AuthorDan Macmillan

Are we entering a new Cold War?

This post was going to be about the Syrian civil war and its place in a wider strategic context. I was going to look at a variety of issues involving Shia/Sunni rivalry, the Kurdish question, the global war on terror, Daesh and the disparate groups fighting the civil war. Three thousand words in and several weeks later I realised that I just wasn’t going to have the time to do such a piece justice. Therefore I have narrowed the scope significantly (this still comes in at around 5000 words) in order to consider if we have entered a new Cold War. There is a lot of discussion around whether the Syrian civil war is a proxy conflict in a new Cold War between Russia and the West. These discussions are occurring against the backdrop of an international system that has gone through several shocks and changes since 2008; the global economic crisis, the surges followed by the winding down of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the Arab Spring, the war in Libya, the Syrian civil war, the ‘defeat’ of Al Qaeda and the rise of Daesh.

In the Far East the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is demonstrating its will and capability to act on the world stage which is causing consternation to other nations in the region such as Japan, whilst at the same time North Korea continues to develop nuclear and ballistic missile technology in defiance of countless UN resolutions. A resurgent Russia, shown by its moves in Georgia, the Crimea, the Ukraine as well as alleged operations in the cyber domain, is now more active on the international stage than at any time since the fall of the Soviet Union. Unfortunately I believe we are in, or at the very least heading for, a situation far more dangerous than the Cold War. It is highly likely the international system is moving towards another period of Great Power rivalry similar to what was seen in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

According to the Penguin Dictionary of International Relations (I kid you not) the term Cold War was popularised by Walter Lippmann[1] after being coined by the American journalist H.B. Swope and was used to denote the state of high tension that existed between the Soviet Union dominated communist bloc (The East) and the US dominated democracies of The West. It was largely an ideological conflict between international communism on one side and liberal democratic free market capitalism on the other. It was characterised by a massive arms race, both conventional and nuclear, and attempts to destabilise opposing regimes around the globe through a variety of methods which often flared up into ‘hot’ proxy wars. The overarching characteristic was the alignment of interests and domination by a single major power on both sides, either through a common fear of destruction (the West) or through occupation and oppression (the East).

It was a period of nearly forty years where the world held its breath in anticipation of a nuclear apocalypse, but arguably that same threat also granted a semblance of order and stability on the bipolar international system[2]. Both sides realised a nuclear war could not be won and through the clearest expression of the security dilemma[3] responded in kind to each other’s weapons development. The ultimate Mexican Standoff was formalised in the highly appropriate acronym MAD which stands for Mutually Assured Destruction. In other words if either side let’s fly with their nukes the whole world (or at least the Northern Hemisphere) burns. Therefore, for the most part, actions taken by the major powers had to be carefully thought out, relatively speaking, in order not to cross any red lines and end the world through a miscalculation.  That being said there were a couple of moments where nuclear war became a very real possibility.  The most famous is probably the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 and perhaps less well known but possibly scarier is Exercise Able Archer where a misunderstanding of the situation at hand led us precariously close to war[4].

Proxy conflicts with opposing sides backed by East and West erupted all through the period with the Korean War (1950 – 53), the Vietnam War (1954 – 75) and the Arab – Israeli conflicts (1948, 1949 – 67, 1967-73) being three of the more well known. Following its policy of containment[5] the US (and by association the West) got into bed with some very shady governments in an effort to stop the spread of Communism. It seemed brutal right wing dictatorships such as those in South America and in several South East Asian countries were far more preferable than the Communist or socialist alternative. The People’s Republic of China (PRC), although a nuclear power itself and a communist one party state, had a very limited ability to influence the global situation due to being mostly inward looking and lacking much in the way of power projection capabilities. However the thawing of relations between China and the US on the back of increased hostility between China and the USSR did help shift the strategic balance somewhat.

In spite of the many similarities described above to the current geopolitical situation I would argue that we are not entering a new Cold War. I think the term is very useful in describing a period of our history that affected not only global security but also many cultural and societal aspects for many of the nations involved. However I do not think the term is useful in categorising the current state of affairs. The international system is no longer bipolar and dominated by the US and the Soviet Union. Although the post-Cold War period was largely uni polar in nature dominated as it was by the US I suggest that this is no longer so. Although the US maintains a quantitative and qualitative edge in many key areas useful in measuring power on the international stage, such as conventional military capability and economic strength, the gap between it and some nation states is closing to the point where US dominance is eroding.

Although the US and Europe remain close friends and allies on many issues there are times where Europe will decide to act independently of, and in opposition to, US interests.    The 2003 invasion of Iraq is a prime example of this.  Although the UK backed the US decision to invade, France and Germany were strongly against it.  Their interests are mostly aligned but Europe is now far more comfortable in trying to chart its own path.  Similarly Russia no longer dominates as it once did, the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the ending of the Warsaw Pact saw Russian influence shrink in on itself.  This was exacerbated when many of those Warsaw Pact members joined NATO.  Although it maintains a level of dominance in its’ near abroad and has particularly close ties with some countries such as Belarus it is no longer dominating one half of the international order.


There is also the rise of a number of other countries some of whom arguably have ambitions of regional dominance and others who have aspirations of becoming truly global powers.  Iran and Saudi Arabia are certainly looking to be the dominant (local) power in the Middle East and given that they are often seen (or would like to be seen) as the respective leaders of the Shia and Sunni branches of Islam  they arguably have more global aspirations in some respects.  India is a rising power in terms of industrial and economic output and is also trying to develop a military with the capability to project power further afield and thereby extend its influence.  However its primary security concerns will remain Pakistan/Kashmir and tensions with China.  Japan has long been an industrial and economic heavyweight on the world stage, however increasing tensions with China and the continued worrying behaviour of North Korea has seen moves towards a more forceful foreign policy and controversially, a loosening of the shackles of its pacifist constitution.  As with Europe its interests are largely aligned with those of the US but the changes described above could see Japan flexing a new spirit of independence in dealing with other nations, especially when it comes to preserving its national interest.

Bringing us neatly to the PRC…

As mentioned above China was a very different country during the Cold War.  It was focused almost completely on domestic politics as the Communist Party embarked on a series of programmes such as The Great Leap Forward[6] and the Cultural Revolution[7] designed to consolidate the rule of the party but which left hundreds of thousands dead.  Although it was a communist state, relations with the Soviet Union deteriorated massively as the Cold War progressed which helped thaw its relations with the US.  Its military was designed and organised purely for territorial defence with its navy nothing more than a coastal defence force.  Its economy struggled for many years and its industrial output was weak and low tech.  In 1979 a dispute with Vietnam resulted in the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) invading Vietnam and being  defeated[8].  As more progressive (comparatively speaking) elements came to power in China they started to make some much needed changes to the economy and to its relationships and interactions with the rest of the world.  However it was the first Gulf War in 1991 that proved to be the biggest wakeup call in terms of military capability to the Chinese Politburo and a realisation of just how far behind the curve they actually were.

The militaries of the US, UK and France led the way in the defeat of the Iraqi forces that had invaded Kuwait.  They had spent the last 40 years developing the technology and tactics to engage with the Warsaw Pact armies on the inner German border and practically live on TV they demonstrated what they were capable of against a force that was equipped and organised along Warsaw Pact lines.  This sparked a massive change for the PLA as they embarked on a plan to try and close the gap on the Western militaries.  Over the next two decades they reorganised their land forces into smaller, more mobile formations, invested in (and copied) high performance combat aircraft from the Russians, developed (copied) their own Precision Guided Munitions (PGM) and began the process of turning the People’s Liberationa Army Navy (PLAN) into a true blue water navy with aspirations to be able to project power far outside its traditional sphere of influence[9].  The move towards a more hybrid free market economic model enabled the PRC to engage powerfully on the global stage and is now the second biggest economy in the world and is projected to become the biggest by 2026[10].  It has expanded its reach to markets in Africa and Asia in search of the resources it needs and has started to contribute to peace keeping operations internationally to raise its profile as a responsible actor on the world stage[11].

So the emergence of a multi-polar international system, albeit with the US at the head of the pack, with rising nations and the lack of two dominant opposing ideologies at a global level, would suggest that we are once more in a period of Great Power rivalry similar to the 19th and early 20th centuries.  This situation was once known as the Great Game and directly led to a number of wars in that period including the First World War.  In this environment states will act in opposition to each other, not out of differing ideologies, but simply to protect and advance their own interests whilst attempting to degrade the interests of any perceived opponents.  A multi-polar system has inherently less stability than a bi-polar one due to the increased number of actors and variables that come into play when states are making decisions in an effort to maximise their own security.  As mentioned in a bi-polar system the two powers largely cancel each other out through their dominance of the system and recognition that any direct move by either power could be destabilising to them as much as to their opponent.  This cancelling out does not happen in a multi-polar system as there is greater potential variety in available actions and means of influence which results in greater chances for mistakes and miscalculations.

This characterises the current tensions between Russia and the West.  In the first two decades following the end of the Cold War the Russian Federation was largely concerned with sorting out its own internal problems such as the breakaway republic of Chechnya, developing its own economy to cope in the post-communist world and struggling to find an identity that would replace the idea of the Soviet Bear.  Military deployments dropped off as the military entered a period of decline in terms of investment in equipment, maintenance and training[12].

In the West, defence budgets fluctuated up and down but there was a near continuous investment in new technology and new capabilities.  Perhaps more importantly the Western militaries amassed a large amount of practical experience in that time either through training or through deployments overseas into conflict zones.  NATO, the organisation set up specifically to repel a Soviet led invasion of Western Europe controversially expanded its membership to include many ex-members of the Warsaw Pact.  Even more controversially the admittance of the Baltic States of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia caused even more discontent from the Russians as these states were once members of the Soviet Union and resulted in NATO now reaching the Russian border.

It is prudent at this point to discuss potential drivers for Russia and its views on certain things. Is it as some would suggest a dangerous threat to the rest of Europe and those who live in its ‘near abroad’?  Or is it acting out of fear of the West which has expanded its military alliance up to its borders and whose members have frequently interfered militarily in the affairs of states that it disagrees with?  More simply put is Russia trying to be a big power on the block or is it responding naturally to the security dilemma?  It is more likely to be a combination of both.  There is no doubt that Russia under Putin is trying to recover its status as a Great Power.  It is no secret that he considers the end of the Soviet Union to be a great tragedy for the Russians.  It can be seen from his actions in the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine (which is an ethnic Russian majority area) that he wishes to increase Russian power and influence.  On the flip side the Russians have a good cultural memory in regard to their history and that history has many occurrences of war (cold or hot) originating in its west and with members of that alliance; France, Germany, Britain and Turkey.  There is a strong argument to suggest that the failure of the West to decisively engage with Russia in the immediate aftermath of the Cold War and to bring them more into the fold has contributed to the situation the system is now in.

