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Crimea….but what about Northern Ireland, Northern Cyprus and the Golan Heights?

I woke up this morning to find a question from an old friend on my facebook feed… “how is what Russia doing in Crimea different from what Turkey did in N. Cyprus or what Israel did in the Golan Heights (think that’s where I mean) and weren’t we accused of holding northern Ireland illegally in the past?”

The Irish question I do not want to get too involved in as it is a very emotive issue for a lot of people, a lot of whom may read this.  However the 1920 Government of Ireland Act led to the creation of Southern Ireland and Northern Ireland, both states within the greater United Kingdom.  However the Irish War of Independence led in 1922 to Southern Ireland winning independence and becoming the Irish Free State and subsequently the Republic of Ireland.  The six counties of Northern Ireland remained as part of the United Kingdom and thus the conflict between Unionists and Nationalists continued.  The 1998 Good Friday Agreement ensures that the legal status of Northern Ireland in respect to staying or leaving the UK will  not change without the consent of the majority of the population.  All legal and above board unless any of you know different.

Moving on….Northern Cyprus.

Wait.  What?  Northern Cyprus?  I thought there was just…Cyprus…right?!

Map of Cyprus


Back in the day, Cyprus was a part of the Ottoman (Turkish not furniture remember…) Empire.  It had (minority) Turkish and  (majority) Greek communities which for the most part lived relatively amicably together.  Point of note Article 20 of the Treaty of Lausanne (1923) saw the end of Turkish claims to the island   Skipping over a lot of detail fast forward to the early 1950’s.  Tensions were flaring and a Greek Cypriot nationalist group called EOKA (Ethniki Organosis Kyprion Agoniston  or “National Organisation of Cypriot Fighters”) started a campaign of violence to initially drive out the British and try and unite the island with Greece (the idea of Enosis).  In 1960 Cyprus gained its independence under the Zurich agreements which stipulated a Republic made up of both ethnic groupings led by the Archbishop Makarios (a Greek).  Nationalist violence flared on both sides for many years with EOKA fighting a Turkish resistance movement TMT (Türk Mukavemet Teşkilatı), both groups were supported by their respective country (Turkey and Greece).  Bloodshed, hatred, ethnic rivalry.  People were being killed for being Turkish or Greek.  Attempts were made to settle things down.  They never really worked.

In 1974 Archbishop Makarios was deposed in a coup d’etat that was sponsored by the military junta ruling in Greece.  He was replaced by Nicos Sampson a former leader of EOKA.  Unsurprisingly Turkey becomes concerned over a man accused of killing ethnic Turks coming to power so they decide to conduct military operations which culminates in the top third of the island coming under Turkish control.  The lightly armed British led UN peacekeepers did not have the capability to halt the invasion even if the political will was there to fire on a NATO ally.  Turkey in 1975 declared the the northern part of the island a Federated Turkish State.  This was condemned under UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 367.

And that is about as much outcry as there was.  Turkey was a strategically important member of NATO, both in its location (posing a strategic threat to the USSR’s southern flank and its control of the entrance to the Black Sea through the Bosphorous) and in the size of its armed forces.  Cyrpus was a little island which although was/is important to the UK as it gave them a base in the Eastern Med, was a lot less important on the global scale of things.  Plus this partition didn’t stop the UK from using it as a base.  Political realities far outweighed legal rights and desires of some communities.  No other nation state apart from Turkey recognises Northern Cyprus as a separate state.

Was Turkey’s invasion legal? They claim it was under the articles of the London – Zurich agreements and the Treaty of Guarantee.  It states (roughly) that the states involved (UK, Greece, Turkey) have the right in intervene if action cannot be orchestrated between the three states.  However one of the provisions also says that the three states will prohibit the partitioning of the island….

….so not really then.  Was it right in terms of protecting the minority ethnic Turks?  I’d say yes.  From a pragmatic point of view it seemed to be the only way to protect them given that the UN peacekeepers were not very effective (in large part due to the restrictions placed on UN peacekeepers).

So moving on to the Golan Heights….(what do you mean you’ve never heard of it and have no idea where it is?)



At the end of the Six Day War (1967) Israel had once again shown that it was the pre-eminent military force in the region.  It also occupied the Golan Heights after taking it from Syrian forces.  As its name suggests the Golan is a high place 🙂  In other words military forces deployed on the heights can dominate the surrounding area.  Is the Israeli occupation legal….no, not really.  It was taken over as part of a military operation.  There have been several attempts through diplomacy to have them returned but these have always fallen flat on their arse for one reason or another.  UNSCR 497 calls for Israel to rescind its de facto annexation.  Israel refuses mainly due to security concerns.

