South China Sea Boils: China Sends Oil Rig Near Vietnam Again

The Buzz

China has moved an oil rig that was at the heart of a dispute with Vietnam last year to waters near Vietnam again, according to multiple news report.

Yesterday, Vietnamese newspapers began reporting, citing the Chinese Maritime Safety Administration (MSA), that China’s Haiyang Shiyou 981 (HD-981) oil rig was being moved to waters where China and Vietnam’s Exclusive Economic Zones (EEZs) overlap. According to the news reports, the platform is now located 17°03'75’' North latitude and 109°59’05’’ East longitude.

In the statement, MSA warned that all ships must stay 2,000 meters away from the rig. The HD-981 will explore for oil and gas in the region between now and August 20, according to the MSA statement.

Last year, the HD-981 was sent deep inside Vietnam’s EEZ, which plunged Chinese-Vietnamese relations to their lowest level in years. Vietnamese ships tried to challenge the oil rig’s deployment, and China sent upwards of 100 vessels to protect the HD-981. Ultimately, after a bitter falling out, Beijing removed the oil rig ahead of schedule.

The oil rig’s current location is not as close to Vietnam as it was last year, which might temper Vietnam’s response to the new provocation. In addition, China is likely to claim the oil rig is within Hainan Island’s EEZ, rather than one of the Paracel Islands, which both Hanoi and Beijing claim.

Still, the new deployment comes amid increasing concerns over Beijing’s aggression in the South China Sea. In recent months, China has undertaken a massive reclamation project on reefs and rocks in the South China Sea, which it is transforming into civilian and military bases. These new islands will enhance China’s ability to project power in the region. China has also been increasing the frequency and sophistication of its military exercises in the region.

Before this latest development, there had been signs that China was engaging in a charm offensive in an attempt to reduce tensions ahead of important bilateral and multilateral meetings, including the U.S.-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue, which took place in Washington earlier this week. For example, China’s Foreign Ministry recently announced that its land reclamations were being wrapped up, although this was partly because the most important ones had already been completed.
As Reuters notes, the oil rig’s deployment comes just weeks before the chief of Vietnam’s Communist Party, Nguyen Phu Trong, is set to visit the United States for the first time. Washington and Hanoi have grown closer in recent years as China’s growing power and aggression in the South China Sea have given the two countries’ common cause.

This new development will only further strengthen Vietnam’s desire to strengthen ties with the United States as a way to balance its more powerful neighbor.

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

Image: Wikicommons.

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

Watch Out, America: Russia Sends Super Advanced S-400 to NATO's Borders

The Buzz

Russia’s beefing up its air and missile defense systems near its borders with NATO countries, according to local media reports.

This week, Sputnik reported that Russia’s Western Military District is increasing the number of S-400 Triumf and Pantsir-S air defense systems in its area of operations.

"Modern S-400 Triumf long-range air defense systems and Pantsir-S gun-missile air defense systems will be put in service with air defense units of the Western Military District by the end of this year," Col. Oleg Kochetkov, a spokesperson for the Western Military District, said, Sputnik reported.

The S-400 is Russia’s most advanced air and missile defense system, and its deployment in greater numbers along Russia’s borders with NATO could challenge the latter’s ability to achieve air dominance in the event of a conflict with Moscow.

(Recommended: Revealed: Why America Needs New, Super Usable Nuclear Weapons)

As Robert Farley has explained on The National Interest, “An S-400 battery has three kinds of missiles, each intended to engage aerial targets at different ranges. The longest ranged SAM can engage at 400km, with shorter-ranged missiles compensating with enhanced capabilities for killing fast, maneuverable targets.  The S-400 can also engage ballistic missiles.”

Farley went on the write: “The sensor systems of the S-400 are thought to be extremely effective, especially as Russia can layer S-400 defense zones in nearly every conceivable theater of conflict. Positioning the S-400 at Kaliningrad could endanger NATO air operations deep into Europe.”

“At least in the early days of the war,” Farley warned, “the S-400 and its associated systems could neutralize NATO airpower, undermining one of the central pillars of the Western way of war.”

The Pantsir-S gun-missile, on the other hand, is geared towards combating more short-range threats. Global Security, a defense website specializing in technology, has noted that the Patsir-S system, “combines two 30mm anti-aircraft guns and 12 surface-to-air missiles, and can simultaneously engage two separate targets, ranging from aircraft to missiles to guided bombs."