The decisions from Russia and the US led coalition to intervene militarily in the Syrian Civil War has brought us to the point where one miscalculation could lead to the opposing forces engage in an actual shooting war.  There already has been conflict between Russia and Turkey, a NATO member (although one arguably using a different playbook to the rest of the alliance at times).  The shooting down of a Russian aircraft by a Turkish aircraft caused the world to take a sharp intake of breath as this was the first recorded conflict between Russia and a NATO member.  This incident demonstrates the high risks of operating in such a complex environment where there are competing forces operating in all areas of a non-deconflicted battle-space.

The risky behaviour was further exacerbated in September 2016 when a coalition airstrike destroyed a position containing Syrian government forces[13].  The coalition apologised and stated that they believed they were attacking a position held by Daesh or other radical Islamist groups.  Whether the coalition did indeed make a mistake or if they “accidentally” targeted the Syrian forces in of itself is a low to medium risk.  However if there had been Russian advisers at the position and they had been killed or injured we could now be in a whole different world of hurt. It is highly likely that if Russia had taken more casualties from NATO (in addition to the Turkish incident) it would have taken a much harder line going forward.  The idea of a coalition imposed No Fly or No Bomb zone almost guarantees either a deliberate engagement or at best a miscalculation that could result in Russian or coalition casualties.  If that does happen the chances of retribution, even in a limited form, could see the two sides move closer to a state of general war.

Western (US) prevarication in the opening period of the civil war coupled with President Obama’s pivot to the Far East either gave the impression that the mid east, or specifically Syria,  was no longer a high priority for the US or that they did not have a coherent strategy for the region.  This perhaps gave rise to a perception of dilly dallying or flat out incompetence, either way Russia saw an opening that would give it several advantages and took it.  In conjunction with alleged cyber operations against Estonia[14] and the US Presidential election, Russia is utilising various levers of power to exert influence in its own favour.  Its intervention in Syria is enabling Russia test new (for it) capabilities such as sea launched cruise missiles, BUYAN-M corvettes and the SU-34 FULLBACK aircraft as well as regenerating older capabilities such as strategic bomber aircraft (TU-160 BLACKJACK).





The deployment gives Russian personnel much needed operational experience as reports of their performance in Georgia was less than flattering[15].  It safeguards their naval facility in Tartus, the only Russian permanent presence in the Mediterranean as well as propping up a regime that has proved a fairly lucrative customer for Russian defence exports.   Providing support for the Assad regime provides a route for Russian influence into the region, through a country that borders NATO, if of course they are successful in the war.  Finally the deployment is also being used by Moscow to demonstrate to the rest of the world, but particularly the US, that it is once again a Great Power, able to exert all manner of influence overseas and to demand a level of respect it feels is due.

Although China’s drivers, expressed through the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), are largely US focused in one way or another, the US is not the only nation-state of potential concern.  India, Japan and the littoral states of the South China Sea (SCS) are all potential security concerns for a variety of reasons.  Competition for resources, trade markets and the Sea Lines Of Communication (SLOC) that supply them is on the increase which causes tensions to rise.  The PRC’s desire to be recognised as a Great Power, especially in a military sense, has great potential to cause anxiety and conflict throughout the region.

 The PRC, like any nation state, has what it considers vital national interests that lie outside of its borders.  This inevitably brings states into the position of having conflicts of interest with one another.  These can range from minor disagreements solved through discussion and negotiation to bigger issues that have potential to flare up into a military conflict.  Competing territorial claims over the SCS between the PRC, Vietnam, Indonesia, The Philippines, Malaysia and Taiwan has already led to limited and localised clashes between fisherman and maritime authorities of the various nations[16].  The PRC lays claim to the entire SCS which would give it sovereignty over not only the SLOCs up to the Straits of Malacca but also over groups of islands such as the Spratlys and the Paracels.  Control of these groups would enable the PRC to strengthen its control over the local maritime environment by building forward bases as they have been seen to be doing over the last couple of years.  Furthermore it would give the PRC control over the natural resources in the area[17].  With an expanding economy it is vital for the PRC to ensure it has access to natural resources and foreign markets.  This requires development of the PLAN so that it can dominate the areas in which it operates and deter or overwhelm potential adversaries.


[One of the Spratly Islands being developed by the PRC]

The Sino-Indian relationship has been fraught with problems over the years, including the Sino-Indian Border Conflict in 1962[18].  Although improvements have been made, there is still tension, rivalry and conflict potential.  One of India’s apparent reasons for developing nuclear weapons was the potential threat posed by China.  China’s relationship with Pakistan, including arms deals and support to their nuclear programme[19], has not helped to ease tensions.  China is concerned that India wishes to become a regional hegemon[20] something that India also suspects of China.  Continued disputes over the border regions of Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh/South Tibet[21], although currently at a very low level could easily flare if tensions increased.  India is also very well placed to interdict Chinese SLOCs through the Indian Ocean.  India is undergoing a revitalisation of its navy[22] which would make the Indians second only to the USN in the Indian Ocean.  This adds a further dimension for the need to develop advanced capabilities for the PLAN.

Sino-Japanese relations have a long history of hostility, dating back to the end of the 19th century.  The root of the current bad feeling towards the Japanese is their actions during the invasion and subsequent war of the 1930’s and 1940’s, the most notorious event being the massacre of Nanjing in 1937.  Relations with Japan present a tricky proposition for the CCP.  Public sentiment is often reported as being more anti-Japanese than anti-American[23].  The PRC is also wary of the US-Japanese alliance and sees it as part of a US containment strategy directed at China.  China is also not convinced that Japan would remain uninvolved should the Taiwan situation devolve into conflict[24].  A clear indicator of a Japanese intent to be a more forceful power would be an amendment of its pacifist constitution which prevents the deployment of military forces in most situations.

Preparing for a military confrontation with the US is perhaps the most daunting of all the security challenges that face the PRC.  The power projection capabilities of the US military are unparalleled and are supported by its system of alliances and bases around the world.  In the medium term the potential for conflict could rise if China’s increase in economic and military power continues.  Even though the CCP maintains that its intentions are peaceful[25], other nations are likely to be wary and increase their own capabilities in response as per the security dilemma.

An expanding economy with a big reliance on exports demands that access routes to foreign markets remain secure and that new sources of diminishing natural resources are exploited and controlled.  Inter-state rivalry and tension still remain as features of the international system.  As developing powers emerge, such as India and China, the potential risk for conflict, of varying degrees of intensity, increases.  Any nation seeking Great Power status needs the ability to secure its wide range of vital national interests around the globe.    Since 1987 the PLAN has held aspirations to become a blue water navy with a global reach.  This consists of a three stage plan based around the concept of two island chains.  The first reaches from the southernmost tip of Japan, stretches south to the east of Taiwan and the west of the Philippines and forms an approximate border around the SCS.  The second stretches from south of Tokyo down to Papua, Indonesia.  The three phases are: (1) Sea control power within its coastal waters and a limited area denial capability out to the first island chain by the 2010 – 2020 timeframe, (2) exercising maritime influence beyond the second island chain by 2020 and (3) becoming a naval power capable of making its presence felt globally by 2050.



[Map denoting the island chains at the heart of the PLAN strategy]

Militarily resolving the PRC’s claim to the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands in the SCS, and enforcing its sovereignty over the SCS would present its own set of challenges.  The Paracel Islands lie approximately 300km south east of the Chinese island of Hainan and are claimed by the PRC, Taiwan and Vietnam.  The Spratly Islands lie approximately 900km south east of Hainan Island and are claimed by the PRC, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.  Although on friendly terms with the nations involved, it is unknown whether the US would intervene militarily in these disputes unless as part of some UN or coalition peacekeeping force.  However if the shooting had not actually started, it may deploy naval platforms in the hope that a show of force would be enough to keep the peace.  Depending on the US level of commitment this could leave the PRC in a position of only needing to defeat or deter the states mentioned above whom also claim sovereignty over the islands.

All the nations so far mentioned are claimants to either one or both groups of islands.  It would be a huge error to assume that the other nations would co-operate with each other just to oppose the PRC.  If the situation has devolved to the use of force, it is far more likely that each nation would seize any opportunity to gain an advantage over the other claimants.  This is further complicated given that not all the nations lay claim to both island groups.  It is unlikely that Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines would risk a conflict with the PRC over the Paracel Islands.

The PRC would currently struggle to achieve any of its security objectives that would bring it into a conventional conflict with the US.  Although it has made many significant leaps forward it still lags a considerable distance behind the US.  This is most apparent in the PRC’s C4ISTAR[26] and power projection capabilities, however as it is developing its own capabilities which would assist in nullifying some of the US superiority in these areas such as its Anti-Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) and Anti Satellite (ASAT) programmes.  In a situation where there is no firm commitment from the US on its desire to engage in a shooting war, then the PRC has the capability to be a dominant regional power.   The fact that it is not at the same capability level of the US does not matter in every security challenge.

The 21st century is filled with uncertainty and the potential for conflict between nation-states, particularly as developing powers emerge such as India and China is still there.  The expanding economies of these developing nations with a big reliance on exports demands that access routes to foreign markets remain secure and that new sources of diminishing natural resources are exploited and controlled.  The PRC has realised that its security interests are wide ranging and are no longer limited to continental affairs and thus needs the capability to deal with these accordingly.  The post-Cold War security situation on the world stage is massively complex with many inter-locking facets.  It is arguably much more dangerous than during the Cold War purely because of the instability brought about by the myriad of threats that nations now face.

The US, and by proxy the West in general, had largely dominated the post-Cold War period with no one able or willing to seriously challenge them whenever they decided to act on the international stage, especially militarily. The last few years has seen that change however as Russia and China have both asserted themselves more forcefully in pursuit of their own interests which in some cases have clashed with those of the US.  We are now living in a multi-polar world where nations other than the US or its allies are feeling emboldened to use their power to pursue their own interests often contrary to the norms and values that had been championed by the West since the end of the Cold War.  Tensions continue to rise between those nations in different areas creating a more complex international system, one that contains increasingly advanced conventional weaponry, the addition of the cyber domain to the traditional theatres of war and perhaps more importantly one where nuclear stockpiles have not been reduced in any meaningful way to prevent the destruction of the world.  We can add to this the challenges the established Western liberal democratic order has suffered recently and could continue to suffer in the near future with the final UK rejection of integration with the rest of Europe and the election of Trump to the US presidency.  This creates further uncertainty on the world stage.

