Category Archives: Current affairs

War and national security in the 21st century.

Space gets the recognition it deserves in the Integrated Review

Reblog of a comment by King’s College London’s Defence Studies Department on the first significant discussion of space in a British government policy review.

Defence-In-Depth

Dr Mark Hilborne and Dr Mark Presley, Defence Studies Department

The government’s Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy, along with its accompanying Defence Command Paper, has made the first significant inclusion of space in such a UK policy document.[1] This is a welcome development, indicating the growing importance of space in reaching a number of key policy objectives, such as prosperity, diplomacy and security, and putting it alongside land, air, maritime and cyber as a key domain of operations.

The government’s vision for space is given some scope in the section entitled “An Integrated space policy: making the UK a meaningful player in space”. “Integrated” here refers both to the cross-governmental approach, incorporating the civil, commercial and military sectors, but also with regards to the UK’s allies and partners. The recognition that a cross-government strategy is required is an important step, and it will be critical…

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How US can avoid an all-out war with China | The Times

Opinion piece from Roger Boyes of The Times of London about President Biden’s options if China threatens Taiwan.

This is a bigger problem now than it has been in the past because of China’s growing military power. Taiwan’s strategy in the event of a Chinese invasion is to fight a long, guerilla war.

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/how-us-can-avoid-an-all-out-war-with-china-3v3sbt5h5?shareToken=54071fc53e40495b0e300965081ea40ck

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New Money for the Royal Navy: So What?

Analysis from the Department of Defence Studies at King’s College, London of the likely impact on the Royal Navy of the recently announced increase in UK defence spending

Defence-In-Depth

Professor Greg Kennedy, Director, Corbett Centre for Maritime Policy Studies

The announcement of the biggest investment in the United Kingdom’s Armed Forces in almost forty years by Prime Minister Boris Johnson has prompted much speculation about what the Royal Navy will be able to do with this new-found largesse. While many knowledgeable observers of the Royal Navy’s financial woes over the years would assume that much of this money will be spent to make more shallow the Navy’s spending black hole, particularly on nuclear propulsion and weapons systems, it appears that such may not be the case.

There is a stated commitment to improving the diminished surface warfare capability of the Fleet. The orders for 8 Type 26 and 5 Type 31 frigates appear to be confirmed, and a substantial commitment to the desperately needed Future Solid Support ships to enable the Carrier Strike Group to do what a Carrier…

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Chinese missiles push US to seek fleet of small, agile warships | The Times

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/us-plans-bigger-fleet-and-fewer-carriers-to-meet-chinese-threat-nmvs0ns7l?shareToken=649a7e9e6ce599eebad27241df1a0e16

The Times has reported that the Pentagon is concerned by the growing size of China’s navy and missile arsenal. The USN currently has 293 ships and planned to have 355 manned ones by 2030, when China is expected to have 425.

According to internal documents seen by Defense News, the USN intends to build more lighter warships, unmanned vessels and submarines, giving it at least 500 and up to 534 vessels by 2030.

The plan would reduce the USN’s number of nuclear powered aircraft carriers from 11 to 9. The first of the latest class, the USS Gerald Ford, is not now due into service until 2023, 5 years late.

The attached article does not discuss the relative combat values of US and Chinese warships, but the numbers are clearly concerning the Pentagon as this looks like an officially approved leak aimed at building public support for an expansion in the number of US warship

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Bravery award for the boomtown rat | The Times

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/dickin-medal-for-the-boomtown-rat-87q5cppw7?shareToken=15a0c0d64dd001bfd8827f0770a3489c

Magawa, an African giant pouched rat, has become the first rat to be awarded the Dickins Medal, institutes in 1943 by Maria Dickins to reward bravery by animals in wartime.

Rats have an exceptionally acute sense of smell and Magawa uses his to sniff out some of the five million landmines laid in Cambodia between 1975 and 1998. He is one of nearly 1,000 rats trained by Apopo, a Belgian charity based in Tanzania, to detect either TB in people or land mines.

See the linked article from The Times for more.

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The West will remain militarily outclassed by China and Russia until it fully embraces AI, warns top General

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India and China have their first deadly clashes in 45 years

https://www.economist.com/asia/2020/06/18/india-and-china-have-their-first-deadly-clashes-in-45-years

Economist report on border clashes between China and India that have now led to the deaths of over 20 Indian soldiers and an unknown number of Chinese o e

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Beijing’s African port ready for aircraft carriers | The Times

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/beijings-african-port-ready-for-aircraft-carriers-2kdns0xsg?shareToken=d500a9e423022d6e9feb05b1b8991f93

Another article from the London Times about Chinese naval expansion. This one says that a new 330m pier at China’s base in Djibouti in east Africa will accommodate either of China’s two aircraft carriers, the 304m Liaoning and the 315m Shandong, although the third Chinese carrier that is currently under construction is believed to be over 400m long.

