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Watch Out, China: Why the 'Asian Century' Might Just Belong to India

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With the conclusion of his three-nation tour of China, Mongolia and South Korea last month, Prime Minister Narendra Modi capped a frenetic first year of diplomacy. It is becoming apparent that the emphasis on the Asian region will continue to be an imperative for the rest of his term. In this past year alone, the Indian Prime Minister has invested about twice as many days visiting the 'east' — Asia, the Indian Ocean Region and the Pacific — as against his 'westward' travels.

Is this a reinvigoration of India's Look East policy? Does it mean relatively less importance to the West? And, what are the drivers of this policy? Barring the notable absence of West Asia from his travel schedule, it is clear that 'Engage Asia' has been the predominant mantra of Modi's early days in office.

This Asian focus is decidedly different from previous efforts by Indian leaders to integrate with the neighborhood. Those efforts were driven by the idea of demonstrating Indian leadership in a particular geography, or they were manifestations of south-south solidarity, or they were necessitated by security concerns emanating from across the border.

The current effort is something more. It is primarily aimed at completing two specific national projects, while at the same time positioning India at the helm of global affairs.

The first national project is to complete '20th century India': future-proofing Indian infrastructure; installing enough energy to power the nation; connecting the country with its periphery and beyond via roads, rail, ports and airports; developing manufacturing bases to employ the millions entering the job market each year; and investing in housing, agrarian and other social infrastructure that most developed economies take for granted.

Modi's Asian thrust is designed to find partnerships, technology and funds to complete this 20th century project. The Atlantic countries do not have the financial capacity to invest in large infrastructure and energy projects. They do not have the political room to commit to carbon-intensive industrialization. And they no longer have the wherewithal to offer 20th century inputs (equipment, energy and technology) for an insatiable India.

All of these are readily available to the east of India. Consider this: China, Japan and Korea between them have close to US$5.5 trillion in foreign exchange reserves, funds desperately needed for this 20th century project.

There is a coincidence of needs as well. Each of these economies needs to invest in new geographies. They need to generate wealth out of what are now stagnant reserves. These are countries that have successfully completed their industrialization projects and need to find outlets for investment in the industrialization of others. That's why China has become the biggest provider of energy-generation equipment to India and wants to build high-speed trains here. It is why South Korea wants to build nuclear reactors and ports in India. And it is why the Japanese want to set up industrial corridors in India. Asia is also the source of most of the energy needs that are indispensable to this national project. Be it gas, uranium, coal variously sourced from Australia, Mongolia, Central Asia and the Middle East, this region offers India plenty of energy opportunities.

When Modi travels to these countries, it is tacit recognition that the response to Indian requirements carried forward from the last century reside there.

Then there is India's '21st century project', driven by innovation, based on new technologies, located within digital economies and fueled by enhanced human capacity. This is the service-sector paradigm that India is already experiencing, and for which India needs high-end solutions at rock bottom prices. For example, most of the 6 million new internet users India adds each month operate on handheld devices priced around the US$50-100 range on connections priced at a fraction of a dollar. Here too it is Asian countries —China, Taiwan and South Korea—that dominate the market. The expansion of this market, which will happen in tandem with the Digital IndiaMake in IndiaSkilling India and Smart Cities initiatives, will only see the market dominance of these Asian countries increase.

However, here is the poser: can India manage this Asian engagement while balancing an increasingly expansive China? This is the second element of the 'Engage Asia' mantra that Prime Minister Modi seeks to address.

Most Asian economies have their largest partnership with China and will always be looking over their shoulder as they define new partnerships with others. China's soft expansionism is being driven by its economic weight and through its pursuit of creating new political and economic governance institutions, like the AIIB, that will offer it a new dimension of power. Its One Belt, One Road project seeks to redefine and recreate Asia's geography.

In India's sense of its own role and position in global affairs, such Chinese dominance is unacceptable. New Delhi's running dispute over the 4000km border with China also complicates the bilateral relationship. India's existential dilemma for the 21st century, then, is to 'stare down the dragon while embracing it'.

This is where the U.S., a predominant Asian power, comes into play. It offers India two playing cards. First, it encourages others in Asia, such as South Korea and Japan, to participate in the India story in all sectors without the fear of China. In fact, this U.S. gambit of midwifing Asian middle-power cooperation from arm's length is a seminal arrangement for the 'congagement' of China. Second, the unassailable U.S. lead in security, defense and other high technology segments gives India a qualitative edge in its bilateral negotiations with China.

When Prime Minister Modi landed in Mongolia and South Korea on his way back from China, he was signaling that he intends to challenge the narrative of the Asian century as being a Chinese century. He was signaling that he intends to break the Chinese stranglehold in the Asian imagination of its future. He was signaling that here is an India willing to live up to expectations and take its rightful place as a major Asian power. Put simply, he was embracing the dragon while staring it down at the same time.

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

How the West Can Still Lead the World

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Listen to any European or American leader talk about the transatlantic relationship these days and you will hear a handful of common refrains. Major policy addresses of this kind often start with the recognition that the world has changed. Europe and the United States face unprecedented challenges on the world stage, ranging from asymmetric warfare to non-state actors to the diffusion of technology to the return of great power politics. The speaker then reassures the audience by noting that, contrary to those arguing that the West is in decline, Europe and the United States come at these challenges from a position of strength. It has been the West, after all, that spent the last sixty years establishing the world order, and it is the West that has the ability to maintain and further develop the international order according to its common values.

Many, myself included, find these speeches reassuring. They ease the minds of policymakers that feel overwhelmed by world events and breed transatlantic confidence at a time of considerable uncertainty. But are they right? Even if one assumes that the West has the ability to shape today’s complex security environment (which is by no means a foregone conclusion), one has to ask if it possesses the will, innovation, and resources to actually do so. In truth, what Europe and the United States are actually doing in response to the changing face of geopolitics makes what they are saying far less inspiring.

