Monday, February 29, 2016

Indian Naval Buildup Indicative of a New Cold War?

Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi is making a noticeable push to expand India’s navy. The nation announced that it was close to deploying its first nuclear-armed submarine this past week1 and also came out of talks with the United States regarding technology for a second indigenous aircraft carrier.2 A particular aspect of this discussion involved the incorporation of the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System which would increase India’s capabilities to launch small and medium sized aircraft. India currently has two active aircraft carriers -one built by the British and the other by the Russians, and is constructing a third set to be commissioned by 2017. The one currently being discussed, INS Vishal, is scheduled to be completed in 2025.

Image result for indian navy
These naval advances can be seen as a counter to an aggressive Chinese foreign policy. The recent issue in the South China Sea seems to have convinced Modi that a powerful fleet is the best measure against India’s eastern neighbor. China has also been selling submarines to Pakistan. In 2014, Pakistan agreed to buy eight Chinese submarines although it is unknown whether these ships are capable of carrying nukes. The reasoning behind this could be to put pressure on India while simultaneously building up China’s own navy.

This presents the potential for a Cold War between China and India which are already competing as export driven economies. Interestingly the dividing lines are slightly different from what they were during the American-Russo conflict. The Americans will continue to support the Indians as long as Modi is adversarial towards the Chinese. In contrast, the Chinese government will support their long-time ally Pakistan in order to keep the Indians pressed on two fronts. The other incentive with providing the Pakistanis with funding and ships is to occupy the Indians while the Chinese protect their interests in the South China Sea.

While the Indians have made steps towards improving their navy, they are still fairly outclassed by the Chinese fleet. Until Modi completes the two planned carriers and unless the government adds four or five more nuclear subs, China will hold the upper hand.


Saturday, February 27, 2016

China's Still Calling Dibs Despite U.S. Actions

The United States is pushing a 'militarization' process that prompted China's Defense Ministry to release a statement, Thursday, saying that they 'really need' its defenses in the South China Sea. Over the last week China has reportedly deployed advanced missiles, fighters, and radar equipment on the islands in the disputed seas, which has infuriated the United States.

These arguments between the two powers have only increased, with China more or less calling the U.S. a hypocrite. Essentially, the U.S. has been conducting air and sea patrols near the islands China claims in the South China Sea, specifically with two B-52 strategic bombers. In November, this U.S. Navy destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles of this specific island that China claims as their own. However, the United States says they are only doing this because of China's aggression and attempts to militarize the waters and territories.

Clearly, China still doesn't see anything wrong with this. In fact, according to Beijing, The Parcel Islands of the South China Sea are China's "inherent territory." China's Defense Ministry spokesman continued by stating that it is within their legitimate right to deploy these defense facilities because it is their own territory, and they have the freedom to, at any time, to do as they please.

Despite China's claims, it is no secret that they are trying to militarily dominate East Asia. But is the United States employing a double standard? While the United States patrols are said to be in response to China's actions in the regions, they cannot be mistaken as anything other than militarization. That being said, more focus needs to be placed on the issues taking place in the South China Sea before the situation escalates and China declares an Air Defense Zone.

Keeping this in mind, the U.S. strategy needs to be level headed. China's actions while seen as aggressive by the U.S. have actually been incremental, with the intent to not cause international chaos or anger. The U.S. response should be more diplomatic, instead of intentionally sparking outrage within Beijing. Furthermore, the U.S. should still be determined to encourage freedom of navigation and continue flying where international law allows. At the same time, the United States should be encouraging unification by surrounding regions by promoting the idea that territorial claims should be based on international law and resolved peacefully.

As China continues to take actions that both violate other country's (such as Vietnam) sovereignty, militarization by both China and the United States will be accelerated. Ultimately this threatens the peace and stability of a region that the world 'literally' (because of trade dependency) cannot afford to see fall apart.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Chinese Ambitions

For the past two decades, the South China Sea has been recognized as a geopolitical flashpoint that has the potential to destabilize regional security in a vital part of the world.  On February 16, China escalated tensions by deploying two batteries of eight surface-to-air (SAM) missiles on Woody Island, which is part of the highly contest Paracel Island Chain in the South China Sea.  China’s assertiveness in the South China Sea is concerning, but should the U.S. really be all that surprised?

The latest provocation in the South China Sea is one of many that the White House views as an emerging Chinese pattern to assert its dominance in a region where about 30% of the world's trade passes.  The Chinese navy has expanded its fleet and simultaneously its claim on territory throughout the region.  According to Realpolitik, China will continue to maximize its power gap “so that no powerful state in Asia has the wherewithal to threaten it.”[1]  Naturally, this will be problematic for the United States, which has dominated the Pacific since Douglas MacArthur famously proclaimed, “I’ll be back.”   

The rise of China has inevitably been a cause of fretfulness in Washington.  More specifically, China’s provocative efforts to undermine U.S. hegemony in the Pacific is viewed as a “Chinese philosophical challenge to the current notion that America is the nation that best deserves to run the business of the the Pacific Ocean, as it has done for the century past.”[2]  Indeed, China is seemingly on a quest for power in the Pacific.  Thus, as China continues to rise, we should expect Beijing to try to push the United States out of the region.  The U.S. should not acquiesce.

