Defense Statecraft

Tuesday, May 03, 2022

Why Russia is unlikely to use nukes in Ukraine

As the war in Ukraine continues one question seems to be coming up repeatedly, will Russia use its nukes? Russia recently aired a video on state TV depicting a simulation of the detonation of nuclear weapons in the UK and Ireland. Although it is never calming to see another country threaten a nuclear attack it is almost certain that this video was aired as propaganda and not because Russia is genuinely planning to nuke the UK. It is highly unlikely that Russia will detonate a nuclear weapon during its war with Ukraine for several reasons.


One of the most obvious reasons is that should Russia detonate a nuclear weapon in Ukraine it may face nuclear repercussions. Although Ukraine itself does not have any nuclear weapons some countries supporting it do. It is also unlikely that Russia will engage in a nuclear attack against any countries supporting Ukraine, like the UK for example, because they do have nuclear weapons and therefor have second strike capabilities. 


If Russia were to detonate a nuclear weapon in this war, no matter where it was detonated, the world would be entering into another period like the cold war. There would be much mistrust between the United States and Russia and the countries would constantly be skeptical of one another. As Russia has proved that it will be the aggressor in countries like Ukraine a new cold war would likely involve countries besides Russia and the United States. Other European countries would be wary of Russia due to proximity and their invasion of Ukraine and would arm themselves in case of attack. This could potentially create a more volatile situation than was seen in the first Cold War.


Another issue that would face Russia if they used a nuclear weapon would be international backlash. Many countries around the world have come to the conclusion that nuclear weapons are too dangerous and costly to use in modern warfare, the use of one could lead to full scale nuclear war. If Russia were to detonate a nuclear weapon while at war with Ukraine it would become an international pariah. Many countries around the world would break relations with Russia and they would be placed under heavier sanctions than they are now. This means the use of a nuclear weapon would be very detrimental to the Russian economy as well as Russian foreign policy. 

Social Media and the war in Ukraine

            As the world moves forward war tactics are continually advancing. One can see this by comparing the wars of today to the world wars. Fighting styles and technologies have changed, leading to changes on battlefields.  In wars today we are seeing social media mentioned more and more often. While social media is not traditionally thought of as an instrument of war, over time it is being seen in war more often. Social media has also instigated wars in the past, the Arab Spring for example, would likely not have been as vast as it was without social media. Now, the world is currently watching the war between Russia and the Ukraine unfold and social media has already been utilized by both sides. So how is social media affecting the war in Ukraine?


            Some have begun to refer to Ukrainian and Russia social media presence as an information war. Both sides are posting glimpses of the war on social media, with the Ukrainians currently having the advantage. Social media has allowed stark and visceral depictions of the war to circulate the world, these social media posts have resonated with people around the world gaining support for Ukraine. Ukraine has been able to use social media to create an image for themselves of morally high and determined people while painting Russia as a ruthless aggressor. While it is true that Russia is the aggressor in this situation their lack of control over their image is hurting their cause. Russia itself is not utilizing social media in the same way that Ukraine is because Moscow is trying to hide the extent of the war. This prevents Russia from being able to portray themselves to the world in a better light. In this way social media has helped Ukraine find support around the world while making Russia look worse than it already did. 


            Aside from portraying an image or garnering support, social media also has other roles in war. Ukraine has used their social media platform to appeal for help around the world and has seen success in recruiting foreigners to help fight this way. Social media has also been used by activists to organize and plan. While none of these methods of social media use are particularly new to war, they do seem to be having a larger and larger impact with each new incident. 

Saturday, April 30, 2022

China's Arms Trade Prospects

    Traditionally, China relied heavily on Russia for military imports. However, since 2015 China has significantly increased its advanced weapons capabilities and is now the fourth largest arms exporter behind the U.S., Russia, and France. Although China is growing its military defense considerably, China still relies on imports from some countries. According to SIPRI, in addition to Russia, the next largest sources of weapons imports come from France and Ukraine. In fact, from 2016-2020 China was Ukraine's largest recipient of Ukrainian exports at 36%. In 2020 China was ranked as the sixth largest importer of weapons. 

