PacNet, May 27, 2023

(This article was originally published by Council on Geostrategy in connection with the First Sea Lord’s Conference, London 2023)

Driven by the CCP’s imperative to oversee “the great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation” by 2049, US intelligence sources indicate that Chinese President Xi Jinping has ordered the PLA to become capable of countering American military power in the Indo-Pacific and ready for a takeover of Taiwan by 2027. This is an alarming prospect lent credence by recent Chinese military exercises around the island nation. According to Adm. John Aquilino, Commander of US Indo-Pacific Command (INDOPACOM), in his March Congressional testimony, the PLA Navy (PLAN) is on track to deliver 440 battle force ships by 2030, including significant increases in aircraft carriers and major surface combatants. As it grows in strength, the PLAN is likely to use its large naval forces to further uphold, even enforce, illegitimate Chinese claims over areas of the East and South China seas, areas through which foreign vessels of all kinds have rights to move under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), which the PRC ratified in 1996.

In this worsening geopolitical environment Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States have created the AUKUS submarine and technology-sharing agreement, which has been called a “trilateral, security partnership based on defense capabilities that support [the three countries’] mutual national defense objectives.” According to Mara Karlin, US Assistant Secretary of Defence for Strategy, Plans, and Capabilities, the agreement will “lift all three nations’ submarine industrial bases and undersea capabilities, enhancing deterrence and promoting stability in the Indo-Pacific.”

Deterring indirectly

Before explaining how AUKUS facilitates “direct deterrence” from the perspective of capabilities, capacity, and force posture, it is important to identify forms of “indirect deterrence,” namely by promoting deterrence through a constellation of security alignments and the strengthening of the defense industrial base (DIB). In the case of these latter two forms of “indirect deterrence,” AUKUS—as with the US-Japan-Australia Trilateral and the Quad—is a minilateral. These minilaterals are not strictly alliances, but provide their members with a shared pool of military capabilities or what has also been dubbed a “federated model of defense.” Within the United States, these alignments gel with the administration’s organizing principle of “integrated deterrence,” which was laid out in the 2022 National Security Strategy, the National Defense Strategy, and the Nuclear Posture Review. In addition to accelerating efforts to promote planning, coordination, and operations between various US government agencies and US allies, AUKUS also provides integrated deterrence at the level of the defense industrial base for all three cooperating nations. While it would be a stretch to call this “undersea deterrence,” it would also be remiss not to mention the bolstering effect AUKUS will have on naval shipyards, the nuclear enterprise, and undersea sensor and weapons systems industries, which all contribute to national strength.

Directly deterring from beneath the sea

Defining deterrence as the “building of combat credible forces across all domains and across the full spectrum of conflict to deter aggression,” Karlin also noted that AUKUS is about more than just pillars I and II, but also includes a focus on undersea deterrence throughout the Indo-Pacific across a range of areas. At the simplest level, the agreement adds to undersea deterrence by delivering new advanced warfighting capabilities to its members, particularly Australia: it provides two types of nuclear-powered attack submarine (SSN) platforms—the Virginia class and “AUKUS class”—to replace Australia’s aging Collins class of conventionally powered submarines. While it is a crude measure, more vessels with long-range capabilities, amplified by the advanced weapons capacity and kinetic effects that they can deliver at greater range, more effectively may deter an adversary in the event that it contemplates aggression.


AUKUS thus provides all three countries with a wider distributed force posture closer to likely areas of operations, vis-à-vis the PLAN in the Western Pacific. As shown in Map 1, nuclear-propelled submarines greatly complicate the PRC’s calculus. They can be sent north of Australia to stalking grounds surrounding the South and East China seas, which are critical to Chinese maritime communication lines across the Pacific and to the Middle East and East Africa. By making these routes more vulnerable to interdiction, AUKUS forces the PLAN into a more defensive posture, which may direct resources away from large warships and logistics vessels designed for expeditionary operations.

It does this through the 2-part pathway framework agreed upon in March 2023. The first part of the pathway consists of increased port visits by US and UK SSNs from 2023, which adds to the ability of INDOPACOM and the Royal Navy to regularly  position forces east of the Strait of Malacca and west of the International Date Line (IDL)—a helpful softening of the tyranny of distance confronting US and UK naval forces. The second part of the framework includes a rotational element in Australia under the Submarine Rotational Force West intended to begin by 2027. According to the Australian Department of Defence, this will be composed of “a rotational presence…of one UK and up to four US, nuclear-powered submarines” at Fleet Base West. This is likely to draw In Astute- and Virginia-class submarines. Again, this adds to a joint and combined campaign, allowing the three allies to synchronize joint capabilities through increased exercises and further cementing persistent forces in between the Strait of Malacca and the IDL.

Forms of deterrence provided by AUKUS

AUKUS, therefore, provides deterrence at multiple levels. The first two are forms of “indirect deterrence,” or factors which strengthen general deterrence at the state level.

  1. AUKUS provides a signal of intent—through that of political alignment—potentially muddying the calculations of a potential aggressor. This is AUKUS as a minilateral grouping, and as architecture rather than as a defense industrial deal.
  2. AUKUS provides indirect deterrence by adding to national strength by adding to the DIB of each member by providing opportunities for industrial cooperation and production. It releases national resources towards shipping industries that may have previously been in decline.

