Thursday, March 29, 2018

Where Is Japan in Its Military Push Under Abe?, my column for The Diplomat this week...

In this week's column for The Diplomat, "Where Is Japan in Its Military Push Under Abe?," I write about Japan's efforts in building up its capabilities as it confronts regional security threats.

Amid continuing tensions in the Korean Peninsula and China’s rising power and aggressive behavior, it is no surprise that Japan has been taking a whole host of steps to boost its own military capabilities over the past few years under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s leadership. While the most often cited manifestation of this is Abe’s effort to reform the Japanese Constitution, there is also a wider range of measures being undertaken both in terms of what Tokyo is doing on its own as well as what it is doing with allies and partners.



The past few weeks have offered indications of where Japan is on a couple of these fronts. Just last week, Abe spoke about constitutional revision at the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s (LDP) annual convention in an effort to develop the required consensus to take this process forward. After the speech, the LDP decided to follow Abe’s direction to amend Article 9 and include “an explicit reference to the Self-Defense Forces.” This step has been seen as a requirement; several constitutional experts have called the SDF unconstitutional because “it violates the war-renouncing Article 9 of the Constitution.”

Abe went on to add that the proposed amendment will bring about clarity to the SDF’s status under the constitution but “it will not alter in any way Japan’s national security policies.” Also, in an effort to secure broader public support, Japan’s Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera asserted that civilian control over military will be maintained “based on prewar lessons.”

Following these deliberations and the continuing threats from China and North Korea, Japan has also undertaken a major organizational revamping of its Ground Self-Defense Forces (JGSDF) with the creation of a centralized command and amphibious forces, which we have been hearing more about of late. The reorganization constitutes the largest since JGSDF was formed in 1954.

Instituting the new Command for the GSDF is meant to create abilities to undertake seamless and flexible operations across the country whereas the amphibious forces are meant for defending remote islands, particularly relevant in the context of China’s assertive maritime posturing.

In the face of the North Korean threat, a unified command for the GSDF will bring about greater synergy and coherence among the five regional armies. The defense minister, while addressing the media, stated that there will be situations in the future where the Ground, Maritime, and Air Self-Defense Forces have to coordinate nationwide in a quick reaction against ballistic missile launches, attacks on islands, and natural disasters.

The GSDF Command, headquartered at Camp Asaka in Tokyo, will be headed by Lt. Gen. Shigeru Kobayashi, former head of the GSDF’s Central Readiness Force. The Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade will be headed by Maj. Gen. Shinichi Aoki, who was the former deputy chief of staff of the Western Army.

The naval and air wings of the SDFs already had a central command center, and now, with all the three services having their own central commands, the defense ministry believes that there will be better coordinated joint operations among the three arms of the SDF. This could also possibly create better communication linkages with the U.S. military based in Japan.

While both North Korea and China are major threats to Japan, Beijing’s aggressive policy in the maritime domain has been of particular concern to Tokyo. Japan has been mindful of the kind of tactics China employed in the South China Sea to alter the status quo. Thus, the amphibious brigade that has been created will have an important role in retaking islands if they are unlawfully taken.

The brigade will cover southwest, from Kyushu to Taiwan, and will include Miyako Island, about 210 km from the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. This is an area that has seen increased Chinese military activity in the recent past – the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has become particularly active in the airspace between Okinawa and Miyako Islands. Additionally, Chinese naval vessels have been frequenting these waters, increasing tensions there.

But amid the hype around all this, it is worth noting that the amphibious brigade is still being set up, and it could be some time before the full capacity is in place. For instance, there is uncertainty around the deployment of the U.S.-made V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, which will be key in transporting troops. The government’s plans to deploy 17 of the newly procured Osprey aircraft have not gained local approval.

There are broader uncertainties too. Amending the constitution is no easy task. Even as LDP lawmaker Hiroyuki Hosoda has developed consensus on the revisions on the constitution, other members of the ruling coalition are not entirely happy. Junior coalition partners like Komeito are not entirely on board with Abe’s plans, and since a two-thirds majority is required in both houses of the Diet to make these constitutional changes, the math means that LDP likely needs the support of Komeito in the Lower House and the support of other smaller opposition parties in the Upper House to effect these changes.

As for the support from the public, different surveys have produced different results, but those variations in and of themselves suggest that public perception is a variable that ought not to be left out in this discussion. A survey conducted by Kyodo News revealed 48.5 percent of respondents against the constitutional changes whereas 39.2 supported the amendments. Another survey conducted over telephone had shown only 33 percent of respondents supporting Abe’s moves and 54.8 opposing the revisions. These numbers certainly look better than a few years ago, but Abe still faces many challenges in terms of public perception, whether it is linked to defense issues or other domestic concerns.