    With China's rise in military independence has caused it to accelerate much quicker than Russia. This is likely due to China's increased defense budget. In 2020, China spent roughly $252 billion dollars on military capabilities whereas Russia only spent $67 billion. Nonetheless, China has learned from Russia and started arming its neighbors in several Asian countries. Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Myanmar have been China's primary export recipients for decades. However, China has recently started to also export to many countries in Africa. China has increased the number of countries it exports from 40 countries between 2010-2014 to 53 countries from 2015-2019. 

    Russia's invasion of Ukraine might actually help China's numbers as well. As many countries continue to cease importing from Russia, China's arms sales might see an increase. Russia might not be able to produce military equipment as fast as it used to due to current sanctions against Moscow. The difficulties Russia has been facing in production is likely to result in countries purchasing weapons from other countries, such as China. Aside from the invasion of Ukraine, China is likely to continue to import less and export more in the coming years. 

Friday, April 29, 2022

The Illegal Arms Trade and Associated Problems

    There is a large market for arms around the world. While the legal market makes up a very significant portion of the arms trade the illegal arms trade market is very active as well. The illegal arms trade market is estimated to generate between 130 million dollars to 255 million dollars annually. Most of these sales come from smaller weapons like guns opposed to large weapons like fighter jets or tanks. In many instances arms trafficking is associated with other illegal activities like drug trafficking. While many people believe arms trafficking is carried out only by organized crime groups this is untrue as many governments have been implicated in undercover illicit trading. 


One newer problem with the illegal arms trade is that it has gone digital, making it harder for law enforcement to find and prosecute those involved. Many dealers of illegal arms have begun to use the dark web for trading in an effort to evade authorities. One of the biggest problems with the arms trade utilizing the dark web is that it makes it significantly more likely to anonymously arms criminals and terrorist organizations. Many weapons being sold on the dark web originate from the United States. Although the U.S. is the home of many dark web weapons it is European countries that generate the most revenue on dark web weapons sales. Many sales made on the dark web are not massive deals like the ones seen in the conventional arms trade. They are not sufficient to fully arm a terrorist group or country. Despite this, they are still dangerous, it is not only guns being sold on the dark web but also explosives and information on how to build bombs.


            Another problem associated with illicit arms sales is the affect they can have in developing areas. Increasing the number of weapons in a region can also lead to higher levels of conflict and violence. This can be very problematic for a developing region or country. As conflict increases investment goes down and development aid is often disrupted. It is also difficult for countries experiencing conflict to work towards and meet their development goals. In this way the illegal arms trade can slow development. 


            As the digital world gets bigger and bigger it will be interesting to see how the illegal arms trade develops moving forward.

US Arms Sales: Trump vs Biden

    The United States is the leader in global arms exports, responsible for 39% of deliveries from 2017-2021. This raises many questions about who exactly is receiving US weapons and how they are being used. The US certainly does not have a squeaky clean record when it comes to arms deals and has sold weapons to various violent regimes. Enormous arms sales were regularly at the center of attention during the Trump administration due to questionable recipients, but not much has seemed to change with the Biden administration. 

    During his presidency, Trump was very aggressive about promoting arms sales, emphasizing their impacts on US jobs, and consistently advocating to expand global US exports. This includes exports to countries like Saudi Arabia that have extensive records of human rights abuses. Under Trump’s leadership, US arms exports increased 23% between 2015-2019 compared to exports during the Obama Administration in 2010-2014. On several occasions, Trump vetoed attempts to block the sale of weapons to the Middle East, including billions of dollars in drones and F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). 

    In 2018, the Trump administration developed a revised Conventional Arms Transfer (CAT) policy. The revisions highlighted the economic justifications regarding arms sales and pushed aside important human rights considerations. Additionally, in 2019, Trump “un-signed” the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The ATT has over 100 signatories and is intended to regulate arms transfers to prevent human rights violations. 

    Unfortunately, it seems the Biden administration has failed to live up to its pre-election claims to avoid reckless sales and consider human rights when determining US weapons importers. The administration continues to supply Saudi Arabia with maintenance and spare parts integral in exacerbating the war in Yemen. Additionally, in March 2022, the administration proposed a sale of F-15 combat aircraft to Egypt. Earlier in his presidency, Biden also announced several controversial arms sales with Israel and the Philippines. 

    Despite several claims to place human rights at the center of its foreign policy, the Biden administration has continued to make arms sales with several repressive regimes. The administration still has not updated its arms transfer policy and has yet to rejoin the ATT, forcing many to question if human rights will ever be the main concern of future arms sales. 