So where these three like Crimea?  I’d argue not, although the Turkish pretext for invading Cyprus comes closest.  In Cyprus there was actual ethnic bloodshed which could justify an intervention.  The Crimean referendum is illegal (although not necessarily wrong from the point of view of self determination).  Northern Ireland is all legal.  Golan Heights is an illegal military occupation with no pretext similar to the Ukraine/Crimea.  I don’t want to rehash my opinion on the Ukraine here, you can find it further down.

Hope that helps Mr Fitt?


So the Crimea referendum is illegal and we (The West) are against it…but Kosovo wasn’t illegal and we (The West) were happy to blow the shit out of Serbia for it….WTF?

So….Crimea had its referendum and unsurprisingly there was an overwhelming vote to leave Ukraine and join Russia.  Although the ethnic Tatars and other opposition groups didn’t take part in the vote, even if they had I don’t think it would have affected the end result.

So where does that leave us?  Crimea has already made its desire clear to become a part of the Russian Federation and I can’t see a scenario where that doesn’t happen.  And given the overwhelming support it had from the Crimean population is that a bad thing?  The Tatars would definitely say “YES”.  As I wrote about before the Tatar population has history with Russia…mass deportation is not quickly forgotten.  The other opposition groups would also say “YES” as they want to remain a part of the Ukraine and presumably move in a westward leaning manner.  But the majority have spoken…in September this year Scotland will have the chance to do the same.  Whatever the result, the majority will be listened to and the losers are going to have to make their own choices about the future.  But back to the Crimea…

The West (EU and US mainly) along with the Ukraine have called the referendum illegal and that with no basis in law the results cannot be justified or recognised.  A fair and accurate point.  The Ukraine constitution does provide for the legal means for a referendum on Crimean Independence but these means were not used.

Why I hear you cry?  The Crimean ‘government’ (it is actually calling itself the ‘Supreme Soviet’!  Talk about harking back to the old days….) declared that as the new government in Ukraine came to power by force rather than by democratic means, that it has no legal legitimacy and therefore no right to tell Crimea what it can and can’t do.

This view is shared by Russia.  Surprise Surprise.

However Yanukovych was impeached in a vote by MP’s 328  – 0 on 22 February.  As far as I understand it the Ukrainian Constitution (the basis of all laws and legal stuff in the Ukraine) gives Parliament the power to impeach the President.  So therefore (if that is correct) Yanukovych was removed legally, fresh elections were called for on 25 May and an interim government was installed until said elections take place.

Coz you’ve gotta have somebody running the place right?

So if the removal of Yanukovych and the installation of an interim government was all kosher and above board then it has legal legitimacy…and therefore the law of the Ukraine (enshrined in the Constitution) still applies.  So following that, any action taken in regard to declaring independence (such as a referendum) that hasn’t followed the legal path put forward by the Constitution and enacted by its lawfully appointed agents (i.e. Parliament and the interim government) is illegal.

So in 1999 when NATO blew the shit out of Serbia that was all done because Kosovo had gone through all the legal channels properly but Serbia had a strop and wouldn’t let it go.  Right? Wrong.

The majority population of Kosovo are ethnic Albanians, because who knew that ethnic cultures weren’t bound by lines drawn on a map by victorious powers after a big ruck?

Kosovo had been declared as part of Serbia following defeat of the Ottoman (Turkish not furniture based) Empire during the Balkan War of 1912 – 1913.

Say…that date is awfully close to another famous date in the calendar…is there a link?

Following the Sequel to World War One Kosovo was retained as part of the federal Republic of Yugoslavia…an artificial state that disintegrated into war, atrocity and ethnic cleansing.  The main constituent nation of Yugoslavia by the end of the 1990’s was Serbia.  Serbia saw Kosovo as part of it and was unwilling to let it go.  All clear so far? No?  Read on and I’ll try to explain further….

I’ve missed out a crucial point….the massive ethnic tension and rivalry that erupted into violence and caused death on both sides.  The Kosovons were being oppressed by the Serbians/Yugoslavian (They are pretty much the same thing at this point).  Their culture and language was being suppressed and they were being denied other rights. To put it simply…they had NEVER got on.  So they decided to start blowing up Serbians.

