Defense cooperation 2.0: The challenge of trilateral and quadrilateral defense arrangements in the Indo-Asia-Pacific

Burgess_BeilsteinDespite heightened tensions in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region–and increased calls for trilateral and quadrilateral defense arrangements–the United States and its allies find it difficult to establish multilateral defense cooperation. In their CSP journal article, Stephen Burgess and Janet Beilstein analyze recent developments.

There is a growing call for multilateral defense cooperation in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region, given China’s territorial expansionism and increasing influence and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) nuclear missile program. A power transition is taking place in the IAP that is causing the United States and its allies and partners to cooperate more closely to balance against a rising China.

China is more of a military and economic power now than ever before, including in the maritime domain. Also, the DPRK can threaten the Republic of Korea (ROK), Japan, and the United States with nuclear weapons. These trends mean that the United States is no longer confident that it can dissuade and deter rivals by itself or with the help of only one less powerful ally, such as Japan. Instead, the United States is looking to develop trilateral and quadrilateral arrangements that can be force multipliers and reinforce the regional status quo.

While the DPRK presently only threatens the ROK, Japan, and the United States, the deepening trilateral defense cooperation may serve as a template for a broader balancing coalition against China. In November 2016, Japan and the ROK signed a General Sharing of Military Intelligence Agreement (GSOMIA), which will make information-sharing on DPRK missile launches and missile defense cooperation easier.

In addition, the GSOMIA could enhance trilateral intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) with the deployment of the fifth generation F-35 fighter, which has advanced networking capabilities. The ROK could also integrate its ISR platforms with the U.S. P-8, Japan’s P-1 and reconnaissance satellites, providing for more effective anti-submarine warfare in the ROK’s economic exclusion zone. Established procedures for information-sharing and interoperable network systems are being developed so that coalition partners will have a common operating picture.

In the future, the agreement to allow the United States to deploy its Terminal High Altitude Air Defense (THAAD) and AN/TPY-2 radar system could enable the ROK’s missile defense system to be linked into those of the United States and Japan and provide early warning of missile launches in the region.

Trilateral defense cooperation involving Australia, the United States, and Japan, on the other hand, revolves around a combination of the development of interoperable air and maritime capabilities and concern about freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. In 2010, Japan and Australia signed an Acquisition and Cross-Sharing Agreement and, in 2012, a GSOMIA, which paved the way for greater trilateral cooperation in the sharing of logistics and information.

Submarine and anti-submarine warfare are areas of increasing cooperation, given China’s growing submarine fleet and forays into the Western and South Pacific and Japan and Australia’s acquisition of new submarines and P-8 surveillance aircraft. The three countries have plans for the joint development of amphibious capabilities. The three countries have stepped up joint exercises in the Western Pacific, including the Cope North exercises around Guam starting in 2014, which have involved the U.S. Air Force (USAF), the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF), and the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF). The RAAF also hosts the biennial Exercise Pitch Black, in which many regional air forces participate.

The acquisition of the F-35 by Australia, Japan, and the United States provides the opportunity to take a leap forward in trilateral interoperability and air superiority. Repair and maintenance of the F-35 will take place in Australia and Japan. Increasing cooperation among the three air forces is especially important, given increasing challenges by the PLAAF over the ECS and SCS. Trilateral air force cooperation over the SCS and ECS would be helped by the development over a joint base in Guam.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has focused on building India’s strength to balance against the growing challenge from China and moved toward greater multilateral defense cooperation with the United States, Australia, and Japan. India has revived the Malabar multilateral naval exercises in the eastern Indian Ocean, and India, Japan and the United States have held joint naval exercises in the South China Sea.

China’s offensive assertiveness on its border with India–most recently in the PLA’s confrontation against Indian forces on the Doklam Plateau between Bhutan and Sikkim– provides a rationale for quadrilateral defense cooperation and raises the need to access advanced defense technology and expertise.

In particular, the intensifying bilateral security relationship between Japan under Prime Minister Abe and Prime Minister Modi and India is laying the foundation for a robust quadrilateral defense cooperation framework. They committed to align Japan’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy” with India’s “Act East Policy” through enhanced maritime security cooperation, improved connectivity in the wider Indo-Pacific region, strengthening cooperation with ASEAN, and promoting discussions between strategists and experts of the two countries. They pledged cooperation in defense equipment and technology in areas such as surveillance and unmanned system technologies and in defense production.

It is clear that regional powers are building their military capabilities and coalescing in reaction to the rise of China and the DPRK threat. Multilateral defense cooperation may slow China’s offensive assertiveness and show resolve in the face of DPRK provocations. However, until China and the DPRK engage in major escalation, the effectiveness of cooperation will continue to be limited due to divergent national interests. If and when escalation occurs, coalitions will be prepared to respond; the question is how united they will be and how much force they will use.

Stephen F. Burgess is Professor of International Security Studies, U.S. Air War College. Janet Beilstein is International Education Program Specialist at International Officer School, Air University. They are the authors of “Multilateral defense cooperation in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region: Tentative steps toward a regional NATO?”, Contemporary Security Policy, Advance online publication. It is available here.

