RegionsFinlandRussia

A Superpower Showdown: China vs. America in Asia

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Confidence in the capacity of the Asia-Pacific region to preserve a flexible but fundamentally robust security order weakened noticeably over the past year. Despite being clearly anticipated and exhaustively studied for some 25 years, the management of the Asia Pacific's strategic transformation is headed toward outcomes at the worst-case end of the spectrum.

A security order is a complex tapestry of norms, laws, conventions, deterrents, opportunities, mechanisms for conflict avoidance and resolution, and so on. Many commentators assess that the prevailing order is unravelling and some have even warned of a new Cold War, or argued that 2014 was beginning to look like an ominous echo of 1914. While these contentions have, on the whole, been disputed as analytically unsound and unduly alarmist, the president of the United States has signalled graphically that serious concern is no longer misplaced. Addressing the UN Security Council in September 2014, President Obama spoke of a "pervasive sense of unease" across the globe and of a world "at a crossroads between war and peace; between disorder and integration; between fear and hope."

In our region we have witnessed perceptions taking shape and judgments being made that the strategic aspirations of others could not be reconciled with "our" vital interests. The policy settings that have flowed from these perceptions and judgements have placed the foundations of the prevailing order under severe strain. East Asia today could be characterized as anticipating and trying to prepare for a prolonged phase of contestation. The core axis is between the two mega-states: US and China, although the China-Japan relationship is also critical and has experienced the sharpest deterioration in recent times.

Hopes that China's reemergence as an energetic great power would be paralleled by a partly natural, partly orchestrated gravitation toward a new and resilient geopolitical order have faded in favor of a search for new and stronger alignments as states seek to insulate themselves from intensifying geopolitical turbulence.

The more emphatic US pivot to Asia was probably not Barack Obama's in 2011 but George Bush's in 2001. The Bush administration was broadly informed by the neoconservative view that the US should embrace unipolarity, impose it as the core of the international system (because it was better than any balance of power arrangement), and commit to preserving it indefinitely. It reversed the priority order that had guided US policy for decades (from Europe/Middle East/Asia to Asia/Middle East/Europe); conceived of the East Asia Littoral (a vast space extending from South of Japan, through Australia and out into the Bay of Bengal) as a new geographic strategic focus; resolved to gradually reverse the Cold War 60:40 split in favor of the Atlantic over the Pacific for key military assets (SSBN, SSN, CV); and signalled that it would seek far-reaching supportive changes in the nature of its alliance relationships with Japan and the South Korea, especially to minimize the static deployment of US forces in and around these states.

Although 9-11 erased a critical dimension of this pivot - closer political attention to East Asian affairs - much of the rest of it played out behind the scenes of the war on terror. Later, the administration embraced the challenge of a bold reengagement with India delinked from any considerations of preserving a balance with US relations with Pakistan.

Beijing would have seen this US posture as a preemptive signal to China not to consider contesting US primacy, especially as it came on top of US "assertiveness" on Taiwan in 1996, and in 1999 when Washington bypassed Chinese and Russian vetoes in the UN Security Council to bomb Belgrade over ethnic cleansing in Kosovo. Whatever Beijing initially made of this strategic shift in Washington and its possible implications for the "window of strategic opportunity" that figured so prominently in its strategic assessments since the days of Deng Xiaoping, subsequent events transformed the landscape for both capitals.

Beijing witnessed the impact the devastating trilogy of 9-11, regime change in Iraq, and the global financial crisis (GFC) had on US credentials for unipolarity.  By the time the GFC struck as the Bush administration was about to leave office in 2008, US standing in the world was lower than it had ever been, especially in those crucial subjective dimensions of respect, admiration, confidence, and trust.

Did China's leadership persuade itself that this was not simply a setback but more of a historic strategic reversal heralding the early end of unipolarity and suggesting that the nature of the future regional and global order was far more open than it had previously imagined? It would hardly be surprising if that was the judgment and the evidence of a markedly more assertive international posture since 2009/10 suggests that this was indeed the case.

The Obama administration pointedly stepped away from the neoconservative prescription of perpetuating unipolarity, remained committed to the earliest practicable termination of its large military commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, and has been steadfast in dealing with crises by leading from within coalitions of the willing rather than resolving to intervene unilaterally and then welcoming coalition partners.  These policy strands, although they delivered crucial gains, also inescapably raised questions in many states about what it all said about US capacity and resolve to play its traditional role. The Obama administration's pivot (or rebalance) toward Asia in 2011 was an urgent reminder that the US  remained  fully committed to protecting and meeting its  vital interests, obligations, and responsibilities in Asia, but it did not aspire to project a new grand strategy or endorse the one advanced by the Bush administration. There was not much here to lead strategists in Beijing to fundamentally reconsider their assessment.

It has come more clearly into view that China's prevailing vision for East Asia cannot be achieved if the US presence in the region retains its current depth and breadth.  It is equally clear that the United States will not accept being driven away and is resolved to meet the evident preference in Asia to see it continue to play a decisive role.

It would be prudent for the region's political leaders to consciously take steps to ensure key relationships do not settle into an adversarial rut. Instead of simply bracing for an indefinite trial of strength led by the US and China, leaders could press for evolutionary geopolitical change that emerged as a natural consequence of positive strategic developments within the region. This would put the focus back on such things as finding ways to put the Korean Peninsula on a positive trajectory, and on pressing the leaders of China and Japan to commit to following the example set by France and Germany 65 years ago.

Ron Huisken is adjunct associate professor, Strategic & Defence Studies Centre, ANU and editor, CSCAP Regional Security Outlook 2015. This comment has been drawn from CSCAP's Regional Security Outlook 2015 and was originally published in CSIS: PACNET Newsletter here.

Image: U.S. Navy Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsChina

The U.S. Military's Next Big Reform Challenge is Here

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The Chief of Naval Personnel, Vice Admiral William Moran, visited the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) last month to discuss his vision for reforming the current manpower system. Since assuming his position in 2013, VADM Moran has been pushing hard to implement programs that will better align the Navy’s manpower policies with the expectations and aspirations of its younger sailors—especially millennials, those individuals born between 1980 and the mid-2000s.

VADM Moran’s efforts come at a time when there is a growing awareness across the military that the services need to think hard about how to build more flexibility into the careers of service members than exists today. Manpower reform has become a high profile topic for defense commentators, prompting opinion pieces published by this and other military blogs, an essay contest sponsored by Tom Ricks, and a book by entrepreneur and Air Force veteran Tim Kane.

