Germany recently published its new defense white paper, outlining its vision for the future of the Bundeswehr (the German armed forces) and German foreign policy (1). This document represents a significant break with Germany’s past strategy of nonintervention and diplomacy and suggests a greater German willingness to utilize force and military power to achieve foreign policy objectives. To be clear, Germany is still a reluctant power, skeptical of overt military action. Nevertheless, its new white paper suggests that Germany may be growing more comfortable with a more forceful foreign policy.
German foreign policy has always been characterized by restraint and caution, as the excesses of Nazi-era aggression remain burned into the minds of German citizens and policymakers (2). Indeed, even during the dangerous years of the Cold War, Germany remained committed to diplomacy and peace. The Federal Republic of Germany (Western Germany) certainly maintained a significant and well-trained military force during the Cold War, but it also sought to maintain a policy of moderation, embracing Ostpolitik (“eastern politics,” a policy of rapprochement toward East Germany) under the leadership of Bundeskanzler Willy Brandt. Ostpolitik worked to moderate tensions between East and West, and resulted in the normalization of relations with the German Democratic Republic (East Germany). Germany’s pacific foreign policy strategy continued into the post-Cold War era. During the First Gulf War, for example, Germany was reluctant to join the American-led coalition deploying to liberate Kuwait. While Germany eventually relented to American demands, it provided purely economic and logistical support (4). This skepticism at the use of force was sustained into the 21st century, with Germany refusing to help topple Saddam’s regime in Iraq and placing significant caveats on its deployment to Afghanistan in the wake of the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States (5).
Recent geopolitical turmoil such as the Russian annexation of Crimea and the recent spate of terrorist attacks in Europe has forced Germany to consider more aggressive foreign policy actions. Thus, it is not surprising that Germany’s new strategy embraces a foreign policy that is more willing to utilize Machtpolitik (“politics of force/power”). Indeed, Angela Merkel’s opening remarks highlight Germany’s need to redefine its goals and pursue a more active foreign policy agenda. This is nowhere more evident than in the report’s statements on Russia, which decry Putin’s aggressive posturing and strategic rivalry with the West. Germany appears to no longer want to act as a link between East and West as it did under Brandt, instead choosing to firmly side with the United States in opposition to Russia’s provocative and illegal actions in Eastern Europe. The white paper also reaffirms Germany’s commitment to the NATO alliance, an important point given German citizens’ tepid support of the principle of collective security (6). On top of its reaffirmation of its support for NATO, the white paper expresses a greater willingness to join ad hoc coalitions instead of rigidly requiring UN approval before deploying military force. This is an important development because it grants Germany far greater foreign policy flexibility and allows NATO allies to request German military support in a greater range of contingencies.
Germany’s rhetorical commitment to NATO and multilateral military action is supported by substantive changes to German defense policy. Germany is already the third largest defense spender in Europe, and recent increases in German defense spending suggest that Germany’s commitment to raise defense spending to 2% of GDP is more than just an empty promise (7). This increase in spending is complemented by an increase in the size of the Bundeswehr to 185,000, the second largest force in Europe (8). Moreover, there has been significant work under Defense Minister von der Leyen to reign in procurement costs and make defense spending more efficient. Specifically, Germany has amalgamated its two armaments agencies into one department and worked to address major equipment deficiencies in accordance with Agenda Rüstung, the German plan to improve readiness levels throughout its forces (9). According to Jeffrey Rathke, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, these measures have bolstered public confidence in the Bundeswehr, leading to greater public support for defense spending (8).
This change in foreign policy is seen not only in the new defense white paper, but also in a recent article published by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walther Steinmeier in Foreign Affairs. In his article Germany’s New Global Role, Steinmeier writes that while skeptical of military power’s ability to solve every problem, he and his government fully embrace the use of military force when appropriate. As Steinmeier explains, “Germany’s path to greater military assertiveness has not been linear, and it never will be. Germans do not believe that talking at roundtables solves every problem, but neither do they think that shooting does” (10). Steinmeier is a historically pacific foreign minister who is deeply skeptical of the use of military force. Thus, his affirmation of Germany’s willingness to use military force indicates that even the most dovish elements of the German leadership are shifting their worldview. Of course, there will likely continue to be disagreement among Germany’s major policy principles regarding Germany’s role in the world and the legitimate use of military force. There is nevertheless a clear movement toward a more assertive and forceful foreign policy.
Europe is suffering from severe problems. Terrorism, Russian revanchism, economic stagnation, and the Brexit have all contributed to a more turbulent, less unified continent. In light of these challenges, it is important that Germany – Europe’s leading power – becomes a more “normal” power that is willing to embrace its role as Europe’s de facto leader. Modernizing its military and improving its readiness are crucial to bolstering German national power, and it is encouraging that Germany’s government seems willing to improve and upgrade the Bundeswehr. It is still unclear how quickly Germany will be able to improve its forces. What is clear, however, is that Germany has grown more cognizant of its global responsibilities and is working to fulfill its obligations.
(1)- Federal Republic of Germany. Bundesministerium der Verteidigung. Weissbuch 2016: Zur Sicherheitspolitik und Zur Zukunft der Bundeswehr. Berlin, Germany: Bundesregierung, 2016. Print.
(2)- For insight into how Germans were psychologically impacted by Nazism and World War II, see Stargardt, Nicholas. The German War: A Nation Under Arms, 1939-1945: Citizens and Soldiers. New York: Basic Books, 2015. Print.
(3)- Craig, Gordon A. “Did Ostpolitik Work.” Foreign Affairs. January/February 1994. Web.
(4)- Bennett, Andrew, Joseph Lepgold and Danny Unger (1994). “Burden-sharing in the Persian Gulf War.” International Organization, 48(1) (1994): 39-75.
(5)- “France and Germany unite against Iraq war.” The Guardian. January 22, 2003. Web.
(6)- Dempsey, Judy. “NATO’s European Allies Won’t Fight for Article 5.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. June 15, 2015. Web.
(7)- Data comes from Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), “Military Expenditure Database” (Stockholm: SIPRI, 2015), http://www.sipri.org/research/armaments/milex.
(8)- Rathke, Jeffrey. “Rising Ambitions and Growing Resources Mark New German Security Strategy.” Center for Strategic and International Studies. July 25, 2016. Web.
(9)- Braw, Elisabeth. "The Bundeswehr Backs Away From the Brink." Foreign Affairs. January 19, 2016. Web.
(10)- Steinmeier, Frank-Walter. "Germany’s New Global Role." Foreign Affairs. July/August 2016. Web.
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Submarines play an integral role in nuclear deterrence. Their stealth and ability to loiter near rival countries’ shorelines make them an ideal platform for launching nuclear strikes and guaranteeing second strike capabilities. Since their introduction, submarines capable of launching nuclear ballistic missiles, or SSBNs, have been the exclusive domain of the five recognized nuclear powers: the United States, Russia, China, France, and the United Kingdom. However, this is no longer the case. Israel has possessed a sea-based deterrent for some time, and India and Pakistan are both investing heavily in SSBN capabilities (1). Even North Korea has begun conducting tests of submarine-launched ballistic missiles, though they have had only limited success (2). As the newer nuclear powers continue to acquire and perfect their undersea deterrents, the older nuclear states like China and the United States are working to upgrade their fleet of SSBNs. With the recent unveiling of the Chinese Jin-class and the American development of the Ohio Replacement Submarine, the next generation of nuclear subs appears to be just around the corner (3). If paired with effective command and control networks and trust building measures, the development of secure arsenals capable of withstanding a nuclear first strike could create greater stability. However, noisy submarines engaging in risky and provocative actions might also generate mistrust and increase the risk of a nuclear accident. Therefore, understanding this rapidly changing environment is crucial for policymakers and non-proliferation advocates alike.
SSBNs were initially developed in an effort to provide greater security for the nuclear arsenal. In the early days of the Cold War, both the United States and Soviet Union had relatively small arsenals that were designed to be delivered either by bombers or ICBMs. However, these two delivery methods – bombers and ICBMs – were highly vulnerable to a nuclear first strike, as they were easy to locate and destroy. With accurate intelligence, either one of the superpowers could have launched a nuclear first strike on their opponent’s silos and bombed their runways, all but eliminating their ability to retaliate. This problem was partially mitigated by a number of innovative strategies like the development of road-mobile ICBMs capable of driving to different locations and the adoption of an airborne alert posture. However, these methods were imperfect and not guaranteed to safeguard a country’s retaliatory capabilities (4). Thus, submarines capable of launching ballistic nuclear missiles were developed to create a more survivable delivery mechanism. Of course, submarines are still vulnerable to preemptive attacks: they can be tracked and sunk by adversaries. However, their ability to remain submerged for extended periods of time in vast oceans makes it nearly impossible for one country to entirely eliminate the sea-based nuclear deterrent of its adversary. Furthermore, as Andrew C. Winner and Ryan W. French posit, submarines are advantageous because “depending on where a submarine is deployed, it may increase surprise, provide shorter flight times, or enable an attacker to strike from a direction that reduces the effectiveness of ballistic or cruise missile defenses (5).” In short, submarines represent a highly survivable and reliable nuclear delivery system.