The article also states that the Pentagon believes thatChina plans to develop a base near Gwadar in Pakistan, although the Chinese have denied this.

 

 

 

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US ‘would lose any war’ fought in the Pacific with China | The Times

https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/us-would-lose-any-war-fought-in-the-pacific-with-china-7j90bjs5b?shareToken=e90adea7c355cbfd7d1f198608975f3b

Article from the 16 May edition of the London Times claiming that Pentagon wargames of a US Cina naval war indicate that by 2030 the USN would be defeated because of new Chinese missiles and ships, including attack submarines and aircraft carriers.

Probably a deliberate leak as part of a campaign to increase spending on the USN.

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World War Three Inside the War Room

The BBC recently broadcast a documentary in its This World series titled World War Three: Inside the War Room. For UK viewers, it is available on the I-Player until 5 March 2016 from the BBC website, which says that:

Following the crisis in Ukraine and Russia’s involvement in Syria, the world is closer to superpower confrontation than at any time since the end of the Cold War. Now, a war room of senior former British military and diplomatic figures comes together to war-game a hypothetical ‘hot war’ in eastern Europe, including the unthinkable – nuclear confrontation.

Ten former diplomats, civil servants, generals, admirals and politicians formed a committee that had to discuss the British response to a crisis in the Baltic. They were making recommendations to the government, which would need the support of Parliament to deploy troops. They were not decision makers.

Actors played the parts of locals and Russian and NATO troops in news reports and also the British Representative to NATO and the National Security Advisors of Germany, Russia and the USA. The only politicians named were German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin. The unnamed US President was in favour of firm action. Use of the phrase ‘Coalition of the Willing’ suggests that it was probably a Republican Administration.

The members of the committee were:

Sir Christopher Meyer, British Ambassador to the United States, 1997-2003.

General Richard Shirreff, Deputy Supreme Allied Commander Europe, 2011-2014.

Baroness Falkner, Liberal Democrat Foreign Affairs Spokesman.

Baroness Neville-Jone, Minister of State for Security and Counter-Terrorism, 2010-11.

Admiral Lord West, First Sea Lord, Chief of Naval Staff, 2002-2006.

Sir Tony Brenton, British Ambassador to Russia, 2004-2008.

Lord Artbuhnot, Chair of Defence Select Committee, 2005-2014.

Dr Ian Kearns, Specialist Advisor, National Security Strategy, 2010.

Dona Muirhead, Director of Communication, Ministry of Defence, 1997-2000.

Ian Bond, Ambassador to Latvia, 2005-2007.

One weakness was that the politicians were rather junior for a committee of this importance. Presumably none of the several former Defence and Foreign Secretaries no longer active in party politics were willing to appear.

The exercise was a wargame of the type carried out by governments across the world to look at their responses to potential crises and to identify common themes.

The crisis began with scuffles at the site of former Soviet War Memorial in Tallinn, which led to rioting. Nearly 25% of the population of Estonia are Russians, many of whom claimed that the Estonian police discriminated against them and brutally. The Estonian government accused the Kremlin of orchestrating the violence. Putin condemned Estonia’s treatment of Russians as disgraceful. This made NATO fear that he might exploit the situation to stir up more violence.

In the Latvia the Latgalian-Russian Union took control of the city of Daugavpils in Latgale province near the Russian border and the Mayor announced a referendum on greater autonomy from Riga. The Latvian government said that the referendum was illegal and accused those behind it of being in the pay of the Kremlin.

Riot police and then the Latvian Army were sent in to restore order. The separatists were in control of a 20km of the border with Russia. The Latvian government claimed that large numbers of armed Russians had crossed the border illegally.

The British Representative to NATO in Brussels said that the USA would support action, he was unsure about Germany, Spain and Italy would fall in behind it and he could not read French intentions. The basis of NATO is that an attack on one member is an attack on all. Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty states that an attack on one Ally shall be considered an attack on all Allies.

The US NSA stated that the President was pushing to deploy NATO’s Very High Readiness Joint Task Force (VJTF), which was needed in order to dissuade the Russians from going further. The Latvians needed weapons, with other NATO troops there in supporting role only. The committee had to decided the answer to this and other questions as the crisis developed.

A major issue was balancing the risk that firm action would escalate the crisis into a nuclear war and the risk that making concessions would lead to further Russian demands.

One interesting point was that the dovish members of the committee referred to the lessons of the First World War, where many follow Prof. Christopher Clark’s view that Europe ‘sleepwalked’ into war in 1914. The hawkish ones pointed to the lessons of the 1930s, where a failure to stand up to dictators early on led to the Second World War.