(Recommended: The Russian Plane China Needs to Rule the South China Sea)

The Sputnik report did not specify how many additional S-400 or Pantsir-S systems will be deployed in the Western Military District, nor did it say exactly where the systems would be placed.

The move to beef up its air and missile defense along the border region comes as the West and Russia engage in a game of tit-for-tat escalations.

Earlier this month, the New York Times reported that the United States is placing heavy weaponry along Russia’s borders in Eastern Europe. “The Pentagon is poised to store battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and other heavy weapons for as many as 5,000 American troops in several Baltic and Eastern European countries,” the report said.

At a NATO meeting this week, the organization announced it was tripling the size of its rapid reaction force to 40,000 troops, and there has also been talk about revising NATO’s nuclear doctrine. Meanwhile, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Moscow would introduce 40 new intercontinental ballistic missiles into the military this year.

(Recommended: Russia Is Already Developing New Fifth-Generation Submarines)

Both the United States and Russia have indicated recently that they are planning for a prolonged rift between their countries. Ashton Carter, the U.S. defense secretary, said Washington is planning on the current rift with Moscow outlasting Putin’s tenure as Russian president. Moscow quickly followed up with similar statements.

That being said, Putin did call President Barack Obama on Thursday, and the two leaders chatted on the phone about a host of different issues.

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

Image: Wikimedia/Vitaly V. Kuzmin

TopicsSecurity RegionsEurasia

Revealed: India's Master Plan for the Indian Ocean

The Buzz

On a March 2015 trip to Seychelles and Mauritius, Narendra Modi outlined a bold framework that overturned the political approach that India had taken towards the Indian Ocean for half a century.  Beginning in the late 1960s, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi asked all major powers to withdraw from the Indian Ocean out of concern for great power rivalry. This approach fit with India’s self-perception as a non-aligned and Third World state, and its desire to be economically self reliant and to distance itself from the British Raj, which had long been the central security provider in the Indian Ocean.

The context which gave rise to the Gandhi approach began to change in the 1990s, as India embarked on a policy of economic globalization and ended its military isolation. India’s new maritime imperatives did not, however, translate into a vigorous national strategy. India’s approach was weighed down by a lack of coherence, political ambivalence, and above all, persistence of a continentalist mindset in Delhi’s security establishment. The top political leadership still had neither the time nor the inclination to lay out clear goals for the Indian Ocean or the maritime space beyond. China, much like India, had long had a continentalist obsession. As China began to build a blue water navy and put its weight behind its own maritime vision for the Pacific and Indian Oceans, however, Delhi was forced to consider the implications for its own maritime security.

India’s previous United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government took a number of new initiatives on the Indian Ocean. It sought to inject renewed dynamism into the moribund Indian Ocean Rim Association that was set up in the 1990s to promote regional cooperation in the littoral. It launched the Indian Ocean Naval Symposium that convenes all the naval chiefs in the littoral for professional exchanges and engagement to promote maritime security. Delhi also initiated a trilateral security arrangement, coordinated at the level of national security advisers, between India, Sri Lanka and Maldives in 2011 to expand maritime security cooperation. Yet, as in so many areas, the UPA government did not have the energy to pursue these initiatives with urgency or purpose. Modi’s recent visit to the Indian Ocean islands has promised to plug that gap between good ideas and their implementation.

(Recommended: China: Getting Ready to Dominate the Indian Ocean?)

Modi’s March 2015 visit to the Seychelles and Mauritius provided him with an opportunity to signal that the Indian Ocean littoral is at the “top of [Delhi’s] policy priorities.” In his remarks in Mauritius, Modi laid out a five-fold framework for India’s maritime engagement with the Indian Ocean littoral.

Modi’s first principle is that Delhi will do whatever may be necessary to secure India’s mainland and island territories and defend its maritime interests. Since the terror attack on Mumbai at the end of November 2008, Delhi has been acutely conscious of the potential terrorist attacks coming via the sea. At the same time, Delhi has also been deeply aware of the growing strategic significance of the Indian Ocean in global politics. While the primary focus is on India’s own interests, Modi said, Delhi will “will work to ensure a safe, secure and stable Indian Ocean Region that delivers us all to the shores of prosperity.”