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Russian Arms Trade in Trouble?

The war in Ukraine has shown the world the effectiveness of the Russian war machine and it has been found wanting. There are many things contributing to this lackluster performance including poor strategy and rumors of low morale. On top of these are the failures of the Russian arms industry to manufacture highly effective weapons.

A Reuters article in March cited US intelligence claiming that up to 60% of Russian precision guided munitions are failing. These failures could range from failure to launch to failure to explode on impact. Even if the failure rate is half what the article claimed, that is still an unacceptably high failure rate. Failure of Russian arms to perform in battle will likely have negative effects on Russia's ability to successfully market their weapons on the international stage in the future. 

There are other problems facing the Russian arms industry as well. Another one that relates to the invasion of Ukraine is the burden of sanctions. With many developed countries choosing to place sanctions on the Russian economy, it will be hard for Russia to access many of high-tech goods needed to build modern weapons. A prime example of this is Taiwan choosing to place sanctions on Russia cutting it off from the world largest supplier of high end computing chips. It is extremely unlikely Russia will be able to replace these goods with domestic production placing Russian arms production in great peril.

These two previous problems combine to feed into a third problem, rising competition. China has already begun to rival Russian arms production with products of similar quality and lower price. With doubts about the effectiveness of Russian arms and production troubles likely on the horizon, this trend can be expected to continue, if not increase. Russia's biggest arms customer, India, announced in April it would begin to invest heavily in domestic arms production. This cuts two ways for Russia, the first being it will likely lose a significant portion of its international arms sales. Second, if India is able to create an effective domestic defense industrial base, this will be another large competitor on the international market further harming Russian sales. 

The Russian arms industry is reliant on strong exports to maintain itself and continue innovating. The trends detailed above may put too much stress on the system and could cause huge downstream issues for Russia. Only time will tell, but the Russian arms industry could become another victim of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

India trapped between a rock and a hard spot

 India stuck between a rock and a hard place

            India has long since balanced the relationship between Russia and the United States. India has partnered with Russian military companies to develop joint defense projects, like the T-90 tank and the SU-57, which fell apart. However, both countries successfully produced the BrahMos in a joint venture. India is still working closely with the United States as the US offers deals to boost India’s military to counter China’s aggression. 

            With the current Russian invasion of Ukraine, India has found itself in a difficult position. As stronger sanctions are targeting Russia’s ability to create military equipment, a high-tech export ban will cause a significant issue for India, which heavily depends on Russian military equipment. The Indian Army is the most dependent, with 90% of its equipment originating from Russia, mainly in the form of tanks. The Indian navy is also tricky as it has leased a nuclear submarine and an aircraft carrier from Russia. 

            What are India’s options? India is currently electing to boost their internal military manufacturing. A Defense Ministry official says that India cannot sustain itself as the second-largest military, fourth largest air force, and seventh largest navy on imports. Boosting internal military manufacturing seems like the most logical step to increase the military capability to counter China while also continuing good relations with Russia and the United States. It is estimated that 2.1 trillion rupees or $27.8 billion will be placed in domestic defense manufacturers in the next five years.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Ukraine Urban Warfare advantage

 Urban Warfare blog 


As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, it is essential to understand urban combat. As the first phase of Russia’s invasion concludes and the second begins, I will be looking at why the Ukrainians were successfully able to defend Kyiv and other major cities. To understand urban combat, readers must realize that the defender has the advantage in open terrain combat. Defenders create a 3:1 advantage over attackers. In a well-prepared defended city, defenders can increase their advantage to roughly 10:1 over attackers. 

            Rural warfare like World War I and II and soon to be seen in the second phase of the Russian invasion, allows tanks and artillery to fire on enemy positions and extract heavy losses on both sides. Defenders must create defenses such as trenches making the battlefield look eerily similar to 1918. However, in an urban setting, defenders have vastly more cover and attacking positions options. Buildings, basements, rubble, trash, etc., allow the defender to attack from multiple angles and escape before the enemy can accurately direct fire. Urban areas also make it challenging for attackers to gather intelligence, direct artillery or air support, and maneuver heavy machines like tanks through tight roads. The limited maneuverability of the attacker allows hit and run ambush tactics that can extract heavy losses on the attacker. 

