NATO’s Reserve Officers discuss Threats in the Arctic with international Experts

Is the far north really turning into a new area of conflict as the political rhetoric of recent years suggests? Are the melting ice caps revealing new threats to our security? Last week, NATO’s reserve officers met online to discuss this question with high-ranking international experts and drew some interesting conclusions.

By: Mr. Paul C. Strobel, Officer Cadet (R), Bundeswehr

With former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling out Russian and Chinese aggression in the Arctic, US Marines and strategic bombers deploying to Norway, Russia testing nuclear propelled cruise missiles just miles off the North Cape, and China supposedly infiltrating Arctic harbours, some say that the Arctic’s peaceful days are over.

Instead of hearing the buzz of an anticipating audience, the 2021 CIOR Seminar kicked off on Monday, February 22nd with a crackle of the participants’ laptop loudspeakers. Lieutenant Colonel (R) Hans Garrels, Chair of the CIOR Seminar Committee, welcomed the 64 participants from 19 different nations from his home office in the Netherlands.

Due to the coronavirus and its restrictions, this year’s CIOR Seminar had to take place online. This did not stop the attending reserve officers from immersing themselves in an area that very few had ever been exposed to: The Arctic.

Setting the stage

Former ambassador and long-time CIOR friend Philippe Welti from Switzerland introduced this year’s topic to the seminar participants and reminded them of the special nature of the region: “The Arctic consists mainly of water, some of it frozen.”

In fact, the Arctic is the smallest ocean in the world, and an area that, historically speaking, has not produced much conflict potential in recent history – despite seeing high levels of militarisation during the Cold War. But it is an area that has recently re-entered the focus of security and military strategists around the world, and has over the last few years been subject to a political rhetoric that suggests the area’s peaceful days are over.

This change in perception is rooted in a significant change, which might upset what some call the strategic balance in the north: climate change. With the ice caps melting, previously unreachable natural resources have become accessible and new routes for shipping are slowly opening up – possibly changing the region’s strategic equation.

Natural resources as a “matter of survival”

The seminar thus started with a surprise. The expert speakers agreed that the supposed hype about near unlimited natural resources in the Arctic is largely exaggerated – at least when it comes to oil.

As Nikos Tsafos, Deputy Director and Senior Fellow of the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) pointed out: “The big plans for oil exploitation in the Arctic were foiled by the changing oil market with falling prices”.

Oil extraction in the Arctic simply isn’t profitable. In Russia’s case the imposed sanctions after the invasion of Crimea, added to this stress.

This is not necessarily the case with natural gas, however. With the ice caps melting and new gas fields becoming more accessible, Russia has embarked on a huge new development effort for gas extraction in the area. A project that relies on the shipping of LNG (liquefied natural gas) from ports in the Arctic and pipeline transport to Europe.

Russia’s natural gas exploration in the Arctic is more a matter of survival than of economic ambition, experts say. Photo: Alexander Cheban.

Mr. Tsafos pointed out the strategic significance of this to the seminar participants: “All the projects we get fussed about, like Nord Stream, Nord Stream 2, pipelines through Ukraine, all of that is gas from the Arctic.” But interestingly, Russia’s drive north is less a matter of economic ambition, but one of necessity.

“The geological decline of the older gas fields in the region is so stark, that they have to go to the Arctic just to keep production steady. The move north is a matter of survival for Gazprom and the state.”, Mr. Tsafos said.

The Arctic superpower and the military perspective

The above is an interesting insight in a country that historically sees itself as the Arctic superpower – and with some justification, as expert Dr. Baev, Research Professor at the Peace Research Institute in Oslo (PRIO) and Senior Non-Resident Fellow at the Brookings Institute, pointed out to the seminar participants: “In the rest of the world Russia may not be able to keep up, but as far as the Arctic is concerned, they are the regional superpower, and they are very proud of that position.”

Dr. Baev sees two main tracks of Arctic policy in Russia: Firstly, its extensive economic development plans in the area – and secondly, a military build-up. With respect to the military aspects, Dr. Baev pointed to two main issues in the region: The nuclear super-concentration on the Kola Peninsula, just next to NATO member Norway and EU member Finland – and that Russia feels more comfortable in a confrontational stance, with a willingness to take certain risks.