Why China bothers about THAAD Missile Defense

The United States has announced that it will deploy Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system to the Republic of Korea. China has objected as it fears encirclement. The United States should continue to engage with China via official and other channels to mitigate concerns and avoid misperceptions.

On July 8, 2016, South Korea and the United States announced the decision to deploy Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system to the Republic of Korea. The THAAD defense system will eventually be deployed and operated by U.S. Forces in Korea (USKF) “to protect alliance military forces … and not directed toward any third-party nations.” The purpose of the deployment was to establish a defense against the growing North Korean missile threat. China, however, has strongly objected. Chinese analysts argue that the THAAD radar will be able to surveil the entire Chinese mainland.

To reassure China that the range of the radar is limited, the United States had offered to provide a technical briefing to China on the system on the sidelines of the most recent Nuclear Security Summit. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced: “We realize China may not believe us and also proposed to go through the technology and specifications with them … and prepared to explain what the technology does and what it doesn’t do and hopefully they will take us up on that proposal.” China declined the offer. Commenting on the issues, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Hong Lei, said that China does not view matter “as simply a technical one.”

Hong Lei is correct. The matter is not a technical one. China fears encirclement by the United States and its allies. It is not the THAAD radar that is impelling official Chinese objection. The radar would not be able to provide any new information beyond what the United States is already capable of obtaining. The U.S. early warning satellites can already track the heat signatures of missiles (including Chinese missiles) during their powered flight throughout the world. The THAAD radar would have to be able to observe “the decoy-deployment process of [Chinese] strategic missiles” after missile burnout to affect the Chinese deterrent in a meaningful fashion. It then has to continue to track and discriminate warheads and decoys. However, the operating parameters of the THAAD radar, proposed for possible deployment in South Korea, cannot permit it to track warhead and decoys launched along trajectories of Chinese Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) heading to the United States.

Presuming parameters within reasonable margins, a THAAD radar would have a maximum range of approximately 800 kilometers under even highly optimistic conditions. As shown in Figure 1 below, at a range of 800 kilometers, a THAAD radar deployed in South Korea would have essentially zero ability to track and discriminate Chinese missiles heading to the United States. Even one possible trajectory that might be momentarily observable could be lofted to avoid THAAD radar detection.

Figure 1. Coverage of THAAD Radar (with 800-Kilometer Range) against Strategic Chinese Missiles. Note: The blue dots represent the locations of mobile Chinese ICBM units. The black dot represents the locations of silo-based Chinese ICBM units. The red lines represent the trajectories of Chinese silo-based/mobile ICBM missiles. Finally, the yellow dome represents the extent of an 800-kilometer range THAAD radar located in Pyeongtaek, near Seoul.

So, what is motivating Chinese opposition to the deployment of THAAD in South Korea? A prominent argument is that even mild U.S. missile defense postures in the region will over time accumulate increasing capabilities, and can, therefore, be quickly converted to a larger threatening posture. Some Chinese claim that the United States is beginning to form a balancing coalition with Japan and South Korea with the intent to encircle China with an interlinked missile defense system. Others argue that this possibility would fundamentally alter the strategic balance and stability between the U.S. and China and, in turn, could force China to increase its nuclear arsenal.

It is certainly in neither nation’s interest to foster such increases in nuclear weapons. Recognizing this, the U.S. has repeatedly pointed out that the regional missile defense systems do not and are not intended to alter the strategic stability. For example, the recent U.S. Ballistic Missile Defense Review stated: “Engaging China in discussions of U.S. missile defense plans is also an important part of our international efforts … maintaining strategic stability in the U.S.-China relationship is as important to the administration as maintaining strategic stability with other major powers.” The 2010 Nuclear Posture Review also made similar commitments.

The United States should continue to engage with the Chinese on both official and other channels to mitigate concerns and avoid misperceptions. Misinformation and misperception should not be fueling disagreements. However, such engagements also need to take into account Chinese offensive missile capabilities. Currently, ranges of Chinese missiles extend to U.S. bases as far away as Guam. China is also believed to have around 1,200 short-range missiles. China’s medium-range missile inventory may include as many as 400 CSS-6 missiles (with a range of 600 kilometers) and around 85 CSS-5 missiles (with a range of 1,750 kilometers). China also possesses a significant number of medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missiles.

Why does China need such a large arsenal of offensive missiles? One potential explanation is that these missiles could target U.S. forward-deployed forces, allied forces and bases in the region. Under such a scenario, missile defense in the Asia-Pacific region could offer limited defenses against Chinese short- and medium- range missiles, thereby strengthening regional deterrence and stability. If China, indeed, wants to limit U.S. missile defenses in the Asia-Pacific, it should cooperatively work to diminish the threats from all missile arsenals in Northeast Asia.

Jaganath Sankaran is a Research Scholar, Center for International and Security Studies at Maryland (CISSM), University of Maryland, College Park, USA. Bryan L. Fearey is Director, National Security Office, Los Alamos National Laboratories, Los Alamos, New Mexico, USA. They are the authors of “Missile defense and strategic stability: Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) in South Korea”, Contemporary Security Policy, 38, forthcoming. It is available here.

The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not represent those of the Los Alamos National Laboratory, the National Nuclear Security Administration, the Department of Energy or any other U.S. government agency.