SSBNs do have some significant drawbacks, though. The most significant is the complicated command and control network that must be developed in order to effectively operate a sea-based deterrent. The difficulty emerges from submarines’ relative autonomy: With submarines designed to stay submerged and silent for significant periods of time, it can be difficult for civilian leaders to effectively communicate with submarine commanders (6). This can lead to dangerous situations in which submarine commanders are not on the same page as their civilian leaders. For example, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Soviet submarine B-59 almost fired a nuclear tipped torpedo at an American warship (7). Submarines can also be detrimental to crisis stability if they are easily detected. Early submarine designs are usually noisy and lack the requisite stealth materials to serve as an effective second strike-capable platform. When these platforms are deployed, they can often lead to suspicion and mistrust if they approach the waters of an adversary. Moreover, their loud acoustic signature means they are more likely to be detected and tracked, making a dangerous incident at sea far more likely.
The three countries that have most recently entered the SSBN race are India, Pakistan, and North Korea. Of these three, India is the most advanced. With the Arihant having already completed its sea trials, India now has its first SSBN, and there are currently plans for India to construct four more Arihant-class ships. Indeed, Aridhaman, the second ship of the class, is already being built (8). India’s Arihant-class ships will be capable of launching 12 K-15 Sagarika SLBMS with a range of 450-1,200 miles or four K-4 SLBMs with a range of 2,200 miles, significantly augmenting India’s nuclear strike capabilities (9). Despite the Arihant’s impressive capabilities, it still suffers from a number of issues frequently found in first generation subs. In particular, it has a noisy acoustic signature, which renders it easy to track and monitor. This, in turn, reduces the deterrent value of the Arihant, because the stealth and ambiguity inherent in SSBN operations will be seriously undermined. Furthermore, the relatively short range of India’s SLBMs mean that the Arihant-class will be forced to move dangerously close to adversaries’ shores, potentially triggering a crisis (10). Nevertheless, it is clear that India has made great strides in improving and modernizing its sea-based deterrent, and India’s SSBN force will likely improve precipitously over the next decades.
Unsurprisingly, Pakistan is also seeking SSBNs in an effort to match Indian nuclear modernization. With tensions constantly simmering between these two South Asian neighbors, it is likely that a submarine arms race might erupt, with each side trying to acquire more potent and secure delivery mechanisms than the other. Pakistan currently lags significantly behind India in the development of submarines capable of launching nuclear ballistic missiles. However, it has made important first steps toward the development of an SSBN force. Pakistan has already developed a missile – the Hatf-IX/Nasr – compact enough for use within the confines of a submarine missile bay. Pakistan also began developing the command and control infrastructure necessary for directing and monitoring a sea-based nuclear force when it unveiled the headquarters of the Naval Strategic Forces Command in 2012 (11). At this point, it is still unclear which submarine platform will be utilized for Pakistan’s SSBN force, but there is speculation that Pakistan might choose either the Agosta 90B diesel electric submarine or the Chinese built Yuan-class, of which Pakistan ostensibly possesses eight (12).
There is also evidence to suggest that North Korea is seeking to develop an indigenous SSBN force, although it still has significant barriers to overcome. The most pressing obstacle for North Korea is the development of a reliable missile system capable of being launched from a submerged submarine. Recently, North Korea has tested a number of SLBM systems from submerged barges (13). The majority of these tests have failed. Nevertheless, a number of analysts who specialize in SSBN systems estimate that North Korea could obtain a reliable SLBM system within around five years, the time it has taken other developed countries to perfect their sub-launched missile systems (14). Developing an effective and reliable missile system is not the only obstacle North Korea faces, however. It also needs to develop a submarine class stealthy enough to effectively guarantee North Korean second strike capabilities. While North Korea does possess an immense submarine force, its vessels are decrepit and antiquated, making it unlikely that they could serve the role of SSBN. North Korea’s military industrial base and manufacturing sector are also lacking and underfunded, making North Korea’s ability to develop an effective SSBN class suspect. The next few years will grant better insights into the direction of North Korea’s SSBN program and provide more clarity regarding North Korea’s technical capacity to design and develop the necessary systems.
The development of these nuclear capable submarine forces is alarming for a number of reasons. First, the relative novelty of SSBN forces in East and South Asia means that there are no clearly established rules of the road. It is possible and even likely that an incident at sea involving new SSBN forces might generate a diplomatic crisis and risky military posturing. This danger is compounded by the fact that no Asian nuclear power, including China, has a well-developed submarine command and control infrastructure in place, meaning that high-ranking civilian and military leadership may not have complete control over SSBN forces out on patrol (15). This precarious dynamic is only further exacerbated by the relatively small and technologically deficient SSBN forces that these powers will possess. The short range of SLBMs guarantees that submarines will be forced to sail close to adversaries’ waters to hold them at risk. This, along with the poor acoustic signatures of early model SSBNs, increases the chances of detection, making a risky encounter at sea more likely. The relatively small SSBN fleet size of nuclear powers like China, India, and Pakistan is also perilous in that it makes the deployment of any one SSBN more significant. While countries like the United States maintain continuous SSBN deployments to maintain effective deterrence, countries with smaller SSBN forces may lack the requisite number of ships to maintain continuous deployments. Thus, when they do deploy a SSBN, it will be viewed as a far more significant move, as it is not part of a routine operation, but instead marks a meaningful change in nuclear posture. While the development and deployment of SSBN forces might be a stabilizing force in the long run, providing secure second strike capabilities and alleviating policymakers’ fears of nuclear decapitation strikes, these actions risk exacerbating tensions in the short term.
There is little that can be done to halt this developing SSBN arms race. However, there are clear steps that can and should be taken to mitigate the risks inherent in nascent SSBN forces. First, countries should engage in confidence-building measures such as regular summitry between political leaders and naval officer exchanges. Of course, there are inherent limits regarding the degree of transparency an SSBN force can have: One of the most significant advantages of SSBNs, after all, is their secrecy and stealth. Nevertheless, frequent communication and trust-building between high-level civilian and military government agents will go far to minimize distrust and foster greater cooperation. Another suggestion worth considering is one proposed by Brendan Thomas-Noone and Rory Medcalf in their Lowy Institute Report: exchanges with established nuclear powers (16). As Thomas-Noone and Medcalf point out, both the U.K. and France have decades of experience operating SSBNs, and they both have SSBN forces of similar size to those of China and India. Thus, they would be able to give valuable insights and share best practices with the inchoate forces of Asia. This would go a long way in creating more professional and effective command and control networks and SSBN forces in the Indian and Pacific Oceans.
Despite the end of the Cold War, questions of deterrence theory and nuclear posture remain highly relevant. Indeed, despite the smaller arsenal sizes of states like North Korea, India, and Pakistan, the nuclear forces of these incipient nuclear powers might actually be more dangerous because of their lack of experience. Unlike the Cold War, marked by a well-developed understanding between the two superpowers, this new nuclear age is characterized by nuclear powers who lack the experience and capabilities to ensure the effective execution of a deterrence strategy (17). Thus, it is imperative that mature nuclear powers work to guide these relative newcomers, and that these young nuclear powers work among themselves to develop de-escalation hotlines and codes of conduct in order to ensure that crises never escalate to the nuclear level.
(1) For a comprehensive history of the Israeli, Indian, and Pakistani nuclear programs, see Narang, Vipin. Nuclear Strategy In The Modern Era. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014. Print.
(2) Lewis, Jeffrey. “DPRK SLBM Test.” Arms Control Wonk. May 13, 2015. Web.
(3) For an analysis of Chinese SSBN modernization, see “Does China have an effective sea-based deterrent?” CSIS China Power. 2016. Web. For analysis of the Ohio Replacement, see Majumdar, Dave. “Beyond the Ohio-Class: Inside America's Next-Generation Missile Submarine.” The National Interest. May 19, 2016. Web.
(4) For the dangers inherent in airborne alert, see Krepon, Michael. “Ghosts in the Machine.” Arms Control Wonk. September 30, 2013. Web.
(5) Winner, Andrew C. & Ryan W. French. “Rip currents: The dangers of nuclear-armed submarine proliferation.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 72(4) (2016): 223.
(6) Carter, Ashton B., John D. Steinbruner, and Charles A. Zraket, eds. Managing Nuclear Operations. Washington, D.C.: The Brookings Institution, 1987.
(7) Burr, William and Thomas S. Blanton. “The Submarines of October: U.S. and Soviet Naval Encounters During the Cuban Missile Crisis.” George Washington University National Security Archive. October 31, 2002. Web.