Unimaginative “Reforms”

There is no question that the West deserves high praise for the creation of a global network of international institutions, laws, treaties, and norms. From the United Nations to NATO to the World Bank to the OECD, the West has invested decades in building, maintaining, and reforming the bedrock of the international order. With emerging powers, revisionist powers, and non-state actors actively challenging that system, though, how much is the West doing to either counter or adapt to those challenges?

The heads of major international institutions will tell you “a lot,” rattling off a long list of internal reforms over the better part of the last two decades. But such reforms have done little to halt Russia’s actions in Ukraine, Bashar al-Assad’s barrel bomb attacks against the Syrian people, the rise of Islamic State (IS), or China’s aggression in the East and South China Seas. Why? Many of the oft cited “reforms” are simply too unimaginative and timid. By tinkering on the margins, these reforms do little to get at the heart of the challenge. Bold structural reforms on the scale of revisiting the consensus rule in NATO or the veto on the UN Security Council are considered impossible, counter to our interests, or too high risk.

The West seems to have forgotten, though, that it did not come to be the architect of the global system in the 1940s and 1950s by avoiding risk and relying on conventional approaches. Quite the contrary, the individuals that built that foundation often took considerable political, professional, and strategic risks both at home and abroad. In fact, several of the obstacles that policymakers faced at the time – a disinterested public, resource constraints, and high stakes negotiations with friends and foes alike – resemble some of those we face today.

Take popular support: Similar to the retrenchment instincts present on both sides of the Atlantic today, American and European publics in the late 1940s were skeptical about the value of creating new international institutions that would require making long-term commitments to the economic prosperity and security of Europe. Those that worked to build a new liberal order, therefore, often put their political careers on the line and fought tirelessly to counter the skeptics, who were sometimes inside their own administration. This was particularly true for President Truman who had to persuade members of his own inner circle, the U.S. Congress, and the American public about the value of creating the Marshall Plan in 1947.

Of course, today’s era differs quite significantly from the post-World War II era. In the span of the last two decades, the world has experienced a dramatic diffusion of power, which means that the US and its Western allies can no longer produce and shape the outcomes they once did. Furthermore, the West is living in an era characterized by unprecedented interconnectedness in the shadow of globalization. As a result, both the international system and individual nation states are straining to respond to rising expectations, an array of domestic and economic pressures, and broader questions about the value of international cooperation.

Strengths to Build On

Despite these challenges, the West still benefits from a number of comparative advantages. It can build and run international coalitions like no other; its collective economic strength remains a powerful force in the global economy; its education system continues to attract students from around the globe; its economies have shown a remarkable capacity to repair themselves; and its values, while by no means admired by everyone, still serve as a beacon to many around the world. And for better or worse, the world still relies on the West to solve global problems and underwrite international security.

In order to adequately address today’s complex security environment, though, Europe and the United States need to envision and promote change on the scale of what we witnessed at the end of World War II. Small-scale tactical shifts that avoid taking risks and fail to challenge the status quo simply will not suffice. We need leaders willing to buck the system, to get their hands dirty, and not only to think but to do the unthinkable. A bold, ambitious agenda that matches the enormity of today’s complex security challenges should include the following goals:

Launch and lead a global effort to redesign the international system so that it reflects today’s balance of power and is positioned to address today’s challenges, from the rise of non-state actors to asymmetric warfare to the diffusion of technology. If the UN refuses to alter the composition of the Security Council, it is time to consider a more inclusive architecture. In establishing the rules and distribution of power of any new model, however, the founders should consider countries’ past behavior. In other words, countries that act primarily as spoilers or have repeatedly violated global norms should not be rewarded with a leadership role in the creation of future structures.

Lead the world in the establishment of global norms in a number of new areas, including cybersecurity, unmanned and autonomous systems, genome editing, and disruptive technology like 3D printing. The West, particularly the US, prides itself on its ability to innovate, which has brought tremendous economic and technological benefit. Occasionally, though, countries like the US fail to foresee (or prefer to deny) the challenges that such innovation may someday bring to the global system and instead take advantage of the fact that few rules exist around a particular technology’s use. This is shortsighted. While establishing global norms is no small task and inevitably involves trade-offs and often years of tense negotiations, the West needs to reassert its leadership role in this area.

Break down the barriers that prevent international organizations from working together. The EU and NATO, for example, have struggled for years to find ways to establish institutional links. But age-old objections tied to the situation in Cyprus have prevented anything of real substance from taking root. With global challenges such as cyber- and energy security straddling the mandates of both institutions, the West can no longer afford to keep these two institutions on separate planes. The only way to develop innovative policies and tools to cope with a range of cross-cutting issues is to abolish longstanding barriers to cooperation. That should also include the barriers that exist between the public and private sectors, especially in the area of cybersecurity.

Double down on efforts to promote and finalize the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). Leaders on both sides of the Atlantic clearly see value in establishing a new trade agreement that would provide much needed growth, position the two sides of the Atlantic to set global standards in a number of sectors, and send a clear message about the US and EU’s willingness to open markets. But their approach to date has been far too risk-averse and rooted in the hope that the merit of their arguments will ultimately win the day. Just as Truman launched an ambitious campaign to educate the American public about the Marshall Plan, Washington and Brussels need to launch their own engagement plan that would answer tough questions, directly engage stakeholders, and counter the anti-TTIP narrative dominating the debate. This project’s value stretches far beyond creating jobs and boosting exports but one would never know that from the way the two sides are promoting it.