Indian Minimum Deterrence for South Asia’s New Nuclear Environment

csp_blog_16_12_odonnellPakistan’s Nasr tactical nuclear missile platform is driving Indian debate on its current minimum deterrence doctrine. India’s minimum deterrence concept should indeed be reformulated for this new nuclear context. A new defense policy review should holistically integrate nuclear, conventional and subconventional approaches for reasons of effectiveness and continued public support.

India has traditionally followed a minimum deterrence doctrine. This concept is organized around the assumption that a small number of nuclear weapons creates sufficient risk in adversary threat assessments to have deterrent effect. This contrasts with the alternative maximalist concept: that nuclear deterrence is achieved only through guaranteeing numerical and destructive superiority against adversary nuclear capabilities, alongside development of a range of warfighting platforms. Nuclear weapons have been seen within India as having political rather than military purposes; and to be used only as a last resort.

India’s nuclear doctrine, articulated in 2003, features pledges of no-first-use and massive retaliation in case an adversary uses nuclear weapons. Its force posture has been described as “credible minimum deterrence,” meaning construction of a small retaliatory nuclear force that is nevertheless able to deter adversaries. In line with India’s minimum deterrence philosophy, Indian officials have previously ruled out developing tactical warfighting capabilities and seeking numerical parity with nuclear rivals.

Pakistan unveiled its “Nasr” (Hatf-9) 60km-range tactical nuclear missile platform in April 2011. The underpinning logic for the Nasr’s emergence intends to lower the bilateral nuclear threshold with India. This would allow it to deter a greater range of Indian conventional operations, and specifically deter conventional cross-border limited war planning central in recent Indian military thinking. This nuclear capability also threatens to undercut the credibility of India’s massive retaliation commitment, as Indian decision-makers are now formally committed to launch a devastating widespread nuclear attack even in response to a single localized Nasr strike. While the Nasr is still in initial stages of deployment, this platform and the strategic thinking behind it is propelling Indian debate regarding its effects on national security.

Indian civilian officials reportedly reviewed the implications of the Nasr for Indian national security in 2011, and concluded that it did not merit changes to India’s 2003 nuclear doctrine. However, such views are not universal. There is interest within Indian civilian official circles for a new focus on building up the destructive credibility of Indian nuclear forces.

While upholding the tenets of the 2003 doctrine, India’s military estimates substantial room on the conflict escalation ladder with Pakistan for rapid cross-border conventional strikes. These strikes would be designed to have strategic effect, yet not motivate Pakistani tactical nuclear escalation. India’s recent “Shatrujeet” exercise, concluded in April 2016, simulated fighting through adversary nuclear attack and was accompanied by official remarks that India would not be deterred by Pakistani tactical nuclear weapons. These plans, titled the “proactive war strategy,” would entail a more expansive military campaign than India has conducted since it and Pakistan became overt nuclear weapons states in 1998.

Such plans are also detailed by Pakistani officials as a core reason for developing the Nasr as a deterrent response. As such, they heighten Pakistan nuclear threat perceptions and arsenal developments that in turn undermine Indian confidence in the suitability of minimum deterrence. This places India in a Catch-22 situation with regard to assuring the credibility of minimum deterrence through its present conventional and nuclear approaches.

This focus also overlooks the reality that a Pakistan-sponsored terrorist attack remains the most likely trigger for an escalatory crisis eventually involving the Nasr. Outside of a response to such a terrorist attack, India has little incentive to conduct significant strikes against Pakistan. As the perpetrators are likely to be initially apprehended (if the attack is prevented) by Indian police and intelligence agencies, strengthening these subconventional capabilities must be a primary focus of India’s overall response to the Nasr.

In response to these challenges, India should retain and reiterate its minimum nuclear deterrence concept, including its no-first-use pledge and with a new focus on ensuring “assured” rather than “massive” retaliation. This above policy review, however, must also incorporate that of present conventional and subconventional defense approaches to ensure these align with and do not undermine minimum deterrence.

In conventional strategy against Pakistan, India should replace the proactive concept with one focused on defensive eviction of invading forces. There remain doctrinal and logistical doubts about the existence of a theoretical Indian proactive operation inside Pakistan territory that could have strategic effect yet not carry nuclear escalatory risk. This reform would help in reducing South Asian nuclear tensions, and accordingly Indian and regional demand for larger and more technically diverse nuclear arsenals.

New political and resourcing attentions must also be devoted to developing India’s intelligence and domestic police infrastructure. These capabilities constitute the most effective barrier against Pakistan-sponsored subconventional attacks that remain the most probable cause of a bilateral escalatory crisis leading toward Nasr use. This more holistic view of minimum deterrence will therefore most effectively bolster Indian security in the post-Nasr context. More broadly, these reforms will also support Indian foreign policy objectives of obtaining global recognition as a responsible nuclear power and of reducing regional security tensions that threaten its economic growth potential.

Frank O’Donnell is Lecturer in Strategic Studies at Plymouth University at the Britannia Royal Naval College. He is the author of “Reconsidering Minimum Deterrence in South Asia: Indian Responses to Pakistan’s Tactical Nuclear Weapons”, Contemporary Security Policy, forthcoming. It is available here.