(8) Winner, Andrew C. & Ryan W. French. “Rip currents: The dangers of nuclear-armed submarine proliferation.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 72(4) (2016): 224.
(9) LaGrone, Sam. “India’s First Boomer Leaves On Acceptance Trials.” USNI. April 20, 2016. Web.
(10) Thomas-Noone, Brendan & Rory Medcalf. “Nuclear-armed submarines in Indo-Pacific Asia: Stabiliser or menace?” Lowy Institute. September 2015. Web. pp. 7-8.
(11) Winner, Andrew C. & Ryan W. French. “Rip currents: The dangers of nuclear-armed submarine proliferation.” Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, 72(4) (2016): 225.
(12) Ansari, Usman. “Pakistan, China Finalize 8-Sub Construction Plan.” Defense News. October 11, 2015. Web.
(13) IHS Jane’s. 2016. “North Korea’s Unconfirmed Fourth Test of Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile Underscores Its Increasing Capabilities, Including Nuclear Weapons.” Jane’s Country Risk Daily Report, April 8.
(14) Hardy, J. 2015. “Analysis: North Korean SLBM Test Leaves More Questions than Answers.” Jane’s Defence Weekly, May 12.
(15) Thomas-Noone, Brendan & Rory Medcalf. “Nuclear-armed submarines in Indo-Pacific Asia: Stabiliser or menace?” Lowy Institute. September 2015. Web. pp. 10-11.
(16) Thomas-Noone, Brendan & Rory Medcalf. “Nuclear-armed submarines in Indo-Pacific Asia: Stabiliser or menace?” Lowy Institute. September 2015. Web. pp. 16.
(17) Yoshihara, T. & Holmes, J. R. Strategy in the Second Nuclear Age: Power, Ambition, and the Ultimate Weapon. Washington: Georgetown University Press, 2012. Project MUSE. Web. 29 Jul. 2016.
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As a major rising power and the only near-peer competitor of the United States, China has increasingly begun to flex its muscles politically and militarily. From its island building in the South China Sea to its One Belt, One Road Policy, China is clearly embracing its new status as a global power (1). One Chinese capability that grants it particular clout is its nuclear arsenal. Indeed, a recent CSIS report on the Chinese arsenal declares that “There is no way to assess the exact probability that China or the United States will ever make threats to use nuclear weapons… This does not mean, however, that the strength and capability of China’s nuclear weapons will not play a steadily greater role in… defining its role as a world power. (2).” As tensions rise within East Asia and between the U.S. and China, a firm understanding of Chinese nuclear capabilities is crucial. As such, this report will analyze the development of the Chinese nuclear arsenal, its current status, and likely future developments.
China tested its first nuclear weapon on October 16, 1964, making it the last of the recognized nuclear powers to acquire nuclear capabilities (3). The primary impetus for China’s development of nuclear weapons was its recurring military crises with the United States. In particular, American nuclear threats during the Korean War and the first Taiwan Crisis demonstrated to China that until they developed their own nuclear capabilities, they would always be at a disadvantage vis-à-vis the United States (4). In short, China developed nuclear weapons, in part, to eliminate American escalation dominance in East Asia. Chinese nukes were deemed by Mao to be a hedge against overt U.S. meddling in China’s immediate sphere of influence.
After first demonstrating its nuclear capabilities in the 1964 test of a uranium fission device, China continued to conduct nuclear tests to improve its capabilities and signal these capabilities to rivals like the United States (5). In 1965, China tested a second nuclear device, and on October 25, 1966, China tested a DF-2 ballistic missile armed with a nuclear warhead. By 1967, China had successfully developed and tested a thermonuclear device, signaling that it had reached the rank of mature nuclear weapons state (5). However, unlike other nuclear powers of the day, such as the United States, China adopted a fairly moderate nuclear stance. Instead of building up a massive arsenal optimized for large-scale first strikes, China relied on furtive deployment patterns and ambiguity to ensure deterrent capabilities, while reducing the chances of an arms race. China adopted a nuclear posture of assured retaliation, andrelied on secrecy and opacity to mask the location of its nuclear warheads, guaranteeing its ability to retaliate in the event of a nuclear strike on mainland China. Deng Xiaoping further clarified China’s nuclear policy when he reaffirmed in 1983 that China’s nuclear forces existed purely for deterrence and were not intended for coercion or asymmetric escalation against large-scale conventional formations (6).
China has largely maintained its nuclear policy of assured retaliation and “no first use” (NFU) (7). Indeed, China’s most recent (2015) report regarding its nuclear forces, China Military Strategy, declares that “China has always pursued the policy of no first use of nuclear weapons and adhered to a self-defensive nuclear strategy that is defensive in nature. China will unconditionally not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against non-nuclear-weapon states or in nuclear-weapon-free zones (8).” Thus, at least officially, it appears that China seeks to maintain its NFU policy and will continue to refrain from nuclear weapon use, except in a deterrent role. Given Chinese regional conventional military superiority, it seems unlikely that China will be forced to rely on nuclear weapons to achieve foreign policy goals. Moreover, given the United States’ clear nuclear superiority over China, it is unlikely that China will find a costly and aggressive nuclear arms race in its long-term interests (9).
Despite China’s assurances, it has built a sizeable nuclear arsenal. While not nearly as large as the Russian and American inventories, the Chinese arsenal is diverse and highly capable. All Chinese missile units – conventional and nuclear – are under the control of the PLA Rocket Force, which replaced the Second Artillery Force as China’s custodian of nuclear and conventional missile forces. Unlike the Second Artillery, the Rocket Force also has direct command over all components of the Chinese nuclear triad, not just the missile forces. This is advantageous in that it creates a centralized command authority through which the Central Military Commission (CMC) is able to direct Chinese strategic forces, decreasing confusion and mitigating the risks of accidents (10). However, by housing both conventional and strategic missile forces within the PLA Rocket Force, China also increases the risks of miscalculation, as it would be nearly impossible for Chinese leadership to differentiate an attack on conventional missile forces and command infrastructure from an attack on nuclear missile forces. In other words, were the United States to launch a pre-emptive attack on conventional Chinese missile forces, China might mistake this attack as an attempted nuclear decapitation strike, as both nuclear and conventional missile forces share infrastructure and command and control networks.
China possesses a plethora of missile types. The vast majority of Chinese missile forces possess only very limited range, preventing them from striking the U.S. mainland. However, the Chinese nuclear arsenal is sufficiently advanced and complex to warrant a more detailed analysis. China’s older missile types – DF-3A and DF-4 – are gradually being phased out. All the DF-3A units have either been retired or upgraded to the DF-21 medium range ballistic missile (11). China still maintains one brigade of DF-4s, a two-stage liquid fueled missile capable of delivering a 3.3 megaton warhead to most of Southeast Asia and Russia. However, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist estimates that this DF-4 unit will likely be upgraded to the DF-31 in the near future (11). China also maintains around 20 DF-5As, two-stage liquid fueled missiles capable of hitting the United States and Russia. At least some of these missiles carry multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles, or MIRVs. The DF-21(A) represents China’s primary medium range nuclear missile, capable of reaching targets in most of Asia. The DF-21 has a range of 1750 kilometers, while the newer DF-21A has an extended range of 2150 kilometers. China also has conventional variants of the DF-21, utilized in anti-ship and ground attack roles (11). However, The DF-21 is slowly being replaced by the DF-31. The DF-31 is road-mobile, carried by transport erector launchers (TELs), making it far harder to target and destroy. With a range of 7,000 kilometers, it is able to target most of Asia, but is unable to reach the American mainland. However, the improved DF-31(A) has an extended range and is thus able to target the continental United States. Despite its significant improvement upon the DF-21, the DF-31 has, somewhat puzzlingly, been deployed very slowly (11). Finally, the DF-26 represents the newest intermediate-range missile in the Chinese arsenal, introduced during a 2015 military parade. Like the DF-31, the DF-26 is a road-mobile system possessing a range of 4,000 kilometers. Moreover, unlike some of the other Chinese nuclear missile systems, the DF-26 is able to launch both conventional and nuclear weapons, making it a far more flexible system (11).
China has also begun to expand its sea-based deterrent force with the deployment of its new Jin-class SSBNs. Maintaining an effective and secure sea-based deterrent is broadly in line with China’s nuclear strategy of assured retaliation, as it grants China secure second-strike capabilities in retaliating against a nuclear first strike (12). China’s first SSBN class, the Xia-class, largely lacked the requisite stealth and range to serve as an effective launch platform. The new Jin-class, however, is significantly more capable and stealthy, granting China a secure, sea-based deterrent for the first time (13). Even with its substantial submarine advancements, China still lags behind other nuclear powers with regard to its sea-based deterrent. The Jin-class possesses fewer missile tubes than its American and Russian peers, and many analysts suspect that the design has suffered from severe technical problems (12). Moreover, Jin-class submarines are still quite loud and detectable, making them less than ideal for a continuous at-sea deterrent posture (14). If China were to attempt a continuous at-sea deterrent posture though, it would require at least five submarines to ensure continuous presence. Currently, China possesses only four Jin-class submarines, but is in the process of building a fifth. This suggests that China might very well attempt to maintain a continuous sea-based deterrent in spite of the Jin-class’ shortcomings (15). If China does consider conducting continuous SSBN patrols in its surrounding waters, it will need to seriously consider its command and control organization. While China has developed a coherent and effective network for controlling its land-based forces, it will need to develop protocols clarifying who holds launch authority over submarine forces, and it will need to decide the degree of decision-making power that is delegated to submarine commanders. With the recent formation of the PLA Rocket Force, it remains unclear exactly how China will integrate its submarine-based deterrent into the overall nuclear command and control infrastructure.
