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United States

The geopolitics of the Indian Ocean

The Indian Ocean is an immense maritime space of great geopolitical and geoeconomic importance. It is a crossroad for sea trade that connects the advanced economies of the East and the West. At the same time, there are also many factors that threaten its stability. These are often closely related with the international dynamics of the Asia-Pacific, to the point that the two areas can be considered as single reality.

West: Challenges and Opportunities for Africa

On its western part, the Indian Ocean touches the shores of the vast African continent. This creates a peculiar mix of opportunities and challenges for coastal states like South Africa, Mozambique, Madagascar, Tanzania and Kenya. Thanks to their position, they can easily reach important economic areas such as India, the Middle East, Europe and the Asia-Pacific. Engaging in maritime trade with these regions could provide a major economic boost to these African states and improve the living conditions of their citizens. In addition, emerging powers like China and India are heavily spending in Africa to access its much-needed natural resources and exploit the opportunities for high investment returns. Yet, in the case of China, this also raises concerns. While African states welcome Chinese investments as they come with no legal precondition on the respect of civil and human rights, some worry that its economic penetration might result in political leverage and in a form of economic neo-colonialism.

There are also two states whose situation is particular. The first is Ethiopia, the powerhouse of the Horn of Africa. As other states along the continent’s eastern coast, it can greatly benefit from international sea trade, but unfortunately it is a landlocked country. This largely explains the recent deal it reached with Eritrea to settle their longstanding conflict: turning Eritrea into a friend would enable Ethiopia to access the sea and engage in maritime trade along one of the busiest routes in the world. As a matter of fact, the Red Sea is an obliged passage for ships sailing between Europe and Asia. Ethiopia has even expressed its intention to build a navy, which is a clear sign of its seafaring ambitions.

The second peculiar case is Somalia. In theory, it is also poised to take advantage from its position on the Indian Ocean, but in practice it is a failed state ruled by armed groups where the central government has not enough power to pursue such kind of maritime policy.

This raises the issue of the threats to sea trade along the Western shores of the Indian Ocean. Somalia is part of the problem, as it has become a hub for piracy. The difficult economic conditions have pushed many Somalis to start attacking cargos navigating along the country’s coasts. This became a serious problem that prompted the international community to organize a military operation to patrol the Somali waters and combat piracy. These efforts succeeded in securing the area and in reducing the number of attacks, but as long as the socio-economic conditions of coastal population do not improve, the risk of piracy will remain.

Then, there are two important chokepoints that connect the Indian Ocean with the Mediterranean via the Red Sea, which can be considered as a peripheral area of the Indian Ocean putting it in communication with Europe: first, the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait; second, the Suez Canal. Both passages are essential for sea trade, and any interruption would have a major impact on the global economy.

North: India & Hormuz

Located to the North, India is certainly the main regional player. A large and fast-growing economy, it is one of today’s most important rising powers and its influence is growing worldwide. New Delhi considers the Indian Ocean as “its own” maritime space, a vector for power projection and economic growth but also an area to be preserve from the intromissions of hostile powers for the sake of national security. India can enormously benefit from its position protracting towards the ocean midway along the vital East-West sea lanes, and in fact it already taking advantage from it. At the same time, by building a powerful navy it can extend its power abroad and protect its interests. As a matter of fact, New Delhi is concerned over the presence of foreign actors in the Indian Ocean, most notably Beijing. The PRC is indeed investing heavily in the region on the basis of its Maritime Silk Road plan, aimed at creating a string of ports to sustain trade with Europe. This is of central importance for China’s economy, which relies on sea trade for exporting goods and importing hydrocarbons; but some consider that the real objective of the project is to extend its influence in the region by economic means. In a context of broader Sino-Indian rivalry, New Delhi worries about Beijing’s presence in countries like the Maldives or Sri Lanka, considering it as a potential threat to its security. Similarly, India also sees unfavorably the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor that will connect the PRC with the ocean via the port of Gwadar.

Again, there is also a strategic chokepoint to consider: the Hormuz Strait, which connects the Persian Gulf with the Indian Ocean. This passage is vital for tankers carrying Middle Eastern oil to Europe and Asia and any interruption would have catastrophic economic consequences. Unfortunately, this is not a remote event: in case of a serious standoff between the US and Iran, the Strait would soon become a major flashpoint, since Teheran’s deterrence strategy is largely based on blocking the Strait; which it can do with relative ease due to geographic reasons.

East: the Indo-Pacific

To the East, the Indonesian archipelago and Australia separate the Indian Ocean from the Pacific. Similarly to Somalia, the waters around Indonesia had become infested with pirates in the recent past; and the phenomenon has been reduced only thanks to multilateral military and development efforts. Yet, if the living conditions of coastal populations deteriorated again, the problem may arise once more.

That said, Indonesia and Australia benefit from their position between the two oceans. It allows them to project their power in both directions, to reach the large European and East Asian markets and finally to access Africa with its resources and its potential for investments. Indonesia is particularly relevant in this regard: it is another emerging economy with a great potential, and its virtually controls all the major straits connecting the two oceans: Sunda, Lombok and most importantly Malacca. Indonesia’s growth is largely due to its position on these sea lanes, and Singapore has based its incredible wealth on it. Again, these passages are essential for maritime trade between Europe and Asia as well as for the latter’s energy security; and would become hotspots in case of war, notably between the US and China. If the US Navy closed them, it could seriously harm the tenure of the PRC’s economy. At the same time, they are also essential for American allies like Japan, South Korea and Taiwan; meaning that the US will use its naval power to ensure no hostile power blocks the Straits.

The eastern part of the Indian Ocean plays a fundamental role for maritime security; and the importance of the juncture between the two Oceans is leading many scholars, analysts and policy-makers to consider them as a single maritime region: the Indo-Pacific. The Indian Ocean is extremely important for states in East Asia because it represents the necessary passage to reach Europe; and the security dynamics of the Indian Ocean and of the Asia-Pacific are closely related. China’s New Silk Road initiative, the forays of its Navy in the waters of the Indian Ocean, the Sino-Indian competition, the free flow of oil from the Gulf and piracy in Indonesia are all strategic issues that tie the two oceanic regions. This explains why the concept of Indo-Pacific is also taking importance in American strategic discourse: the economic and security dynamics of the two areas are so intertwined that they must be considered as a single space. Other powers are applying the same logic, and this is having practical consequences: the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue uniting the US, Japan, India and Australia indicates their willingness to strengthen their political and military cooperation to face shared security challenges like the rise of China; and it represents the emergence of the Indo-Pacific as a political and strategic reality.

Conclusion: an Indo-Pacific future?

Many scholars believe that “the future is Asian”, which is even the title of a recent book by Parag Khanna. But Asia’s rise largely depends on trade with Europe and on oil imports from the Middle East across the Indian Ocean. As such, Asian states have major strategic concerns in this area. China, Japan and South Korea need to keep the sea lanes open. India is an emerging power whose influence is growing across the world via the sea. Indonesia is the pivot connecting the Pacific and the Indian Oceans. The United States, the world’s primary security provider, is facing many challenges in both Oceans and is committed to preserving the freedom of navigation. Moreover, the interests of the various stakeholders in the area are sometimes colliding, such as in the case of China and India. As such, with Asia’s importance growing every year in both economic and political terms, the Indo-Pacific is also gaining primary strategic relevance.

That’s all for today guys, thanks for watching another KJ Vid. What are your views on Italy’s recession. Will Italy recover or implode and potentially leave the EU. We would love to hear your views in the comments below especially if you are from Italy.

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Will Vietnam clash with China over the South China Sea?