Although I have painted a rather gloomy picture here I don’t want everybody rushing to re-read the ‘duck n cover’ advice or buying up abandoned bomb shelters and stocking them up with non-perishable food stuffs and melee weapons.  The world has always been a dangerous place and will continue to be so for a long time to come and for a lot of people they have been living happily ignorant of the dangers out there.  What often happens is some event on the world stage will spark a few press reports that people read and assume that these incidents are the herald of the end of the world.  I would suggest that if people had a better understanding of the ‘business as usual’ dangers we face it would help ameliorate the shock and fear generated when a media outlet starts talking about Russian war fleets heading for the UK.  In the absence of a responsible press I will continue to do my part and try to bring some understanding to the world situation.

Even I don’t have all the answers however and nothing beats going away and finding things out for yourself.  So go do that.

Knowledge beats fear.  Mostly :-).



[1] Pg. 70, Evans, G & Newnham, J (1998),  Dictionary of International Relations, Penguin, London

[2] The system was bi polar because it was dominated by two states of relatively equal power.  A multi-polar system is dominated by several states which have power enough to affect change on the system.  A uni-polar system is one where a single state dominates.  It is arguable that the post-Cold War world was uni-polar, dominated as it was by the US.

[3] “The essence of the [security] dilemma is that the measures a state takes to increase its own security usually decrease the security of other state.” Mearsheimer, John J. (2001) The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, Norton, London


[5] Pg 145-6, Vadney T.E. (1992) “The World Since 1945”, Penguin, London




[9] MacMillan, D (2010), People’s Republic of China: Military Security Concerns & Modernisation in the 21st Century.



[12] Felgenhauer, P (1997)  Russian Military Reform: Ten Years of Failure



[15] Cohen, A & Hamilton, Robert E. (2011) The Russian Military and the Georgia War: Lessons and Implications, The Strategic Studies Institute

[16] Global Security, Military Clashes in the South China Sea, []

[17] Feddema, Raymond (2000), The South East Asian Approach Towards the South China Sea.  Conflict Resolution from a Comprehensive Security Perspective, in Radtke, Kurt W & Feddema, Raymond (Eds), (2000), Comprehensive Security in Asia: Views from Asia and the West on a Changing Security Environment, Brill, Leiden

[18] Mulvenon, James C & Yang, Andrew N D, (2000), Seeking Truth from Facts: A Retrospective on Chinese Military Studies in the Post-Mao Era, The Rand Corporation, Washington D. C. (Pg. 8)

[19] Peters, John E, Dickens, James H & Eaton, Derek, (2005), War and Escalation in South Asia, The Rand Corporation, Washington D. C. (Pg. 48)

[20] Jain, B M, (2007), Chapter 5: Regional Security in South Asia, in Solomon, H (Ed), (2007), Challenges to Global Security: Geopolitics and Power in an Age of Transition, I. B. Taurus, London, (Pg. 96)

[21] Peters, John E, Dickens, James H & Eaton, Derek, (2005), War and Escalation in South Asia, The Rand Corporation, Washington D. C. (Pg. 49)

[22] Sakhuja, Vijay, (2007), Indian Navy: Keeping Pace with Emerging Challenges in Solomon, H (Ed), (2007), Challenges to Global Security: Geopolitics and Power in an Age of Transition, I. B. Taurus, London (Pg. 99)

[23] Callahan, William, A, (2005), How to understand China: the dangers and opportunities of being a rising power, Review of International Studies, Vol. 31, pp. 701-714, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (Pg. 710)

[24] Gill, Bates, (2007), Rising Star: China’s New Security Diplomacy, Brookings Institute Press, Washington D. C. (Pg. 28)

[25] Zha, Daojiong, (2005), Comment: can China rise?, Review of International Relations, Vol. 31, pp. 775-785, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge (Pg. 775)

[26] Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Accquistion, Reconaissance  – C4ISTAR

The Sound of White Noise

So the last week of domestic politics hit new levels of controversy with the Prime Ministers swerve to capture the anti-immigration vote whilst simultaneously claiming to be the party of the people. Her statement of “if you believe you’re a citizen of the world you are a citizen of nowhere” speaks to a narrative of divisive nationalism, something that has never been a force for good domestically or internationally.  Couple this with the Home Secretary’s announcement of making firms disclose their numbers of foreign workers (and subsequently naming and shaming those who presumably don’t employ enough British people). I’ve also seen reports of schools collecting information specifically asking if your child is non-British . Furthermore there were reports of non-British academics working at British universities who are experts in International Relations and our relationship with the EU no longer being asked to contribute analysis on Brexit, even though they were already providing expert advice on the subject (UPDATE: Read this article for clarification on this point . To top it all off there was the announcement that fracking was given the go ahead in Lancashire over the express wishes of local residents.

Unsurprisingly these announcements caused uproar on social media with much of the commentary comparing the Tories to fascists in general and the Nazis in particular. This led to an inevitable backlash as it was argued that the atrocities committed by the Nazis are not even on the same scale as the new Conservative policies. It was argued that to compare the two was at best stupid and at worst disrespectful to those who suffered at the hands of the Nazis. I’m generalising but the sentiment was along the lines of “you’re overreacting, don’t be daft (it’ll never happen here)”.

However unpalatable the Conservative announcements are I agree that it is hyperbole at this stage to compare them to the Nazis or other fascists. The activities of those specific and general far right movements are still far removed from those of the Conservatives. Currently. I might not think that Theresa May et all are about to start goose stepping down Whitehall however I do think that taken together these data points represent a deeply deeply fucking unpleasant slide to the right, pandering to the views of UKIP voters and offering up a deeply divisive narrative outlining a scapegoat for many of the ills affecting some UK citizens.

In the Intelligence domain there is a toolset known as Indicators & Warnings (I&W). This toolset is used to flag up potentially significant events that may then be used by analysts as a heads up to keep an eye on something in case there are more serious developments. They are individual data points that on their own aren’t very useful, and more often than not they don’t lead to anything more. But sometimes they are the first sentences of a more serious narrative.

In this case the announcements are just data points so it doesn’t (shouldn’t) mean we start complaining of the UK sliding into the the Third Reich, but it does mean we flag it up. We discuss it. We are warned by it. But we don’t call it something it isn’t and we don’t give in to hyperbole.  If we do it undermines our position, weakens our argument and makes it easier to be dismissed.

As I’ve said before the level of debate has to be raised. Its too easy in this post factual environment to add to the wall of noise that is generated by social media. We have to learn to filter out the right signals that add value to the discussion and present them in the right way, rather than just amplify everything. We need clear analysis to spot oncoming threats otherwise we risk being overwhelmed by the noise. Flag something up but don’t make it out to be something it’s not.

“Never again” needs to be the central strategy here but crying wolf too early, too loudly and too often will just turn us into the proverbial shepherd boy.


They’re firing sir! They’re firing!

So….its a couple of weeks later and the political and social landscape appears to have moved from an all out constant offensive to a series of smaller battles.

Social media appears to be the liveliest battleground between remainers and leavers. Remain voters have decided that they will constantly make their displeasure over the referendum result known to anyone who will listen and/or read. This exercise of free speech appears to have irked off the leavers who insist that the remainers should stop whining about the result, accept that democracy has spoken, suck it up and help build a better Britain.

I’m afraid I don’t understand how the leavers can insist that everyone respects democracy but also insists that those with an opposing view should not speak of it. Is this any different to those who wished to leave the EU making their viewpoint known in the years running up to the referendum?  They were able to express their viewpoint for all the years 1975 – 2016.  The leavers need to understand that the remainers will be shouting out their viewpoint for many years to come.

I have spent the last couple of weeks fighting to remind people about the dangers of making sweeping generalisations when discussing those who voted leave. I have seen complaints and negativity directed against “Britain” for getting us to where we are and sadly I have seen commentary insinuating that all leavers are old and racist, are complete idiots and have thrown away the future.

There appears to be little realisation across the masses, on both sides, that the leave campaign was not a single homogeneous entity. Far from it,  the leave campaign was made up of many different blocs of voters with differing viewpoints from protest voters, to xenophobic racists (can you be a non xenophobic racist?) to actual educated people who believe that the UK is actually better off outside of the EU and logical, reasoned and evidenced opinions to back up their arguments.    Sweeping generalisations do not help.

The level of debate and discourse has to be raised in this country.  We have to work to make sure that “Britain is sick of experts” stays as the soundbite that it is.  People should be encouraged to find things out for themselves so that as a society we are not totally dependent on the mass media organisations controlled by a handful of people.  This in of itself is a nice soundbite, I have no idea how we turn it around and make it happen.  But it needs to happen.  Society needs to be able to think for itself…critically.  People need to be able to judge for themselves based on objective analysis the merits and weaknesses of any argument.   Again not sure how that happens…..

I mentioned before that I wanted to become more engaged in the political processes of this country and that one of the more likely ways of that happening  was to join one of the existing political parties.  But who to join?

None of the political parties are standing out at the moment as worthy of my attention.  As I mentioned before I’m mostly centrist (to my mind) in many of my views.  I believe in a strong defence policy (although currently on the fence on Trident), a free to use and effective NHS, Education policy decided by those who have experience in the theory and practice of education, recognition of crime and associated social issues not just being a police issue but a multi-agency issue.  I  believe business and free markets have a strong part to play and I also believe that we should adopt green practices wherever possible and practicable.  I’m a unionist and a royalist and I believe we should play a leading role on the world stage where our skills and capacity allow.  But with all that I’m not sure where I fit in.

During the post Brexit fall out the politician I was most impressed with for their display of leadership skills was Nicola Sturgeon.  However she doesn’t share my unionist views and it was easier for her to show the necessary leadership skills as the population of Scotland was largely united in its viewpoint.

Labour feels more naturally like my party but I think that may be more down to wishful thinking than anything else.  I admire Corbyn for his principles and he clearly has the support of a great many people with his espousal of a new way of conducting politics.  I’m not sure if is PM material…yet…and if the mass media has its way I’ll never be allowed to see if he has those capabilities.  Several of his policies are more to the left than I’m comfortable with but perhaps I need to rethink where I stand in the light of the changes to UK politics and its response to globalisation.  I certainly don’t feel able to join at the moment where the Parliamentary Labour Party feels that it has primacy in deciding who should vote rather than listening to the wider membership.  That smacks of being out of touch with their own base and more concerned with their own agendas.  They should be taking the opportunity to shape the future direction of the party not threatening it with a split  I certainly don’t feel that Angela Eagle is the right person to lead.

I think over the next few months will see a continuance of instability for many areas of UK politics.  With the election of Theresa May as the new leader and PM, the Tories are currently in the lead to take advantage of the political landscape as it changes purely by having, y’know, a supported leader.  The way things stand at the moment the Tories would stand a good chance of improving their standing in the Commons if a snap general election was called purely because of the disarray of their main opponent.

As it stands, other than talking to people online and offline and continuing to write like this, I still haven’t found a worthy way of becoming more engaged.

Uncertainty? Err…I’m not sure….