Preventing Nuclear Disaster in South Asia: The role of the United States

CSP_Blog_16_03_YusufKirkThe current trends in the South Asian nuclear rivalry are likely to make the U.S. crisis management role more challenging in any future crisis iterations, with no guarantee of success, but it is crucial that the U.S. remain engaged and try to prevent escalation.

When terrorists from Pakistan killed seven soldiers at the Indian Air Force base in Pathankot in January, the world held its breath, hoping that the incident would not trigger yet another India-Pakistan crisis. The fear wasn’t far-fetched. Since India and Pakistan tested nuclear weapons in 1998, these bitter South Asian rivals have experienced one limited war and at least two major near-war crises. Fortunately, none of these crises escalated, in large part because of proactive U.S. crisis diplomacy that helped calm tensions.

There is no other scenario that gives greater urgency to conflict prevention than the possibility of nuclear war. Unsettlingly, U.S. policymakers remain quite uncertain about how future India-Pakistan crises may play out, and what America’s role in them might be. Standard theories of crisis diplomacy do not provide much insight. This isn’t surprising, since third-party involvement in nuclearized crises between non-superpowers is a post-Cold War phenomenon—seen only in the India-Pakistan rivalry so far—and crisis dynamics in such a scenario remain rather vaguely understood. Though recent literature on nuclear South Asia acknowledges the U.S. role in crisis management, most analyses focus on Indian and Pakistani strategies and behaviors, reflecting bilateral deterrence models derived from the Cold War superpowers.

A few analysts—including Bhumitra Chakma—have detailed America’s diplomatic interventions in recent India-Pakistan crises to claim that it prevented escalation (Chakma calls it “deterrence diplomacy”). Yet while the three-way crisis dynamic has been observed, it has not been systematically analyzed according to available theoretical frameworks. We need to understand not just what the U.S. did in these crises, but why and how a trilateral dynamic might be at work, and what this implies for future crises.

Timothy Crawford’s pivotal deterrence theory—hitherto applied only to conventional, non-nuclearized contexts—offers a framework for analyzing efforts by third parties to avert war between rivals. The theory explains how a powerful third party (or “pivot”) can prevent war by making the rivals uncertain about how it would respond to a war between them. Moreover, the theory explains, non-superpower rivals will naturally seek to avoid alienating the more powerful pivot state and thus isolating themselves in a crisis, and this enables the pivot to employ diplomatic tools that deescalate the crisis and prevent war.

The U.S. has involved itself as a crisis manager in nuclear South Asia without hesitation. While the modalities of its pivotal deterrence have shifted within and across the crises—generally coming down harder on Pakistan, but also serving clear notice to India that military action risked international isolation and possibly uncontrollable escalation—its interventions have consistently sought to deescalate crises as swiftly as possible.

CSP_Blog_16_03-Flags_of_India_and_PakistanIn the 1999 limited war at Kargil, where a mix of Pakistani regular forces and jihadi proxies had captured parts of disputed Kashmir under Indian control, the U.S. directly threatened Pakistan with isolation unless it withdrew unilaterally. In the 10-month military standoff in 2001-02, and during the crisis that followed the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, the U.S. forced Pakistan to acknowledge the flow of terrorists from its soil into India and to take action against some of these actors. It used Pakistani acquiesce, momentary as it was, to placate India. In 2001-02, it also reproved a recalcitrant India that refused to demobilize its forces by issuing travel advisories that advised U.S. citizens to avoid India, risking investor panic.

In all of these crises, neither India nor Pakistan was apt to escalate to general war without assured U.S. support (or, at least, acquiescence). Both sides sought to avoid isolation, and modified their statements and behaviors when confronted with the prospect—in ways that cannot be attributed to bilateral nuclear deterrence alone.

Even if bilateral nuclear deterrence exerts an underlying influence on Indian and Pakistani crisis behaviors—as it surely must—then trilateral pivotal deterrence should be understood as shaping their specific behaviors in these crises, and ultimately delivering the crisis outcomes: war limitation in 1999 and war avoidance in 2001-02 and 2008. The reasons why must be better understood by policymakers seeking to answer the million-dollar question: should, and can, the U.S. continue to play the pivot in future India-Pakistan crises?

Admittedly, repeated U.S. involvement could create a moral hazard problem that incentivizes India and Pakistan to turn incidents into crises—with the express goal of eliciting favorable diplomatic intervention. On balance, though, we believe that American disengagement would be a worse response to future crises, given the stakes involved and the uncertainty of how India and Pakistan would act in the absence of Washington’s now-anticipated pivotal deterrence. But the future success of a pivotal deterrence policy won’t be automatic. The U.S.-Pakistan relationship remains difficult, and Pakistan may no longer see the U.S. as an even-handed broker. For its part, India too is dissatisfied with the U.S. inability to compel Pakistan to put a permanent end to anti-India terrorism, despite promises, and has signaled an ability to take swift, limited military action to punish Pakistan before the U.S. can step into a future crisis.

