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13 May 21. Joint Press Statement for the 19th Korea-U.S. Integrated Defense Dialogue. The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the Republic of Korea Ministry of National Defense (MND) held the 19th Korea-U.S. Integrated Defense Dialogue (KIDD) May 12-13, 2021 in Washington, D.C. Acting Assistant Secretary of Defense (ASD) for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs, Mr. David Helvey, and Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense (DASD) for East Asia, Dr. Siddharth Mohandas, led the U.S. delegation. The ROK delegation was led by Deputy Minister for National Defense Policy (DEPMIN), Mr. Kim Mangi. Key U.S and ROK defense and foreign affairs officials also participated.
During the KIDD, both sides reaffirmed a shared goal of achieving the complete denuclearization of, and lasting peace on, the Korean Peninsula and pledged that U.S. and ROK combined forces would remain ready and postured to defend the ROK. Additionally, they affirmed the importance of full implementation of relevant UN Security Council Resolutions by the international community, including North Korea. The two sides also concurred that continued enforcement and management of the Armistice Agreement by the United Nations Command (UNC), and implementation of the inter-Korean Comprehensive Military Agreement contributed to stability and peace on the Korean Peninsula.
The U.S. and ROK sides noted the significant strides made on the transition of wartime Operational Control (OPCON) to the Future Combined Forces Command (F-CFC) and reaffirmed their mutual commitment to the Conditions-based OPCON Transition Plan (COTP). As part of this, the U.S. and ROK delegations pledged to continue efforts to comprehensively conduct a joint study on the COTP capabilities, solidify bridging and enduring capabilities, and also discussed the way forward for wartime OPCON transition to the F-CFC, including the future certification assessment for Full Operational Capability (FOC). The two sides agreed that the conditions stated in the mutually agreed COTP must be fully met before the wartime OPCON is transitioned to the F-CFC. The ROK also noted that it will acquire and develop critical military capabilities and committed to robust discussions on ROK acquisition planning.
Both sides reaffirmed that the U.S.-ROK Alliance remains the linchpin of peace and security in Northeast Asia, as well as the Korean Peninsula, and further expressed their commitment to maintaining the rules-based, international order, and pursuing cooperation between the U.S. Indo-Pacific Strategy and the ROK New Southern Policy. DASD Mohandas and DEPMIN Kim underscored the importance of maintaining a combined defense posture that is ready to “fight tonight,” and they reiterated the importance of maintaining joint readiness against all shared threats to the Alliance through combined training and exercises. Both sides also concurred on the importance of establishing stable access to training facilities, resources, and other sites critical to the combined defense posture and pledged to deepen cooperation in various fields, including defense security cooperation, space policy, and cooperation on capacity building in Southeast Asia. Furthermore, the two sides affirmed a continued commitment to trilateral security cooperation, and committed to seek a near-term trilateral ministerial to enhance cooperation.
Both sides shared assessments on recent North Korean nuclear and missile threats, and pledged to monitor the North Korea situation while closely coordinating. The U.S. reaffirmed its continued commitment to provide extended deterrence using the full range of U.S. capabilities, including nuclear, conventional, and missile defense capabilities. The ROK committed to continue to acquire military capabilities to strengthen holistic Alliance readiness in response to North Korean nuclear and missile threats.
Finally, both sides assessed that the 19th KIDD reaffirmed the close bonds of the Alliance, bolstered bilateral coordination toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, and strengthened U.S.-ROK combined defense posture. The U.S. DoD and the ROK MND will hold the 20th KIDD in Seoul, Republic of Korea, at a mutually appropriate time in the second half of 2021. (Source: US DoD)
11 May 21. When and Why China Might—or Might Not—Attack Taiwan. U.S. policymakers can only guess at what’s driving Beijing, but that doesn’t mean there’s nothing they can do about it. Security tensions are brewing in East Asia. China has on several recent occasions sent military aircraft to fly around Taiwan, including into its air defense identification zone, complete with taunts from the Chinese pilots. Officials and analysts worry that an attack on the self-governing island could be in the offing. But when? Sometime between tomorrow and mid-century. Or never. No one knows, and that’s because no one really knows what drives China’s decision-making.
