Wednesday, August 24, 2016

The Pivot to Asia: Sustainment or Appeasement? A new recommended outline for U.S. Asia policy comes dangerously close to simply ceding U.S. interests in the region

In a recent monograph published by the U.S. Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, Dickinson College professor Douglas Stuart (who also teaches at the War College) heaps unalloyed praise on the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia and supplies it with a new name: Sustainment.

Echoing George F. Kennan’s famous “X” article in Foreign Affairs, Stuart in The Pivot to Asia: Can it Serve as the Foundation for American Grand Strategy in the 21st Century proposes a “strategy of long-term sustainment of America’s presence and influence in the [India-Asia-Pacific region].” Building on the Obama administration’s rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, Stuart advises Obama’s successor to “redouble … efforts to combine … military activities with ambitious diplomatic, economic, and information initiatives … to sustain [America’s] presence and influence across the region.”

After praising Obama for his diplomatic efforts in the region (the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation with ASEAN, membership in the East Asia Summit, the Burma Policy Review, participation in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit, the Pacific Islands Forum, the U.S.-China agreement on climate change), strengthening U.S. traditional alliances with Japan, South Korea, Australia, and Singapore, and beginning the shift of military resources to the region, Stuart identifies three schools of thought for dealing with a rising China: Containers, Adapters, and Game Changers.

Containers, he writes, are influenced by the so-called “Thucydides Trap,” which warns that war is likely when a rising revisionist power challenges the status quo. He places international relations theorist John Mearsheimer in this category.

Adapters focus on “U.S.-China economic interdependence” and urge U.S. policymakers to find common ground with China on international challenges such as climate change. Stuart places former Carter National Security Adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski in this category.

Game Changers, such as Edward Steinfeld, expect China to become less authoritarian, more democratic, and more concerned with domestic problems than challenging U.S. preeminence.

Stuart admits that all three schools of thought can point to evidence that supports their policy preference. His solution is for the U.S. to “pursue policies that are appropriate for each of the three points of view.” And it is here that Stuart’s policy of Sustainment looks uncomfortably similar to appeasement.

Stuart, quoting Hugh White, proposes that the U.S. enhance its military presence in the region, but should “look for ways to ‘negotiate a new relationship with China as soon as possible, before the power balance shifts further China’s way.’” The enhanced U.S. military presence should “not precipitate Chinese insecurities.” The Pentagon, Stuart writes, should abandon those aspects of the Air-Sea Battle doctrine that are designed to destroy and defeat China’s anti-access and area-denial assets.

Instead of taking sides on China’s disputes with its neighbors (some of whom are traditional U.S. allies) in the East China and South China Seas, Stuart proposes that the United States act as an “honest broker” to foster diplomatic solutions. There is no sense here that the United States has any strategic interests in the seas adjacent to China’s coast.

Stuart mentions the frictions in U.S.-China economic relations, including the trade imbalance, Chinese copyright violations, and its currency manipulations, but urges U.S. policymakers to place “these areas of dispute … in context.” He further recommends that instead of emphasizing Chinese human rights violations, the U.S. should celebrate China’s extraordinary success in lifting so many people out of poverty.

Finally, Stuart makes clear that U.S. policymakers must adjust to the proposition that their country will not remain the dominant player in the India-Asia-Pacific region. Thus the U.S. must find ways to effectively transition “from U.S. predominance towards a stable, more equitable balance of power in the Western Pacific.” Stuart takes it one step further by endorsing the notion that the United States must accommodate China’s globalized foreign policy even in Latin America—the Monroe Doctrine, he writes, is dead.

Stuart’s proposed policy of Sustainment will not “sustain” or preserve America’s interests in the Asia-Pacific, and it will not reassure America’s allies of its long-term commitment to the region. Instead, it would reconcile the U.S. to what Stuart obviously sees as its inevitable decline, and pave the way for a rising China to replace the United States as the predominant power in the region and beyond.

The full monograph can be downloaded at The Diplomat site.

Francis P. Sempa is the author of Geopolitics: From the Cold War to the 21st Century and America’s Global Role: Essays and Reviews on National Security, Geopolitics and War. He has written on historical and foreign policy topics for Orbis, Strategic Review, Joint Force Quarterly, The University Bookman, the Asian Review of Books, the New York Journal of Books, Presidential Studies Quarterly, the Claremont Review of Books, American Diplomacy, The Diplomat, and the Washington Times. He is an attorney, an adjunct professor of political science at Wilkes University, and a contributing editor to American Diplomacy.


Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export Of Wahhabism – Speech

Indonesia where Asad Ali, the recently retired deputy head of Indonesian intelligence and former deputy head of Nahdlatul Ulema (NU), one of the world’s largest Islamic movements that prides itself on its anti-Wahhabism, professes in the same breath his dislike of the Wahhabis and warns that Shiites are one of the foremost domestic threats to Indonesian national security. Shiites constitute 1.2 percent of the Indonesian population, including the estimated 2 million Sunni converts over the last 40 years. A fluent Arabic speaker who spent years in Saudi Arabia as the representative of Indonesian intelligence, this intelligence and religious official is not instinctively anti-Shiite, but sees Shiites as an Iranian fifth wheel. In other words, the impact of Saudi funding and ultra-conservatism is such that even NU is forced to adopt ultra-conservative language and concepts when it comes to perceptions of the threat posed by Iran and Shiites.

This book project on Saudi public diplomacy using primarily the kingdom’s financial muscle has had a long gestation. It focuses on the impact of various policies of the kingdom on Muslim communities and nations across the globe.

In doing so, I will concentrate on Saudi government policy and actions as well as those of senior members of the ruling Al Saud family rather than wealthy individuals who may or may not be associated with them. As a result, theological and ideological differences between various expressions of Muslim ultra-conservatism fall beyond the parameters of what I am looking at.

My thinking on this has evolved in the past year despite having covered the Saudi efforts for many years from very different angles and multiple geographies. The evolution of my thinking is reflected in the fact that were I looking today for a title for these remarks, I’d call it Saudi export of ultra-conservatism rather than Wahhabism. The reason is simple: Saudi export and global support for religiously driven groups goes far beyond Wahhabism. It is not simply a product of the Faustian bargain that the Al Sauds made with the Wahhabis. It is central to Saudi Arabia’s efforts to position itself internationally and flex its muscles regionally as well as on the international stage and has been crucial to the Al Sauds’ survival strategy for at least the last four decades.

There is a lot of talk about Saudi funding of Wahhabism, yet in the mushrooming of Islamic ultra-conservatism in the last half century, Wahhabis as a group form a minority in the ultra-conservative Muslim world. The reason for this is fairly straightforward: For the Saudi government, support of puritan, intolerant, non-pluralistic and discriminatory forms of ultra-conservatism – primarily Wahhabism, Salafism in its various stripes, and Deobandism in South Asia and the South Asian Diaspora – is about soft power and countering Iran in what is for the Al Sauds an existential battle, rather than religious proselytization. One other important aspect is that South Asia has been an important contributor to ultra-conservative thinking for more than a century. Another significant element is the fact that while the Saudi campaign focuses predominantly on the Muslim world, it also at times involved ties to other, non-Muslim ultra-conservative faith groups and right-wing political groups.

Saudi Arabia’s focus on ultra-conservatism rather than only Wahhabism or quietist forms of Salafism allowed the kingdom to not simply rely on export of its specific interpretation of Islam but also to capitalize on existing, long-standing similar worldviews, particularly in South Asia. South Asia is also where the Saudi effort that amounts to the single largest dedicated public diplomacy campaign in post-World War Two history, bigger than anything that the Soviet Union or the United States attempted, had its most devastating effect.

The campaign is an issue that I have looked at since I first visited the kingdom in the mid-1970s, during numerous subsequent visits, when I lived in Saudi Arabia in the wake of 9/11, and during a 4.5-year court battle that I won in 2006 in the British House of Lords, a landmark case that contributed to changes in English libel law.

The scope of the Saudi campaign goes far beyond religious groups because it is about soft power and geopolitics and not just proselytization. It involved the funding of construction of mosques and cultural institutions; networks of schools, universities and book and media outlets, and distribution of not only Wahhabi literature in multiple languages but also of works of ultra-conservative scholars of other stripes. It also involved forging close ties, particularly in Muslim majority countries, with various branches of government, including militaries, intelligence agencies and ministries of education, interior and religious affairs to ensure that especially when it came to Iran as well as Muslim minority communities like the Ahmadis and Shiites, Saudi Arabia’s worldview was well represented.

An example of this is Indonesia where Asad Ali, the recently retired deputy head of Indonesian intelligence and former deputy head of Nahdlatul Ulema (NU), one of the world’s largest Islamic movements that prides itself on its anti-Wahhabism, professes in the same breath his dislike of the Wahhabis and warns that Shiites are one of the foremost domestic threats to Indonesian national security. Shiites constitute 1.2 percent of the Indonesian population, including the estimated 2 million Sunni converts over the last 40 years. A fluent Arabic speaker who spent years in Saudi Arabia as the representative of Indonesian intelligence, this intelligence and religious official is not instinctively anti-Shiite, but sees Shiites as an Iranian fifth wheel. In other words, the impact of Saudi funding and ultra-conservatism is such that even NU is forced to adopt ultra-conservative language and concepts when it comes to perceptions of the threat posed by Iran and Shiites.