“Collaboration hasn’t sown very great rewards for Russia in the past, but military strength has. In this sense, Russia sees risk-taking as a strategic advantage vis-à-vis a reluctant west.”

Dr. Baev raised concerns about a Crimea-style occupation of the Norwegian territory of Svalbard as a possible example of such a willingness to take risks, and called into question NATO’s ability to protect or retake the islands if necessary.

Dr. Christoph Humrich from the University of Groningen also warned participants: “If you create the impression in Russia that you’re encroaching on the Arctic, the alarm bells go off in the Kremlin.”

Expert in security policy Dr. Michael Paul, Senior Fellow at the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) in Berlin, illustrated the security paradox in the area.

While Russia first re-started its long-range air patrols in the arctic after the 2008 war in Georgia and started patrolling the Arctic Sea with its Northern Fleet, they respond drastically to NATO activity in the area.

When the US deployed strategic bombers to Norway for the first time, Russia responded by creating an impact zone for its strategic missile tests right in the strategically important Bear Gap, between the North Cape and Svalbard. “The Arctic region is in flux. It is no longer immune to great power competition”, Dr. Paul concluded.

All experts agreed that in order to reduce the conflict potential of Russia in the area, an honest and cooperative dialogue with the Arctic superpower is needed. The Arctic, they stated, is an area rich in opportunities for low-cost cooperation and confidence building. Dr. Humrich cited the Nord Stream pipeline projects as an example, which especially the US sees as a threat to European security.

The pipelines would work both ways in ensuring cooperation between Russia and Europe: “Often we look at Nord Stream and think we will be dependent on Russia, and it’s easy to forget that they too would depend on us, as customers.” Dr. Paul said.

The spillover

When thinking about potential conflict in the Arctic, one envisages a scenario where military forces clash there first, and the conflict then spilling over into other theatres. In reality however, the experts agreed, the opposite scenario is far more likely.

Dr. Humrich pointed out: “Conflict in other areas is likely to spill over into the Arctic.” This was supported by Dr. Duncan Depledge, Senior Lecturer in Geopolitics and Security at Loughborough University, who linked this potential field of conflict to one area that is currently very high on NATO’s agenda. He stated: “A crisis in the Baltics will undoubtedly have consequences for the Arctic as one major supply line.”

Free passage

It is exactly this supply line that makes the Arctic increasingly important for NATO, due to its role as a potential transit route for forces traveling from the US to their European allies. Dr. Depledge hinted not only at the military importance of free passage through the Arctic Ocean, but also at its economic significance: “The Arctic increasingly links the US to the rest of the world, so they look at this space as one they want to secure passage through.”

For Russia too, securing passage through the icy waters is a key interest. “From a military perspective”, Dr. Depledge pointed out, “what they don’t want is a) encirclement and b) a fight in the Russian Arctic. So, what they try to do is to project force into the Atlantic.” However, military passage is not Russia’s main concern.

As Mr. Tsafos had pointed out, the Russian gas projects in the Arctic – and particularly its development of LNG capacities – relies on shipping. For this purpose, the Russian government not only made available significant tax brakes for gas companies, most notably Gazprom, but also supplies ice breakers to the companies, some of them nuclear powered.

China in the Arctic

The focus on shipping in the Arctic Ocean brought to attention another key player in global politics: China. Expert Nikos Tsafos pointed out: “The LNG development in the far north was largely financed by Chinese money.”

The hope of the Chinese is that, by 2027 the northern route to China will offer year-round passage for ships accompanied by ice-breakers. This route would reduce by half the time needed for export by ship from Russia to China.

China’s role in the Arctic is contested, but the country has repeatedly reiterated its interest in the far north. Dr. Depledge pointed out that there isn’t much evidence of China buying its way into the Arctic, and that we don’t see a military effort either.