Develop an international home for global forecasting and risk assessment. In 2014 the West was caught completely off guard by not one but three separate international crises – Russia’s annexation of Crimea, the rapid spread of Ebola, and the rise of IS. While it is impossible to predict with certainty where the next crisis might erupt, the West should find or create an international forum for global forecasting where groups of countries can prepare for the unexpected. The West should also dedicate resources to collective risk assessment. One possible starting point would be an examination of the risks involved in the gradual collapse of the international arms control regime. Russia is in direct violation of the INF Treaty and yet the West is still spending most of its time wordsmithing the documents for the next NPT Review conference. What the West should be doing is discussing tectonic shifts that could lead to additional noncompliance, a complete withdrawal, or decreased prospects for future agreements and how the West might prevent such shifts from actually occurring.

Europe and the United States share a truly breathtaking record of achievement, one that remains unmatched by any other two regions of the world. But admirable past achievements simply aren’t enough to lead us into the future. This era of compounding complexity demands leadership, bold ideas, new models of doing business, and unbridled ambition on a scale we haven’t seen in several decades. There are countless reasons, though, why today’s leaders may not rise to the occasion. Our publics are weary, resources are scarce, and the relentless pace of social media makes it difficult to maintain strategic attention. The West has also experienced some sobering lessons in recent years about the limits of U.S. and European power. But one of the lessons of the last seventy years is that when the West marshals the right mix of will and leadership, it does indeed have the ability shape the world order in unimaginable ways, even in less than perfect conditions. The real tragedy, therefore, would be not if the West tried and failed to take on such an ambitious agenda but if it did not try at all.

Julianne Smith is Senior Fellow and Director of the Strategy and Statecraft Program at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS). She also served as Deputy National Security Advisor to the Vice President of the United States from April 2012 to June 2013. Follow her on Twitter: @julie_c_smith.

This piece was originally published on the Berlin Policy Journal.

Image: NATO

TopicsGlobal Governance RegionsEurope

Why Australia Must Stay Out of the South China Sea Showdown

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We all owe thanks to Sam Bateman for his excellent East Asia Forum article on June 1st in which he explains that the situation in the South China Sea around the Spratlys is not at all simple according to maritime law, that “innocent passage” is hedged with many conditions, and that freedom of navigation operations “are inherently dangerous”.

He also points out that “other countries...have also undertaken extensive reclamation works on their occupied features, including building airstrips and adding military fortifications.” The Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan and Malaysia have all built airstrips on their islands; the Philippines airstrip is over 1km long and can take C-130s.

Of course, none of those countries is a rising power like China (though Vietnam is widely regarded as having defeated China in their 1979 war). However, China is other things as well. Most relevantly, it is a great trading nation, as no country is more aware than Australia. Most of the sea traffic in the South China Sea is headed to or from Chinese ports.

(Recommended: 5 Chinese Weapons of War India Should Fear

In regard to aviation, today's Sydney Morning Herald reports on efforts by Qantas and China Eastern to form a deeper alliance to further the stated goal of the Australian and Chinese governments to triple air capacity between the two countries over the next three years. It is really most unlikely that freedom of navigation in or over the South China Sea for commercial sea or air traffic is a real concern.

Freedom of movement for military ships and aircraft is of course a different matter, and in my view this is what the current intensification of tension is about. The Americans don't want their post-World War II dominance in the Western Pacific challenged. The Chinese are tired of that dominance, and are acting to strengthen their position in an important maritime area close to China, and in which it, like others, has territorial claims.

(Recommended: Taiwan Can't Save the South China Sea)

The U.S. is our ally, while China is our most important trading partner and a country with which we are seeking to strengthen relations in many areas. It would be quite unnecessary and unwise for us to follow the U.S. into yet another ill-considered adventure under a slogan of 'protecting freedom of commercial navigation', which is clearly a straw man.

(Recommended: 5 Most-Powerful Navies on the Planet)

Geoff Miller the former Australian Ambassador to Japan (1986-89) and Director-General of the Office of National Assessments (1989-95). This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here. 

Image: Creative Commons. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

Can America, Japan and Australia Combined Stop China in the South China Sea?

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The Asian security dialogue is about verbal jabs and thought balloons. And policy signaling and point scoring. And, ideally, some meeting of minds, reaching towards actual agreement.

The Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, the 14th Asia Security Summit, had plenty of the usual show and shove.

Compared to the last couple of years, though, the verbal biffo from the Chinese delegation was dialed down a few notches. Having been busy creating new geographic features in the South China Sea, terraforming with mountains of sand, the Chinese at Shangri-La seemed keen to judge the effect of their recent show, rather than do much shoving.

What response would they get to their fast build towards a fait accompli? The leader of the Chinese delegation was a Navy man, so they came prepared. The relative calm of China’s pushback suggested a certain comfort with the jabs they got.

The shoving from the ASEAN side was as vigorous as you’re likely to get from ASEAN, especially the strictures delivered by Malaysia and Singapore. Australia joined the fray via the speech by Defense Minister, Kevin Andrews, in private bilaterals and in the trilateral with Japan and the US.

Australia has sent its Defense Minister to every Shangri-La Dialogue since its inception in 2001—a record matched only by Japan and the host, Singapore.

The routine is well established. What has come on strongly in the last few years is the annual sidelines trilateral between the US Defense Secretary and the Defense Ministers of Australia and Japan.

The US Defence Secretary Ashton Carter said that “America’s trilateral networks are blossoming.” And the first blossom he listed was the trilateral with Japan and Australia.

From the moment it took office, the Abbott Government has inserted more iron in the idiom in talking about China’s territorial ambitions, certainly when compared to the cautious restraint of the previous Labor Government. The trilateral process—both Foreign and Defense Minister versions—has been a key venue for developing that idiom.

Australia’s rhetoric has shifted beyond promoting freedom of navigation and secure sea lanes to specific warnings to China about altering the status quo.