Chinese nuclear capabilities will likely continue to grow concomitantly with Chinese power. Steady modernization efforts like the utilization of MIRVs signal that China is committed to maintaining and improving its nuclear forces (16). With American investment in ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems, China continues to improve its missile force, develop BMD countermeasures, and fortify its nuclear infrastructure (17). Despite significant improvement in its missile technology and SSBN development, China does not seem to be pursuing large scale increases in its nuclear capabilities. This is reassuring, as it suggests that China will continue to abide by an NFU policy. Of course, it is impossible to know the future of Chinese nuclear forces with certainty. That being said, it appears that China seeks nothing more than the steady upgrading and modernization of its forces. There is little to suggest that drastic changes are in the offing.
(1) For SCS island-building measures, see Duong, Huy. “Massive Island Building and International Law.” CSIS AMTI. June 15, 2015. Web. For One Belt, One Road, see Dollar, David. “China's rise as a regional and global power: The AIIB and the 'one belt, one road'.” Brookings Institution. Summer 2015. Web.
(2) Cordesman, Anthony H., Joseph Kendall, and Steven Colley. “China’s Nuclear Forces and Weapons of Mass Destruction.” CSIS. July 20, 2016. p. 3. Web.
(3) Narang, Vipin. Nuclear Strategy In The Modern Era. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014. 121. Print.
(4) Lewis, John and Xue Litai. China Builds the Bomb. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 1994. 35. Print.
(5) Narang, 123
(6) Narang, 125
(7) Kulacki, Gregory. “The Chinese Military Updates China’s Nuclear Strategy.” Union of Concerned Scientists. March 2015. Web.
(8) People’s Republic of China Information Office of the State Council. “China’s Military Strategy.” Xinhua. May 26, 2015. Web.
(9) Lieber, Kier A. and Daryl G. Press. “U.S. Nuclear Primacy and the Future of the Chinese Deterrent.” China Security Winter (5) (2007): 66-89.
(10) Tiezzi, Shannon. “The New Military Force in Charge of China’s Nuclear Weapons.” The Diplomat. January 5, 2016. Web.
(11) Kristensen, Hans M. and Robert S. Norris. “Chinese nuclear forces.”
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 72(4) (2016): 207.
(12) “Does China have an effective sea-based deterrent?” CSIS China Power. 2016. Web.
(13) Department of Defense. Report to Congress on Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China 2016. April 2016. p. 26. Web.
(14) Jeffrey, Lewis. “China’s Noisy New Boomer.” Arms Control Wonk. November 24, 2009. Web.
(15) Kristensen, Hans M. and Robert S. Norris. “Chinese nuclear forces.”
Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 72(4) (2016): 208.
(16) Cordesman, Anthony H., Joseph Kendall, and Steven Colley. “China’s Nuclear Forces and Weapons of Mass Destruction.” CSIS. July 20, 2016. p. 9. Web.
(17) Cordesman, Anthony H., Joseph Kendall, and Steven Colley. “China’s Nuclear Forces and Weapons of Mass Destruction.” CSIS. July 20, 2016. p. 6. Web.
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Russia has begun a major air force modernization program in an effort to upgrade its aging and antiquated fleet of warplanes. Under the auspices of the State Armament Program (SAP-2020), Russia seeks to make major strides in improving its air capabilities, procuring new airframes and upgrading at least half of the aircraft not being replaced (1). The crown jewel of this modernization effort is the PAK FA fighter (also referred to as the T-50): a warplane designed to compete with the newest generation of American aircraft. As U.S. and European relations with Russia continue to remain cool at best, this warplane has generated immense angst and fascination amongst Russia experts and military observers. The following report will provide a detailed analysis of the PAK FA and consider the severity of the threat it poses.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the PAK FA is its stealth capabilities. Designed to evade high-frequency radar, this fighter will represent the first stealth aircraft operated by Russia. This is significant because it indicates that Russia seeks to compete with the U.S. and China – the two major stealth aircraft powers – in terms of air capabilities. The PAK FA will not be as stealthy as the F-22 or F-35, its primary American competitors. Its rear section, in particular, lacks effective radar-blocking features. Nevertheless, the PAK FA represents an enormous leap forward in Russian fighter capabilities.
In terms of raw performance, the PAK FA performs exceedingly well. Its airframe is highly agile and maneuverable, utilizing lightweight composite materials, and its Saturn 117 engine is capable of supercruising (flying supersonic without the use of afterburners) (2). These capabilities will only improve as certain features are upgraded. For example, the Saturn engine is expected to transition to a Product 30 engine by 2020, granting substantial enhancements to fuel efficiency, thrust, and reliability. The PAK FA will also incorporate advanced avionics and sensor technology, increasing survivability and responsiveness on the increasingly networked and complex battlefields of the future (2).
The PAK FA thus represents a significant threat to the U.S. and NATO. With a cruising speed of Mach 1.7 and a top speed of around Mach 2.5, the PAK FA is comparable to the F-22 and significantly faster than the F-35. In terms of range, the PAK FA is slightly inferior to the F-35 (2,200 kilometers) and roughly on par with the F-22 (2,000 kilometers) (2). In short, the PAK FA fares well when compared to its American competition. It is less stealthy, meaning it will struggle to survive as long in contested environments. However, its superior maneuvering capabilities suggest that it might be a better dogfighter than its competition, giving it a slight edge during close-in air combat.
While these alleged capabilities are indeed impressive, PAK FA development and procurement have been plagued by cost overruns, technical difficulties, and systems malfunctions. One area of particular concern is engine development. Saturn 117 engines have an exceedingly poor thrust to weight ratio when used in the PAK FA, and they can experience severe fires and burn-outs (3). Of course, designing 5th generation fighter aircraft is an incredibly challenging and complex task. Even the U.S. – a country with an enormous defense budget and a mature aircraft industry – struggles to procure large numbers of advanced stealth aircraft. The drama over F-35 procurement alone could fill an entire book (4). That being said, Russia has proven particularly inept at creating a large and reliable fleet of advanced combat aircraft. To this day, not a single combat coded PAK FA has been produced. For comparison, the U.S. has already built 171 F-35s and 195 F-22s (5). Between a decrepit air manufacturing base and a shrinking economy beset by Western sanctions and endemic corruption, Russia faces serious questions regarding its ability to produce a meaningful number of PAK FA fighters.
These concerns are only further magnified by Russia’s seeming inability to acquire foreign partners. Originally, Russia was supposed to collaborate with India to create a two-seater version of the PAK FA for the Indian Air Force. India has been working to counter the Chinese and Pakistani acquisition of J-20 and J-31 fighters. However, reliability questions and continued delays mean that India is no longer willing to heavily invest in the current iteration of PAK FA development and procurement (6). This suggests that Russia will struggle to generate a large foreign market for the PAK FA, keeping costs high by forestalling benefits from economies of scale. By contrast, the American F-35 program is a massive, multi-country project spanning from the U.S. to Canada to Norway to Italy. This ensures the project is highly complex and political, as Lockheed Martin, the developer of the aircraft, seeks to hold together a large and ungainly supply chain. However, it also ensures that the F-35 maintains strong global support, guaranteeing that there is sufficient funding and political will to warrant large-scale production (7). The same cannot be said of the PAK FA, a plane so plagued with issues that no country is willing to risk signing a long-term contract with Russia to acquire it.
The PAK FA will be a potent and highly capable fighter if the Russian economy is able to rebound, and if Russia’s feeble aircraft industry is able to restore its long-eroded capabilities. However, it is far from clear that either of these developments will materialize in the near future. Designing a highly advanced and capable plane is an impressive achievement, but it is largely meaningless unless the design can be actualized, yielding a large force of warplanes. Russia has yet to demonstrate its ability to fund or build meaningful numbers of PAK FAs, and until it does, these planes will largely be relegated to novelty air shows and Russian propaganda.
(1)- Gorenburg, Dmitry. “Russian Air Force capabilities and procurement plans.” Russian Military Reform. January 27, 2015. Web.
(2)- Gorenburg, Dmitry. “Russian stealth fighter will enhance air force capabilities.” Russian Military Reform. November 5, 2015. Web.