What China foremost wants is a seat at the table, experts assess. The Chinese delegation with other observers at the Arctic Council meeting in Finland in 2017. Photo: Linnea Nordström/Arctic Council Secretariat.

“What China does do, however, is trying to expand its reach by diplomatic and scientific means”, Dr. Depledge explained and summarised: “What China ultimately wants, is geopolitical influence. So if and when the Arctic becomes more important, China wants to be in a position to have a say in matters. They don’t want to be excluded.” Science and some economic investment in the area, most notably the Russian LNG project, are their way to make sure they have a seat at the table.

Dr. Paul of SWP, however, urged the seminar participants to look further into the future. “China has established its interests in the region and sea routes have a huge impact on the economy and development of China.”

While they look at the Arctic Ocean as a passage with much less risk attached than the southern route through the Straights of Malacca and the Suez Canal, Dr. Paul pointed at the modernisation of China’s naval forces to secure its shipping lanes: “The Chinese Navy will likely promote arctic equipment by the year 2030. They could potentially play a huge role in the Arctic in the future.”

– A case of rhetoric irresponsibility

Overall, various limitations to the conflict potential in the area became obvious. With the potential for natural resources being limited by the global markets and no significant territorial disputes in the area, it seems that the Arctic is not the most likely area for conflict to arise.

However, the seminar participants noted the stark difference between the regional strategies and the political language surrounding the Arctic.

Ambassador Philippe Welti called this “a case of rhetoric irresponsibility” and warned: “Conflict will erupt if you speak often enough about it.” With world tension steadily increasing, China taking a deeper interest in the Arctic and Russia being prone to spouts of adventurism, the Arctic may still find itself embroiled in conflict – even if it first starts elsewhere.

“Conflict will erupt if you speak often enough about it.” With world tension increasing steadily, China taking a deeper interest in the Arctic and Russia being prone to spouts of adventurism, the Arctic may still find itself embroiled in conflict – even if it first starts elsewhere.” – Ambassador Welti

– It’s in our hands

Ambassador Welti closed the three day long 2021 CIOR Seminar by reminding participants that, unlike regions like the South China Sea and Taiwan, the Arctic’s conflict potential is very much “in our own hands”. “We can control the rhetoric and lean on the Arctic Council and the existing security framework and start a dialogue with Russia,” he said.

CIOR Seminar Chair, Lieutenant Colonel (R) Hans Garrels, reiterated this point and called on all participants to share their new-found knowledge: “It is on us as reserve officers to carry this knowledge to our respective governments and institutions.”

With these inspiring words, the CIOR Seminar 2021 ended with a simple click on a button, leaving participants hoping that next year they can see each other face–to-face again, and shake hands to say farewell.

– Rhetoric and perception often exaggerate the reality on the ground

The third and final day of the 2021 CIOR Seminar promised to keep the excitement of the first two days. Two guest speakers shared their views on the Arctic and whether the area is at risk for future conflict or not.

By: Mr. Paul Strobel, Officer Cadet, Bundeswehr

The speakers were Dr. Christoph Humrich, Assistant Professor in International Relations and Security Studies and Associate Researcher at the Arctic Centre of the University of Groningen, and Dr. Michael Paul, security policy expert and Senior Fellow at the Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik (SWP) in Berlin.

Dr. Humrich first tried to capture the state of the region by distinguishing between warm peace, normal peace, cold peace, cold war and actual military engagement (“hot war”).

“Warm peace, normal peace, cold peace, cold war and actual military engagement (hot war)” – Dr. Humrich

Taking a historical perspective, he reminded participants that the area has been no stranger to change: Having seen a lot of combat activity during World War 2, this era of a ‘hot war’ was followed by the cold war in which military engagement was always looming.

From Gorbachev’s Murmansk speech in 1987 towards the founding of the Arctic Council one could speak of an era of ‘cold peace’, followed by normal peace in the region when cooperation between the regional states intensified (1996-2014), and military action seemed very unlikely. The Russian invasion of Crimea also left its traces in the high north, with tensions between Russia and the west so high that the normal peace again gave way to cold peace, meaning the military action in the area seemed possible again.