The trilateral poking of China is done by the Foreign and Defense Ministers. The U.S. President and the Prime Ministers of Japan and Australia get to take the trilateral high road.

At their trilateral in Brisbane during November 2014, Obama, Abe and Abbott “reaffirmed the global reach of their cooperation and the value of comprehensive US engagement in the Asia-Pacific region.” Not a trace of China baiting to be seen. That’s a job for Defense Ministers.

The weekend statement in Singapore on the fifth trilateral meeting of the Defense Ministers of the US, Japan and Australia lined up against China with communiqué language of strong opposition and serious concern.

The U.S., Japan and Australia underscored their shared interests (peace, stability, respect for international law, freedom of navigation and over flight) and “unimpeded commerce in the East China and South China Seas.”

The ministers then made the trilateral jab at China:

“They expressed strong opposition to the use of coercion or force to alter the status quo in the East China and South China Seas unilaterally and their serious concern over Chinese land reclamation activities in the South China Sea.”

This second half of that sentence is an add-on, one step up the scale, from the trilateral communiqué the US, Japan and Australia produced at last year’s Shangri-La meeting, when the Defense Ministers:

“expressed their strong opposition to the use of coercion or force to unilaterally alter the status quo in the East China and South China Seas.”

So this year it isn’t just an admonition directed at “claimants” but specifically to China.

The trilateral process can go only so far in coordinating process and language. Carter’s announcement in his speech was a new Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative, to spend up to $425 million on building maritime capacity in the region.

The speech after Carter was made by Japan’s Defense Minister, Gen Nakatani, who had his own announcement.

Nakatani proposed what he called a Shangri-La Dialogue Initiative to enhance maritime and aerial security.

The U.S. thought balloon bumped into the Japanese thought balloon. Such are the problems of signaling and scoring and seeking agreement at Shangri-La.

This piece first appeared in ASPI's The Strategist here

Image: U.S. Navy Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

The Secret Weapons of Russia's Deadly Military

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Russia’s war in Ukraine has brought into question the very notion of NATO’s Article 5, as concerns grow that Estonia might lie next in the Kremlin’s attention. Russia’s posturing in Ukraine, however, should be seen as that of a weaker power trying to avoid confrontation with a stronger power. It is not that Ukraine could defeat Russia in an outright war, but that Russia actually fears a confrontation with NATO. This is partly why Vladimir Putin has been employing his so-called hybrid warfare, which is essentially war without declaring war. In order to conduct such an operation, one needs soldiers in well-trained in asymmetric operations, sophisticated electronic and cyber capabilities, and excellent intelligence. The Russian drive for army modernization has thus focused on the use of electronic and cyber systems, and drones. In this regard, NATO members need to recognize the threat from these seemingly less menacing tools of war, and improve defenses against them to counter future assaults.

The conceptual basis for Russia’s asymmetric warfare is rooted in the theory that weaker powers need to find ways to negate their opponents' strengths. Ivan Arreguín-Toft of Boston University has highlighted this point, in addressing how weaker powers have fought and sometimes won against far greater militaries. Putin likes to tout Russian martial prowess, but his actions suggest that he does not want actual confrontation with NATO. This still poses a great danger for the West, in that Russian regional goals are still unhampered, although they are being pursued by more subtle methods. The news that Russia and China are pledging to not hack each other also presents a worrying situation, as the U.S. and its allies could soon be subject to increased cyber threats. Additionally, the conflict in Ukraine has shown how sophisticated the Russians have become in employing electronic jamming and drones.

Well trained, professional electronic and cyber units allowed Russia's forces to cripple lines of communications between the Ukrainian armed forces, thus annex Crimea with little difficulty. Cyber-attacks on the White House’s email system and Estonia also reveal Russia's wide reaching ability to gain intelligence through electronic means and to disrupt opponents' lines of communication. These successes have led to hackers being used more and more for military and foreign policy objectives. In the Donbas, the electronic dominance by Russia has gotten so bad that Ukraine is mulling a bill to ban the use of cell phones by military personnel in the conflict zone. This is part of the Kremlin strategy to divide and conquer, in that Russia can gain a comparable advantage over opponents through disruption and confusion.

In addition to its army of hackers, Russian use of drones reveals the military’s focus on better intelligence and professionalization of its forces. Heavy-handed responses like bombarding Chechen cities are gone as tactics. Rather, their war with Ukraine, Russian soldiers and separatists have been working in tandem, using drone reconnaissance to make their artillery attacks incredibly effective. This has been a great nuisance to Ukraine, who has been struggling to deal with such rapid reconnaissance, followed by incoming shells. This quick turnaround from surveillance to action should be noted by NATO and reveal the ability of quick and relatively precise attacks by Russia and its proxies.

This focus on asymmetric cyber and electronic integration does not seem a short term means to an end. Russia is taking these concepts to heart, even speaking of building brand new attack drones as part of its arsenal. Again, this is revealing Russia’s reliance on weapons of the weak. Despite posturing that drones will be a domineering weapon showing strength, their use reveals relative weakness. Although advantageous to Russia, developing drones is also much more in line with Russian strategy, as they are much cheaper and easier to field than jets. This allows Russia (barely) plausible deniability, without worrying about pilots being captured, or maintaining a more robust air force.

Russia’s continued sabre rattling and incursions into NATO nations should be seen as a threat, but it will most likely not result in an outright war. The point of Russian probing is to elicit a response, but without provoking a united response. The asymmetric attacks by electronic and cyber means will continue, and there have been real steps to help counter them. However, the West needs to realize that this is new facet of the modern Russian military is here to stay. As the Russian armed forces continue their march of modernization, cyber, electronic, and robotic threats will grow in their strength and sophistication, and will constitute a very real problem.