The reformers’ central argument—one that VADM Moran made during his talk—is that the management system created in 1947 to serve a draft military is falling behind the demands of the 21st century all-volunteer force. Critics cite problems throughout the services, including: lockstep promotions based almost entirely on a person’s time in service; an outdated method of matching personnel with assignments that does not sufficiently take into account individual preferences, special skills, or unique experiences; and narrowly defined career trajectories. Taken together, these issues are manifested in a manpower system that is inefficient, inflexible, and may be struggling to retain the best and brightest service members.

Some of the current shortcomings were highlighted in two recent studies conducted by Commander Guy M. Snodgrass, an F/A-18 pilot and former TOP GUN instructor who has become one of the most influential manpower reform advocates currently serving. In “Keep a Weather Eye on the Horizon,” CDR Snodgrass showed how a number of factors, including the Navy’s antiquated personnel system, are combining to push out some of its best mid-level officers–along with their decades of wartime experience. A follow-on survey of over 5,000 officers and sailors echoed CDR Snodgrass’s earlier findings and included a recommendation that “greater career path diversity will provide opportunities for talented sailors to accept challenging or desirable positions, increasing overall career satisfaction.”

VADM Moran described two efforts he is supporting that aim to increase the career flexibility of Navy personnel. The first is a pilot sabbatical program created in 2009 that allows sailors and officers to take a break from active duty for up to three years while retaining their health benefits and competitiveness for promotion. The other services have since followed suit, with the Marines launching their own version of the program in 2013 and the Army and Air Force last summer.

VADM Moran’s second initiative is a proposed system of “on ramps” and “off ramps” that would allow sailors to transition between active duty and the reserves throughout the course of their careers. So far the program is just an idea, but VADM Moran hopes to be able to generate sufficient legislative momentum to turn it into a reality sometime in the next few years.

Both the sabbatical and the reserve transition programs are aimed at assisting with the retention of service members between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five, a period that VADM Moran described as representing a “sweet spot” when personnel are looking to start families, get additional education, or simply experiment with other jobs outside of the military.

Unfortunately, the military services face a number of obstacles to implementing manpower system reforms. Chief among these is the lack of control the Pentagon has over many aspects of its own personnel policies The sabbatical program described above, for example, could not legally be created by the military without Congressional authorization. If legislators do not grant the military permission to extend the program past 2015, the services will be forced to shutter it prematurely. VADM Moran cited other statutory guidelines, such as the 1980 Defense Officer Personnel Manpower Act (DOPMA), as further limiting his freedom of action and slowing the personnel reform process.

There is also the question of just how much stamina the services have to expend on manpower reforms while contending with a host of other difficult challenges, both at home and abroad. In the midst of combat operations against ISIS, the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, a reduction in the Pentagon budget, and sequestration, it is fair to ask whether military leaders have the time or energy to take on another potentially divisive issue—especially without some sort of galvanizing event to precipitate their action.

If VADM Moran is successful at shepherding his long-term reforms through the bureaucratic minefields that lie ahead, his policies will be studied by the other services and many of them will surely be copied and adopted. If he fails, the lights will stay on in the Pentagon and the military will continue to train, deploy, and fight wars. But it will do so with a manpower system that is drifting away from the expectations of the service members whose lives it governs. Eventually, the Defense Department will have no choice but to update its Cold War-era personnel regulations. The only question is: how many good men and women will choose to leave the services first?

Jesse Sloman is a research associate at the Council on Foreign Relations and a member of the Truman National Security Project’s Defense Council. He served on active duty in the Marine Corps from 2009 to 2013.  This piece appears courtesy of the CFR blog Defense in Depth.

Image: U.S. Navy Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsUnited States

A Nuclear Nightmare: If China and Japan Went to War

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Nothing so clearly signals Australia’s involvement in a more strategically competitive Asia as the writings of Australia’s leading strategic academics. In quieter times, our academics focused on the meaning of self-reliance, or the durability of American power in the Asia–Pacific. Gradually, China’s rise made its way onto the agenda. And by late last year academics were busily writing papers about whether intra-Asian conflict scenarios in North Asia might see Australia drawn in.

In a paper published by the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at ANU, Rob Ayson and Des Ball outlined their concerns about possible escalation scenarios in North Asia. Their scenarios turn essentially upon a set of judgments that a minor armed clash between China and Japan could readily escalate; that the Americans would be drawn in quite quickly; and that China might be attracted towards early options for nuclear weapons use. Because of that possible progression, Rob and Des set out some guidance for Australian policy-makers that emphasizes the need to encourage both Japanese and Chinese counterparts to believe that they share common interests, and not merely competitive ones. Moreover, they caution that “any ideas of supporting Japan and/or the United States in a small North Asian conflict could involve Canberra in a catastrophically escalating war.”

The authors portray the US-Japan security alliance as reassuring in one context, but worrying in another. During peacetime, the alliance is “a barrier to war in Asia;” but during wartime it’s “fuel for [a Japan–China] conflict’s further intensification.” In particular they worry that US entry into the conflict would increase the possibility of that escalation having a nuclear dimension, even if the US itself remains committed to a conventional exchange.

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I buy a limited version of this argument. Yes, a minor armed clash between the two regional powers is possible: not likely, I think, but possible. And yes, that clash might escalate—albeit not in an open-ended way. Yes, the Americans probably would be drawn in, because President Obama has said that the Senkakus are covered by the US-Japan alliance, and that’s the most likely trigger point. So far, so good. But that final judgment is especially alarming. It’s hard to see how a Chinese strategic planner might convince Xi Jinping that it’d be a good idea to cross the nuclear threshold in such a case.

Crossing that threshold early in any conflict is not typical P5 behaviour. Part of the claim the P5 make about their responsible stewardship of nuclear weapons is that those weapons are solely ones of last resort. Would a minor clash—or even a medium-sized clash—in the East China Sea really constitute ‘last resort’? Rob and Des argue that the Chinese would be worried about the vulnerability of their arsenal and want to “use it rather than lose it.” In an abstract sense, the reasoning is true—if Beijing really believed it was about to lose its nuclear arsenal. But it’s a wild throw of the dice: would Chinese leaders so readily risk everything they’ve struggled so hard for during the past 30-40 years?

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Rob and Des don’t actually suggest that the Americans would launch a first-strike against the Chinese nuclear force; nor even a substantial conventional attack against the force. But they do believe that the degradation of China’s command and control assets might tempt the Chinese to conclude that their own nuclear force was slipping out of their reach. That’s true; it might make them believe that. But believing that should give them a powerful incentive for war termination.