Interesting side note to this:  In 1998 the US State Department (the Americans equivalent to the Foreign Office) declared the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA, the main force behind the violence from the Kosovan side) as a Terrorist organisation.  Yeah…put that in your pipe and smoke it.

The Serbians retaliated, atrocities were committed (on both sides it can be argued) and it degenerated into near open war.  The Serbian army deployed heavy armour and artillery to the region and started blowing the shit out of things.  The KLA fought back.

I think its important to state at this point, that in my opinion there were no Good Guys in this situation.  Both sides committed murder and other heinous and violent crimes, ethnic cleansing being just one.  But neither side were squeaky clean,

However a lot of Kosovon civilians were getting caught in the cross fire and so The West, through NATO, decided to act (without UN approval I might add) and launched a massive air campaign to put a stop to the violence and force the Serbian government to put a halt to its nastiness and thus Kosovo was put on the road to independence (formally declared in 2008).

So the difference between the two affairs?  Crimean situation is technically illegal in the realms of Ukrainian law.  They had recourse to utilise the lawful mechanisms available to them to try and bring about independence.

Kosovo was also technically illegal in trying to separate from Serbia however when the bloodshed and the ethnic cleansing started it can be argued that they had no recourse to legal mechanisms and force became the only response.

Again this is a relatively simplified opinion on why Crimean independence is bad and yet Kosovo independence is good (from the viewpoint of those who hold power in The West).


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 Two Desert Storm & Beyond: The Effects of the Current RMA on the Development of Military Capabilities

The Dictionary of International Relations defines the latest Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) as the “strategic consequences of the marriage of systems that collect process and communicate information with those that apply military force”.  This refers to the advances in Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance, Target Acquisition and Reconnaissance (C4ISTAR) and advances in weapons technology such as stealth and Precision Guided Munitions (PGM) and how they have been merged together to produce a capability.  It also encompasses changes on an organisational and doctrinal level. Some proponents of the RMA believe that advanced militaries such as the United States (US), should be moving towards the point where the overwhelming majority of operations are conducted using cyberspace and long range precision strike munitions with an absolutely minimal footprint on the ground. This chapter will look at the effects this RMA has had on the United Kingdom (UK) and the US.  It will look at post Cold War military deployments, procurement and organisational and doctrinal change.  When looking at post Cold War military deployments, the chapter will also look at whether those states undergoing RMA style changes have significantly outclassed their opponents who are not undergoing the same style changes. 

The end of the Cold War saw a change in the nature of security and conflict.  For the most part the 20th Century had been pre-occupied with inter-state conflict.  The last decade of the 20th and first decade of the 21st Century has seen a rise in other types of conflicts and security concerns.  These other types include intra-state conflict such as civil war or insurgency warfare, humanitarian interventions, peace-keeping, peacemaking and peace enforcement and the threats posed by non-state actors such as terrorist groups and criminal networks.  These require a wide range of differing responses and military forces structured and equipped to provide the variety of responses.

The response to the 1990 invasion of Kuwait became a showcase to the world, highlighting the advanced capabilities of the US and, to a lesser extent, the UK militaries.  Advanced weapons such as the F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter and PGMs such as Paveway Laser Guided Bombs (LGBs) and Tomahawk cruise missiles were exposed to the world as they helped to dismantle the Iraqi defences in the opening phase of the war.  E-3 Sentry Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) aircraft in conjunction with relatively advanced fighter aircraft ensured that Coalition forces enjoyed complete air supremacy, notwithstanding the fact that elements of the Iraqi Air Force fled to Iran.   In the maritime environment the Persian Gulf and Red Sea were dominated by the Carrier Groups of the US Navy (USN) and a sizeable contribution from the Royal Navy (RN).  AEGIS equipped vessels ensured that nothing could approach the area above the surface without being noticed whilst nuclear attack submarines (SSN) guarded against any sub surface threat.  These forces also projected power ashore through air strikes, Tomahawk launches, traditional gunfire support and presenting a threat of amphibious assault.  When the land campaign got underway the Iraqi forces were completely outclassed and outgunned by the US and UK forces.  They utilised advanced gun sights and composite armour enabling them to fire accurately on the move and to absorb return fire with minimal casualties.  These forces were backed by helicopter gunships equipped with advanced sensors and PGMs.