Bilateral relations between China and Vietnam are not as easy as it may seem. At a first glance, they may be expected to maintain a positive and flawless partnership due to the similar political system. However, a deeper analysis reveals various divergences between the two countries, whose relations are becoming more conflictual with each passing year.

Historical background

China and Vietnam are both the cradle of ancient civilizations, but we can start examining their history since the two states took their current form in the aftermath of WWII.

After more than a century of intromissions and abuses from the part of Western powers and Japan, in 1945 China was devastated by war and politically divided. After a long and destructive civil war between the Communists and the Nationalists, which dated back to the 30s and was temporarily suspended to form a unified front against the Japanese invasion, the People’s Republic of China was proclaimed in 1949 following the victory of the Communists under the leadership of Chairman Mao Zedong. On their part, the Nationalists took refuge in Taiwan, where they founded a state that still remains de facto separated from the mainland. Still, the PRC was weak and isolated. It had very few allies apart from the Soviet Union; whose assistance was not sufficient to spark a sensible economic growth. Virtually all the other powers, especially the United States, were hostile to China. Moreover, Beijing’s relations with Moscow soon started deteriorating, to the point that the two seemed to be on the brink of war in 1969, when a series of border clashes took place.

Vietnam also had a troubled history following the end of WWII. France, the ancient colonial power, restored its control over the country after the brief Japanese occupation during the conflict. Yet, the Vietnamese soon started an insurgency that ultimately ousted the French in 1954. Following the negotiations that ended the war, Vietnam was divided in two states separated by the 17th parallel: the communist Democratic Republic of Vietnam in the north and the pro-American Republic of Vietnam in the south. But peace did not last long. One year later, a communist armed movement known as Vietcong was already active in the South, where it tried to overthrow the pro-Washington government. As the situation deteriorated, the US gradually escalated its support to the South, to the point of sending combat troops in the mid-60s. But the massive deployment of forces was not enough to defeat the Vietcong supported by the North and its allies, namely China and the USSR.

By the late 60s, then, both China and Vietnam were communist countries hostile to the US. Yet, things would soon change. After secret talks, the Nixon administration announced an unexpected diplomatic opening to the PRC, which culminated in the President’s visit to the country in 1972. This move was mainly driven by a double fold strategic logic. First, the US wanted to exploit the Sino-Soviet Split to its own advantage by putting the two communist states against each other and thus increase pressure on the USSR. Second, the Americans hoped to convince China to reduce its support to North Vietnam and thus facilitate the negotiations to end of the Vietnam War; and effectively a diplomatic settlement in this sense was reached in 1973. In spite of this, two years later the North launched a full-scale invasion of the South with its regular military forces. Strained by the long and costly war, the US decided to abandon Vietnam; which was therefore reunited under the communist regime.

Since then, the relations between Vietnam and China rapidly deteriorated. On spite of the similar political system, their alignment to the USSR and other regimes in South-East Asia led them to a short war in 1979 where both sides claimed victory; but their relations gradually normalized after the conflict. Later, China started implementing economic reforms, which sparked an extraordinary economic boom that still continues today; albeit at a slower pace. Vietnam followed its example, and today it is a fast-growing economy in full modernization. In both cases, this was not accompanied by political opening, and the respective Communist parties continue being the centre of the political system in each country. But during the past decade, bilateral relations have been worsening once again over a series of issues; and the trend seem to consolidate.

Sino-Vietnamese Disputes

The first and most important dispute existing between Vietnam and China is the one over the Paracel and Spratly islands, both located in the South China Sea, or SCS. This is very complex issue that goes way beyond the Sino-Vietnamese relations; as it involves overlapping claims by multiple countries over a strategic area for maritime trade that is also a rich fishing ground and is believed to host hydrocarbon reserves. Here it is sufficient to say that both China and Vietnam advance claims on the two archipelagos; but it is important to note that the Paracel are all occupied by the PRC. In fact, Beijing considers practically the whole of the SCS as its possession according to the “Nine-Dash Line” theory; and has been increasing its military presence in the area by conducting patrols, by expanding existing islands or even by building artificial ones, and by positioning military hardware and bases on their soil. Its activities have raised much concern in Vietnam and other riparian states; but due to their division and to the marked power imbalance in its favour, China has managed to gradually but firmly stabilizing its position in the SCS.

While this may look like a trivial quarrel over very small islets and rocks, in reality it has a major geostrategic significance. Legitimately controlling a piece of land that is recognized as an island (and not a simple rock) allows states to rightfully claim the territorial waters and the Exclusive Economic Zone around it. Applied to the SCS archipelagos, this means exerting control over vast maritime spaces that are rich in fish and that may host energy resources. Moreover, the SCS is an essential crossing area for sea trade; therefore, any conflict in the area would seriously disrupt the naval traffic with huge consequences for the global economy. Finally, over time the dispute has taken a symbolic relevance, which exacerbates national animosity and further complicates a peaceful resolution of the issue. Notably, a tense standoff between the two countries took place in 2014 following China’s drilling activities in disputed waters, and in March 2018 Vietnam decided to back down and cancel an important oil project in the area. In this sense, it is also important that Vietnam is modernizing its armed forces; with a particular focus on submarines, fighters and fire-and-forget anti-ship missiles. These are all weapon systems that would be useful in the case of a clash with China in the SCS, and it appears indeed that Vietnam is reshaping its military doctrine in this specific optic.

But there are also other divergences between the two countries. Linked to the SCS dispute, an important issue to consider is China’s economic presence in Vietnam. Many Vietnamese fear that the new economic zones established by their government will end up being dominated by Chinese investors. This has created social tensions that have erupted in violent protests in June this year, with demonstrators openly accusing China and its assertive policy in the SCS. Another problem is the question of waterways; notably the Mekong and the Red River, which both originate in Chinese territory. This has significant implications. First, it means that the PRC can control their flow; with major consequences for Vietnam’s agriculture, which still represents an important part of its economy. Second, and linked with the previous aspect, it means that Vietnam is vulnerable to water pollution generated by Chinese factories located upstream.

Another issue is China’s role in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN; a regional multilateral organization meant to promote dialogue and cooperation of which Vietnam is part. In regards to ASEAN, China has always been careful not to discuss the SCS dispute during the organization’s meetings, where it could be put in minority by the other states. In contrast, by applying an effective “divide & rule” strategy, the PRC has been capable of dealing with the issue directly with each member; where it can negotiate from a position of force. Moreover, China is expanding its influence over all of ASEAN members; but Vietnam is resisting. This does not exclude some positive trends in Sino-Vietnamese relations. Bilateral trade is important: in 2016, the PRC accounted for 13% of Vietnam’s export for a total worth 26.8 billion dollars; and 31% of the goods that Vietnam purchased came from China, meaning 60 billion dollars in value. Also, in spite of the disputes of the previous year, in 2015 the two countries pledged to keep positive relations. Still, it is clear that Vietnam is concerned over China’s growing leverage over other Southeast Asian countries and over its activities in the SCS; and is therefore reacting.

As a matter of fact, Vietnam is building its ties with other countries in a clear attempt to hedge against China. Hanoi tries not to provoke Beijing and officially continues to apply its “Three No Policy”; meaning no alliance, no foreign military bases on its territory and no relations with a country against a third one. Yet, it is now allowing foreign navies to access the strategic naval base at Cam Ranh Bay for supply and repair; even though it still refuses to lend it to another country. But this example shows that in practice Vietnam is fostering closer political, economic and even military cooperation with other powers like India, Japan, Australia and most importantly the US. Washington is also involved in the SCS dispute, not as a claimant state but as an international security provider, and especially as the guarantor of freedom of navigation. Considering the importance of the SCS for maritime trade, which is essential for the global economy, the US is naturally concerned by China’s actions in the region and is therefore willing to deepen its ties with riparian states to counter its influence. Vietnam is particularly important, due to its geographic location and because it is among the most powerful countries in the area. During an official trip in 2016, former President Barack Obama lifted the embargo on arms sales to Vietnam; and in March 2018 the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson visited Vietnam. Considering the troubled past between the two countries, these are quite notable developments.