There is opposition also within some parts of the bureaucracy. Media accounts have already surfaced citing sources from the defense ministry who criticized the move as “useless,” saying it will only delay the decision-making process that is required to get things done on the defense side.

Beyond these internal challenges, there are also external concerns as well. Among those are how these moves, including constitutional changes, may be perceived by China and South Korea, which have their own respective concerns about a militarized Japan.

Despite all this, Abe shows few signs of easing on his military push for Japan. That is no surprise given his own personal commitment to this goal as well as the regional trends that are impacting Japan’s security. Whether or not that will change, and to what extent all this lasts once he leaves office, remains to be seen.



India Changing Tack on Space Policy, my essay for AsiaGlobal Online Journal

Here's an essay of mine on the changing strategic dynamics in Asia including the outer space domain and how India is responding to that, published by the AsiaGlobal Online Journal.

India is scheduled to launch the lunar rover Chandrayaan-2 in 2018, an emblematic sign of the country's will to step up its space policy. Its efforts in this arena include a revival of international partnerships and a change in its position on space militarization. In the absence of an adequate global governance regime, such activity extends geopolitical tensions to outer space.

India has one of the oldest space programs in the world — in operation for more than five decades — and is considered an established spacefaring power. Today, the country is gradually reorienting its space program towards national security. This new approach is driving India to forge partnerships with countries such as Japan, and revise and strengthen old links with partners like the US and France. India’s changing tack towards a more security-driven space program is spurred by new geopolitical realities. But could this changed stance on space policy also spark further geopolitical competition?

For the full essay, click here.



Before we delve into the substance of India’s new space program, two points need to be made. First, India’s space program remains overwhelmingly focused on civilian initiatives, and the new and developing attention on the security utilities of the program will not fundamentally change its civilian orientation. The development of new capabilities that help address India’s national security concerns is an addition to, and not a replacement of, existing capabilities.

Second, India’s interest in developing these technologies is somewhat reactive, driven by the development of such capacities in other countries: China, for example. There is little to suggest that India’s expansion of the scope of its space program is being driven by purely domestic political interests or technological imperatives.

Japan and France, New Strategic Partners

The larger geopolitical developments in the region constitute a critical factor. The India-Japan strategic partnership, which has been steadily growing over the past decade, is a testament to the new geopolitical realities in the region. It is worth recalling that for decades, these countries had rather cool relations. Not anymore. China’s rise affects both, and they have reacted together. Space is one of the many arenas where this new strategic cooperation can be seen.

Naoki Okumura, president of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), stated, “India and Japan will lead the space sector in the Asia-Pacific region.”

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe further elevated India-Japan space cooperation in September 2017, when the two leaders underlined the importance of their bilateral collaboration “in the field of Earth observation, satellite-based navigation, space sciences, and lunar exploration.” Emphasizing the significance of the countries’ joint lunar mission in November 2017, Naoki Okumura, president of the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA), stated, “India and Japan will lead the space sector in the Asia-Pacific region.”

Just a few weeks ago, India entered into similar engagements with France. French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent visit to India saw surprisingly strong statements of deeper strategic cooperation between the two countries. So dramatic is this intensification of the relationship that some noted commentators have even suggested that France could be as important an ally for India as Russia has been.

India and France will be collaborating on a range of issues in defense and security. Their agreements on space and maritime security in the Indian Ocean, in particular, stand out in terms of the actionable agenda that New Delhi and Paris are working on. As is the case in collaboration between India and Japan, India and France are driven by shared global and regional security concerns, including maritime security, freedom of navigation and overflight, and respect for international law, among other issues. The two sides are planning on employing space assets to develop effective maritime domain awareness (MDA), given their increasing concern about maritime security in the Indo-Pacific.

As with France, India’s relationship with the US is also undergoing a strategic deepening, with the two countries sharing political and strategic goals in the Indo-Pacific region.

On the Road to Space Militarization?

This new focus on using space for security purposes has not come easily for India. India has traditionally been opposed to using space for security-related functions. In fact, from early on, India played an active role in pushing to keep outer space beyond interstate conflicts. In one of the first articulations on the issue at the United Nations, Indian representative Krishna Rao argued in 1964 that outer space was a new field, so “there were no vested interests to prevent the international community from embarking on a regime of cooperation rather than of conflict.” As he saw it, space fortunately did not have any regimes in place, so the questions were “not those of modifying an existing regime but of fashioning a new pattern of international behavior.” This had consistently been the Indian position: that space should only be used for peaceful, cooperative purposes.