The second dimension of Modi’s framework focuses on deepening security cooperation with regional partners. India has long had close security partnerships with both Seychelles and Mauritius; Modi now wants to elevate these. In Seychelles, Modi announced the gift of a second Dornier aircraft for maritime monitoring, signed an agreement for conducting hydrographic surveys, and launched a coastal surveillance radar project. The radar initiative is part of an ambitious project to build a maritime domain awareness network across the Indian Ocean. It calls for the establishment of eight surveillance radars in Mauritius, eight in Seychelles, six in Sri Lanka, and ten in Maldives. These will be linked to over 50 sites on the Indian coast and connected to an integrated analysis center near Delhi. In Mauritius, Modi attended the commissioning of the Indian-made offshore patrol vessel Barracuda, marking his commitment to maritime capacity building in small island republics. He also announced agreements to develop infrastructure for connectivity in the Assumption Island in the Seychelles and Aga Lega in Mauritius. These are likely to strengthen the defense capabilities of the two republics and give India a valuable foothold at critical locations in South Western Indian Ocean.

(Recommended: Five Chinese Weapons of War India Should Fear)

The third level of Modi’s framework relates to building multilateral cooperative maritime security in the Indian Ocean. Modi said India will help strengthen regional mechanisms in combatting terrorism and piracy and responding to natural disasters. He expressed the hope that Mauritius, Seychelles and other countries will join the trilateral security initiative it already has with Maldives and Sri Lanka. This sets the stage for very productive multilateral maritime security cooperation in the littoral with India at the core. According to some analysts, India’s access to strategic facilities in Seychelles and Mauritius marks a major departure from its traditional opposition to foreign military bases. Although calling these arrangements “bases” might be premature, they point to future possibilities for an expanded Indian strategic footprint in the littoral.

The fourth element of Modi’s maritime policy is sustainable economic development.

In Seychelles, Modi announced a joint working group to expand cooperation on the “blue economy” that will increase littoral states’ understanding of ecology, resources, and allow them to harness the ocean in a sustainable manner. He also demonstrated considerable sensitivity to climate change concerns in the island nations.

Finally, Modi has discarded India’s longstanding reluctance to cooperate with other major powers in the Indian Ocean. While insisting that Indian Ocean states hold the primary responsibility for peace, stability and prosperity in those waters, Modi indirectly referenced the role that the United States plays in the region through dialogue, exercises, economic partnerships, and capacity building efforts.  There can be no doubt that Modi has made a decisive break from the ambivalence of the UPA government. This was evinced during the recent visit of U.S. President Barack Obama, when Modi and Obama announced the renewal of their defense framework agreement and signed a broad framework for expanding cooperation in the Indian Ocean and Asia-Pacific.

In Mauritius, Modi reinforced this framework when he declared that “our goal is to seek a climate of trust and transparency; respect for international maritime rules and norms by all countries; sensitivity to each other’s interests; peaceful resolution of maritime issues; and increase in maritime cooperation.”  While signaling a new approach to America, Modi has, however, also left the door open for China. His openness towards the U.S. might actually improve Delhi’s strategic bargaining position with Beijing.

In sum, there is no doubt that Modi has embarked on a more ambitious foreign policy in the Indian Ocean. He is determined to build on India’s natural geographic advantages in the littoral. Modi’s India is no longer hesitant about taking a larger responsibility for securing the Indian Ocean and promoting regional mechanisms for collective security and economic integration. It is confident enough to collaborate with the United States in self-interest and engage China on maritime issues with greater self-assurance. Yet it is important to remember that Modi’s vision is only the first step towards rejuvenating Delhi’s Indian Ocean strategy. Modi’s policy will face the familiar test of implementation where Delhi has had multiple problems in the past.

This piece first appeared on the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative's website here.

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

The Homeland and Ignorance About Terrorism

Paul Pillar

Many misconceptions about terrorism prevail among the American public. Occasionally one of these misconceptions gets challenged when hard data conveying a different picture become available. This is true of a recent New America study showing that most of the deaths in the United States from terrorist attacks since September 2001 have been perpetrated not by jihadists or other radical Muslims but instead by white supremacists, antigovernment activists, and other non-Muslim extremists. The discrepancy between such findings and prevalent American beliefs about terrorism can be glaring enough for the discrepancy to become literally a front-page story. But even that sort of attention is insufficient to kill prevailing beliefs—in this case, the belief that terrorism and specifically terrorism that threatens Americans is overwhelmingly a radical Muslim thing. Information similar to that in the New America study has been around for some time; a survey of law enforcement agencies, for example, yielded similar data. The recent multiple killings by a white supremacist in a predominantly black church in Charleston, South Carolina has led some to raise a closely related issue of what tends to get called terrorism and what doesn't. But this incident is another attention-grabbing event that seems again unlikely to overturn the popular notions of who most terrorists are and what they believe.