AUKUS has several effects in terms of direct deterrence, too. It is helpful to use the four-point “Seize the Initiative” INDOPACOM approach to divide them:

  1. In its simplest and most direct form, AUKUS contributes to undersea deterrence by providing its members, notably Australia, with new advanced warfighting platforms (the SSNs and their systems).
  2. That these are superior systems, with longer ranges provided by their nuclear propulsion, adds to their impact on potential adversaries’ logistics and planning. As submarines can hide underwater, they are an asymmetrical weapons system, designed to threaten sea lanes and surface shipping, both commercial and military.
  3. Then there are the agreements made in March of this year, such as the two-part pathway that allows for a second direct form of undersea deterrence: that of providing those platforms in a distributed posture across the region. Whether through port visits or a more sustained presence through Submarine Rotational Force West, AUKUS brings more allied forces into the Western Pacific.
  4. Then, finally, there is the deterrent effect produced by Submarine Rotational Force West itself: that of an integrated allied operational force that ideally will operate under a combined command structure.


As American, Australian, and British submariners train, exercise, and deploy, so will their operational capability and efficacy increase. They will become an integrated force capable of great strategic effect—deterrence—in the Indo-Pacific, a valuable asset for any war planner. The question as to whether these six forms of deterrence will deter Xi from ordering PLAN forces to lunge across the Taiwan Strait or from undertaking coercive activity across the First Island Chain is unclear. While they might not sufficient—given the time it takes for these systems and structures to come on line—these nascent capabilities will complicate PLAN planning and logistics. In the future, in any actual kinetic contingency, they will also provide a potent instrument to contain Chinese regional ambitions and military coercion.

With Brig. Rory Copinger-Symes, (Ret.) PacNet, 29 March, 2023

The much-awaited release of Britain’s updated Integrated Review (IR2023)—a “refresh” since the 2021 iteration (IR2021)—has many in the Euro-Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific now trying to assess UK intent and capability in the region. The paper does go some way to addressing concerns that UK domestic politics would pull the ground from underneath “the Tilt” before it had even begun. The region is described as “Inextricably linked” with the security of the Euro-Atlantic, though this strategic logic is compelling, the operational follow-through bears some scrutiny.

So, what is the United Kingdom security posture in the Indo-Pacific and how can it meet the theatre-resourcing demands made by current geopolitical realities and current capacity?

First, there is a superior strategic logic to the idea of linkage between the Euro-Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific as part of a broader construct the “global commons and rules-based international order.” This framework promotes the idea that the two regions—and Russian and Chinese efforts to destabilize and dominate those regions—are part of a broader geopolitical struggle. The common thread of Russian and Chinese authoritarian systems also reaffirms this conceptualization as does their growing political and military alignment and intention “to remake [the order] in their image” (IR2023). This framework is likewise found in the 2022 US National Security Strategy and the 2022 Japanese National Security Strategy.

At slight variance to this compelling logic, is the debate about resourcing and operational concerns in Europe in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Europe. In both the United States and United Kingdom, there are those experts who believe that London’s focus should be Europe and that attention towards the Indo-Pacific is a “distraction.” Some of these voices are even official, as for example, that of US Secretary of Defence Lloyd Austin stated in July 2021: “If, for example, we focus a bit more here [in Asia], are there areas that the United Kingdom can be more helpful in other parts of the world.” This view has been a constant refrain by Labour Shadow Defense Secretary John Healey, who stated, “Alliances with like-minded nations in the Indo-Pacific are important. We can contribute strongly with technology, capability, diplomacy, to the Indo-Pacific, but there needs to be a realism about military commitments into the Indo-Pacific. Our armed forces are ill-served by leaders who pretend that Britain can do everything, everywhere.”

In all fairness, the IR2021 or IR2023 both make clear that the United Kingdom’s prioritization will be of the Euro-Atlantic—the “region of primary and overriding importance to UK interests – where the build of…efforts would be focused through NATO.” Furthermore, Secretary of Defence Austin’s view does not preclude the sort of diplomatic, economic, technological, and security cooperation that the United Kingdom is already doing in the Indo-Pacific. Of note: the Indo-Pacific Strategy of 2021, calls for an “engaged Europe” as one of its strategic means, and states that the United States will “bring our Indo-Pacific and European partners in novel ways, including through the AUKUS partnership.”

At its heart, this is a disconnect between two different theatres and two different types of threat, posing different operational challenges. In Europe, the threat is largely about annexation of national territory by a revanchist Russia and the possibility of a land war in Ukraine that could spill over into NATO-member territory. Few believe that it is about the future architecture of Europe. In contrast, it is more about the regional maritime system and its importance to the global system in the Indo-Pacific. Admiral John Aquilino, Commander of US Indo-Pacific Command in October 2021 made this clear when he visited the United Kingdom and called the Indo-Pacific the “defining security landscape of the 21st Century.” Noting the centrality of the region’s maritime trade flow “every day, half of the entire world’s container cargo and 70% of ship-borne energy supply flows through this area. The most important message I can send…is how vital the Indo-Pacific is to the future prosperity and security of Europe and global cooperation.”

Is the United Kingdom therefore set to play a role in an integrated deterrence vis a vis China? The jury is still out, particularly in the Indo-Pacific, though the Tilt appears to have been achieved and now the region is to become a “permanent pillar” of UK foreign policy. With the exception of AUKUS and GCAP, which are new since IR2021, much of the Tilt has been achieved through diplomatic and technical/economic agreements rather than through defense or security means. There have been modest increases in the United Kingdom military presence in the regionsuch as the two naval patrol vessels, and arguably the AUKUS/GCAP agreements are the headline deliverables that will see decades of engagement in the region. IR2023 emphasizes the United Kingdom approach in the region to be via deepening relationships with allies and partners or soft power. The United Kingdom has widened its security and defense network across the Indo-Pacific over the past decade and appears to be trying to deepen this network now. Not much can be drawn from IR2023 until the Defence Command Paper is out—reportedly not due for release until June 2023.