In accordance with this position, India was stridently opposed to the US Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) in the 1980s. In 1985, Muchkund Dubey, India’s ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament, criticized the SDI and “called for negotiations to prevent an arms race in outer space.” This policy stance continued even after the end of the Cold War.

This had consistently been the Indian position: that space should only be used for peaceful, cooperative purposes.

But over the last decade, there have been signs of change in India’s space policy orientation, especially its position on space militarization. For example, India supported the Bush administration’s decision to withdraw from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty, though this did not result immediately in any specific changes in Indian space military capabilities or even programs. This can be traced, partially, to larger political objectives.

A Response to China’s Geopolitical Positions

Real change in India’s space policy orientation came after January 2007, when China conducted its first anti-satellite (ASAT) missile test. This was compounded by changing geopolitical alignments and the shifting military balance in Asia. All of this is now driving new races, including in outer space. Though the primary competition is between the US, Russia, and China, there is a second rung of competition involving, among others, India because of China’s growing capabilities and the ambiguity of its policies, as well as the aggressiveness of some of its postures.

India has come to acknowledge that space may not remain a purely civilian domain.

China’s ASAT test in January 2007 is particularly important in this regard. China may have been responding to the capabilities already developed by the US and Russia during the Cold War, but its ASAT test was an eye-opener for New Delhi with regard to the kind of threats India must be ready to confront right in its backyard. Since then, India has nuanced its position on space militarization.

India has come to acknowledge that space may not remain a purely civilian domain. The implication of this is that if India does not improve its own capabilities, it may be left lagging behind in a critical area. Thus, India has set up an “Integrated Space Cell” within its Ministry of Defence, and has been discussing other administrative reforms.

There is, of course, little doubt that others, including Pakistan and China, will respond to the growing sophistication of India’s capabilities. There is little that India can do about this; what is clear is that the growing geopolitical tensions in Asia are going to reach outer space.



Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Behind the gender gap in IR and Security Studies

In this piece, Behind the gender gap in IR and Security Studies, published by the ORF, I focus on the gender citation gaps that continue to be widely prevalent despite the fact that there are more number of women entering IR and security fields.

Gender balance and gender distribution in international relations and security are not new themes. A decade ago, Daniel Maliniak, Amy Oakes, Susan Peterson, and Michael J. Tierney brought out some stark numbers to reflect the ground reality in the field. In their essay, “Women in International Relations,” the authors noted that despite higher number of women receiving degrees in political science, their representation in faculty position is way below in comparison to other disciplines. The authors noted that “[O]nly 26% of the 13,000 political science professors in the United States today are women.” A 2006 Teaching, Research, and International Politics (TRIP) Survey found that women have “an even smaller proportion of IR (International Relations) scholars.” On top of it, the women in IR usually belong to the junior stream and most did not have tenure track positions.

Maliniak et al. notes: “Only 17% of political science professors and 14% of professors are women.” These numbers had gone up marginally by 2010: 40% assistant professors, 30% associate professors and only 19% full professors in political science. This data, of course, pertains to the US: the situation is probably far worse in the developing world. On the other hand, the academia is a global community, and these issues affect women in the IR and security studies irrespective of where they are based.

For the full essay, click here.



What is the story behind these numbers? While there are a number of factors that go to determine why women are under-represented in faculty positions, one of the parameters is citation — how often your work has been cited by others. The citation bias has a long history, starting from the time women enter universities. The syllabi set by professors are possibly the first instance where these biases are developed. If you were in the universities even in the 1990s and 2000s, the readings in the syllabi most likely were typically men. How often do professors recommend a woman scholar’s work unless it was something specifically on feminism? This bias is further carried forward in PhD programmes, and publications in peer-reviewed journals. Men are again seen referring to and citing other men than women in their works. Is it because there are lesser number of essays authored by women? No. Daniel Maliniak, Ryan M. Powers and Barbara F. Walter in a paper on gender gap in citations noted that “A research article written by a woman and published in any of the top journals will still receive significantly fewer citations than if that same article had been written by a man.”

And this has a big impact. Citations have become important tools in undertaking professional evaluation. Fewer citations have come to mean “less good candidates to be hired, promoted, and supported.” There have been studies done to understand this phenomenon. According to one study, “the average number of citations of articles authored by men alone was about 25 while it was about 20 for articles authored by women alone. This may seem like a small difference, but the average article in the humanities and social sciences hardly gets cited at all — on average, less than once a year — so even these small numbers strongly impact the perceived quality of the work.” According to the study, this is the case “even after controlling for the age of publication, whether the author came from a (top research) school, the topic under study, the quality of the publishing venue, the methodological and theoretical approach, and the author’s tenure status.”