These technologies were backed up by a Command, Control and Communications (C3) system guided by a 64 satellite constellation of various intelligence collection types including, Global Positioning System (GPS), and utilising an array of airborne intelligence collection platforms such as RC-135 Rivet Joint and Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (JSTARS) aircraft.  This gave the US led coalition an overwhelming advantage in battle space awareness and control compared to the Iraqi forces.  It could be inferred from this that the Gulf War was a triumph for high tech weapons and capabilities and that further developments along those pathways would revolutionise warfare in the coming years.  However careful analysis of the conflict shows considerable cracks in the idea of it being the foundation for future warfare.

The Gulf War can be seen as an almost textbook perfect war for the US and UK.  It enjoyed worldwide political support and worked hard diplomatically to ensure it had complete legitimacy in the eyes of the international community.  The Coalition enjoyed an unprecedented period of relative calm in which to build up its forces free from interference.  The invasion took place at the beginning of August 1990 but the Coalition air campaign did not begin until January 1991.  This gave the Coalition six months of preparation along with excellent opportunities for intelligence collection.  Although the Iraqi army was the fourth largest in the world, in terms of capability it could only be considered a third rate force.  The majority of its equipment was obsolescent and its formations, with the exception of the Republican Guard and the regular army armoured divisions, were poorly led and trained using doctrine that the US and UK forces had spent the Cold War training to defeat.  The terrain in which the conflict was to take place was perfect for manoeuvre warfare.  As Tim Benbow states “it would have been a different story had Operation Desert Storm been Jungle Storm or City Storm.”

There can be little doubt that Operation Desert Storm was going to be anything but successful even if the US and UK militaries had not possessed such an overwhelming qualitative advantage.  The other factors involved such as superior morale, leadership and training, widespread international support, preparation time, local area dominance and environmental suitability would in all likelihood have ensured a coalition victory albeit at a greatly protracted timescale and with a far greater level of casualties.  Advanced technologies played a very important role in the Gulf War and their development continues to play an important role in operations.  However to draw the conclusion that development of advanced military technologies would provide relatively easy and low cost, in terms of personnel and materiel, victories or solutions would be unwise.  It can be argued that a military completely geared to fight an ultra high tech war could find itself vulnerable to low tech asymmetric responses and unable to deal with the full range of security challenges.

Since 1991 the US and UK have found themselves embroiled in several conflicts which were very different to Desert Storm.  The wide spectrum of these conflicts has highlighted the continued development in advanced technologies and doctrine as well as the weaknesses involved in over reliance on high technology.  They demonstrated the need for a well balanced force able to engage on many levels of conflict.  The 1993 US operation in Somalia demonstrated the need for an improved understanding, through intelligence, of the situation on the ground.  Not realising that large numbers of the local population would oppose the US forces in Mogadishu was one of the main factors that led to the ‘Black Hawk Down’ situation which resulted in the death of 18 US servicemen regardless of the advanced technology possessed by the US.

During the NATO airstrikes against Serbia the advanced airborne capabilities of the Alliance encountered several difficulties.  The shooting down of an F-117 Nighthawk by a Soviet era SA-3 Surface to Air Missile (SAM) demonstrated to the world that stealth technology had vulnerabilities which could be exploited even by forces equipped with near obsolescent equipment.  The Serbian use of camouflage and decoys along with tactics such as turning off air defence systems to prevent them being targeted, ensured that despite the overwhelming superiority in C4ISTAR and PGMs many NATO strikes were ineffective.  The debate is still ongoing as to whether it was the air campaign or a combination of factors, including the air campaign, such as the threat of a ground assault that forced Serbia to the negotiating table.  The fact that the threat of a ground assault may have contributed to the outcome underscores the utility of a well balanced force able to undertake a variety of missions.  Reliance on one option, regardless of how well advanced technologically, could leave a nation unable to fulfil its objectives.

During the initial phase of the Afghanistan conflict, UK and US airpower was used in conjunction with Special Forces on the ground to support Afghan Northern Alliance forces.  The Taleban were scattered and defeated whenever they engaged in a stand up battle.  Two years later US and UK forces quickly destroyed the remaining military forces of Iraq and toppled Saddam Hussein’s regime.  Once again PGMs were used extensively in conjunction with a massive C4ISTAR network.  However in both cases the initial successes were overshadowed as the conflicts evolved into Counter Insurgency (COIN) campaigns that arguably neither the UK nor the US were ready for.

