CategoryChinese Military

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.

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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).

sukhoi-su-34-russian-%d1%81%d1%83%d1%85%d0%be%d0%b9-%d1%81%d1%83-34-export-su-32-nato-fullback-russian-twin-seat-fighter-bomber-india-china-iran-syria

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[ SU-34 FULLBACK and 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.

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[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.

 

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[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 :-).

 

References:

[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

[4] https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/nov/02/nato-war-game-nuclear-disaster

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

[6] http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/modern-world-history-1918-to-1980/china-1900-to-1976/the-great-leap-forward/

[7] http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/modern-world-history-1918-to-1980/china-1900-to-1976/the-cultural-revolution/

[8] http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/prc-vietnam.htm

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

[10] http://uk.businessinsider.com/chinas-gdp-is-expected-to-surpass-the-us-in-11-years-2015-6

[11] http://www.usip.org/publications/2016/07/26/china-s-troop-contributions-un-peacekeeping

[12] http://fas.org/nuke/guide/russia/agency/Felg.htm Felgenhauer, P (1997)  Russian Military Reform: Ten Years of Failure

[13] http://edition.cnn.com/2016/09/17/middleeast/syria-claims-coalition-airstrike-hit-regime-forces/

[14] http://cepa.org/The-Russian-Cyber-Threat-Views-from-Estonia

[15] http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pdffiles/pub1069.pdf 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, GlobalSecurity.org [http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/war/spratly-clash.htm]

[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

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.

Chapter Three Closing the Gap: Modernisation of the PLA in the Post Desert Storm World

The military capabilities demonstrated by the US in the 1991 Gulf War came as a great shock to the high command of the PRC military.  It highlighted to them the enormous gap in capability that existed between the PLA and the militaries of advanced nations.  It demonstrated how the PRC had failed to take advantage of technological and doctrinal developments, which left the PLA as an infantry dominated territorial defence force still working under the People’s War doctrine championed by Mao Tse Tung.  This was an attrition based defensive doctrine which relied on the large population of the PRC to be the decisive factor.  The PLA possessed little to no power projection capabilities and its equipment was outdated.  Its force structure, doctrine and command and control systems were all modelled on outdated Soviet lines.  It became clear to military planners in the PRC that if efforts were not made to improve things the PLA may have been unable to fulfil many of its objectives.  The short war with Vietnam in 1979 proved to be an embarrassment for the PLA if arguably not a defeat, as it failed to crush the smaller state.  It was after this that Deng Xiao Ping instigated the first set of reforms, but it was clear by 1991 that they had not gone far enough.  The period since Operation Desert Storm has seen massive changes and capability improvements across the PLA. The current doctrine is known as Limited War under High Technology Conditions and aims to integrate advanced RMA style technologies and the doctrine to use them.  However it can be argued that these are just the start of the process and that the momentum needs to be maintained in order to ensure that the PLA can meet all its challenges effectively.

In 1985, the strength of the PLA, including the PLAN, the PLAAF and the Second Artillery Corps, was approximately 3 million.  The PRC decided to cut military personnel through several programmes, to its current strength of 1.9 million.  Although still a conscript force with all the disadvantages this implies such as low wages, low morale and low education, these reductions enabled a range of improvements to take place.  The 2000 paper “China’s National Defence in 2000” stated that “the total number of organs at and above the corps level was reduced by over 1,500 making the command structure leaner, more agile and efficient…Army field troops deactivated some corps headquarters and a number of divisions and regiments.”  The paper further states that this resulted in “the army field troops… [becoming]…more integrated, smaller, lighter and more versatile…services and arms featuring higher technology [now] make up a higher percentage of the armed forces.” The 2008 paper “China’s National Defence in 2008”, further reinforces these themes in that the PLA “is gradually making its units small, modular and multi-function in organisation…is accelerating the development of aviation, light mechanised…information countermeasure forces…and special operation forces…so as to increase its capabilities for air-ground integrated operations, long distance manoeuvres, rapid assaults and special operations.”