If deterring China is the goal what should the United Kingdom be doing to help achieve this? The United Kingdom is not about to deploy vast numbers of troops, ships, or aircraft to the region especially whilst the war in Ukraine persists. But the United Kingdom could use its footprint across the Indo-Pacific to better support a coordinated deterrence plan with other allies or partners in the region.

France and the United Kingdom have already agreed a plan to coordinate carrier group deployments, which could be a signpost for the integrating effect the United Kingdom brings. With the AUKUS announcement there are likely to be more submarine deployments to the region including the establishment of a trilateral submarine task force. What is lacking for the region is any form of security architecture in which allies and partners can discuss issues and coordinate responses or contribute forces. Evidently this would not include China and by developing an integrated security structure it builds a better integrated deterrence effect where allies and partners are stronger together.

The United Kingdom could expand its experience of establishing maritime Combined Task Forces (CTF) that have been successful in the Arabian Gulf, the Indian Ocean, and Malacca Straits[1]. All these CTFs have included a mix of international partners and proved to be successful in deterring illicit activity, strengthening maritime security and reassuring region or international communities. London could establish something similar for the Indo-Pacific, or even several across the region, where partner nations can come together to police the increasingly crowded volatile seas and airspaces of the region? While the United Kingdom can help to establish this/these HQs in the region they would likely not be led by the United Kingdom, and they shouldn’t be. The United Kingdom could provide the backbone, providing a “socket” for the United Kingdom to “plug” into when UK forces were deployed in the region, but more importantly bring like-minded partners together to improve security across the region. The byproduct being a more coherent deterrent strategy toward the region.

[1] In the Arabian Gulf is Combined Maritime Forces including CTF 150, 151 & 152. EUNAVFOR which used to be based out of the UK countering piracy in Somalia and the Indian Ocean. Based out of Singapore was the International Fusion Centre to counter piracy in the Malacca Straits.

With Dr. David Dorman, Issues & Insights, 22 February, 2023

Over the past few years, there has been growing concern inside the United States, Europe, and in the Indo-Pacific on the strategic direction behind China’s technology policies. Beginning with the debate over 5G and Huawei, this debate has covered Artificial Intelligence (AI), quantum technology, and semi-conductors – a foundational technology. And despite a large number of policies in place – Made in China: 2025, Cyber Super Power, and the New Generation AI Development Plan – few in the West have known China’s overall digital grand strategy.

In the first installment of a three-part research project, Dr. Dorman and Dr. Hemmings lay out the rise of China’s overall digital grand strategy, Xi’s role in it, and how it has been organized to fulfil Party objectives.

The report tracks the rise of the strategy over the past 10 years, the acceleration of that rise during the Covid-19 pandemic, and the current state of the strategy. In particular, it finds

  • Digital China has been supported and designed by General Secretary Xi Jinping himself, and is a bid to make China more competitive vis a vis the West through the digital transformation of rules, institutions, and infrastructure at the national level.
  • Over the past few years, the strategy has risen to become the “overall” strategy for digital development in the eyes of the Chinese Communist Party leadership, bigger than the Digital Silk Road, deeper than the Belt and Road Initiative, more far reaching than 5G or AI, more important than Made in China: 2025, and wider than Cyber Great Power.
  • A renewed Digital China seeks to challenge a hegemonic global system anchored to a previous age. A successful Digital China has profound implications for China’s developmental path, great power competition, and for the norms that will undergird the international system for decades to come.
  • The Party leadership has re-written Marxist economic theory in its bid to incorporate “data” as the basis of its digital economy and in order to foster a Chinese “Digital Marxism”.
  • Digital China seeks to whet the “sharp weapon” of innovation to facilitate its great power rise and challenge to the West. Beijing is testing whether innovative thinking can be created through the digital transformation of tools, talent, and learning.

The US and its allies have begun to effect strategic counter-effect to the myriad of PRC technology policies, there is almost zero understanding or public discussion of this digital grand strategy. Whether inattention, mistranslation, or obfuscation, Digital China has been mostly missed by the West over the past decade.

Read the report here.

CSIS Commentary, 6 January, 2023

The release of a new Japanese National Security Strategy last month (the first since 2013) has been described by observers as “drastic,” likely to “shatter policy norms” in place since World War II. This, combined with discussions in Japan’s media on raising defense spending to 2 percent of GDP, reveal a bilateral consensus that the alliance needs to be improved in the area of command-and-control to provide deterrence in a rapidly declining security environment, vis à vis China. There are increasing calls from inside both governments—and outside government—for the United States and Japan to increase intelligence sharing since war planning requires a much higher level of information sharing between militaries. As a result of this, a separate but related question is being asked as to whether Japan should be included in the preeminent intelligence-sharing group, the Five Eyes.

While the intelligence network—composed of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States—has its origins tracing back to World War II, the rise of an assertive China in the Indo-Pacific provides a growing rationale for Tokyo’s accession to the group. After all, the Five Eyes began due to an increasing need to share intelligence at a much higher level for more effective war planning. Prominent figures on both sides of the Pacific have advocated for Japan’s inclusion as security in the region has deteriorated. Former Japanese defense minister Taro Kono made the case in 2020, with a group of prominent U.S. experts adding their voice in a prominent 2020 CSIS study. Japan has deepened strong intelligence-sharing relationships with different members of the Five Eyes—most recently with Canada—there are still no signs that it will be invited into broader group arrangements. In many ways, there are complexities in the broader remit of the group beyond those of intelligence sharing that should be addressed prior to any accession.