In spite of some positive signs, the trends described above seem to indicate that economic exchanges and diplomatic promises are not enough to prevent tension. Both powers are indeed acting to secure their own national interest, with China reinforcing its positions in the SCS and Vietnam modernizing its military and fostering ties with the US and other countries. In a broader context of US-China competition, it seems that Vietnam will play an increasingly important role; but at the same time, this will put it in a collision course with the PRC, with potentially detrimental consequences for international security and for the regional stability of an area marked by territorial disputes. Only time will tell what will happen, but it seems that Sino-Vietnamese relations will follow a downgrading course in the coming years.

Iran’s Toughest Sanctions

Why is the United States imposing the “toughest sanctions in history” on Iran?

In 2018 November the United States re-imposed full sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran following Donald Trump’s withdrawal from the Iran nuclear accord back in May. The US has vowed to impose and maintain the “toughest sanctions in history” on Iran.

For its part, the Iranian president Hassan Rouhani has struck a defiant tone vowing to “break” the sanctions. But the reality is Iran is facing an economic siege which threatens to create instability with potentially far-reaching social and political consequences.

Realistically, there are three potential scenarios at this stage. First is that Iran hunkers down to manage the embargo by using innovative ways to evade some of the sanctions. The Iranians will be hoping to out-last Trump, whose first term expires in January 2021. However, this strategy falls apart if (as it looks increasingly likely) Trumps secures a second term in office.

The second scenario is that Iran caves in and agrees to negotiate a new deal on Trump’s terms. As Trump has repeatedly made clear the US is seeking a new deal which not only radically renegotiates the terms and conditions of the existing deal – known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – but expands it to include restrictions on Iran’s ballistic missiles programme and changes to its regional policy.

The third (and worst) scenario is that tensions do not remain at the sanctions or economic level, but that they escalate, leading to indirect and possibly even direct clashes between Iranian and American forces in the Middle East. In this scenario the provocative actions of Washington’s key allies, notably Israel and Saudi Arabia, is crucial. Iran may strike these countries directly if it perceives an intolerable provocation or it comes to believe it can force an American retreat by striking at its allies.

But how did we get to this place in the first place?

History of Iran-US relations

Prior to the 1979 Iranian revolution, the United States and Iran were allies and Washington looked to Iran to maintain peace and stability in the Persian Gulf arena. But following the revolution the new revolutionary regime in Tehran found itself at odds with the US and relations rapidly deteriorated.

The climax came with the seizure of the US embassy in Tehran by revolutionary students in November 1979 under the pretext that the embassy was a “den of espionage” and to that end it was actively working against the Iranian revolution.

The real reason relates to the US decision to grant entry to the former Shah of Iran whom the revolutionaries wanted extradited to stand trial in Tehran. There was a real fear back then that the US would attempt to reinstall its former ally by overthrowing the Iranian revolution.

This fear brought back memories of the August 1953 coup (orchestrated by the CIA and Britain’s MI6) which overthrew Iran’s first democratically elected government – led by the nationalist Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaadegh – and reinstalled the Shah who had fled to Rome (Italy).

The August 1953 coup which overthrew Mossadegh was a pivotal moment in Iran’s modern history. Mossadegh was not only democratically elected but more importantly he was an icon of Iranian nationalism and was admired by nationalists across the region and beyond. It was Mossadegh’s decision to nationalise Iran’s oil industry – which had hitherto been in the clutches of the British “Anglo-Iranian Oil Company” (later renamed British Petroleum) – which had set him on a collision course with the Western powers led by Britain.

Mossadegh’s overthrow, followed by the instalment of Mohammad Reza Pahlavi as Shah, set the stage for the Iranian revolution 25 years later. It was based on this history – i.e. the US role in reinstalling the Shah and helping him to consolidate his rule for the next quarter of a century – that the Iranian revolutionaries staked out an oppositional stance vis-à-vis the United States.

Following the seizure of the US embassy in November 1979 bilateral relations were severed and the US began the long process of sanctioning virtually every aspect of the Iranian economy. The first sanctions targeted Iranian imports into the US. In addition, the US government froze $12 billion in Iranian assets. Hitherto these funds remain frozen and Iran not only seeks their return but also wants 40 years of interests to be taken into account as well.       

The next round of big sanctions came into effect 15 years later during the presidency of Bill Clinton. The latter sanctioned Iran’s oil industry by preventing US companies from investing in the Iranian oil and gas sector. A year later in 1996 the US congress went further by passing a law targeting foreign firms which invested more than $20 million a year in the Iranian energy sector.

This was the first time the US was using its clout to target non-US entities who did business with Iran. As such it was a significant escalation in America’s economic war against Iran and in hindsight it prepared the groundwork for today’s far-reaching sanctions regime.

The next round of sanctions was multilateral in nature in so far as they were prompted by United Nations Security Council (UNSC) resolutions targeting specific features of Iran’s nuclear programme, notably uranium enrichment. The UNSC imposed its first round of sanctions – mostly targeting the nuclear sector – in December 2006.

But the US imposed additional sanctions on top and used the opportunity created by international concerns over Iran’s controversial nuclear programme to widen and deepen its own sanctions regime against the Islamic Republic.

Indeed, in October 2007, the US directly sanctioned Iran’s powerful Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) by designating its expeditionary wing, known as the Qods (Jerusalem) force as a terrorist organisation.

Moreover, in June 2010, the US exploited the international climate following the UNSC’s imposition of the fourth round of sanctions on Iran, to further target Iran’s energy and banking sectors. Then in January 2012 Washington went a step further by sanctioning Iran’s central bank.

Following the signing of the landmark nuclear deal in July 2015, much of the complex web of unilateral and multilateral sanctions that had been imposed on Iran since December 2006 were gradually eased but never fully lifted. However, the US kept in place its non-nuclear related unilateral sanctions, including wide-ranging sanctions against the IRGC on account of its alleged support for “terrorism”.

By withdrawing from the nuclear deal, the US is not only seeking to reimpose full sanctions, but is in fact going a step further by pledging to reduce Iranian oil exports to “zero”. This is a massive provocation and if the US comes anywhere near to achieving its goal then a confrontation with Iran is guaranteed.

Do Iran and America talk directly?   

In view of this bitter 40-year history, viewers would be excused in thinking that Iran and the United States rarely (if ever) talk directly. Whilst it is true that the two powers broke off diplomatic relations in late 1979 and have had no direct diplomatic representation on each other’s soils, nevertheless direct talks and even deals have materialised intermittently.

The best early example was the “Iran Gate” scandal of 1986 when the US government illicitly sold arms to Iran (in violation of its own arms embargo on the Islamic Republic) so as to secure the release of US hostages in Lebanon. The scandal had an additional illicit layer as the funds from the deal were transferred to the “Contras” rebels in Nicaragua who were fighting the leftist Sandinista government led by Daniel Ortega.

More recently Iran and the US engaged in secret talks in Muscat (Oman) in 2013 on finding a way out of the impasse presented by Iran’s nuclear programme. These secret meetings soon gave way to direct bilateral meetings between Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and his former US counterpart John Kerry.