Some commentators have advanced what might be called structural theories about when and why China could attempt to invade Taiwan. General Secretary Xi Jinping has proclaimed the goal of achieving the “great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” by the centennial anniversary of the founding the People’s Republic of China in 2049 (often shorthanded as “mid-century”). Rejuvenation and unification are inextricable in the eyes of the CCP. Xi asserted in January 2019 that the “Taiwan question…will definitely end with China’s rejuvenation.” Others expect it sooner: by 2035, when state-run media say the People’s Liberation Army, will “basically” be modernized enough to fight and win a regional war against another advanced military. The implication being that China will invade once it concludes the PLA can win.
Alternative structural assessments see a more imminent peril. They argue the world, especially the United States, is entering a dangerous decade in relations with China generally and with regard to Taiwan specifically, where Beijing’s relative power is reaching an apex compared to would-be geopolitical competitors. Those theories posit that Chinese leaders might conclude they must attempt to forcibly annex Taiwan while they are at their strongest or risk it falling out of their grasp forever. Others acknowledge China faces future challenges but note that even slowing economic growth rates would arrive on top of a massive base, so Beijing’s power, at least relative to Taiwan, will likely continue to accrue.
Another category of theories about when China might send mount a full-spectrum invasion might be described as events-driven.
Beijing has clearly stated that any declaration of independence or clear moves in that direction by the government in Taipei would provoke an attack. China has rejected direct political engagement with Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen because she has refused to reaffirm a political formulation known as the “1992 Consensus,” an unwillingness Beijing interprets as sympathizing with the pro-independence views held by some in Tsai’s Democratic Progressive Party.
Other, less definitive political outcomes could beget a conflict as well. As John Culver, a former U.S. National Intelligence Officer for East Asia, has argued, Beijing could decide that a lesser standard would be enough, such as Taiwan refusing to engage in a negotiating process whose end goal is some form of political unification. The ignominious end of the “one country, two systems” governance framework for Hong Kong, which Beijing still views as a model for Taiwan, has made the prospect of political integration with the mainland increasingly unpopular with the people of Taiwan.
Further, Chinese military maneuvers designed for political signaling could result in accidents or unintentional escalation. Operations that start off as diplomatic pressure tactics have the potential to spin out of control. Events beyond Taiwan itself could also give rise to a crisis. Political developments in the United States, especially a decisive policy change that either endorses Taiwan independence or rules out U.S. assistance to Taiwan during a contingency, could shift Beijing’s calculus (although both are highly unlikely right now).
Next, Chinese leaders could at some point face a major crisis of legitimacy—perhaps an economic crash or a botched leadership succession or lack thereof—and decide to use an invasion of Taiwan to gin up nationalistic support for the Communist regime. Beijing could also perceive opportunity in another crisis that occupies U.S. forces and attention. Likely candidates would include a conflict on the Korean Peninsula or somewhere outside East Asia such as Ukraine.
Finally, a cross-Strait conflict might never happen at all. Beijing no doubt understands that, despite the temptations, any decision to use military force against Taiwan would entail world-historical levels of risk. The PLA enjoys hefty budgets and increasingly cutting-edge capabilities. But it has not fought a war since 1979 and could still flunk its first test in decades for any numbers of reasons. Non-material factors like the capacity for effective combat leadership are notoriously difficult to develop and measure.
A failed invasion or even one with a messy mixed outcome could pose a major threat to the CCP regime. Politically, many Chinese citizens would question the leadership’s judgment and competence. Economically, even a successful campaign would require starting a major war right at the epicenter of lucrative-but-fragile global supply chains. Xi might believe he is on the cusp of fulfilling one of the Party’s most sacred goals by moving to take Taiwan—only to blow up the economic growth and stability pillars that are foundational to CCP rule in China. And that is not even mentioning the risk of uncontrolled military escalation.