(3)- Majumdar, Dave. “Russia's New PAK-FA Stealth Fighter Might Have a Fatal Flaw (or Two).” The National Interest. June 17, 2016. Web; and Beckhusen, Robert. “Russia’s Stealth Fighter Is in Serious Trouble.” War is Boring. April 5, 2015. Web.
(4)- See, for example, Gertz, Bill. “F-35 software problems.” The Washington Times. March 30, 2016. Web; Trevithick, Joseph. “The F-35 Is Still Horribly Brocken.” War is Boring. February 9, 2016. Web; and Axe, David. “Test Pilot Admits F-35 Can’t Dogfight.” War is Boring. June 29, 2015. Web.
(5)- Farley, Robert. “So, Is Russia’s Stealth Fighter Any Good or Not?” War is Boring. July 17, 2016. Web.
(6)- Bahadur, Manmohan. “Indian Air Power: Ambitions to Secure Aerospace.” Air Power Journal, 11(2) (April-June 2016): 41-61.
(7)- Pike, John. “F-35 Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) Lightning II.” Global Security. July 1, 2016. Web.
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With recent threats from ISIL, provocations from Russia, and Chinese island-building in the South China Sea, it is easy to forget about the Korean Peninsula. To forget about North Korea and its nuclear program would be a mistake, however, as two recent developments – increased North Korean rocket testing and the deployment of American THAAD batteries in South Korea – have increased tensions throughout the region.
North Korea has been pursuing nuclear weaponry intermittently since the late 1980s. With the collapse of its primary ally, the Soviet Union, the Hermit Kingdom has sought to develop a nuclear deterrent to ensure its security and continued autonomy. North Korea’s path to nuclearization has been erratic, with a brief hiatus during the Clinton Administration, and a further pause during the Six Party Talks (1). However, recent years have seen an acceleration of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, as the new leader Kim Jong Un seeks to take the country down a more militaristic path. The past year has witnessed a number of high-profile nuclear tests, as well as a few successful missile tests, raising concerns that North Korea might be developing its nuclear capabilities at a rate far faster than previously anticipated. Indeed, this past April, a South Korean official was quoted as saying that “North Korea is able to place a nuclear warhead on a mid-range missile” (2). Just this past January, the world witnessed an alleged hydrogen bomb test in North Korea. While most analysts agree that this hydrogen bomb was nothing more than an enhanced yield fission bomb, the rapid advancement in North Korean nuclear technology is still concerning (3).
Before proceeding, it is important to review the warhead and missile technology that North Korea possesses. North Korea has conducted at least five nuclear tests and appears unwilling to halt its weapons program (4). If anything, the young Kim seeks to accelerate North Korea’s nuclear weapons program in an effort to signal to both foreign powers and domestic rivals that he is a serious leader. Not only has North Korea enhanced its nuclear warhead capabilities, but it has also mastered the processes of producing enriched uranium and weapons grade plutonium (5). Thus, North Korea is capable of fully producing nuclear weapons domestically. One area in which North Korea still lags, however, is tritium production. Tritium is an isotope of hydrogen that is crucial in generating nuclear fusion. As Hugh Chalmers explains, tritium and deuterium are the two crucial components of a fusion bomb. “If a deuterium nucleus (consisting of one proton and one neutron) can be made to fuse with a tritium nucleus (consisting of one proton and two neutrons), this ‘DT’ reaction generates a powerful burst of electromagnetic energy” (6). While deuterium is fairly simple to acquire – for example, from sea water – tritium is an exceedingly challenging isotope to make and is almost impossible to find in nature. North Korea would also be hard pressed to acquire tritium through trade, as sanctions and strict nuclear trade control measures ensure that the tritium trade is tightly controlled. North Korea could try to produce tritium at its Yongbyon reactor. However, because Yongbyon is a gas-graphite reactor, it is incapable of utilizing lithium bombardment methods to generate tritium, thus limiting its output to miniscule levels (6). North Korea is therefore likely pursuing pool-based reactor development, as this type of reactor is particularly suited for irradiating material samples. There are still technical barriers to this approach: North Korea must acquire large amounts of lithium, contend with lithium’s energetic reaction with water, and extract the tritium after production, a challenge even for the United States (6). It is, therefore, unlikely that North Korea possesses the requisite technical abilities to generate meaningful quantities of tritium, limiting its fusion-based warhead production. However, North Korea has surprised the U.S. in the past with its rapid nuclear advancements, and North Korea’s IRT pool-based reactor is more than capable of producing sufficient quantities of tritium to build a weapon. Thus, it is not inconceivable that North Korea will move toward fusion warheads in the next 5-10 years.
The other area of rapid advancement in North Korea is missile production. North Korea possesses a significant missile production infrastructure, and its technological prowess regarding rocketry has risen substantially. North Korea operates four major missile variants: Scud derivatives, Nodongs, Musudans, and Taepodongs (7). Most of these variants have limited range, only capable of striking South Korea or, in some cases, Japan. However, U.S. intelligence estimates that at least one missile – the Taepodong-2 – could potentially deliver a limited payload to the western United States (8). Despite these clear successes, North Korea still struggles to build reliable missile systems. It has experienced a number of abject failures, leading many to question North Korea’s ability to consistently and reliably strike targets via missiles.
This proliferation of warhead and delivery technology is troubling for two reasons. The first is the risk of inadvertent escalation due to North Korean posturing. The Kim regime is notorious for utilizing large-scale tests and aggressive provocations to deter possible intervention by the U.S. and South Korea. In other words, North Korea attempts to ratchet up tensions in order to intimidate its adversaries and buy itself more time. Just a few days ago, in fact, North Korea tested three missiles as a response to the American deployment of Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) batteries in South Korea (9). These provocations can be highly dangerous, though, as they frequently generate powerful responses from the United States and its allies such as joint military exercises and the deployment of nuclear capable bombers. Thus, while Kim seems to have perfected Nixon’s madman philosophy – attempting to convince adversaries that the North Korean regime is unpredictable and irrational enough to start a nuclear war – it is unclear whether this strategy will prove effective in the long-term (10). By inciting the U.S. and its allies and provoking powerful responses, the Kim regime risks miscalculation and the outbreak of war on the Korean Peninsula.
The other concern is domestic instability within North Korea and what this might portend for North Korea’s nuclear arsenal. Regime collapse or domestic unrest offer at least two scenarios for conflict. The first is the employment of a diversionary war by the Kim regime. Faced with domestic opposition and civil unrest, Kim Jong Un might try to engineer a small war to generate patriotic nationalism and a “rally around the flag effect.” In other words, Kim might intentionally initiate a war to give the people an enemy other than himself (11). For diversionary wars to be effective, of course, they need to be small and winnable. After all, the only thing worse than domestic strife is a full-scale U.S. invasion and routing of the North Korean army. There will therefore be significant pressures on Kim to limit his war goals, making diversionary war potentially containable. Unfortunately, warfare is very rarely so easily contained, and it is exceedingly likely that South Korea would use even a small scale war as a justification for reunification. If this were to happen, the war would quickly become a massive conflict involving both Koreas, the United States, China, and possibly even Japan. North Korea, facing an unstoppable onslaught of enemy forces, might be tempted to utilize its small nuclear arsenal to raise the costs of war in an attempt to cling to power (12). With nothing to lose, the Kim regime would likely be willing to utilize every potential resource at its disposal to forestall its dissolution.
The other potential conflict scenario involves the collapse of the Kim regime before the U.S. or China were able to intervene. Were this to occur, the entire region would be destabilized due to massive refugee flows and “loose nukes” – missing North Korean weapons lost during the collapse of the regime. With the U.S. and China both racing to secure North Korean WMDs and chaos reigning throughout North Korea, the risk of conflict or miscalculation would be very real (13). Indeed, we are already witnessing tensions between the U.S. and China over the deployment of U.S. THAAD missile defense batteries. China views them as a threat to its strategic deterrent, while South Korea and the U.S. view them as crucial to defending against North Korean missiles (14). With tensions rising over peacetime deployment of missile defense, it is easy to imagine tensions escalating to dangerous levels during the stress and confusion of a full scale North Korean state collapse.
In short, North Korea continues to remain a long-term challenge for the United States and its East Asian allies. Despite its economic backwardness and corrupt regime, it has been able to generate significant progress in both nuclear and rocket technology. With its mercurial foreign policy and unstable regime, it is highly likely that conflict will occur on the peninsula in the near future. If this were to happen, North Korea’s nukes will become a serious issue requiring rapid response from the U.S. and effective coordination between China, South Korea, and the United States. It is thus crucial that policymakers and commanders effectively consider every contingency regarding the Korean Peninsula. The U.S. cannot afford to be caught flat-footed.
(1) Bajoria, Jayshree and Beina Xu. “The Six Party Talks on North Korean Nuclear Program.” Council on Foreign Relations. September 20, 2013. Web.