The end of the Cold War saw many nations enact huge cuts to their armed forces.  As the decade progressed military planners realised that the conflicts of the future would require forces that were lighter and more rapidly deployable but would retain, if not increase, their lethality.  To achieve this there would have to be increased integration or ‘jointery’ across the domains and further development of C4ISTAR capabilities.  This was to ensure that deployed forces had the vital information superiority necessary to enable maximum effect from a smaller footprint.  To make the move from continental to expeditionary warfare required fundamental changes.  The brigade would become the main deployable unit of the army instead of the division.  Air units were reorganised into multi-type expeditionary air wings instead of the usual single type units.  Naval forces became geared for power projection ashore and securing the littoral environment as well as securing the sea lines of communications.

Important strides were taken forward by the US and UK militaries.  The UK acquired several types of PGM including submarine launched Tomahawks, Paveway IV LGB and Stormshadow cruise missiles. The Bowman communications system began the process of linking land forces into a digitised network and the Future Rapid Effects System (FRES) looked at re-equipping the army with a balanced force of heavy, medium and light vehicles.  The RN purchased a new helicopter carrier and two new amphibious assault ships as well as committing to purchase two new aircraft carriers.  All helicopters and Harriers were grouped together in the Joint Helicopter Command (JHC) and Joint Force Harrier (JFH) respectively and a Permanent Joint Headquarters (PJHQ) was established at Northwood.  In the US, emphasis was placed on the formation of medium weight Stryker Brigade Combat Teams (S-BCT) and the increased development and use of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs).  The US revitalised its naval power projection capabilities with new classes of aircraft carriers, helicopter carriers and amphibious assault ships as well as the Zumwalt class advanced destroyer and the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS).  Efforts were also dedicated to cyber or information warfare.  This entails using computer systems to attack key points of an opponent’s electronically controlled infrastructure in order to force them to surrender before major kinetic operations begin.  As Steven Metz points out, the technology to achieve an effect on such a scale is still largely theoretical.  On first analysis this type of warfare seems ideal, little to no cost in terms of resources and an unparalleled ability for strategic surprise.  However it also raises several ethical issues over its use and its effectiveness against low tech opponents.

Many of the technological advances discussed have limited uses in COIN campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Instead of utilising a small deployed footprint these conflicts have needed huge numbers of ground forces deployed to fight the insurgent groups.  This has required development of new tactics and doctrine.  It has also necessitated the procurement of new equipment as well as upgrading older equipment.    Forces deployed into theatre found themselves attacked on an increasingly frequent basis by Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).  Three ways of defeating the IED threat are immediately apparent:  prior detection, travel by air or travel in appropriately armoured vehicles.  As reported at great length in the media, British forces in Afghanistan are desperately short of helicopters.  Both UK and US forces found their vehicle inventories lacking.  Light utility vehicles such as the US Humvee or UK Snatch Land Rover had little to no protection against the IED threat or the Rocket Propelled Grenades (RPGs) used by insurgent forces. Existing inventories of heavy armour have limited tactical utility in COIN warfare and are seen as too imposing for winning the hearts and minds campaign.  A new range of medium weight vehicles such as Mastiff and Warthog had to be procured and modified to address the IED threat.

C4ISTAR capabilities have proven their worth in detecting and to some extent countering the IED threat.  Firstly the deployment of airborne assets with advanced sensors along patrol routes can lead to the spotting of insurgents or suspicious vehicles which could present an IED threat.  Fitting sensor suites to patrol vehicles enables them to detect and potentially jam the command signals of some IEDs.  Although PGMs have their uses in COIN warfare many air sorties were limited to ‘show of force’ flights.  This involves a high speed pass over insurgent positions which is often enough to force them to break contact.  There is still considerable need however for more conventional Close Air Support (CAS).  The main effort on the ground is focused around large numbers of infantry and supporting arms.  Technological advances have tried to make the infantryman’s life easier.  Programs are underway in the UK and US to bring into service technologies that will directly link the individual soldier into the battlefield network.    Efforts are underway to ease the weight burden of the infantryman by making equipment lighter.  In an effort to minimise civilian casualties in Afghanistan CAS and other fire support is no longer used as a matter of course and only when the risk to civilians is as minimal as possible.  This leaves the forces on the ground in the position where they risk higher casualties to themselves if they do not use the available support or to the civilian population if they do.  Either way it is a loss to the hearts and minds campaigns in Afghanistan and at home.