“Today we see new rising tensions, and we need to be careful not to end up back in a cold war situation” – Dr. Humrich

“Today we see new rising tensions, and we need to be careful not to end up back in a cold war situation”, Dr. Humrich said.

Importantly, though, Dr. Humrich pointed out one key fact: In Arctic scenarios, regional conflicts escalate and then spill over into other areas of the world. During the post-cold war period this was however not a very likely scenario – for various reasons. Yet, as Dr. Humrich explained: “Today we look at the exact opposite scenario. Conflict in other areas is said to spill over into the Arctic.”

He expanded on this by showing that rhetoric and perceptions of the region often have exaggerated the reality on the ground. One reason is an information bias, rooted in our media systems, where “bad news make headlines”. Also the military might have a bias as it is its task to focus on threats, sometimes leading to “institutionalised paranoia.”

Threat inflation can also be used for institutional reasons, Dr. Humrich explained: “For the Canadian, Danish and Norwegian military, to name some examples, the security situation in the Arctic has provided legitimization to ask for additional resources in the face of chronic underfunding.”

“Rhetoric and perceptions of the (Arctic) region have often exaggerated the reality on the ground” – Dr. Humrich

Dr. Humrich also reminded participants of the complexity of geopolitics and the Arctic, especially by pointing out that we often wrongly assume that geopolitical change in a region is also caused in the region. Instead, we must on the one hand take a look at factors beyond the Arctic. On the other hand, we need to understand that domestic changes within the Arctic countries, by contrast to their relations with each other, might influence their Arctic foreign and security policies, he said.

Government agencies and non-state actors within a country can have different goals and motivations. Their competition and strategies for resource access and attention can – like shifts of public opinion or different parties in power – influence the respective perception of the Arctic, the following rhetoric, and direction of policies.

This, Dr. Humrich illustrated with an example: “From 2018 the US Coast Guard and Navy used a much inflated security rhetoric regarding the Arctic to bolster their demand for new ice breakers, which was on the table already for two decades. They renamed the ice breakers ‘Polar Security Cutters’ and explicitly explained this with the traction of security to get more funding from congress”.

This was before the Trump administration had ventured the idea to repurpose money that the navy and coast guard secured in this way for the plans to build a wall on the Mexico border.

The example neatly highlighted Dr. Humrich’s remarks about internal and global factors influencing the Arctic. “We need to avoid regionalism and statism bias. Arctic security is more complicated and more contingent on global and domestic factors than many observers suggest”, he said.

“Arctic security is more complicated and more contingent on global and domestic factors than many observers suggest” – Dr. Humrich

Dr. Humrich closed his talk by warning participants to pay attention to rhetoric and perception: “NATO does not need an Arctic strategy, it’s rather the North Atlantic (e.g. Greenland-Iceland-UK gap) they need to be worried about.”

If you force the impression in Russia, that you’re encroaching on the Arctic, the alarm bells go off in the Kremlin,” he said, suggesting that the Western states and the EU should seek cooperation with Russia in the Arctic. He pointed out that there are plenty of low-cost opportunities for confidence building.

After a lively discussion with Dr. Humrich in the Q&A session, it was the turn of Dr. Michael Paul, security policy expert and Senior Fellow at the Stiftung Sicherheit und Politik (SWP), who introduced his paper “Arctic Security Environment in Flux: Mitigating Geopolitical Competition through a Military-Security Dialogue” to the participants (Link to Article).

The Murmansk Initiative and The Arctic Council

Also Dr. Paul started with the historical perspective, and reminded participants that during the cold war too, the Arctic was heavily militarised. This changed with the Murmansk Initiative of 1987, which aimed to scale down military activity in the area and sparked a de-securitisation of the high north.

Following this period the eight Arctic states saw a high potential for cooperation in the area, a spirit which ultimately lead to the creation of the Arctic Council. This body focused on sustainable development and cooperation and the signing of the Search and Rescue Agreement was an example of interstate cooperation.

The Arctic Council from the beginning focused on sustainable development and cooperation. Photo: U.S. Department of State.