These changes are an essential foundation for the PLA to build on in its efforts to move away from being a largely immobile, strategically speaking, territorial defence force.  The reduction in numbers has advantages other than improving efficiency in force structures.  A smaller force structure will give way to an increase in the level of training, which is essential for a force to become familiar with the advanced concepts of integrated mobile operations and the advanced weaponry associated with them.  A smaller force also enables an increase in pay and conditions which has an effect on morale and motivation.  These improvements are further strengthened with attempts to develop a professional corps of non-commissioned officers (NCOs), arguably the backbone of a modern military.  An improved personnel management system for commissioned officers coupled with improvements to professional military education will increase the professional knowledge and standards of commissioned officers.  Again these improvements are essential for an improvement in the capabilities of the PLA.

For the most part, PLA equipment has been based on Soviet designs or has been actual Soviet or Russian equipment exported to the PRC.  Although the PRC has strived hard to be self sufficient, its military industrial complex has been sorely lacking.  This has not stopped the PRC from continuing to try and develop its own advanced weapons.  The latest Main Battle Tank design is the Type 99 and, despite several advancements over previous Chinese tanks, it lags behind western MBTs such as the US M1A2 Abrams.  It is made of welded steelover which Explosive Reactive Armour (ERA) plates can be added.  In comparison the Abrams and the UK’s Challenger 2 are constructed using advanced composite armour, such as Chobham Armour, and over that can be added ERA plates.  The composite armour is far superior in defeating anti-tank munitions compared to welded steel and is a significant step up in capability.  It was reported that the previous model, the T-98, had an integrated fire control system with advanced stabilisation and a laser range finder thus enabling the tank to accurately fire on the move.  It is highly likely that the T-99 will have been fitted with a similar system.  Due to the relatively high costs ($1.9 million in 1999 terms) this platform has not gone into serial production and has only equipped a very limited number of units.  Although development of heavy armour runs contrary to many RMA theories and is something western nations are not currently undertaking, it does illustrate the PRC’s desire to have an advanced and balanced force capable of handling many contingencies even if the technology still lags behind the west.

The PLAAF has undergone significant modernisation but, as previously noted, it is thanks largely to the Russians, as indigenous Chinese industries are not as advanced as the West or arguably the Russians.  The development of the PLAAF suffered several false starts during the reign of Mao Tse Tung which left it with outdated structures and equipment including aircraft, the J-6 fighter aircraft suffered several engineering problems, Surface to Air Missiles (SAMs), Anti-Aircraft Artillery (AAA) and sensor systems.  During the Sino-Vietnamese conflict in 1979 the PLAAF could only provide very limited support to the PLA ground formations. The capabilities of the US air force during Operation Desert Storm showed PRC military planners how airpower could affect the battlefield, aside from providing CAS and fighting for air superiority.  It was recognised by those same planners that until the PRC aviation industries improved, in particular its aero engine and avionics complexes, that the advanced aircraft and other equipment that would be needed to address these deficiencies would have to be imported.  In 1992 the PLAAF took delivery of its first Russian built Sukhoi Su-27 Flanker fourth generation fighter.

It took the majority of the decade to integrate the aircraft fully, given the level of technical skill needed to maintain and operate the aircraft and because the PLAAF was in the process of introducing new joint doctrine.  These aircraft were followed by the more advanced Su-30MKK and Su-33 multi-role fighters and the TOR-M1 and SA-20/S-300 air defence systems.  As well as acquiring the license to build the Su-27 in China where it is known as the J-11, the PRC has finally developed its own modern multi-role fighter with advanced capabilities and the potential to match up to western and Russian 4th generation fighters, the J-10.     Perhaps more crucially in developing advanced airborne capabilities is the development of an AWACS capability in the form of the indigenous Y-8 KJ-200 and the Russian supplied A-50/KJ-2000, itself a development of the Il-76 Candid transport.  The Y-8 is less capable than its Russian counterpart but once again shows the PRC’s commitment to developing advanced military capabilities.  To complement these relatively advanced platforms the PRC has acquired and, where possible, developed a range of PGMs.