Asymmetric warfare is not only the province of insurgent groups; it can also be the main strategy of a nation state.  Ongoing tensions with Iran mean that a future conflict between the US/UK and Iran is not out of the question.  It can be strongly argued that the Iranian government knows it could not win in a stand up conflict with the US, the disparity in terms of both quality and quantity is too great.  However the Iranians can make victory too expensive to consider war as an option.  Iranian strategy and force composition is geared towards swarm attacks on several axes in order to overwhelm a target and any defences it possesses.  From a maritime perspective the narrow confines of the Persian Gulf, particularly the Straits of Hormuz, is perfectly suited to this.  A combination of swarms of small, fast attack craft, mines and coastal defences in the form of cruise missiles and multiple rocket launchers would quickly make those narrow waterways an unhealthy place to be.  It is likely that similar attacks would be used in a land campaign with the main aim of inflicting as many casualties as possible.  The weakest domain for the Iranians is in the air.  The air and air defence forces are completely outclassed by US and UK forces and would be quickly overwhelmed and destroyed.  Efforts to rectify this have been attempted with the stalled purchase of the advanced S-300/SA-20 air defence system from Russia.

It can be argued that with air supremacy the Iranian advantages in asymmetric warfare are lost.  The advanced air capabilities of the US and UK backed up by a massive C4ISTAR network would lead to the detection and destruction of any Iranian assets deemed to be a threat.  However as already discussed there are ways to avoid airborne detection and strike.  One of the coalition failures during Desert Storm was the hunt for the mobile SCUD missile launchers.  Although there have been advances in detection technology it is likely that air strikes against mobile Iranian assets would encounter similar difficulties as those encountered during Desert Storm and Kosovo.  A consequence of the RMA is that whilst capability is increased so is cost which in turn decreases the number of platforms.  In a battlespace that is saturated with threats the likelihood of a platform being overwhelmed and suffering damage is much greater.  The loss of a platform that may not be easily replaced would have a disproportionate effect in contrast to an attacker who has invested in and partially sacrificed a large number of capable low tech platforms.  The number of casualties on either side would also have a disproportionate effect.  The loss of a US or UK destroyer sized vessel with approximately 250 crew would cause uproar at home and would have a damaging effect on domestic support.  If the Iranians were to suffer similar or greater casualties the controls over the press and individual rights would enable the regime to spin it in a favourable way and clamp down on any dissent.

The ongoing RMA does not give military planners a one stop solution to military conflicts.  A nation that puts all its eggs in one doctrinal basket will find itself unable to respond effectively to the full spectrum of military challenges.  History has shown that whenever a military advance is made a counter to that advance will always be developed.  The tank was developed in response to the overwhelming strength of defensive firepower; the aircraft carrier spelt the end of big gun battleships; and asymmetric or COIN warfare was 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.  The advantages given to a force that possess PGMs and well developed C4ISTAR capabilities cannot be denied.  However 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.  Similarly the security problems of the 21st Century can only be predicted with a relatively small degree of accuracy.  It is essential therefore that a nation’s military be advanced enough to have an advantage over potential adversaries but remain flexible enough to deal with the unexpected.

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 🙂 )


 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.


The Ukraine Situation

This probably won’t be my most well crafted piece of analysis and will likely be more of a ramble, however…

So the Ukraine…a map can be found here:

As you can see it has Russia to the east, the Black Sea to the south, Belarus to the north and Moldova, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Poland to the west.  Those last four nations are all members of NATO (I’m going to assume you know what NATO is.  If you don’t, please ask. In this situation I, for once, won’t take the piss.)

You can see the little sticky out bit at the bottom of the Ukraine?  That’s the Crimean peninsular.   You can also see that as well as only being connected to the rest of the Ukraine by a relatively tiny spit of land, it is only separated from mainland Russia in the east by a narrow body of water known as the Strait of Kerch.

A little bit of history.  The Crimean War?  Charge of the Light Brigade?  Florence Nightingale? Mary Seacole? That’s right all took place on that sticky out bit.  Secondly, and more important in the context of the situation at hand, the Crimean peninsular only became part of the Ukraine in 1954.  It was handed over by the Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev (who was himself a Ukrainian and responsible for Soviet side of the Cuban Missile Crisis).  Prior to that it was either part of Russia as a whole or an autonomous region within the Soviet Union.  It has always had very close links to Russia.  It is currently dominated by people who identify themselves as Russians.  Russian is the pre-dominant language.  However there are also ethnic Ukrainians as well as a small number of Crimean Tatars.