In waging its campaign, Saudi Arabia was not alone. It benefitted from governments eager to benefit from Saudi largesse and willing to use religion opportunistically to further their own interests that cooperated with the kingdom wholeheartedly to the ultimate detriment of their societies.

Much of Saudi funding in the last half century, despite the more recent new assertiveness in the kingdom’s foreign and defense policy, was directed at non-violent, ultra-conservative groups and institutions as well as governments. It created environments that did not breed violence in and of themselves but in given circumstances greater militancy and radicalism. Pakistan is probably the one exception, the one where a more direct comparison to Russian and Communist support of liberation movements and insurgencies in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s is most relevant.

In many ways, the chicken is coming home to roost. The structure of the Saudi funding campaign was such that the Saudis ultimately unleashed a genie they did not and were not able to control, that has since often turned against them, particularly with a host albeit not all militant Islamist and jihadist groups, and that no longer can be put back into the bottle.

The government, to bolster its campaign created various institutions including the Muslim World League and its multiple subsidiaries, Al Haramain, another charity that ultimately pos-9/11 was disbanded because of its militant links, and the likes of the Islamic universities in Medina, Pakistan and Malaysia. In virtually all of these instances, the Saudis were the funders. The executors were others often with agendas of their own such as the Brotherhood with the Muslim World League or in the case of Al Haramain, more militant Islamists, if not jihadists. Saudi oversight was non-existent and the laissez-faire attitude started at the top. Saudis seldom figure in the management or oversight of institutions they fund outside of the kingdom, the International Islamic University of Islamabad being one of the exceptions.

This lack of oversight was evident in the National Commercial Bank (NCB) when it was Saudi Arabia’s largest financial institution. NCB had a department of numbered accounts. These were all accounts belonging to members of the ruling family. Only three people had access to those accounts, one of them was the majority owner of the bank, Khaled Bin Mahfouz. Bin Mahfouz would get a phone call from a senior member of the family who would instruct him to transfer money to a specific country, leaving it up to Bin Mahfouz where precisely that money would go.

In one instance, Bin Mahfouz was instructed by Prince Sultan, the then Defence Minister, to wire US $5 million to Bosnia Herzegovina. Sultan did not indicate the beneficiary. Bin Mahfouz sent the money to a charity in Bosnia, that in the wake of 9/11 was raided by US law enforcement and Bosnian security agents. The hard disks of the foundation revealed the degree to which the institution was controlled by jihadists.

At one point, the Saudis suspected one of the foundation’s operatives of being a member of Egypt’s Islamic Jihad. They sent someone to Sarajevo to investigate. The investigator confronted the man saying: “We hear that you have these connections and if that is true we need to part ways.” The man put his hand on his heart and denied the allegation. As far as the Saudis were concerned the issue was settled until the man later in court testimony described how easy it had been to fool the Saudis.

The impact and fallout of the Saudi campaign is greater intolerance towards ethnic, religious and sexual minorities, increased sectarianism and a pushback against traditional as well as modern cultural expressions in countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mali and Bosnia Herzegovina.

It creates a wasteland that Saadat Hasan Manto, a Muslim journalist, Indian film screenwriter and South Asia’s foremost author of short stories, envisioned as early as 1954 in an essay, ‘By the Grace of Allah.’ Manto described a Pakistan in which everything – music and art, literature and poetry – was censored. “There were clubs where people gambled and drank. There were dance houses, cinema houses, art galleries and God knows what other places full of sin … But now by the grace of God, gentlemen, one neither sees a poet or a musician… Thank God we are now rid of these satanic people. The people had been led astray. They were demanding their undue rights. Under the aegis of an atheist flag they wanted to topple the government. By the grace of God, not a single one of those people is amongst us today. Thank goodness a million times that we are ruled by mullahs and we present sweets to them every Thursday…. By the grace of God, our world is now cleansed of this chaos. People eat, pray and sleep,” Manto wrote.

The fallout of Saudi- and government-backed ultra-conservatism has been perhaps the most devastating in Pakistan. There are a variety of reasons for this including,

the fact that Pakistan was founded as a Muslim state rather than a state populated by a majority of Muslims,

the resulting longstanding intimate relationship; between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia that long before the Afghan jihad against the Soviets in the 1980s led to constitutional amendments against the Ahmadis and every Pakistani applying for a passport being forced to effectively sign an anti-Ahmadi oath;

the devastating impact of the jihad itself on Pakistan; and

Pakistan’s use of militant Islamist and jihadist groups to further its geopolitical objectives.