It is also worth noting that Iranian and US envoys met directly in Baghdad in July 2007 to agree to a de-escalation in the Iraqi arena. At the time Iran was accused by the US of arming anti-American militants who were resisting the US-led occupation. Although this meeting didn’t produce a breakthrough, nevertheless it showed that even under the most adverse circumstances – when Iran and the US are fighting each other indirectly via proxies – they can still meet with a view to de-escalation.

Why talks are unlikely now

Donald Trump has called for direct talks with Iranian leaders, notably President Hassan Rouhani, on several occasions. On each occasion the Iranians have publicly rebuffed his outreach on the grounds that it is spurious and insincere.

Iran’s position is clear: namely that the current nuclear deal (JCPOA) is fit for purpose and consequently Iran will not be forced to renegotiate its terms and conditions. Moreover, the 12 list of demands issued by the US secretary of state Mike Pompeo back in May are effectively a call for surrender as compliance would mean Iran effectively giving up its independent foreign policy.

Amongst other demands, Pompeo wants Iran to fully withdraw from Syria, stop supporting Hezbollah and cease playing a role in the Yemen conflict. Clearly the Iranians will never agree to these terms and to that end Pompeo’s list of demands was an incitement to confrontation as opposed to a credible negotiating position.

Will Iran and the US go to war?

To many observers it is surprising that given the depth of hostility between Iran and the US, as reflected by the events of the past four decades, the two sides have not gone to war yet. It is worth noting that the two sides have clashed militarily but stopped short of declaring war.

The most intense clash occurred in April 1988 when in the course of one day – during Operation Praying Mantis – the US destroyed a quarter of the Iranian navy. This operation was part of a broader US effort to pressure Iran into accepting a ceasefire with Iraq in the long-running Iran-Iraq War.

The power differential between the US and Iranian militaries is one of the factors that military analysts cite to explain Iran’s reluctance to engage the US militarily. But Iran has come a long way since the late 1980s and the Iranian armed forces – in particular the IRGC – have developed a wide range of asymmetric capabilities and tactics which could be used to great effect against superior military powers.

Iran’s asymmetric capabilities – in addition to the Islamic Republic’s extensive reach and influence across the Middle East – makes the US reluctant to engage Iran militarily for fear of unintended consequences.

Nevertheless, despite both sides’ reluctance to go to war, a conflict could still break out either as a result of the cumulative effect of tensions or a mistake or misunderstanding which escalates suddenly and without warning.

The next two years are the most crucial yet in the 40-year standoff between Iran and America.               

 

Will the EU Collapse and lead to a Civil War?

The last decade has been a difficult one for the European Union. In the wake of the 2009 debt crisis, much debate has arisen around its nature, its powers, its governance and its policies.

The situation got only worse when the migrant inflow boomed in 2015, triggering a EU-level crisis.

In this strained socio-economic context, diverging views on the EU as a polity have emerged at the political level both inside the single member states and inside the organization’s institutions.

Recently, two events have revived once more the debate. The first is the re-election of Viktor Orbán, a prominent conservative and Eurosceptic politician, as Prime Minister of Hungary.

The second is the statement by France’s President Emmanuel Macron that the EU is facing a “civil war” on its fundamental values resulting from different opinions between its Western and Central-Eastern members.

This affirmation seems exaggerated, at least at a first glance. But in such a turbulent political context, it raises a legitimate question: is the EU on the edge of a civil war?

The Conditions of a Civil War

To answer this question, the first thing to do is determining in which conditions a civil war does start. Essentially, this happens when two or more socio-political groups belonging to the same political entity disagree on the existing and/or future institutional order; and, being unable or unwilling to peacefully find a compromise through the existing institutional mechanisms, opt for armed conflict to impose their view and determine who will (re)shape the existing order by the use of coercion. Usually, a civil war opposes one group fighting to preserve the standing institutional framework (along with the prerogatives it enjoys thanks to it) and another group who wants to dismantle it (and set up a new order more favourable to its interests).

That said, history is full of examples of civil wars; from those which paved the way to the end of the Roman Republic centuries ago to the ongoing conflicts in Syria and Yemen. But one is particularly significant due to its similarities with the situation the EU is facing today: the American Civil War.

The American Civil War

The US Civil War, also known as War of Secession, was an armed conflict that split the United States between 1861 and 1865.

The contenders where two: one was the Union (the North), formed by states that remained loyal to the government of the United States;

and the other was the Confederacy (the South), made up of states which seceded from the US and form a separate political entity known as the Confederate States of America (CSA).

Usually, this war is portrayed as a fight over the issue of slavery, with the Union supporting its abolishment and the Confederacy favourable to its preservation.

But even though slavery was indeed a central issue in sparking the conflict, the situation was far more complex than a clear-cut black-vs-white clash between conservative and progressist ideals. As a matter of fact, there were also major political, juridical-institutional and economic factors linked to the debate over slavery and human rights.

To understand this, it is necessary to perform a rapid historical overview on the prelude to the conflict. After being recognized as a sovereign polity by the Paris Treaty that officially ended the War of Independence in 1783, the United States began developing and expanding to the West. Rapidly, new states were founded and admitted to the Union.

But the economic outlook of the member states started diverging: those located in the North embraced industrialization, whereas the states in the South remained essentially agricultural.

There, rich landlords owned vast plantations, and exploited a large workforce of black slaves to work them. With time, this North-South gap became more and more marked, and it ultimately assumed a political dimension as well.

As a matter of fact, the Northern states needed cheap manpower to sustain their rapid industrialization. The mass of black slaves living in the South was the ideal solution, but it was impossible to hire them since they were a private property of the Southern landowners.

Consequently, the North states started calling for slavery to be abolished, provoking the firm opposition of the Southerners who needed slaves to cultivate the plantations that were the base of their local economy.

Besides, the two sides also diverged over trade policies: the North wanted protectionist measures to shelter its developing industry, while the South supported free trade as a mean to continue exporting its agricultural products abroad.

This led to an intense constitutional debate over slavery, and ultimately over the power of the federal government to introduce and enforce legislation on the matter all over the US territory.

Again, the opinion diverged between the North and the South: essentially, the former claimed the central government had this authority, whereas the latter considered this as a violation of the constitutional limitations on the powers of the federal institutions.

So, the debate took a dimension that went beyond the issue of slavery and focused on the nature of the US as a polity. The Union favored a strong central government having large powers,while the Confederates defended the rights and prerogatives of the single member states. The combination of all these factors finally led them to secede from the US in 1861 and form an alternative polity, the Confederate States of America (CSA).

The name itself is significant, as it reveals the different way these states interpreted the Constitution and conceived America as a political entity: they wanted a Confederation, so a polity granting more powers to the member states; in contrast to a Federation where the central authorities have larger constitutional competences.

Striking Similarities

Now, there are striking similarities between the situation of the US before the Civil War and that of the EU today.

The latter has also expanded during the previous decades by admitting new member states, with the most important “enlargement wave” taking place in 2004 with Central and Eastern European countries; and the most recent new member being Croatia, which joined the organization in 2013.

Again, similarly to America at the eve of the Civil War, the EU is also facing an intense debate over human rights that has greater economic, political and “constitutional” implications (there is not a proper EU Constitution, but the general sense of the term is still applicable to the Treaties at the base of the EU). In this context, two camps are identifiable, the complexity of reality notwithstanding.

Differences

As I argued in another article, one is formed by the original (or at least more ancient) members of the EU, concentrated in Western Europe; while the other includes the more recent ones, located in the Central-Eastern part of the continent and whose core is made of the four countries forming the Visegrád Group (Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia; known also as V4).