From an RMA point of view the PLAAF is still lacking in several key areas.  Its strategic lift capability is concentrated around 30 Russian built IL-76 Candid transport aircraft which are supplemented by a mix of older Russian and Chinese designs.  However this capability is insufficient to transport enough airborne forces to deal with anything but a limited set of missions as the Il-76 can only carry approximately 125 paratroopers.  Even if every aircraft in the inventory was available, they could only carry the equivalent of a reinforced brigade and this does not take into account aircraft needed to carry vehicles, support weapons or supplies.  The pool of aircraft will only shrink as operations are undertaken, as combat and maintenance casualties take their toll.  This pool of aircraft represents an even more limited capability should the PRC wish to move heavy armour and weapons and the troops to use them rapidly by air.  To fully develop a rapid expeditionary force the PRC needs an aircraft similar to the US C-5 Galaxy, C-17 Globemaster III or the Russian An-124.  The PLAAF also needs to develop greater airborne intelligence gathering capability than its current Russian built Tu-154M/D Careless, and to gain a level of battlespace awareness comparable to the US or the UK it would need to procure a platform similar to the JSTARS or ASTOR.  The final platform necessary to enable the PLAAF to perform sustained long distance operations would be tanker aircraft.  The very limited number of converted H-6 bombers that undertake the air to air refuelling role will need to be replaced by a more capable platform and in greater numbers.  An obvious choice would be the Russian tanker variant of the Il-76.

Given that many of the PRC’s security objectives involve the maritime environment, a possible Taiwan invasion, securing the SLOCs and disputes over contested island groups, it is unsurprising that much of the PRC military development has been directed at the PLAN.  For many years the PLAN was nothing more than a coastal defence force, and a relatively ramshackle one at that. 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.

The current order of battle of the PLAN is a mix of older platforms such as the Luda class destroyer, which has limited capability when compared to potential rivals; and modern platforms with advanced capabilities such as the Russian built Sovremenny class destroyers, which were designed with the intent of destroying enemy US carrier groups; the indigenously built Luyang class destroyers with long range area defence SAMs and the Jiangkai general purpose guided missile frigates.  In the coastal defence role these vessels are supplemented by approximately 50 Houbei fast attack craft armed with Anti Ship Cruise Missiles (ASCMs) and stealthy low profiles. The surface platforms are further supplemented by a large attack submarine force, including capable Russian built Kilo class diesel submarines and indigenously developed Song and Yuan diesel submarines and the modern Shang nuclear powered attack submarines.  Many of these platforms are being retro fitted to carry ASCMs giving them a significant long range anti-surface capability.  These are backed by land based aircraft of the PLANAF, a significant number of ASCM’s operated by Second Artillery and a large mine warfare capability.

It can be argued therefore that sea control of the coastal areas is largely assured and that the large number of platforms armed with ASCMs will give at least a limited area denial capability within the first island chain.  Phase 2 and 3 are arguably still outside of the PLAN’s reach.  One of the biggest problems that the PLAN faces in conducting sustained long distance operations is its lack of modern at sea replenishment capability.  The PLAN only has a limited number of modern Fuchi and Fuqing class replenishment ships and without an expansion in this area the PLAN will continue to face difficulties.  To project maritime power beyond the second island chain the PLAN will need to develop an increased amphibious capability, which it will also need to be successful in an invasion of Taiwan, and at least one carrier group.  Amphibious modernisation has begun with the introduction of the first of class Yuzhao Landing Platform Dock (LPD) which is on its maiden deployment to the Gulf of Aden.  Several more of this class, supported by the current amphibious platforms, will be needed for a Taiwan invasion.  The PLAN has begun refit and modernisation of the ex-Russian carrier Varyag.  It is not clear at this stage whether this will be used as a training platform, given the complete lack of Chinese carrier experience, or as an operational unit.  In either case, to challenge US dominance of the Pacific and to truly project significant global maritime power, the PLAN will need multiple carriers and supporting vessels.