To be sure, the Saudi campaign neatly aligned itself with the manipulation of religiously-inspired groups by governments as well as the United States to counter left-wing, communist and nationalist forces over the decades.

Pakistan had however from the Saudi perspective additional significance. It borders on Iran and is home to the world’s largest Shiite minority that accounts for roughly a quarter of Pakistan’s 200 million people.

The result is that with the exception today of Syria and Iraq and Bosnia in the 1990s, Pakistan is the only country where Saudi funding strayed beyond support for non-violent groups. In Pakistan, the Saudis were at the birth of violent groups that served their geopolitical purposes, many of which are theoretically banned but continue to operate openly with Saudi and government support, groups whose impact is felt far and wide, including here in Britain as was evident with the recent murder of an Ahmadi in Glasgow. These groups often have senior members resident in Mecca for many years who raise funds and coordinate with branches of the Saudi government.

These groups as well as Pakistani officials have little hesitation in discussing Saudi Arabia’s role as I found out recently during a month of lengthy interviews with leaders and various activists of groups like Sipaha-e-Sabaha, Aalmi Majlis Tahaffuz Khatm-e-Nubuwwat, the remnants of Lashkar-e-Janghvi whose senior leadership was killed in a series of encounters with Pakistani security forces, Lashkar-e-Taibe and Harakat al Mujahedeen as well as visits to their madrassas.

I want to conclude by suggesting that the Saudi campaign may be coming to the end of its usefulness even if its sectarian aspects remain crucial in the current environment. Nonetheless, I would argue that the cost/benefit analysis from a Saudi government perspective is beginning to shift. Not only because of the consequences of ultra-conservatism having been woven into the fabric of Pakistani society and government to a degree that would take at least a generation to reverse and that threatens to destabilize the country and the region.

But also because identification of Saudi-backed ultra-conservatism with jihadists like the Islamic State has made the very ideology that legitimizes the rule of the Al Sauds a target witness debates in countries like the Netherlands and France about the banning of Salafism. Bans will obviously not solve the jihadist problem but as Saudi-backed ultra-conservatism increasingly is in the crosshairs, efforts to enhance Saudi soft power will increasingly be undermined.

Thank you



Nearly 20 million Indonesians are still malnourished, 28 percent of the country’s children are underweight and 42 percent suffer from stunted growth, according to UN Food and Agriculture Organization

How can this be in a nation that has the planet’s most fertile island in its vast archipelago and millions of skilled farmers harboring centuries of local wisdom?

If a country can’t produce and distribute enough nutritious food at prices the poor can pay, where can it turn? To rethinking the way it does agriculture — or importing from those with knowhow.

Thailand and Vietnam, with far advanced mechanical farming methods, are selling rice to Indonesia — an internationally awkward admittance of policy failure. These and other disturbing facts have led foreign and local agricultural economists to suggest Indonesia rethinks ways to achieve food security.

The report “Feeding Asia” by the Perth-based policy think tank USAsia was released in May at the Jakarta “In the Zone” forum attended by NGOs and politicians, including former president Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono.

The report says: “We must collaborate better on agricultural research and the diffusion of valuable knowledge and methods. We need to create more efficient supply networks in the region.”

On the surface a noble aim. The needs are pressing, and recognized by Joko “Jokowi” Widodo when campaigning for the presidency. All data continues to show demand growing, resources shrinking and costs rising as they have for the past 13 years.

A shortage of basic commodities, or prices beyond reach of the majority, can create serious communal strife. Rice isn’t just a carbohydrate — it’s a social and political force.

The 32-page report was prepared by Australian “innovation consultancy” Knowledge Center. It highlights the positive impact on India and Pakistan of the 1960s Green Revolution which introduced new strains of wheat, ramped production and saved millions from starvation.

So the report’s proposals have been packaged as a Second Green Revolution. Not the ideal title as it recalls the days when change was pushed by Soeharto’s Bimbingan Masyarakat (Bimas — community guidance) program.

Farmers tend to be conservative folk with long memories. Even today villagers recall the military backed Green Revolution campaigns of the 1970s forcing them to use the Peta and Pelita high-yielding hybrids, expensive artificial fertilizers and pesticides of which they had little understanding.

At first yields increased dramatically and Indonesia stopped importing rice. But the downsides included nitrogen runoff polluting rivers, the balance of nature upset and the socially-corrosive loss of autonomous decision-making.

Minor pests, like hoppers, became a major problem. Government subsidies for fertilizers were withdrawn. Maladministration was rife. El Niño weather changes caused unforeseen upsets.

State Logistics Agency (Bulog) was created as a government agency to hold stocks and stabilize food prices, restricting farmers’ ability to trade on the open market.