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This morbid fascination with the potential consequences of China–Japan strategic frictions also found echoes in the work of Nick Bisley and Brendan Taylor, who focused on the extent to which ANZUS might suck Australia into a North Asian conflict. Nick and Brendan are also interested in escalation dynamics, especially insofar as those serve as conductors for Australia’s own involvement. Amongst their recommendations, the single most contentious must surely be that Australia should be working now to manage US and Japanese expectations that it might have a role, while creating maximum freedom of maneuver with Beijing. Personally, I would have cast that the other way around: we should be managing China’s expectations that we’d be uninvolved and indifferent, while exploring maximum freedom of maneuver with the US and Japan.

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The new interest in North Asian flashpoints marks a clear historical shift from an earlier era when the dominant Asia–Pacific flashpoints tended to be listed as the Korean peninsula, China–Taiwan, and South Asia. That brief list remained essentially unchanged for decades. But no longer. Regardless of whether readers agree with their arguments or not, what’s striking is the new interest of Australia’s academics in the emerging strategic balances in the region—not just the balance between the US and China, but those between the Asian great powers.

Rod Lyon is a fellow at ASPI and executive editor of The Strategist where this was first published.

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsChina

The Dragon’s Fire: Welcome to Chinese Nuclear Weapons 101

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The People’s Republic of China’s nuclear arsenal is achieving greater notoriety, as Beijing’s growing economy funds an upgrade of its entire military. The development of mobile intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and a new class of ballistic missile submarines are evidence that China’s nuclear arsenal is becoming increasingly sophisticated.

China’s nuclear force, while modernizing, is a modest one by the relative standards of nuclear powerhouses like the United States or Russia. Beijing has shown little interest in developing a large nuclear stockpile, as it does not view nuclear weapons in the same vein as larger nuclear powers—viewing such weapons within a strictly defensive context with much less operational use.

History and Rationale:

For decades, China placed the bulk of its defense policy in a concept known as  “People’s War,” a strategically defensive/tactically offensive war plan that involved luring an invader deep into Chinese territory before destroying them with conventional armies and guerrilla forces. Within that context, against China’s nearly endless supply of manpower, nuclear weapons seem less appealing.

In fact, early on China had no interest in building a nuclear weapons arsenal; Mao described them as “paper tigers” that only appeared dangerous. Chinese opinion shifted in the mid-1950s, with a combination of the Korean War, Taiwan Strait Crisis—in which a nuclear-armed America protected Taiwan—and Soviet offers of nuclear assistance.

China tested its first nuclear weapon on October 16th, 1964. The test had a yield of 22 kilotons, or roughly 50 percent more powerful than the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima. Three years it tested its first thermonuclear weapons, which produced a yield of 3,300 kilotons (3.3 megatons.)

For the most part, China developed nuclear weapons to achieve basic technological parity with the United States, Soviet Union, France and the United Kingdom. Although China built this arsenal, it never placed a high priority on constructing an effective nuclear weapons force capable of quick response.

At least for now, China appears to be content with this bare minimum nuclear deterrent: although it has not officially announced a moratorium (the only P5 country to not have done so), it is believed to have stopped production of fissile materials in the mid-1980s, leaving the country with enough to produce roughly 300 nuclear weapons.

Beijing has concentrated on a countervalue strategy, acquiring a small force of ICBMs armed with thermonuclear warheads. The DF-5 ICBM is armed with a single 5-megaton warhead. Detonated over Los Angeles (Chinese remarks around its nuclear weapons and Los Angeles have been the subject of conversation in recent years), a 5 megaton warhead would have a fireball more than two miles wide, and guarantee third degree burns 15 miles from the point of detonation.

One key tenet of Chinese nuclear policy is its “no first use” pledge. Admirable on the face of it, the pledge was also rooted in Chinese opinions that nuclear weapons in general were really much less intimidating than commonly believed. And, as Jeffrey Lewis noted in his newly released Paper Tigers: China's Nuclear Posture, “Threats by China to use its nuclear weapons against weaker states would undermine Chinese claims that the numerically superior U.S. nuclear force had little coercive value.”

Size of the Force and Key Technological Developments:

As of 2012, the U.S. Department of Defense estimated that China’s land-based nuclear arsenal consisted of 50-75 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and 75-100 medium range ballistic missiles incapable of targeting the United States. Compared to the U.S. arsenal of 450 ICBMs, this is a modest force.

China’s first attempted to deploy thermonuclear weapons on long-range missiles. Specifically, the DF-4/CSS-3 ICBM, which was a two stage liquid-fueled missile that could reach as far as Guam or Moscow. This was far enough to hold most of America’s military assets west of Hawaii and the capital of the Soviet Union at risk. The circular error probable (the radius of a circle within which an average of fifty percent of a weapon’s warheads will land) is estimated at 1.4 to 3.5 kilometers. To make up for this relative inaccuracy, DF-4 missiles carry warheads with yields between 2 and 3 megatons.

A later design, the DF-5, can strike targets in western Russia and the western United States. An estimated 18 DF-5s are currently in service.

The DF-4/5 ICBMs are fixed weapon systems, but China now appears to be shifting to mobile ICBMs. The DF-21A medium range and DF-31A intercontinental range missiles are launched from a wheeled launch vehicle that can be moved in and out of China’s extensive network of tunnels and scattered across a large road network.

Both the DF-21 and DF-31A/B missiles each carry a single warhead, although there are reports the new DF-31B can carry up to three independently targetable warheads. In addition, the solid fueled road-mobile DF-41 ICBM that China is currently developing could carry up to 10 independently targetable warheads.

SSBN Development:

China’s first ballistic missile submarine, the Xia-class, was launched in 1981. There were persistent rumors that it caught fire and sank pier-side in the 1980s, but the submarine is still functional as of 2014. Although equipped with 12 JL-1A ballistic missiles, it has never conducted a nuclear deterrence patrol.

China is currently building a force of approximately five second-generation Jin-class ballistic missile submarines. Each Jin carries at least 12 JL-2 ballistic missiles. Technologically, however, they are still inferior to U.S. designs — the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Intelligence has assessed them as being noisier than Soviet late 1970s-era Delta III submarines. Also troubling, Each Jin-class submarine must travel to the North Pacific in order to bring the United States into range of its missiles.

Nukes in the Air?