WARNING:  Having read back over this post since I started writing it I have found it to be pretty brain dumpy and incoherent.  My apologies, I will hopefully be more structured next time.

So its a couple of days later.  It wasn’t a horrible dream – 52% of those who turned out to vote actually took us out of the EU.  It was always a possibility.  The polls indicated that this was always going to be a close vote one way or another and it certainly was.  The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland has torn itself apart over this referendum and although I’ve been on a stag weekend I have had plenty of time to think things through and plenty of opportunities to talk about what happens next.

Fight.  Struggle.  That’s what comes next.

I’ve spent time wondering how much of what has happened was my fault.  Not in an “Oh my god woe is me, the world is on my shoulders” kind of way, more of a “Why didn’t I do more to try and shape the politics in this country?”  I’m relatively articulate (when not drunk), I have mostly well reasoned opinions, can analyse information from different sides of arguments and live in a society where it is permitted to speak out and where it is permitted to get involved in the political process.  Why haven’t I contributed more?

Apathy is definitely one reason.  Although I came from a very shitty housing estate on the border between Solihull and Birmingham (Chelmsley Wood, BBC3 did a “wonderful” expose on it) I have been lucky enough to improve my standing in life and now consider myself “comfortable”.   I don’t have kids of my own, I don’t have a mortgage and have never needed to rely on the NHS.  I was complacent.  Very complacent.  Although I was always interested in international politics, domestic politics always struck me as dirty and largely unproductive.  The issues seemed largely unsolvable without a long term strategic viewpoint…and that is one thing that domestic politics does not provide for.  For me domestic politics was something for others to do and to put it bluntly I couldn’t be arsed.  I fucked up there and I’m sorry.

Confidence is another reason.  Having the strength to stand up and debate or argue my position with anyone I may encounter, not just close friends, was/is something I’m not sure I possess.  Even writing these posts is daunting.  Whenever I publish something and it gets “likes” on Facebook, not only do friends on there comment on my writing and engage with it positively, they share it around so that other people, people I do not know, can see it and potentially engage with it.  It freaks me out a little bit.  Even though I am inwardly confident in my knowledge and skills and the position(s) I put forward I still suffer from the Imposter Syndrome.  This is where you feel like a bit of a fake in your chosen activity and that anyone who challenges you is probably right…after all you’re (I’m) probably just talking bollocks right?

I’ve voted every time I have had the opportunity.  I think about which party I am voting for each time.  Although I tend to be mainly centre left in my thinking I don’t blindly go out and vote for Labour just because at one time or another they have been closest to the mark or because my Dad has voted for them all his life.  I do the reading (but never enough really), I think about the positions and what they could mean.  I think about the past and where it has led us.  I then make my decision.  I encourage others to vote but I don’t press too hard as I feel its not really my place and I don’t want to piss people off (my Mom and Sister never vote).  I happily talk about politics to people I’m comfortable with, as long as they don’t have a position or debating/arguing methodology thats overly ranty.  But I actively avoid the more difficult conversations and debates with strangers or with friends and acquaintances who do not fit into the above box.  My Facebook turned into an echo chamber as I removed people who just annoyed and frustrated me.  That was a mistake.  I compounded my apathy with an unwillingness to engage with others whose viewpoint differed from mine.

I have to change that.  I have to engage with others who disagree with me, although I still won’t engage in an online forum with people who rant and try and type over me :-).  I have to engage more in the politics of the country, now more than ever.  The rise of racism and the overwhelming negative aspects of nationalism over the campaign period and even more starkly in the wake of the Leave victory has the potential to be just the beginning in the slide of Britain into a dark and horrible place.  Where facts and experts are derided in favour of well stated rhetoric, where anybody who is not “us” (“us” being an arbitrary grouping decided by those in power at the time) is treated at best like a second class citizen and at worst subjected to bigotry and violence.

“That couldn’t possibly happen here!” I hear you cry.  Really?  Why not?  With a disenfranchised and angry electorate who are seemingly easily swayed by the mass media (which is controlled by a handful of individuals) and who find solace with public figures who claim to be “just one of them” and “who understands their fears and concerns and will work against those intellectuals and foreign elements that cause it”?  At this point these forces are riding a wave provided by the Leave victory, built on a foundation of increased UKIP popularity at the last election.  Although they have yet to gain a major voice in Parliament (one of the few, if only, things we can be thankful for First Past The Post for) can we be really sure it will remain this way?

Once enough people buy into the messages they are putting out then it becomes more and more possible for those forces to increase their representation in Parliament which gives them increased legitimacy.  As the years fall by many people forget (or were simply not aware) that Hitler and the Nazis didn’t rock up one day as a fully functioning political party and seize power.  They became part of the system and took power from within.  They played on the fears of the masses and took advantage of a political class that seemingly failed to represent the people.

I’m not saying the above is imminent.  But I am saying we have to fight against any chance of it happening.  We can’t sit here and say time and time again, “it will never happen here, I don’t need to do anything” because before you know it, it will be too late.  We have to fight against the rise of these forces, fight against the ideas that facts and experts have no place in the political discourse of this country.  We have to ensure that our voices our louder, that our arguments are better evidenced and better presented.  We have to ensure that we do our utmost to engage all areas of society and above all make sure that the messages that are presented are communicated in ways that the differing sections of society can relate to.  The level of debate has to be raised and wherever possible sweeping generalisations have to be avoided.  Labelling whole sections of the populace racist bigots without actual evidence to back that up just pisses people off and turns them away from you and into the arms of the opposition.  Calling people stupid for not seeing your point of view, again just annoys them and turns them away.

And that is something I particularly relate to.  Another reason why I have shied away from engaging and debating with some people is my inability to control the anger and frustration that it often triggers.  I struggle to understand, emotionally, why they can’t see they are wrong.  Out of the heat of the moment I can be objective and see more of why they are in opposition.  I have often struggled to not lose it, and failed, and that just results in my argument being weakened and my credibility lessened.  I have to find a way to control those emotions whilst at the same time learning to communicate  my message (whatever it may be) effectively at all levels.

It is the responsibility of everyone to get involved to protect the society we all belong to and to form the society we want to see in the future.  Not everyone can commit in the same way, not everyone can devote themselves as much as others.  The reality of the current society is that it is just beyond the capabilities of many to get involved and fight for change.  But for those of us who can, for those of us who want to remain we have to stand up and be counted.  Somehow.

My first step is emptying my head onto this blog and getting as many people as possible to read it.  Then engage with people who wish to engage with me, even if they are in opposition to me.  I know its not enough in the grand scheme of things, but its my starting step.  I need to decide about how to be more proactive.  Do I join an existing political movement?  With the exception of Nicola Sturgeon (who I have a lot of respect for, despite being on the other side of the independence argument) none of the Opposition have shown much in the way of leadership, precisely at the time we need it the most.  Some of them seem to want to rip themselves apart instead.  Perhaps it was to be expected.  The referendum has torn society apart, why should I think the main political parties should be above it?

I need to consider what it is I would look for in a political movement.  I struggle to visualise what my ideal manifesto would be other than strong in defence, ethical in foreign policy as much as possible, strong in social programmes and recognition that crime is not just a policing issue.  If I can work that out in more detail I might be able to work out what my next steps are.  I do know that my country, the United Kingdom, is worth fighting for, at least from my point of view.  I just need to work out the best way to do that.



What did you (D)EU Ray? (See what I did there :-)?)

Its done, the votes are in and the UK has decided to finish its pint and head home before last orders. Or if I’ve lost you already we are leaving the European Union. I’m torn about whether to write about what I’m feeling right now and even as I type I may not publish this because if it goes the way I’m feeling I may end up pissing off a large group of my friends…


Am I disappointed we are heading for the door? Yes I am for many reasons. They’re the same as what many of you have articulated over the last few weeks and months and they are based on a foundation of what may happen to European stability over the coming decade. See previous note.


I looked at Facebook this morning (I’m still not sure whether I hate it or not) and I saw the disappointment echoing up and down the country. Also, sadly, I saw the anger, the sweeping generalisations, the recriminations. I saw “I hate this country”, “well done you mass of racist bigots” and other, I’m hoping, emotionally driven knee jerk responses. I’d hate to think that my FB feed had gone from well reasoned and argued points to “you’re all a bunch of racist pricks and I don’t want to play with you anymore”. The thing that REALLY annoyed me this morning, the thing that nearly caused to me to just post an emotive response on FB without thinking was this: “I’m off to X”, “Lets go to Canada” etc etc. I nearly posted, bleary eyed and pre-coffee and in caps (because that’s how I roll) “Ok, don’t let the fucking door hit you on the way out”. But I didn’t (OK pedant I’ve written it here but it was as a demonstration of how annoyed I was).


I get that people are worried,scared for themselves and for their families. For the idea that the rest of the world know thinks we might be a bit more “What Ho!” rather than “Alright mate?” after all. I get that people are truly terrified that the face of the Leave campaign is how we will be seen from now on and that we have the potential to head down the path of rampant nationalism. I get that (some) people, me included, are worried about the potential break up of the Union. I get that this will cause massive economic uncertainty which could have ramifications everywhere. In general I get that it looks like a dark and lonely road ahead with the spectres of economic deprivation and mass rallies at Wembley Stadium.


But to want to up sticks and head for Canada or parts elsewhere? Well cheers. You liked the country enough to stick around (most of you) when the times we’re good and everything was going along in a rough direction you liked, but now that more people disagreed than agreed with you over this issue you’re off? So the country is worth fighting for when its part of the EU but its not worth fighting for when its not? Its not worth sticking around and fighting to make the country as good as it can be outside of the EU? To fight against the potential rise of nationalism? To try and make it a better society in a globalised world?


We won’t have suddenly descended into V for Vendetta world this morning. Yes you might hate the tories, you might hate labour, you almost certainly hate UKIP and parties of that ilk. But you still get the opportunity to change it. We’re still in a parliamentary democracy where you get to vote for possible change at least once every five years. Don’t like the way it is currently? THEN WORK FOR CHANGE! SHIT OR GET OFF THE POT! I can think of maybe half a dozen people on my FB list who are directly involved in the politics of this country, or who have family members who are.


Too busy? Bullshit! If its that important you make the time. Even the smallest activity contributes to a larger whole. The system in this country is this way because We (the royal collective We) have allowed it to stay this way. We are fundamentally disengaged from the political system because we hate it and don’t trust it. Voting once every five years, in bi-elections etc is not longer enough. Annoyed at the Masses(TM) for blindly (?) voting the other way? Feeling desperation at the power of the mass media and its ability to influence the Masses (TM)? Get involved in changing the debate, in changing the message. Work to convince people through other mediums that there are other ways. Is it going to be easy? Of course not. Are you going to convince everybody? Don’t be daft.