To combat China’s unilateral attempts to control the South China Sea, the United States has commenced a “freedom of navigation operation” that would demonstrate to China that the U.S. has the right to go anywhere International Law allows it.  On February 3, the U.S. challenged China by sailing the guided missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur near the disputed islands.[3]  The SAM deployment on Woody Island two weeks later was seemingly a response to this U.S. action. 

That China should be positing its own Monroe Doctrine for the Asian-Pacific region should come as no surprise to the United States.  Yet, Chinese assertiveness threatens to engulf the region in a conflict that would threaten the world economy.  The United States and its southeast Asian allies should continue to assert its freedom to operate within this global hub of trade without regard to Chinese ambitions. 


[1] Mearsheimer, John J. The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, (New York: W.W. Norton & Company), 370.
[2] Winchester, Simon. Pacific. (New York: HarperCollins), 423.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Role of Special Operations in Syria

Pressure has begun to mount against the Obama administration for unwillingness to commit troops to the Syrian conflict. The administration has stood by the strategy of air power and proxy forces leading the fight against ISIS for several reasons. First, against a terror organization that is determined to establish a caliphate, bombing can provide the ability to destroy key infrastructure needed. Secondly, air power manages to keep military personnel out of considerable harm’s way. This alone has made air power attractive to the Obama administration. Finally, the use of proxy or rebel forces allows the solution to seem more organic. If troops from the Middle East solve the Syrian crisis, the region gains stability from within rather than relying on the United States.
While this strategy has been effective for the large part, there are several reason why special operations forces may present a logical solution to bolster the U.S. strategy. First, special operations troops provide a unique opportunity to gather intel within the region. This intel can be used to capture targets but most importantly, intel helps direct air strikes for the future. By having a ground force to understand terrain and where the enemy is located, airstrikes become more effective. Secondly, having special operations units in Syria, real time airstrikes can be observed by these forces. This allows for effective re-engagement if the initial strikes are ineffective.
Secondly, S.O. units play a role in advising local ground troops. This direct communication helps establish a report with local units. This bond will be critical when directing troops in combat. Additionally, the presence of U.S. troops within the region may allow for the U.S. and Russia, while they have different aims, to work together to defeat ISIS.

Special operations units have always had a unique role in conflict. While it is unreasonable to ask these forces to carry the weight of the entire Syrian conflict on their shoulders, they can play a unique role with air power and as advisers. The presence of S.O. units only bolsters the chance of a U.S. strategy being effective.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Special Forces in Syria

In the five years of the civil war, over 250,000 people have been killed.[1] An additional 11 million people are displaced.[2] A massive refugee crisis has increased attention on the region. To help combat this crisis, the United States has not only conducted bombing campaigns, but sent in Special Forces as well. The Obama administration has continually relied on Special Forces to conduct covert operations over the use of large amounts of troops on the ground.[3] This cuts down on the risk of casualties and the cost of operations. The U.S. Air Force and Special Forces presence in Syria has helped fight ISIS and supported anti-ISIS rebels (most of which are anti-Assad). Throughout the process the U.S. has supported an end to the conflict and a peaceful solution. However, others in the region have used this conflict as a proxy. As with all Middle East conflicts, many wars are complex and entwined in religious differences. Syria is no different with Iran and Russia supporting the Assad regime while Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and other Gulf allies support anti-Assad rebels.[4] Recent increase in Saudi participation is partly due to religious disputes between Iran and Saudi Arabia over a Shiite cleric’s execution.[5]

            Besides U.S. presence of Special Forces and various Western nations’ bombing campaigns against ISIS, the U.S. has been offered to lead a coalition of Saudi and UAE Special Forces.[6] Turkey has also supported a coalition of ground forces. However, this possible action has directly been addressed by Russian leaders, stating “any ground operations in Syria would led to a ‘full-fledged war.”[7]
            In order to prevent further escalation of conflict, the U.S. limits itself to Special Forces training, advising, and strategic bombing campaigns. A further involvement of U.S. military in leading a coalition of Saudi and Turkish forces would create more tension in U.S. relations in the Middle East and lead to further conflict. The U.S. should advise Saudi Arabia to resist sending in ground troops due to the possibility of further escalating religious conflict with Iran in the region. An increase in troops from more countries drastically increases the chance of an escalation in war. Yemen is already being used as a stage for the regional powers between Iran and Saudi Arabia.[8] All sides should continue joint bombing campaigns against ISIS, allow Syrians to represent their own cause, and push all sides to the negotiating table to resolve the conflict peacefully. The U.S. should continue to push the message that the Syrian people deserve to promote any desired change through the democratic process. A ceasefire by all sides should continue to be the immediate focus.

[1] BBC Associated Press; “Syria: The Story of the Conflict”;; Feb. 3, 2016;
[2] Id.
[3] Schmidle, Nicholas; “Getting Bin Laden”; The New Yorker; Aug. 8, 2011;
[4] Perry, Tom; Mason, Jeff; “Obama Urges Russia to Stop Bombing Moderate Syria Rebels”; Feb. 14, 2016;
[5] Id..
[6] Reuters Associated Press; Saudi Troop Deployment in Syria Up to U.S.- led coalition”;; Feb. 14, 2016;
[7] Supra note 1.