The starting point to understand the divergence between these two “factions” is the migration crisis. As a matter of fact, the former group is demanding the Central-Eastern partners to accept a larger share of migrants. But the Visegrád states oppose these requests. As in the 1850s America, the issue is not merely humanitarian, since there are economic and political reasons behind the respective positions.

Countries like Italy, Greece and others (including France and Germany to some degree) worry that the migrant flow will put their socio-economic order under stress and that it may hamper the sluggish recovery from the recent debt crisis.

In contrast, the V4 and other states oppose such policies of migrant redistribution because they may slow down their ongoing economic development. But the divergence is also a matter of past experiences. Western countries have a long tradition of immigration from abroad (often as a consequences of their colonial past) and their societies are more used to the presence of foreigners; thus explaining their softer stance on immigration. This is not the case of Central-Eastern European states, that therefore prefer stricter measures in regard to immigration.

Finally, similarly to America before the civil war, the current debate in the EU also has a prominent institutional dimension. This can be explained from a historical perspective. Countries from the Western part of the continent took their current form as a result of a centralization process, which makes them more willing to accept devolving parts of their sovereignty to a supranational entity like the EU. That is why (in spite of mounting Eurosceptic forces) they remain favorable to further European integration; especially in the case of France, that appears willing to become the driver of deeper integration through devolving more powers to supranational institutions and by crating a true fiscal union (even though this met resistance from Germany).

On the contrary, the Visegrád states and those aligned with them oppose strengthening the powers of the EU institutions and want to preserve their fundamental sovereign rights. The reason lies in their past: these countries arose after the collapse of larger multinational polities affected by severe institutional deficiencies, and also had a long history of foreign domination and meddling which ended only in 1991 with the fall of the Soviet Union. As a result, they see the EU as another cumbersome supranational entity that will put them in a subordinate position and are therefore unwilling to devolve more powers to it.

Can they Compromise?

This underlying contrast over the powers of European institutions is the most important aspect in the current debate, because it will have direct repercussion over the future of the EU. Now, the problem is that, while opinions are discordant among the member states; the complex institutional mechanisms of the EU do not facilitate the search for a compromise

Introducing deep changes (both in the sense of increased integration and of more protection of the states’ sovereignty) requires a revision of the Treaties that form the bloc’s “constitution”; but this demands in turn a long and multi-stage procedure where reaching a consensus is hard and where a single “wrong” step can block the entire process (think of the French and Dutch referenda that sunk the proposed Constitutional Treaty in 2005).

Considering that the divergences are growing, finding a common agreement over the EU, its powers and its values may be impossible; and this could lead to an institutional stalemate.

Is a Civil War Inevitable?

And what then? Will the EU plunge into civil war as the US did in the past? Not necessarily. Modern-day European states and their societies are strongly averse to war, which is already a huge safeguard against extreme solutions.

And if it is true that European powers have been fighting themselves for centuries, it is also true that the EU was established after the trauma of WWII also as a mean to put a definitive end to that continuous bloodshed.

Moreover, in spite of its slowness and difficulties, the EU proved capable to adapt and preserve itself during the past. In more cynic terms, since the EU is not a state, even if one or more of its members decided to unilaterally “secede”, it would not have its own military means to enforce its rule and re-bring them in as the Union eventually did with the Confederates in 1865. Finally, this scenario is unlikely for the simple fact that the Treaty on the European Union (Art. 50) contains provisions allowing a member state to withdraw; as the United Kingdom decided to do after the 2016 vote on Brexit

But it is exactly a mass Brexit-like scenario what can raise concerns over the long-term tenure of the EU.

A full-scale civil war seems unlikely (unless the international situation becomes so severely deteriorated in economic and political terms to bring states to the point of using war to secure their interests); but if the existing divergences continue to mount and no solution is reached, then it is still possible that some member states (most likely the V4 ones) will decide to leave the EU.

The consequences are difficult to predict, ranging from an easier path to greater integration between the remaining like-minded members to a dissolution of the organization. In any case, the EU would be weakened at the international level, possibly leaving room for alternative blocs. All this would bring uncertainty in political and economic terms, and (especially if the EU were dismantled), it would certainly be a turning point in European History, as the Civil War was in America’s.

The Geopolitics of Climate Change

Climate change is set to profoundly alter the world in the decades to come. Its will deeply affect the entire planet’s ecosystem, as well as the global economy and the lives of hundreds of millions of people. But it will also have, and in practice already has, a notable geopolitical impact; with the potential of radically modifying the existing international order.

Climate change and the Anthropocene

“Climate change” is a broad term encompassing various phenomena, but the most important of them is surely global warming, largely imputed to the boom in CO2 emissions caused by the massive consumption of fossil fuels, animal breeding and deforestation. The rise of the world’s average temperatures, even of a few degrees, can have tremendous consequences on the planet and on mankind. It will alter the existing climatological dynamics, resulting in more frequent and intense cases of extreme weather like droughts, violent storms, floods and blizzards. Desertification will extend to large swathes of territory. These factors will cause a dramatic drop in agricultural output, also due to the spread of pests, therefore threatening food security across the globe. Warmer temperatures will also favour the diffusion of disease, and will increase energy consumption and therefore create competition over energy sources. Whole ecosystems will be seriously harmed both on land and at sea, causing severe losses in terms of biodiversity. This will in turn result into subsequent chain damages for agriculture and fishing, that already suffer from overexploitation. The ocean level will rise, putting at risk the living conditions of millions of people who reside along the coasts. All this bears huge economic and social costs, both in the form of losses and of expenditures to repair or prevent its effects; and is to be considered along with other phenomena caused by human activity, notably pollution and overexploitation of water and soil.

The combination of these factors has led some experts to label our current geological epoch as “Anthropocene”: a period marked by the humans’ capacity to affect the environment to the point of derailing its dynamics out of the natural order. While the term remains debated among scientists, what is certain is that climate change has taken a considerable political relevance in the past few decades with the appearance of ecologist movements and parties all over the world. This is also true at the international level, with states making efforts to tackle its effects, as in the case of the 2015 COP21 agreement and other eco-friendly initiatives. But climate change will also alter the global geopolitical and geoeconomic environment, with tremendous consequences for power distribution and for international security.

The global effects of climate change

In general terms, the whole of mankind is set to be harmed by climate change. Apart from the direct economic loss in the form of reduced agricultural output, poorer fishing zones and damages to costal areas caused by rising sea levels; it will also have huge social and human costs due to environmental degradation, sanitary problems and migratory flows, which in turn will bring other expenses to repair and prevent its harmful effects.

Yet, there are areas where its impact will be more marked than in others, namely Equatorial Africa and South Asia. Both are extremely vulnerable due to their geographic position, and moreover are highly-populated zones whose economy is still underdeveloped. As a result, they will have to bear all of its negative consequences: GDP loss, food insecurity, water scarcity, violent weather, epidemics and so on; and the consequences will be felt outside these regions.

In South Asia, the costs of global warming may slow down and even stop India’s rise. Population displacements may result in a humanitarian crisis and social tensions. This is notably the case of Bangladesh, a very poor and densely-populated country extremely exposed to the negative effects of climate change. Existing divergences over the control and the use of water basins may get more serious; for example between India, Pakistan and China over Kashmir (the cornerstone of the Indus river basin) or between India, China and Bangladesh over the Ganges and Brahmaputra.