Although aircraft was the first means by which China could deliver nuclear weapons, the air component of Beijing’s nuclear arsenal has fallen out of favor over time. In the past, China’s nuclear capable aircraft included the Hong-6 (H-6) and Qian-5A (Q-5A) attack bombers equipped with gravity nuclear bombs. In the 1990s, the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies estimated that China had about 150 gravity nuclear bombs for its aircraft, with the vast majority designed for the H-6 bomber. More recent estimates suggest that China only has roughly 40 of these nuclear-capable air-to-surface missiles.

However, China’s new bomber, the H-6K, is expected to enhance the third leg of China’s nuclear triad considerably. Indeed, as a state-owned Chinese media outlet noted of the H-6K in 2013, “The nuclear-capable Changjian (long sword)-10 cruise missiles it [the H-6K] carries have a range of 1,500-2,000 KM, effectively extending the bomber’s combat range to 4,000-5,000 KM - long enough to reach Okinawa, Guam and even Hawaii from China’s mainland.”


China’s nuclear program may indeed one day seek to achieve parity with big nuclear powers like the United States and Russia. Beijing’s basic notions about nuclear weapons were first conceived under ideological constraints while the country was much poorer than it is today.  However, if relations were to turn quite hostile with any of the big nuclear powers China could quickly change its thinking.

That having been said, China gives no indication of doing so, and the amount of fissile material available puts a hard limit on the number of nuclear weapons it can currently deploy.

Kyle Mizokami is a writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in The Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and The Daily Beast. In 2009 he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsChina

Will 2015 Be Africa's Year to Shine?

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With over a billion people and the second largest continental landmass in the world, Africa is complicated and defies generalization. Yet, we do it all the time. Here are five trends to keep an eye on for 2015:

1. A Resurgence of Afro-pessimism. For the past several years, the narrative about Africa has been upbeat, ranging from McKinsey and Company’s Lions on the move” to the Economist’sA Hopeful Continent.” That could change in 2015, with a militant jihadism in the Sahel, an implosion in South Sudan and the Central African Republic, and Ebola. Falling oil prices will also mean declining currency values and falling stock markets in oil-dependent states. But, Afro-pessimism can distort as much as ‘Africa rising.’

2. State Stability: The political climate in Africa is unstable. While Burkina Faso has seen a relatively peaceful transition, there are several African countries in a current state of conflict or perpetual insecurity. Will the civil war in the South Sudan continue? How will the elections play out in Nigeria? What will happen as political elites prepare for a post-Mugabe Zimbabwe? Only time will tell.

3. Disease: The headlines are dominated by Ebola, a disease that like HIV/AIDS andMarburg, jumped from animals to humans in Africa and yielded devastating results. With the continued destruction of forests and the concentration of people in fetid urban slums, it is possible that a new disease will emerge in 2015. Despite Ebola and continued high levels of HIV/AIDS, the African disease story is increasingly positive. Africa is nearly polio-free and there has been dramatic progress in reducing mortality caused by malaria, in part because of the more extensive use of bednets. But, primary preventative healthcare and health systems need to be strengthened to meet the challenges of future outbreaks as well as consolidate the health gains African countries have made.

4. Energy: Innovative solutions should be watched. They have the potential to address Africa’s energy needs. In particular, there is the promise of Power Africa, the private public partnership the United States is leading, bringing together six African governments, private sector companies and investors, and major development banks in order to double access to clean, reliable energy. African governments are also making independent investments in renewable energy solutions. Kenya, for example, has commissioned a geothermal power project and the South African government is also pursuing a new nuclear energy strategy to boost the national power grid.

5. Elections: Elections can build democracy or exacerbate conflict. For good or ill, there will be thirteen presidential elections in Africa in 2015. Some elections may lead to positive geopolitical change. In Tanzania, incumbent president Jakaya Kikwete cannot seek a third term. In Ethiopia, freed from the dominant grip of Meles Zenawi by his death in 2012, the political playing field is more even than ever before. Yet, the power of incumbency remains strong. In Cote d’Ivoire, President Alassane Ouattara, who came to power in the first post-civil war elections in 2010, will run again in 2015 and likely win. Sudan’s president Omer al-Bashir is essentially guaranteed an electoral victory, extending his twenty-five year reign. Similarly, Togo’s Faure Gnassingbe will likely remain in power.

In some countries, elections could escalate tensions and may trigger political violence. South Sudan’s elections will likely be fraught, particularly as the specter of civil war hangs over the new country and ethnic rifts plague the populace and political elites.

Nigeria will also be especially important to watch. The new opposition party, the All Progressives Congress, may present an unprecedented threat to the president’s People’s Democratic Party. With the specter of Boko Haram hanging over the country, the government will need to take extra precautions to guard against political violence and terrorism.

2015 African General Elections

- Zambia 1/20/2015

- Nigeria 2/14/2015

- Togo 3/2015

- Sudan 4/2/2015

- Ethiopia 5/24/2015

- Burundi 6/26/205

- South Sudan 7/2015

- Cote d’Ivoire 10/2015

- Tanzania 10/2015

- Burkina Faso 11/2015

- Guinea 2015

- Libya 2015

- Niger 2015

Constitutional Referendum

- Tanzania 4/30/2015


- Mali

- Burundi

- Mauritius

- Chad

This piece comes courtesy of CFR

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons. 

TopicsEconomics RegionsAfrica

Shinzo Abe’s Foreign and Security Policy Agenda

The Buzz

The underlying current of the December election victory by Abe and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is a quiet power shift toward liberal-center forces from the nationalist-right. This is first seen, as was pointed out by Brad Glosserman, in the relative rise of Komeito, which gained four seats to total 35, and the LDP’s loss of three seats, which leaves it with 290 within the ruling coalition.

This is more conspicuously seen, however, in the shattering defeat of the Party for Future Generations (Jisedai), which lost 17 seats, retaining only two representatives. This party assembled candidates from the most eloquent nationalist-right. Ishihara Shintaro, named as the last candidate in the party’s electoral list, could not gain a seat and immediately declared that he would resign from politics. Tamogami Toshio, former chief of the Air Self-Defense Force and known to have a nationalist view of history and defense, openly called for a break in the power of Komeito to achieve a conservative defense agenda. His defeat was symbolic and represented the nationalists’ failure, particularly in the area of defense.