Now Indonesia is again a rice importer, an undesirable situation in a nation prickly about “sovereign rights” and its “great power” image with a population projected to reach 322 million by 2050. By then more than 70 percent will be urbanites.

So who is going to grow the food, how and where? While Java’s fertility is famous, the outer islands have dry acidic soils and limited rainfall.

There won’t even be enough water for irrigation if the report writers are right, while clogged infrastructure will remain till the government resolves to fix roads and rail.

Delegates learned that 35 percent of food is wasted because fresh produce can’t reach householders. In East Java’s highlands bundles of vegetables are carried downhill on bicycles because pick-ups can’t reach market gardens on unmade roads.

Even big urban supermarkets use small van deliveries; the roads don’t allow big trucks which could reduce costs through economies of scale.

Refrigerated transport remains rare in rural Indonesia. Fish, fowl and beef traders in traditional markets have no cool rooms. Sellers fan meats to ward off flies and keep milk in styrofoam boxes. They rely on early-morning shoppers to clear stock before it goes bad and becomes a health issue.

Another waste is in reticulation, with nearly half of Indonesia’s piped water reportedly lost during transmission.

Growers with no clear land title can’t access essential credit. The report says “many small holdings are not properly registered, especially outside Java; less than 25 percent of rural landholders have registered tenure.”

Policy planners considering all these interlocking issues also have to weigh in fickle weather. Climate change is creating droughts and floods in areas where extremes were once rare.

Nationalists may wince but Indonesia already relies on imports. Western Australia is Indonesia’s granary because wheat can’t thrive in the tropics. The Northern Territory, with its vast pastoral plains, is the Republic’s offshore beef ranch.

An example of positive partnership has been seed potatoes from Western Australia boosting yields in Java from 10 to 35 tons per hectare. Speakers warned proposed tariffs could threaten this advance.

One possible solution discussed at the forum is “urban farming”. Vegetables are grown hydroponically using recycled water in large climate-controlled buildings close to markets and labor.

Known as Indonesia Berkebun the farms already operate in parts of Jakarta and other major cities, but only industrial scale projects will make a difference. Foreign investment in agriculture can be a politically touchy issue.

The report and forum’s take-home message is that the dream of self-sufficiency cannot be achieved while the population soars and little is done to ease the difficulties. Whatever the name, new systems will need farmers on board, not off side.

Getting belligerent with a country which feeds you is not the smartest idea. Nor is protectionism which preserves inefficiencies. Collaboration delivers harmony along with food. 

The writer Duncan Graham is a New Zealand journalist who lives in Malang, East Java.


Electronic Warfare Comes to the South China Sea (and Why it Matters)

                                                                US Navy ‘Growler’

“An information technology-based war at sea is sudden, cruel and short…” was how the Chinese military characterized a peer-to-peer naval conflict at sea in a public statement at the beginning of the month during PLAN naval exercises. The exercises, occurring in the East China Sea, were designed to increase the PLAN’s “assault intensity, precision, stability and speed of troops amid heavy electromagnetic influences” or in other words, electronic warfare. China and the United States are preparing and force posturing to contest the electromagnetic spectrum in the South China Sea and further north in the East China Sea.

One of the defining characteristics of China’s actions in the South China Sea has been the construction of radar installations across the majority of its artificial features in the region.According to CSIS’s Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative, a variety of radar installations have been constructed on Cuarteron Reef, Fiery Cross Reef, Gaven Reef, Hughes Reef, Johnson Reef, Mischief Reef and Subi Reef. The purpose of these installations will vary and some will have dual uses—for instance a few of the radars on Fiery Cross and Subi Reef will be used to facilitate air operations from the runways housed on those features—but together, the facilities will significantly expand the real-time domain awareness and ISR capabilities of the PLA over a large portion of the South China Sea.

Publically, radar facilities appear to be less escalatory than anti-air missile batteries, artillery or even runways in terms of the infrastructure installed on the artificial features. They do somewhat support China’s officially stated intention of using the features for search and rescue. But the reality is that they’re of enormous use to the PLA and a pressing concern for other nations operating in the region.

These dispersed radar systems extend the PLA’s ISR capabilities throughout the South China Sea, and in combination with China’s growing military and intelligence satellite network, will likely allow better real-time tracking of vessels and other military assets in the region. It should be noted that it also appears that satellite uplink equipment is also being constructed on many of the features. What this allows is a more sophisticated and reliable over-the-horizon targeting capability for China’s growing arsenal of anti-ship ballistic missiles, extending a more credible threat envelope of A2/AD coverage to moving targets—like aircraft carrier strike groups.