But, Dr. Paul points out, as the war against Georgia started in 2008, Russia re-started its long-range air patrols into the Arctic, and patrolled Arctic waters with parts of its northern fleet.

The security dilemma

In this way, Russia reopened the militarisation in the region, which leads to a security dilemma. Dr. Paul illustrated this by pointing out two strategically important points from NATO’s perspective, called Bear Gap around ‘Bear Island’ between northern Norway and Svalbard, and the GIUK Gap between Greenland, Iceland and the UK. Near the Bear Gap Russia announced an impact area for its strategic missile tests in response to the US deployment of strategic bombers to Norway.

As far as China’s role in the region is concerned, Dr. Paul pointed out that the country is being drawn into the Arctic by the tensions between Russia and the US.

“China has established its interests in the region”, he said and continued, “Sea routes have a huge impact on the economy and development of China, and the Arctic Ocean has much less risk than the southern route through the Malacca Straight and the Suez Canal.”

Dr. Paul explained that China’s modernisation of its naval forces could play a role in Arctic security, as China is modernising its navy mainly to secure shipping lanes: “The Chinese Navy will likely promote arctic equipment by the year 2030. The Chinese Navy could potentially play a huge role in the Arctic of the future.”

“The Chinese Navy could potentially play a huge role in the Arctic of the future” – Dr. Paul

Dr. Paul ended his talk by pointing out that the Arctic is no longer insusceptible to tensions from around the world. “The Arctic Region is in flux”, he said, “It is no longer immune to great power competition.”

Dr. Paul advocated for an open dialogue and furthering cooperation with Russia to reduce tensions in the area and suggested reinviting Russia to the Arctic Security Council as a crucial step to rebuild trust and cooperation for the future.

After a discussion of this talk it fell to former ambassador Philippe Welti, who had opened the 2021 CIOR Seminar two days ago, to deliver the closing remarks.

He summed up the experts’ views of the last couple of days by stating: “We started with the question weather the Arctic is a new area of conflict and I hinted at the possibility that the answer to that question might not be so dramatic.”

German and Russian scientists working together in the Siberian Laptev Sea. Photo: Dr. Heidemarie Kassens/GEOMAR.

There are a lot of factors that speak against a conflict erupting in the far north – but, ambassador Welti pointed out, “We know that Russia has a tendency to engage in high risk and adventurism.” Mr. Welti also reiterated that there is a stark difference between the reality on the ground, political rhetoric and public perception: “If repeated often enough rhetoric can create conflict”, he warned.

Ambassador Welti finally reminded the seminar participants that the Arctic’s conflict potential, unlike in the South China Sea and in Taiwan, is very much in our hands. “We can control the rhetoric and lean on the Arctic Council as a first line of defence. The second line of defence is the existing security framework in Europe and the third is a dialogue with Russia.”

“We can control the rhetoric and lean on the Arctic Council as a first line of defence” -Philippe Welti, moderator

Lieutenant Colonel (R) Hans Garrels, the Seminar Chairman, called on all participants to share their new-found knowledge: “It is on us as reserve officers to carry this knowledge to our respective governments and institutions. We have the privilege to look beyond a purely military perspective, and we should share this view with those who need to hear it,” he said.

With these words he concluded the 2021 CIOR Seminar. While the informal get-together usually associated with the Seminar is dearly missed this year, the event organizers are hoping for in-person attendance at next year’s iteration in Bonn.

The Arctic – a geopolitical Hotspot

After a successful first day, anticipation for day two of the 2021 CIOR Seminar ran high. Two exciting talks waited for the participants. Dr. Duncan Depledge, Lecturer in Geopolitics and Security from Loughborough University introduced the CIOR Seminar participants to the geopolitical situation in the far north, and Dr. Pavel K. Baev, Research Professor at the Peace Research Institute in Oslo (PRIO) and Senior Non-Resident Fellow at the Brookings Institute, took a deeper look at Russia’s security posture in the Arctic.

By: Mr. Paul Strobel, Officer Cadet, Bundeswehr

Dr. Depledge set the scene by reminding participants that the Arctic is not in fact the vast cold emptiness so many of us imagine when we hear about the region. Despite that the area is dominated by water and ice, it has been inhabited for thousands of years.