The misconceptions have multiple roots. The experience of 9/11 unquestionably has been very important in shaping American beliefs. That one event was so salient and traumatic that it has fostered a host of other misconceptions, such as the notion that significant terrorist threats to the United States all began on that one day 14 years ago.

The attitude-shaping effect of 9/11 rested atop longer-standing American ways of perceiving threats to American security, based in large part on the wars of the twentieth century. Americans tend to see the biggest threats to their security coming from alien entities abroad. Jihadist groups based in the Middle East are among the latest such entities to fill this role.

The “war on terror” vocabulary prevalent after 9/11 exacerbated these tendencies. The concept of warring against a tactic never made sense. Making war against al-Qaeda—the perpetrator of 9/11—made more conceptual sense, but it had the further disadvantage of equating, in American minds, terrorism with this one foreign group (a conflation that persisted past the Bush administration and into the Obama administration).

Islamophobia is certainly another factor, despite a widespread reluctance to admit that it is. The dynamic involved is a simple, crude tendency, based on religious and ethnic identities, to be more likely to see threats and evil coming from people with identities different from one's own. Islamophobia is a significant reality in a predominantly Judeo-Christian America.

Political biases rooted in other interests have been factors as well, including in the tendency to downplay the right-wing extremist threats that the New America study showed to be the source of most terrorist attacks on Americans. In his New York Times article on the study, Scott Shane recalls the episode several years ago in which criticism from conservatives led the Department of Homeland Security to withdraw a report that highlighted a prospective threat of violence from white supremacists during Barack Obama's presidency—a threat of which the Charleston killings turned out to be one manifestation. Then there were the hearings of the House homeland security committee that were ostensibly about terrorist threats to the homeland but focused entirely on radical Islamism. The committee chairman who specified that scope for the hearings, Representative Peter King, had earlier shown that he had no problem at all with terrorism of the Irish nationalist variety.

The practical and policy consequences of these distortions in thinking about terrorism go beyond Americans not realizing where the greatest threats to their safety come from and extend to foreign policy. The so-called Islamic State or ISIS has displaced Al-Qaeda as the radical Islamist threat du jour in American minds, and this has shifted the whole discourse about policy toward the countries in which ISIS operates in a direction that would not be justified without the mistaken pattern of thinking about terrorist threats to the United States. It is a discourse in which the liberal columnist Richard Cohen, for example, avers that “if the Islamic State survives, the entity that would emerge would more than likely bring the war home to the United States...” That sounds eerily like the “we'll have to fight them over there or else we will fight them here” framing that has gotten the United States into trouble overseas before.

The equation of terrorism with foreign entities and the intrusion of other political motives means that states are highlighted as sources of terrorism—but only some states: ones that are disliked for other reasons and do not have political support for getting a pass. That is why the official U.S. list of state sponsors has never come close to being an accurate reflection of where sources of active terrorism are to be found. It also is why, with politically strong elements opposing any business with Iran, the theme of Iranian terrorism gets constantly invoked even though the most unambiguous terrorist attacks that Iran has been involved with in recent years have been attempted tit-for-tat reprisals for terrorist attacks that others--who get a pass--have inflicted on Iran

TopicsTerrorism RegionsUnited States

United Kingdom’s Greatest Military Challenge (And It’s Not Russian Bombers)

The Buzz

Amidst increasing alliance concern that the United Kingdom is approaching the point at which ‘little Britain’ may, in military terms, be both perception and reality, the British government has embarked upon a new Strategic Defense and Security Review (SDSR). The auguries aren’t good for Defense, which has already had to find £500 million to satisfy the Treasury.

For the defense effort as a whole, the key problem is the need to replace the four Vanguard-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines. This program can’t be delayed without risking the continuous at-sea deterrent, the holy grail of the British deterrent, which has been sustained, albeit sometimes under great strain, for more than four decades. Both the Conservatives and Labour have committed to the successor force, while a number of studies have confirmed that the submarine-borne ballistic missile remains the most effective mechanism for maintaining a nuclear strike capability.

What has also been confirmed—to the Navy’s relief—is that there will be four boats, the practical minimum for surety of operational availability. After the scarring experience of the Astute-class nuclear attack submarine program, which suffered the effects of a gap in submarine design and construction, the approach will be conservative, building as much as possible on the Astute experience. London will cooperate with Washington on both the missiles and the nuclear reactor, while there will be consultation, as was required with Astute, on detailed design problems.

