International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers

Today is the International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers. CIOR and NATO celebrates the anniversary together with the United Nations. The theme this year is  ‘Women in peacekeeping: A Key to Peace’.

“The International Day of United Nations Peacekeepers, 29 May, offers a chance to pay tribute to the uniformed and civilian personnel’s invaluable contribution to the work of the Organisation and to honour more than 3,900 peacekeepers who have lost their lives serving under the UN flag since 1948, including 102 last year.

This year, the challenges and threats faced by UN peacekeepers are even greater than ever, as they, like people around the world, are not only having to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic, but also support and protect the people in the countries they are based in. They are continuing their operations to the best of their abilities and supporting the governments and the local populations,  despite the risk of COVID-19.

The theme for this year’s Day is “Women in Peacekeeping: A Key to Peace” to help mark the 20th anniversary of the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.” (Source: UN website)

Read more @ https://www.un.org/en/observances/peacekeepers-day

 

 

China: Future Threat or Partner? Experts and Reservists Discuss Security Politics at the CIOR 2020 seminar

(This article was first published in Dutch military science magazine Military Spectator’s  April edition.)

Since he came to power, President Xi Jinping has put China on the road toward a certain destiny. Central to the country’s economic, diplomatic and military initiatives, experts agree, stands the survival of the Communist Party. That party envisions a new, multipolar world order, in which China dominates its own hemisphere. What does the rise of China mean for NATO and the Armed Forces of the member states? At the February 2020 seminar of the Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers (CIOR) in Bonn, Germany, experts elaborate on various topics concerning security, economic and cultural issues involving China. Is China, as the seminar’s title suggests, a future threat or partner, or is there still another angle to the debate?

By: Frans van Nijnatten

Underpinned by an unprecedented economic growth, China is building up the People’s Liberation Army and wants to play an influential role in military-strategic matters in Asia. Photo: Amber Smith/ US Army.

At the kick-off of the seminar in a packed conference room of the Gustav Stresemann Institute Lieutenant Colonel (R) Hans Garrels, Chairman of CIOR’s Seminar Committee, wants to see a show of hands from the participants: who, based on the knowledge he or she has now, is convinced China is a threat, who considers it a possible partner? The votes are roughly equally divided, with the majority of the reservists from CIOR members and associate countries attending eagerly conceding they are not experts on the matter. They see the congress as an excellent opportunity to inform themselves about a current topic in world affairs. Towards the end of the four-day meeting it is expected that at least some will have adjusted their opinions.

In his introduction Philippe Welti, former Swiss ambassador to Iran and India and an expert
on geopolitical and strategic affairs, explains China’s position in the regional and global environment. There is no doubt that China, underpinned by the unprecedented economic growth of the past decades, is building up the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) and wants to play an influential role in military-strategic matters in Asia, partly by outspending rivals Russia, India and Japan. Experts agree that the Chinese defence budget has grown steadily over the last twenty years, and economic growth has allowed the country to modernize its army (including the nuclear forces) and develop blue water naval capabilities. By the mid-2020s, China will have at least three aircraft carriers and a considerable submarine force, allowing it to undertake force projection in vast parts of the Asia-Pacific region. Besides other major military reforms that have been initiated there has been a flattening of the command structure combined with the strengthening of the party’s dominance over the military.

Beijing considers the U.S. to be a military competitor it has to erode and surpass, since no other country seems to be able to frustrate China’s long-term strategic objectives. Gradually, the PLA which, according to the Chinese government, had a budget of almost 178 billion dollars in 2019, is growing into a much more lethal military organization, with a considerable role for reservists and a better ability to perform joint operations.

Strategic opportunity

China, according to Dr. Christopher D. Yung, Dean of the US Marine Corps War College, recognizes a period of ‘strategic opportunity’ in which a relatively peaceful international environment allows it to expand its own military power and – through diplomatic pressure – to reform the international political system and agreements (United Nations, World Bank, cyber laws, the space and maritime domains, et cetera) so that they better suit the needs of authoritarian regimes.