The coordination of Chinese maritime assets in the South China Sea, such as naval militia, will also benefit from this increased domain awareness. These assets are being widely used by the Central Government in both the East and South China Sea. When combined with recent reports that China has begun to install satellite uplinks to its growing Beidou-GPS system throughout its fishing fleet—and very likely throughout its maritime militia—the ability for Beijing to make sure that these ‘white hulls’ are where they need to be at the most opportune time seems to be increasing.

These facilities might also allow the PLA to conduct active jamming of other electronic sensors and radars in the region. China already has a history of this activity in the South China Sea, with reports last year that attempts were being made to jam the on-board equipment and disrupt the GPS uplinks of American RQ-4 Global Hawk surveillance aircraft.

If an action/reaction dynamic has also started in terms of investment and research into more advanced EW techniques and technologies, it may have also begun on the tactical level in the South China Sea. This was perhaps most obvious with the deployment of four US Navy EA-18G Growler electronic attack aircraft to the Philippines in June earlier this year. The stated reason for their deployment was for “bilateral training missions,” but the Growlers were likely also conducting reconnaissance and SIGNT operations in the South China Sea.

Growlers also have the capability to jam radars like those being installed on China’s artificial features. It’s plausible that we’ll see a scenario developing that has US EW assets focusing on China’s radar infrastructure across the South China Sea, with the PLA’s burgeoning electronic attack and defence capability attempting to defend these new electronic capabilities. More EW capabilities could be poured into the region in an effort to control or disrupt domain awareness, a critical aspect of coordinating military forces across the region for both sides. Increased EW capabilities may also be a less obvious and less aggressive way for US forces to support Southeast Asian allies in the region.

These types of operations will grow in the future, particularly as the PLA’s radar infrastructure comes more fully online and, as it appears, Chinese air force assets begin to operate more fully in the region. The electronic spectrum, largely out of sight of the public eye, is becoming an area of a growing action/reaction dynamic between China and the United States in the South China Sea. This contest, if it grows and persists, will only add to the underlying tensions and risks of escalation in the South China Sea.

This first appeared in ASPI's The Strategist

‘No first use’ nuclear pledge bad for US standing in Asia

Now that might be about to change.

The Washington Post reported that deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes told the Arms Control Association on 6 June: ‘I can promise you today that President Obama is continuing to review a number of ways he can advance the Prague agenda over the course of the next seven months. Put simply, our work is not finished on these issues.’

There have been no official announcements, but well-orchestrated press reports say that in his last months as president, Obama wants to take the first concrete step towards nuclear abolition by reducing the United States’ own dependence on nuclear forces.

He could do that by declaring officially that the United States will never use nuclear weapons unless an adversary has used them first.

And that is a big deal. It may or may not bring us a step closer to abolishing nuclear weapons, but it would certainly be a big blow to the US’ strategic credibility in Asia.

All the world’s other major nuclear powers have made what is called a ‘no first use’ (NFU) declaration decades ago, which in effect means they have promised not to start a nuclear war.

But the United States has not. During the Cold War, Washington always threatened to use nuclear weapons first to stop the Soviet Union’s massive conventional forces overrunning Western Europe.

Since the Cold War ended, many people have argued that Washington no longer needs to make this kind of threat. They say that US conventional forces are now so overwhelmingly powerful that they could easily deter any adversary without threatening nuclear escalation.

Back in 2009, Obama seemed to agree with this argument, and he was widely expected to make an NFU declaration. But many of his advisers disagreed, and when his major Nuclear Posture Review came out in 2010, it stopped far short of an NFU declaration.

That left his historic Prague initiative dead in the water. Obama could not credibly argue to abolish nuclear weapons while his own government, alone among the major nuclear powers, still threatened to start a nuclear war by using them first to defeat a conventional attack.

The key reason that Obama’s advisers, like most of Washington’s foreign policy ‘establishment’, thought the United States should hang on to this threat was the attitude of US allies, including South Korea and Japan. They said an NFU declaration would seriously undermine allies’ confidence in US security guarantees because leaders in Tokyo and Seoul did not buy the argument that US conventional forces were now so strong that nuclear forces would never be needed.

On the contrary, US allies — like many analysts and policymakers in the US itself —understand all too well how much the conventional forces of US rivals like China have improved in recent years. There is no real doubt that defeating China in a major war without using nuclear forces is becoming harder, not easier.

That seems to many people a decisive argument for the United States to keep the threat of nuclear escalation firmly on the table.

But it is not that simple.

The US’ threat of nuclear escalation only works to deter an adversary if the adversary believes that Washington’s threat is serious, not a bluff. And the problem is that the threat is not credible against any adversary — like China today and perhaps North Korea in future — that has nuclear weapons of its own that can target the United States.