This piece first appeared on the Atlantic Council's Website here

Image: Creative Commons 3.0 

TopicsSecurity RegionsEurope

A Self-Inflicted Wound: Why the United Kingdom's Military is Dying

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The election of a Conservative government with a slim majority comes at a time when the strategic challenges facing the United Kingdom have acquired new urgency. The election campaign itself was remarkable for the lack of attention given to security matters, despite the best efforts of pressure groups such as the UK National Defense Association. Even a former Conservative Defense Secretary was heard to assert that there were no votes in defense.

The 2010 Strategic Defense and Security Review (SDSR) resulted in sweeping reductions in the armed forces, largely justified by the need to reduce the UK deficit. After some internal debate, the new government has committed to a ‘full’ SDSR, likely to be completed by December. Continuing attention to balance sheets may come at the expense of coherent planning. Much of the government’s budget has been ‘ring fenced’ and it is likely that domestic police and security services will suffer extensive cuts in order to meet the deficit reduction goals. Despite its earlier economies, Defense also remains a target, with a ‘worst case’ reduction over the next few years of 10-12% in real terms. This is unlikely, but there are reports that Treasury is demanding a billion pounds. Even successfully warding off this hatchet will not be enough. Without modest increases, difficult decisions must be made, the more difficult because they have the potential to drop some key force elements below critical mass.

This matters because a key challenge facing Britain centers on the future of NATO and Britain’s military role in Europe. A gauntlet has been thrown down by the Americans, but it remains unclear whether the British—or the other major European powers—will pick it up. What hasn’t been generally admitted is that the real driver of the military rebalance of the United States to the Pacific has been the Americans’ recognition they no longer have the money to maintain the global distribution of forces of the last few decades. With their priorities being China and the Middle East, something’s got to give. The United States remains committed to Europe, but won’t be able to provide the same relative weight of forces that it has since the late 1940s. Consequently the major Western European powers will have to substitute, not perhaps to the scale that would have been considered necessary at the height of the Cold War, but to a much greater degree than over the last decade. Britain, France and Germany all need to look again at their military force structures.

That problem is made more acute by the challenge of Russia. A new form of strategic rivalry has manifested itself in Russia’s reclamation of the Crimea and its behavior in the Ukraine. The Achilles heel of the West is the Baltic republics. They have Russian minorities that may be open to the complex campaigns successfully employed in the Ukraine, using the minorities’ grievances to undermine the legitimacy of governments and, in this case, undermine equally the resolve of NATO nations to support collective action. This will place a premium on strong leadership from the more powerful members of NATO, the United Kingdom included. It will also place a premium on the readiness of military forces at levels that have credibility in Russia’s eyes.

Yet so far Britain has seemed curiously detached from Eastern Europe’s problems. Many feel that the United Kingdom has lost its willingness to lead and, with this, a great deal of influence. Despite the activist position which Mr. Cameron sought to adopt at the 2014 Cardiff NATO conference—one not assisted by the government’s apparent unwillingness to sustain the 2% of GNP expenditure on defense which it urged on its partners—it’s been left to Chancellor Merkel to make the running with the Russians.

Signs of Russian assertiveness are there. The internal propaganda campaign which Putin has orchestrated encourages Russian solidarity contra occidentali. What is left of the Russian national budget has been focused on the modernization of the military. Russian forces are active and assertive. Both Finland and Sweden are under no illusions that their neighbor is intent on reclaiming its old sphere of influence.

British reluctance may be the result of recent history. Britain has been scarred more deeply by its involvements in Iraq and Afghanistan than any other member of the coalition. This is partly due to the popular perception of the alleged duplicity of the then-prime minister, Tony Blair, in the American decision to attack Iraq in 2003. It also owes something more to the poor handling of British operations. Most notably, the lack of clarity in politico-military-civil service decision-making that seems to have prevailed reflected little credit on government and less on the British Army in particular. It has been the subject of serious criticism by a British parliamentary committee. A third factor was the ‘Wootton Bassett effect’, which saw the regular public passage of the coffins of the Afghanistan war dead from their arrival at an RAF airfield to their interment. This created an image of loss in the national mind more appropriate to the mass casualties of the conscript forces of the two world wars than a small, volunteer and wholly professional army. The reluctance to risk such commitments again was demonstrated very clearly in the parliamentary vote that rejected British military intervention in Syria.

There is also the problem of Scotland acting as a drag on foreign and defense policy. The relationship with the north has particular significance for British diplomatic and military weight. It remains astonishing that the Scottish National Party’s (SNP’s) pretensions to independence were permitted to the extent that there could not only be assertions that the nuclear submarine fleet would be forced to vacate Faslane in the west of Scotland, but that the new ‘nation’ would establish its own armed forces. That all this was not much more firmly ruled out from the start by Westminster is only one aspect of the mismanagement of the relationship that has marked the last decade. The ‘no’ result on the independence referendum provided short-term comfort to the proponents of the United Kingdom, but the practically clean sweep of Scottish parliamentary seats by the SNP has raised the prospect of a renewed campaign. The Conservatives must provide a formula that meets the Scottish desire for self-government while at the same convincing an electorate intoxicated by ‘Brave Heart’ that national defense and security are best managed as a union. Perhaps the best way of achieving this will be the transfer of taxation powers to the Scottish government commensurate with its domestic responsibilities, thus creating a relationship between means and ends that seems to have been absent so far from some of the more high flown ambitions of the SNP.

The picture is bleak, but there are some positive indicators. The Queen’s Speech included specific warnings to Russia that Britain “will maintain pressure on Russia to respect the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the Ukraine.” The absence of the Liberal Democrats from government may give the Conservatives much more freedom of maneuver. It remains to be seen how they’ll use that freedom.