Dr. Oliver Corff, a specialist on China’s current affairs, says observers can derive clues to a Chinese grand strategy from official party decisions, five-year planning documents, yearly government reports, white papers and ad hoc programmatic speeches by party leaders. Considering itself the ‘infallible executioner of history’, the party seems to aim at making China the one dominant economic and military player in the region, exporting its own security model to neighbouring countries. To the outside world, China communicates a strategic narrative that conveys clear and diffuse messages at the same time. As an information source, therefore, Chinese media should be handled very carefully.

At the same time, China has a fragile political system and still spends more on internal security than on defence, because the Communist Party wants to retain its absolute grip on power. Internal unrest, economic downturns and unexpected crises, like the outbreak of the coronavirus, continue to test the party’s resolve. At the same time, the regime spends vast sums on programmes to restrain internet access for its 1.3 billion people, says John Lee of the Mercator Institute for China Studies. China’s digital espionage force, fitting a hybrid warfare philosophy, and its aspiration to become a cyber super power are just one side of the coin; using the internet for total domestic control, enhanced by initiatives like the social credit system, is the other.

Discussing China’s role at the Bonn seminar: Dr. Christopher D. Yung (foreground) eleborates on the ‘strategic opportunity’ the Chinese Communist Party has recognized. Photo: LtCol Bill Grieve (R), US Army/ CIOR Public Affairs.

Taiwan and the South China Sea

To keep its own people rallied around the country’s interests, the party, among others, constantly depicts security threats from the outside. It points at Taiwan, the East and South China Sea, South Korea, and the risk of a cyber attack from overseas. Dr. Sarah Kirchberger of the Institute for Security Politics at Kiel University reminds the audience that in the case of Taiwan, China applies an ‘anaconda strategy’, aimed at ‘suffocating’ the island by military, economic and diplomatic pressure and cyber attacks. She poses an intriguing question: what would the reaction of NATO be if China really attacked the island? Would the member states stand united and if not and only the U.S. stood by Taiwan, could it spell the end of the Alliance? China, she stresses, invests heavily in Anti-Access and Area Denial (A2AD) capacities, while the PLA runs joint invasion scenarios during exercises.

Beijing’s political-military strategy envisions not only the eventual taking of Taiwan and expanding sovereign maritime rights, but also the undertaking of out-of-area operations, aimed at the protection of overseas markets and other interests, like the military base operated by China in Djibouti in East Africa. Elsewhere on the continent China has been making inroads as well. Dr. Andreas Wolfrum, an expert on Chinese culture, explains that African nations are particularly susceptible to offers from Beijing because they hope they can somehow follow the example of China, which after the Communist takeover in 1949 was an underdeveloped country itself but is now, due to its policy of ‘catch up and overtake’, a player on the international scene. Not only in Africa, but also in Asia and Europe, China has gained foothold in markets – well-known examples being Huawei and 5G – and other sectors through the so-called Belt and Road Initiative it started in 2013. In the long run, however, accepting Chinese investments and loans may be subject to a quid pro quo with countries running the risk of Beijing ultimately demanding payback. Eventually, this could become a security threat and put alliances under pressure.

Bilateral meeting between NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Zhang Ming, Ambassador of China to the European Union. Photo: NATO.

Since Xi became President in 2013, China has been using its foreign policy on a broader scale to influence other countries. In foreign affairs, China cooperates with the U.S. on certain issues, but tries to upset Washington on others. One of those areas is the South China Sea, where Beijing operates in a provocative way, claiming historical rights it has unilaterally written into law. Bill Hayton, journalist for BBC News and author of the book The South China Sea. Dangerous Ground, explains that China considers itself the rightful owner of the area which, because of its fishing grounds and natural resources, is of economic importance. The dispute revolves not only around existing islands or artificial ones constructed by China; it also has everything to do with China’s demand for access to the open sea for its navy and especially its SLBM-equipped submarines.

China seeks cooperation with countries that challenge the international status quo, such
as Russia and Iran, and tries to weaken ties between the U.S. and its most loyal ally in the region, Japan. Japan, the U.S, Australia and India have responded by founding the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, creating a multilateral platform for talks and combined military exercises. Another reaction has been the 2018 renaming of the U.S. Pacific Command into Indo-Pacific Command, to broaden the focus on an intertwined area where China wants to become the dominant factor.

Synergy with Russia

Dr. Lyle J. Goldstein points seminar participants at the growing military-strategic cooperation between China and Russia. Photo: LtCol Bill Grieve (R), US Army/ CIOR Public Affairs.

