Thursday, May 9, 2013

US Department of Defense 2013 Report to Congress regarding Chinese Military and Security Developments: Analysis

The 2013 DOD Annual Report to Congress is an important tool to not only gain insight into the current modernization of China's military capabilities and doctrine outlooks, but to gain an equally important look into the mindset of the US Department of Defense related to the developments that are taking place in China. Below are excerpts taken from the report with some brief analysis. The report in its entirety can be viewed here.

Chapter 1: Annual Update 

Regarding Sovereignty Claims of the PRC: 
"In September 2012, China began using improperly drawn straight baseline claims around the Senkaku Islands, adding to its network of maritime claims inconsistent with international law"

China has continued to approach its territorial claims in a manner that run counter to international norms.  Its approaches of historical claims, as well as ambiguous markers, such as its nine-dashed line regarding claims in the South China Sea, continue to hinder China's objective of making a "peaceful rise" in terms of international standing.  States such as the Philippines, Vietnam, and Japan have all made military cooperation overtures on various levels towards the United States as a result of such practices.

Current Capabilities of the People's Liberation Army 

*Second Artillery

"By December 2012, the Second Artillery's inventory of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) deployed to units opposite Taiwan stood at more than 1,100" 

"To improve the lethality of this force, the PLA is also introducing new SRBM variants with improved ranges, accuracies, and payloads"

Although  relations between  China and Taiwan have improved on many levels during the Taiwanese Presidential administration  of Ma Ying-jeou, who took office in 2009, China continues to enhance and build up its missile deterrent towards Taiwan.  Many analysts within Washington have stated that enhanced cooperation between the two countries would lower China's aggressive military stance towards Taiwan, the levels in which the PLA  adds missiles pointed at Taiwan has not decreased since 2009.

PLA Navy (PLAN) 

"During 2012, China continued series production of several classes (of guided missile destroyers (DDG) and guided missile frigates (FFG), including construction of a new generation of DDG.  Construction of the LUYANG II-class DDG (Type 052C) continued, with one ship entering service in 2012, and an additional three ships under various stages of construction and sea trials, bringing the total number of ships of this class to six by the end of 2013"

The report also states the launching of the LUYANG III-class DDG (Type 052D) , which is expected to enter service in 2014. The DOD report states that the vessel will be the PLAN's "first multipurpose vertical launch system, likely capable of launching ASCM, land attack cruise missiles (LACM), surface-to-air missiles (SAM), and anti-submarine rockets."

Beijing has taken a rather patient and methodical approach to modernizing its Navy.  Previous suggestions that the PLAN was modernizing its fleet with a traditional  defensive doctrine in mind look to be inaccurate.   As reported by Toshi Yoshihara and James Holmes in September, "...having experimented with various DDG designs, the PLAN was simply settling on a model that incorporated the best of each test platform."

PLA Air Force (PLAAF) 

"China bases approximately 500 combat aircraft within unrefueled operational range of Taiwan and has the airfield capacity to expand that number by hundreds.  China continues to field increasingly modern 4th generation aircraft, but the force still consists mistly of older 2nd and 3rd generation aircraft..."

PLAAF J-31 Test Flight 

While the PLAAF continues to modernize its aircraft modernization, it still lacks the numbers of modern aircraft, modern doctrine approaches, and training of their American, Japanese, and Taiwanese counterparts. With the development of the J-20 and J-31, however, the gap in qualitative aircraft capability will continue to shrink in the upcoming years.  Taiwan once enjoyed a highly superior air force over their PLAAF counterparts, yet with the upcoming retirement of its F-4 fighter platform without a viable replacement, the long-term upgrading of its F-16 fleet that will take a sizable portion of its most advanced fighters offline for years at a time, and the expensive maintenance costs of its French-built Mirage fighters, Taiwan faces a dire need for a modern addition to its current Air Force fighter jet arsenal.

China continues to look for options to acquire a long range bomber platform.  It currently utilizes the H-6, which was acquired from the Soviet Tu-16 design in the late 1950s, and has recently upgraded its current fleet. If a new platform was acquired, it would provide additional strategic depth for the PLA's nuclear delivery capabilities.