The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) gained 11 seats and now has 73 in total. The Japan Restoration Party (Ishin no Kai) lost one seat, holding on to 41, but the clout of Hashimoto Toru, the powerful nationalist mayor of Osaka, is considerably weakened. He announced his resignation from national politics to concentrate on Osaka’s regional politics. Eda Kenji, former secretary to Prime Minister Hashimoto Ryutaro and possessor of a more balanced view on state matters, now heads this party. The remaining political party is the Communist Party, which gained 13 seats to reach 21. Thus, one can argue that other than the single conservative party, the LDP (290), all other major parties are liberal-center, including the Democrats (73), Restoration (41), Komeito (35), and the Communists (21), with other parties reduced to just two seats each.

Those results can have consequences for Abe’s policy, particularly on issues of security, politics, and history. Two hypotheses are possible. Optimists will argue that this political landscape together with Abe’s readiness to listen to realist-moderate aides from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) such as Yachi Shotaro will enable the prime minister to take a more balanced approach that will align him with global public opinion, including that of the United States and Europe. Pessimists will counter that the combination of a powerful majority position in the House of Representatives combined with caution because of the shifting political tide to the liberal-center will, paradoxically, make the nationalist-right more vocal and vigorous, and Abe will have no choice but to listen to and implement their views. Let us now look at specific agendas.

First, there is Abe’s security and defense agenda. After the election, and even at its last stage, Abe made it clear that “revision of the Constitution” is going to be one of his major political objectives. Does this make sense?

As far as Article 9 is concerned, the major task now is to concentrate on the parliamentary debate to codify the July 1 Cabinet decision to authorize the exercise of the right of collective self-defense, and after that, there does not seem to be real need for constitutional revision to ensure Japan’s proactive defense and security policy. MOFA may seek a more active role in Peacekeeping Operations (PKO) and actions to be taken under UN Security Council Resolutions, such as enactment of a “permanent law” to meet such situations as the 2001 Afghan Resolution or the 2003 Iraq Resolution, but these would not require constitutional amendment.

Realistically, as long as Komeito remains part of the ruling coalition, further revision of Article 9 of the Constitution does not seem feasible. If Constitutional revision is going to go forward, issues such as ecological rights, public policy, or land property rights may have greater relevance.

Second, there are “historical memory issues,” such as visits to Yasukuni Shrine or the comfort women. During the election campaign, in contrast to mentions here and there of security and defense, the total silence on history by all parties, media, and academics was conspicuous. There are now two possibilities.

The optimistic view is that Abe becomes more of a realist and a good listener to aides such as Yachi. He would not go to Yasukuni and without saying so would find a way to let Presidents Obama and Xi know that. On the comfort women issue, he would allow his best diplomats to negotiate in confidentiality one more initiative to heal the wounds of these women and let ROK President Park Guen-hye join this exercise to remove this issue from the thorny political agenda between Japan and Korea. The year 2015 would be highlighted by Abe’s statement on the 70th commemoration of the end of World War II, but the key message on history should be his commitment to the Murayama statement and his determination of “never forget” as a perpetrator country. If these things can be achieved in 2015, Abe could take more resolute actions along this line to make him “Abe of Asia” and “Abe of the world” rather than just “Abe of Japan.”

The pessimistic view is that the 2015 Abe statement would be exclusively “future oriented” to declare to the world that Japan has done everything to reconcile with the past and that it is focused on the future to become a democratic and peaceful country. The key message would be “let us forget the past and work together for the future.” No further action can be expected by his Cabinet on comfort women. On Yasukini, Abe would be pressed by nationalists who argue that pressure from the Xi-Park alliance is humiliating Japan, and he would have to visit the shrine again to show his pride and resilience. If the later path is chosen, Abe, despite his strengthened domestic political position, would be heading toward global isolation.

One last issue needs to be addressed: Okinawa. Non-LDP candidates opposed to Futenma’s transfer to Henoko won all four of the single-member districts on the ballot, highlighting the general tendency to reject the Henoko option. Since Onaga Takeshi, who also rejects the Henoko option, won the December Okinawa governor’s election, it seems that the 2006 Two Plus Two agreement that selected the Henoko option faces serious problems. Formidable intellectuals have taken up the Okinawan cause. One of them is Sato Masaru, a former MOFA official working on Russia and a popular and prolific writer, who is deeply committed to the cause of Okinawa and seriously supports Okinawa identity. Unless the government pays significant attention to Okinawa identity – a long neglected issue – this may well become the most difficult security, defense, and foreign policy issue for Japan in the third Abe Cabinet.

Abe has another critical agenda: Abenomics, the third arrow of deregulation and economic development, revitalization of regions, etc. Success or failure in these areas may prove to be much more decisive for his longevity, but that is the subject for another time.

This piece first appeared in CSIS: PACNET Newsletter here

TopicsSecurity RegionsJapan

10 World Figures Who Died in 2014

The Buzz

Last week, I wrote about ten Americans who died in 2014 who helped shape U.S. foreign policy during their lifetimes. Below are ten world figures who died in 2014. Each made a mark on history. Some were heroes; some were villains. And for some, whether they were hero or villain lies in the eye of the beholder.

Jean-Claude Duvalier (b. 1951) was the ruthless Haitian president ousted in a 1986 coup. Duvalier became “president for life” in 1971 at the age of nineteen when his father, President Francois Duvalier—or “Papa Doc”—suddenly died. “Baby Doc’s” rule was less brutal than his father’s, but that’s not saying much. He used his father’s militia, the Tonton Macoutes, to intimidate or eliminate his opponents. As many as 30,000 Haitians died as the country’s three main prisons became known as the “triangle of death.” While Haiti was (and is) the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Baby Doc lived lavishly; he stole as much as $800 million from the Haitian treasury. A severe economic crisis triggered the 1986 uprising that sent him into exile. He returned to Haiti 2011, having squandered his wealth during his twenty-five years in France. He claimed he wanted to help rebuild Haiti after it suffered a devastating earthquake; he did nothing of consequence to that end. Despite efforts by human rights groups, Duvalier wasnever brought to justice for his crimes. He lived well until his death this October.

Nadine Gordimer (b. 1923) was the Nobel Prize–winning South African writer whose novels and short stories educated the world about the reality of apartheid. Gordimer, the daughter of Jewish immigrants to South Africa, began writing young; she published her first short story when she was just fifteen. Her writing turned her into a forceful critic of apartheid. She joined the African National Congress and befriended Nelson Mandela. The South African government banned several of her works because of their anti-apartheid themes. Her 1979 book Burger’s Daughter, a story about “the problems, the humanity, the ruthlessness and the cost of political involvement,” was smuggled to Mandela while he was imprisoned at Robben Island. He subsequently wrote Gordimer “a letter of deep, understanding acceptance about the book.” Gordimer won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1991. She continued to write about apartheid even after it was abolished in 1994. (If you’re looking to read some of Gordimer’s work, the Guardian has her five must-read books.)