But fight for the system you want. Get on the rooftops and shout it out. Harrass your MP’s, Councillors, MEP’s (Ooops…..too soon?) and local activists. My FB feed has lots of people belonging to various communities based around some kind of nerdery where they are organising events and meetings and talking about ideas all the time. Yes that’s fun and nice, but use those skills to better the country too. You can’t in all good conscience sit there and say “loving this, loving that, not sure about that, but happy to tolerate it” and then go “fuck this noise, i’m off” when something really upsets you. We live in a world that is more connected than ever before. It should be easier to mass organise, to create different parties, to reach different viewpoints, never before has it been so easy to make our voices heard. We don’t need to march from Jarrow in a big mob anymore just to be heard. Although there is still very much a place for that kind of activity.


But you have to get involved. You have to take a stand and say “fuck you” we’re not going down this route. You have to have courage and commitment to do this. Even the smallest thing can help. I get that We’re busy. Instead of playing XBOX, watching the latest reality TV show or posting on FB about how great “x” is, spend 5 or 10 minutes of that time engaging. Find other like minded people and organise. Make your message heard. The information age is truly the time to be able to do this. Communicate, talk to people. Raise the level.


Don’t just quit. Who’s to say it won’t happen in the paradise you end up in?

The EU “Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?”

So reading through Facebook today and I came across a note from Jessica Smith explaining her feelings over the referendum and which way she intends to vote. It was a really good read and I thought it was a good way of explaining how she felt. I’ve struggled over the past few weeks about whether to make my feelings known about the EU especially given that my reasoning is nothing to do with the economy, immigration or of regaining sovereignty. Nothing about the debate from either side has smacked of well-reasoned and researched arguments. Also I’m usually very fearful of engaging in political debate online as it just isn’t suited to it as a forum. But having been educated to a relatively high standard in International Relations (BA & MA) I really should say something, otherwise I’m just sat smugly waiting for vindication of my own opinion quietly in the corner.


The most important political decision for a generation and instead of trying to educate the populace (on either side of the argument) it has come down to a mudslinging match with the lowest common denominator as the target. Rather than presenting the arguments in an informative manner we seem to be offered a choice between “Coz Churchill would want us to build the Empire again” to “OMG we are all totally boned if we leave”. Really? I understand why it’s gone that way, of course I do, but it is symptomatic of our entire political process in general at the minute. I mean does anybody actually believe that even if the £350million figure was accurate it would be invested back in the NHS? Does anybody actually trust Osborne and Cameron when they say “Trust us…the economy will be in a worse shape if we leave?” Neither side has any real credibility, I shudder with fear when I realise it will largely come down to who has the most effective media machine to inform opinion.


I don’t even think it should come down to a referendum really. The masses are too easily swayed by mass media. Few people have the time, energy or inclination to go out and do the necessary objective research to formulate their own opinion on the subject. Whether we like the system or not, whether we have trust in the representative that were elected, the truth is that they were elected to make the hard choices. This is nothing but the biggest political sidestep in history. We don’t usually make laws or policy by referendum. Why? Because the masses are too easily whipped up into a fervour to make any objective and rational decision (yes I know its ultimately more complex than that). I can’t remember where I first heard it but I’ve always like this line “A person is clever. People are stupid.” Yes I know, another oversimplification but in this case the decision should be made by our elected representatives. It’s not even as if it would be dominated along party lines as there is plenty of cross bench support for both platforms.


However ranting aside my reasons for voting to remain are to do with security, which will be of no surprise to long term readers and listeners. For me there is so much uncertainty around the main issues and I am not really sure how much things on the ground (i.e at the level of us peasants) will change in case of a Brexit. My concerns are also focused very much on the potential worst case scenario, but any discussion around risk and security always comes back to that because of the serious consequences of the worst case scenario.


A few weeks ago defence and security raised its head in the debate in a way that I hadn’t seen previously and I groaned straight away knowing that the demon of the EU Army was about to be rolled out and it was. I was further annoyed by the collection of Generals, Admirals and Air Marshals who stated that UK defence capability was being held back by the EU and that only a Brexit would bring us back to where we needed to be. None of them explained further what they meant by that. Surprise. It’s an argument that does not ring true for me in the slightest. Is the UK armed forces less capable than we were 10/15/20/30/40 years ago? Yes and No.


We can do more advanced stuff with the whizz bangs we have at our disposal these days and doctrine has arguably improved to the point where we are better at getting the right part of the world to blow up when we want it to. Can we do it as often as we’d like? Can we be a global force able to conduct multiple simultaneous operations? No, clearly not and that’s nothing to do with the EU. That’s to do with constant cutting of the defence budget as domestic needs took precedence. We’re not going to leave the EU and suddenly find we have the capability to take back the Empire, it just doesn’t work that way. The UK armed forces have been on operational deployment EVERY YEAR since the end of the Cold War. The so called Peace Dividend never really arrived as the bi-polar world dominated by the US and USSR fragmented into a multi-polar world where everybody wanted to prove how big and clever they were. We are arguably better at doing the military tasks that need doing, we just can’t do it on the scale or frequency that we used to. The EU hasn’t stopped us once popping overseas and blowing up a country that couldn’t possibly defend itself against us (Quote Toby Zeigler).


The spectre of the EU Army? Please! They haven’t been able to get operational multi-national battlegroups off the ground effectively despite over a decade of trying…battlegroups are between 1000 and 5000 personnel. A whole EU wide armed service? If we started now nothing would happen (in my opinion) for the next 30 years. Assuming of course that all the other EU states are up for it. Germany quite likes the idea but then it never wants to send its armed forces anywhere for obvious historical reasons. France on the other hand likes to independently flex its diplomatic and military power from time to time and because of this I find it hard to believe that they are willing to sacrifice that capability. The EU’s third pillar the Common Security and Foreign Policy has struggled constantly to get traction over the years because too many member states like having control over their own armed forces and foreign services and that really isn’t going to change anytime soon.


But even all of this isn’t the reason I’m voting to remain. David Cameron made the statement that a Brexit would lead to WWIII….or at least that’s what was presented in the media. This was obviously a pivot to a resurgent Russia and highlighting the fear that a EU without the UK would look weak which would further embolden Russia to take strategic chances abroad. This was obviously shouted down with calls that NATO is our main security organisation and that membership of that group would keep us safe from the prospect of the 8th Guards Tank Army strolling down Whitehall. This is of course correct in many ways. All hail Article V of the NATO treaty which states you start a fight against one of us then we’re all in. Effectively a “99” call in Rugby or perhaps more famously the Musketeers motto.


NATO is creaking under its own weight and the demands of relevance in a post-Cold War world. As soon as commentators started calling the organisation mission-less and irrelevant NATO planners started to look around for something for NATO to do. It was after all an important multinational institution…more on these later. So the concept of Out of Area operations was born. Instead of focusing purely on the defence of Europe, NATO would look to helpfully blow up other parts of the world as needed. So all the NATO members were told to start re-configuring their militaries away from armour heavy forces for deployment in Europe into light and medium weight expeditionary forces that could be deployed quickly across the globe for extended periods to fight bad guys everywhere. The UK, France, the Dutch, the Norwegians, the US and Canada all moved towards that model at varying paces. What did the rest of NATO do? Fail to spend the requisite 2% of the budget on defence, letting their militaries fall apart and generally undermining the overall effectiveness of NATO on an operational level. And then what happens? After all the bureaucratic inertia has been shifted to enable us to perform expeditionary operations the Eastern Front becomes popular again with Putin’s games in Ukraine and all the NATO members in that part of the world start screaming at the rest of us to deploy some tanks in their countries. If I was NATO, I’d be pissed….


But even this isn’t the reason I want the UK to remain. After Cameron made this statement and it was then refuted, it was just left. Nobody mentioned it anymore. Why do I care? Because I’m not sure it was what Cameron was referring to (or at least I hope not, he is after all a world class douche). The leave campaign is right…NATO is the body that will (?) protect us against the Russians. But that was never the EU’s job. The EU’s job (from a security aspect) was to protect us (in a wider European sense) from ourselves.


Look back at European history over the last 200+ years and what do you notice the most? How good we are at kicking the shit out of each other (and anybody else who looks at our pint funny). Napolean, the Crimea, the Franco-Prussian war(s), World War One, World War Two are just the most modern examples I can think of whilst typing this. We were forever getting riled up in a fervour of one sort or another and then marching to war to kick over a castle or two and reclaim a piece of land that had changed hands hundreds of times. Each time the cry was heard “Noooo we won’t do that again, there will be no need” etc etc. World War One….the War to End All Wars. Clearly the nationalist, fascist and communist elements across Europe didn’t get the memo as the sequel kicked off with far more horrifying results.


So what happened at the end of World War Two? Well this time they really really meant it. No more. Well there might be…we need to try and do something to stop that. The TL:DR version of what happened is that all the nations got together in a multi-national body called the UN in an effort to make countries discuss their differences rather than killing each other’s citizens through a common set of regulations and behaviours. All fine and dandy till the five “victors” of WWII said that’s a brilliant idea but we want the ability to block anything we don’t like to ensure we can still protect our own interests. Thus were born the five permanent members of the UN Security Council. You could almost hear Woodrow Wilson banging his head on his desk repeatedly. But in spite of that colossal fuck up the core theoretical idea was a good one. Get everyone together to talk and influence and negotiate rather than fight. Everyone signs up to common rules and agrees to act in the same way and peace should rule. Way to go P5.


What else was happening around this period? NATO was formed in response to a perceived threat from the Soviet Union. A slow process of getting the Western nations to band together under common rules and behaviours (see where I’m heading with this?) to protect each other against the Red Horde. Brilliant. But how do we get France and Germany to stop kicking up a ruckus and invading their neighbours every so often? Belgium and Luxembourg were particularly keen to hear the answer to this one…


So the first steps towards European integration were taken. A series of treaties were signed between France, Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries that would create a set of institutions which would tie the nations so closely together that it would be too difficult to kick off on one another even if a psychotic Austrian painter was sat in the Reichstag or a Corsican midget liked the idea of expanding his borders. What was one of the first things they did? They placed some of the most crucial war making industries beyond national control – Coal and Steel. It’s hard to secretly build a massive army if you’re not running the weapons factories directly. Secondly they put the newest hip research area, atomic energy, beyond national control (although clearly the French cheated their way out of that somehow). So it went from there. More integration tying the nations of the continent closer and closer together so that war becomes a lot more difficult (not impossible by any stretch of the imagination). We’ve always resisted the closer integration because we have always thought of ourselves above that. We never started the wars we just helped prolong/finish them off…honest guv. Therefore there was no need for us to go through the same level of integration.


