China has clearly turned its eyes to the sea in its new defence white paper, which for the first time officially suggests ‘safeguarding maritime rights and interests’ and ‘protecting overseas interests’. The fact that Beijing followed up these words with a naval excursion in March to the James Shoal (or Zengmu Reef), the southernmost point of its extensive claim to the South China Sea, has only increased the nervousness among its neighbours as to what its increasingly dominant presence in regional waters will mean.
But, IISS Senior Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security Christian Le Miere counsels in a new piece for the East-West Center’s Asia Pacific Bulletin, China’s ‘return to the sea’ may not be all negative.
Beijing’s renewed naval focus has prompted a reorganisation of its maritime agencies, ‘merging four of the five “dragons” that have been at the forefront of its ongoing sovereignty disputes in the South and East China Seas’. With a unified command, our senior fellow argues, there is a clearer sense of who to call to ensure disagreements do not escalate. Similarly, Beijing will not be able to disavow the actions of its agencies.
Furthermore, ‘it is possible that China’s increasing strength could be directed towards beneficial outcomes’. Given its desire to ensure the security of shipping, for example, Beijing could be encouraged to assist in policing international maritime thoroughfares. Since its return to the sea is inevitable, encouraging Beijing to subscribe to current international maritime laws may be the best way forward.
By Giri Rajendran, Research Associate for Defence and Economics
In preparing the latest edition of the Military Balance, launched last week in London and this week in the United States, the IISS team behind the book decided to try an experiment. Since the United States and China are the world’s biggest spenders on defence, and China a distant second, we wanted to see when both countries’ defence spending might converge.
We based our projections on several hypothetical scenarios, including one in which the trend rates of defence-spending growth over the past decade in the US and China were to continue, and another in which Chinese defence-spending growth was constrained by an economic slowdown. (Looking at past examples, particularly the 1980s Latin American debt crisis, we assumed that China’s economy would start booming again by 2031.) The US budget sequester was another variable we had to factor in.
By William Choong, Shangri-La Dialogue Senior Fellow for Asia-Pacific Security
Recent months have seen national service and the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) popping up as topics of discussion and debate among Singaporeans. Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said on Monday a new committee would conduct a comprehensive review of the support network around national service. Recently, Mr Hri Kumar Nair, a member of parliament for Bishan-Toa Payoh constituency, called for a defence tax on permanent residents and foreigners.
Last year, nearly 70% of Singaporeans polled in an Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) survey said that having a male child who had completed NS is an important characteristic of being ‘Singaporean’. And director Jack Neo’s Ah Boys To Men two-parter hit – movies about the trials and tribulations of a group of recruits – has broken new records at the box office, reflecting popular interest in national service.
By Christian Le Miere, Senior Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security
China’s recent announcement that it would base its first aircraft carrier in Qingdao, in the country’s north-east, surprised those who had watched a massive naval base being built from scratch on southern Hainan Island over the past decade and expected that showcase construction project to house the showcase vessel. Hainan’s Yulin base is a complex and modern facility replete with an underground submarine base. But there are other reasons for China to choose instead to base its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, with its North Sea Fleet at Qingdao.
The institute’s Ben Barry has contributed to a piece published by the BBC today, asking how recently announced defence cuts will shape the British Army of the future. The restructured force will be cut from 102,000 to 82,000 by 2017, while the number of reservists will double to 30,000.
Brigadier Barry, who left the army in October 2010, calls it the ‘most radical reorganisation for 50 years’.
‘The Army 2020 design [as the plan is called] displays many innovative ideas and structures,’ he writes, ‘reflecting many hard lessons of the Iraq and Afghan wars and the likely challenges of future land operations, particularly fighting “hybrid” enemies and the increasing requirement for urban operations.
Two weeks after sending troops to Mali to repel an advance by Islamist rebels, France has enjoyed much tactical success. French and Malian forces have retaken Timbuktu and Gao, and are now reported to have reached the last Islamist stronghold, Kidal. The main challenges ahead include sustaining these gains, bolstering the Malian military and improving governance.
But these tactical achievements come despite a continuing fragility within some French military capabilities: the limited availability of so-called ‘air platform force enablers’ in general, and a paucity of strategic airlift in particular. This general shortfall afflicts many other European countries, and in the case of strategic airlift is only now being fixed.
By Alexa van Sickle, Assistant Editor
As NATO prepares to leave Afghanistan by the end of 2014, a key part of the transition to Afghan security leadership will be persuading members of the Taliban insurgency to reconcile with the government in Kabul. The Afghanistan Peace and Reintegration Programme (APRP) designed to do this has so far encouraged 5,000 insurgents to give up their weapons, according to Major General David Hook of the Royal Marines.
Hook told the IISS this week that only 20% of Taliban interviewed as they entered the programme claimed to be fighting for ideological reasons. Often, they were motivated instead by local grievances.
‘Part of the design of the APRP was to address these local grievances,’ said Hook. ’If you address [the grievance] locally, you can pull them in.’ This was particularly important because analysis also showed that more than 75% of ordinary fighters remained within 20 miles of their village. About 78% of all those joining the APRP process said they did so because they were tired of fighting.
The APRP, an Afghan-led social reintegration process backed by international funding, is one of three related reconciliation-and-reintegration ‘tracks’ in Afghanistan, alongside political negotiations towards a ‘grand bargain’ between the government and Taliban leaders, and so-called ‘high-level reintegration’ seeking to persuade insurgent leaders to stop fighting the government and support it instead.
By Douglas Barrie, Senior Fellow for Military Aerospace
The end of this year could well be marked by the sale of a European fighter to a Gulf Cooperation Council state: Oman. A long-awaited deal may well be concluded for Muscat to buy 12 Eurofighter Typhoons to complement its existing fleet of US-built F-16s. With US and European defence budgets under pressure for the foreseeable future, combat aircraft manufacturers are pursuing any export opportunity with increasing vigour. And there remains the tantalising possibility for the four Eurofighter nations – Italy, Germany, Spain and the UK – of a larger order in the United Arab Emirates.
In this latest post by one of the ‘Young Strategists’ attending the Manama Dialogue, Jean-Loup Samaan, a researcher for the NATO Defense College, looks at US engagement in the Gulf through the prism of a Cold War concept.
Although Syria was undoubtedly the biggest issue on the agenda of the 2012 Manama Dialogue, another one was in the air: the seeming erosion of US leadership in international affairs in general and in the Gulf in particular.
Much press attention at this year’s Manama Dialogue will focus inevitably on the conflict in Syria and other consequences of the Arab Spring. But a set of other core issues also remain, including the threat perceptions of regional states, and Iran’s place in these calculations. Regional states, and international partners such as the US, remain concerned by Iran’s continuing drive to improve its ballistic missile capabilities, amidst international preoccupation with Tehran’s nuclear programme. Given these uncertainties, the development of regional military capabilities will likely figure high in delegates’ conversations Read the rest of this entry »