Wojciech Jaruzelski (b. 1923) was the Polish leader who led the crackdown on the Solidarity movement in 1981 and eight years later became Poland’s last communist leader. Jaruzelski was born in Poland but fled to Lithuania with his family when Hitler invaded in 1939. In 1941, the Soviets sent him to Siberia. The next year he joined a Polish section of the Soviet army so he could fight against Germany. He remained in what became the Polish army after the war and rose quickly through the ranks, becoming the country’s youngest general at the age of thirty-three. A member of the Communist Party, he entered the Polish parliament in 1961 and became defense minister in 1968. When Solidarity’s prominence became unacceptable to Moscow, Jaruzelski declared martial law on December 13, 1981 and sent tanks into Warsaw to quell protests. He later claimed he took this step to prevent Moscow from intervening on its own, as it had done before in Hungary and Czechoslovakia. Jaruzelski gradually relaxed martial law, and in 1989 he voluntarily stepped down from power. That move paved the way for the election of Solidarity leader Lech Walesa as Poland’s first post-Communist president. Poles are divided over Jaruzelski’s legacy. Some believe he was a hero for preventing a Soviet crackdown and leading the country out of communism; others think he put loyalty to the Soviet Union above his own country. The debate over his legacy will likely continue for a long time.

Sheik Umar Khan (b. 1975) was a doctor from Sierra Leone who died at the age of thirty-nine after contracting Ebola while treating victims of the region’s Ebola outbreak. Khan studied at the College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences in Sierra Leone. He later worked for the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation, served as the head of Kenema Government Hospital’s Lassa fever program, consulted for the UN Mission in Sierra Leone, and taught as a university lecturer. Because Lassa fever is similar to Ebola, Khan was called on to help stem the Ebola outbreak in West Africa. He understood the risks. He treated more than one hundred patients between April and July. When he became infected, only about seven hundred people had died of Ebola. Now, that number exceeds 7,500. That figure includes about 270 health care workers, all of whom had the courage and selflessness to help confront the deadly virus. Khan’s death prompted a debate over whether he should have been treated with an experimental drug that might have saved his life. The drug was later used on other health-care workers who became infected with Ebola and may have saved their lives.

Eroni Kumana (b. 1918) was a fisherman and canoe maker on the island of Rannoga in the Solomon Islands who saved John. F. Kennedy’s life. In 1943, Kumana was in his canoe fulfilling his Coastwatcher duties for the Australian government when he and his fellow islander Buiku Gasa came across a U.S. Navy crew struggling to survive on a deserted island after a Japanese destroyer sank their patrol boat, the PT-109. Kumana and Gasa built a fire and gave the men food and water. They then went a step further. They took a message that the PT boat’s captain, John Kennedy, had written on a coconut shell and paddled thirty-five miles to an Australian naval base. (Kennedy used the coconut shell as a paperweight on his desk in the Oval Office). Kennedy and his men were then rescued. Kumana and Gasa helped the Americans at great peril to themselves; the Japanese occupied Rannoga at the time and likely would have executed them had they been caught. And neither man knew that they were saving the life of a future president of the United States. Kumana never saw Kennedy again; he was invited to Kennedy’s presidential inauguration but was unable to attend. Kumana lived in the Solomon Islands his entire life. An American living there described him as “the most animated, energetic little guy…even at 93 years old.”

Hiroo Onoda (b. 1922) was a second lieutenant in the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II who continued fighting long after the war ended for everyone else. As the war was in its final stages, Onoda and three of his fellow soldiers hid in the jungle on the island of Lubang in the Philippines. The last order they had received had directed them not surrender, so they didn’t. Not willing to believe that Japan would ever surrender, Onoda followed his orders for twenty-nine years—even after one of his comrades had surrendered and the other two had been killed. Finally, in 1974, Onoda’s brother and his former commanding officer persuaded him to surrender. Still wearing his tattered uniform, he went to Manila to present his sword to Ferdinand Marcos, the president of the Philippines, who then pardoned him for the crimes he had committed in the jungle. Onoda was greeted upon his return to Japan as a hero. He wrote a book about his experience. However, he felt out-of-place in his homeland. He moved to Brazil, where he met his wife. He eventually moved back to Japan and opened Onoda Nature School, a camp to teach survival skills to Japanese youth.

Ian Paisley (b. 1926) was the longtime leader of Protestants in Northern Ireland who favored union with Britain. Born and raised in County Antrim, Northern Ireland, Paisley studied to become a Presbyterian minister but became dissatisfied with the church and founded the fundamentalist Free Presbyterian Church. He passionately opposed uniting Ulster with the rest of Ireland. In 1965, he threw snowballs at the Irish prime minister to protest what he feared was movement toward unification. When the Troubles, a thirty-year conflict over whether Northern Ireland should remain part of the United Kingdom, erupted in 1968, Paisley established himself as a leader of pro-union forces in Ulster. He consistently denounced any potential concessions to the Republic of Ireland or to Catholics in Northern Ireland, and he frequently did so using bitter, divisive, and inflammatory language. He was elected to the British House of Commons in 1970, and he founded the Democratic Unionist Party the next year. In 1988 as a member of European Parliament, he called the pope the antichrist. Paisley vehemently opposed the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which helped end the Troubles. Yet when he was elected first minister of Northern Ireland in 2007, he surprised the world by reaching a power-sharing agreement with his arch-enemy, Gerry Adams, the leader of the Sinn Féin Party. Most Protestant unionists viewed Paisley as a great leader; most everyone else saw him as a dangerous demagogue whose hatreds fueled the divisions and violence that drove the Troubles.