(2) Power, John. “North Korea's Nuclear Missiles: Now With Increased Range.” The Diplomat. April 8, 2016. Web.
(3) Lewis, Jeffrey. “Did Somebody Say H-bomb?” 38 North. December 14, 2015. Web.
(4) Cronin, Patrick. “North Korea’s Nuclear Insecurity Summit.” War on the Rocks. April 21, 2016. Web.
(5) “North Korea.” Nuclear Threat Initiatives Project. May 2016. Web.
(6) Chalmers, Hugh. “Producing Tritium in North Korea.” Trust & Verify 153(1) (2016): 2.
(7) “North Korea: Missiles.” Nuclear Threat Initiatives Project. May 2016. Web.
(8) Lewis, Jeffrey. “JACOBY CLAIMS NORTH KOREA CAN ARM TAEPO DONG 2 WITH NUKE.” Arms Control Wonk. April 29, 2005. Web.
(9) Kim, Jack and James Pearson. “North Korea fires three ballistic missiles in new show of force.” Reuters. July 19, 2016. Web.
(10) Burr, William and Jeffrey P. Kimball. “Nixon, Kissinger, and the Madman Strategy during Vietnam War.” George Washington University National Security Archive. May 29, 2015. Web.
(11) For an analysis of diversionary conflict, see Oakes, Amy. Diversionary War: Domestic Unrest and International Conflict. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012. Print.
(12) McLennan, Garth. “Needle in a Haystack: How North Korea Could Fight a Nuclear War.” 38 North. June 13, 2016. Web.
(13) “IF THE NORTH KOREAN REGIME COLLAPSED.” The Economist. May 16, 2016. Web.
(14) Soon-do, Hong. “Anti-Korea Sentiment Growing in China Due to THAAD.” Huffington Post. July 10, 2016. Web.
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Since the early 1990s, the United States and NATO have effectively maintained military dominance in Eastern and Central Europe. With the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, there simply weren’t any actors capable of challenging NATO power. Recently, however, the security environment in Europe has become more complicated, with Russian aggression in Ukraine and posturing in the Baltic. NATO no longer has uncontested control over the region, and it is therefore vital to consider the optimal approach to deter Russian aggression and ensure the security of NATO’s eastern members. Thus, this report considers three broad questions. First, what are the threats associated with Russia’s conventional military forces? Second, what are the dangers associated with Russian irregular forces, the so-called “little green men?” Finally, what military posture should NATO adopt in order to most effectively counter Russian provocations?
Russia’s conventional military power is immense. With a 2015 budget of $66.42 billion – 4.5% of its GDP – Russia maintains the fourth largest military budget, and the third largest budget as a percentage of GDP (1). Furthermore, it is important to acknowledge that Russian military spending has increased almost 50% between 2010 and 2015, allowing the Russian Federation to meaningfully augment its military capabilities. This level of spending affords Russia a sizeable military, demonstrating Russia’s desire to restore its former military prowess. With a force of 766,055 active military personnel, the Russian military is only surpassed in size by those of China, the U.S., and India. Russia also maintains a sizeable tank force of 15,000 machines, almost twice as many as the United States’ 8,000 tanks. However, Russia is still a shadow of its former self, and it is largely outclassed and outgunned by its potential NATO adversaries. The U.S. alone maintains a 3.8:1 ratio in aircraft and a 1.2:1 ratio in naval forces (2). These ratios become even more overwhelming when one realizes that America and its NATO allies possess significant qualitative advantages over Russian forces. In sum, Russia maintains a capable and professional military force, but lacks the requisite manpower and technology to seriously challenge NATO in a large-scale conflict.
Despite Russia’s impressive military budgets, recent economic woes have seriously impacted Russian military spending, and 2016 witnessed a nearly 27% budget decrease from the previous year (1). With the price of oil remaining relatively low and Ukraine-related sanctions diminishing FDI flows into Russia, there are serious questions regarding the sustainability of Moscow’s military modernization programs. Dmitry Gorenburg, a Russian military analyst at Harvard, argues that while Russia can likely continue to modernize its force structure in the short to medium term, increasing budget pressures will force Moscow to scale back its ambitious spending plans. Gorenburg asserts that even in the realm of naval shipbuilding – an area of military acquisition that receives the lion’s share of funding – Russian military spending has been “beyond the means of the Russian government even prior to the budget crisis that began in 2014” (3). Thus, while Russia will continue to maintain a capable force and remain an important actor in Eastern Europe and Central Asia, it will not be able to project significant power abroad.
Russian conventional military power should not be underestimated, however. For example, the recent intervention in Syria demonstrates that Russia possesses the requisite logistical and strike capabilities to effectively deploy limited forces to areas beyond its borders. Moreover, as Gorenburg points out, Russia’s high operational tempo, improved inter-service coordination, and deployment of highly advanced precision guided munitions demonstrate that its forces are resilient and highly capable (4). In short, Russian conventional forces could pose a serious threat to smaller NATO countries, like Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, which fall within its near abroad.
And conventional military deployments are only one way in which Russia is capable of exercising power. Operations in Crimea utilized irregular forces composed of “little green men.” Instead of deploying clearly marked conventional soldiers, Russia employed special forces and other black ops groups to infiltrate and seize Ukrainian territory, while maintaining Russian deniability. These tactics, sometimes referred to as “gray warfare,” are defined by former U.S. Special Operations Forces Commander Eric Olson as tactics utilized by states who “seek to secure their objectives while minimizing the scope and scale of actual combat” (5). In other words, Russia’s “little green men” are utilized to rapidly seize key objectives, and are discreet enough to prevent military escalation.
These operations do not represent a novel approach to warfighting, as Adam Elkus and Dan Altman have demonstrated (6). Moreover, they are not necessarily difficult to defeat: By relying on irregular light infantry, “gray warfare” artificially limits the strategic options of offensive forces, granting the defender escalation dominance. However, this irregular style of warfare is an innovative strategy in the NATO-Russia relationship. During the Cold War, NATO was postured primarily to deter and defeat a massive conventional assault by Warsaw Pact forces, not to defeat irregular, hybrid warfare. Thus, while Russian “little green men” do not represent an unprecedented or revolutionary style of warfare, they do present a challenge to a NATO force historically tasked with halting a massive conventional force flowing through the Fulda Gap. With the citizenry of certain NATO countries wavering in their support of Article V – the clause guaranteeing that an attack on one is equivalent to an attack on all – there are serious questions regarding NATO’s resolve in the face of non-traditional tactics like those employed in Crimea (7). After all, if German citizens aren’t committed to fighting a full-scale Russian invasion of Poland or the Baltics, why would they be willing to risk German lives over a small incursion into Baltic territory by Russian irregulars?
Russia clearly possesses serious conventional and irregular military capabilities, allowing it to hold NATO countries in Eastern Europe at risk. Indeed, a recent RAND report argues that Russian military forces could rapidly seize the Baltic capitals, concluding that “As currently postured, NATO cannot successfully defend the territory of its most exposed members” (8). Though Russia possesses the capabilities required to launch offensive operations against NATO’s eastern members, the more important issue is whether it will actually do so. Fortunately, there is little evidence to suggest that Russia has any desire to engage in violent conflict with NATO (9). As explained previously, Russia lacks the economic and military strength to challenge NATO in a direct military conflict. Moreover, it is unclear what exactly Russia would hope to gain from a war. After all, it is not as if NATO has just recently lost its conventional edge in Europe. Russia has been building up local military superiority over a number of years. If Russia wanted to invade the Baltics or test NATO resolve, it could have acted before now. The fact that it hasn’t suggests that Russia is not seeking conflict.
Regardless of Russian intentions, it is still prudent to consider ways to maintain deterrence in NATO’s backyard. Even if Russia is unlikely to engage in direct conflict with NATO, it is still important to prepare for every possible contingency.
Currently, NATO lacks a substantial force presence in Eastern Europe, especially relative to Russia. The current forces capable of responding are a recently announced force composed of four NATO battalions – American, British, German, and Canadian – to be deployed to the Baltics and Poland (10). In addition to these recently deployed forces, NATO has the ability to deploy its Very High Readiness Task Force and, potentially, the 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team based in Italy and the 82nd Airborne Division in Fort Bragg. Ultimately though, these forces are inadequate to halt a large-scale Russian invasion (11). NATO simply lacks the ability to rapidly deploy large numbers of troops. This deficiency is only further exacerbated by the presence of Russian forces in the Kaliningrad Oblast, a small piece of land sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania. As Michael Kofman, an analyst at CNA Corporation, points out, this exclave allows Russian forces to effectively seal off the Baltic Peninsula by utilizing anti-access area denial weapons, in order to block NATO resupply teams and other military units from reinforcing their embattled comrades. Moreover, Kofman points out that “the Russian General Staff [might look] at the map and [realize] that there’s no need to seize Baltic cities since they can simply walk through Belarus and link up with Kaliningrad, thereby severing NATO’s “Army of Deterrence” in the Baltics from the rest of its forces in Poland” (12). In short, deterrence by denial is simply not an option. NATO does not have the means or political will to deploy a force sufficiently large to block a Russian invasion. Even if it does, it is unclear that a deployment of this size is even a wise idea, as it may generate fears in Russia and generate a security spiral (13). Therefore, instead of trying to defend the Baltic states directly, NATO should concentrate on maintaining a force posture capable of retaking lost ground from Russia, as holding territory in the strategically indefensible Baltics is simply infeasible.