First, Japanese policy elites should understand that the original Five Eyes framework has long since evolved beyond the original remit of signals intelligence sharing to encompass a range of formal and informal information sharing arrangements and policy alignment meetings. The range of activities that fall under the rubric of Five Eyes is so wide-ranging and decentralized, that as a practical matter, it is questionable as to whether Japan would want to join. For example, there are hundreds of existing agreements and working groups outside of the intelligence spheres, such as in the defense and diplomacy spheres, where equipment interoperability, military information sharing, and foreign ministry dialogues occur. Indeed, Japan has been added to some of these on an ad hoc basis.

There are many activities that take place in the domestic security sector, such as the Quintet group of Attorneys General and the Five Country Ministerial (FCM) that look at border security, law enforcement, cybersecurity, and immigration. A 2021 study found that security practitioners and experts from across the five are predicting even newer forms cooperation outside of the intelligence community due to the growing non-kinetic challenges posed by China and Russia. Much of this cooperation would address nontraditional security sectors, such as cyber, supply chain, and information operations. A number of experts interviewed for the study advocated that the five strengthen their technological research and development and industrial integration through the National Technology Industrial Base to counter China’s scale advantage. While the five nations are not the only grouping for such cooperation—the Quad, AUKUS, G7, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) also play a role—the grouping’s historic intimacy and comfort working in sensitive information-sharing spaces lends itself well to dual-use technological co-development. Thus, when thinking of joining the Five Eyes, Japan should consider to what extent it wishes to integrate with the other five across these non-intelligence community areas.

Secondly, when it comes to accessing the Five Eyes intelligence community, Japanese elites deserve a clear understanding of what is required of them before they can access this inner of inner rings. It is not simply a case of regular exchanges between intelligence agencies, but rather a level of institutionalized information sharing that occurs across multiple agencies and departments. As with those nations that wished to join NATO, there is a clear pathway to adopting “five eye standards” that would greatly facilitate the political decision of membership or at least an equivalent level of intelligence sharing and cooperation. Broadly speaking, these five eye standards exist in three broad “baskets.” The first of these is the clearance and vetting system that all five have developed to better enable who can access classified information, including the most sensitive information. If Japan wishes to join the Five Eyes intelligence community, it should understand the standards that all Five Eyes partners meet and develop a department that runs a universal process of vetting government personnel with access to information that is classified by common standards and procedures. Such vetting affords personnel different levels of clearance, which in turn affords the level of access to classified information. In addition to being applied to civil servants across the government, members of the military, and select members of industry, such vetting and clearance should be applied to those Diet members involved in parliamentary oversight of the intelligence apparatus.

The second basket is that of classification itself. Probably the bedrock for intelligence sharing, classification allows information to be put into a hierarchy according to secrecy. When paired with the clearance system, classification allows for safe information sharing across bureaucracies. Japan should adopt a classification ranking system that approximates the one used by the five nations. Again, this should be applied across all Japanese departments and agencies since different classification systems within different bureaucracies hinder information sharing. The third basket is that of information-sharing standard operating procedures, in which data is shared according to certain processes. In order to join the SECRET and TOP SECRET networks operated by the Five Eyes, Japan would have to put in place certain safeguards with regard to cybersecurity and user security. Again, this would require that users are vetted and adhere to the common cybersecurity practices applied by the other five.

In terms of joining the Five Eyes, Japanese elites should think of where they want to go and understand to what extent the Five Eyes will help them get there. If their intent is to develop closer intelligence with the United States so as to deter Chinese military adventurism in the Indo-Pacific region, joining the group need not necessarily be the end goal. Closer and deeper institutionalization between U.S. intelligence and Japanese intelligence actors can be done on a separate track from those relationships with UK, Australian, and Canadian intelligence agencies. On the other hand, if Japan wishes to align more deeply with the Five Eyes for a broader strategic relationship—one that will be measured in decades—then joining various parts of the group, including the intelligence community part, is desirable. The strongest reasons for Japan’s accession to the Five Eyes is not its alignment over China but its long-term alignment with the United States dating back seven decades and a desire to integrate more deeply with the broader strategic community to which the United States belongs. As mentioned, the five collaborate across many different fields at a level that is astonishing to outsides, but nearly taken for granted within the five. Japan would have to learn to be comfortable with that.

If Japanese policymakers decide that they wish to continue this integration at the intelligence-sharing level—and deepen it—then political will is required to make the necessary changes across Japan’s bureaucracy. These include creating the machinery for vetting and clearance, classification, and information-sharing procedures and then applying those across government, industry, and the Diet. Broadly speaking, Japan needs to initiate internal changes and adopt similar cyber hygiene standards to those applied across the Five Eyes nations. This doesn’t mean Japan needs to build exact replicas, but rather Japan-specific approximations. A historical parallel is the long process by which Eastern European states implemented structural reforms of their militaries and security sectors in their desire to accede to NATO. Given the rise of global instability and the diffusion of attack vectors into Western societies, Japan stands to gain by its accession to the Five Eyes—and the group would certainly gain by the inclusion of the world’s third-largest economy and third-largest military force in the Indo-Pacific region. It would also gain by Japan’s historic intelligence gathering on North Korea and China, while Japan would widen its understanding of other regions. What is required now is for the Five Eyes to quietly lay out that roadmap for accession so that Japanese officials understand what is required.