Michael Sata (b. 1937) was the president of Zambia. He came from humble beginnings, studied to be a priest, and tried many different jobs as a young man, including police officer, taxidermist, pilot, and even a porter in London’s Victoria station. He participated in Zambia’s struggle for independence from Great Britain. After independence, he rose through the ranks of the United National Independence Party (UNIP), which was headed by Zambia’s first president, Kenneth Kaunda. Sata eventually became disillusioned with Kaunda’s dictatorial ways, and in 1991 he joined the opposition Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD). He eventually fell out with the MMD, and in 2001 he founded a new opposition party, the Patriotic Front. It took Sata three tries to win the Zambian presidency. He accomplished that feat in 2011, knocking the MMD out of power for the first time in two decades. Sata won the presidency in part because of his stinging criticism of Chinese involvement in Zambia’s copper mining industry. (Sata was known as “King Cobra” for his “abrasive manner and a sharp tongue.”) Once in office, his anti-Chinese attitude at times scared investors. Nonetheless, the Zambian economy grew under his leadership. Sata was succeeded in office by his vice president, Guy Scott, who became the first white president in the region since South African President F.W. de Klerk left office in 1994. Scott’s position is temporary. Zambia has elections scheduled for January 20.

Ariel Sharon (b. 1928) was a controversial Israeli general who as prime minister surprised both his critics and supporters by ordering the 2005 Israeli withdrawal from Gaza. Sharon was born to Russian Jewish immigrants and raised on a farm near Tel Aviv. Hedistinguished himself in Israel’s 1948 war of independence. He subsequently formed an elite commando team, Unit 101, which he led on an infamous 1953 reprisal raid on Qibya, Jordan that killed sixty-nine Jordanian civilians. The UN Security Councilcondemned the attack, which the Israeli government denied its forces had carried out. Sharon played a role in all of Israel’s subsequent major conflicts until his stroke, including the 1956 Suez War and the 1967 Six-Day War. As defense minister in 1982, he orchestrated the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, which failed to produce the quick victory he predicted and which was halted under intense pressure from the Reagan administration. A massacre at the Palestinian refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila in Beirut by Israel’s Christian Lebanese militia allies in the wake of the war prompted international outrage; an official Israeli inquiry blamed Sharon for not anticipating the massacre and called for his resignation. He was reassigned to another Cabinet post, but remained an influential figure in Israeli politics. He was elected prime minister in 2001, in part on his promise to halt the second Palestinian intifada, an uprising that his own visit to Temple Mount had sparked. Despite having previously been a staunch supporter of Israel’s settlement policy, in 2005 he ordered all Israeli settlers and troops withdrawn from Gaza. Opposition within the Likud Party to his willingness to accept a Palestinian state prompted Sharon to form his own party, Kadima. In January 2006, however, before he could stand for election, he suffered a massive stroke. He spent the next eight years in what doctors called a minimally conscious state. Historians will long argue what might have been in Israeli-Palestinian relations had Sharon not become incapacitated.

Eduard Shevardnadze (b. 1928) was the Soviet foreign minister under Mikhail Gorbachev who later became president of the newly independent country of Georgia. Shevardnadze was born in Georgia. He joined the Soviet Communist youth organization,Komsomol, rising through the ranks and making friends with a young Gorbachev. Shevardnadze made a name for himself exposing corruption in the Georgian Communist Party. Then-Soviet Premier Leonid Brezhnev rewarded him for his efforts by making him first secretary of the Communist Party of Georgia. In 1985, Gorbachev tapped Shevardnadze to be foreign minister even though he had no foreign policy experience. Shevardnadze’s tenure as foreign minister saw the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, arms control agreements signed with the United States, and the reunification of Germany. He also persuaded Gorbachev to oppose Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, paving the way for Operation Desert Storm. Shevardnadze developed good relations with U.S. Secretary of State James A. Baker, who later said of him: “Shevardnadze was tough; he was tenacious; above all, he was brave.” After resigning from the Soviet government, Shevardnadze returned to his native Georgia to help smooth things over after a coup. He was elected president of Georgia in 1995 and again in 2000. He survived two assassination attempts, which may have dimmed his enthusiasm for political reform. Unrest in Georgia in 2003 over a faltering economy and growing corruption produced the Rose Revolution, which pushed Shevardnadze from office. He spent the last decade of his life in retirement.

Other significant world figures who died this year include: Shulamit Aloni, an Israeli parliamentarian who was critical of mistreating Palestinians; Rostislav Belyakov, the chief designer of the Russian MiG fighter jets; Asher Ben-Natan, the Israeli diplomat who helped to establish post-WWII relations between Israel and Germany, and who led the search for Adolf Eichmann; Sir Arthur Bonsall, a British codebreaker who helped to crack German codes during the Battle of Britain; Chung Eun-yong, a South Korean policeman who pushed for half a century to get the U.S. Army to acknowledge the massacre of Korean War refugees at No Gun Ri; Gabriel García Márquez, the winner of the 1982 Nobel Prize in Literature and a left-win social critic who was a diehard supporter of Fidel Castro;Melba Hernandez, a Cuban revolutionary who was a loyal compatriot to Fidel Castro;Ignatius Zakka Iwas, the Patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church; Jaime Lusinchi, former president of Venezuela; Huber Matos Benitez, a leading figure of the Cuban Revolution who was imprisoned for twenty years after he turned against Fidel Castro and the Cuban Communist Party; Ian Player, a South African conservationist instrumental in saving the white rhinoceros; Adolfo Suarez, the first Spanish prime minister after the death of Francisco Franco; U Win Tin, a leading critic of military rule in Myanmar; and Metropolitan Volodymyr, head of Ukraine’s Orthodox Church.

This piece appears courtesy of CFR’s blog The Water’s Edge.

TopicsForeign Policy

Iran Tests ‘Kamikaze’ Suicide Drone

The Buzz

Iran tested its new “suicide” drone for the first time late last week, according to a senior Iranian military officer.

Brigadier General Ahmad Reza Pourdastan, the Commander of Iran’s Ground Forces, told reporters on Friday that Iran first deployed its “kamikaze drones” during ongoing military drills near the Strait of Hormuz.

“The kamikaze drone was for the first time used in Mohammad Rasoulallah (Mohammad, the Messenger of God) maneuvers,” Pourdastan said, referring to the military drills, state-owned Iranian media outlets reported. “The drone can be used for hitting the aerial and ground targets and can carry out an attack when it identifies a suspicious target.”

Pourdastan first announced that the Iranian army had developed a “new type of suicide drone” back in September 2013, which he referred to as the Ra'ad 85 (Thunder 85).

At the time, Pourdastan claimed “This drone is like a mobile bomb, and is capable of destroying fixed and mobile targets,” including enemy helicopters. He also said that the drone was being produced in different sizes in order to target and destroy different kinds of targets. Elsewhere, Iranian press outlets reported that the Ra’ad 85 had a range of about 100 km.

However, the drone was widely mocked by foreign experts in October 2013 after Iranian TV stations first aired video displaying the the unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV). The drone in the video was reportedly patched with duct tape in various areas, prompting many to dismiss it as an “an amateurish project.”