Predicting with any accuracy which of these factors will prevail is impossible. For all the barrels of ink spilled writing about China, the inner workings of how the leadership makes decisions are almost completely opaque; Zhongnanhai, China’s Kremlin, is a mostly black box. That fact creates a problem because policy responses can differ based on what theory of the case they derive from and are trying to shape. Beijing could decide according to one of the aforementioned factors. Or it could be a mixture of them. Xi’s decision to choose aggressive military signaling as a central instrument in China’s pressure campaign gives weight those who think an attack could come sooner rather than later, but aggressive maneuvers are not themselves dispositive proof that a conflict is coming.
In response to the situation’s uncertainty, U.S. policy will have to be both firm and delicate. Washington should continue to emphasize to Beijing the costs of aggression and the value of the status quo for China, the region, and the world—saving the most vehement messages for private channels. Those costs go well beyond shipping disruptions in the heart of globalization’s engine room in Northeast Asia. They should include biting sanctions, structural economic decoupling, widespread diplomatic isolation of Beijing that would lock in a pessimistic view about the implications of China’s rise, and unspecified intelligence and military support to Taiwan from the United States and select allies and partners. Also, Beijing should expect to see regional states arming themselves against Chinese aggression with renewed fervor and commitment. In short, as Secretary of State Antony Blinken recently put it, that using force would be a “serious mistake.”
At the same time, however, U.S. policymakers should avoid official, public policy changes—including ending the policy of “strategic ambiguity”—that would be construed as Washington revising the status quo and therefore be likely spark a crisis. Washington should also forswear linking Taiwan directly to other issues in U.S.-China relations. Chinese officials will always accuse the United States of playing a “Taiwan card,” but Washington should steer clear of broader linkage for its own benefit and Taipei’s.
Finally, the United States should continue to counsel caution from Taiwan, with any countermoves to China’s actions calculated toward upholding or restoring the status quo, however embattled. Washington and like-minded partners should also devote special time and attention to finding innovative ways to aid implementation of Taiwan’s Overall Defense Concept plan for thwarting an invasion through asymmetric means.
Success will come if China decides that the best time to attack Taiwan is never—but there is a lot of time between now and then. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Defense One)
11 May 21. Retrograde From Afghanistan Continues as U.S. Officials Protect Troop Numbers. The retrograde from Afghanistan is going well, but U.S. officials are being careful as the effort is still in its early stages, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said today.
U.S. Central Command officials estimate that they have completed between 6% and 12% of the retrograde process. Airlifters have flown out the equivalent of 104 C-17s worth of materials; U.S. personnel have turned over more than 1,800 pieces of equipment to the Defense Logistics Agency for destruction; and the U.S. has officially handed over one facility to the Afghan National Army.
As the retrograde continues, U.S. officials will be careful not to disclose personnel numbers in Afghanistan. Revealing the number of military personnel in the country might provide a level of situational awareness for the Taliban, Kirby said.
Kirby noted the United States has added capabilities in the nation to help shield retrograde operations and provide force protection.
“We have an obligation to keep our people safe, particularly in a retrograde that could be opposed,” Kirby said. “We have to assume that this is going to be an opposed retrograde. And if we assumed anything less, it would be irresponsible of us.”
Even as the retrograde continues, the U.S. is still seeking a diplomatic peace in Afghanistan. Kirby said the Defense Department is committed to working with State Department personnel even as the withdrawal continues. “We still support, and want to see, a political end of this war and to see that the Taliban and the Afghan government work this out,” he said.
DOD will continue a relationship with the Afghan government after the retrograde is finished. “There are very active discussions going on now inside the department to better define what over-the-horizon counterterrorism capabilities we will be able to avail ourselves of,” Kirby said.
The United States will also provide over-the-horizon logistics support for Afghan forces, as well. (Source: US DoD)
11 May 21. Australia bolsters national security spending. The Commonwealth government and released its 2021-22 Budget, announcing a number of measures aimed at enhancing national security, improving cyber resilience, and increasing veterans support.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has unveiled the Commonwealth government’s 2021-22 Budget, which includes an additional $1.9bn over the next decade to bolster Australia’s national security, law enforcement, and intelligence capabilities.