The Second Artillery Corps is responsible for all of the PLA’s ballistic rocket forces, both nuclear and conventional, its potential Anti Ship Ballistic Missile (ASBM) force, its embryonic Anti Satellite (ASAT) force and its Land Attack Cruise Missile (LACM) force.  These forces can have a significant impact on the PRC’s ability to deal with any security challenges they may face.  The nuclear tipped ICBMs give the PRC power and leverage enjoyed by only a few other nations, although nuclear weapons are arguably only useful in the grand strategic or political arena.  In any scenario involving Taiwan, the 400 SRBMs that are targeted at the island will be used to take out key strategic targets including C3 nodes, airbases and other key military facilities and perhaps most importantly, SAM batteries and supporting networks.  An overwhelming and successful strike by Second Artillery could make a follow up invasion less costly or even unnecessary, especially if Taiwan was denied outside support.  The development of ASBMs could make the involvement of the US less certain as it is unclear what the potential loss of an aircraft carrier would do to US resolve.  Second Artillery also has utility in any potential conflicts with states that share a border with the PRC.  Further development of conventional rocket forces, both ballistic and cruise missiles, in conjunction with a C4ISTAR network in massive need of development, would fulfil the RMA capability of long range precision strike and would give the PRC a limited global non-nuclear projection capability.

Second Artillery will also have a role in controlling the SLOCs, at least those within the boundary of the first island chain and the SCS.  Second Artillery units stationed on Hainan Island will extend the coverage of the rocket forces into the SCS and the disputed island groups there. This will extend the range of military options available to the PRC in dealing with any scenario involving the SLOCs and the SCS.  Although not immediately apparent, the Second Artillery Corps has the ability to act in what could be termed an asymmetric manner, especially in regards to any confrontations with the US.  As already mentioned, the PRC is developing an ASBM capability based around the DF-21 MRBM.  Although it will undoubtedly have other uses, it can be strongly argued that its sole purpose was to counter the power of the US carrier groups.  As already stated, it is unknown whether the potential loss of a carrier would weaken the resolve of the US commitment to the defence of Taiwan.  Even though the US would have other methods of intervening in a PRC – Taiwan conflict, the lack of a carrier capability would severely limit the options open to the US.  Secondly, the PRC is developing a capability to counter the other overwhelming superiority the US enjoys: C4ISTAR.  Much of the US capability is vested in its satellite network, which is why the PRC is developing a dedicated ASAT capability based on the DF-31 ICBM and a variant of the DF-21 MRBM known as the SC-19.  The initial capability was proven in 2007 when the PRC used an SC-19 to successfully intercept and destroy a Chinese FY-1C weather satellite.

The PLA has begun the  processes needed to drag its capabilities into the 21st century and to put itself 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.  Capabilities that are needed by the PRC to enable it to fulfil the security objectives it has set for itself, such as a modern air force, an effective ASAT and ASBM force and maritime power projection capabilities are very much still in the developmental stage.  As with many projects that are in development, it is a stark possibility that several may not come to fruition.  Even if and when these capabilities are fully developed and in service, the PRC will face the challenge of closing any new gaps that have appeared as other nations continue to develop and move forward.  The most likely gap will be the need to link all these new capabilities into an effective network.  Whatever the results of these developments, 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.

Chapter One: Military Security Concerns of the PRC

Chapter One

Military Security Concerns of the PRC

 When the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union collapsed, the PRC found itself without a direct military threat to its existence from another nation-state.  From the point of view of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) the current lack of a direct existential military threat does not remove the need for a modern and effective military.  The primary security concern is the survival of the CCP as the ruling power.  In the PRC the military is sworn to defend the party, not the state as in other countries such as the US.  Although external threats are not as big an issue in the 21st century, ensuring the territorial integrity of the PRC is still a major concern.  In Xianjiang province the ethnic Uighurs are a mostly Muslim culture and increasingly unhappy with their place in the PRC.  This obviously raises the threat of Islamic fundamentalism gaining a foothold inside the PRC.  The issue of Taiwan is particularly problematic.  Although relations between the two have mellowed since the tension of the mid-nineties there can be no doubt that the CCP views Taiwan as a part of the PRC.  In the eyes of the CCP some form of reunification and recognition of PRC sovereignty over the island is the only solution.  Relations with Taiwan inevitably involve the US.  Recognition of Taiwan as a democratic society with shared values coupled with legislation that compels the US to supply Taiwan with the means to defend itself ensures that the US will be concerned at any increase in tensions.  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 throughout the region.