In a conflict over the Senkaku/Diaoyu islands, for example, the United States could not credibly threaten to use nuclear weapons against Chinese conventional forces, because China could so easily and credibly threaten to retaliate by launching a nuclear strike against the United States.

Back in the Cold War, US threats to use nuclear weapons first were credible despite the risk of Soviet nuclear retaliation because the stakes were so high. Everyone believed that the US would be willing to risk a nuclear attack on itself to keep the Soviets out of West Berlin. But no one believes the US today would accept the same risks to defend Japan’s claims to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, or even over Taiwan. So any US threat of nuclear escalation would be trumped by China’s counter-threat of nuclear retaliation.

Obama probably understands this, which helps explain why he wants to think again about making an NFU declaration. And this time, he will be harder to dissuade.

But that does not mean the experts who talked him out of NFU back then were wrong about the impact on US allies. A declaration that the United States would no longer threaten to use its nuclear weapons to defend them against a conventional attack would erode their confidence because it would implicitly acknowledge that the threat was not credible.

Combined with the knowledge that the United States could no longer easily win a conventional war against an adversary like China, this would be a big blow to the US’ standing as the leading strategic power in Asia and the guarantor of its allies’ security.

The reality is that while it might make perfect sense in the light of new strategic realities, and perhaps even help to move the world towards nuclear disarmament, an NFU declaration would weaken the United States’ standing in Asia by amplifying the message that it no longer has the will to stand up to China.

That message is of course already being heard loud and clear this year from the US presidential campaign trail, and not just from Republican candidate Donald Trump.

Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton’s categorical repudiation of the Trans-Pacific Partnership shows how strongly the political wind is blowing against the old orthodoxies of free trade and strong alliances that have guided US foreign policy for generations. No one should assume that Clinton, if she wins the White House, would reverse an NFU declaration made by Obama. She would be too worried about what that might mean for her chances of re-election for a second term in 2020.

Hugh White is Professor in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at The Australian National University.


India probes damage caused by French submarine data leak


India is investigating damage caused to French Scorpene submarines that are being built in the country after the leak of documents relating to the vessel’s combat capabilities. The leak, which was first reported in The Australian newspaper, contains more than 22,000 pages outlining the secret capabilities of six submarines that French builder DCNS has designed for the Indian Navy.

“I understand there has been a case of hacking,” Indian Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar told reporters. “We will find out what has happened.”

The submarines are being built at a state-run shipyard in Mumbai and the first one was expected to join service by the end of the year, the first step in the navy’s effort to rebuild its dwindling fleet.

The massive leak has also raised doubts about the security of DCNS’s submarine project in Australia where it won a A$50 billion ($38.8 billion) contract to build the next generation of submarines.

DCNS beat out Germany’s ThyssenKrupp AG and a Japanese-government backed bid by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Heavy Industries, in a blow to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push to develop defense export capabilities as part of a more muscular security agenda.

The leaked documents cover the Scorpene-class model and do not contain any details of the vessel currently being designed for the Australian fleet.

“As a serious matter pertaining to the Indian Scorpene program, French national authorities for defense security will formally investigate and determine the exact nature of the leaked documents,” a DCNS spokeswoman said in a statement.

“The matters in connection to India have no bearing on the Australian submarine programme which operates under the Australian government’s arrangements for the protection of sensitive data.”

A spokesman for the French embassy in Canberra declined to comment when reached by Reuters.


The breadth of detail in the documents creates a major strategic problem for India, Malaysia and Chile, all of which operate the same submarine, an Australian political source with decades of experience in the global arms industry told Reuters.

Excerpts published in redacted form on the newspaper’s website contained highly sensitive details of the submarine including technical manuals and models of the boat’s antennae.

“If it’s 22,400 pages, it’s a major stuff-up,” the source said. “It’s a huge deal.

“It allows them to understand everything about the submarines. What speeds it can do; how noisy it is; what speeds the mast can be raised at … all of that is just devastating.”

The Indian Defense Ministry said it was probing the impact of the leak on the submarine programme which it said had occurred from abroad. It gave no details.

“The available information is being examined at Integrated Headquarters, Ministry of Defence (Navy) and an analysis is being carried out by the concerned specialists,” it said in a statement.

“It appears that the source of leak is from overseas and not in India.”

Uday Bhaskar, a former naval officer, said that if the leak was established, it would amount to a significant compromise of the credibility of the submarines.

India has a fleet of 13 ageing submarines, only half of which are operational at any time, opening up a major gap with China which is expanding its maritime presence in the Indian Ocean.

Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull sought to deflect concerns about the leak, touting the high security standards in Australia, where the submarine will be built. The Australian reported that the leak occurred in France in 2011.