What, then, is the optimal deterrence posture for NATO to pursue? This report suggests two general objectives for NATO to follow, in order to shore up its defensive posture vis-à-vis Russia. First, NATO should work to build up its offensive military capabilities in Europe. Specifically, the U.S. and other major NATO countries should bolster forces in parts of Germany and Western Poland, areas protected from Russian encirclement, yet close enough for rapid and sustained deployment to the Baltics and Eastern Europe. By bolstering forces in Central Europe as opposed to Eastern Europe, NATO can ensure the safety of its large-scale maneuver formations and assuage Russian fears of a NATO buildup, while still signaling to Russia that NATO remains poised to defend its eastern members. Second, NATO should work to strengthen police and paramilitary forces in the exposed Baltic states in an attempt to block the deployment of Russian irregulars. These “little green men” are particularly concerning for small states like Estonia and Lithuania because they are sufficiently small-scale to offer NATO-skeptic countries an excuse not to deploy, but sufficiently disruptive to pose a substantial threat to the small militaries of the Baltic states (14). By increasing the capabilities of non-military police organs, NATO can better prepare its Baltic members for the potential disruption of Russian military irregulars and “volunteers” crossing borders and inciting trouble. In short, these Baltic police and paramilitary forces will allow Baltic states the ability to arrest and defend against Russian encroachment, without escalating to a full-scale war. Moreover, by blocking an easy Russian fait accompli, these police forces will raise the costs of victory: Russia will either have to deploy a significant military force to overwhelm Baltic police groups, thus making an Article V declaration more politically feasible, or Russia will have to back off, defeated and disgraced.
It is unlikely that NATO will be forced to contend with Russian aggression against a NATO member. For all its talk, there is little to suggest that Russia is considering military options against NATO states. That said, NATO will need to continue to be prepared to respond to a Russian assault, as failing to develop contingency plans risks degrading deterrence. By combining large scale conventional formations with improved paramilitary and police capabilities, NATO will be able to deter and defeat Russian aggression.
(1) All data is from Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), “Military Expenditure Database” (Stockholm: SIPRI, 2015), http://www.sipri.org/research/armaments/milex.
(2) Pennington, Reina. “WAS THE RUSSIAN MILITARY A STEAMROLLER? FROM WORLD WAR II TO TODAY.” War on the Rocks. July 6, 2016. Web.
(3) Gorenburg, Dmitry. “Russian Naval Shipbuilding: Is It Possible to Fulfill the Kremlin’s Grand Expectations?” PONARS Eurasia. October 2015. Web.
(4) Gorenburg, Dmitry. “What Russia's Military Operation in Syria Can Tell Us About Advances in its Capabilities” PONARS Eurasia. March 2016. Web.
(5) Olson, Eric. “America’s Not Ready for Today’s Gray Wars.” Defense One. December 10, 2015. Web.
(6) See Elkus, Adam. “50 SHADES OF GRAY: WHY THE GRAY WARS CONCEPT LACKS STRATEGIC SENSE.” War on the Rocks. December 15, 2015. Web. and Altman, Dan. “THE LONG HISTORY OF “GREEN MEN” TACTICS — AND HOW THEY WERE DEFEATED.” War on the Rocks. March 17, 2016. Web.
(7) Dempsey, Judy. “NATO’s European Allies Won’t Fight for Article 5.” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. June 15, 2015. Web.
(8) Schlapak, David A. and Michael W. Johnson. “Reinforcing Deterrence on NATO’s Eastern Flank.” Santa Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2016. Web.
(9) Galeotti, Mark. “No, Russia is not preparing for all-out war.” openDemocracy. June 21, 2016. Web.
(10) “NATO Shores Up the East.” Wall Street Journal. July 10, 2016. Web.
(11) Kofman, Michael. “THE EXPENSIVE PRETZEL LOGIC OF DETERRING RUSSIA BY DENIAL.” War on the Rocks. June 23, 2016. Web.
(12) Kofman, Michael. “Fixing NATO in the East OR: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love NATO's Crushing Defeat by Russia.” War on the Rocks. May 12, 2016. Web.
(13) For an analysis of security spirals and arms racing, see Jervis, Robert. Perception and Misperception in International Politics. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press, 1976. Print.
(14) Haines, John R. “How, Why, and When Russia Will Deploy Little Green Men – and Why the US Cannot.” Foreign Policy Research Institute. March 2016. Web.
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With rapid advancements in private space development and the maturation of space-based technologies, major powers are beginning to pivot toward space as the next military domain. Currently, space-based military capabilities are almost exclusively intelligence-oriented. Countries utilize spy satellites and GPS systems to enhance the effectiveness of their forces, but they do not employ kinetic, offensive weapons above the Earth’s mesosphere, the middle layer of the atmosphere. However, the rapid expansion of ground-based anti-satellite (ASAT) weapons systems poses a threat to the continued peaceful development of space. Developing a coherent and coordinated U.S. space policy is, therefore, strategically vital. The U.S. must strike a delicate balance, working to ensure the peaceful development of space while also guaranteeing that rival powers do not threaten vital American interests. This report seeks to examine three major questions. First, what current legal regimes govern and regulate the use of military activity in space? Second, how is weaponization occurring in the status quo? Third, what strategy should the United States pursue in the near to medium term?
Currently, the United Nations regulates certain activities in space. The United Nations Outer Space Treaty in particular seeks to limit conflict in space by banning the deployment of nuclear weapons in space, ensuring that celestial bodies are utilized only for peaceful purposes and guaranteeing that space is free to be exploited and developed by all of humanity (1). However, these provisions still permit the weaponization of space through the use of orbital, non-nuclear weaponry and ASATs. Recent attempts at bolstering international regulations against space weaponization, like the Space Preservation Treaty, have been vetoed by the United States (2). This is not surprising, as it is rare for great powers to voluntarily constrain themselves in areas in which they possess a comparative advantage (3). Moreover, the United States faces credible commitment problems: It would be easy for rival spacefaring states like China or Russia to exploit loopholes or vague terminology to generate strategic advantages. Indeed, Russian and Chinese hesitance to sign on to the E.U. Space Code of Conduct suggests that their motives are not necessarily benign and might actively imperil U.S. interests (4). In short, while there is meaningful multilateral commitment to peaceful space development, along with significant international regulations governing the exploitation of space, mutual distrust between the major space powers suggests that further development of treaties designed to ensure the peaceful development of space is unlikely. With the U.S. as the dominant world power, and the ever present threat of other states reneging on their commitments, there is simply not much incentive for the U.S. to support or ratify treaties that further constrain its military presence in space. However, if the United States wants to create progress toward a more stable and secure space domain, it needs to be willing to concede on certain areas of space weaponization. The challenge, then, is to create a treaty that is not so limiting as to be unpalatable to major actors like the U.S., Russia, and China, yet still has enough power to meaningfully constrain the rapid proliferation of space weapons systems.
Before proceeding, it is important to clarify the distinction between space militarization and space weaponization. Militarization simply describes the use of space for military purposes. For instance, the deployment of spy satellites or military GPS systems would constitute space militarization. Space weaponization is distinct, however, in that it describes the deployment of explicitly offensive weapons systems designed for use in space. Ultimately, space weaponization is far more concerning than space militarization because it would potentially engender militarized disputes in space, imperiling the vast array of satellites necessary to maintain the modern, globalized world. Fortunately, it is not too late to limit space weaponization. Significant work must be done, however, if the United States is to limit the proliferation of space weapons systems.
ASATs represent the gravest threat to peaceful space development. As Michael Krepon and Christopher Clary note, “Today, the threat environment to satellites is both broader and shallower. It is broader because the technology necessary for attacking satellites is more accessible. It is shallower, however, because the United States does not face a peer competitor with the resources and the ambitions of the Soviet Union (5).” In other words, the threat vectors are more diverse and unpredictable, but the risk of any particular vector is diminished because the U.S. does not face any peer competitors. The situation is even more muddled by the fact that the U.S. military is far more reliant on space than other militaries. In short, while a space war that disrupts global communication would be deleterious to all countries, it would be particularly damaging to the United States due to the heavy U.S. reliance on space-based assets designed to support terrestrial military operations. However, the vast space infrastructure of the United States is also an advantage in that it grants U.S. influence over other actors like private space contractors (6). As Krepon and Clary point out, “The United States can influence commercial providers to deny these services during a conflict. Means of suasion could include legal measures, financial inducements, and diplomatic pressure (7).” In short, the current situation regarding space is highly complex. The United States enjoys substantial advantages insofar as its space capabilities and military satellite technology are unmatched. Moreover, its weight in the international market grants it leverage over companies that might otherwise assist American adversaries. However, the U.S.’ heavy reliance on space for both economic and military purposes makes the United States comparatively more vulnerable to a conflict above the Earth’s mesosphere.