At the 2013 Monkey Cage gender gap symposium, Prof. David Lake, a well-known scholar, co-editor of the journal International Organization, the president of the International Studies Association, was asked to speak on the subject of the symposium. He started by narrating his own experience where he was asked to correct his citations to rectify the yawning gender gap in his references. Having rectified it to an extent by broadening the literature that he consulted, he said, “Expanding the range of citations made the paper significantly better, engaged more communities, and strengthened the argument.”

Why is that academics has such biases? As Prof. Lake says, it is next to impossible to read every single article or book that comes out, even if they are related to one’s own specific research subject. He says that at least in his case, he is somewhat more inclined to read articles/ books of people he knows or at least he is personally acquainted with: “For a book or article to get onto one of my reference lists, I’ve usually had to absorb the work in some deep way — and this takes time. Personal connections lead to deeper readings, which lead to more citations and, likely, more personal connections.” Prof. Lake now acknowledges he was “guilty of citation bias for many years in many publications.” Citations on its own don’t matter as much as who and where it has been cited, leading to further popularisation of the work.

This possibly leads to what Prof. Lake referred to as gendered personal networks. He said that the citation bias that exists today is possibly due to gendered personal networks in fields such as political science. The gendered personal network factor may be an even larger issue in sub-fields such as international relations or security studies, which are mostly dominated by men. And it is even more pronounced in non-western societies. It is a particularly steep climb for women from developing countries in Asia. Among the women in Asia (and India), most are asked to focus on so-called softer aspects of security like health, trade and economy or at worst, human security than hard core international security issues such as military, space or nuclear security issues (which is true in the US as well).

In India, the number of women in international politics and security studies is still a small number. Within academia or think tank spaces, this is most conspicuous in the all-male panels or ‘manels’ at seminars and discussions on IR and security debates. Though this does seem to be changing with younger women entering the field however this appears to be largely limited to Delhi. As the density of women in international security increases (marginal as of now), one can only hope that some of these may change.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

India’s Military Budget Challenge, this week's column for The Diplomat

In this week's column for The Diplomat, I focused on the continuing woes of the Indian military, which was the focus of last week's Parliamentary Standing Committee report. It is no secret that India continues to face the sober reality of both rising threats and serious resource constraints. Despite the rising security threats it faces, India’s defense budget now stands at the lowest since the 1962 Sino-Indian border war, leading India’s Vice Chief of Army Staff, Lt. Gen. Sarath Chand, to lash out in the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Defense last week about the difficulty this causes the Indian Army. The Parliamentary Standing Committee report highlights the continuing deficiencies that the three services face in terms of military modernization, including the “Make in India’ initiative. The Army vice chief, in his unusually candid comments, made a case for capability upgrades by emphasizing the changing threat perception within the country as well as in the neighborhood. In his statement, Chand pointed to increasing “external strife and internal dissidence,” including Doklam. “China has become increasingly assertive,” he stated. On the western border, he pointed to the increased cross-border firing as well as terrorist attacks, asking that defense forces should therefore “get their due.”

For the full essay, click here.


The Army vice chief noted that capability development is almost impossible with the current capital expenditure outlay because the budget allocation does not cater to the scale of military modernization that is urgently required for the three services. In the army’s case, the budget allocated 268.16 billion Indian rupees ($4.14 billion) for modernization against the Army’s demand of 445.73 billion rupees, which is barely 60 percent of the requested funds.

The picture is similar with the other services as well. The navy wanted 356.95 billion rupees but was allocated only 200.04 billion rupees. But the air force had it the worst with projected figure of 776.95 billion rupees slashed down to 357.7 billion rupees. General Chand added that “the marginal increase in BE (Budget Estimate) barely accounts for the inflation and does not even cater for the taxes.”

While much of the public attention in India focused on the Army’s comments about the budget, the allocation for the Air Force and Navy (and the resultant modernization) deserves equal if not more attention. The Indian Air Force is down to 31 squadrons (despite wanting 42), while the Navy also faces significant shortfalls of ships and submarines as well as modernization of naval bases and facilities.

These deficiencies become all the more problematic because of the increasing tensions with China, from the Himalayas to the Indian Ocean. In addition, application of military power on the border areas will depend on the physical border infrastructure, which has remained pitiful on the Indian side of the border. China on the other hand, has a state of the art infrastructure relatively speaking – roads, railway networks, oil and logistic depots, in addition to a number of military and civilian airports. All of these indicate the far greater Chinese capacity to not only quickly mobilize forces on the border but also sustain them on the border areas for a relatively longer period of time.