Another was that the nuclear ballistic missile carried by British submarines (SSBN) are not targeted at anybody, but the SSBNs’ high state of readiness means that they can be targeted quickly. Once targeted, they are aimed at military installations rather than population centres, meaning that, as one of the committee said, British nuclear missiles will kill tens of thousands rather than millions.

MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW!

DO NOT READ FURTHER IF YOU DO NOT WANT TO KNOW HOW THE CRISIS ENDED.

PLEASE ALSO NOTE THAT COMMENTS MAY INCLUDE SPOILERS.

 

 

 

 

The committee voted 5-4 to agree to the commitment of the NATO VJTF, which includes about 1,000 British troops. A suggestion of resorting to cyber warfare instead was rejected. The NATO Council agreed to the deployment. The committee chairman, Sir Christopher Mayer, did not vote throughout. Presumably he would have had a casting vote.

Four British soldiers were captured by the separatists. The generals believed that a rescue mission had a high chance of success, since intelligence was good and the Russians might be reluctant to show their hand. It was approved and succeeded.

A Russian jet then crashed, just on the Russian side of the border. Putin claimed it was a provocation, NATO said it was an accident.

Fifteen Latvian soldiers were then killed in a helicopter crash. NATO claimed that it was hit by a surface to air missile (SAM) fired from inside Russia. The US, Poland, Baltic states were keen on a NATO counter strike on the SAM battery but Germany was getting ‘wobblier.’

Doing so risked a hot war, but a failure to respond could lead to Russia pushing forward. There was a preference to attack a target in Latvia and no consensus for an attack on Russian soil. It would be necessary to take out full air defence system, an act of war that might cause a nuclear response. It was decided to make it clear we know they did it and that the next attack will be responded to.

Next, a column of 300 Russian trucks entered Latvia. Russians said it carried humanitarian aid, the Latvians arms and ammunition. It was escorted by elite Russian Guards Air Assault troops. It was pointed out that the first Russian convoy into Ukraine did carry humanitarian aid.

Putin proposed that all foreign countries should withdraw, the UN take over the humanitarian role, the referendum take place and NATO re-commit to not stationing permanent troops in Baltic states. Was this a basis for discussion with the referendum the sticking point or exactly what Putin wanted?

The US thought that there were too many troops on the ground and wanted Russian troops out of Latvia in 72 hours and restoration of full Latvian territorial integrity. It was prepared to use force if the Russians did not leave. It was noted that the use of tactical nuclear weapons is part of Russian doctrine. The US proposal was supported 5-4 and then backed by Parliament.

The NATO naval Task Force in the Baltic was close to the Russian Baltic Fleet. Putin announced that tactical nuclear weapons had been deployed to Kaliningrad and that Russia was ready to repel any aggression against Russian people or territory.

The response to this was to make intensive diplomatic efforts to reduce tensions whilst targeting British nuclear missiles against Russia and to let the Russians know that this had been done. Admiral West did not attend future meetings as he was dealing with this.

The German priority was to seek a ceasefire. Many Europeans wanted the deadline extended. The US thought that if Putin wanted fragmentation of NATO he was succeeding and talked of a Coalition of the Willing, comprising US, France, Baltic states, Poland. Workable. It was argued that joining gave the UK the right of consultation. The proposal to join Coalition of the Willing after first trying diplomacy was passed 7-1. Baroness Falkner was the only committee member to always oppose taking action.

Overnight the US launched an offensive to re-take Daugavpils. The pro-Russian separatists suffered heavy casualties and four British soldiers were killed.

A nuclear missile then exploded over the Baltic, sinking the amphibious assault ships HMS Ocean and USS America. Over 1,200 British sailors and marines were killed. US casualties were not given, but the America carries up to 3,000 sailors and marines. The Russians claimed that the local commander exceeded his authority and would be ‘dealt with.’ All their tactical and strategic nuclear weapons had been taken off the highest state of readiness.

Proof of what Russians say is whether they now withdraw from Latvia. The US President, however, decided on a limited like for like nuclear strike on military target. The British opposed this and wanted the ground campaign to continue.

The US destroyed a target in Russia with a tactical nuclear weapon. Russian ICBMs were then readied for launch. If any were fired at the UK, the British would have only a few minutes to decided what instructions to give their SSBN captains. The vote was 5-3 against firing since deterrence had failed and there was no point in killing Russians to avenge dead Britons.

I was a little puzzled by the final vote since it is well known that there is a letter of last resort, written by the Prime Minister, in the safe of every British SSBN, telling the captain what to do if he is certain that the UK has been destroyed by a nuclear attack.

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