Given these and other worrisome developments since the last major crisis in 2008, the future of America’s pivotal deterrence in nuclear South Asia may depend less on “isolation avoidance” and more on the other peace-causing mechanism that Crawford proposed, “the uncertainty effect.” That is, the U.S. should find ways, through pivotal deterrence, to reinforce bilateral deterrence: even more assertively leading India and Pakistan to fear escalation’s consequences, and not only the diplomatic fallout.

Moeed Yusuf, director of South Asia programs at the U.S. Institute of Peace in Washington, D.C., is writing a book on U.S. crisis management in India-Pakistan nuclear crises. Jason Kirk is associate professor of political science at Elon University in North Carolina. They are the authors of “Keeping an Eye on South Asia Skies: America’s Pivotal Deterrence in Nuclearized India-Pakistan Crises”, Contemporary Security Policy, forthcoming. It is available here.

The precarious China-Russia partnership erodes security in East Asia

CSP_Blog_16_06_BaevThe real progress in building partnership is far weaker than Moscow and Beijing try to demonstrate, but this is worrisome news for their East Asian neighbors.

With the explosion of the Ukraine crisis in spring 2014, Russia made a determined effort to upgrade its strategic partnership with China and achieved instant success. Large-scale economic contracts were signed in a matter of a few months, and the military parades in Moscow and Beijing in respectively May and September 2015, in which the two leaders stood shoulder to shoulder, were supposed to show the readiness of two world powers to combine their military might. In fact, however, the partnership has encountered serious setbacks and as of spring 2016, is significantly off-track.

It is the economic content of bi-lateral cooperation that has registered the most obvious decline. The volume of trade, which the officials promised to double in just a few years, actually contracted in 2015 by about a third comparing with 2014. The economic crisis in Russia and the sharp decline in purchasing power were the main reasons for this setback, and there are no reasons to expect an improvement in 2016 or in the years to come. The dramatic drop of oil prices in 2015 has not only devalued the much-trumpeted “400 billion dollars” gas contract signed in May 2014. It has also destroyed the economic foundation of the partnership because the development of “green fields” in East Siberia and construction of pipelines to China has become entirely cost-inefficient.

President Vladimir Putin and President Xi Jinping have tried to downplay this weakening of economic ties by emphasizing their perfect rapport. But in fact this “beautiful friendship” is also far from sincere. Putin understands perfectly well the desire to strengthen personal power but the struggle against corruption, which is Xi Jinping’s method of choice in asserting his control, is for him a perilous path. Xi Jinping approves Putin’s boldness in challenging the US “hegemony” but is highly suspicious about his inability to ensure a smooth transition of power, which in China is a firm rule of the political game. The cultural gap between the elites in two states remains vast, and this guarantees the profound lack of trust between the leadership.

Beijing has no reasons to worry about this derailed partnership, but Moscow – engaged in a dangerous and costly confrontation with the West – most certainly has plenty of worries. Attending the September parade in Beijing, Putin quite possibly understood the need to prove Russia’s value as a strategic partner to the mighty neighbor. The effectively executed intervention in Syria was one way to do it, and Xi Jinping was probably impressed with this boldness in projecting power. Yet in the six months since September that impression has gradually paled as the limits of Russian reach have become clear and the risks have accumulated. Fundamentally, China is not interested in Russia’s attempts at manipulating conflicts in the Middle East. After all, its core interests are in ensuring the stable flow of oil, which is not necessarily what Moscow wants to see.

Russia cannot interfere with China’s expansion in Central Asia in the framework of the Silk Road Economic Belt initiative, and has very little to offer in terms of networks or influence in Africa or Latin America. The only region where it can do something that would be useful for China is, by default, the East Asia. Moscow may feel compelled to abandon its position of benevolent neutrality in various maritime disputes there and provide unambiguous support for China’s stance, which could make a difference in Beijing’s eyes.

Russia may be reluctant to execute such a political maneuver in the South China Sea as it would ruin its relations with Vietnam – an old ally and one of the few states that remain positively inclined toward Russia. It would have fewer if any reservations in coming to China’s side in the East China Sea disputes, where Japan is the key party. Russia has its own territorial issues with Japan and the recently demonstrated readiness to escalate tensions by staging high-level official visits to the South Kuril Islands may be an indication of the possibility to support China in the next round of quarrels about the Diaoyu/Senkaku islands.

China’s is certainly far more cautious than Russia in projecting military power for political purposes, but it monitors Russian experiments with great interest. The price for these experiments might appear prohibitively high as economic sanctions add to the decline of industrial production and set Russia on the rack of de-modernization. What makes this balance sheet less convincing is the fact that Russian economy had entered into the phase of protracted stagnation before the introduction of sanctions and the fall of oil prices. The political turn to the extensive use of military instruments was therefore aimed at launching a “patriotic” mobilization that would negate the impact of economic downturn.

Had China’s economy continued on the trajectory of strong growth, no need in such risky experiments would have emerged for its leadership. The phenomenon of China’s uninterrupted growth might, however, arrive to an end, and the spasms in its stock market might be a symptom of deeper troubles. In the unfamiliar and disturbing situation of an economic crisis, Beijing may very well take a leaf out of Putin’s book on wielding military instruments for boosting domestic support. Moscow then will be only too happy to provide support for its mighty neighbor and thus escape from the position of the main challenger of the international order.