Of these new funds, $1.3bn will be provided to the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), in a bid to support its technological capabilities.
The Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission will be provided with $51.8m to support its efforts to curb “transnational, serious and organised crime”.
The $1.9bn investment also includes $464.7m to strengthen Australia’s domestic detention capabilities and a further $38.1m to support Indonesia with its “irregular migrant population”.
In addition to an increase in national security funding, the government will also invest $1.2bn in the Digital Economy Strategy.
This includes over $124.1m to improve Australia’s research and industry capability in Artificial Intelligence and the establishment of a National Artificial Intelligence Centre led by CSIRO.
The Digital Economy Strategy is also expected to fund the development of digital skills and incentivise businesses and the training of “the next generation of cyber security experts”.
Also included in the 2021-22 Budget is an additional $460.4m for veterans support, including the funding of the recently announced Royal Commission into Defence and Veteran Suicide.
These measures are in addition to the $270bn committed to enhancing defence capability over the next decade.
Late last month, the government revealed that of the $270bn, $747m would be set aside for upgrades to Defence bases in the Top End, as part of a broader $8bn commitment over the next decade.
The Robertson Barracks Close Training Area, Kangaroo Flats Training Area, Mount Bundey Training Area and Bradshaw Field Training Area are among the Defence facilities expected to benefit from the investment.
The upgrades, which are subject to parliamentary approval, are set to commence later this year, with the projects expected to be completed by mid-2026. (Source: Defence Connect)
10 May 21. China, the victim? From behind the Great Wall is a government under siege by foreign threats. Activity by U.S. military ships and surveillance planes directed toward China has increased significantly under the Biden administration, a spokesperson for the Chinese Defense Ministry said April 29. As an example, Wu Qian said the U.S. Navy’s Arleigh Burke-class destroyer Mustin recently conducted close-in observation of the Chinese aircraft carrier Liaoning and its battle group.
That had “seriously interfered with the Chinese side’s training activities and seriously threatened the safety of navigation and personnel on both sides,” Wu said. The ship had been warned to leave and a formal protest filed with the U.S., he added.
Compared to the same period last year, activity by U.S. military ships was up 20 percent and by planes 40 percent in areas China claims as its territory since President Joe Biden took office in January, Wu said. At the same time, China is continuing to modernize its military across all domains amid what it considers diverse and complex security threats and challenges from foreign actors.
China routinely objects to the U.S. military presence in the South China Sea, which it claims virtually in its entirety, as well as the passage of Navy ships through the Taiwan Strait.
The country recently marked the 20th anniversary of the collision between a U.S. surveillance plane and a Chinese naval fighter jet near the Chinese island province of Hainan that resulted in the Chinese pilot’s death. He was called a hero who sacrificed himself for the defense of the motherland. The U.S. maintains its plane was in international airspace, describing the event as an accident caused by reckless flying on the part of China.
The ‘gravest immediate threat’
But Taiwan remains a top focus for the Chinese government.
The government’s most recent defense whitepaper stated that global and regional security threats are on the rise, including cyber and biological threats as well as piracy. In addition, separatist forces supported by external parties in places like Tibet continue to pose “threats to China’s national security and social stability,” according to the document.
The whitepaper also acknowledged that a series of territorial disputes in the Asia-Pacific region, including those involving China, remain unresolved, though the government took a relatively sanguine view on the matter. (These statements came before last year’s fatal clashes between Chinese and Indian troops along their disputed mountainous border.)
However, the document called the Taiwanese government’s independent approach from the mainland the “gravest immediate threat to peace and stability” in the Taiwan Strait and the biggest barrier to the peaceful reunification of China.
China views the self-governing island of Taiwan as a rogue province and has vowed to reunify it with the mainland by force if necessary. The island has experienced de facto independence since 1949, when Chinese nationalist forces fled there following their defeat to communist forces in the Chinese civil war.
The U.S. maintains only unofficial relations with Taiwan in deference to Beijing but provides the island with defensive weapons and is legally bound to treat threats to it as matters of “grave concern.”