China not necessarily wants to go it alone. Dr. Lyle J. Goldstein, Research Professor in the China Maritime Studies Institute of the U.S. Naval War College, emphasizes the synergy China and Russia have developed in several important fields, ranging from trade to military matters. In an article for The National Interest, published during the Bonn seminar, Goldstein points at the strain Russia caused by closing major border crossings in the Far East due to the coronavirus crisis in China. It should be just a temporary setback, though. Only recently, Russian President Vladimir Putin has announced that his country is helping China to create a missile attack warning system, which clearly shows a growing military-strategic cooperation between Moscow and Beijing. During a workshop, Goldstein challenged seminar participants to dwell on this rapprochement and the implica- tions for NATO. Would it be realistic to expect a concerted military effort by both countries in the near future, with China, for example, attacking Taiwan and Russia simultaneously creating a conflict elsewhere? Should the West ‘up its game’ by using a wedge strategy, aiming at driving Russia and China apart? At a time when many NATO countries seem to distrust both Russia and China, there seems to be no easy solution.

Ships from the Indian Navy, Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force and the U.S. Navy sail in formation as part of Malabar 2017 in the Bay of Bengal, a combined exercise to address the threats to maritime security in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region. Photo: Holly Herline, US Navy.

In order to create nearby stability, China is expanding its political and military presence along its periphery and adjacent areas, but is currently not a real enemy, says Dr. Yung. He calls a short-term military confrontation in which the U.S. and other NATO countries would be involved, a far-fetched idea. At this moment, China would be at the losing end of such a conflict and the government in Beijing realizes that. It leaves him to conclude that instead of being either a threat to NATO or a possible partner, China should primarily be considered a challenge, especially to U.S. foreign policy. For participants in Bonn, many of them eager to follow the debate on China from now on more closely, that is one of the valuable insights to take away from the reservists’ seminar.

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‘Armed Forces and CIOR should focus on the younger generation’

Hans Garrels on the need for reservists and their ideas.

In 2019 the Dutch Armed Forces welcomed 564 new reservists, to bring the total to almost 5,800. The growth in the number of reservists is good news, but the Ministry could still step up its efforts to facilitate part-time military personnel in consultation with their civilian employers, says LtCol (R) Hans Garrels, Chairman of the Seminar Committee of the Interallied Confederation of Reserve Officers (CIOR). After a day of presentations and discussions about China and NATO at the yearly seminar in Bonn, Germany, Garrels expresses his views to the Militaire Spectator about the need to stimulate young people to become reservists and, as such, help determine the future of the armed forces. According to Garrels, reservists should not shy away from taking part in complex debates on international and security politics.

By: Frans van Nijnatten

‘Compared to other countries, I would describe the recognition of the position of reservists in the Netherlands as rather poor.’ Garrels, who works as an independent business consultant and is Deputy Head of Reservists at the Defence Materiel Organisation, chooses his words carefully. ‘For example, the Bundeswehr has a reservist or, as the case may be, replacement for almost all functional ranks, up to the highest level. In the UK, the General Staff has reservists at two and three star level. The same applies to France.’ In those countries, reservists apparently are not considered a ‘threat’ by the regular military. Garrels: ‘But I do not know of one Dutch reservist who intends to take over the position of his professional colleague.’

Hans Garrels: ‘Every reservist who has a certain position or ambition, should want to participate in the seminar to develop a broader understanding of global security issues and international decision-making’. Photo: 2nd Lt Catalin Florea, Romanian Air Force/ CIOR Public Affairs.

Garrels calls the influx of new reservists good news, but says a considerable effort should be made to make sure they do not leave after only a short stint. ‘In some fields, we are starting to run into shortages of, for example nurses, engineers, and members of the National Reserve Corps. We see many students who join the National Reserve, which

is a nice part-time job. Some of those people are really talented and ambitious, some play an important role in filling gaps that are the result of the many vacancies within the Dutch Armed Forces. But we keep cutting the budget for reservists too quickly, while at the same time we expect them to attend the required exercises and stay available. The Ministry should really apply better personnel care because if the militarywishes to include reservists in their organization, it is also responsible for them. And why not develop a career policy for them?’