This piece first appeared in ASPI’s The Strategist here

Image: OGL License. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsEurope

A Deadly Mistake: Don't Underestimate ISIS in Cyberspace

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The nature of ISIS’s online presence is intended to do three things. Firstly, and most importantly for the longevity of its existence, it’s intended as a mechanism to attract and recruit members to its ranks. Secondly it’s a means through which ISIS aims to strike fear into the hearts of all that come across its frequently gruesome propaganda. Both objectives are well documented, but a third dimension to the ISIS presence online is emerging: their attempts to use cyberspace for offensive purposes.

By “offensive” I don’t mean delivering cyber attacks that involve some kind of kinetic impact, but rather I refer to attempts to use the cyber domain to disrupt services, damage reputations and reveal sensitive data.

Over the past five months we’ve seen an uptick in offensive cyber activities by groups claiming an association with ISIS. In January U.S. CENTCOM Twitter and YouTube accounts were suspended after CyberCaliphate—a group claiming to support ISIS—had hacked into both, defacing them with pro-ISIS messages. While the hacks didn’t have a direct impact on CENTCOM’s operations, they were certainly embarrassing and akin to acts of ‘hacktivism’ we’ve seen from groups like Anonymous. Following up in February, the same group hacked into Newsweek and, of all things, Taylor Swift’s twitter account, defacing both with pro-ISIS messages and sending threatening messages to President Obama.

In March a group claiming to be the Islamic State Hacking Division published on a list of photos, names, addresses and branch of U.S. service personnel, which it claimed was taken from US military data servers. Accompanying the data was a statement from the group:

“With the huge amount of data we have from various different servers and databases, we have decided to leak 100 addresses so that our brothers in America can deal with you…Kill them in their own lands, behead them in their own homes, stab them to death as they walk their streets thinking that they are safe.”

In April we saw the most significant effort from a group purporting to be part of ISIS. The group managed to orchestrate a complete three-hour blackout of the French channelTV5Monde. They hacked into all 11 channels run by the company, along with its website and social media outlets. While the attack took place, the hackers placed documents on TV5Monde’s Facebook page, which they claimed were identity cards and CVs of relatives of French soldiers involved in fighting ISIS, accompanied by threats against the troops themselves. The Islamic State Hacking Division again claimed responsibility.

What this attack illustrated was the group’s increased degree of sophistication. There had clearly been an amount of pre-attack planning, including a degree of social engineering that had gone on in order to completely shut down the stations computer systems.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen terrorist groups utilize the power of online systems and networks in their operations. In February 2010 Rajib Karim, an IT employee for British Airways (BA), was arrested for terrorism offenses. Having been in contact with radical preacher, Anwar al-Awlaki, he explained that he had access to BA’s servers and could erase all the data, causing massive disruption and financial loss of £20 million per day. Luckily he was arrested before he was able to carry out any kind of nefarious activity. Giving evidence at a UK House of Commons hearing on Cyber Security in 2013, Thomas Rid was asked the question, “Why hasn’t al-Qaeda carried out a cyber attack on a national infrastructure delivery point?” He replied that “al-Qaeda are too stupid… You need skills and intelligence. Right now militants don’t have that.” But ISIS, or at least those claiming to support the group, are now looking to take their cyber offensive to the next level.

Should we be worried about the self-styled CyberCaliphate and the potential for ISIS to launch highly sophisticated attacks against sensitive networks, similar to the STUXNET virus that was unleashed on Iran? At present, despite a clear elevation in capability, the answer would be ‘not yet’. Attacks of the magnitude of STUXNET require a level of financing, highly-skilled personnel and human intelligence gathering that an organization such as ISIS simply can’t . The more likely scenario is that we continue to see websites defaced and social media accounts hacked.

But that’s no reason to be complacent about ISIS’ capabilities and its intent. The cyber domain provides the group with a low-cost means of harassing their enemies and publicizing their cause. They’ve demonstrated an ability to utilize modern technology and unleash effective propaganda; and they’ve proven attractive to ‘tech savvy’ youngsters. With their successful take down of a major television company, confidence will have increased and the next attack will be planned with greater ambition. There’s no reason that ISIS won’t work to mature what has so far been a successful strategy and capability. In many ways this reflects what we’re seeing in the broader cyber threat environment: the cyber domain is becoming a key part of offensive operations for any group, be it a government, criminal organization or terrorist group. Over the last five months ISIS have shown us that they are pushing to close the knowledge and capability gap when it comes to offensive cyber operations. We’d be wise to keep a close watch.

This piece first appeared in ASPI’s The Strategist here

Image: U.S. Marines Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsMiddle East

Russia Threatens to Deploy Nuclear Weapons in Crimea

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Russia emphasized that it retains the right to deploy nuclear weapons anywhere on its territory, including Crimea.

In an interview with Russian news media, Mikhail Ulyanov, the Director of the Department for Non-Proliferation and Arms control at the Russian Foreign Ministry, said that Russia could deploy nuclear weapons to Crimea.

“Russia obviously retains the right if needed to deploy its nuclear weapons anywhere on its national territory, including on the Crimean Peninsula,” Ulyanov said.

This is not the first time that Russia, or even Ulyanov himself, has said that Russia has a right to deploy nuclear weapons in Crimea. Back in March of this year, Ulyanov told reporters, “Naturally, Russia has the right to put nuclear weapons in any region on its territory if it deems it necessary. We hold that we have such a right, though Kiev has a different opinion on this matter.”

Around the same time, Crimean officials said that they would welcome such a deployment of nuclear weapons in their territory.

Ulyanov’s most recent remarks came in response to Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin telling Russia not to deploy nuclear weapons in Crimea. “The deployment of nuclear weapons in Crimea would be the most serious breach in Russia’s international commitment,” Klimkin has said, adding:

Any activity or even signals from Russia on the mere possibility of deploying nuclear weapons in Crimea will be considered the gravest breach in all international norms. In this case, the international community will need to react most decisively.