Until recently, East Asian states, and first of all Japan, worried about the possibility of an alliance between Russia and China as the two rising powers. Now they have more reasons to worry about the maverick behavior of declining Russia and wavering China. Both have failed to build a solid economic foundation for their partnership but may find it opportune to back one another in using military power as an effective instrument of revisionist policy.

Pavel K. Baev is is a Research Director and Professor at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) in Norway. He is the author of “Russia’s pivot to China goes astray: the impact on the Asia-Pacific security architecture”, Contemporary Security Policy, Vol.37, No.1, pp.89-110. It is available via Open Access here.

Rising Bipolarity in the South China Sea

CSP_Blog_2016_05_Burgess_02Despite soft-balancing by the United States and its pivot to Asia, China is likely to continue its expansionist policies in the South China Sea.

The first four years of the US rebalance to Asia have witnessed increased US diplomatic, economic and military efforts, the strengthening of alliances and partnerships, and increased engagement with China. The rebalance and engagement with China have had episodically curbed Beijing’s behavior in the South China Sea followed by new waves of Chinese expansion.

US diplomacy, including statements by President Obama, Secretary of State Kerry, and Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, as well as support for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Code of Conduct, the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and a moratorium on construction have occasionally caused China to take “one step back” and make conciliatory gestures. But Beijing took “two steps forward” in 2013 and 2015 with accelerated outpost construction and militarization. This can be seen as a counter to the rebalance and as part of a strategy to change the status quo in the South China Sea.

Beijing has shown that it will surge, stop, and surge in its expanding construction activities. It will continue to issue warnings to military aircraft and ships from the United States and its partners from “intruding” into newly claimed territory.

The United States is currently counting on soft balancing. It employs multilateral diplomacy through ASEAN and a coalition with the Philippines, Japan, Vietnam and others to eventually bring China to negotiate a binding Code of Conduct and resolve the growing dispute. Soft balancing, backed by security cooperation and US military power, appears to be the optimal strategy in the short to medium term, given the weakness of allied and partner security forces.

Increased security cooperation, with joint exercises with Southeast Asian nations and Japan, Australia and India as well as the equipping and training of Southeast Asian security forces, is demonstrating growing resolve in the face of assertive actions by China’s security forces. Continuing cruises by the US Navy and overflight by US naval and air force planes are providing military backing to soft balancing. It is a signals to China and reassures allies and partners, which are trying to defend their exclusive economic zones.

As the cornerstone of the rebalance, the Trans-Pacific Partnership will increase US influence in the region and strengthen ties with Malaysia and Vietnam and eventually other states. Increased multilateral trade will enable these states to stand up to China and efforts at economic blackmail. The increasing free flow of goods and investment will encourage US companies to become more involved in the region and will increase US interests in the region. The invitation to China to join provides an incentive for cooperation on the South China Sea issue.

The trajectory of China’s behavior will determine if the soft balancing approach will be successful. Until recently, defensive realists have been correct in explaining China’s behavior and gauging its intentions. China had been driven both by the need to defend growing national security and economic interests, evidenced by the leadership’s statements on the South China Sea and incremental expansionist policy.

If China remains motivated mainly by defense of its interests, the reputational costs being imposed against expansion will eventually cause a recalculation of Beijing’s strategy. Soft-balancing by the United States and its partners would stand a good chance of working. A ruling in favor of the Philippines in the UNCLOS case before the Permanent Court of Arbitration at the International Court of Justice would add ammunition to the soft balancing strategy.

In recent years, however, the offensive realist perspective on China’s behavior and intentions has gained currency. If China is indeed assertively trying to change the status quo in the South China Sea, it will be more difficult for soft balancing to influence Beijing’s behavior. However, it is too early to definitively conclude that China has gone over to the offensive. President Xi Jin Ping may be using expansion in the South China Sea as a way of demonstrating his power as a leader. Alternatively, the economic slowdown in China combined with the US rebalance may cause the leadership to rethink the strategy. Also, the New Silk Road strategy of infrastructure investment may cause Beijing to become more cooperative with the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.

The constructivist perspective, which points to the leadership’s self-conceptualization as succeeding Imperial China in the Asian domain and as part of its strategic culture and appeals to Chinese nationalism, provides further insight into Beijing’s behavior and intentions. On the one hand, China’s strategic culture also includes confidence that patience will eventually bring rewards and that dominance will come sooner or later.

On the other hand, Xi appears to be offensively asserting China’s growing power and moving towards dominance before he is due to step down in 2023. He is also appealing to Chinese nationalism in forging ahead in the South China Sea. Nationalism is strong in China. It may lead to unintended escalation and other negative consequences in the South China Sea as well as the East China Sea against Japan.

In 2023, it is likely that Xi Jin Ping’s successor will continue the policy of expansion in the South China Sea. By that time, China may have been able to resolve its domestic problems and shifted to a consumer-driven economy. This could put it into a position where it is able to make international concessions. China also will strive to draw closer diplomatically, economically and militarily to ASEAN states. However, if China’s economy declines, the leadership could either focus inward and make concessions on the South China Sea or less likely stir up nationalist sentiments and initiate a diversionary conflict.