The population usually is part of one of the sovereign states surrounding the Arctic. The US, Canada, Iceland, Denmark, Norway, Finland, Sweden and Russia comprise the Arctic Council, which aims to further cooperation in the area and also offers a seat for representatives of the indigenous people living in the high north.

The Arctic Council works on consensus and excludes military and security matters because they are considered to be too divisive.

The US – no more “a reluctant Arctic state”

Dr. Depledge reminded the seminar participants of the statement of former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, who called out Russia’s and China’s aggressive behaviour in the region and shifted the US status from a “reluctant arctic state” to one who is heavily involved in the area.

With the Arctic now firmly on the US radar, Dr. Depledge highlighted three main interests for the US in the far north.

Firstly, there is homeland defence, mainly aimed against the missile threat from northern Russia. The second US concern is Chinese commercial and scientific infiltration, which they fear might be an excuse for a long-term military build-up in the area. Thirdly, Dr. Depledge stated: “The Arctic increasingly links the US to the rest of the world.”

“They [the US]don’t necessarily look at this space as one to conquer and hold, but as one they want to secure passage through.” …and linking this potential field of conflict to one area that is very high on NATO’s agenda, Dr. Depedge continued: “A crisis in the Baltics will undoubtedly have consequences for the Arctic as one major supply line.”

Speaking about Russia’s strategy for the region, Dr. Depledge stated three main goals for the federation: Extraction of natural resources, keeping NATO away from their territory and projecting naval forces globally. From a military perspective, Dr. Depledge explained: “What Russia doesn’t want is a) encirclement and b) a fight in the Russian arctic. So what they do is (to) project force in the Atlantic.”

Russian Special Forces in the 200th Independent Motor Rifle Brigade of the Northern Fleet training with reindeer sleds. Photo: Ministry of Defense of the Russian Federation.

As far as China’s role in the Arctic is concerned, Dr. Depledge called for caution. “We often hear that China is trying to buy its way into the high north. But we don’t see much evidence of that. We also don’t see a military effort there.”

What China does do however is trying to expand its reach by diplomatic and mostly scientific means. Dr. Depledge explained: “What China ultimately wants is geopolitical influence. So if and when the Artic becomes more important, China wants to be in a position where they have a say in matters. They don’t want to be excluded.” Science and some economic investment in the area are their way to make sure they have a seat at the table, he explained.

A detailed look at Russia’s role

After a lively discussion, the Seminar reconvened for the second talk of the day – with Dr. Pavel K. Baev of PRIO, who took a more detailed look at Russia’s role in the region.

Right from the beginning Dr. Baev emphasised: “Russia is the arctic superpower. In the rest of the world it may not be able to keep up, but as far as the arctic is concerned they are a superpower and they are very proud of that position.” This, Dr. Baev showed, is emphasised by the attention the far north gets from Putin personally and the strong public feelings about the Arctic in Russia.

Dr. Baev detailed two tracks of Russia’s arctic policy: Firstly, collaboration based on politics and economic development in the area, and secondly, a strong military build-up.

“On the military track, confrontation feels good for Russia. The more NATO activity in the north, the more Russia emphasises the need for a military build-up there”

Concerningly, Dr. Baev pointed out, the collaborative spirit hasn’t shown any major rewards for Russia recently, while the military aspects have. “On the military track, confrontation feels good for Russia. The more NATO activity in the north, the more Russia emphasises the need for a military build-up there”, Dr. Baev explained on the security paradox in the region.

Particularly the nuclear super-concentration on the Kola Peninsula is a great concern in this regard. A high concentration of ballistic missiles and nuclear submarines in the area are not only dangerous in a direct military sense, but have proven accident prone in the past with catastrophic consequences often only narrowly avoided. But, as Dr. Baev explained, “Russia sees risk taking as a strategic advantage vis-à-vis a reluctant west.”