So how does this, especially given the last few sentences above, translate into a position to remain in the EU? Quite simply…if we pull out will it end there? The EU has been on very shaky ground in the last few years. Grexit was talked of before Brexit and polling data in some countries indicate a scarily high level of support for them to follow us out, even in places like Italy, France and Germany. If the EU collapses there is a strong likelihood that major parts of the continent will be wracked by increasing right wing nationalism, all trumpeting how they are better than everyone else for whatever reason. Major instability will reign as everyone starts looking out for themselves and national leaders start looking abroad once more for someone to blame for the domestic turmoil. Next thing you know Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia decide that “yes it really is in our best interests to leave NATO and accept the stationing of Russian forces on our territory to help us maintain security”. But that won’t happen will it? NATO will prevent that! NATO is only as strong as the US commitment to European security and if the worst happens come November that commitment may not be as strong as would hope. What is more important to our colonial cousins…the troubled Old World who won’t spend the money to help secure themselves or the Pan Pacific region with a rising China? Obviously the last parts are (well reasoned I believe) speculation and are obviously a worst case scenario. If we leave no one else may follow us and the EU may stay strong and together for decades to come. We can hope. I for one do not want to take that risk. Or to put it another way I don’t want the us to be the brick in the Jenga tower that causes Europe to come crashing down.


As is par for this campaign I could be talking absolute bollocks and I’m sure there are plenty of people out there who will think “nope, sorry Dan you’re talking shite and here’s why….” Thats’s fine. You’re allowed to. This is just my informed (I like to think) opinion. Its based on an area that nearly no one else will be bothered about in this referendum as it is simply to abstract for them to comprehend. Doesn’t make it any less important.


TL:DR? Multi-national institutions with shared values, laws etc are good for stopping countries from kicking off on each other.

D-Day 6th June 1944 “A Day of Days”

“You are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you. In company with our brave Allies and brothers-in-arms on other Fronts, you will bring about the destruction of the German war machine, the elimination of Nazi tyranny over the oppressed peoples of Europe, and security for ourselves in a free world.”

General Dwight D Eisenhower, Supreme Commander Allied Forces Europe (SHAEF) (excerpt from his letter to invasion troops on the eve of D-Day)


So as I promised here is a bit of a post on the 70th anniversary of the Normandy landings.  I thought i’d start with a bit of historical context, what led up to the operation, why did we need to do it etc.  Then I’ll move on to the landings themselves, i’ll try and keep my focus on the 6th June and not get caught up in the rest of the Normandy campaign although to fully explain some points that will likely be unavoidable.  Finally I thought I’d play a little game of ‘What if?’  What if the invasion had failed, or had just never taken place.  What effect could that have had on the rest of the war and the Cold War that followed.

Lets rewind four years to May 27th – June 4th 1940 and look at a little Operation called Dynamo.  This was the evacuation from the Dunkirk beaches of nearly 350,000 British and French troops in the face of the German advance.  They had to abandon virtually all their heavy equipment and clamber aboard whatever floating vessel was presented to get away.  The Third Reich controlled all of the western European mainland from that point on, with only Britain stubbornly refusing to go down.  Hitler was given four years to construct his Atlantic Wall, a series of fortifications, weapon emplacements, minefields and strings of barbed wire.  In 1942 the raid on Dieppe was launched with the aim of demonstrating resolve, proving that it was possible to take and seize a major occupied port and to gather intelligence.  It was a costly failure that arguably achieved none of its aims.

It wouldn’t be until 1943 that the Allies would successfully take and hold a beachhead in Europe once more.  The landings in Sicily and later southern Italy following the successful North African campaign provided proof that action in the west could occur.  It was hoped that these landings would relieve pressure on the Soviets, who had been fighting constantly since 1941, and would also remove Italy from the war and turn the Mediterranean into a secure shipping channel.  Winston Churchill called Italy ‘the soft underbelly of the axis’, General Mark Clark (commander of US 5th Army, one of the principal formations used in the landings) later described it as ‘one tough gut’.  The location of the landings meant that the Allied forces faced a long tough slog, the length of Italy, over horrible terrain with very little room for strategic manoeuvre.  Rome was taken on June 4th 1944.  Not long after the bulk of the experienced Free French and US formations were pulled out of Italy in preparation for the invasion of southern France (Operation Dragoon).

As mentioned the Soviet Union had been fighting the Axis powers since 1941.  Although by 1943 the Soviet Union was in a much better place strategically they were still crying out for a real second front to be opened in western Europe to relieve some of the pressure by diverting German reinforcements away from the Eastern front. In May 1943 the UK and US governments agreed at the Trident Conference that a cross channel invasion of Europe would take place in 1944.

The planning that went into the invasion was incredible.  This was the biggest amphibious operation ever attempted, approximately 160,000 allied troops were landed on 6th June supported by almost 6,000 naval vessels ranging from landing craft to destroyers to battleships.  Furthermore 24,000 airborne troops were either parachuted in or landed by glider to secure key objectives prior to the landings.  Five beaches; Utah, Omaha, Sword, Juno & Gold were the targets on the Normandy coastline.  US forces were landed on Utah and Omaha (Omaha had the highest casualty rate of all the beaches, it is possible that none of the first wave made it off the beach), British forces were landed on Sword and Gold and Canadian forces were landed on Juno.

So what was the objective?  Obviously secure a foothold on the European mainland that could be used to pour reinforcements into so that France could be liberated and Germany defeated.  From a logistical point of view, it was crucial that a proper deep water port was taken.  By the end of August almost 3 million allied troops would have landed in France.  The amount of supplies it would take to keep those forces fighting was enormous and could not be brought in over a beach, no matter how good advancements like the Mulberry Harbour were (a temporary and portable harbour that could be set up in the area of the invasion beaches to offload supplies).  The US forces were assigned the task of taking Cherbourg whilst the British and Canadian troops were tasked with capturing Caen.

On the far left flank of the invasion the British 6th Airborne division was tasked with taking vital river crossings over the Orne and the Caen canal, their most famous action being the taking of Pegasus bridge.  On the far right the US 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions were tasked with securing causeways and vital communications points such as the town of Carentan.  This part of the plan nearly ended in disaster as the airborne forces were scattered far and wide with some troops landed nearly 20 miles from their landing zones.  The skill, training and determination of the airborne troops shone through and despite the difficulties they managed to achieve their objectives eventually.  These airborne forces were there to protect the flanks of the very vulnerable invasion beaches.

So what were the Germans up to whilst all this was going on?

With the massing of allied forces in southern England, the Germans knew that an invasion was going to happen at some point, but where?  Thanks to the inability of German intelligence to get anything out of the UK, coupled with a massive allied deception plan, the Germans were unsure where the actual invasion would take place.  The commander in chief of the West, Field Marshal Von Rundstedt, believed that the invasion would come at the closest point between Britain and the mainland i.e. the area around the Pas de Calais.  To him this made the greatest strategic sense, and this man’s strategic sense was nothing to be sniffed at.  However according to Lidell – Hart, Hitler had a hunch it would be around the Normandy area due in part to the layout of the forces in southern England and the realisation of the allied need to secure a deep water port.  Erwin Rommel (The Desert Fox) had been given the task of strengthening the defences of the Atlantic Wall and although he had improved them considerably over what they were, he did not have the time to get them to the state he wanted.

Hitler, Von Rundstedt and Rommel.  These three figures were key in the German response to the invasion and luckily they did not function in a harmonious way.  Rommel believed that the best way to defeat the invasion was to smash it on the beaches and not let it develop a secure beachhead.  This would be when they were most vulnerable he argued.  Once they were established ashore it would be much more difficult to dislodge them.  Therefore he argued for a greater proportion of the German’s armoured strength to be deployed forward where it could rapidly converge on the invasion areas and overwhelm them.  Von Rundstedt, Rommels superior officer, argued that it would be best to let the allies establish themselves and then use the German’s superior local strength to defeat them in a classic manoeuvre battle when they attempted to move out of the beachheads.  Therefore he wanted to keep the German armoured forces further back until he could deploy them at a time and place of his choosing to destroy the allied spearheads.  Rommel tried to counter this by pointing out that the overwhelming air superiority enjoyed by the allied forces would seriously hamper any efforts by the German armoured forces to mass later on for an attack once the allies were ashore.  And he was right :-).  To further complicate issues Hitler ordered that four of the ten German armoured divisions would be placed under his direct control and would therefore require his explicit permission for them to be deployed anywhere.  This could have been gotten around, Rommel still had a good relationship with Hitler at this point and could have likely gotten what he needed.  However, Hitler was a man who stayed up very late and subsequently slept very late.  When reports of the invasion came in and requests were made to release the reserves, General Jodl refused to wake the Fuhrer and so the reserves were not released until it was too late.  This was not the only example of the command structure not functioning effectively on June 6th.  Several high ranking German officers, including Rommel, were out of position at various meetings, training exercises and romantic liaisons when the invasion commenced, meaning it was several crucial hours before they were able to influence the course of the battle.

Operation Overlord was a very close shave.  Allied problems (airborne mis-drops, amphibious assaults being blown off course, sheer difficulty in getting off the beach ( watch Saving Private Ryan or The Longest Day)) could have spelt disaster.  The German response was disjointed enough to not take proper advantage of these issues and so luck and the initiative remained with the allies.  The landings were a success, although it took far longer to achieve the initial objectives than had initially been planned.  The liberation of western Europe followed and by May 1945 the war in Europe was over.  That sentence does not give proper weight to the struggles that would occur in that time…

What would have happened if Overlord had been a failure?

Would the allies have tried again? I think not in the north of France, certainly not in the same area.  I think the invasion of southern France would still have gone ahead and perhaps we would have seen an invasion attempt near the low countries.  While this was being decided I believe the air campaign would have been stepped up in its intensity.  If time had dragged on would we have seen the A-bomb used on Germany?  Would somewhere like Essen have suffered the same fate as Hiroshima?  That is a spectre that would have forever changed the European landscape, both physically and mentally.  Thankfully we never had to find out…

What would have happened if the allies (for whatever reason) had decided not invade western Europe?

Well obviously the war would have gone on for longer.  However the Red Army was starting to build momentum in the east and I feel it was unlikely that the Germans would have been able to hold off the Soviets for ever.  So assuming a German defeat at some point it is fair to further assume that the Red Army would not have stopped at Berlin.  They would likely have gone the rest of the way through Germany.  Would they have gone further and ‘liberated’ western Europe?  Conversations were already taking place in 1944 about the possibility of having to fight the Soviet Union once Germany had been defeated.  The ideological clash between capitalist west and communist east had already been sparking from the end of the First World War through the Russian civil war, the Spanish civil war and was only temporarily forgotten about during the events of the late 1930’s through to the end of the Second World War.  The frontline of the Cold War could easily have been the French – German border or possibly even the English Channel.  The EEC/EU/other European treaties would not have occurred during the time they did.  Without the buffer of Western Europe, Britain would have likely become even more of an armed camp during the period marked by the Cold War.  Again we are lucky that these are just idle musings rather than a study of historical facts.