As noted by David Shambaugh, in countries dominated by a Communist Party the military is an instrument of the Party in that “it brings the Party to power in violent revolution and uses occasional coercion and force to keep it in power.”  Perhaps the starkest example of this can be seen in the way the CCP dealt with pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square, and other parts of China, in 1989.  Not only did the PLA deploy infantry units to deal with the protestors and their supporters it also deployed heavy armour which resulted in the deaths of hundreds if not thousands of people.  Those protests were encouraged by the mixed signals that were received from the CCP leadership.  As the PRC continues to modernise and open itself economically, technologically and socially it risks an increase in pressure from the population for further reforms which will question the legitimacy of the CCP.  Susan Shirk has pointed out that the CCP has a 3 point plan to ensure stability within the PRC: “Avoid public leadership splits; Prevent large scale social unrest and Keep the military on the side of the Party.” All three of these points are interlinked and are dependent on each other for success.  This also highlights the continued importance of the military to the rule of the CCP.

As the PLA modernises it is essential from the point of view of the CCP that it maintains the capability to control the population.  As will be shown in chapter two, one potential consequence of military modernisation is that if it is not done correctly and in a balanced way, the resultant force structure could be left unable to accomplish all its assigned missions effectively.   The structure of the PLA during the Cold War was based around a large, relatively slow moving force with masses of infantry backing up relatively few armoured and mechanised units.  The soldiers were conscripts with little to no education except for the political indoctrination classes provided by the Party through the political commissars.  A mass of politically reliable infantry and supporting armour can be a very useful tool for population control where the level of civilian casualties is of limited concern to the ruling elite.

Some of the improvements brought about by modernisation will offer a significant capability increase to this kind of mission.  Advanced C4ISTAR systems would provide improved co-ordination between units and commanders as well as helping to pinpoint key weak points in the opposition structure such as exposed ringleaders.  Other advances such as PGMs have more of a limited utility, although if a certain level of collateral damage is acceptable then that utility is increased.  Force modernisation brings with it a unique set of challenges in relation to this mission.  Increasing levels of complexity with weapons, equipment and doctrine requires a higher level of education for individual soldiers.  A potential consequence of a better educated military is that it has a better understanding of situations and may therefore not be as reliable when it comes to using lethal force on their own populations.  The CCP must work a careful balancing act between improving the capabilities of the PLA and ensuring that it stays loyal to the CCP against internal dissident opposition as well as any external threats.

The biggest potential hotspots for internal dissent within the PRC are Xianjiang province and Tibet.  Xianjiang is a strategically important border region on the PRC’s northwest frontier.  Xianjiang shares border areas of varying lengths with Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.  Xianjiang is classed as an autonomous region within the PRC and is home to the Uighurs, a race of people ethnically diverse from the Han Chinese who makes up the majority of the PRC’s population.  The Uighurs hold little loyalty to the central authority of the PRC.  Culturally they have more in common with the Islamic and Turkic cultures to the west of the PRC.  These differences have been exacerbated by government sponsored mass migration programmes of Han Chinese to the province that is overwhelming the region and causing an increase in tensions.

In July 2009, 197 people were killed in ethnically targeted rioting. In Tibet in March 2008 between 19 and 200 people were killed in rioting.   Although the deployment of thousands of People’s Armed Police (PAP) meant that stability was restored, it was becoming increasingly obvious that there was potential for further unrest.  The proximity to so many states experiencing unrest, especially from Islamic fundamentalist groups, raises the potential threat level even higher.  This is not to say that the PRC faces an imminent fundamentalist threat in Xianjiang.  It does highlight the cracks in the PRC which can be further exploited.  In conjunction with other domestic pressures, as previously mentioned, it has the potential to become a serious security concern.  As will be seen in chapter two, counter insurgency warfare presents a set of military challenges that requires a specific set of capabilities and doctrine to deal with.  Ensuring that the PLA possesses these is one more challenge that needs to be addressed when planning and conducting force modernisation.