The situation is dramatically similar in Equatorial Africa. The deleterious consequences of climate change may compromise any hope of economic development, condemning the continent to poverty and perpetual conflict. As a matter of fact, fighting will result from increasing resource scarcity; notably of food and water; thus making the situation along the “Conflict Belt” that crosses it from Somalia to Nigeria even more troublesome. This is what could soon happen in Ethiopia, where the effects of climate change exacerbate economic and ethnic divides. War could also take a state-to-state dimension, as it may break out over the control of rivers like the Niger, the Congo or the Nile. In regard to the latter, some tension already exists between Egypt and Ethiopia over its use; and a future “water war” is a real possibility. Finally, this catastrophic situation will push more and more people to displace, thus amplifying an already serious humanitarian crisis. Many will try to reach Europe; perpetrating and worsening the migratory crisis that the continent is facing, with all the social and political consequences this will have on the European Union and its member states.

Still, there are also some parts of the world that are set to benefit from higher global temperatures; like those state whose development was historically hampered by a rigid climate. A first example is that of Canada or Scandinavian countries, whose agricultural output could be boosted. Russia is a similar case. Already a major wheat producer, thanks to a warmer climate it could increase its export share, even though this is debated; and it is also true that it may face migratory pressures from other countries suffering from declining production. Moreover, access to the rich resources of Siberia would become easier. Lastly, it is poised to earn from another geopolitical consequence of climate change: the melting of the Arctic ice cap.

Climate change and Arctic geopolitics

Of all the regions of the world, the Arctic appears the one where the geopolitical impact of global warming will be more marked. The reason is twofold. First, as the Arctic ice melts, accessing its considerable energy resources will become easier, and this is already attracting the attention of various countries and firms. Second, the gradual disappearance of the ice cap is opening the Northern Sea Route, or NSR; a maritime course linking Asia and Europe via the Arctic. Shipping via the NSR is already a reality, but by now the trade volume is only a tiny fraction of the one along the traditional sea lines of communication (SLOC) crossing the Pacific and Indian Ocean via Malacca, Bab-el-Mandeb and Suez. But as the ice melts and the necessary infrastructures are built, more and more ships will use the NSR due to the advantages it presents: it is way shorter than the ordinary maritime routes and is not exposed to piracy.

Due to its geopolitical prominence in the Arctic, Russia is the best-placed state to benefit from the exploitation of hydrocarbon from the region and from developing the NSR. But apart from it, the other power that is showing a great interest in the region is China. In principle, the Arctic’s energy resources and the NSR could solve its strategic problems of being almost completely reliant on the traditional SLOC for its trade with Europe and for oil imports from the Middle East, which is also a politically unstable area. This is why the Chinese are so keen on developing the region in cooperation with Russia. But for the same reasons, other states like Japan and South Korea have also showed their interest in the Arctic.

As a result of all this, competition may arise in the region, and its gateway (the Bering Strait) will gain greater geostrategic importance; potentially becoming a hotspot for international conflict, notably between Russia and the United States.

China and climate change

As an emerging great power with global-scale ambitions, China is also attentive to the effects of climate change; which offers a unique combination of opportunities and challenges for it.

Apart from the prospects of accessing the Arctic’s resources and of trading via the NSR, China could benefit in other ways of the effects of a warming planet. The combined effects of higher temperatures, economic development and population growth across the world will result into a boom in energy demand. Renewable sources of energy will be particularly regarded; as a way to reduce pollution, decrease the dependency on imported fossil fuels and minimize climate change and its detrimental consequences. But generating clean energy require technologies that use rare earths, a group of minerals whose particular characteristic are particularly valuable for industrial manufacturing. Today, China holds a virtual monopoly over their production; and even though new suppliers will enter in the market, the PRC will remain a major producer. As a consequence, its rare earths exports will be favoured by climate change.

Yet China is mostly poised to suffer from it. One reason is that its vast population is concentrated along the coasts and is vulnerable to extreme weather, rising sea level and damages to agriculture and the like. This could hamper its economic growth and consequently its social stability. For this reason, the PRC is investing enormously in developing renewable energy sources. Moreover, it could easily find itself involved in disputes with other states over water: some of the most important rivers flowing through South Asia, most notably the Brahmaputra, originate in Chinese-controlled Tibet. Similarly, Indochina’s most important rivers (namely the Mekong, the Red River and the Irrawaddy) all have their source in China.

Similar conflicts over water, agricultural lands and fishing areas may arise all over the world, taking the shape of both inter-state war or that of insurgencies and piracy. Several practical cases can be examined to understand the interplay between climate change and emerging security threats.

Climate change and security

The first one example is the surge in piracy around the Horn of Africa a few years ago. It can be imputed to a combination of the effects of domestic conflict in Somalia, fishing overexploitation and collapsing agricultural output due to drought; which left no choice to many Somalis but to attack tankers sailing close to their shores. Other countries may follow a similar path in the coming years, like Vietnam. Being an agricultural country located in an area already subject to violent tropical storms and whose population is concentrated on its very long coasts, Vietnam is considered one of the states most exposed to climate change. It is possible that the effects of higher temperatures like extreme weather and rising sea levels combined with overfishing and pollution will stop its economic growth, spark a migratory crisis and push many Vietnamese to become pirates; thus worsening the already complex scenario in the contested waters of the South China Sea. As seen before, the Bering Strait may also become an area of tension with Russia; and other conflicts may emerge in the Middle East, Africa and Asia as a consequence of rising temperatures combined with other factors; notably over the control of river basins or cultivable land.

Global warming can therefore be a powerful driver in the emergence of new security threats across the globe. And while this is often neglected, for this reason it poses a considerable challenge to the world’s leading superpower: the United States.

The US and climate change

As the core of the international system with interests at stake in any area of the globe, and as a major polluter itself, the US must be attentive to the geopolitical and security consequences of global warming. Diplomatically, the US has usually sustained the thesis of other developed countries that the cost of curbing CO2 emissions should fall on emerging economies like China, that today are the main polluters. Under the Trump administration, the US has now openly adopted a climatosceptic policy: he favours traditional fossil fuels over renewable energy sources and has left the COP21 Paris agreement.

Yet, the US is also threatened by climate change. As temperatures rise, drought and extreme weather like hurricane and snowstorms are becoming more common; causing considerable damage to agriculture, infrastructures and ultimately to the foundations of America’s strength. But as a superpower with interests in practically any region, the US will also need to face the security threats that will emerge as a consequence of climate change. Because of this, there is an institution that is particularly active in studying the effects of global warming and that calls for efforts to prevent its effects. Surprisingly, it is not some ecologist lobby, but the military.

As a 2015 report demonstrates, the Department of Defense openly expressed its concerns about the consequences of climate change over the ability of the US armed forces to operate overseas and over the multiplication of security threats that may require armed interventions. The US military is therefore adopting a preventive logic: tackling climate change today to avoid complicated campaigns in the future. Now that Trump is in power, it seems that the Pentagon is de-emphasizing the risks linked with global warming, but there have been calls from lawmakers to continue taking them into account.

Coping with climate change

As seen, global warming is having global-scale consequences that will affect virtually any domain of human life. But in general, it can be said that it puts our security at risk – be it economic, alimentary, sanitary, physical or of another type. Scientists have repeatedly raised the alarm over its deleterious effects, but up to now the actual efforts to counter it are insufficient. Since it appears that avoiding its impact is impossible and that we can at best limit its consequences, the best thing we can do is to foresee and understand them and prepare ourselves for the world that will inevitably emerge from climate change.

Why is Japan Rearming?

The gradual but firm shift in Japan’s defence posture is among the most notable developments characterizing the Asia-Pacific’s international dynamics in the past few years. Its efforts to increase its military power, accompanied by attempts to change the Constitution to expand the means and the duties of its military forces are to be interpreted in a broader context of growing security challenges. But what exactly are the drivers behind Japan’s re-arm?