New initiatives needed

As a representative of the independent Dutch reservists’ associaton KVNRO Garrels emphasizes that the organization does not seek ‘to judge the world of professional soldiers.’ Nevertheless, the Ministry should not be afraid of suggestions made by people employed outside the military. ‘With a few exceptions, criticism usually comes from people who want to make an organization better. An organization must be willing to learn.’

‘When those responsible within the Dutch Armed Forces look at trends in society, they will realize that the young people we need nowadays cannot be lured with outdated employment contracts. We will have to seduce them by offering custom-made agreements and new incentives. The blind loyalty to one’s employer is a thing of the past. Nowadays, young people switch jobs more easily. So, why not introduce, as a replacement for the conscription we have put on hold, the right to serve? Unfortunately, this is not currently being discussed, and from the viewpoint of the organization there’s a big question hovering over this idea: is it manageable?’

To keep up the operational level of ambition the Armed Forces have set for themselves, new initiatives to attract reservists will come up, Garrels expects. ‘We cannot sit back and wait for young people, we will have to take action ourselves, simply because we need their knowledge.’

CIOR aims at young reservists

Garrels, himself a keen watcher of international affairs, enthousiastically tells about the organizational work needed to hold the yearly CIOR Bonn seminar. ‘We offer a platform for scientific debate on a current geopolitical- military topic, with highly-qualified speakers who influence discussions in the media and via books and articles. I think every reservist who has a certain position or ambition, should want to participate to develop a broader understanding of global security issues and international decision-making.’ Meanwhile the CIOR, too, has shifted its attention to the younger generation. ‘It became clear tous that we had to leave Cold War thinking behind us. We had to look at the CIOR and reservists differently than in the context of large mobile units and traditional military operations.’

Bringing young reservists to the seminar is one of Garrels’s top priorities. ‘The CIOR narrative, communicated by its Public Affairs Committee, is very good, but we have to get the message across to the young. We will sit together soon with some of their representatives to discuss some ideas, like a social media strategy.’ Pushing news through social media channels is one of the recommendations 34-year- old Captain Reitze Wellen (Royal Netherlands Army) makes. ‘The CIOR and KNVRO should make the information available as soon as possible, to allow those interested to make arrangements with their civil employers. Many young reservists would like to attend the seminar, if they only knew it existed.’

Without exception, the young people attending the conference say they find it enriching. ‘The seminar is an opportunity to meet collegues from other NATO countries and learn about their culture,’ says Wellen. ‘Normally, we consider the issues from an operational and tactical point of view. Experts at the seminar, however, zoom in on strategic developments and challenge participants to express their own thoughts.’ Lieutenant Desi van de Laar (33, Royal Netherlands Air Force) agrees with Wellen and appreciates the seminar as a platform to talk about current topics with collegues from abroad, like a reservist from Australia who has been involved in operations to fight the devastating fires that recently swept the country.

Besides the seminar, reservists can take part in CIOR programmes aimed at sharpening skills and knowledge. Photo: 2nd Lt Catalin Florea, Romanian Air Force/ CIOR Public Affairs.

Garrels: ‘Young reservists gain international contacts and insight into international decision-making. The CIOR is a versatile organization, which has attractive programmes
to offer, like the Young Reserve Officers Workshop and its own Language Academy. These programmes are discussed during the seminars as well.’ Van de Laar describes the additional value these programmes have for her: ‘They enhance both skills and knowledge and create abilities you can use directly in your job.’

Garrels urges participants from as many CIOR member countries as possible to take part in the seminar, also to avoid one-sided views and to broaden the scope of the academic debate. At the end of each seminar, he gathers the evaluation forms participants have filled out. There is always room for improvement but Garrels’s starting point will remain signing on first-rate speakers whose views
will help sharpen reservists’ opinions. ‘Armed Forces give young people a lot of responsibility. They learn to lead, persevere, and make difficult decisions and support them. On a broader scale, those qualities play a role in global security politics as well and that is exactly why reservists have a headstart when contemplating military and international affairs.’

(This article was first published in Dutch military science magazine Military Spectator’s  April edition.)