By Matt Siegel and Sanjeev Miglani


China gears up for missile warfare with US - China’s military is developing offensive and now defensive missiles in preparation for a future missile-dominated conflict with the United States

DF-ZF hypersonic glide vehicle


Beijing’s arsenal of ballistic and cruise missiles has been growing steadily for decades as new systems were fielded in an array of ranges – short, medium and intercontinental. Several long-range cruise missiles, capable of carrying nuclear or conventional payloads also are deployed.

And one of China’s most secret missile programs is a revolutionary hypersonic strike vehicle that skims the upper atmosphere and can maneuver in a bid to defeat U.S. strategic defenses.

China for years has denounced U.S. missile defenses as destabilizing. But for the first time last month, the Chinese Defense Ministry confirmed the military is developing a new long-range anti-missile system.

Ministry spokesman Sr. Col. Yang Yujun, in what appeared to be part of a carefully choreographed disclosure, was asked at a briefing about Chinese state media publicizing a six-year-old flight test and intercept of a Chinese version of the U.S. ground-based, mid-course anti-missile defense system.

“To develop suitable capabilities of missile defense is necessary for China to maintain national security and improve defense capabilities,” Yang said July 28. “It is not targeting any other country or target nor is it jeopardizing the international strategic equilibrium.”

The comment contrasts sharply with official Chinese views of the pending deployment of the American Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system in South Korea.

Yang repeated the Chinese propaganda theme that Beijing is “deeply dissatisfied” and opposes the deployment of the defensive missile system, despite U.S. and South Korean assurances that THAAD system has no capabilities against nearby Chinese offensive missiles.

“We will pay close attention to relevant actions of the U.S. and the [South Korea] and will take necessary measures to maintain national strategic security as well as regional strategic equilibrium,” the ministry spokesman added.

Yang provided no details on what measures are being planned in response.

THAAD is one of the most effective ground-based U.S. missile defenses capable of knocking out a variety of medium- and short-range missiles. Its radar is said to be wide-ranging and capable of detecting missile launches hundreds of miles away.

When THAAD – also deployed on Guam — is combined with sea-based Aegis ship-based missile defenses that can be linked together through what the Pentagon calls cooperative engagement, the combination provides U.S. and allied nations in Asia with formidable defenses capable of protecting large areas against missile attack.

Chinese state-run media zeroed in on Yang’s comments on missile defense this week highlighting what it called China’s “spear and shield” of offensive and defensive missiles.

A report in China Military Online, affiliated with the official PLA Daily newspaper, said the recent disclosure of the video showing China’s first strategic missile defense test to intercept a target missile coincided with the propaganda campaign against THAAD deployment in South Korea.

“The problem is not whether the war will break out, but when,” the report stated. “Our task is to develop the ‘trump card’ weapon for China before the war.”

That has been kept secret in official accounts of Chinese missile defense efforts in the linkage between China’s missile defenses and its offensive anti-satellite missiles. Analysts say the two programs are closely intertwined.

In fact, China has used anti-missile tests as cover for offensive anti-satellite development. Frank Rose, the U.S. State Department’s assistant secretary for arms control, said a 2014 missile launch that Beijing claimed was an anti-missile test was in fact an ASAT shot.

“Despite China’s claims that this was not an ASAT [anti-satellite] test; let me assure you the United States has high confidence in its assessment, that the event was indeed an ASAT test,” Rose said in a February 2015 speech.

On hypersonic missiles, the U.S. Strategic Command chief warned last week that Chinese and other states’ high-speed maneuvering missiles pose a major threat.

“Hyper-glide vehicle research and development are also challenging our planning calculus,” Stratcom commander Adm. Cecil Haney said during remarks at a missile conference in Alabama.

“The ability to find, fix and track and hold … these types of capabilities are becoming increasingly more difficult. Hyper-glide vehicle technology can complicate our sensing and our defensive approaches.”

For U.S. missile defenses, Haney said: “We have to think about it and look at it in different ways so that, again, we are maximizing sensing to be able to understand what exactly is it going at so we can then look at how do we take it out.”

The Pentagon is looking at ways to counter maneuvering hypersonic missiles, possibly with an extended range version of THAAD and with lasers that can knock out the missiles before they reach their cruising speed of more than 5 times the speed of sound.

China has conducted seven tests of its DF-ZF hypersonic strike vehicle that U.S. intelligence estimates will be used primarily to deliver nuclear weapons through missile defenses. A conventionally armed variant is also possible.

The growing development of missiles, anti-missiles and space weapons are indications that any future conflict is going to be extremely damaging to a world that has become increasingly dependent on its high technology.

Bill Gertz is a journalist and author who has spent decades covering defense and national security affairs.