The shortfalls in Indian defense budget allocations become even more serious when compared to China’s military spending. Earlier in the month, China announced its defense spending for 2018 at around 1.1 trillion yuan ($174.5 billion). Though that is almost certainly lower than the actual defense budget, India is spending less than one third of even this, at a time when India is claiming to be confronted with two and half war fronts.

It is going to be very difficult for India to match the Chinese defense budget, and it would be foolish even to try. But India could potentially attempt to generate greater military power by using its much more limited financial capacity more wisely. For example, India today has the world’s largest standing army, whose pension and salaries alone are sinking the Indian defense budget. India has to consider reducing the size of its army so that it can build a smaller but more capable force.

Of course, this runs into some problems considering that much of this large army is devoted to the ‘half war’: counterinsurgency operations in various parts of the country. The army and the government should consider alternate means of fighting such half wars, possibly by improving the large central paramilitary forces or even the state (provincial) police forces. What General Chand’s presentation demonstrated more than anything is that it is high time the political and military leaders took a hard look and make some hard decisions about how to manage India’s military security.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

From Sea to Space: India and France Deepen Security Cooperation

In this week's column for The Diplomat, I focused on the visit of the French President, examining two facets that gained particular traction in India-France security relations. The essay titled, "From Sea to Space: India and France Deepen Security Cooperation," examined why and how outer space and maritime security had come to feature prominently during the French president’s India visit this week.

French President Emmanuel Macron was on a four-day visit to India earlier this week, with both sides trying to elevate the India-France strategic relationship. The bilateral partnership covers an entire gamut of issues from defense, civil nuclear, and space to climate change, clean energy, and urbanization, and India and France signed 14 agreements. But what was of particular importance on the defense side were those on outer space and maritime security in the Indian Ocean.

For the full essay, click here.



On outer space, the two countries identified nine specific areas in the India-France Joint Vision for Space Cooperation of which a few including high resolution earth observation, space domain and situational awareness, satellite navigation, space transportation, and human exploration, stand out. Space Situational Awareness (SSA) and high resolution earth observation are especially relevant in the context of the growing concerns around maritime security and the Indian Ocean.

The two countries have shared concerns on a number of issues, including, as they framed it, “maritime traffic security, especially in the Horn of Africa; respect of international law by all States, in particular freedom of navigation and overflight; fight against organized crime, trafficking, including in weapons of mass destruction, smuggling and illegal fishing.”

Recognizing the need to develop a joint action plan, the two sides signed a Joint Strategic Vision for Cooperation in the Indian Ocean Region. A practical joint action in the area of maritime surveillance around Indian Ocean waters would at the very least call for a clearer understanding of the maritime environment that they are operating in and this has pushed both India and France to increase sharing of information on the emerging maritime scenario in the Indian Ocean.

The MoU signed between the two space agencies foresees them joining hands to design and develop “products and techniques, including those involving Automatic Identification System, to monitor and protect assets in land and sea.” This, the two sides believe, will significantly boost maritime domain awareness in the region. Given the growing reliance and vulnerabilities that exist in the outer space domain, the two space agencies also agreed to develop a cooperative agenda that will protect their space assets, by also developing infrastructure that is necessary to create a broader engagement on SSA.

Underlying all these practical steps is the shared strategic vision, particularly driven by the strategic uncertainties around China’s rise and its growing assertiveness. The two share a common strategic objective of “establish[ing] an open, inclusive and transparent cooperation architecture, with the aim of delivering to all associated with the region, peace, security and prosperity.”

Modi, during his meeting with Macron said that both sides believed in the importance of the Indian Ocean for the global community, while Macron in his own remarks acknowledged the importance of the Indian Ocean for the stability of the entire region. Most significantly, India and France agreed to reciprocal access to each other’s naval facilities to military facilities. France has facilities in the island of La RĂ©union, Mayotte, and the French Southern and Atlantic Lands. Indian access to French military facilities will help India spread its reach and influence, especially in western Indian Ocean.

This is similar to the understanding that India had earlier reached with the United States with the signing of LEMOA. That agreement occasioned a lot of criticism in India, with commentators suggesting that India was bargaining away its precious “strategic autonomy.” Indeed, that agreement was delayed for years precisely because of the fear of such criticism.

But the agreement with France has largely received a positive reception in the Indian media. The difference between the treatment of these two agreements indicates a clear evidence of the continuing opposition among sections of the Indian elite to any closer ties with Washington. Indeed, precisely for this reason, France may be a good supplement to India’s strategic partnerships. It should also be remembered that France has generally been supportive of critical issues of concern to India, including India’s nuclear weapons program (before it acquired its current level of legitimacy).