Summer Congress in Liege cancelled, Autumn Congress being planned

The Summer Congress scheduled to take plass in Liege, Belgium, at the beginning of August, has been cancelled due to the Corona crisis. This a decision by the CIOR Presidency, after discussion by CIOR’s Permanent Representative with the organisers of the congress – and with the support of the Director of Belgian National Reserves.

BY: Roy Thorvaldsen, Lt Col (R) Norwegian Army/ CIOR Public Affairs.

The Presidency is looking at reprogramming a Congress in the period last week of September to third week of October 2020 at a different location yet to be determined. This is the contents of a letter addressed to the CIOR Council, consisting of member reserve associations’ delegations.

Volunteer nations for “Autumn Summer Congress” and/or MILCOMP?

This ‘Autumn Summer Congress’ will be run by the Presidency, as complete as possible, but likely without MILCOMP as it is not easy to find a venue for the competition in such a short timescale. However, if any nation would like to host either the Congress or the MILCOMP, the Presidency asks to be informed ASAP.

The CIOR President Colonel (R) Chris Argent, also would like to convey his well-wishes to everybody in the CIOR familiy in these times of crisis:

CIOR President Colonel (R) Chris Argent.

– I very much hope that you are staying well and taking the various precautionary measures on which we have all been advised by our respective Governments to protect ourselves, our families, communities and indeed the whole world from the awful scourge of Corona Virus 19. I know you would also want me to send our collective support and good wishes to all those who are working on the front line within their civilian or military capabilities, Argent said.

Adapting to the situation

– All our nations face this crisis, and we as your Presidency have been keeping a close watch on the unfolding events over the last weeks to see how we can reshape and continue the future events of our Confederation and take forward our work. It would be easy at this time to merely close down CIOR until times improve, but as your President I am most reluctant to do that as adapting, replanning and delivering to the best of our ability are all good lessons to learn as military officers, he continued.

The letter from the CIOR President to the Council in its entirety is available here

 

Take care of yourselves and each other in these trying times!

Best wishes from CIOR’s Strategic Communication Team.

Winter survival training: First night in the field

First night in the field during last week’s winter warfare course in Sweden. The temparature was minus ten degrees Celsius and it was snowing,  but all students managed to build good shelters and get a good night’s sleep.

Behind the seven-day course is the Swedish Reserve officer association. Reservists from Sweden, Estonia, Norway and the UK participated.

The course was aimed at making participants able to survive outside in the winter – in a warfare context.

Among much else the students learned basic skiing techniques, ice breaking and emergency fire lighting – first in the classroom, and then in practice outside – in rather harsh wintery conditions.

From last week’s winter warfare course in Sweden. First night in the field: minus ten and snowing.

Winter survival Course: How to extract from Water safely

Participants at the introductory winter warfare course in Sweden have learned how to extract themselves from icy water safely – a vital part for survival.

Reservists from Sweden, Estonia, Norway and the UK have for several days been training on surviving in the field. Among much else they have learned emergency fire lighting drills.

The seven-day introductory course, organised by the Swedish Reserve officer association, has highly qualified instructors from Sweden, Norway and Finland.

The course started with basic survival and skiing techniques in the classroom and camp area, then progressed to ice breaking drills and tow nights out under the stars in temperatures around -10C.

– Thanks to The Swedish ROA and the instructors who have made the course so professional, said CIOR Secretary General Adrian Walton, Col. UK Army.

Participants at the introductory winter warfare course in Sweden have learned how to extract from icy water safely.

 

Reservist Winter Warfare Course in Sweden

Camp Ann, Sweden: Reservists from Sweden, Estonia, Norway and the UK have for several days been training on surviving in the field. Among much else they have learned emergency fire lighting drills.

The seven-day introductory course, organised by the Swedish Reserve officer association, has highly qualified instructors from Sweden, Norway and Finland.

The course started with basic survival and skiing techniques in the classroom and camp area, then progressed to ice breaking drills and tow nights out under the stars in temperatures around -10C. 

– Thanks to The Swedish ROA and the instructors who have made the course so professional, said CIOR Secretary General Adrian Walton, Col. UK Army.

Reservists from Sweden, Estonia, Norway and the UK going through emergency fire lighting drills.