Svalbard at risk

One risk Russia might be tempted to take, in Dr. Baevs opinion, would be a Crimea-style invasion of the Norwegian territory of Svalbard, which would guarantee Russian access to the western seas. With the island being demilitarised, Dr. Baev raised concerns about its security and NATO’s ability to protect and retake it, should conflict arise.

But Dr. Baev also pointed out that Russia is currently distracted and preoccupied in other strategic theatres, which are a lot more pressing. His hope is that Russia’s presidency in the Arctic Council this year will further the collaborative spirit of Russia’s engagement in the Arctic.

Dr. Baev pointed out that Russia’s position in the Asia-Pacific sphere is extremely weak and although China isn’t currently pressing at these weaknesses, we don’t know how this situation will develop over time.

– China wants access, trade and economic value

With regard to China’s activity in the arctic itself, Dr. Baev pointed out: “China is not interested at all in the Russian military build-up in the Arctic. What they want is access, trade and economic value.”

Like the first day, the second day also ended with a very lively discussion among seminar participants, with participants linking together the two lectures and furthering their understanding of the Arctic and its strategic ramifications.

 

Exciting first Day of CIOR Seminar

With the Coronavirus still looming, the first day of the 2021 CIOR Seminar kicked off online. The chairman of the CIOR Seminar Committee, Lieutenant  Colonel (R) Hans Garrels opened this year’s Seminar, titled “The Arctic: New Area of Conflict?”, with 64 participants from 19 nations attending.

By: Mr. Paul Strobel, Officer Cadet, Bundeswehr

It fell to long time CIOR friend and expert on strategic affairs, ambassador Philippe Welti to introduce the topic, which is an unfamiliar field for most participants. Ambassador Welti set the scene right away in highlighting that the Arctic is in fact only an ocean and the smallest in the world:

“It consists only of water, some of it frozen.” This icy part of the world has not produced much conflict potential in the past, but recent political rhetoric suggests that the areas’ peaceful days might be nearing their end. Reason enough, that NATO’s reserve officer association should inform itself about it.

While the Arctic in itself, at first glance, holds only a limited potential for conflict, there is one fundamental change at work which might upset what some call the strategic balance in the north: Climate change.

Seminar Chairman, Lieutenant Colonel (R) Hans Garrels. Screenshot by Paul Strobel.

While most economic activity in the far north was struggling to become profitable, having to operate under harsh climate conditions with the ice caps melting, new trade routes have become accessible. Previously unreachable natural resources have been attracting attention, possibly changing the region’s strategic equation.

Ambassador Welti highlighted the various limitations to the conflict potential of this, but also noted the stark difference between the regional strategic facts and the political language surrounding the Arctic as what he called “A case of rhetoric irresponsibility”.

“Conflict will erupt if you speak often enough about it.”, he stated, “But that shouldn’t stop us from taking a deeper look at the issue.”

The participants then discussed the issue in a Q&A session. One participant from Norway, who has extensive experience in the Arctic, highlighted his concern for the region: “From the Bering Sea to the North Cape, an ice curtain has descended across the polar sea. The Russian Federation is testing us and acts very forcefully in the region,” he said.

After a short break it was time for the first guest speaker: Nikos Tsafos, Deputy Director and Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), also focused on Russia and drew the participants’ attention to the economic factors at play in the Arctic in his talk on Russia’s oil and gas exploration in the Arctic.

Mr. Tsafos introduced the historical context of resource exploration for oil and gas in the region, which was only explored for these purposes in the 1960’s and 70’s as a response to the Arab oil embargo. After this introduction, Mr. Tsafos offered insights in the oil and gas production numbers from Russia and concluded for anyone not following the large charts: “There are A lot of resources in the Arctic”.

He then expanded on three fields of Russian resource exploitation in the far north: Oil exports, gas exports via land pipelines, and LNG gas exports via ships. His talk highlighted that Russia’s big plans for oil exploitation in the arctic were foiled by the sanctions following the invasion of Crimea and the changing oil market with low oil prices.

This is not the story with gas, however. Mr. Tsafos explained: “All the projects we get fussed about, like Nord Stream, Nord Stream 2, pipelines through Ukraine, all of that is gas from the Arctic.”