We are lucky that Overlord was a success.

We must  never forget.

2014 A Year Of Anniversaries

So its 2014 (in case it had passed you by….) which means there are some pretty significant anniversaries coming up in the realm of military history.  I’d hope that everyone is aware that it’s one hundred years since the start of the Great War, also known as the First World War.  This war saw a whole generation of young men across Europe and beyond just disappear.  Arguably this war was just the opening phase in a whole way of warfare that would dominate the rest of the century.  This wasn’t just another colonial conflict such as the Boer War, this was a full on ruck between the most advanced and industrialised nations on the planet.  Never before had the world seen warfare on such a scale and intensity.  It saw the end of the dominance of offensive warfare driven by esprit de corps or the elan of the infantry arms to be replaced by the superiority of the defence driven by machine guns and supported by a system of fortifications dug all the way to the Belgian coast.  This was itself replaced by the re-emergence of armour on the battlefield in the form of the first tanks supported by a change in infantry tactics.  The world would never be the same again after this terrible period of history.

However let us not forget that 30 years later another world changing event would take place.  On June 6th 1944 Operation Overlord commenced, otherwise known as D-Day most famously known as the invasion of Normandy.  This was the start of the second front against Nazi Germany and accelerated the end of that regime.  Thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen poured into occupied France and for those of us who were not there the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan provide a harrowing view of what it must have been like.  Seventy years since the invasion…..seventy years since Operation Market Garden.  The lay person could be forgiven for not having a clue what Operation Market Garden was all about, could be forgiven for not knowing it was an ambitious attempt to end the war by the Christmas of 1944.  They could be forgiven for not knowing it was the largest airborne operation in history (Operation Varsity (the crossing of the Rhine) in 1945 was the largest airborne operation to be conducted in a single day, Market Garden took place over several days had involved a greater number of airborne forces).  For anyone who has seen the film A Bridge Too Far you will know what a tragic end Market Garden suffered.

There were lots of other operations in this period of the Second World War.  We often forget about the overwhelming contribution made by Soviet forces on the eastern front and the fact that they had been fighting constantly since 1941.  On the western front there were other notable operations such as Operation Goodwood, Operation Cobra (attempts to breakout of the Normandy countryside) and Operation Dragoon (the allied invasion of southern France).

However from a personal point of view Overlord and Market Garden have a much greater resonance.  I grew up watching the Second World be reenacted on Sunday afternoons with my Dad, through the eyes of John Wayne, Robert Mitchum, Clint Eastwood and many others.  The Longest Day and A Bridge Too Far had a massive impact on me, the sheer scale of what they were trying to recreate gripped me as a child and inspired my curiosity as a historian as I grew up.  I guess the First World War didn’t lend itself to the cinema in the same way and therefore didn’t have the same chance to grip me.  Not to mention I am a big geek at heart and massed armour and Spitfires beat trench warfare and Sopwith Camels in the mind of a young boy.  The childlike innocence and wonder over the heroism and splendour of a well crafted action film (the nuances were lost on this small boy) soon gave way through age and study to a greater appreciation of the realities of the situation.  Operation Market Garden became something of a special interest project for me as I went through my teen years.

Whats the point of this post?  Well as we approach each of the anniversaries I will write another post dedicated to Operation Overlord, the start of The Great War and Operation Market Garden.  Hopefully these will help to inform you dear reader of things you didn’t know and will serve to keep the significance of these events alive in our collective memory for a little longer.


Lest We Forget.

Conclusion & References

The PRC is well on the way to developing its armed forces into a technologically advanced force capable of defending the vital interests of the CCP and the PRC at home and abroad.  It has recognised that to deal with the potential security challenges it faces, the PRC requires a wide range of flexible and advanced military capabilities.  Unlike democratic states, the PRC needs to ensure that its military capabilities are flexible enough to deal with internal threats posed by its own population.  The 21st century is filled with uncertainty and the potential for conflict between nation-states, particularly as developing powers emerge such as India and China, is still there.  The expanding economies of these developing nations with a big reliance on exports demands that access routes to foreign markets remain secure and that new sources of diminishing natural resources are exploited and controlled.  The PRC has realised that its security interests are wide ranging and are no longer limited to continental affairs and thus needs the capability to deal with these accordingly.  The post Cold War security situation on the world stage is massively complex with many inter-locking facets.  It is arguably much more dangerous than during the Cold War purely because of the instability brought about by the myriad of threats that nations now face.


The 1991 Persian Gulf War showcased to the world the advances in military technology that had been made in the last few years of the Cold War.  Although many analysts had already begun talking about these advances as an RMA, it was Operation Desert Storm that brought it to the forefront of discussions in this field.  It has been argued that these advances were just the start of the process and that a true RMA would see warfare radically change so that only the most advanced militaries would be capable of carrying it out.  However the current RMA does not give military planners a one stop solution to military conflicts.  A nation that develops its military capabilities along a single focused path risks being unable to respond to all potential challenges.


Many of the capabilities that are put forward as the potential end goal of this RMA, such as cyber or information warfare, are only useable against an opponent who has a relatively high technology infrastructure.  The conflicts that have taken place since Operation Desert Storm have often been against opponents with massively inferior capabilities.  However this has not stopped those low technology opponents from causing problems and has demonstrated that no matter how advanced a force is, it will still have weaknesses that can be exploited.  History has shown that whenever a military advance is made a counter to that advance will always be developed.  In today’s conflicts asymmetric or COIN warfare has been developed by those who could not fight a stronger foe on conventional terms.  This is not to say that advanced technologies should not continue to be developed.  A nation would do well to develop those technologies in tandem with a force structure able to combat a wide range of potential threats.  No one was able to predict the global security situation that developed following the end of the Cold War and no one can predict with much certainty what the next 25 – 50 years holds.


After being initially taken by surprise after Operation Desert Storm and subsequent operations during the last decade of the 20th century, the PLA has begun the processes needed to drag its capabilities into the 21st century.  It is now in the position where it has the potential to be able to challenge other advanced militaries that may threaten the PRC’s security objectives.  However it is very clear that there is a huge amount of work still to do.  Many capabilities that are required by the PRC to fulfil the security objectives it has set for itself are still very much in the developmental stage and as such run the potential risk of never being fully realised.  As with any technology, these RMA style advances are undergoing constant development.  It is likely therefore, that any gap that currently exists between the level the PRC has reached and advanced nations such as the US will remain unless extra resources are devoted to the effort.  Whatever the results the PRC has made clear its intent to become, in the short to medium term the leading regional power and in the long term to possess the ability to project its power globally.


The final chapter demonstrated what the PRC could achieve given its current level of military capability.  It is clear from the studies, especially the Taiwan scenario that the PRC would currently struggle to achieve any of its security objectives that would bring it into a conventional, or non-nuclear, conflict with the US.  Although it has made many significant leaps forward it still lags a considerable distance behind the US.  This is most apparent in the PRC’s C4ISTAR and power projection capabilities. The PLAN is still lacking in amphibious assault ships and transport aircraft which are essential if the PRC is to try an invasion of Taiwan.  The improvements that the PRC has made however, give it the ability to try a range of military options when trying to resolve the Taiwan situation.  Two decades ago the PLAN was barely sufficient to guard the PRC’s coastline whereas now it is capable of undertaking a wide variety of missions including a blockade of Taiwan.  The capabilities of other branches of the PLA give the PRC further options to deal with Taiwan before resorting to an invasion.  How the PRC would deal with a conflict in the SCS illustrates that against many of its potential opponents the PRC is already superior.  The fact that it is not at the same capability level of the US or other nations that have developed their capabilities along the lines of the current RMA clearly does not matter in every security challenge.  The PRC’s continued development of a full spectrum of capabilities will put it in good stead to be able to deal with all the security challenges it currently faces plus any new ones that appear in the next 25 – 50 years.



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Chapter Four Military Capabilities of the PRC in Regard to Taiwan and the SCS

Of all the security concerns that were discussed in chapter one, with the exception of regime preservation, it can be argued that those issues with the highest priority are Taiwan and the SCS.  The PLA has made great strides forward in modernising itself to deal with the security challenges faced by the PRC.  However it is very clear that it has a long way to go to achieve its long term military aspirations and it is obviously no match for the US in a stand up fight.  It can be argued that the PRC has developed its military enough to make Taiwan and the littoral states of the SCS increase their own military preparations.  Between the considerable development undertaken on its conventional forces and its previously mentioned embryonic asymmetric capabilities, it is possible that the PRC is in a position to achieve its objectives should either the Taiwan or SCS situation devolve to conflict.  The level of success for the PRC in dealing with these scenarios if the US intervenes militarily decreases sharply.  The military assets assigned to the US Pacific Command alone are staggering.  These forces in all likelihood would be further supplemented by other military assets such as extra C4ISTAR capabilities and long range strike platforms equipped with PGMs.  This would be in addition to the not inconsiderable armed forces of Taiwan in that scenario and the less considerable might of the SCS littoral states in that scenario.  However a PRC – US/Coalition conflict would no longer be the one sided affair that it would have been twenty years ago.  The improvements to the PLA’s conventional war fighting capabilities now make it extremely likely that any conflict would be intense, bloody and costly to both sides in terms of casualties and materiel.  Although a defeat of US military forces is still unlikely in the conventional sense, as previously stated in chapter two, a victory can be achieved by one side making it too costly for the other.  As an open and democratic society the US is far more susceptible to this issue than the CCP controlled PRC.

It can be argued that the PLA approach to a conflict with Taiwan will consist of three phases.  Firstly, establish a blockade of the island in an effort to limit external military aid and to cut the flow of essential supplies such as oil and food.  Secondly use the assets of Second Artillery and the PLAAF to knock out key targets such as C3 nodes, airbases and air defences and to begin wearing down Taiwanese air assets and naval surface platforms.  The third and final phase would be an amphibious and airborne assault against the island itself.  It is worth noting that Special Forces operations against Taiwan would in all likelihood run simultaneously with all three phases.  To have any chance of succeeding, it is highly likely that there would need to be a degree of concurrency between phases one and two.  If the blockade were enacted without the strikes from Second Artillery and the PLAAF then it would give time for Taiwanese forces, possibly in conjunction with US forces, a chance to break the blockade.  A rapid and massive strike from Second Artillery and the PLAAF would at best have a paralysing effect on a Taiwanese response, and at worst would serve as a distraction.  This would force the Taiwanese to deal with the threat from Second Artillery and the PLAAF, diverting resources from breaking the blockade and risking those same resources in the teeth of mainland PRC defences composed of aircraft, SAMs and ASCMs.  There is a counter to the concurrency argument, the success of which would depend completely on the political situation at the time.  If US intervention or other international support were not assured for whatever reason, such as US domestic war weariness or if Taiwan had precipitated the situation by declaring independence against external advice, then phase one on its own offers extra advantages.  A blockade could exert enough pressure to force a change in policy with the absolute minimum in bloodshed.  This becomes even more likely the longer the blockade is maintained.  A blockade is also easier to step back from once objectives are achieved or if it looks like events are going against the PRC.