Stephen Burgess is a Professor at the Department of International Security Studies of the Air War College at the Maxwell Air Force Base in the United States. He is the author of “Rising Bipolarity in the South China Sea”, Contemporary Security Policy, Vol.37, No.1, pp.111-143. It is available here.

Defense Industries in Asia and the Technonationalist Impulse

CSP_Blog_15_03_BitzingerNation-states around the world have many reasons to produce armaments. Traditionally, the strongest motivation has been classically realist and security-oriented: the need to provide for a secure source of military materiel necessary to deter threats and to defend one’s national territory. Possessing or attempting to possess strong domestic arms industries, capable of designing, developing, and manufacturing advanced weapons systems, is viewed by many countries as an essential element of this strategy.

Consequently, autarky, or self-sufficiency in arms acquisition, can be a critical national security objective. At the same time, however, such autarky traditionally had quite limited military motivations, i.e., national defense. Increasingly, however, many nations – and particularly those in Asia – have come to view indigenous arms production from a much broader perspective. The idea that autarky in armaments serves larger, more ambitious national interest: it is about securing and advancing a nation’s geopolitical status in a regional or global system.

This so-called technonationalist approach to armaments production has become endemic to Asia. It is critical to understand why and how this trait has so strongly influenced regional defense industrialization and arms manufacturing. It is also important to always keep the “technonationalist impulse” in mind when addressing how Asian nations deal with problems and failures when it comes to indigenous armaments production. And why, despite whatever setbacks they may encounter, maintaining and expanding their national defense industrial bases remains a high priority.

Technonationalism (a word first coined by Robert Reich in the 1980s) is more than just a “security of supply” issue or a fancier word to describe protectionist economic and developmental policies. Technonationalism in armaments production is particularly apropos for states aspiring to great power status. As Richard Samuels has noted, a nation-state cannot expect to be taken seriously unless it possesses a modern military, i.e. “rich nation/strong army.”

At the same time, an aspiring great power’s armed forces may not be credible if it relies on other nations for the bulk of its weaponry. To extend Samuels’ “rich nation/strong army” analogy further, therefore, great nations have great arms industries. This line of reasoning has been particularly ubiquitous when it comes to Asian armaments production. Most large countries in the region – China, India, Japan, South Korea, Indonesia – have all attempted to create indigenous defense industries and to engage in ambitious arms-manufacturing programs in order to buttress their regional great-power ambitions.

Military technonationalism may have its roots in national security and economics, but it goes beyond that. It is about status. About a nation’s place in the international hierarchy of great powers. This is the appeal and power of military technonationalism, at least as it applies to indigenous armaments production. When the national security and economic arguments buttressing domestic weapons manufacturing fail, many nations still persist in pursuing autarky (and sometimes even “double down” in their commitments).

But technonationalism is more than an objective or a set of goals. It is also a plan of action. The technonationalist model contains its own strategy for achieving autarky in armaments production, one that, paradoxically, involves the exploitation of imported technologies in order to eventually realize self-sufficiency. This process usually entails the course of moving from learning to innovating, of going from imitating technology to owning and advancing technology.

At the same time, technonationalism in armaments production is not easy, and for most countries it has been a hard row to hoe. The challenge to Asian arms industries is meeting the growing demand for self-sufficiency in arms acquisition, i.e., autarky in production, as well as the rapidly increasing technological requirements of next-generation weapons systems. In other words, can Asian defense factories develop and produce the types of advanced weaponry that their militaries increasingly clamor for? And do so under domestic political and economic conditions that demand increasing self-reliance in production, from initial design all the way to final manufacturing?

It is important to understand, therefore, how this “technonationalist impulse” has not only driven defense industrialization in Asia, but also how technonationalism has also provided a model for development (i.e., with the ultimate objective of autarky).

My journal article explores at greater length the paradoxically symbiotic relationship between technonationalism and “technoglobalism,” and the critical role that foreign technologies have played in process of defense-industrial indigenization. It discusses whether the technonationalist model is a viable or sustainable approach, in terms of economics and (especially) military innovation. It concludes that, despite the disincentives surrounding indigenous armaments production – in terms of the high cost of autarky and the dubious military gains that tend to accrue – most Asian states will not abandon their defense industries or the goal of achieving autarky. That is due mainly (and increasingly) to the driving force of military technonationalism.

Richard A. Bitzinger is a Senior Fellow and Coordinator of the Military Transformations Program at the S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Singapore. He is the author of “Defense Industries in Asia and the Technonationalist Impulse”, Contemporary Security Policy, Vol.36, No.3, 2015, pp.453–472. Access here.

The Awakening Samurai: Interpreting Japan’s Security Policy Emancipation


Some revolutions are neither observable at first sight nor are they of the same type. It is very easy to realize the importance of certain historical events such as the fall of the Berlin wall in 1989 or the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. Some historical events, or trends to be more precise, on the other hand, are subtle, but they can be just as dramatic in the long-run.

One such case revolves around the decision of the Japanese government to move from national self-defense to collective self-defense. On the face of it, the shift approved by the Japanese government in July 2014 is of little importance and merely suggests a symbolic turn of events. In reality, however, Shinzo Abe’s quest for greater Japanese defense emancipation is anything but trivial or symbolic.