Japan’s defence policy after WWII

Japan’s past is the first element to consider to understand the importance of its changing defence posture.

After being defeated in WWII, Japan abandoned its pre-war militarism to embrace pacifism and rejection of the use of armed force. This principle was enshrined in Article 9 of its Constitution, which entered into force 1947 with US support. According to its terms, Japan denied its own right to belligerency, rejected war as a mean to solve international disputes, and renounced to develop any war potential. This meant that it could not possess its own armed forces and could not participate in any conflict abroad, not even for collective self-defence. Initially, the US had favoured this constitutional provisions as a guarantee that Japan would never try again to conquer the Asia-Pacific region has it had done in the past. Moreover, immediately after the war it seemed that the area would become a hub of peace and stability.

But the situation changed soon. In 1949 the communists took power in mainland China, thus radically changing the region’s geopolitical landscape. Only one year later, the pro-Soviet North Korea attacked its southern counterpart, triggering the three-years-long Korean War. Following the emergence of these threats, Washington applied the containment policy to counter the assertiveness of Moscow and its allies in Asia as in Europe. In this logic, the US started pressuring Japan to adopt a larger security role. However, this achieved very limited success. In 1951, America and Japan signed a Peace Treaty, and along with it a separate Security Treaty (later revised in 1960) that committed Washington to defend its ally. But under the Premiership of Yoshida Shigeru, Japan preferred to minimize its military expenditures in order to focus on reconstruction and economic growth, all while relying on its powerful American ally for protection. This approach, later named “Yoshida Doctrine” after its inspirer, became the cornerstone of Japan’s foreign policy for decades, and it was an extraordinary success. Thanks to it, Japan managed to avoid international conflicts and to achieve an impressive GDP growth, rapidly turning into one of the world’s leading economic powers. As of today, Japan is still the third largest economy in terms of nominal GDP.

Yet, this does not mean that Japan did not have its own military. The terms of Article 9 notwithstanding, the country still had to make concessions. In 1954, it established its armed forces, which took the name of Japanese Self-Defense Forces (or JSDF). But as their name suggests, they were not comparable to the full-fledged militaries that other states had. The JSDF could not field any equipment considered to be “offensive” such as strategic bombers or aircraft carriers, and their role was strictly limited to defending Japan’s territory from an external (most likely Soviet) invasion. They could not participate to collective self-defence operations, as this would imply fighting abroad to protect an ally, and not even to peacekeeping missions. In 1976, the practice of limiting the defence expenditures to no more than 1% of its GDP became official. All this deeply influenced Japan’s role in overseas conflicts, even those occurring very close to its territory and whose outcome could affect its own national security. The first case is the Korean War: in spite of the geographical proximity and of their anti-communist stance, the Japanese limited their contribution to providing bases and equipment for the US-guided coalition. Still, with time new events pushed Japan to slowly change its stance.

The first one was the outbreak of the Gulf War in 1991. Since Japan was (and still is) largely dependent on Middle Eastern oil for its energy supplies, the US expected that it would give a sensible contribution to the conflict. But on the basis of its constitutional limitations, Japan refused to do so, limiting its participation to providing financial aid to the international coalition. This form of “checkbook diplomacy” was largely criticized by the US, and as a result Japan adopted a new legislation allowing it to take part to peacekeeping missions with strictly non-combat roles. A few years later, North Korea’s withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and the Taiwan Strait Crisis in 1996 increased Japan’s fear of being involved in a regional conflict. Then, the test of the DPRK’s first ballistic missile in 1998 shocked Japan, thus prompting it to start cooperating with the US on anti-missile defence. Another change occurred in the aftermath of 9/11. As America begun its “War on Terror” under the Bush administration, it asked Japan to contribute to operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Tokyo was again reticent, but in the end it accepted to deploy its forces to provide non-combat support. In 2004 it also adopted a new national defence document that called for an increase of its military capabilities, and most importantly Article 9 was reinterpreted to allow self-defence in case of attack on American forces defending Japan or even abroad, provided this represented a threat to Japan itself.

In spite of all this, strong restrictions remain on Japan’s military. Still, it maintains a well-trained and well-equipped military. As a matter of fact, despite the 1% GDP gap on defence expenditures, the sheer size of its economy means that its budget is one of the world’s largest in absolute terms. Nevertheless, until recently it has kept a low-profile defence posture. But with the emergence of new challenges, Japan is gradually moving out from its traditional policy to take a more important role in regional security, which also implies increasing its military capabilities and re-interpreting (if not changing) its Constitution.

The drivers of Japan’s re-arm

As seen, the earliest driver of Japan’s efforts to empower its military came from the need to give a greater contribution to international operations. This was the answer to its American ally, which criticized it for being a free-rider who takes benefit from US protection without giving much support to American-led actions. Gradually, Japan started participating more actively in international missions, dispatching its forces for peacekeeping, disaster relief, or maritime law enforcement.

But there are two other factors to be considered, the first of which is North Korea. Its ballistic missiles and the possibility of a new war in the Peninsula are considered serious threats by Japan. This explains both its diplomatic efforts to favour a negotiated settlement of the issue, but also its commitment to deploy anti-missile systems like Patriot Advanced Capability 3 batteries (PAC-3) or AEGIS-equipped destroyers.

Yet, this is only one part of the story. Coping with a potential conflict in Korea does not reveal why Japan is increasing its maritime and air power, nor why it is acquiring Anti-Access / Area Denial (A2/AD) systems and practicing amphibious operations. To understand this, the third factor should be considered, which is by far the main driver of Japan’s military build-up: the rise of China.

After it started its economic boom in the 90s, the PRC soon initiated a military modernization programme. Combined with its increasing assertiveness, this has resulted in heightening tensions with the US. While much remains to be done for China’s armed forces to match America’s military on an equal level, this has turned Beijing into Washington’s near-peer competitor, at least in the Asia-Pacific. In this context, Japan has started feeling concerned about China’s rise as well, something that clearly emerges from its official documents.

The reasons are double fold. First, its relations with China are problematic, and sometimes even tense. There is much animosity between the two about Japan’s invasion of China in the 30s and the war crimes it committed during that period. There is also a territorial dispute between them over the Senkaku / Diaoyu islands. Maritime security is another major issue: Japan’s economic prosperity and energy security depends on the sea lanes of communication (SLOC) connecting it with Europe and the Middle East; therefore, it is afraid that China may cut these maritime routes, thus posing an existential threat to its survival. Then, China does not appreciate Japan’s status as an American ally; which brings to the second aspect to consider: the role of the US.

As noted before, Washington has been asking Tokyo for a greater contribution to regional security. For decades, Japan has resisted these demands, but now that China is emerging as a military power capable of damaging the interests of both Japan and the US, Tokyo is more willing to expand the roles and the capabilities of its military; also because it understands that not doing so would alienate Washington and may ultimately result in the loss of its main ally, which remains essential for its national security.

This was also the main justification behind the reinterpretation of the Article 9 of the Constitution. The text of the Article has not been changed, as that would require a complex procedure including a referendum that would likely fail given the popular attachment to the pacifist principles of the Chart. But in 2014 Abe’s government introduced a new interpretation, which was approved by the National Diet the following year. According to it, Japan will be able to use the military even to protect a foreign country, provided that Japan’s survival is at stake, that there are no other means, and always by limiting its action to the minimum necessary measures. This move was strongly criticized by Japan’s neighbours, first and foremost China.