In an interview with Britain’s Sky News, Taiwanese Foreign Affairs Minister Joseph Wu reiterated recent warnings that the military threat from China is growing through “misinformation campaigns, hybrid warfare, and … gray zone activities” – something he said appears to be part of preparations for a “final military assault against Taiwan.”
China which has repeatedly warned that any move toward formal Taiwanese independence is a red line that could trigger an invasion. That red line could fall well short of an actual, formal declaration of independence, however, and could instead be triggered by U.S. activity that China views as supportive of Taiwanese independence, according to Collin Koh, a research fellow at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.
Koh said the stationing of American forces on the island is one example of a move that could anger Chinese leaders.
A scenario in which Taiwan is invaded is widely seen as a key driver behind the massive modernization effort of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army.
However, the consensus – among experts testifying at February hearings held by the congressional U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission – is that China itself would be unable to mount a full-scale invasion of the island across the Taiwan Strait, mainly due to its inability to send enough forces by sea or to ensure a successful initial landing, even with requisitioned civilian vessels.
Nevertheless, China is working to address an amphibious capability gap, with six Type 071 landing platform docks already in service that were recently joined by a larger Type 075 landing helicopter dock, with at least two more being built.
A buildup at sea
Looking farther south, China’s whitepaper said the “situation of the South China Sea is generally stable and improving as regional countries are properly managing risks and differences.” However, it left unaddressed the fact that China has largely completed its fortified reclaimed islands in the body of water. Those islands now have airfields, ports, early warning radars, and defenses against air and seaborne attacks, serving Beijing’s interests well, Koh said. They have also enabled China to maintain a sustained presence in Vietnam’s exclusive economic zone.
He did concede that the size of each outpost would require a significant amassing of munitions to neutralize them in a conflict. Other observers have questioned whether the U.S. has sufficient munitions to spare against these facilities during a high-intensity conflict when there are many other potentially more important targets.
In an evening address to Congress on April 28, Biden did not directly address military threats from China, but he emphasized that the Asian nation and others were “closing in fast” in economic and technological terms.
“We’re in a competition with China and other countries to win the 21st century,” he said. (Source: Defense News)
10 May 21. In Strait of Hormuz, U.S. Vessels Exercised Right to Self Defense. Earlier today, 13 “fast boats” with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy precariously approached U.S. Navy and Coast Guard vessels that were operating in the Strait of Hormuz. After those ships failed to heed warnings to move away to a safe distance, the U.S. fired warning shots, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby said.
During a briefing today at the Pentagon, Kirby said it was six U.S. Navy vessels that were escorting the guided missile submarine USS Georgia which were involved in the incident.
“This group of fast attack boats approached the U.S. formation at high speed, closing in as close as 150 yards,” Kirby said. “After following all the appropriate and established procedures involving ships: horn blast, bridge-to-bridge radio transmissions and other ways of communicating, the [U.S.] Coast Guard Cutter Maui … fired approximately 30 warning shots from a 50 caliber machine gun. After the second round of warning shots, the 13 fast-attack craft from the IRGCN broke contact.”
Kirby said the Coast Guard cutter fired warning shots while the IRGCN ships were at the 300-yard mark and then again when they were at the 150-yard mark.
It’s not clear now under whose direction those IRGCN ships were operating, Kirby said. But he also added that harassment from the IRGCN is nothing new.
“Harassment by the IRGC Navy is not a new phenomenon,” he said. “It is something that all our commanding officers and crews of our vessels are trained … for when serving in the Central Command area of responsibility, particularly in and around the Gulf.”
The U.S. response to the harassment, Kirby said, was appropriate for the situation the American ships were in.
“Our commanding officers and crew of our ships — they have the right of self-defense and they know how to use that right,” he said. “They have the means at their disposal to defend their ships and their crews and they also, as I think we’ve seen now in this second incident, are very stringent about following the proper procedures for providing warnings: verbally first, and then if need be, through the use of warning shots to try to change or mitigate the Iranian behavior.”