He then went on to show the development of major new gas fields in Russia for pipeline and ship export. He also explained how vital Arctic development is to the Russian state: “These projects are a matter of necessity. The geological decline of the older gas fields is so stark, that they have to go to the arctic to keep production steady. The move north is a matter of survival for Gazprom and the state.”

Mr. Tsafos’ talk also highlighted an interesting connection between Russia’s plans for arctic development and China. “The LNG development in the far north was financed largely by Chinese money”, Mrs. Tsafos said.

While China invests in the gas fields, the Russian state is also heavily involved by supplying ice breaker ships to the private companies, giving tax brakes and contributing to other investments in the area. They hope that by 2027 the northern route to China will offer year around passage for ships accompanied by ice breakers, which would half the time required for ship exports from Russia to China, he noted.

Nikos Tsafos’ sharp analysis was followed by a lively discussion by all participants, which offered a nice round-up of the first day of the 2021 CIOR Seminar. Although the informal get together after the Seminar was sorely missed, the participants were looking forward to an exciting second day.

Private Drew Olson, an infantryman assigned to 1st Stryker Brigade Combat Team, 25th Infantry Division, rehearses Stryker dismount techniques with his company during exercise Arctic Edge 2018 near Fort Greely, Alaska. Photo: Capt. Richard Packer/US Army.

 

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.)

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.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Seminar 2020” launched in Bonn

The CIOR Seminar 2020 opened in Bonn Saturday morning, with over 50 participants from 13 nations.

Among many European countries represented were also Australia, South Africa and the USA. The theme for this year’s Seminar is “China – Threat or Opportunity?”, with a distinguished panel of very high calibre speakers. The audience spans from young reserve officers to CIOR Vice Presidents (heads of national delegations) and military staff specialists.

Have a look at this presentation video!

For more on the 2020 CIOR Seminar, click here!

 

Young Reserve Officer Outreach Seminar in Czech Republic in March

The Czech Republic is hosting this year’s Young Reserve Officer Outreach Seminar (YROS) 25 – 28 March. The seminar, which will take place in Brno, is titled «NATO and the cultural challenges on missions».

The seminar is open to all reserve and active duty officers up to the rank of Major. Organizers ask member nations to encourage junior reserve and active duty officers to participate.

The seminar will focus on introducing junior reserve officers from NATO and Partnership for Peace (PfP) countries to the basics of NATO, cultural aspects of missions and international leadership.

The seminar’s primary objective: To assist in integration of YROs from NATO/PfP nations into a coalition environment. The seminar contributes to development of knowledge of NATO/CIOR structure and mission as well as leadership skills. It provides initial international/coalition experience for participants and increases awareness of alliance security issues.

For official invitation with all relevant information, click here.

For agenda, click here.

Some impressions and group shots from last year’s YRO seminar:

Online Registration for the 2019 Seminar has begun

Online Registration for the 2019 Seminar has begun

Start: 2019-01-27 | End: 2019-01-29
Location: Bonn, Germany

Warfare 2030 – Technology, Policy, Ethics

 

Three Technological Trends: Autonomous Devices, Internet of Things, PsyOps

 

Please register for the event at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/2019-cior-seminar-tickets-48929890620:

  1. Select the type and amount of tickets for the event and click “Register Now” – Note: bus tickets for transportation to the CIOR Mid-Winter-Meeting in Brussels are available through this site as well
  2. Complete the registration form and click “Proceed to Payment Options” – Note: there is a checkbox which allows you to copy your details for all tickets selected
  3. Select “Invoice” as method of payment and click “Proceed to Finalize Registration”
  4. Scroll down to the payment overview section and click on “View Invoice”
  5. Transfer the total amount to the bank account, stating your registration code(s), both given on the invoice

Please note that the fee of 250 EUR will cover accommodation and meals. Cheaper Day passes are also available (meals included in the day passes).

We will provide you with more details on the event upon completed registration.

 

Please do not hesitate to forward this information to likeminded colleagues and comrades. We are very much looking forward to welcoming you in Bonn in January!

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