Another historical note: During the Second World War, the Tatars suffered mass deportation at the orders of Josef Stalin for collaboration with the Nazis.  I don’t know how true it is, I’ve never really looked into it and it is outside of the scope of this piece.

So the rest of the Ukraine.  Very very roughly split along east/west lines.  Those in the east of the country identify more with Russia or even as Russian.  Those in the west identify more with central European countries and ergo “The West”.

So more background.  In the elections in 2010 Viktor Yanukovych was brought into power with roughly 48% of the vote with approximately 67% turnout.  All monitoring organisations declared that the election was free and fair and all the other good things we in the West expect of Democratic elections.  Yanukovych is Pro-Russian and made no secret of that.  The opposition was pro western and again made no real secret of that.

Protests kicked off in Ukraine back before Christmas, with the essence of them being about Yanukovych’s decision not to sign a far reaching trade deal with the EU.  Other reasons came into it too as you’d expect.  In short legitimate protests were taking place against the democratically elected government of the Ukraine. Dialogue took place but to no avail.  Then came the spark – Ukrainian police, allegedly belonging to the elite Berkut police unit, opened fire on the protesters.  Its unlikely we’ll know for sure the Who, What, Where, When, Why of that decision and the order that everyone opened fire.  Suffice to say everything turned ugly and Yanukovych fled the country after first trying to destroy a metric FT of documents.  In my opinion if he sanctioned the order to fire on civilians and then fled the country he forfeited all legitimacy to the Presidency.  The interim government stepped up made up of opposition members as well as some very unsavoury right wing members of the protest movement.  I mean very right wing.  Next historical note:  during WWII parts of the Ukrainian population outside of the Crimea, were also accused of collaborating with the Nazis.  See above point regarding the Tatars.

Wider background:  Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 91/92 successive Russian governments have been worried about encirclement from nations allied to the West.  You can probably understand their worry.  Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Poland, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, the Czech Republic all became members of NATO. An organisation which had been created, to Russian minds, to destroy the Soviet Union.  Suddenly here it was on the doorstep.  Therefore when Ukraine and Georgia started talking about becoming members of NATO, Moscow became very unhappy and did whatever it could to discourage this.  In essence the Ukraine has become a bit of an ideological battleground between East and West.

Also since the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia has sought to reclaim the prestige/power/influence it enjoyed when it was the heart of the USSR and one of the two superpowers on the planet.  A nation brought low and seeking its way back to the top should never be underestimated in International Relations terms.  Russia wants to be seen and treated as the equal to the USA.

One way Russia has flexed its muscles on the international stage has been through nationalistic rhetoric about protecting all Russians and keeping Russia together. As well as making it difficult for any nation who wanted to look west.  Examples include supporting the breakaway republic of Transnistria who broke away from Moldova, the spat in Chechnia and the little invasion of Georgia in 2008 to support the two breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia.  That, lest we forget devolved into an actual shooting war.

So where were we?  Yanukovych overthrown (rightly or wrongly depending on your point of view) and the start of instability in the rest of the Ukraine.  Enter Crimea, stage left.

As we know Crimea leans heavily towards Russia.  What you might not know is that as part of post Soviet treaties the Russians got to keep the Headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet at Sevastopol.  In essence a bunch of mostly decrepit warships and support vessels, as well as approx 25,000 personnel with supporting aircraft etc. were legally based in Crimea.  Most invasions of another nation require a foothold or beachhead to be created first, usually in very violent means.  Russia didn’t need to in this case, it already had a legal one.  However another thing to note is that all movement of Russian forces outside of those bases has to be approved by the Ukrainians.

Rewind to the end of last week. Identically uniformed and equipped men, very well organised essentially take over key installations in the Crimea such as the airports and government buildings.  Some have said that they are local militia groups etc.  However local militia tend never to be identically dressed and equipped and never have the transport and armour support that these guys have.  So even though they are without any kind of insignia everyone “knows” they are Russians.  Likely naval infantry and spetznaz (special forces) from the Black Sea Fleet.  However even though  everyone knows they are Russians, no one can prove it.  Everyone stays calm and the Ukraine doesn’t rise to the provocation.  In the midst of the confusion Russia moves in reinforcements.  Ukrainian reports indicated approx 2000 troops flown into the Crimea on Friday night.  If true they would likely be highly trained airborne forces and more spetznaz.  As the hours and days go by the “Russians” have surrounded all Ukrainian military installations in the Crimea and have secured communications routes (roads, airports etc.) into the Crimea.  Sensibly Ukrainian forces have not responded.  The Ukrainian military in the Crimea was no more than a token garrison force and ill equipped to provide resistance in the Ukraine, especially to a power like the Russians.