Nonetheless, Iran has sought to incorporate UAVs into its armed forces, and placed an especially high premium on developing an indigenous UAV industry over the past decade. Although Iran’s “indigenous” UAVs often appear to be modeled off of foreign drones, Tehran has an increasingly wide-range and sophisticated domestic drone industry. As The National Interest noted earlier this month, Iranian officials appear eager to begin exporting some of these UAVs.

The use of the Ra’ad 85 as a “mobile bomb” is consistent with Iranian military doctrine, which relies in part on using asymmetric capabilities to deter adversaries with vastly superior conventional military power. Indeed, in many ways it appears Iran intends to use the Ra’ad 85 in particular, and its fleet of UAVs more generally, in a fashion similar to its swarming speedboats. Iranian naval officials have regularly suggested these speedboats might be used as mobile bombs in kamikaze attacks against U.S. naval assets in the event of a war.

In any case, the first test of the Ra’ad 85 has been a long time coming. Shortly after Pourdastan first revealed the drone’s existence in September 2013, Iranian army officials claimed that the drone would be used in Army drills scheduled to take place between October and November of last year. Then, in May of this year, Pourdastan announced that the kamikaze drone would be tested sometime in 2014.

The Ra-ad 85 was tested as part of the week-long joint military exercises that are scheduled to conclude on December 31. Iran’s Army, Navy and Air Force are all reportedly participating in the war games, which allegedly cover an “area of 2.2 million square kilometers (850,000 square miles) stretching from the east of the Strait of Hormuz to the southern parts of the Gulf of Aden,” according to local press reports. On Monday Iran’s naval chief told an Iranian Arab-language news outlet that “the drill has a message of friendship and peace for all neighboring countries in the region and even extra-regional countries.”

Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. He can be found on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

Image: Iranian Internet

Topicsmilitary RegionsMiddle East

Question: Should Taiwan Change its China Policy?

The Buzz

Taiwan's political landscape is being transformed. On Nov. 29, the ruling Kuomintang (KMT) suffered a massive defeat in local elections, in which it prevailed in only six of 22 cities and counties nationwide. The KMT debacle triggered a personnel reshuffle in the party and the government. President Ma Ying-jeou of Taiwan resigned as chairman of the KMT and former Premier Jiang Yi-huah led his Cabinet to resign en masse. Some Taiwan watchers insist that the election results are of great impact for cross-Strait relations, anticipating a rocky cross-Strait relationship because the KMT has lost its mandate to push cross-Strait exchanges. The KMT's crushing defeat may reflect strong dissatisfaction toward the central government, but it isn't clear if the election results reject President Ma's policy of engaging China and back the DPP's pro-independence policy.

These were local elections, which implies at least that the key issues were local, not President Ma's cross-Strait policy. In a post-election survey released by Taiwan Thinktank, 43 percent of respondents reported that their voting decisions were based on "candidate's personalities," a factor topping all other options in the survey. The second factor was "people's discontent toward the central government," accounting for 25.1 percent of respondents. "Party identity" - which would account for China policy - was third in the survey, with less than 10 percent of respondents regarding it as decisive for their voting behavior.) So while even though the election outcome can be interpreted as a vote of no confidence in the government, it is not correct to blame dissatisfaction toward the government on its China policy rather than domestic issues. The salience of food-safety scandals and concerns about Taiwan's economic competitiveness are also important factors.

There has been concern about President Ma's cross-Strait policy. Increasing anxiety related to Taiwan's "over-reliance" on China was revealed by mass protests in March 2014 against a planned cross-Strait Trade in Services Agreement (TiSA). Those frustrations, however, do not equate with a complete rejection of Ma's push for closer economic ties with China. Three months after the March protests, a survey by Taiwan Indicators Survey Research (TISR) indicated that as many as 43.3 percent of respondents supported the KMT push for cross-Strait trade liberalization. Even after KMT's defeat in the recent election, a poll conducted by the Beijing-based Global Times and the Taipei-based China Times showed that more than 63 percent of respondents in Taiwan believe that the island should pursue trade pacts with China. In fact, the March demonstration protested passage of the TiSA by the KMT without a clause-by-clause review, a protest against the government's failure to communicate with the public on the content of the trade agreement. Thus, the stalled free trade agreement with China is more a rejection of the Ma administration's approach to the TiSA than a denial of the intent to sign a trade agreement with China per se.  

In contrast to the KMT loss, the opposition Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) won 13 of the 22 seats up for election. While it is tempting to see the election as heralding the DPP's return to national power in 2016, this neglects two critical facts.

First, while the results are favorable for the DPP, they do not mean popular support for DPP is enough to win the election. Rather, the appalling performance of the KMT accentuates the DPP's success. A public opinion poll released by TISR in December 2014 revealed that in November, supporters of the DPP-led "Pan-Green" coalition roughly equaled that of the KMT-led "Pan-Blue" coalition, with 27 percent of respondents favoring the "Pan-Green" camp and 25.9 percent backing the "Pan-Blue" camp. There is a significant and growing population of independents: 44.7 percent of respondents consider themselves politically neutral. The increasing number of independent voters suggests the 2016 presidential election results will be much more variable.

Local elections mainly focus on local issues, while a presidential election includes a wider array of policies, ranging from purely domestic issues to relations with other countries. As cross-Strait relations have improved over the past few years in tandem with a regional trend to pursue closer economic relations with Beijing, all presidential candidates in 2016 will have to articulate their "China policy." As contact with Beijing seems inevitable and peace across the Taiwan Strait is the top priority for the Taiwanese public, the KMT and DPP must convince the public that they can handle relations with China well.

To date, the DPP's China policy remains unclear. The DPP seems to recognize the inevitability of engaging China, as Tsai Ing-wen, party chairwoman, explained in September when she said that the DPP will engage China in a "consistent, responsible and predicable" way. But its fundamental policy in cross-Strait relations - a stance that rejects the 1992 consensus of "one China, two interpretations" - is unlikely to change and the party refuses to remove the pro-independence clause in its platform. This position seems to match the growing Taiwanese identity, but reconciling that identity and that policy with China's unwavering "one China" framework is the DPP's most critical task.

Emily S. Chen is a graduate student in the Center for East Asian Studies at Stanford University with a focus on international relations. This piece first appeared in CSIS: PACNET newsletter here.

Image: Wikicommons. 

TopicsChina RegionsTaiwan