Part 2 of the Analysis will examine the PLA's objectives of joint training, coordination, and military information operations.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Rumors abound regarding a potential SOFA agreement between the United States and The Maldives

     When most people think of the Maldives, pristine beaches, world-class scuba diving, and its threatened existence due to global warming tend to come to mind.  Yet it is the issue of a rumored and under-the-radar Status of Forces Agreement between the United States and the Maldives that is perhaps thrusting  this small island nation into an increasingly competitive game of risk between regional and world powers.

On April 24th, Maldivian journalist and human rights activist Azra Naseem posted an entry into her blog, Dhivehi Sitee, reporting on a draft agreement that she had seen in which the United States and the Maldives were reportedly close to signing. (the full copy of the draft the Azra Naseem has stated she has seen can be viewed in its entirety here).  If the stated Status of Forces Agreement (referred to hereafter as SOFA) is authentic and were to remain unchanged before both countries were to sign the document, it would entail some of  the following provisions:

*"United States personnel shall be accorded the privileges, exemptions, and immunities equivalent to those accorded to the administrative and technical staff of a diplomatic mission...."
-The document states that "United States personnel" would include members of the United States Armed Forces and civilian employees of the United States Department of Defense.  The document also states that "United States forces" means "...the entity comprising United States personnel and all property, equipment, and materiel of the United States Armed Forces present in the Republic of Maldives". 

*"United States personnel shall be authorized to wear uniforms while performing official duties and to carry arms while on duty if authorized to do so by their orders."

*"Vessels and vehicles operated by or, at the time, exclusively for the United States forces may enter, exit, and move freely within the territory and territorial seas of the Republic of Maldives..."

While SOFA's are not by any means uncommon within the United States Military structure (it currently has over 100 of them; each with varying levels of American autonomy and agreement), what makes a potential SOFA between the United States and the Maldives potentially controversial is the timing, considering the recent political upheaval in the Maldives.  In some aspects, the US approach towards a SOFA with the Maldives appears to be ripped straight out the People's Republic of China's foreign policy playbook.

A Realist Approach 

For decades, Beijing has approaches foreign relations with a certain sense of ambiguity, as it will conduct business with states that have democratic governments and strong positive human rights records (Sweden, France, Denmark, Canada) while jointly pursuing relationships with those states who have authoritarian systems and reputations of rampant human rights abuses (Sudan, Iran, North Korea, Zimbabwe).  With a blanket approach and deep pockets, the PRC has been able to make considerable inroads in geographic areas such as Sub-Saharan Africa, Central America, and the Pacific that have often been considered afterthoughts following the Cold War due to their perceived degraded strategic value.  Unlike the United States, which often attaches human rights and moves towards democratic rule a prerequisite for foreign aid (although there are glaring exceptions to this), China has no qualms about spreading its economic largesse in the name of self interest.

In the fall of 2011, China opened its new embassy in the Maldivian capital of Male, setting off alarms in both Washington and New Delhi.  Speculation was rampant within India that the PRC was looking to further solidify yet another  "friendly maritime ally in the region, following Beijing's enhanced relationships with Sri Lanka, Seychelles, Bangladesh, and Mauritius, and of course Pakistan.  Rumors also surfaced regarding China's desire to establish a naval submarine base on the Maldivian island of Marao.  During the time coinciding with the opening of the new PRC embassy in Male, Beijing also extended a $500 million dollar loan (USD) to the Maldivian government.  Overseeing these developments was Maldivian President Mohamed Nasheed, and the course of events the followed shortly thereafter remains shrouded in dispute.

Mohamed Nasheed 

On February 7th, 2012, President Mohamed Nasheed resigned on national television.  A mere 24 hours later, Nasheed stated that his resignation was coerced by army and police officials, and was threatened with death if he did not comply. His Vice President, Dr. Mohamad Waheed Hassan Manik was sworn in within the hour after the resignation.  The given reasons behind Nasheed's alleged resignation have remained vague.  It should be noted that prior to  Nasheed becoming  the first democratically elected President of the Maldives in thirty years, the country was under over three decades of one-party authoritarian rule.  Nasheed was also arrested and imprisoned multiple times in the 1990s, including one episode in which he claimed he was forced to "eat food mixed with glass".  It seems that an abrupt "resignation" of a Presidency that he fought decades for would not be in his nature.