The axes of Japan’s re-arm

The central importance of China as the main driver of Japan’s re-arm is evident when examining the specific nature of its military reorganization. Its defence expenditures have been growing constantly in recent years, reaching around 4.94 trillion yen.

The land component of the JSDF is being reduced in favour of the air and naval forces. This is because in the case of an open conflict with China, the best defence for Japan would be to achieve the aero-naval superiority over its surrounding seas (in cooperation with the US) so to keep the Chinese forces away from its territory. In this context, Japan is deploying to the south more air squadrons equipped with F-15J fighters, as well as support aircraft like tankers and airborne early warning and control (AEW&C) planes. Recon drones like the RQ-4 Global Hawk could be adopted as well. A total of 42 F-35A fighters are also scheduled to be fielded, the first of which has been deployed at the beginning of 2018.

But it is the maritime part of the JSDF that is being developed the most. There are five notable trends in this. First, surface ships are being modernized and new ones are entering into service to bring the total from 47 to 54. These include new guided missile destroyers equipped with the AEGIS system, whose task is to patrol and protect the SLOC and the seas around Japan, contribute to air and naval superiority, and intercept incoming missiles. Second, the number of attack submarines is to increase from 16 to 22. Their mission is to counter the subs that the PRC is also fielding in larger numbers, to have assets that are not threatened by its anti-ship missiles, and finally to threaten the SLOC that are vital for China as well. Third, in a similar logic Japan is procuring more antisom aircraft for its naval forces. Fourth, it is enhancing its mine warfare capabilities, both in the form of deploying and removing naval mines. But the fifth and most notable development is the introduction of helicopter destroyers, which has also caused controversy. Currently, Japan has four ships of this kind: two belong to the Hyuga class while the other two are more recent Izumo-class units. They are the largest ships in Japan’s maritime force and, in spite of being smaller than their US counterparts, they are often described as de facto aircraft carriers. However, this is misleading. Currently these ships do not operate any fighter jet, but only helicopters; mainly because their deck cannot resist the extremely high temperatures generated by jet engines. Still, while it is a complex endeavour, it is technically possible to modify the deck of the two Izumo units to enable fighter operations, and there have been rumors that Japan is actually considering this option so to allow the ships to operate up to 10 F-35B fighters; something that has caused criticism from the PRC. Moreover, the number of planes they could carry is relatively limited, as their autonomy. As such, rather than for sustaining large-scale naval battles or as power projection means, these ships are more suitable for antisom missions thanks to their helicopters or for supporting amphibious operations along with dedicated landing ships, as they can carry 400 marines and around 50 light vehicles.

This brings us to the role of the land forces, which also have an important role that reflects Japan’s new strategic needs. The marines units are being expanded, a sign that Japan wants its military to be able to defend and if necessary retake remote islands to the south like the Senkaku or the Ryukyu. Also, radars and five regiments armed with anti-ship cruise missile (consisting in the Type 88 and the more recent Type 12) are being deployed on these islands along with anti-aircraft missile units. The aim is to create A2/AD zones over the East China Sea both for protecting the SLOC and for denying the access to the open ocean to China’s aero-naval forces; in the logic of keeping them at bay until the US Navy arrives. New missiles are also under development, among which the most notable is the HVGP (Hyper Velocity Gliding Projectile), a hypersonic missile explicitly designed to defend remote islands and a sign that Japan wants to enter in the race to develop such systems.

What next?

Considering all these aspects, it is clear that Japan is taking a greater role in regional security and that appears more determined to protect its interests in a challenging international environment. Yet, it seems unlikely that it will opt for full militarization. The large majority of Japanese oppose a change in the Constitution and even the recently-approved reinterpretation was met with resistance. Japan remains more willing to solve international issues by diplomacy and economic assistance rather than by the use of force. Yet, to ensure its vital interests and to preserve the alliance with the US, which remains essential for its national security, Japan will likely continue on this course and increase its military capabilities. But this is something that is not only up to Japan: much depends on its American ally; and much, if not the most, on its Chinese rival.

KJ Poll Result – 78% of KJ Fans believe Pakistan should immediately stop taking billions of dollars of loans from the United States of America

On 21st December 2017, following Trump’s blueprint for the United States national security,  KJ Vids ran a poll asking the fans “Should Pakistan immediately stop taking billions of dollars of funds, aids, loans from the United States of America?”

There were 1,700 votes from which 78% answered “Dam Right, Yes!” and 22% voted “No,no,no!”

There were hundreds of comments in the post which can be read on Facebook.

Should Pakistan immediately stop taking billions of dollars of funds, aids, loans (and every other code name for blackmail) from the United States of America?

Posted by KJ Vids on Wednesday, December 20, 2017

While announcing the national security approach, Trump asked Pakistan to take “decisive action” against terrorist groups operating from its soil, adding, “We have made clear to Pakistan that while we desire continued partnership, we must see decisive action against terrorist groups operating on their territory. And we make massive payments every year to Pakistan. They have to help.”

Trump's 'America First' security speech in full

Trump's 'America First' security speech in full. What did you think of it? Where do you think America will be in the next 10 years?Register on our website for exclusive content – kjvids.co.uk/register

Posted by KJ Vids on Monday, December 18, 2017

Since the time of former General Musharraf, Pakistan has provided the United States unabated support in her so called war on terror. Unsurprisingly the biggest victim of this war has arguably been Pakistan with thousands of civilian casualties.

Before Pakistan joined the war on terror, suicide bombings and insurgency was unheard of to the wider Pakistani population. But now the term “Deshat Gard” is a household term. The war on terror has led to the devastation of millions of people whose lives have been caught up and implicated in America’s geopolitical games due to the political, economic and social turmoil created in the country because of it.

Sadly, the rulers of Pakistan have failed to take a courageous stance against America whilst others are taking advantage of America’s waning influence in the World. China has been able to push back America from it’s region and Russia is showing more assertiveness in the periphery of Eastern Europe.

The good news is that, majority of Pakistani’s appear to believe that America is the primary cause of this trouble and as our poll suggests majority clearly want Pakistan to sever the economic dependency on America that the Pakistani establishment has foolishly created.

With a young, disenfranchised and Islamically inclined population of Pakistan, it will be interesting to see if they will be able to take control of their own political fate in the future.

Pakistan's Geopolitical Strength

Pakistan has been blessed with an advantageous geography that could provide it with significant political leverage in the international arena, if it wished. The outlook of strategists in Pakistan should be that America and China needs them, not the other way around.

Posted by KJ Vids on Friday, July 28, 2017

Qatar hosts largest US military base in the Middle East

Read original article on CNN or read some of the key points below;

  1. The United States, happens to maintain its biggest concentration of military personnel in the Middle East at Qatar’s Al Udeid Air Base. The sprawling base 20 miles southwest of the Qatari capital of Doha is home to some 11,000 US military personnel.
  2. The US Combined Air Operations Center (CAOC) at Al Udeid Air Base, Qatar, provides command and control of air power throughout Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, and 17 other nations.
  3. The base, which boasts one of the longest runways in the Persian Gulf at 12,500 feet, is a strategically important facility that can accommodate up to 120 aircraft.
  4. Construction of the $60 million CAOC facility, which the Air Force says “resembles the set of a futuristic movie,” was completed in 2003. At that time the US moved the CAOC from Saudi Arabia’s Prince Sultan Air Base, where since 1997 it had overseen operations during the war in Iraq.
  5. The 379th Air Expedition Wing is “the largest, most diverse expeditionary wing” in the Air Force. It has more than 100 aircraft currently at the Qatar base, including combat planes like the B-1 bomber as well as planes for airlift, refueling and intelligence, the website says.
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