Klimkin’s remarks appeared to come in response to the earlier ones made by Ulyanov.

Others have also warned Russia against deploying nuclear weapons to Crimea. For example, a joint NATO-Ukraine Commission statement in April said: “We are also deeply concerned by statements of the Russian leadership with regard to possible future stationing of nuclear weapons and their delivery systems in Crimea, which would be destabilizing.”

That same month, Jens Stoltenberg, NATO’s secretary general stated: "We are deeply concerned by statements of possible future stationing of nuclear weapons and development systems in Crimea."

Russia has tried to frame any possible deployment of nuclear weapons in Crimea as less provocative than America forward deploying nuclear weapons in other European countries. In his recent interview, for example, Ulyanov said that Klimkin’s statement “can be understood as an indirect attack on the United States, as well as on Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, and Turkey, where U.S. nuclear weapons are already deployed. Following the Ukrainian minister’s logic, this is a direct breach of non-nuclear status of these European nations.”

The issue is not merely about Russia’s military posture—indeed, deploying nuclear weapons in Crimea would hold little military value— but also goes to the heart of the international legal status of Crimea. In 1994, Ukraine agreed to give up all the nuclear weapons it inherited from the Soviet Union, and pledged to remain a non-nuclear weapon state.

By deploying nuclear weapons in Crimea, Moscow would be reinforcing that the territory is now part of Russia, which—as a nuclear weapon state—retains the right to deploy nuclear weapons on its territory.

This point was underscored by Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in December of last year.

“Crimea was not a non-nuclear zone in an international law sense but was part of Ukraine, a state which doesn't possess nuclear arms,” Lavrov said during an interview with Interfax News Agency.

He added:

“Now Crimea has become part of a state which possesses such weapons in accordance with the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty….In accordance with international law, Russia has every reason to dispose of its nuclear arsenal ... to suit its interests and international legal obligations.”

Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

Image: Wikimedia/Vitaly V. Kuzmin

TopicsSecurity RegionsEurasia

China vs. America: The South China Sea Showdown at Shangri La

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There was considerable anticipation around the remarks of U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and Chinese Admiral Sun Jianguo, PLA Deputy Chief of General Staff, at the just concluded 14th annual Shangri La Dialogue.

Secretary Carter's speech was widely praised for its balance, including by many Chinese present. Carter noted that America has been in the region for decades ensuring stability, and will continue to do so. China was portrayed as a bemusing troublemaker, throwing the stability of the region into question.

There were some expectations that after last week's U.S. Navy's surveillance flight near Fiery Cross Reef with a CNN crew aboard, Carter would make a strong statement of what U.S. actions will come next. The mood in Washington is getting tougher on China, with calls to 'put skin in the game' and impose costs on China's behavior. Carter's speech did not give a clear indication of what future U.S. action might look like. He did make two concrete calls to South China Sea claimants: stop land reclamation, and don't undertake further militarization.

(Recommended: Is a War Possible in the South China Sea?)

Will that be enough to change China's behavior?

It is unlikely that any claimants will stop ongoing land reclamation at the behest of the U.S., and it is difficult to imagine China doing so. There is more possibility of getting claimants to agree to not (further) militarize, but it will take more than a call from the U.S.

(Recommended: 5 Chinese Weapons of War Japan Should Fear)

For China at least, U.S. responses to its reclamation activities constitutes 'meddling', as was made clear in China's recent Defense White Paper. As such, these U.S. pronouncements fit neatly into China's powerful 'persecution by the hegemon' discourse, the time-honored response to which is for Beijing to bristle and disregard. Indeed, Sun mentioned several times in his remarks that China would not subjugate itself to hegemony.

In conversation, several participants from Asian countries, including China, felt that the U.S. overstated the challenge Chinese activities in the South China Sea pose to stability in the region. The Indonesian Defense Minister set out his country's most pressing security concerns, both traditional and non-traditional, and China's activities did not feature. I got the sense that while South-East Asian countries welcome the U.S. presence in the region, they would like the rebalance to also focus on, for example, countering terrorism, natural disasters, theft of national resources, and narcotics smuggling.

Criticism of China had begun before Admiral Sun even reached the podium, largely for the delegation's lack of seniority. China has not sent a ministerial-ranked representative except in 2011. This is certainly unfortunate, but does not represent disdain for the Shangri-La Dialogue. Rather, it reflects the lack of international experience among high-level officials, and the anxiety about engaging openly with unscripted questions, of which there were plenty. 

Sun's scripted comments focused on China's role in providing global public goods such as multilateral humanitarian interventions and anti-piracy. He said China's construction on islands and reefs is “mainly” for improving their functions and improving the living conditions of people stationed there. He mentioned many times China's commitment to friendship, sincerity, faith, and amity. While not incendiary, the message was clear: the South China Sea is ours, and we'll do what we want there.

(Recommended: 5 U.S. Weapons of War China Should Fear)

Lack of detail meant that the Q&A session was heavy with questions asking Sun to clarify China's position, for example on the nine-dash line, international law, and freedom of navigation. Lowy Non-Resident Fellow Bonnie Glaser asked Sun to explain how Chinese military instructing a U.S. aircraft to leave what China described as a 'military alert zone', but which international law would describe as international air space, did not constitute a challenge to freedom of navigation. Sun spent much of his response noting that he did not have time to answer fully, and did not address most of the questions raised.

Sun's remarks, and his (non-)responses to questions, were unsurprising and therefore disappointing. China missed an opportunity to address international concerns about the South China Sea. Sun did not make China sound like a confident and sophisticated international actor with a genuine grasp of the concerns of the region.

