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A selection of news, analysis and commentary from and about the Pacific island region.
As we begin the second round of our debate on sea-based nuclear weapons in the Indo-Pacific, here is the first clear image of the INS Arihant, India's first indigenous nuclear-powered submarine, to be armed with either a dozen 750km-range nuclear tipped ballistic missiles or four larger missiles with 3500km range. The image above is a still from a news report by India's NDTV, which broke the story yesterday.
An earlier image gave very little away, whereas in this shot we can clearly see the distinctive 'hump' aft of the sail, where the ballistic missiles will be housed. I'm no naval architect, but the sail looks to be of a rather dated design, reminiscent of the Soviet-era Kilo-class submarines the Indian Navy already operates. That's not too surprising, since Arihant has been in development since 1998. On the other hand, the designers seem to have done a much better job of integrating the missile hump with the hull than has China with its Type 094.
As our debate on sea-based nuclear weapons has already shown, the performance of the submarine is critical for strategic stability in the region. If the ship is noisy and easy to track, it will not give India the guaranteed second-strike capability it wants in order to dissuade an adversary from mounting a surprise attack. And of the ship is armed only with relatively short-range weapons such as the 750km K-15 missile, it would need to operate dangerously close to an adversary's home waters, thus making the ship vulnerable and destabilising. The longer-range K-4 missile has been tested from an undersea platform but is years from being operationally deployed on Arihant and her eventual sister-ships.
Having read the initial round of contributions to this debate, I must say I'm not a believer in the idea that sea-based nuclear weapons are destabilising. In large part, that's because I'm finding it difficult to construct a scenario in which a senior defence adviser ever uses the sentence, 'Mr President, we have to attack now, they have sea-based nuclear weapons.' True, the future is an unwritten page so it's impossible to say with certainty that such a sentence will never be uttered. But on any rational calculation of probabilities, I know which way I would bet.
Does that mean we can look with equanimity at the forthcoming deployment of nuclear weapons at sea by Asian nuclear powers? Well, not entirely. It's true that some force structures are more destabilising than others. In particular, deployment of vulnerable high-value targets doesn't contribute to good crisis stability. So if Asian powers were to deploy large warhead numbers in vulnerable, noisy SSBNs, they'd have to anticipate losing at least some of those boats early in a conflict. Still, even vulnerable SSBNs might have value if deployed in protected bastions, behind layered defensive screens, exploiting known seabed topographies, confusing the targeteer with diversionary noisemakers, and keeping the warhead loadings low per boat. Quiet SSBNs would have value without that supporting architecture.
Deployment of nuclear weapons at sea doesn't guarantee invulnerability. But the development should typically be seen as positive in relation to Asia's current monopedal force structures. No Asian power has a strong 'air-breathing' strategic leg. They're mainly just land-based forces. Having a sea-based leg is something of a safeguard against technological surprise.
Moreover, I think there are important political gains to be derived from sea-based systems, and those might be more important than the strategic and technological ones. First, such systems suggest a commitment to a durable, resilient nuclear force. They suggest that resort to nuclear weapons needn't be — and won't be — a rushed decision. Second, they devalue the benefits to an adversary of a bolt-from-the-blue attack upon the land-based component of the force, usually sited in relatively static target sets. Third, because they make such an attack upon the land-based systems less likely, they help reassure the population of the nuclear weapon state that they aren't mere nuclear cannon fodder, and thus help sustain political support for the arsenal.
Finally, I'd make one simple observation: if Asia's nuclear-armed countries want to build and deploy sea-based nuclear weapons, who's going to stop them? Nations typically have the right to get their own defence procurement decisions wrong. And in this case it's far from evident that decisions to deploy nuclear weapons at sea would be wrong.
Photo by Wikipedia.
Clive Palmer says the Chinese government shoots its own people. If he's talking about Xinjiang, he's right.