On the other hand, the limitations of the partnership should also be kept in mind. If France has not received as much importance in New Delhi as some others such as the United States, despite France’s well-acknowledged sympathy for India’s strategic concerns, the reason has been mostly due to France’s relatively limited capacity. The current bonhomie overlooks this old and unchanged limitation: though France can help India, its own remaining weakness will likely not allow Paris to become a major source of strategic support to New Delhi. But in these troubled times, one more supporter is surely welcome.

China’s 2018 Military Budget: New Numbers, Old Worries, my article in The Diplomat

I am beginning to slow down in updating my blog but I am trying to keep up. I wrote on China's defence spending in my second essay in March for the Diplomat. The essay, "China’s 2018 Military Budget: New Numbers, Old Worries," argued that Beijing’s growing might continues to stoke regional anxieties.

On Monday, China announced that its defense expenditure in 2018 would be over 1.1 trillion yuan ($174.5 billion). In a speech, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang said, “Faced with profound changes in the national security environment, we must … firmly uphold the guiding position of Xi Jinping’s thinking on strengthening the armed forces as we develop national defense and the armed forces.” He added that China will advance “all aspects of military training and war preparedness, and firmly and resolvedly safeguard national sovereignty, security and development interests.”

This year’s defense budget marks an increase of 8.1 percent from last year. This is slightly more than 7 percent hike seen in 2017, but possibly the largest spending in the last three years.

This appears to be part of a wider trend where China, after the decade-long double-digit increases in its defense spending, now seems to be settling down for high single-digit hikes. Earlier, China’s defense budget increase rate was 10.7 percent in 2013, 12.2 percent in 2014, 10.1 percent in 2015 and began to come down to single digit growth rate from 2016 onward with 7.6 percent in 2016.

China has justified its defense budget by arguing that its defense spending is less than 1.5 percent of its GDP, but that argument is not going to go down well with its neighbors. Given the size of China’s economy, its defense spending in absolute terms is quite high.

For the full essay, click here.



Chinese experts have suggested that what China does with its defense spending is quite normal and standard given its ambitions. Guo Xiaobing, the deputy director and research professor at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), outlines a range of threats that China’s military will have to counter including “protection of maritime tights,” counterterrorism, disaster relief operations, international peacekeeping, and “escorting in the Gulf of Aden.” Guo also argues that China is transparent about its military expenditure, referring to the report of the 19th National Congress of Communist Party of China which identifies the military goals of China.

While this may all sound reasonable to Beijing, China’s neighbors, particularly Japan, Taiwan, India, and Vietnam, will have many concerns about the impact of such defense spending on the military balance in the region. They worry that China’s increasing military might may make it even more prone to aggressive moves in the region.

The recent signs are not comforting for some of these regional states, including countries such as South Korea that maintain friendlier ties with Beijing relative to some of China’s other neighbors. To take just one example, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff recently reported that a Chinese military spy plane, a Y-9, crossed into South Korea’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ) without warning last week, one of several such crossings into the Korean ADIZ in recent months.

This is not an isolated incident. It comes on top of other developments including China’s actions in South China Sea over the last few years which suggest that Beijing is changing the status quo in a way that raises questions about its long term objectives. Similar strategies have played out in the East China Sea as well, though with less success.

Chinese state media, for its part, has unsurprisingly continued to rebut such concerns. For instance, China Daily has asserted that “accusations of China’s rising assertiveness in the East and South China seas… is a denial of the truth, as China is merely trying to stand up for itself and its rights.”

Among China’s neighbors Japan in particular, has raised the lack of transparency as a major problem in China’s military spending. Reacting to the increase in military spending, Yoichi Shimada, professor at Fukui Prefectural University, said that “it is an open secret that China’s military spending is far bigger than their government will ever admit.” He added that in addition to the quantum of funding, it is the increasing sophistication of the Chinese military that is alarming.

The United States has also raised similar concerns about the non-transparent nature of China’s military spending. Vice Adm. Phillip Sawyer, commander of the Asia-based U.S. Seventh Fleet, referred to the lack of transparency as an issue that causes angst in the region which “is potentially disruptive to security and stability and the free flow of commerce and trade.”

Though it is unlikely that there will be much of an arms race between China and its neighbors – for most, China is already too large to compete with anyway – anxieties around Beijing’s defense spending can exacerbate security dilemmas and generate behavior that could leave the region less peaceful and prosperous than it could otherwise be. Especially worrying in this respect is the fact that Beijing at times seems far too quick to dismiss the concerns of its neighbors rather than listening and attempting to allay them.