The issue of Taiwan is one of the most problematic for the PRC to deal with.  As already stated the US keeps one eye firmly on the situation.  Any increase in tensions only draws further scrutiny from the US and the wider global community.  The issue is also problematic on the domestic front.  It is felt in the CCP that the loss of Taiwan, in that if it declared full independence, would bring down the Party and end its rule over the PRC.  This implies that either the PLA or the people at large would forcibly bring down the Party.  Whether this is accurate or just a perception held by the hierarchy of the CCP is open to debate.  The significance is that the Taiwan issue can be argued to hold the same priority level as regime survival.  This could in turn impart constraints on the CCP in the way it handles the situation and, with the right (or wrong) set of circumstances, could precipitate military action.

Although the US is not guaranteed to intervene militarily, it is a strong possibility.  Therefore any military planning for a Taiwan scenario has to take into account the tremendous power projection capabilities of the US Pacific Command (PACOM).  The Taiwanese armed forces have an approximate total strength of 286,500 and are well equipped with modern western, particularly US, systems, many of which are defensive in nature.  To secure a military victory in a conflict with Taiwan would require the PLA to develop the capability to keep the US at arm’s length.  The PLA would not be able to defeat the US conventionally but it could develop the right set of capabilities such as area denial weapons and long range PGMs to make direct military intervention too risky or costly an option for the US to consider.  The PLA would also need to be able to enforce a blockade around the island in an effort to a force a solution without resorting to an opposed landing.  Finally the PLA would need to develop the ability to conduct a forced entry on to Taiwan whilst protecting the beach head and lines of supply in the event that an amphibious landing was necessary.  Although development of these capabilities is underway, they are some way from being in a position to be used successfully in this manner.  Fortunately for the CCP, relations between Taiwan and the PRC have warmed since the 2008 election of Ma Ying-Jeou and peaceful negotiation appears to be the current order of the day with minimal inflammatory rhetoric.  However, this has not stopped the PLA from continuing to develop its capabilities in order to prepare for these contingencies.

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.  It could also bring the PRC into conflict with non state actors such as pirates or terrorist groups.  The hijacking of the MV Faina in 2008, carrying 33 T-72 Main Battle Tanks (MBTs) by Somali pirates highlighted to the world the resurgence of piracy on one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes.  In order for imports, such as oil, to reach the PRC and for PRC exports to reach their markets, it is imperative for the SLOCs to be kept open and secure.  The vast majority of Chinese seaborne trade has to pass through two of the world’s most notorious shipping choke points, the Straits of Malacca and the Bab el Mandeb where the Red Sea meets the Gulf of Aden.  The PRC has contributed to international efforts to fight piracy in the Gulf of Aden by deploying several groups of their most advanced warships, on a rotating basis, to the area to escort Chinese merchant vessels through the Internationally Recognised Transit Corridor (IRTC).  The Straits of Malacca shows a lower level of threat to international shipping from its pirate activity and security for the area is left to the littoral nations around the Straits.  However if the situation were to deteriorate to the same extent as off the Horn of Africa, it is likely that the PRC would make moves, diplomatically or militarily, to secure their interests.

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.  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.  Furthermore it would give the PRC control over the natural resources in the area.  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.

 

The Sino-Indian relationship has been fraught with problems over the years, including the Sino-Indian Border Conflict in 1962.  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, has not helped to ease tensions.  China is concerned that India wishes to become a regional hegemon something that India also suspects of China.  Continued disputes over the border regions of Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh/South Tibet, 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 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.  The potential risk posed by the Indian Navy is further heightened by the presence of naval facilities, albeit without standing forces, on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.  This island chain is located in close proximity to the western end of the Straits of Malacca presenting a further danger to Chinese SLOCs.