This pivotal decision by the Japanese government to follow a new interpretation of Article 9 of the constitution, which prohibits the formation of an army and outlaws the use of force as a measure to resolve international conflicts, enabled Japan to extend the notion of self-defense to allies under attack and broaden its regional military outreach. With this highly controversial decision, later approved by the upper House of the Diet in September 2015, the Japanese government changed Japan’s security posture in a way that has the potential to impact regional peace and stability.

Why should we pay any attention to this development? First, Japan is currently embroiled in a rather bitter territorial conflict with China over a group of islands in the South China Sea. While China has already taken a number of highly contentious actions – including the creation or expansion of islands in order to gain control over strategic naval routes and extend China’s territorial sea – a bolder Japanese military posture may generate additional friction. Second, the US-Japan security agreements suggest that in case the situation in the region escalates there is a possibility for American involvement.

The Japanese motivation to revamp their established security posture emanates from worsening external circumstances. The rise of China, both militarily and economically, threatens to marginalize Japanese regional interest and erode Tokyo’s ability to influence the dynamics in East Asia. The fact that North Korea has defiantly pursued a military nuclear program and an advanced missile program generates considerable peril in Tokyo. And the fact that Pyongyang has also experimented with these capabilities vividly exemplifies the prospects of war and conflict across the Korean peninsula.

Lastly, since the American invasion of Iraq in 2003 senior Japanese policymakers and strategic planners have openly begun referring to American decline as a major motivator in their pursuit of defense reforms. According to this line of reasoning, the US is neither capable nor willing to uphold its responsibilities in East Asia. Several leaders have also referred to the American reluctance to intervene on behalf of the Ukrainians after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014 as an indication for the prospects of American support of Japan in case of a Sino-Japanese military conflict.

But if the Japanese had such compelling reasons to shift their security posture, why did they merely decided to reinterpret Article 9 of the constitution rather than discard it altogether and embark on an unrestricted arms race? The answer is that despite the eagerness of Abe’s government to address these negative external conditions, there are major domestic constraints that make such efforts extremely problematic to accomplish.

To begin with, the Japanese economy is currently unable to sustain a major effort in military procurement that can really compete with the Chinese economic and military resources. While Abe’s economic reforms, dubbed as Abenomics, were initially successful in generating growth and fiscal stability, they yielded mixed and disappointing results later on. Consequently, it became impossible to convince the Japanese public that the Japanese economy is capable of supporting Abe’s vision of Japan’s security posture.

Additionally, and very much related to the economic features of the country, Japan has lost its technological edge in favor of the Chinese. While Japanese companies were traditionally situated in the frontline of innovation, decades of economic and technological stagnation enabled China to pursue massive investments, acquisition of foreign companies and also cyber espionage to gain access to the most advanced military technology today.

Other domestic hurdles that prevented Abe from fully pursuing his defense reforms included the general public’s notion of pacifism or antimilitarism. This war or military-averse mindset resulted from the traumatic experiences of the Second World War and especially the physical destruction and the emotional duress that followed the bombing Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The American occupation, furthermore, successfully uprooted the fascist and militaristic ideologies and institutions through peaceful education and the introduction of democracy.

During his first term as Prime Minister, between 2006 and 2007, Abe attempted to reprogram the Japanese psyche and inject more patriotic or nationalistic content into the educational system to counter the more pacific sentiments. As for the institutional settings, Abe established a National Security Council and formed an advisory committee asked to review the legal basis for revising Article 9 of the constitution given the changes in Japan’s strategic environment. While education was a long-term investment, the advisory panel provided Abe with the legal justification to reinterpret Article 9 and move towards collective self-defense. Unfortunately for him, he was forced to resign due to his failure to address Japan’s poor economic conditions.

As Abe returned to power in 2012, he essentially continued to pursue his efforts to reboot the domestic discourse and institutional setting with regards to Japan’s security posture. Convinced that external circumstances had only worsened, he resumed the work of the advisory committee and pushed implemented reforms in the education system. Yet unsupportive public opinion continued to limit his ability to fully abrogate the constraints on Japan’s use of military force. His major coalition partner, the Buddhist-based Komeito, supported his legislation during the Diet votes, yet they curbed the scope of the reforms and imposed a more incremental approach to reforming Japan’s security policy.

External developments such as North Korea’s most recent nuclear test will undoubtedly force Japan to change its approach to national defense and revamp its security posture. Yet the domestic opposition to such sweeping reforms will clearly make the process laborious. It is unclear how much longer Abe can survive in office given Japan’s economic slowdown, and how much political capital can he muster in order to complete his plans. Continued reforms in Japan’s security policy will, however, change East Asia as we know it. We need to pay closer attention to Tokyo’s policies alongside the monitoring of China’s or North Korea’s behavior in the region.

Ilai Z. Saltzman is a Schusterman visiting assistant professor of government at Claremont McKenna College, in Claremont, California. He is the author of “Growing Pains: Neoclassical Realism and Japan’s Security Policy Emancipation”, Contemporary Security Policy, Vol.36, No.3, 2015, pp.498–527. Access here.