PacNet, 5 November, 2022

The Biden administration released America’s new National Security Strategy (NSS) on Oct. 12. For those who read such documents regularly, there were few surprises. Values were mentioned in the context of the United States’ position in the world and vis-a-vis perceived adversaries, such as Russia, Iran, and the People’s Republic of China, while the administration’s lines of effort were laid out in a typical ends, ways, and means format. There were also sections on each region of the world, where the strategies laid out a bit more context.

If one compares the Biden NSS with three other NSS—1994 under President Bill Clinton, 2002 under President George W. Bush, 2017 under President Donald Trump—released early in the president’s term, one can see the evolution of US national strategy over time. By doing a word count of key terms in all four documents—such as “alliance,” “Asia,” “China,” “Russia,” “Europe,” “democracy,” “freedom,” “free trade,” and “terrorism”—it is possible to discern an administration’s priorities by how many mentions a key term gets in each document. Seen across time, it’s interesting to note the variation in use of these terms and indicative of differences and commonalities between different administrations.

For all the differences between the two parties in the US system and the yawning gulf of the culture wars, the four NSS analyzed are fairly similar. Not because they are mundane documents written by bureaucrats—they are usually led by the White House of each administration who work hard to put the president’s stamp on US security posture. Rather, they are similar because the two parties—despite their domestic differences—share a common worldview and a similar conception of the US role within that world.

The four strategies all stress the importance of values and the democratic system to its foreign policy. US policymakers continue to stress the role of US values in achieving its paramount position and making the world a better place, though different strategies vary in how the administration expresses those values. Democratic administrations seem to mention “democracy” more than “freedom,” while the reverse is true for Republican administrations. There are also differences in whether the US is determined to export or defend those values.

The major tension point for the Biden administration is knowing there is going to be a drawn-out ideological struggle with the PRC and Russia, while wanting to avoid the term “cold war” due to its long-term implications. Despite a clear rejection of the concept, the NSS nevertheless heavily from US values language from the 1950s by dividing values into two forms—freedoms of liberalism (voting, political freedoms, free media) and freedoms from coercion and oppression. This approach was prominent in President Truman’s 1947 speech to Congress and makes sense because it widens the US appeal to global partners. While the first form would be attractive to fellow democratic liberal states in Europe, the second is more attractive to small and medium-sized non-democratic states whose sovereignty may be threatened by Moscow or Beijing. If one is to fight a long ideological competition with a powerful authoritarian power, then one must frame that power by its coercive practices while having a broad base of support.

The 2022 NSS asserts that its goal is, at the systemic level, to create an order that is free, open, and prosperous—language echoing that found in the Indo-Pacific Strategy, and language developed with allies such as Japan over the past decade to frame Chinese actions in the South China Sea, its Belt and Road Initiative, and Russian efforts to destabilize and dominate Europe.

While previous strategies connect values with the overall international system, the Biden version follows that laid out in the Trump NSS by noting that China is also projecting its (authoritarian) values as it seeks to re-order the system.

Consequently, it lays out an architecture for out-competing the PRC across all domains, and this is the administration’s priority. Despite this, “Russia” still gains 71 mentions compared to “China” and “the PRC,” which had 54 between them. The most likely explanation is Russia’s renewed aggression against Ukraine, which dominates the section on Europe.

Speaking of Europe, one might expect to see the word “Europe” mentioned more than “Asia” or “Indo-Pacific” in earlier strategies but fade out as the PRC’s rise became a more pressing issue for US strategists, and this is borne out by analysis. Dropping from a high of 48 in the 1994 strategy, “Europe” is only mentioned 35 times in the 2022 NSS, while “Asia” and the “Indo-Pacific” are mentioned 43 times.

It notes that the lines between domestic and foreign policy are blurring in the age of social media, insecure supply chains, and data-related technologies. These, like 5G, artificial intelligence, quantum, and other emerging and critical technologies have grown in importance as Xi Jinping has accelerated the Digital China strategy. “Technology” was mentioned six times in 1994, nine times in 2002, 25 times in 2017, and 41 times in the 2022 NSS. This is a truly impressive marker of the importance of tech to the new era of competition.

The NSS also stresses the importance of allies, fairly common to most American strategic documents. However, the Biden administration’s strategy mentions “alliances” 17 times, only matched by the Bush administration’s, which was waging a global “war on terror” in 2002.

For those who track US trade policy, it will come as no surprise to see that “free trade” has also almost disappeared from the document, garnering only two mentions, a divergence between the United States and its allies. This reflects the United States’ continuing domestic debate over free trade agreements, sparked during the 2016 presidential election, which remains divisive among US policy elites.

Overall, the 2022 NSS is in line with those that came before it, but one can see the evolution towards a United States that must compete long-term with the PRC and Russia in the ideological, technological, military, and economic domains, and one that a United States that needs its allies to succeed. One can also see a glimpse of the values language used by former President Truman—which became the Truman Doctrine and laid the foundations for the generational competition with the Soviet Union. For those in the region who might view the United States as more obsessive about values—freedom and democracy—the document goes out of its way to create a non-liberal definition of freedom—one of freedom from coercion, a sort of support for sovereignty that underpinned US support for Turkey (a non-democracy in 1947). Surely, this is a definition that any regional state should support. If the United States can work with its partners and allies to make clear this is behind the term “free and open” with elements of open maritime access, the United States will begin to soften the resistance from regional friends and partners who do not share our democratic and liberal values. On the other hand, the lack of an economic framework is a key concern, given China’s pivotal role in the global economy and trade system—a very different challenge to that posed by a Cold War-era USSR.