Since Nasheed's resignation, there have been multiple alleged human rights abuses in the Maldives, as well as the sacking of cabinet officials from Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party (MDP).  According the British newspaper The Guardian

*"Amnesty International has described events in the Maldives as a "human rights crisis", reporting widespread police brutality and arbitrary arrests"

*"Nearly 2,000 peaceful demonstrators calling for elections have been detained by security forces, many beaten and hospitalised"

A number of celebrities and British government officials have publicly condemned the current situation in the Maldives, including Ed Norton, Sir Richard Branson, and Karen Bilimoria and Eric Avebury of the United Kingdom's House of Lords.


Interestingly, the new government has appeared to be more receptive towards American overtures of a military relationship, as shown by a recent joint exercise between American Marines and the Maldivian Navy
(Although joint exercises have taken place previously on a biannual basis,  sources  say that military  contact between the two countries increased shortly after the military coup took place in 2012)

One potential reason behind the relative lack of fanfare of a potential SOFA between the countries is the sensitive political climate that remains in the Maldives.  According to Naseem's post:

"Article 77(3) of the 2008 Maldives Constitution stipulates that:
No part of the territory of the Maldives shall be given to a foreign person or party for a military purpose for any period without the approval of the People's Majlis (Parliament)"

Nasheem also goes on to state that before the SOFA can be sent to Parliament for approval, it must be endorsed by the Attorney General of the Maldives.  Adding to the intrigue, on April 10th, April Azima was "relieved of her Attorney General duties, and transferred to the post of Minister of Gender, Family, and Human Rights".  Nasheem states that the current President Waheed appointed Aishath Bishama, a young appointee who was unlikely to disagree with higher authorities.  From the perspective of the United States, it is understandable that such an agreement would be kept under the radar, as domestic and international human rights advocates and organizations would demand more answers behind such an agreement with a country who has recent questions regarding its human rights record.  With some of  its military stationed in bases throughout the world in countries with questionable human rights records (Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Uzbekistan immediately come to mind), why is the United States government looking to establish yet another  military presence in a country that presently is in the midst of a political crisis in the and raise questions about its long stated goal of rewarding democracies and shunning oppressive regimes when possible?  The answer lies in the Maldives increasingly vital  geographic position.

Maldivian government officials being wowed on the carrier USS John C Stennis (3-31-2013) 

Vital Links 
Geography is the primary reason why the United States is looking to outflank China in regards to a military presence on the Maldives, and while doing so largely ignore the human rights questions within the island state.
The Gan Airfield has been strategically important since the Second World War

The Gan airfield  was administered by the United Kingdom as a military facility until 1976, when it handed over control of the Atoll to the Maldives.  It's location in the center of the Indian Ocean potentially allows for patrol aircraft to monitor wide swaths of vital shipping lanes in the Indian Ocean. It could also serve as a base for long range bomber aircraft with proximity to the Middle East and Eastern Africa, as well as a submarine and naval vessel resupply and repair center.   The United States currently leases a base with similar purposes from England on the island of Diego Garcia.  The Diego Garcia base lies nearly 700km to the south of the Addu Atoll, but with America's lease on the island set to expire on 2016, with a deadline on renewal in 2014.  The island is also reputed to be one of America's "black site locations", a location used to interrogate high value captures, often from states targeted in the "War on Terror".


The governments of both the United States and the Maldives deny that any SOFA is imminent.  In the past two weeks both countries have issued blanket denials regarding the speculation.  There have not, however, been denials that talks have taken place in recent months.  The aggressive pace in which the United States is pursuing some sort of binding agreement, however, suggests that defense officials in Washington place a high value on having some level of a permanent military  presence within Maldivian territory.  The timing of the ouster of Mohamed Nasheed that coincided with almost immediate engagement between Washington and Male raises further questions.  While China's $500 million dollar loan offer  to the Maldives was an overt attempt by Beijing to curry favor with officials, it is not yet clear what sort of incentive the United States is prepared to offer in return for potential basing rights within the country.  What is clear, however, is that the current Administration is prepared to resort to Beijing's foreign policy blueprint of foreign relations realism, and toss aside the necessity of democracy and human rights if a situation beneficial to the United States strategic position arises.  Hans Morgenthau would be most proud.