Young Reserve Officers attending Seminar: Enables independent Thinking, more objective View and Understanding

The CIOR Seminar last week on ‘China, Threat or Opportunity?’ was a great success, judged by statements from participants. Here are some perspectives from the Junior Ranks that took part in this year’s edition of the annual event.

By: Roy Thorvaldsen, Lt Col (R) Norwegian Army/ CIOR Public Affairs

(The) Conceptual study enables independent thinking and a more objective view and understanding. I’m currently undertaking an MA in Conflict Resolution at King’s College London as it’s far too easy to succumb to military groupthink.

China as the next great threat is the buzz phrase of the moment, especially at NATO events. I found it very refreshing that the CIOR Seminar provided a much more unbiased take on the Chinese threat to global security.

A briefing on the strategic importance of access to deep waters for ballistic submarines was enlightening when assessing the territorial dispute between People’s Republic of China and Taiwan. Dr Yung’s lecture was the highlight for me, analysing not just Chinese defence numbers but the actual distribution and defence capability, which, coupled with China’s intent, led to some very eye opening conclusions.

Has NATO been too quick to label China as a global foe? From the UK perspective, possibly so. However the US is the cornerstone of NATO and as Dr Kirchberger questioned if NATO doesn’t support US interests, how committed would the US be to NATO?

I shall combine this learning with my academic study to continue furthering my awareness and stimulating my thinking.

Lt Sarah George, 30, United Kingdom, Army

-Extremely mind-opening

“Overall this seminar has been extremely mind-opening. The fact that there are officers from 13 different countries is huge. I learned a lot about their countries, culture and military side as well.

The seminar was  organised very well, all the speakers are very professional and know what they are talking about. The topic is very interesting and learning about China’s culture gives me as a young officer from a small country a bigger picture about what really is going on in the world.

Even though we are a small country we are still affected by China’s actions and the fact that there is also going on a future alliance between China and Russia would affect the Baltic significantly. I have made a lot of new contacts and I would not trade this experience for anything.”

Ensign Valmar Alve, Estonia

– Learned more about perspectives, values, and concerns

I attended both the MWM and the Seminar for the first time this year. I found the sessions at the Seminar to be extremely valuable. The panelists were uniformly knowledgable, and were able to communicate their expertise to a generalist audience. 

The discussion helped me learn more about the perspectives, values, and concerns from allied countries, particularly where vested business interests functionally restrict national policy – such as Huawei’s embedding itself in Europe, and American companies’ need for access to the Chinese market to fund R&D.

Equally, if not more valuable, was the ability to interact with officers from across the Alliance. I look forward to developing these professional relationships over the next several years with CIOR.”

Capt Dr. Aaron Petty, 37, USA, Army

Mix of military and academic thinking

What sets this seminar apart among CIOR events is the mix of military and academic thinking on strategically relevant topics. Young reserve officers may be more concerned with tactical matters, but this serves as an eye-opener, setting a much wider context for our actions.

It is also an excellent networking opportunity, and I appreciate the fact that some time is reserved for social activities, enabling us to know each other.

Last but not least, the Gustav Stresemann Institute (GSI) is a perfect setting for this recurring event, as it provides comfort and focus, while also being reasonably close to the centre of Bonn.

2Lt Catalin Florea, Romania

-Gives a 360 degree understanding

“The conference is the perfect opportunity to dive into a current topic. The excellent speakers each elaborate on their own speciality and this allows you as a conference attendee to get a 360 degrees understanding of the topic.

Next, the conference is a perfect opportunity to meet new people from different countries sharing the same interest: being a reserve officer. So if you have the opportunity to attend the conference, I would highly recommend it!”

Lt Desi Van Der Laar, 33, The Netherlands, Air Force

-A great way to learn more about NATO’s strategic concerns

“The CIOR seminar is a great way to learn more about NATO’s strategic concerns. Expert speakers, good workshops and interesting debates. I highly recommend it.”

Lt Reitze Wellen, 34, The Netherlands, Army

Photo gallery by Lt Col Bill Grieve (R), US Army and 2nd Lt Catalin Florea, Romanian Air Force/CIOR Public Affairs

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Day Three: CIOR Seminar Dives Deep

Day three of the CIOR Seminar continued the trend of taking a deeper dive into specific areas of interest in China, with Cyber Strategy, Taiwan and the South China Sea studied further by John Lee, Dr Sarah Kirchberger and Dr Bill Hayton.