There are three primary ways that satellites can be neutralized. First is the use of nuclear weapons. The detonation of nuclear weapons in space would generate an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that could fry satellite electronics, rendering them inoperable. Furthermore, if nuclear weapons were to be detonated in low earth orbit (LEO), the Earth’s magnetic field would trap electrons, potentially destroying the majority of LEO satellites within a matter of weeks (8). Nuclear usage seems unlikely, though, for a number of reasons. First, as explained previously, nuclear usage would be in violation of the Outer Space Treaty. Second, as Nina Tannenwald has documented, there exists a strong taboo against the use of nuclear weapons (9). Third, the use of nuclear weapons in space might lead to further nuclear escalation, turning a limited anti-satellite strike into a regional or even global nuclear war. States are, therefore, unlikely to utilize nuclear weapons to conduct anti-satellite operations.
Instead of employing nuclear weapons, states can utilize kinetic kill interceptors to destroy satellites. Indeed, China recently demonstrated this capability when it shot down one of its own satellites during an ASAT test in 2007 (10). Kinetic kill systems are advantageous because they avoid many of the problems associated with nuclear detonations. They are less likely to lead to nuclear escalation, and they are more discriminating in their targeting because they don’t release damaging electrons and EMP pulses. However, kinetic kill ASATs do generate large amounts of debris that can remain in orbit for an extended period of time, potentially damaging other satellites. Thus, kinetic kill systems still include significant costs, making their use unlikely except in the case of a large scale war. The third major avenue through which states and non-state actors can interfere with satellite systems is electronic jamming and spoofing. Hacking satellites is surprisingly simple. In fact, in 1999, a group of British hackers was able to seize control of a military communications satellite (11). Clearly, then, electronic attacks represent a powerful asymmetric capability that can be utilized for targeted attacks and a tactic that non-space powers can use to exert influence in Earth’s orbit. Because of the relatively low barriers to entry, electronic attacks will likely be utilized heavily by non-state actors like terrorists, as well as states that lack the ability to develop nuclear or kinetic kill ASAT technologies. While there likely are methods by which military satellites can resist electronic jamming and spoofing, most commercial satellites are simply radio repeaters and are particularly vulnerable to hacking. Thus, even if crucial military satellites are hardened against attack, rogue groups could still easily target commercial satellites, disrupting global communications and, by extension, the global economy.
Regardless of which method of attack is utilized, any attack on the global satellite network would likely escalate, making space war particularly dangerous. Two dynamics, in particular, make an attack on space assets escalatory. First, the importance of communications and GPS satellites for the functioning of the global economy means that states have an incentive to strongly resist attacks on the satellite network. In other words, major powers like the United States would have an incentive to rapidly escalate in order to deter future attacks. By utilizing a strategy of deterrence by punishment, states could signal that transgressions against the norms of peaceful space development will trigger severe consequences. In order to make this deterrent measure credible, however, states would have to deploy significant military force in order to send a costly signal. The second and more worrisome escalation dynamic is the close linkage between military satellites and nuclear forces. As Krepon explains, “Satellites are connected in many ways to the execution of nuclear war-fighting plans by helping with weather forecasting; targeting, indications and warning of attacks; assessing damage and maintaining command, control and communications (12).”
In short, an attack on early warning or targeting satellites might cause states to believe they face an impending nuclear attack. With command and control satellites being eliminated, states could face a “use it or lose it” dynamic in which they are forced to either launch their nukes immediately or face the potential of not being able to launch their nukes at all. Even states like the U.S. that have redundant systems and secure second strike capabilities might miscalculate (13). The rapid elimination of nuclear command and control capabilities would lead to chaos and potentially an accidental nuclear launch (14). Clearly, the potential dangers of a conflict in space are grave indeed.
What, then, should the United States do to preserve its military dominance while still ensuring the peaceful development of space? Broadly, the United States should pursue three major objectives. First, it should work to create a treaty in line with Ross Liemer and Christopher Chyba’s recommendations (15). Namely, the United States should commit to a ban on the testing of debris generating weapons systems, coordinate with other nations to combat space debris, and work to develop confidence building measures between the major space powers. Second, the United States should work to maintain ASAT parity with rivals. Ensuring that the U.S. has the capabilities to retaliate against attacks is crucial to maintaining deterrence. However, the United States should not aggressively invest in ASAT capabilities in a strategy designed to overwhelm rivals. This would risk a dangerous ASAT arms race, raising tensions and increasing the odds of inadvertent escalation. Third, the United States should declare a clear policy of massive retaliation should another country launch an attack on U.S. or allied space assets. Only a clear and unambiguous message will ensure that potential adversaries understand the seriousness with which the U.S. views the security of the space domain (16). As a part of this massive retaliation, the United States should clarify that responses to attacks directed at space assets would not necessarily preclude nuclear use. While this policy potentially increases the risk of nuclear retaliation, compartmentalization of space as separate from other domains (including nuclear) weakens deterrence and invites aggression.
In conclusion, space is a vital domain for both U.S. national security as well as for the smooth functioning of the global economy. Unfortunately, despite space being an integral component of the “global commons,” rules governing military conduct in space are, at best, incomplete (17). The rapid advancement in space-related technology and the development of potent ASAT weaponry represents a potentially dangerous and destabilizing dynamic that might upset the peace and stability that has permitted the sustained development of space up to this point. The U.S. faces tough choices ahead, and it must work to create a set of rules and norms to govern space conduct. By combining a strong institutional regime with a credible deterrent capability, the United States can help shape the space domain into a peaceful and beneficial space for all countries.
(1) United Nations. “Treaty on Principles Governing the Activities of States in the Exploration and Use of Outer Space, including the Moon and Other Celestial Bodies.” United Nations Office for Outer Space Affairs. Accessed July 8, 2016. Web.
(2) Su, J. “The ‘peaceful purposes’ principle in outer space and the Russia–China PPWT Proposal.” Space Policy, 26(2) (2010): 81-90. Web.
(3) Mearsheimer, John J. "The False Promise of International Institutions." International Security 15(3) (1994): 5-56.
(4) Krepon, Michael. “SPACE CODE OF CONDUCT MUGGED IN NEW YORK.” Arms Control Wonk. August 4, 2015. Web.
(5) Krepon, Michael and Christopher Clary. Space Assurance or Space Dominance? Washington D.C: Stimson Center, 2003. Print. pp. 17.
(6) Marcia Smith, U.S. Space Programs: Civilian, Military, and Commercial, CRS Issue Brief IB92011 (Washington, DC: Congressional Research Service, updated January 22, 2003).
(7) Krepon and Clary, pp. 18
(8) Dennis Papadopolous, “Satellite Threat Due to High Altitude Nuclear Detonations,” presentation for the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monterey Institute of International Studies (July 24, 2002).
(9) Tannenwald, Nina. “The Nuclear Taboo: The United States and the Normative Basis of Nuclear Non-Use.” International Organization 53(3) (1999): 433-68. Web.
(10) Cody, Edward. “China Confirms Firing Missile to Destroy Satellite.” Washington Post. January 24, 2007. Web.
(11) Northcutt, Stephen. “Are Satellites Vulnerable to Hackers?” SANS Technology Institute. 2007. Web.
(12) Krepon, Michael. “Space and nuclear deterrence.” The Space Review. September 16, 2013. Web.
(13) Tellis, Ashley. “China's Military Space Strategy.” Survival 49(3) (2007): 41–72. Web.
(14) Sagan, Scott D. The Limits of Safety: Organizations, Accidents, and Nuclear Weapons. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1993. Print.
(15) Liemer, Ross and Christopher Chyba. “A Verifiable Limited Test Ban for Anti-satellite Weapons.” The Washington Quarterly 33(3) (Summer 2010): 149-163. Web.
(16) Schelling, Thomas C. Arms and Influence. New Haven, Conn: Yale University Press, 2008. Print.
(17) For analysis of the dynamics of global commons and great power grand strategy, see Posen, Barry R. “Command of the Commons.” International Security 28(1) (Summer 2003): 5-46. Web.
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Sam Seitz is a student at Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, where he studies International Politics, German, and European Studies. He has served as an analyst for the Roosevelt Institute at Georgetown University, specializing in defense and diplomacy, and runs the blog Politics in Theory and Practice. Sam’s areas of interest are, broadly speaking, security studies, alliance networks, European politics, and the intersection between comparative politics and international relations. Sam is also a devoted fan of the University of North Carolina’s men’s basketball team.