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.  The legitimacy of the CCP is based partly on its victory over the Japanese during the Second World War.  Relations with Japan present a tricky proposition for the CCP.  Public sentiment is often reported as being more anti-Japanese than anti-American.  Again, whether this is an accurate perception or not, the CCP fears that looking weak in dealing with Japan could cause instability which could threaten the survival of the Party.  From an external viewpoint Japan fears that PRC control of Taiwan would threaten Japanese SLOCs.  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.  This further complicates planning for the Taiwan scenario in that not only must the PLA deal with the US, they must also deal with the advanced Japanese Self Defence Forces.  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.  Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, the US is the sole superpower on the Earth.  It can further be argued that the military capability gap between the US and the rest of the globe has increased and is likely to widen in the years ahead.  The power projection capabilities of the US military are unparalleled and are supported by its system of alliances and bases around the world.  The most likely point of conflict in the short term will be over Taiwan.  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, other nations are likely to be wary and increase their own capabilities in response.  For the PRC to challenge US military dominance in the Pacific region will require a full spectrum development of its military capabilities and would take several decades to achieve based on its naval strategy.  It is also likely that unless there have been major diplomatic efforts and a resulting shift in the regional balance of power, the US would be able to form a coalition of allies to continue to keep China in check, thereby increasing the challenge that the PRC would face.

To deal with the potential security challenges it faces, the Party led PRC requires a wide range of flexible and advanced military capabilities.  Unlike many western states, the PRC needs to develop the capability to deal with internal threats posed by its own population.  It also has to be prepared to deal with the challenges posed by external non-state actors trying to impact upon the security of the PRC.  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.  In many cases this requires advanced military capabilities, if only to ensure that national policy makers have the widest range of options available to them.

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People’s Republic of China: Military Security Concerns & Modernisation in the 21st Century – Introduction

Well good evening all!  How are we?  *Is this thing on?*  Tonight I’m going to post up the first parts of my Masters dissertation.  Below you will find the introduction and in the next post you’ll be able to read Chapter One: Military Security Concerns of the PRC.  I’ve removed all the footnotes/references etc as they do not translate well stylistically into a blog.  I’ll  be posting my Bibliography at the end and if you have any questions in the meantime (either regarding references/sources or just in general) then please ask them.  If anyone is reading this if you could leave a little comment that would be awesome (just to make me feel a little less lonely 🙂 )

Introduction

 The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is, without doubt, rising on the international stage.  Although still an authoritarian one party dictatorship controlled by the leadership of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) it has made several improvements to itself economically, technologically and militarily, to become a leading regional power with the ambition and potential to become a truly global power.  This work is concerned with the military developments the PRC has undertaken, mainly in the wake of the 1991 Persian Gulf War.  It is focused on the conventional war fighting capabilities of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) and the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).  It also looks at the conventional capabilities of the PLA Second Artillery Corps.  This work does not look at the PRC’s nuclear capability.  The development of nuclear weapons and the strategies to use them arguably belong in a study of Chinese grand strategy in a political and military sense.  Coupled with the PRC’s declared “no first use” policy they are largely irrelevant in a study of conventional options in response to the PRC’s security challenges.  This work also does not look at the People’s Armed Police (PAP) or any other PRC security or intelligence organs.  The PAP, which was formed out of several PLA units, is a paramilitary force responsible for internal security.  Although this is a security concern that is analysed, it is not studied in great enough depth to justify the inclusion of the single mission PAP into a study of the developing multi-role capabilities of the PLA and its subordinate branches.

When the Cold War ended and the Soviet Union collapsed, the PRC found itself without a direct military threat to its existence from another nation-state.  Chapter one will look at the key security challenges that the PRC must now face.  At the top of the list is regime preservation and the survival of the CCP as the ruling power.  In democratic states, such as the UK or the US, this issue would not be a security concern as governments have the potential to change every few years as part of the electoral process.  The armed forces in these countries are sworn to defend the state as an abstract whole.  In the PRC the armed forces are a part of the CCP and are therefore sworn to act on its direction.  This means that preservation of the CCP’s status is of paramount importance.