A pragmatic strategy that lays the foundations for a decades-long competition but one that still needs to resolve key issues.

With Michael Walsh, Taipei Times, 7 October, 2022

In the wake of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there have been heightened concerns that a Taiwan contingency involving the People’s Republic of China (PRC) could play out in the not-too-distant future. This year’s Department of Defense Annual Report on China to the US Congress asserts that PRC leadership views unification as pivotal to its policy of Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation, and its piecemeal pressure tactics against Taipei has led US President Joe Biden to openly state that the US would defend Taiwan in the event of an invasion.

The PRC’s ambitions seem to pose a direct threat to Taiwan’s autonomy, and subsequently to regional peace in the wider Indo-Pacific region. 

There are those who think that the US government’s ability to deter or defend against an invasion of Taiwan is at risk due to the changing balance of power between the two superpowers. As Hudson Institute senior fellow Bryan Clark wrote in a recent report, Defending Guam, the US armed forces “can no longer plan to defeat the PLA [People’s Liberation Army] in a fire-powered duel over Taiwan.” 

Instead, the US government needs to find creative ways to undermine “PLA confidence” and exploit “decision-making advantages to gain an edge,” he said.

Among other things, this requires establishing a widely distributed, multilayered network of civilian and military infrastructure across Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia.

The US is working hard to deter the existential threat posed to Taiwan by the PRC while making the necessary preparations to successfully defend Taiwan if those efforts fail. Should the US not be able to deter such an attack, then the US armed forces and the US intelligence community must be able to effectively and efficiently prevent missile strikes and cyberattacks from taking out critical infrastructure targets essential to the defense of Taiwan over an extended period.

To thwart these sorts of attacks, the US should rely on civilian and military infrastructure that is located in and around the Freely Associated States of Palau, the Marshall Islands and Micronesia. 

A key part of that military infrastructure currently is the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site (RTS) in the Marshall Islands. Its radar, optical and telemetry sensors are not just useful for conducting missile tests and space exploration missions, they are also expected to play a critical role in supporting missile launches, space reconnaissance and surveillance operations during a defense of Taiwan.

Without the RTS, the US armed forces and the US intelligence community probably would find it far more difficult to protect allied and partner forward-deployed forces and space-based assets from hypersonic and ballistic missile attacks, among other advanced threats during the defense of Taiwan. That is why it is essential to protect the submarine cable and artificial satellite systems that connect the RTS to allied and partner military and intelligence facilities around the world, including the US Army Cyber Command, US Army Space and Missile Defense Command, and Joint Region Marianas.

For decades, the US has maintained special relationships of free association with the Freely Associated States by way of the Compact of Free Association (COFA). These international agreements not only recognize the Freely Associated States as sovereign states with the authority to conduct their own foreign affairs, they also simultaneously grant the authority for their defense and security to the US. 

Under these terms, the US has the freedom to make use of civilian and military infrastructure required to protect its national security interests across a wide range of scenarios, including the defense of Taiwan. 

The COFA must be renewed soon, and the Freely Associated States governments have indicated that they are not satisfied with the proposed terms that have been put forward by their US counterparts. 

This spilled into the public domain when the Marshall Islands government called off a scheduled COFA negotiating meeting. Then a letter was released from all of the Freely Associated States ambassadors expressing concern about being able to reach a successful outcome based on what has been proposed by the Biden administration. 

As one might imagine, these moves raised several eyebrows during the US Pacific Island Country Summit. Whatever is going on behind the scenes, it seems that the negotiations might be going off track. 

Meanwhile, the US pivot toward Pacific regionalism has introduced a new dynamic into the negotiations. These developments should concern Taipei, as the collapse of negotiations would weaken the deterrent effect of the Taiwan-US security partnership.

As all of these diplomatic maneuvers play out, the government of Taiwan does not appear to be doing enough to convey to domestic and foreign audiences the importance of the successful negotiation of these international agreements. That needs to change.

First, Taiwan needs to work collaboratively with the US and other partners to address the development needs and climate-change concerns of the Freely Associated States. Second, Taiwanese diplomats and policymakers need to work closely with their US counterparts on the shared assumption of the critical role that the territories of the Freely Associated States would play in the defense of Taiwan. Third, Taiwanese diplomats and policymakers need to ensure that their Freely Associated State counterparts understand the potential negative consequences that the termination of the COFA could have on regional stability, and by extension their own national interests.

At the same time, the government needs to start thinking far more systematically about its own national security. The US already has the National Security Strategy and Pacific Partnership Strategy. Taipei needs to make similar strategic planning investments. 

The US has begun to reimagine itself as a Pacific nation. Taiwan would be wise to explore the merits of following suit. This could unlock benefits that entail from a shared identity.

Either way, Taipei needs to think long and hard about why the Freely Associated States matter to Taiwan. For too long, the central government’s focus has been on diplomatic recognition. That still matters, but increasingly less so.

We have entered an era of renewed major power competition with a struggle for world order on the side. In this world, there needs to be a shift in focus toward defense and security.

China’s Digital Challenge

With David Dorman, CSIS Commentary, 11 May, 2022

Last week saw General Secretary Xi Jinping chair the state-level Central Financial and Economic Affairs Commission in Beijing. It was an important meeting focused on the challenge of boosting economic growth under pandemic conditions, in part through a new “all-out” effort on infrastructure. It was important for another reason, perhaps a far more important one for the United States. Xi Jinping once again accelerated Digital China, Beijing’s comprehensive digital strategy designed to help it win the future.