Last month saw the deadliest violence in years in the autonomous region, which has a sizeable Uyghur Muslim population. A knife attack in Yarkand on July 28 saw 100 deaths, including a whopping '59 terrorists' shot by security forces. A separate incident near Hotan on August 1 involved 30,000 locals teaming up with security forces to trap and kill nine terrorists, according to state media.
There are reasons to be suspicious of official accounts, but there's no denying the security situation in Xinjiang has deteriorated. On Sunday the People's Daily reported drones were to be deployed in the region.
A lot of the reporting has highlighted Beijing's oppressive religious and security policies towards Uyghurs. But these have been in place for years, and Beijing is currently engaged in an unprecedented effort to raise living standards ad generate 'social cohesion' in the region. Xinjiang's hard-line Party boss Wang Lequan was kicked out of his post following mass rioting in July 2009, and his successors in regional policy, Zhang Chunxian and Yu Zhengsheng, initially signaled a softer approach.
So why is violence spiking? I spoke with some of the foremost experts on Xinjiang to find out. Below are highlights.
Henryk Szadziewski, a senior research at the Uyghur Human Rights Project, discussed recent policy and personnel changes:
Reza Hasmath, a lecturer in Chinese politics at the University of Oxford, said socioeconomic disparities and lack of institutional access for Uyghurs were at the heart of discontent. He also saw significance in this year's Xinjiang Central Work Forum:
James Leibold, a Xinjiang expert at Latrobe University currently based in Beijing, says the Government is increasing its micro-management of locals' lives:
Finally, Michael Clarke, a research fellow at Griffith Asia Institute, discussed the issue of radicalisation:
Photo courtesy of REUTERS?David Gray.
The need for a new Defence White Paper is fast diminishing. The Government has been busy making big decisions that will shape Defence and the ADF force structure for decades to come.
The latest budget papers set out the steps by which the 2% of GDP funding target will be met. The Air Force's future force structure has been finalised with decisions on buying lots of Joint Strike Fighters and some P-8 maritime surveillance aircraft and Global Hawk surveillance drones (and perhaps more C-17 cargo planes and KC-30 aerial tankers). The Navy's future fleet seems set with new tankers, new patrol boats, an aviation support ship, a $78 million study that effectively locks in a particular eight-ship future frigate solution and the slipping of the Collins submarine replacement. Meanwhile, Army's flagship project, Land400 (Land Combat Vehicle System), is well advanced with tenders expect to be released before year's end.
With little left to discuss about budgets and force structure, the Defence White Paper process now seems to be moving towards becoming efficiency-focused. The two main areas of interest in this are a long-term set-in-concrete shipbuilding plan and a First Principles Review into how to expedite acquisition and sustainment decisions. The new emphasis on these two important but narrow issues reveals the shift underway from a true Defence White Paper to what is steadily becoming a Defence Efficiency Review.
So a new Defence White Paper now seems redundant, except as a compiled listing of recent announcements. But the missing element in all this is strategy. A word search for 'strategy' in the public consultation Defence Issues Paper finds the word only four times in the 65-page document.
In simple terms, strategy is the way that the force structure (the means) is used to achieve desired objectives (the ends). But making strategy is intellectually difficult, and not as much fun as buying new jets, ships and tanks! Devising the ends, and the ways to achieve those ends, is not easy. Giving advice to busy, harassed policymakers on how to develop strategy can be contradictory and confusing.
Even so, it is worth the effort. Good strategy can magnify the effectiveness of a nation's military power. Moreover, efficiency processes are best based around a strategy. The Army, for instance, wants to be quickly adaptable to new and emerging circumstances. This objective might be incompatible with the push for a stable, unwavering acquisition plan that industry can 'bank' on for the next two decades or so. In the absence of a strategy, incoherence is a constant danger.
A new Defence White Paper may still be useful if it sets out a defence strategy, but if not, it is arguably becoming unnecessary. Without strategy, the new Defence White Paper might be better and more accurately reconceived as a Defence Efficiency Review.
Image courtesy of the Department of Defence.