All this suggests that even as we keep getting new numbers around what China spends on its military, the old concerns around what Beijing does with its rising capabilities are unlikely to go away anytime soon.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Why the Vietnam President’s India Visit Matters for Security Ties

Why the Vietnam President’s India Visit Matters for Security Ties - this was my second piece for the Diplomat this month published yesterday on the strategic imperative behind this energetic relationship between India and Vietnam, as highlighted in the Vietnamese President's visit to India. The weekend trip attests to the logic of increased security cooperation between the two major Asian players.

For the full essay, click here.



In addition to the manifold story lines that have emerged in recent days, Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang’s India visit, which kicked off on March 2 and will last till March 4, is a testament to the growing closeness in the bilateral security ties between Hanoi and New Delhi.

Quang’s visit comes at a time when momentum for bilateral ties and India’s ties with Southeast Asia in general are at a high level. This is a trip that is coming just a few weeks of the Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc’s visit to India as chief guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations in January, along with the leaders from all the other ASEAN countries.

Quang’s visit also marks 45 years of diplomatic relations between Vietnam and India and is centered on continuing efforts to deepen the Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between the two countries. According to the Vietnamese Ambassador in India, Ton Sinh Thanh, the President will deliver an address on March 4, which is set to be an “important policy statement.”

On the security side, India and Vietnam share concerns about the growing Chinese power and how it might impact on their national security. Nowhere is that clearer than in the South China Sea. Responding to China’s aggressive posturing in the South China Sea, Vietnam has called on India to play a more proactive role in Southeast Asia.

India, for its part, has reiterated the importance of and adherence to international law, especially the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), in settling the South China Sea issue. Speaking about the Indo-Pacific waters in Indonesia in January this year, Minister of External Affairs Sushma Swaraj said, “These waters must not only get better connected, but remain free from traditional and non-traditional threats, that impede free movement of people, goods and ideas. Respect for international law, notably UNCLOS, in ensuring this is, therefore imperative.” She added that ASEAN and India are maritime nations and that India will strive “to evolve a regional architecture based on the twin principles of shared security, and shared prosperity.”

Both India and Vietnam have unresolved disputes with China and have been subjected to aggressive Chinese tactics. Vietnam is one of the handful of countries in Southeast Asia that has stood up to Chinese pressure, even though how long Vietnam can hold up against China is open to question. In addition to the gross imbalance of power between the two countries, a recent RAND study concludes that Vietnam may not be able to engage in “an extended, large-scale, or high-intensity conventional conflict in the region” for a variety of reasons. Thus, it is no surprise that Vietnam is keen that states like India, Japan, and the United States help build up its capabilities, especially on the air and naval fronts.

India is clearly keen to help, and New Delhi has a comprehensive defense and security relationship with Vietnam. The growing number of high-level bilateral visits, annual security dialogues, and military-to-military cooperation are an indication of the growing convergence in security matters. The Joint Commission Meeting at the Foreign Ministers’ level and the Foreign Office Consultations, Strategic Dialogue at the Foreign Secretary level, and Security Dialogue at the Defense Secretary level are some of the useful institutional mechanisms that have propelled the relationship.

Beyond this, India has been training the Vietnamese military in operating its Russian-built Kilo-class submarines and SU-30 fighter jets. Supply of military spares, maintenance of hardware, and ship visits are also other important facets of the defense cooperation. The two sides have also signed an MoU for Coast Guard-to-Coast Guard collaboration. During Prime Minister Modi’s visit to Vietnam, New Delhi gave Hanoi a $500 million line of credit for defense cooperation. Sale of Brahmos missiles to Vietnam has also been reported from time to time, though it has yet to be confirmed.

While defense ties have somewhat dominated the headlines regarding the relationship because of China, there is an effort to continue to boost other aspects of the relationship as well, particularly in the economic realm. It is therefore no surprise that the visiting delegation includes the Foreign Minister Pham Binh Minh, ministers for trade and industry and planning and investment, as well as a large group of businessmen. During the visit, the two countries are expected to sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on nuclear energy, agriculture and trade and investment. An MoU for joint port development and a joint venture on a coal project are also likely to be signed during the visit.

To be sure, the India-Vietnam bilateral trade is a miniscule one compared to Vietnam-China bilateral trade, which is around $70 billion. But it is also true that given India’s market size and continued economic improvements and Vietnam’s rapidly rising economic profile
, trade and investment should pick up in the bilateral context with India. This could in turn also give fillip to the bilateral strategic engagement, making the relationship a more comprehensive one.