This part of the meeting outcome did not make the U.S. headlines, but it should have. There are multiple drivers behind China’s digital strategy, but one of them is competition, and in particular, technology competition with the United States. It is always useful when you are competing to know that the race has started. This race started more than 20 years ago, and according to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) history, Xi Jinping was the one who started it. The contest is personal, and Xi moved another piece on the board.

The Central Financial and Economic Affairs Commission’s all-out effort on infrastructure is widely defined, but it specifically included the acceleration of new type infrastructure (NTI). Easy to miss, the term describes a centrally defined list of digital technologies, numbering in the low dozens, targeted for rapid development and nationwide installation. Many of these technologies will not surprise you: 5G6G, or blockchain. But some of them will: a satellite internet of things, a nationally integrated network of big data centers, or an industrial internet with global reach. And the list goes on. This recent acceleration is likely to be on top of an estimated 17.5 trillion yuan (nearly $2.7 trillion) over five years, already budgeted.

NTI is one of Digital China’s major technical missions. There is no standardized English language translation for this Chinese term of art, despite Beijing designating it as such more than two years ago. One might see it in English as simply new infrastructure, or new kinds of infrastructure, and a few other variations. NTI is reported so often in Chinese media that there are now specialized terms for the campaign, like “information aorta,” coined by Xi Jinping himself in 2016. While few outside China recognize these terms, party cadre and Chinese citizens know exactly what they mean because they have been subjected to constant party-led planning, meetings, and education campaigns across the country.

Xi Jinping first accelerated construction of NTI at the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic to take advantage of the “strategic window” offered by a distracted world. His intent was to jump-start a stalled economy under Covid-19 through an immense digital infrastructure campaign. The Central Financial and Economic Affairs Commission meeting is an expanded version of the same playbook. There is a twist, though. By building NTI “in advance” of users, applications, or even the data it will carry, China will, so the strategy argues, take the lead in growing markets, writing standards, and developing governance mechanisms—a sort of “build it and they will come” field of digital dreams.

Over the past few years, the United States and its allies worked to eliminate, or at least curtail, the security risks posed by Huawei-manufactured 5G equipment to national networks. But they also approached the problem in an overly narrow way. Although 5G—the future of network architecture—is a major part of the challenge posed by China, it is only one part of the challenge. Digital China executes national projects through “bundles” of multiple technologies connected together in technology ecosystems. The development of China’s industrial internet, for example, requires 5G, gigabit optical, cloud computing, blockchain, and data centers, to name just a few. The project is executed as a coordinated whole, with the involvement of multiple state agencies, provincial-level authorities, and telecommunications vendors, both foreign and domestic. To use Beijing’s terminology, the program is executed from the center based on a top-level design. To focus on only one technology is to miss the forest for the trees.

Major Chinese digital projects, made up of multiple technology ecosystems, can be huge both in geographic scope and global implications. The recently launched Digital Beibu Gulf (Digital Gulf of Tonkin) is a case in point. The project is designed to digitally transform the transportation corridor through China that links Belt and Road countries in Southeast and South Asia by building a new digital hub in Hainan Province linking southwest China to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). This is “in advance” NTI construction, and the United States and its allies should see it for what it is: another round in the coming global competition over data.

In another example, Huawei has recently signed a strategic cooperation agreement with Yantai Huadong Electronic Science and Technology Corporation to expand their work together into Smart Ports, a technology ecosystem that has the potential to straddle global shipping. Yantai Huadong manages a large portfolio of Smart Port projects in China, has a growing international business, and wants to expand more. The technical muscle behind Huawei can help a lot with that (and not just 5G). If Huawei is a security risk regarding 5G, is it a security risk with one, two, or three degrees of separation from the dozens of Chinese firms it cooperates with like Yantai Huadong (and not just on Smart Ports)? What if the cooperation with Huawei is not on 5G, but instead on Huawei cloud or data services? What about the Western firms that work with Yantai Huadong who work with Huawei—are they security risks, too? These are all part of Chinese “technology ecosystems,” or bundles, and the risks associated will only grow with the developments.

As the United States and its allies begins to take stock of the technology competition, it is important to avoid the continued focus on single-type technologies like 5G or quantum computing. There is already a number of extremely good—but localized—portraits of Chinese efforts in supercomputersdata managementartificial intelligencequantum5Gsemiconductorsinnovationcybersecuritysmart cities, and biotechnology, but it is important to begin to try and understand the overall strategy driving these disparate efforts. The United States and its allies should also begin to understand how these technologies intersect with each other in the various bundles developed by China and how they will impact global governance and order. Given the growing momentum inside China—the driving tempo of NTI—and the increased prioritization of political attention, increased resourcing, and strategic planning, it will be vital to understand Beijing’s wider strategy and assess its efforts.

Should the Quad become a formal alliance?