The chapter then moves on to look at potential threats to the territorial integrity of the PRC.  There are several ethnic minority communities that live within the borders of the PRC.  Like many nation-states, the borders of the PRC have moved several times over the centuries.  This results in a non-homogenous society, from a cultural and ethnic viewpoint, which can have the effect of making some of those disparate elements rebel against the controlling majority.  This is a situation that the PRC must deal with, particularly in its north western border province of Xianjiang.  This province is home to an ethnic group known as Uighurs who are a largely Muslim culture and are increasingly unhappy with their place in the PRC.  As an Islamic culture which is unhappy with its central government, the spectre of fundamentalist terrorism is quick to raise its head, especially given the provinces proximity to nations such as Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Relations with Taiwan are looked at next in the chapter.  The PRC maintains that Taiwan is a province of the People’s Republic and is therefore subject to its sovereignty with all the rights and obligations that this entails.  Tensions have ebbed and flowed over the years, and even though relations are currently cordial, the PRC refuses to rule out the use of force in bringing Taiwan under its control.  This issue is complicated by US interest in the situation.  Although not recognising Taiwan as a sovereign state, the fact that it is a free market economy with shared democratic values, coupled with legislation that forces the US to supply Taiwan with adequate means to defend itself, ensures that the US pays close attention to cross strait tensions.  The US is not the only nation state of concern.  India, Japan and the littoral states of the South China Sea (SCS) are all viewed as potential threats to the security of the PRC.  Chapter one looks at these nations and the threats that they potentially pose.

The Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) has occupied the minds of defence analysts since the late 1970’s.  Chapter two is entitled ‘Desert Storm and Beyond: The Effects of the RMA on the Development of Military Capabilities’ and looks at military technology and doctrine in the post 1991 Persian Gulf War world.  There have been notable advances in the development of joint capabilities between the land, air and maritime branches of advanced armed forces.  The use of Precision Guided Munitions (PGM’s) such as Tomahawk cruise missiles have potentially revolutionised the conduct of warfare in conjunction with advances in Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (C4ISTAR) assets.  The chapter looks at how these developments have been used in conflicts since 1991 and how effective they have been.  As technology has altered so has the nature of conflict.  Nations with advanced militaries such as the UK and US, have found themselves engaged in conflicts with opponents who do not approach anywhere near the level of technology that they posses.  This lack of advanced capability has not stopped these opponents from causing serious problems for the UK and US.  They have developed asymmetric capabilities that have targeted specific weaknesses in US/UK force structures.  This style of warfare is also being adopted by other nation-states who recognise their own limitations regarding military capability.  The chapter also looks at the need to maintain a full range of military capabilities in order to handle a multitude of situations instead of focusing military development down one specific route.

The military capabilities demonstrated by the US in the 1991 Gulf War came as a great shock to the high command of the PRC military.  It highlighted to them the enormous gap in capability that existed between the PLA and the militaries of advanced nations.  It demonstrated how the PRC had failed to take advantage of technological and doctrinal developments, which left the PLA as an infantry dominated territorial defence force.  Chapter three looks at the modernisation of PRC military capabilities since 1991.    The PLA possessed little to no power projection capabilities and its equipment was outdated.  Its force structure, doctrine and command and control systems were all modelled on outdated Soviet lines.  It became clear to military planners in the PRC that if efforts were not made to improve things the PLA may have been unable to fulfil many of its objectives.  The short war with Vietnam in 1979 proved to be an embarrassment for the PLA if arguably not a defeat, as it failed to crush the smaller state.  It was after this that Deng Xiao Ping instigated the first set of reforms, but it was clear by 1991 that they had not gone far enough.  The period since Operation Desert Storm has seen massive changes and capability improvements across the PLA.  However it can be argued that these are just the start of the process and that the momentum needs to be maintained in order to ensure that the PLA can meet all its challenges effectively.

Chapter four looks at two specific situations facing the PRC should political and diplomatic efforts fail and they result in conflict.  It looks first at the Taiwan situation, its potential strategies in dealing with this scenario and whether its current capabilities have advanced far enough.  Secondly the chapter looks at the resolution of a conflict over disputed assets in the SCS.  It again looks at the strategies and capabilities involved.  The main question posed by this chapter is whether or not the PLA needs to be as advanced as the US in order to meet all of its security challenges successfully.     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 developments undertaken on its conventional forces 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.   However it is arguable that 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.