Late last month on April 26, three IRGCN fast inshore attack craft approached U.S. Navy vessels in a similar fashion as today’s incident. Then, U.S. ships issued warnings as they did today. When those warnings failed, the USS Firebolt fired warning shots and the IRGCN ships moved away to a safe distance.
“This kind of activity is the kind of activity that could lead to somebody getting hurt, and could lead to a real miscalculation in the region, and that doesn’t serve anybody’s interests,” Kirby said. (Source: US DoD)
10 May 21. US deploying B-52s, F/A-18s to protect troops withdrawing from Afghanistan amid high levels of violence. The United States is deploying additional military aircraft to bolster protection for US and coalition troops making their final withdrawal from Afghanistan as the fighting between Afghan government troops and the Taliban continues at a high level.
“To maximise force protection, we have bolstered our security with additional firepower. The SECDEF [US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin] has directed six additional B-52 long-range strike bombers and a package of 12 fighter-bombers, F[/A]-18s, postured to offer contingency support,” US Army General Mark A Milley, the chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), said during a 6 May briefing.
Moreover, Austin, who also took part in the briefing, has “extended [the presence of] the Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group” in the Middle East to help cover the troop pullout, which is set to be completed “no later than September”, added the general.
“We came in with our allies and we will depart with our allies, shoulder-to-shoulder, and together we are all going to execute a fully co-ordinated, synchronised retrograde in good order,” said the JCS chairman, adding that so far the pullout is going “according to plan”.
“To date we have closed one base in Helmand. Approximately 60 C-17 equivalents have departed with various equipment and rolling stock, and over 1,300 pieces of equipment have been transferred either to the US Defense Logistics Agency for destruction or to the ANS[D]F [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] for their use,” said Gen Milley. (Source: Jane’s)
10 May 21. Indonesian Navy Declares Submarine Loss Due To ‘Natural Factors,’ Despite Reports Of Crew Illness And Operational Problems. Following the sinking of the KRI Nanggala-402 submarine in waters off northern Bali, it is emerging that there have been numerous reports of sickness among the submariners past and present who have served with the Indonesian Navy (Tentara Nasional Indonesia-Angkatan Laut – TNI-AL).
One such case is that of Marine Colonel Iwa Kartiwa, a former submarine unit commander between 2016-19 and former commander of the KRI Nanggala-402. According to a Tweet by one of his former classmates, Col Iwa is ill “because of his metal/mercury poisoning.”
The Colonel’s elder brother, former West Java Regional Police Chief Inspector General (ret) Anton Charliyan, previously stated his younger brother was “seriously ill as a result of consuming too much iron [likely heavy metal exposure] during his ten years serving [in the] submarine special force.” Gen Anton had also stated that “almost all members of the submarine special forces experience the same thing”, as reported by Kompass.com.
Jakarta media organisation VOI reported that during a news conference on 4 May, Col Iwa denied what his brother had said although he admitted that “he had nerve pain and a history of other diseases that made him unable to do much activity.”
He also stated: “[My] disease started in 2017 when [I was] Commander of the Submarine Unit. In fact, I was bedridden for a month. [I was] ordered to go to Dr. Mintohardjo Hospital for an MRI. Apparently, we were exposed to ‘hernia nucleus pulposus’ (HNP) or pinched nerve.”
Kompass.com also reported that Commander of the Naval Staff and Command School (Seskoal) Rear Admiral Iwan Isnurwanto had experienced the same submarine going into a ‘blackout’ and that it “began to tilt and ‘sank’ quickly.” He said the situation was recovered when the main ballast tank was blown.
On Monday 26 April the chief of staff of the Indonesian Navy Admiral Yudo Margono stated that the Navy’s initial analysis of the sinking of the KRI Nanggala-402 submarine was due to “natural factors’, ruling out human error or blackout or power failure.
Quite how the Navy can come to that conclusion so quickly without the wreckage of the submarine being analysed, or the medical records of the crew being examined, or maintenance reports being cleared, suggests that there is a lot of supposition being made without evidence to support it.
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