By: Lt Sarah George, UK Army and 2nd Lt Catalin Florea, Romanian Air Force, both with background from CIOR’s Young Reserve Officer program.

While the public agenda is dominated by cyber espionage, China’s real ambition in the Information and communications technology (ICT) environment is “to achieve a situation of mutual vulnerability”, believes Mr. John Lee, from the Mercator Institute for China Studies.

As the world sees Chinese digital presence increasing, especially through Huawei and Tik-Tok, the underlying reality remains that the country relies on Western companies, its strategic adversaries, for upstream technologies. It is believed to be ten-fifteen years behind the most advanced Western nations in the manufacturing of semiconductors, and currently imports almost all of the microchips it requires.

It is also dependent on the American university system for the training of its cyber experts and entrepreneurs.

                                                                 “There is no doubt about China’s intention

                                                                           to become a “cyber superpower”

However, there is no doubt about China’s intention to become a “cyber superpower” – a goal stated by president Xi Jinping himself. To this end, China has benefited from acting as a manufacturing hub for Western technology companies. It has also developed strong domestic control of the internet, turning it into a contained network where search queries are resolved locally and at least two million human censors are engaged in content monitoring and filtering.

As it pursues absolute transparency of online actions at home, the Communist Party of China (CPC) also supports stronger Chinese presence in engineering commissions setting new standards and internationally, in the developing markets which will provide the next waves of internet users, believes Mr. Lee.

– Increasingly aggressive posture towards Taiwan

The Taiwanese “are basically incapable of becoming citizens of the PRC”, stated Dr. Sarah Kirchberger, Institute for Security Policy at Kiel University (ISPK), towards the end of a compelling presentation about the China-Taiwan relationship, in the context of an increasingly aggressive Chinese posture.

Dr. Kirchberger pointed out that Taiwan is perceived as a current threat by China on several levels – politically, geostrategically and, more specifically, as a de facto ally of the US. Indeed, holding Taiwan is regarded as the key to China’s development into a seapower, as it provides access to deep waters and a way out of the US friendly islands off the East and South East coast of China.

Therefore, “retaking Taiwan is the PLA’s [People’s Liberation Army, China’s armed forces] primary mission”, believes Dr. Kirchberger. To this end, she commented on the Chinese interest towards the Russian hybrid war in Crimea, frequent military actions and exercises around Taiwan, as well as regular cyber and information attacks on media and public institutions.

As a harbinger of an even more aggressive approach, president Xi Jinping stated that “the Taiwan question” should be solved by 2049, the centenary of the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

– Appeasement has rarely worked

For the US, “this is a massive challenge in every sense”, said Dr. Kirchberger, confronting NATO’s focus on Europe and Russia to the interest of the US in preserving the current status of Taiwan. The speaker advocated for a policy of deterrence towards China, rather than appeasement, as “looking at the track record of rising powers wanting to change the status quo, appeasement has rarely worked”.

Dr. Bill Hayton’s subsequent lecture on the South China Sea and Chinese interest in the area was the perfect follow-on from Dr. Kirchberger’s talk on Taiwan.

The strategic Importance of deep sea

The key for both of the talks was the strategic importance of deep sea to create access and then an impregnable bastion for Chinese ballistic missile submarines to manoeuvre within. Looking at an aerial photograph of China, one is immediately struck by the fact that the whole coast has extended continental shelf, which isn’t deep enough for the submarines to operate in. Thus China’s strategy for retaking Taiwan has been complemented with a strategy to reclaim the South China Sea.

Man-made islands

Dr. Hayton explained how the historical claim that China has presented to the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) is actually based on a series of historical cock-ups by geographers with dotted lines being coloured in to create island claims where there were no islands and mistranslations.

Despite The Philippines having won the PCA award [Hague-based Permanent Court of Arbitration], China has refused to accept it, despite the fact it is legally binding. Dr. Hayton nevertheless concluded that there are yet grounds for optimism, as the PRC still feels the need to justify its actions in rules based language.