So where does that leave us?  The West has shouted and demanded, Putin has ignored them.  The official Russian line is that they are defending fellow Russians from extremist and nationalist radicals in Kiev.  I have even heard the term genocide get used.  Really.  The Crimea is de facto, if not de jure, under Russian control.  The majority of the population appear to be happy with this, although as usual there is limited confirmation for this.

Is this the end? The $64,000 question.  Will Russia take the opportunity to seize the Russian leaning provinces in Eastern Ukraine?

This is where it could all go horribly wrong.  Realistically the Ukrainian armed forces have no hope of retaking the Crimea by force.  They are outmatched by the Russians in key areas such as armour and more importantly air power.  They can only advance down one narrow land corridor.  They can’t conduct amphibious or airborne operations to outflank Russian positions.  They either lack the capability or do not have the necessary superiority in the domain.  They cannot achieve tactical or strategic surprise, the Russian will know they are coming.

However the east of the country is a different ball game.  The Ukrainians could put up a fight.  They will still be heavily outmatched in every department.  The two Russian Strategic commands facing the Ukraine, West and South have recent combat experience and a higher proportion of more modern equipment.  Also due to the Ukrainian dependency on Soviet era bases, all those bases are orientated to support a war in the west, not defeat an invader from the east.  Even though it is almost certain that the Ukrainians would definitely lose they would not be the roll over that the Georgians were in 2008.  This war would be a lot more costly for the Russians. Furthermore this situation could spark essentially a civil war between pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian militia groups.  Who knows where that would end.  It certainly wouldn’t be quick or pretty.  Threat of an invasion from the east will also act as a strategic distraction to the Ukrainians.  If they try to free Crimea they leave themselves open to the east.

Will the West get involved militarily? I’d go so far as to say I’d put money on ‘Not for the Crimea’.  The reasons are various:  war weariness from UK and US populations, logistical difficulties in getting necessary forces that far east.  It is eminently possible but a ball ache to do quickly.  Wariness in taking on a nuclear armed power in possession of a conventional military that is more capable than some third world desert republic.  Lack of consensus in support of military action from the other European nations, particularly the Germans.

If the Russians invade the east of the Ukraine?  I’m still thinking no, but am a lot less certain and certainly wouldn’t put any money on it.  We are starting to move towards a tipping point in the credibility of the West in standing up for things it supposedly champions like self determination, freedom from oppression etc.  Arguably our credibility is already in tatters after Iraq in 2003 and to a lesser extent Afghanistan.  We did nothing to support Georgia and normalised relations with Russia in the short years after, due to the fact that we need them on the international stage to help with issues such as Iran.  Also due to them supplying a large chunk of Europe’s gas.  Its also worth remembering the Budapest Memorandum of 1994 whereupon the UK, US and Russia agreed to recognise and not interfere with militarily or economically the territorial sovereignty of the Ukraine.

However if we do stand by and let the Crimea and the eastern Ukraine be taken over by Russia are we in danger of repeating the mistakes of 1938?  Give us the Sudetenland (part of Czechoslovakia) for it is full of German speakers and then we will be happy…

I’m not for a minute suggesting the situation is exactly the same but could we face this situation again down the road?  What other ex Soviet Republics or part thereof could be subject to the same threats?  Belarus is already in the pocket of Russia and with a totalitarian government it is unlikely to change.  However if the government was ousted?  Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia are all members of NATO and you can be sure they would be screaming “Article 5!!” (NATO clause obliging all members to come to that nations defence) as soon as Moscow looks at them sideways.

If through any of the means at the West’s disposal we cannot stop the Russians and inflict some kind of punitive measure do we need to recognise that the World has changed once more?  How we do have the strength of our (the West’s) supposed convictions in this situation without bringing the spectre of nuclear armageddon to the fore once more?  Although it can be argued that the Cold War and the possibility of a nuclear winter represented one of the most stable periods (for everyone outside of Africa and South East Asia) for a hundred years or so.  But that’s a different story.

So, as Randall says [For the West]…”Its time to shit or get off the pot”.

Ramble over.  I hope it helped.  I’m not completely sure it will make sense.  Any questions?