Shared concerns about China have brought India and Vietnam particularly close in the recent years. Unless China mends its ways, which seems quite unlikely, expect to see Hanoi and New Delhi continue deepening their strategic and defense ties in the future.

Are China-India Relations Really Improving?

"Are China-India Relations Really Improving?" - this is an opinion piece I wrote for the Diplomat a couple of days ago on the nature of bilateral relations between India and China. I argue that though both sides continue to try to stabilize relations, complications are expected to continue.

India-China relations have gone through a tumultuous phase in the last few years. There have been a series of disputes between the two countries, including China’s fervent opposition to India’s potential membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG); Beijing’s shielding of Pakistan and blocking Indian efforts within the UN to designate the Pakistan-based terrorist, Masood Azhar, head of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), as a global terrorist; the Doklam crisis that went on for more than two months last summer; and India’s open opposition to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

Though these incidents have cast a long shadow on bilateral relations, it is also true that, following the Doklam conflict and the BRICS Summit thereafter, both New Delhi and Beijing took some steps to stabilize the relationship. Nonetheless, given the bitterness that preceded this recent uptick in ties and the continuing competition between the two, it seems unlikely that the bilateral relations will improve significantly in a way that is sustainable for the future.

For the full essay, click here.



There are a couple of indicators of the slight improvement in the relations. First, the recent visit of the new Indian Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale to Beijing may be injecting some fresh momentum to the bilateral relations. Gokhale, fluent in Mandarin, is believed to be an expert on China and someone who will possibly bring some balance to the rocky relationship. Gokhale was notably credited with bringing the Doklam crisis to the finish line without firing a bullet.

The Global Times, in its coverage of the visit, highlighted the meeting between Chinese State Councilor Yang Jiechi and Gokhale and added that they agreed to “deepen strategic communication, beef up mutually beneficial cooperation and properly settle sensitive issues, based on the consensus reached by leaders of the two countries.” The official Indian view also appeared positive: the Indian Embassy in Beijing, in a statement, said the two sides “noted the need to build on the convergences between India and China and address differences on the basis of mutual respect and sensitivity to each other’s concerns, interests and aspirations. Both sides underlined that as two major countries, sound development of relations between India and China is a factor of stability in the world today.”

This positive turn, while welcome, is somewhat additionally surprising considering earlier concerns among some in China about Ghokale. When he was appointed, The Global Times in an opinion piece identified Gokhale as a “hardliner” on China. The author of that piece, Liu Zongyi, added that “his [Gokhale] hard-line stance toward China have won him the appreciation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which further contributed to his appointment as the foreign secretary.”

Second, there has been generally positive reaction in India – albeit still tinged with some suspicion – about China agreeing to place Pakistan on the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) terror financing grey list. Subsequently, when China took over as the vice president of FATF, India promptly congratulated it, with the Indian MEA spokesperson tweeting his congratulations and hoping “that China would uphold & support the objectives & standards of FATF in a balanced, objective, impartial & holistic way.” There has been speculation in the Indian media, although the government has not divulged anything, that there may have been a deal between India and China on this: support for China’s vice presidency in return for China agreeing to put Pakistan on the grey list.

For China, gaining India’s vote for FATF was possibly sufficiently important enough for it to not object to placing Pakistan on the grey list. Moreover, it is worth noting the broader context at play here: the move within the FATF was sponsored by a number of other countries, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and France, and China was also not the only one to withdraw its support to Pakistan: Turkey and Saudi Arabia also initially resisted the U.S. move, and reportedly withdrew their support for Pakistan only in the final phase. The limitations of the grey list are also worth keeping in mind: though this move will hurt Pakistan, making it difficult for Pakistan to raise money from overseas, including international monetary agencies, Pakistan is no stranger to the list, having been on it earlier from 2012 to 2015.

China’s change of mind with regard to Pakistan may have been prompted by a couple of other factors too that extend beyond India, in addition to a possible bargain with New Delhi itself. One, China is itself concerned about the growing threat of terrorism to the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC). China’s talks with Baloch militants last week are an indicator of those growing concerns, which pours some cold water over some of the sensationalism around the sunny future for China-Pakistan relations.

Those broader considerations are worth keeping in mind. Though it is possible to see the Ghokale visit and the FATF as signs of improving bilateral relations, the reality may be more complicated. Furthermore, there is still no shortage of problems between the two sides old and new, including the recent spat over the Maldives and the continuing wariness about what might happen in Doklam. These realities suggest that we are likely to continue to see tensions ahead, even with this welcome uptick in ties.