Screenshot from Dr. Bill Hayton’s lecture on the South China Sea

Photo gallery by Lt Col Bill Grieve (R), US Army/ CIOR Public Affairs:

China expert at CIOR Seminar: – Should keep our minds open

The annual CIOR Seminar – titled “China, Threat or Opportunity” – opened on Saturday (22. Feb.) with introductions by former Swiss Ambassador Philippe Welti and Dr. Andreas Wolfrum* on Chinese strategic interests, culture and economy, setting the scene for the rest of the week where the lectures were scheduled to take a deeper dive into more specific questions.

By: Lt Sarah George, UK Army and 2nd Lt Catalin Florea, Romanian Air Force, both with background from CIOR’s Young Reserve Officer program.

Sunday included lectures by Dr. Christopher D. Yung, Dr. Oliver Corff and Dr. Lyle Goldstein.

                                            “We should keep our mind open to the possibility of change 

                                                                                                            in Chinese Foreign Policy.”

                                                                                                                              – Dr. Lyle Goldstein

Dr. Yung opened with a baseline brief on what most China experts agree on: that China has experienced unprecedented economic growth, which has coincided with an increased defence budget: 10% growth for two decades; a constantly modernising military and finally, although it is still a point of debate whether China does indeed pose a threat to US national security, there are definitely contingencies that could involve direct conflict.

Dr. Yung then went on to discuss his own professional take on China and its intent, that it prioritises internal security over defence.

                                              “What keeps Xi Jinping up at night worrying is Xinjiang.”

                                                                                                                                                     – Dr. Yung

What keeps Xi Jinping (Chinese President) up at night worrying is Xinjiang, says Dr. Yung. Xinjiang is an autonomous region in North-Western China. A substantial part of the population are Turkish tribes with Muslim faith. The Uighurs alone constitute 45 per cent of the population in the province, and they have since long felt socially and economically marginalized in China. Human rights activists claim that that Uighurs are subject to religious persecution.

Dr. Lyle Goldstein (left) and Dr. Christopher Yung (right) with Lt Col Hans Garrels (centre), Dutch Army and Chairman of the CIOR Seminar Committee. Photo: Lt (R) Sarah Alexandra George, UK Army.

Stronger, more unified international power

Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign has aided him to consolidate power, placing China in a stronger, more unified position to act internationally.

What China really wants is not a subject universally agreed on, but Dr. Yung argued a very strong case for why China would want the period of strategic opportunity to continue: A peaceful and stable environment is key for a nation that has incredibly ambitious economic growth targets. Unlike Western nations, China doesn’t see a trade spat as equating to increased likelihood of conflict.

Wants to return to regional hegemony

Dr. Yung presented evidence for why China would want to reform the international order, however, returning to regional hegemony in a multipolar world.

As these long term objectives are contrary to US national security interests, he argued that this poses a challenge to the US, especially as China does have, and is further developing, the capability to operate ‘out of area’ in protection of overseas economic and political interests.

He argued that while China does not currently pose a global military threat to the International System, and NATO, the US is a core constituent part of NATO.

“Military-civilian fusion”

The concept of a strong China is tightly related to the “mutual dependence between economic and military strength”, said Dr. Oliver Corff during the CIOR Seminar in Bonn.

Dr. Corff spoke about military-civilian fusion as an important principle of Chinese development plans, connecting civilian areas such as manufacturing to national defence.

He pointed out stability as the most important interest of the Communist Party of China (CPC), as this enables its secure and unchallenged rule.

Territorial Integrity

Another core interest is territorial integrity, fuelled by concerns regarding regions such as Taiwan, Xinjiang and Tibet – and, more recently – Hong Kong and the South China Sea.

Finally, a third core interest would be development in all areas, from military to healthcare, rooted in Leninist historical determinism, said Dr. Corff.

China’s national security framework stands as a manifestation of this approach, as it covers not only military or territorial issues, but also extends to environment, society and culture.

“Asia’s Security Paradox”

Dr. Corff considers that China’s grand strategy is a good match to Asia’s Security Paradox – the fact that strengthening economic ties and interdependencies does not result into commensurate increases in regional security and mutual confidence.

* Dr Andreas Wolfrum works at the Center for Military History and Social Sciences of the Budeswehr, Department of Education, and is himself a Naval Reserve Officer with the rank of Commander. 

Image gallery by 2nd Lt Catalin Florea, Romanian Air Force.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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