With the urban defender’s advantage, Ukraine was able to repel the Russian advance into their main cities during the first phase of the war. Now that Russia has retreated and started concentrating its forces in the Donbas region, the Ukrainian advantage is decreasing. They will be without multilayered defendable structures while facing heavy artillery and overwhelming amounts of Russian mechanized troops.  

For more information see the Mini-Manual for Urban Defender - John Spencer 

Monday, April 18, 2022

Does the United States spend too much on defense?

            Often in the United States one may hear people complaining about how much the United States spends on the defense budget every year. The amount is high with roughly ten percent of the United States annual budget being spend on defense spending. It is common for people to think defense spending means the money is being spent on upgrading technology that may never be used like ballistic missile submarines, which will hopefully remain in this category, or a space face that the general public believes in unnecessary. But is the national budget really being spent frivolously like the public seems to believe or is the United States just paying the price of security. 


            One of the many arguments that the United States is overspending on the defense budget is that the United States defense budget is the highest in the world. In 2021 the United States defense budget was 705 billion dollars. China came in second behind the United States at around 250 million in 2021. A five hundred million dollar difference between the first and second highest spenders is a significant difference. Despite this one has to keep in mind that other countries are likely not being entirely transparent about their defense spending. Most scholars estimate that China is spending significantly more than they are willing to admit though they are still estimated to be spending less than the United States.


            It also is important for the United States security that they continue to spend enough to ensure they have access to the best and newest technology. While some of this technology may seem unnecessary, like never used ballistic missile submarines, there are several reasons to continue spending on things like this. Should the United States ever need this technology it is there and ready to go, no time is wasted in developing and implementing new things during an emergency. It is also possible that some things that seem unnecessary now may not be in the long run. A space force for example may seem silly now as people think of it like Star Wars or Guardians of the Galaxy but having a force that can protect United States satellites in space will likely be an integral part of security in the not-so-distant future. 


            It is also easy to forget all the other things the United States defense budget is paying for. There are over two million people employed in the United States military and all of those people get a salary. On top of a salary the defense budget also provides healthcare for all two million of those people. Aside from paying personnel the defense budget goes towards the upkeep and maintenance of facilities and arms. Public opinion on the defense budget is often skewed with the public not having a full understanding of what the United States is paying for and why these things are so important. 

What can the nontransparent Chinese defense budget tell us

Its hard to know exactly what the PLA spends its money on. Though the CCP releases its annual defense budget, it does no release the specifics of that budget. In 2021, they planned to spend $252 billion on defense. Compared with the US budget of $752.9 billion it may seem small, but that is still second highest amount of defense spending in the world. 

To bring the conversation into relative terms, the US spends around 3.7% of its annual GDP on defense and security. China spends around 1.7% of its annual GDP on these. Lucie Beraud-Sudreau, director of the military and arms production program at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), says that 1.7% has been "relatively consistent" for the past 26 years. She says based on a 2019 white paper and other Chinese language sources she has studied, China spends about 31% of the military budget on personnel and 41% on equipment and research and development. It is hard to know these numbers exactly due to the lack of transparency in their military budget. We do not know how much of the personnel budget goes to military or their police/security forces. The science and technology spending is even murkier because of the mixing of dual use technologies and public-private venture expenditures. 

What is the purpose of China spending all of this money? According to National Party Congress spokesman Zhang Yesui, it is to safeguard national sovereignty, securing development needs, fulfilling international responsibilities, and meeting the needs of military reforms. These can be roughly translated to some of the top issues for the CCP today including Taiwan and the South China Sea disputes, securing oil for China's manufacturing and energy needs, growing China's presence on international stage as a responsible actor and great power, and the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) desire to adapt to "informationized warfare." 

In regard to these interests, the PLA continues to move away from the traditional "Big-army" mentality and is putting more emphasis on naval operations. The PLA Navy (PLAN) continues to grow in ship count and tonnage. Its transition from a brown water navy to a blue water navy is a key step to securing China's interests. This means improving it's power projection capabilities and maritime joint operations. The PLA Air Force (PLAAF) is also improving capabilities with an aim to transition from territorial air defense to more aggressive operations.

While the defense budget may not tell us everything China is spending money on, we can use its general size, proportions, and the comments around it to give us a better sense of what long term plans may include. It will be crucial for US policymakers and military leaders to keep a close on this budget in years to come.