The PLAN would be the primary force used to enforce a blockade, with the PLAAF having a secondary role.  The PLAN’s force of 44 attack submarines would be the most effective arm in enforcing a blockade but a visible presence would need to be maintained and that role would belong to the surface fleet probably in conjunction with a maritime exclusion zone similar to what the British declared around the Falklands Islands in 1982.  A blockade implemented on its own or in conjunction with rapid missile and air strikes against Taiwan could prevent challenges to the current capabilities of the PRC if the US intervened militarily.  The modern destroyers and frigates of the PLAN are geared almost exclusively towards anti-air warfare (AAW) and anti-surface warfare (ASuW) with only limited anti-submarine capability (ASW).  This leaves the lion’s share of ASW work to be undertaken by the submarine force.  If Taiwan is operating independently then this is not an issue as the Taiwanese Navy only possesses two Dutch built Hai Lung class SSKs.  However if the US has intervened, then the PLAN would face the 31 SSNs of the Los Angeles, Seawolf and Virginia class that are assigned to PACOM.  Assuming that some of those boats are kept back for maintenance and contingencies, the remaining submarines would be more than a match for the PLAN.  The US boats are all nuclear powered, are far more advanced in terms of stealth, sonar and weapons fit, and US ASW skills were honed over many years against the Soviets during the Cold War.

From the viewpoint of a surface fleet versus surface fleet engagement, the odds are more in the PLAN’s favour, again assuming that they are just engaging the Taiwanese.  The Taiwanese Navy has 26 major surface combatants ranging from eight 40 year old ex-USN Knox class frigates and four ex-USN Kidd class destroyers to eight modern French designed Lafayette class frigates.  Although these are all armed with ASCMs and are backed up by a large number of ASCM equipped patrol boats, they are massively outgunned by the sheer number of ASCM equipped platforms the PLAN could bring to bear.  This includes modern designs such as the Sovremenny and Luyang destroyers and Jiangkai frigates. As before, this equation tips the other way if US forces are present.  Not counting the six carriers assigned to PACOM, the US could deploy up to 48 cruisers, destroyers and frigates, the majority of which are armed with Harpoon ASCMs.  Again assuming some units are in maintenance or kept back for contingencies, the remainder would still be a powerful force which could overwhelm the PLAN.

The Taiwanese threat from the air is not as great as perhaps was once perceived as the capability gap has closed considerably.  The most modern and capable aircraft in the Taiwanese inventory are the US built F-16 A/Bs and French built Mirage 2000Ds.  Against these the PLAAF can field the more advanced Su-27 Flanker/J-11, the Su-30/33 and the indigenous J-10.  These assets would be able to dominate the immediate airspace and provide air cover to the surface fleet.  US airpower would outgun and outclass the PLAAF.  The capability provided by six carrier air wings alone would present a significant challenge.  These would be reinforced by units forward staged to Japan.  From an air superiority point of view, the capability gap is perfectly highlighted by the US fifth generation fighter, the F-22 Raptor, which far outclasses anything fielded by the PRC.  The capability gap is further widened by platforms such as E-3D Sentry AWACS and KC-135 Stratotankers which act as force multipliers.  US air superiority would also allow rapid re-supply of Taiwan and render any blockade ineffective.

The most effective way for the PRC to prevent this from happening would be to conduct a phase two rapid air and missile strike against Taiwan.  There are several advantages highlighted by this kind of action.  Depending on the degree of success it could severely limit Taiwanese options in dealing with the PRC.  It would also increase the pressure on the Taiwanese government and could force a policy shift as described earlier.  An effective strike could cause an undecided US to waver further in the face of potential casualties.  However a strike also brings several potential disadvantages.  Once a strike has been launched against Taiwan it would make it a lot more difficult to take a step back and calm the situation down.  Although it has been pointed out that a strike could weaken resolve, it could also have the opposite effect and strengthen resolve.  Unless the strike was so overwhelming and demoralising, a strong and charismatic figure or figures could play on ideas of spilt blood and national pride to instil a sense of defiance.  Similarly an actual strike could cause the US to commit to the defence of Taiwan unless the strike had reduced enough Taiwanese capabilities to make US intervention relatively pointless without the commitment of massive amounts of resources.

A phase three attack against the island, consisting of an airborne and amphibious assault would be the most challenging for the PLA to undertake.  If phases one and two have not been as successful as hoped and if there is a substantial US military presence then an invasion would be almost impossible to pull off with any degree of success.  As stated in chapter three, the PLA airborne capability is severely limited by its current transport fleet.  The amphibious elements of the PLAN also face massive limitations in the number of troops that can be carried in a single lift.  Utilising the full inventory of air and amphibious transports, the PLA could only move 21,000 troops for an initial assault.  Geography places a limit on the number of locations where an amphibious assault can take place.  These options are limited further when you take into account the fact that the seizure and control of a deepwater port has to be a primary objective of any assault and thus a landing must take place relatively close to one of those.  If a deepwater port is not quickly seized then the PLA would find itself unable to bring across large numbers of reinforcements in commercial shipping vessels.  This simplifies the task for the Taiwanese of concentrating an overwhelming defensive force in the right place.  If the initial assault force is unable to seize a deepwater port and exploit it to build up reinforcements, then the PLA beachhead would be quickly swept back into the sea.  Therefore with its current capabilities, a PLA invasion of Taiwan would be a risky option at best, even if all the factors were in the PRC’s favour.

Militarily resolving the PRC’s claim to the Spratly Islands and the Paracel Islands in the SCS, and enforcing its sovereignty over the SCS would present its own set of challenges.  The Paracel Islands lie approximately 300km south east of the Chinese island of Hainan and are claimed by the PRC, Taiwan and Vietnam.  The Spratly Islands lie approximately 900km south east of Hainan Island and are claimed by the PRC, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam.  Although on friendly terms with the nations involved, it is unlikely that the US would intervene militarily in these disputes unless as part of some UN peacekeeping force.  However if the shooting had not actually started, it may deploy naval platforms in the hope that a show of force would be enough to keep the peace.  This would leave the PRC in a position of only needing to defeat or deter the states mentioned above who also claim sovereignty over the islands.

Again this scenario would see the maritime forces of each nation play the dominant role, backed by the other services where appropriate and possible.  Comparing the various Orders of Battle (ORBATs) of the nations involved indicates superiority in numbers and capability for the PRC.  The South Sea Fleet (SSF) would be the primary force used by the PLAN, backed up where necessary by assets from the North and East Sea Fleets.  The current force structure of the SSF can outmatch any one of the other claimant nations with the possible exception of Taiwan.  This has been recognised and Vietnam and Malaysia are taking steps to improve their capabilities.  One potential countermeasure for the other claimants to adopt in order to overcome these deficiencies would be to operate as a coalition against the PRC.  Although this would seem to be an ideal solution on paper, the reality would be very different.

A combined maritime force would have a paper strength of 68 major surface combatants and six submarines.  However even before taking into account a reduction in platforms due to maintenance and contingencies, close analysis of those platforms reveals how wide the capability gap is.  The Taiwanese Navy is the only force with a number of relatively modern destroyers and frigates armed with ASCMs.  The other navies are mostly composed of corvette sized vessels of varying age and capability, with only Malaysia and Vietnam fielding modern frigate sized vessels.  The Philippines lists three vessels of Second World War vintage on its ORBAT.  These nations have only made limited, if any, efforts to incorporate current RMA style improvements and advances to their armed forces.  Even the relatively limited RMA improvements undertaken by the PRC gives them a further advantage.  Several of the PLAN’s most advanced platforms, including all four destroyers of the Luyang class, are based in the SSF along with two modern Shang SSNs and four Kilo SSKs.  These platforms are backed up by large numbers of older platforms in the SSF which are at least as capable as the majority of platforms arrayed against them, with the exceptions noted above.

Another problem with a coalition approach is the probable disunity in terms of final goals and objectives.  All the nations so far mentioned are claimants to either one or both groups of islands.  It would be a huge error to assume that the other nations would co-operate with each other just to oppose the PRC.  If the situation has devolved to the use of force, it is far more likely that each nation would seize any opportunity to gain an advantage over the other claimants.  This is further complicated given that not all the nations lay claim to both island groups.  It is unlikely that Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines would risk a conflict with the PRC over the Paracel Islands.  Even if these issues could be overcome, there would still be significant obstacles to mounting a co-ordinated coalition campaign.  The sheer number of differences between the maritime forces in equipment, logistical support, C3 procedures and capabilities and language would make coalition operations haphazard and disjointed at best.  The PLAN operating under a single command would be well placed to exploit these difficulties and potentially defeat each nation’s force in detail.  In contrast to a Taiwan scenario, the amphibious and airborne assault capabilities of the PRC would be more than adequate to seize these island groups and hold them long enough for follow on forces to reinforce them.  The same cannot be said of the other claimant nations.  Their very limited airborne and amphibious capabilities would mean that they would be heavily reliant on existing infrastructure to seize and hold their targets.

The PRC would currently struggle to achieve any of its security objectives that would bring it into a conventional, or non-nuclear, conflict with the US.  Although it has made many significant leaps forward it still lags a considerable distance behind the US.  This is most apparent in the PRC’s C4ISTAR and power projection capabilities, however as previously stated it is developing its own capabilities which would assist in nullifying some of the US superiority in these areas such as its ASBM and ASAT programmes.  In a situation where there is no firm commitment from the US on its desire to engage in a shooting war, then the PRC has the capability to be a dominant regional power, especially in the two scenarios discussed in this chapter.  Even without US intervention a full three phase engagement with Taiwan would test the military capabilities of the PRC to the absolute limit and success would be by no means assured.  The PLAN is still lacking in amphibious assault ships and transport aircraft which would make an assault very difficult to successfully complete.  The improvements that the PRC has made however, give it the ability to try a range of military options when trying to resolve the Taiwan situation.  Two decades ago the PLAN was barely sufficient to guard the PRC’s coastline whereas now it is capable of undertaking a wide variety of missions including a blockade of Taiwan.  The capabilities of the Second Artillery Corps give the PRC further options to deal with Taiwan before resorting to an invasion.  These capabilities will improve with continued development.  How the PRC would deal with a conflict in the SCS illustrates that against many of its potential opponents the PRC is already superior.  The fact that it is not at the same capability level of the US clearly does not matter in every security challenge.