This program lies like a shadow over the conventional forces for two reasons. The first is cost. It will be an impost when all three Services require investment. The second reflects the problems of scale, all too familiar to Australia, with which Britain must now deal. The technical and production capacity of the UK is limited, as is the capacity of Defense and the Royal Navy to provide the expertise required. The demand on human resources will not only be substantial but, given the reductions in recent decades, represent a much greater relative call on the whole than did the two predecessor deterrent force programs.

Reducing UK capacity to be a ‘parent’ to different capabilities is something that the British are starting to realize. It’s manifested itself in debates over industry, but all three Services are beginning to understand that they no longer have the ability to generate the back-rooms needed to maintain nationally autonomous support for every force element. The UK will have to work with both the USA and Western Europe to solve this conundrum.

The Army may be most in need of a renaissance. The Chief of the General Staff (CGS), General Sir Nick Carter, author of the current ‘Army 2020’ concept, has been arguing for change, particularly to revive ‘a modern general staff’, with the intellectual commitment that this will require. The Army seeks to retain the “ability to generate a warfighting division in an expeditionary context.” The problem is, even with an approved regular ceiling of 82,000 and reserves of 30,000, its ability to generate and sustain such a force is, at best, doubtful.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army consistently achieved a much less effective roulement than the Royal Marines. The regimental system in particular has great value instilling esprit de corps, but may have contributed to a less than efficient army structure. There remain no less than 18 infantry regiments, providing 32 regular and 13 reserve battalions, plus six companies (the majority of which are Guards’ units for ceremonial duties).

The reserve is also under stress. In part, the last government’s commitment to an Army Reserve of 30,000 was a way of maintaining overall numbers on the cheap. Apart from the fact that the relationship between readiness and resources has never been clearer for land forces, the scheme may be in trouble because of the difficulty of recruiting enough suitable reservists for the infantry. The talented and capable are usually the least likely in a modern economy to have the free time to acquire and maintain the skills required for the combat arms, as opposed to the successful use of professionals such as doctors and lawyers in their specialist roles.

Weight may also be in question. The second arm of Army 2020 is an ‘Adaptable Force’ to focus on conflict prevention and international engagement. This will have obvious utility in many contingencies but the difficulty is, whether remaining combat-ready or not, such forces may not be ideal for the higher intensity warfare which state (and some non-state) threats imply. This adds another element to the readiness problem. The reformist CGS may well prefer that the traditional constituency for preserving regiments, strongly represented in the Conservative party, give him room for maneuver in exchanging people for equipment, weapons, vehicles and ammunition.

The Royal Air Force (RAF) has its own challenges. It’s missing a key element in the absence of maritime patrol aircraft. SDSR 2010 saw the capability abandoned as a cost saving after the effective failure of the modernization of the aged Nimrod. Following the even more ill-starred Nimrod AEW project, the effort to renew a design half a century old was a good demonstration of the perils of supporting national industry without adequate thought to the alternatives. The MPAs’ removal was intended to be temporary and expertise is being maintained with the help of personnel loans to partner MPA forces, but a replacement has yet to appear. This is apparently a high priority for SDSR2015, as it should be, given increasing Russian activity around British waters and the potential vulnerability of the ballistic missile submarine force in particular.

The Air Force also needs to consider its position on the Navy’s new aircraft carriers and the F-35. The original 1998 SDSR concept was for a close relationship between RAF and Navy that would create air groups of sufficient size to be a significant strike and air defense capability in their own right. The RAF’s original view that carrier aviation, if used, had to done properly was one driver in making the two Queen Elizabeth-class the size they are.

Financial stresses caused the Air Force to walk back from this—to the point where the maintenance of as much as possible of the land based fighter/strike force became a higher priority than retention of the Harriers intended as the initial air element of the first carrier and the precursor of a powerful RN-RAF F35 carrier air group. It may be time for the RAF to recommit and give the carriers a higher priority than the current intended effort of one RN ‘heavy’ and one RAF ‘heavy’ squadron.

At this point, the carriers are likely to deploy with a dozen F-35B, but would be much more powerful signals of British intent—and much more useful in higher intensity and larger scale operations—if they could go close to matching the American concept of 36 embarked fighter/strike. The RN has been discussing the regular embarkation of USMC F35B, but there are complications to such an approach—and the possibility that the Marine Corps’ aircraft may be committed elsewhere.

This piece first appeared in ASPI’s The Strategist here.

TopicsSecurity RegionsEurope