Air Force University Press, Journal of Indo-Pacific Affairs, 1 April, 2022

There is a growing contradiction in the security situation in the Indo-Pacific. The more possible a conflict over Taiwan has become, and the more that China’s hegemonic intentions are revealed —at both the regional and global level—the more that the leaders of the US-Japan-Australia-India Quadrilateral, (herein called the “Quad”) hedge about the group’s ultimate purpose. Indeed, they seem to go out their way to avoid defining the Quad as an alliance or a form of security architecture, which is quite at odds with what both history and international relations theory suggest should occur. In an interview with media in September 2021, for example, a senior US official called the Quad “an unofficial gathering,” adding that “there is not a military dimension to it or a security dimension” Only six months previously, India’s Army Chief General M.M. Naravane told the Indian media that while there would “definitely be military cooperation both bilaterally between the countries of the Quad and as a quadrilateral also, it would not be a military alliance in that sense.” Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison—fresh from the diplomatic flurry caused by the Australia–United Kingdom–United States (AUKUS) submarine deal—was also ambiguous: “The Quad is a partner, whether it be for China or any other country in the region, we’re there to make the region stronger, more prosperous, more stable.” This approach seems counter to international relations theories that examine the rise of expansionist or hegemonic aspirants.

According to one of the most prominent theories, neorealism, state behavior is driven primarily by the distribution of material capabilities in the international system and changes in that distribution are a source of anxiety: “Rising states pose a challenge to others and inspire them, almost automatically, to balance against the challenger either internally by arming or emulating one another’s military practices and technologies, or externally by allying with other states.” While it is true that the Quad members are internally fortifying themselves with military capabilities and that they have created the Quad, a quasi-alliance, it is still a form of underbalancing since they are underplaying its military aspect and eschewing collective defense commitments. This article examines alignments and alliances before the First and Second World War and during the Cold War. Looking at the first two periods, we can see that underbalancing by democracies is not particularly unusual historically. It happens more often than not and often fails to deter aggression by other powers. If one looks at how different types of states create alliances, it is arguable that democracies find it more difficult—for reasons related to the domestic debates within their foreign policy elites —to balance rising threats. This is partly because neither publics nor policy elites are willing to bear the entrapment costs associated with an alliance if there is not a sufficiently threatening rationale to justify it. Indeed, until relatively recently, the very nature of Chinese assertiveness was widely debated among Western international relations scholars. However, those debates are of decreasing relevance as attitudes toward China evolve and it is viewed less positively, and even as a “threat” within all four Quad nations. Thus, this article will argue that not only are policy elites within the Quad underbalancing by avoiding mutual defense commitments, but also that they might be inviting the very aggression by China that they seek to avoid.

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With Bill Hayton, Council on Geostrategy, October 2021

The development of relations between the United Kingdom (UK) and Vietnam comes at a time of great change in the international system. Her Majesty’s (HM) Government’s ‘Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy’ published in March 2021, recognised the need for the UK to adopt ‘a sharper and more dynamic focus’ so as to ‘adapt to a more competitive and fluid international environment; do more to reinforce parts of the international architecture that are under threat; and shape the international order of the future by working with others.’2 The Integrated Review noted, in particular, the combination of opportunities and threats emerging from Asia. As a consequence it declared a ‘tilt’ in UK policy to ‘pursue deeper engagement in the Indo-Pacific in support of shared prosperity and regional stability, with stronger diplomatic and trading ties.’3 It said the UK would look to ‘cement’ its ties with Vietnam as one of several countries identified as important to this objective.4

Vietnam has also recognised how complex the regional and international environment has become, noting in its 2019 Defence White Paper how the Indo-Pacific ‘region still remains the ground for major powers’ rivalry and influence intensification, harbouring destabilising elements, traditionally and non-traditionally alike.’ It asserts that ‘[d]isputes over territorial sovereignty are likely to become more complex, potentially leading to conflicts, threatening regional stability, peace, and prosperity.’5Vietnam has, for some time, recognised the importance of diversifying its international relationships beyond its immediate neighbours into what is called a ‘multidirectional’ foreign policy.6 This strategy is a form of ‘hedging’, by which states neither fully balance against, nor bandwagon with, other states. Instead, Vietnam uses its multidirectional approach to create ‘as many equidistant partners [as possible] to ensure freedom and protect itself from overdependence on one particular power.’7Given the importance of economic development to its overall national security, Vietnam has prioritised the growth of foreign investment and trade. To this end it has concluded trade and partnership agreements with many countries, particularly in Europe.

In the wake of the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union (EU), Vietnam has moved to strengthen ties with the UK. While the internal and international situations of the two countries are very different, there are many opportunities for cooperation. In the past few years, the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, the impact of climate change and shifts in the international order have brought the governments of the two countries closer together.

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With Prof Peter Varnish OBE, Macdonald Laurier Institute, September 2021

The international environment is increasingly insecure. Under the leadership of Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin, China and Russia are attempting to reshape the international system and constrain the liberal democratic West. State competition is changing, in a shift towards deniable, intrusive, and non-military threats against all sectors of society and, as a result, liberal democracies are increasingly looking for collective ways to respond. To meet this growing global challenge, Canada could do much more with the historic Five Eyes grouping that also includes the US, UK, Australia and New Zealand.

The Five Eyes began primarily as an intelligence-sharing and technology collaboration arrangement. But in a new joint publication between the Daniel K. Inouye Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies and the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, authors John Hemmings and Peter Varnish argue that the Five Eyes grouping could be used by Canada and others to expand the ability to counter and deter China and Russia across multiple areas, including technology, information, military, and economics.

According to the report, titled “Evolving the Five Eyes: Opportunities and Challenges in the New Strategic Landscape,” the Five Eyes has many advantages, from its proven history of creating effective personal relationships across all five countries to its ad hoc, fluid informality which makes it an ideal vehicle for expanded security cooperation. The countries share a common language, democratic traditions and legal systems and they have largely compatible militaries and security practices.

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