But this would not have been the primary purpose of the speech from the Chinese perspective. What constitutes success for China here is how the domestic population understands the event, and Sun's repetition of principles and examples of Chinese global responsibility will be well received in China. Likewise, the critiques of China's activities in the South China Sea will be read as typical. It is unlikely that China will reflect any more deeply on the approbation it is receiving than it did before.

Both Carter and Sun emphasized calm and a desire for peace, and that success for any in the current international circumstances depends on success for many. China calls it a “community of common destiny”; Carter referred to “rising and prospering together”. However, despite this common language, the U.S. and China are not really listening to each other or getting any closer to understanding each other's concerns. This is a problem when mutual strategic mistrust is recognized as a key risk factor for misperception and miscalculation.

As the U.S. increases its tough talk, and China continues to reclaim land at an extraordinary pace and scale, both would be wise to pause and consider carefully the longer-term implications of their actions and rhetoric.

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter and is republished with permission. 

Image: Flickr/Ash Carter. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

Could the South China Sea Spark the Deadliest Conflict of Our Time?

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In his undergraduate years the U.S. Defense Secretary, Ashton Carter, did a double major in Medieval History and Physics. It was perfect preparation for Asia today—arcane and complex history speaking directly to modern mysteries.

At the 14th Asia Security Summit in Singapore,  the Shangri-La dialogue, Carter was two-thirds of the way through his text before he got to any substantive discussion of China or the South China Sea. It was like those medieval theological debates where the Devil was a major factor in discussion, even if it wasn’t named.

As Malaysia’s Defense Minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, commented later: the South China Sea was the elephant in the room. Hishammuddin delivered the starkest line of the first morning, worrying that the confrontation in the South China Sea could “escalate into one of the deadliest conflicts of our time or our history.”

The Physics discipline came through in Carter’s comments on China’s construction surge in the South China Sea. The Law of Cause and Effect says all actions have consequences, and during questions Carter observed that if China “doesn’t stop, one of the consequences will be the continuing coalescing of concerned nations around the region and around the world.”

What Physics calls the observer effect is also in play—observation and measurement of systems can influence the system. In the South China Sea, Carter noted, the region was “observing a new fact which is not an American fact but a Chinese fact.” Enter Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle—or at least the growing sense of uncertainty.

Carter said China’s creation of “massive outposts” on reefs in the South China Sea had gone “much farther and much faster” than any other claimant:

China has reclaimed over 2,000 acres, more than all other claimants combined – and more than in the entire history of the region. And China did so in only the last 18 months. It is unclear how much farther China will go. That is why this stretch of water has become the source of tension in the region and front-page news around the world.

The United States is deeply concerned about the pace and scope of land reclamation in the South China Sea, the prospect of further militarization, as well as the potential for these activities to increase the risk of miscalculation or conflict among claimant states.

Along with the call for an immediate and lasting end to reclamation, Carter affirmed the U.S. intention to protect freedom of navigation and overflight in the region:

There should be no mistake: the United States will fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows, as US forces do all around the world. America, alongside its allies and partners in the regional architecture, will not be deterred from exercising these rights – the rights of all nations. After all, turning an underwater rock into an airfield simply does not afford the rights of sovereignty or permit restrictions on international air or maritime transit.

Four of the six questions directed at Carter after his speech were about China and the South China Sea (and one of the others was about the rebalance and the Trans Pacific Partnership). Among the posers: if the U.S. is being clear and firm in its declaration, yet China keeps building, what did that say about US relevance and effectiveness? How could the region deal with China’s “low-intensity provocation”? How much strategic adjustment would the U.S. have to make to deal with China’s rise?

The response-as-question from a PLA Colonel was mild compared to the bombast China has served up in recent years at Shangri-La. The tradition is established. The U.S. Defense Secretary gives the first speech on the first morning and delivers the China report card; the Chinese delegation then get angry. Serious stuff spiced by verbal biffo.

Senior Colonel Zhou Xiaozhuo said Ashton’s critique was “groundless and not constructive.” “Freedom of navigation in the South China Sea is not at all an issue because the freedom has never been affected,” Zhou said. China’s actions were “legitimate, reasonable and justified.”

In the way the game is played at Shangri-La—a gaggle of Defense Ministers all frantically doing bilaterals in parallel with the conference—the Chinese have been snarky at their low ranking in the speaking hierarchy in formal conference sessions. The pushback from the International Institute for Strategic Studies is that if China’s Defense Minister turns up—he’s come only once since Shangri-La started in 2002—he’ll get a big slot on the podium.

The first parts of Carter’s speech could be taken as a detailed response to questions about U.S. relevance. That was where the History side of Carter’s studies at Yale kicked in. There was the faintest touch of the High Middle Ages explanation, as Carter lauded the way trade and technology had transformed Asia’s economies: “miracle after miracle has occurred.” And central to Asia’s age of miracles has been the U.S., building and protecting Asia’s system, enlarging the role of other players through “a shared regional architecture.”

From Singapore, the Defense Secretary goes to Vietnam to sign a Joint Vision Statement that “for the first time commits both the United States and Vietnam to greater operational cooperation.” Then, Carter flies to India to sign the new U.S.–India Defense Framework to “guide military cooperation for the next decade.”

The next phase of the U.S. rebalance, Carter told Shangri-La, would deepen long-standing alliances and partnerships, diversify America’s force posture, and make new investments in military capabilities.

The announceable from the speech was what Carter called a new Southeast Asia Maritime Security Initiative, where up to US$425 million would be spent to build maritime capacity.

Maritime security is certainly at the forefront of Asia’s mind. As is the way a reef can be transformed into an airfield—a strange meeting of history and science.

This piece first appeared in ASPI’s The Strategist here

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia