How China approaches military crises and the implications for crisis management

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Chapter from China’s Military Decision-making in Times of Crisis and Conflict

This chapter examines China’s views of and approach to military crises and discusses the implications for crisis avoidance and management options, especially for the U.S.

The following text is excerpted from our partner’s website, where you can read the full report that we collaborated on. 




China’s Military Decision-making in Times of Crisis and Conflict features papers from the 2022 People’s Liberation Army Conference convened by the National Bureau of Asian Research, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command’s China Strategic Focus Group, and the Department of Foreign Languages at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. As competition between the United States and the People’s Republic of China intensifies and unplanned encounters between their militaries become more frequent, what impact has Xi Jinping had on China’s crisis decision-making and behavior? In what domains and against which actors may China be inclined to escalate or de-escalate a crisis? Leading experts address these questions and more in this volume and find that fundamentally different understandings and approaches to crisis management and response could make it more difficult to swiftly resolve crises.

About the Author

David Santoro Co-Chair, US-Australia Indo-Pacific Deterrence Dialogue President and CEO, Pacific Forum

Collective deterrence and the prospect of major conflict

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The US-Australia Indo-Pacific Deterrence Dialogue, which convened more than 40 American and Australian practitioners and experts, recently yielded a comprehensive report. Co-authored by David Santoro, President of Pacific Forum, in collaboration with the US Studies Centre (USSC) National Resilience Foundation’s Ashley Townshend and Toby Warden, the latest report offers valuable insights into how quickly Washington & Canberra are embracing a collective deterrence approach. This dialogue focused on generating practical insights and recommendations for the US-Australia alliance’s strategy, covering aspects such as collective deterrence, force posture integration, extended nuclear deterrence, and strategic interaction with China.

The following text is excerpted from our partner’s website, where you can read the full report that we collaborated on. 



Amid rising concern about the United States’ ability to deter Chinese aggression and uphold a stable balance of power in the Indo-Pacific, Washington and Canberra are working to accelerate a strategy of collective deterrence. At its core, this strategy requires a major transformation in the character and purpose of the US-Australia alliance — one that will see Australia play an increasingly central role in bolstering the United States’ forward military presence and, if necessary, supporting high-end US military operations.

This bilateral agenda forms part of a wider regional push to modernise and network US alliances and partnerships as a deterrent vis-à-vis China. Yet, the scale and pace of change in the US-Australia alliance sets it apart from parallel efforts by Canberra and Washington with security partners such as Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and India. This is a relatively new development.

Just five years ago, the bilateral policy conversation on collective deterrence and defence was embryonic, particularly in Australia where thinking about deterrence and major conflict had steadily atrophied since the end of the Cold War. Despite the 2018 US National Defense Strategy’s refocus on China, significant disagreement continued in the US national security establishment over the extent to which Washington needed to rely more heavily on its allies to fulfil key deterrence and war-fighting roles in the Indo-Pacific; and there was no consensus in Canberra around reorienting Australia’s defence policy and alliance settings to pursue a strategy of collective deterrence.

Strengthening independent and collective efforts to deter Chinese aggression is now the organising principle of strategic policy in both Canberra and Washington.

In the past few years, however, alarm over China’s fast-growing military heft and coercive efforts to remake the Indo-Pacific order in its image has set the US-Australia alliance on an unprecedented trajectory. Strengthening independent and collective efforts to deter Chinese aggression is now the organising principle of strategic policy in both Canberra and Washington. Developments since mid-2022 illustrate just how quickly Washington and Canberra are embracing a collective deterrence approach.

The Biden administration’s 2022 National Defense Strategy depicts allies and partners as “the center of gravity” in US strategy, vowing to “incorporate [them] at every stage of defence planning.” The 2022 US Nuclear Posture Review mentions Australia for the very first time in the context of a need to “leverage ally and partner non-nuclear capabilities that can support the nuclear deterrence mission.”

Meanwhile, the Albanese government’s 2023 Defence Strategic Review puts “collective security” at the heart of Australia’s regional defence strategy and calls for greater focus on “deterrence by denial” in Australia’s immediate region. Australian, British and American leaders unveiled the optimal pathway for the AUKUS submarine partnership in March 2023, which included an ambitious combined forces construct, Submarine Rotational Forces-West, that will see attack submarines from all three countries operate from HMAS Stirling in Western Australia. Crucially, the Albanese government also formalised a new suite of bilateral force posture initiatives that will pave the way for larger numbers of US forces to be deployed to Australia as a regional hub for operations, logistics and maintenance.

Developments since mid-2022 illustrate just how quickly Washington and Canberra are embracing a collective deterrence approach.

There is nonetheless still a lot to do to prepare the alliance for a strategy of collective deterrence. Though Canberra and Washington have closely aligned national strategies, they have yet to develop the institutions, processes and alliance management mechanisms that characterize tightly integrated alliances like NATO or the US-Japan and US-South Korea alliances. Nor have the two countries sufficiently addressed how they will navigate the thorny requirements and risks of greater strategic and operational integration, such as escalation management, rules of engagement, the growing integration between conventional and nuclear forces, and the delineation of alliance roles and missions.

Faced with a great power threat that Canberra and Washington have concluded will leave them with no strategic warning time ahead of a major conflict, these alliance challenges must be prioritised today. To advance policy debate on these critical issues, the United States Studies Centre and Pacific Forum hosted the fourth Annual Track 1.5 US-Australia Indo-Pacific Deterrence Dialogue in Washington in June 2023. As in past years, the dialogue convened over 40 American and Australian practitioners and experts from a range of government and research organisations for a frank conversation held under the Chatham House rule.

This year’s theme was “Collective deterrence and the prospect of major conflict,” with a focus on generating practical insights on, and recommendations for, the alliance’s approach to collective deterrence, force posture integration, extended nuclear deterrence and strategic interaction with China. Both institutions would like to thank the Australian Department of Defence Strategic Policy Grants Program and US grant-making foundations for their generous support of this activity.

This outcomes report reflects the authors’ account of the dialogue’s proceedings. It does not necessarily represent their personal views or the views of their home organisations. It seeks to capture the key themes, perspectives and debates from the discussions; it does not purport to offer a comprehensive record.

Nothing in the following pages represents the views of the Australian Department of Defence, the US Department of Defense or any of the officials or organisations that took part in the dialogue. We hope you find this a constructive summary of some of the most pressing deterrence and defence challenges facing the US-Australia alliance.


About the Authors

David Santoro Co-Chair, US-Australia Indo-Pacific Deterrence Dialogue President and CEO, Pacific Forum

Ashley Townshend Co-Chair, US-Australia Indo-Pacific Deterrence Dialogue Non-Resident Senior Fellow, United States Studies Centre Senior Fellow, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

YL Blog #42 – Fostering cross-regional thinking in the division of deterrence labor

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Over the past decade, the international landscape in both Asia and Europe has experienced significant transformations. The erosion of stability in both regions has become increasingly pronounced, particularly within the past five years. This rapid change has prompted renewed discussions on the division of deterrence responsibilities among the US and its allies. A notable forum that exemplifies these discussions is the recent workshop titled Toward a New Division of Deterrence Labor Between and Among the United States and its Allies and Partners,  hosted by the Center for Global Security Research (CGSR) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory on June 6 and 7, 2023. During this thought-provoking two-day event, participants from diverse institutions and countries engaged in insightful conversations aimed at assessing the current division of deterrence labor and exploring its potential evolution to effectively tackle the risks and challenges faced by the US and its allies, both globally and regionally. While all the topics discussed deserve attention, this article elaborates on a fundamental question that lingered in various formats throughout the workshop: how to conceptualize a division of deterrence labor that synthesizes two distinct regional theaters?

The credibility of US extended deterrence and the division of deterrence responsibilities between the US and its allies have traditionally been viewed as a zero-sum regional affair. Following Obama’s Pivot to Asia in the early 2010s, concerns arose regarding a potential American decoupling from Transatlantic security in favor of the Asian theater. It has since then become evident that the US remains fully committed to European security, a commitment further fortified by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Nonetheless, the question of a “transatlantic bargain” remains a central topic of discussion among experts. Some argue that, in the face of an increasingly assertive China, the US must be able to redirect its focus and resources towards the Indo-Pacific region, while Europeans should assume a greater burden of their own defense. Conversely, others advocate for sustained US leadership in both theaters, with allies in both regions intensifying their contributions to deterrence efforts to address the escalating challenge of confronting two major adversaries. In essence, these arguments are grounded in the belief that regional alliances are bound to compete for US attention and resources.

There is, however, a growing recognition that security in either region is intertwined with stability in the other. For one, the success or failure of US extended deterrence in one theater is now recognized as having significant repercussions in the other. The risks and challenges faced by European and Asian allies indeed transcend regional boundaries. This is exemplified by several noteworthy instances. Firstly, while China may not pose a direct threat to US allies in Europe, concerns have emerged regarding Chinese technological and infrastructure penetration in the Mediterranean region and Eastern Europe, raising apprehensions about the potential risks to the resilience of critical defense infrastructure in allied nations. Secondly, the growing coordination between Russia and China in the Far East has become a shared concern for both regions. Lastly, the elusive nature of cyber and information warfare implies that offensive actions in these domains are unlikely to be confined to the boundaries of a single region. Beyond these shared challenges, there is also a growing recognition that the demands placed on and by allies in one theater have reverberating implications for allies in the other.

However, despite recognizing the growing security interdependence and interconnectedness of these two regional theaters, the division of deterrence labor in these spaces continues to be predominantly treated with an intra-regional oriented thinking. Indeed, the potential for cross-regional integration and/or coordinated action remains hampered by the regional focus of each alliance. Take NATO as an example; the Atlantic Alliance’s traditional scope obviously remains confined to the North Atlantic region. This was recently reiterated by French President Macron when voicing opposition to a proposal for a NATO liaison office in Japan out of concerns about provoking China.

While it is important for the Atlantic Alliance – or Asian alliances – to remain centered on its regional focus and not transform into an alliance with global scope and membership, considering a division of deterrence labor from a cross-regional perspective could yield benefits. As highlighted by one participant in the workshop, ensuring cross-regional connectivity within the US alliance architecture is crucial to developing a more adaptable and responsive deterrence framework. Advocates of such an approach have clarified that its purpose does not entail broadening mutual defense commitments, but rather deepening coordination among cross-regional allies to optimize the allocation of resources for the United States and its allies. This coordination should involve enhanced political and defense diplomacy to explore the existing connections and synergies in the deterrence architecture between theaters.

During the CGSR workshop, some participants raised the need for open discussions regarding the potential role of NATO allies in the Indo-Pacific region, and vice versa. Clarifying and managing expectations over such cross-regional roles appears to be critical considering the uncertainties surrounding the so-called “two-peer problem.” As emphasized by participants, whether allies acknowledge it or not, the two-peer problem is not going to be solely a concern for the United States. Therefore, it is essential to clarify expectations and make adequate preparations in the event of a crisis involving two major adversaries.

However, a cross-regional approach should not solely be aimed at exploring potential physical contributions, which may be limited in nature in light of constrained resources. Instead, it should center around drawing lessons from the deterrence architecture in one theater and their potential application to the other. Considering the differences between the European and Indo-Pacific theaters at both the consultative and operational levels, exchanging knowledge and experiences regarding the challenges and implications faced by each regional deterrence structure could yield novel insights and practical applications. During the workshop, for instance, Asia experts suggested developing NATO-like nuclear planning arrangements tailored to Indo-Pacific allies. Given NATO’s own experience with such arrangements, engaging in a cross-regional discussion about the challenges, opportunities, and applicability of similar approaches in the Asian theater would provide practical guidance for Indo-Pacific allies aiming to establish such arrangements.

In this context, the US concept of integrated deterrence may provide a valuable framework for leveraging NATO-Asian connections more effectively. According to the 2022 National Defense Strategy, integrated deterrence “entails developing and combining our strengths to maximum effect, by working seamlessly across (…) our unmatched network of Alliances and partnerships.” In essence, integrated deterrence emphasizes close coordination and collaboration with allies through a whole-of-government approach aimed at integrating traditional and new tools of deterrence.

A cross-regional approach to deterrence upholds two fundamental logics of integrated deterrence. Firstly, it embraces the logic of collective cost imposition, the idea that “aggression will be met with a collective response.” Secondly, it sustains the logic of resilience, the “ability to withstand, fight through, and recover quickly from disruption.” Indeed, close collaboration among allies across regions enables the pooling of capabilities, knowledge-sharing, and identification of best practices, thus facilitating the establishment of resilient networks. This approach may prove particularly valuable for generating innovative responses to challenges that may not be effectively deterred through the traditional conventional and nuclear deterrence tools, such as gray zones or hybrid challenges that fall below the threshold of overt aggression.

Cross-regional collaborations are indeed starting to take shape, as demonstrated, for instance, by NATO’s growing ties with Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Japan or by the latter’s participation in GCAP. Rather than restricting these collaborations, they should be embraced and nurtured. These cross-regional partnerships not only enable meaningful comparative insights from allies on the deterrence architecture in both regions but also project a unified and cohesive front that has the potential to reshape the strategic calculus of adversaries. Outside of these governmental initiatives, the CGSR workshop, by convening experts from diverse allied and partner nations to engage in thoughtful discussions on the challenges and opportunities associated with a new division of deterrence labor, serves as a compelling testament to the value of cross-regional thinking

Disclaimer: All opinions in this article are solely those of the author and do not represent any organization.

Alice Dell’Era () is an Assistant Professor of Security Studies and International Affairs at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University – Daytona Beach Campus. She holds a Ph.D. in International Relations and an MA in International Studies from FIU. Dr. Dell’Era is also part of the inaugural cohort of the “Mansfield Next Generation of U.S.-Japan Nuclear Policy Experts Training Program”.

PacNet #34 – The rise of ISKP in South Asia: A threat to regional stability

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The rise of ISKP (Islamic State – Khorasan Province) in South Asia, particularly India, is a cause for concern. The group’s use of propaganda and recruitment tactics targeting vulnerable individuals leads to the radicalization of youth and the perpetration of violent acts. ISKP’s acknowledgement of responsibility for the Coimbatore and Mangalore blasts, even though they failed to cause the intended harm, may represent an attempt by the group to demonstrate its expanding presence and operational capabilities in India. This is consistent with the group’s propaganda and recruitment efforts, portraying ISKP as a powerful and effective organization capable of carrying out attacks in multiple countries.

Indian security agencies should take this threat seriously and work proactively to prevent further attacks by ISKP and other extremist groups—and seek help from Delhi’s partners in addressing these threats. This may include measures such as improving intelligence-gathering capabilities, strengthening border security, and enhancing cooperation with international partners in countering terrorism. Addressing the underlying grievances and socio-economic factors contributing to the radicalization of individuals also matters for preventing the spread of extremist ideologies.

ISKP in South Asia

Founded in 2014, the ISKP goal was to establish an Islamic caliphate in Afghanistan. The return of the Taliban to power in Afghanistan in 2021 created a complex security situation in the region, emboldening groups like ISKP to push their agenda and attract recruits. The Taliban and ISKP have different ideologies and objectives, and their competing interests could lead to violent clashes in Afghanistan and neighboring countries.

ISKP’s establishment of a “Khorasan Province” in Central and South Asia demonstrates its aspirations to expand its reach beyond Afghanistan and establish a broader caliphate.

One of the ways ISKP has succeeded in recruiting members is by taking advantage of minority plight and sectarianism across the region. By portraying itself as a defender of minority rights and a champion of the oppressed, ISKP has succeeded in attracting individuals who feel marginalized or disenfranchised by their governments.

Propaganda tactics carried out by the ISKP have also succeeded in garnering widespread sympathy for its cause: overthrowing governments in the region. The organization has capitalized on public dissatisfaction with corruption, inequality, and violence among Central and South Asian countries by portraying itself as a more extreme, uncompromising alternative to these other parties.

ISKP’s use of online propaganda and targeted messaging has helped it recruit members and build support for its agenda. In particular, the objective of ISKP’s propaganda campaign in India is to condemn the emergence of Hindu nationalism and defend dissatisfied Muslim minorities.

The ISKP has also issued a book in Malayalam, the indigenous language of southwest India, detailing how to engage in jihad. The organization has, furthermore, produced books with comparable content in Hindi and Urdu. These publications are intended to radicalize susceptible individuals and persuade them to join the group’s cause.

The vast majority of Muslims in India reject the extremist ideology and violent tactics of ISKP, and the Indian government has taken steps to counter the group’s propaganda and recruitment efforts. Nonetheless, efforts to counter such propaganda must continue.

Conclusion: A Comprehensive Response

ISKP has demonstrated its resiliency by adapting to the ever-changing situations in Central and South Asia and shifting its focus to an increasingly number of countries. Its rise requires a comprehensive and coordinated response by all stakeholders, including international partners such as the United States and East Asia, who can play an important role in countering the ISKP threat.

For starters, the United States has a strong interest in countering this threat given the groups links to the broader ISIS network and has the potential to destabilize the region. The United States can provide significant support in intelligence-sharing, capacity-building, and diplomatic engagement, as well as in countering terrorist financing and promoting countering extremist ideology.

Partners such as Japan and South Korea can also play a role, including through financial assistance and technical support. As part of broader efforts to promote regional stability and security, these countries can work with Indian authorities and other stakeholders to build a comprehensive and coordinated response.

Additionally, cooperation and coordination among South Asian countries and their international partners is essential. This could include joint military exercises, sharing of best practices, and joint operations against the group. A united front against ISKP would send a strong message that their violent extremist activities will not be tolerated.

South Asian countries should also work together to address the underlying issues contributing to the growth of extremist groups, such as poverty, inequality, and political instability. By addressing root causes, South Asian countries can create a more stable and secure environment for their citizens and reduce the appeal of violent extremism. A multi-faceted approach that involves improved intelligence gathering, counter-radicalization efforts, and international support, as well as cooperation and coordination among South Asian countries, is crucial to effectively addressing ISKP’s threat.

Neeraj Singh Manhas ([email protected]) is the Director of Research in the Indo-Pacific Consortium at Raisina House, New Delhi. Views expressed are personal.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

Photo: ISKP Flag on abandoned shipping container by Stimson Center’s South Asian Voices.

Issues & Insights Vol. 23, CR1 – South China Sea, East China Sea, and the Emerging US-Japan-Philippines Trilateral

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Executive Summary

The U.S.-Japan-Philippines Trilateral Maritime Security Dialogue conducted in December 2022 confirmed that there is very little difference in threat perceptions regarding the East and South China Seas. The three countries view China’s increasingly assertive claims to the territories and maritime zones in the two bodies of water as antithetical to their shared vision of a free, open, and rules-based Indo-Pacific. China’s rapid military expansion, including unprecedented nuclear weapons and missile buildup, reinforces the urgency of the threat. Japanese and Philippine interlocutors worry that as China approaches nuclear parity with the United States, the region’s strategic environment will worsen. American participants emphasized greater and tangible demonstration of alliance commitments and agreed that some risk-taking is required to push back against Chinese coercion. There was a consensus about the challenge of addressing Beijing’s gray zone activities that have so far succeeded in seizing territories and maritime areas in the South China Sea and establishing regular intrusions into Japanese waters in the East China Sea. Participants struggled to find a strategy to blunt China’s salami-slicing tactics while avoiding escalation and armed conflict.

Key Findings & Recommendations

The geographic locations of the Philippines and Japan make them frontline allies in addressing maritime security challenges brought about by an increasingly assertive China. Long term, Chinese coercion is expected to worsen  as  it  commissions  new  vessels,  deploys sophisticated missile systems, and approaches nuclear parity with the United States. The three countries should be willing to take some risks to prevent China’s coercion from succeeding. The alliances need to be reinforced through more explicit demonstration of commitments. Discussion between these countries on the strategic implications of Beijing’s rapid nuclear and missile buildup should commence. The dialogue emphasized these findings, among other takeaways.

Finding: One function of Beijing’s gray zone operations is to test the resolve of other claimants and the United States, hoping they prioritize de-escalation to avoid armed conflict and eventually back down. During a “gray zone” crisis, prioritizing de-escalation when China escalates will likely result in fait accompli, with Beijing gaining more maritime spaces and territories.

  • Recommendation: The United States, Japan, and the Philippines should be willing to take some risks (for example, by conducting operations to get past a blockade instead of abandoning the mission) to prevent China’s coercion from succeeding.

Finding: Chinese gray zone coercion in the South China Sea follows a pattern. Militia vessels first establish a presence in another country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), inside the nine-dash line. Since they pose as fishing vessels, they force other claimants to consider two difficult options: either conduct law enforcement operations against the vessels, risking tension with China or simply monitor and record. CCG vessels and occasionally PLA Navy vessels anchor close by to deter other claimants from taking action.

  • Recommendation: Operationally, the United States and its allies should consider abandoning the concept of gray zone and instead draw a clear line between benign peaceful activities and non-peaceful activities to encompass operations carried out by civilian agents taking orders from military agencies.
  • Recommendation: Instead of identifying China’s actions as being in the gray zone, which leads to confusion about how to respond without risking armed conflict, the United States and its allies should instead match the escalation and turn the tables on China, for instance by reinforcing presence to maintain the status quo, instead of focusing on ways to de-escalate and end the crisis.

Finding: When Washington committed to the Japan- administered Senkaku Islands in 2014 and refused to offer the same to Philippine-administered land features in the South China Sea, the credibility of the U.S.-Philippine alliance significantly decreased, which resulted in more Chinese assertiveness and stronger voices in the Philippines calling for an accommodation of Chinese security preferences.

  • Recommendation: The United States needs to become more willing to commit explicitly to existing defense treaties during crises to increase deterrence while also compelling China to reverse course.

Finding: There are legal constraints to Japan’s response to China’s gray zone challenges. For instance, the JCG is legally mandated to conduct law enforcement operations against fishing vessels, and even against militia vessels, as they are not sovereign immune vessels. The JMSDF is in charge of maritime security operations but is only allowed to act when the JCG cannot manage a specific threat and when the defense minister has given an order. The JCG cannot conduct law enforcement operations against CCG vessels, which are sovereign immune vessels. However, the JMSDF also cannot conduct maritime security operations against CCG vessels because they are not considered warships by the Japanese government. Meanwhile, the U.S. military has made clear since April 2019 that it would make no distinction between Chinese Coast Guard and militia boats and PLA Navy ships.

  • Recommendation: The United States and Japan should discuss the roles of JCG, JMSDF, and U.S. Forces Japan during crises to cope with political constraints and mitigate the operational implications of legal gaps.

Finding: Beijing’s unprecedented nuclear weapons build-up is integral to China’s long-term maritime security goals in Southeast Asia. The trajectory of China’s nuclear weapons build-up predicting a stockpile of about 1,500 warheads by 2035 and reaching nuclear parity with (if not nuclear superiority over) the United States, could shape the cost-benefit calculations of U.S. allies and partners.

  • Recommendation: The United States should make investments and not allow China to achieve nuclear superiority while also commencing discussions with Japan on nuclear deterrence and nuclear sharing and with the Philippines on its appetite for a nuclear umbrella in exchange for greater U.S. access to Philippines bases.

Finding: The biggest challenge for Japan and the U.S.- Japan alliance vis-à-vis gray zone coercion in the East China Sea is that CCG vessels are sovereign immune vessels and, therefore, cannot be subjected to ordinary law-enforcement operations. China would see JMSDF conducting maritime security operations against warships as an act of war and could trigger escalation toward armed conflict.

  • Recommendation: Japan should reconsider CCG vessels’ sovereign immunity since intrusion into the Japanese territorial sea to assert territorial jurisdiction is a violation of Japan’s sovereignty. This could mean taking considerable risks by maneuvering to physically challenge the presence of Chinese government vessels inside the Japanese territorial sea or block any resupply mission. Any risk-taking should be fully coordinated with the United States to avoid a mismatch in expectations.

Finding: U.S. and Japanese participants diverged on how they perceived the usual refrain of not taking sides on sovereignty issues that accompany U.S. statements related to territorial disputes in the region. Some Japanese participants view the wording as unnecessary and worry it could give the impression that U.S. commitment is weak.

  • Recommendation: The United States should word statements to highlight the source of tension and Washington’s strong alliance commitments.

Finding: Winning the information war is critical to holding China to account for its assertive behavior.

  • Recommendation: Philippine and Japanese militaries and coast guards should invest in surveillance hardware and facilitate the release of data (including photographs, satellite data, and videos) to the public. Data should be released after an incident in a matter of hours, not days or weeks. Doing so would put Chinese propagandists on the defensive and not dominate the information domain. The United States should assist in providing ISR data and ensuring full maritime domain awareness.

Finding: The United States now has a clear position on maritime claims in the region. In July 2020, Washington explicitly stated that it does not recognize China’s nine- dash line claim, effectively reversing its position on maritime claims. The new U.S. policy on maritime entitlements mirrors the decision of the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal that ruled in favor of the Philippines. This could have implications for the ongoing negotiation for a joint U.S.-Philippine patrol in the South China Sea.

  • Recommendation: The U.S. Coast Guard and Navy should join their Philippine counterparts in patrolling areas identified in the 2016 Arbitral Tribunal as part of Philippine entitlements.

Finding: Funding remains an issue for the modernization of Philippine forces. While the Philippine Navy continues to procure more modern platforms, budget constraints slow the process. Japan has made the PCG the largest in Southeast Asia in terms of the number of surface assets, but PCG vessels lack modern weapon systems necessary for law enforcement. Japan cannot provide weapon systems because of institutional constraints.

  • Recommendation: The United States and Japan should consider a burden sharing-arrangement to help the Philippines safeguard its maritime entitlements in the South China Sea. Japan should continue to provide the platforms, while the United States provides the weapon systems. Also, the United States can focus its foreign military financing on modernizing the Philippine Navy while Japan can focus its resources on helping the civilian maritime agencies in the Philippines, such as the PCG and the Bureau of Marine and Aquatic Resources (BFAR), increasing their presence in the South China Sea, and developing overall capabilities.

About this report

Pacific Forum, with support from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) organized the inaugural Track 2 U.S.-Japan- Philippines Trilateral Maritime Security Dialogue on December 1- 2, 2022. Strategic thinkers from the United States, Japan and the Philippines, including scholars, policy experts, and retired military and government officials, participated in the dialogue. This report contains the general summary of the discussions.

The recommendations contained in this report, unless otherwise specifically noted, were generated by the discussions as interpreted by the Principal Investigators. This is not a consensus document. All participants attended in their private capacity.

The statements made and views expressed in this publication do not necessarily reflect the views of the Pacific Forum, the project sponsors, or the dialogue participants’ respective organizations and affiliations. For questions, please email [email protected].

Click here to download the full report.

PacNet #30 – Now is the time for a US-Japan-Taiwan security trilateral

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Japan is determined to uphold the international order in the Indo-Pacific but cannot achieve that goal alone. Therefore Tokyo enhances its partnership with allies through minilateral arrangements like the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and Trilateral Strategic Dialogue (with the United States and Australia). Some even advocate Japan’s cooperation with another minilateral, the Australia-US-UK (AUKUS) pact, in high-tech areas like hypersonics or cybersecurity. The rise of such minilateral frameworks among like-minded countries can make the region more stable and resilient.

Yet another potential framework also merits attention: trilateral cooperation between the United States, Japan, and Taiwan.

Pacific Forum recently published “The World After Taiwan’s Fall,” attracting attention throughout the region. In the volume, David Santoro, Ralph Cossa, and other scholars emphasize the significance of Taiwan in maintaining the current rules-based order. The United States is undoubtedly the biggest supporter of Taiwan—especially in military terms. The Taiwan Relations Act has since 1979 allowed for the transfer of defense articles, something the United States has honored across both Republican and Democratic administrations.

However, during a contingency on Taiwan, Washington would struggle to stave off an attack without Japanese help, chiefly because it has no military bases and deployments on the island. For the US military to rescue Taiwan, it needs proximate locations for operations. Guam, the US territory with Andersen Air Force Base and Apra Harbor, could be a starting point for the US military. A more effective missile defense plan is also needed to protect Guam and continuously project power. The Philippines, under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., has also offered the US military four additional bases which could be used in a contingency.

The closest US bases to Taiwan, however, are in Okinawa, part of the Japanese archipelago and the First Island Chain. Kadena Air Base is one of the US bases that would play a crucial role in a Taiwan contingency. It is 400 miles from Taipei and the only significant US base to reach the Taiwan Strait without refueling. Article 6 of the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan grants the US military use of facilities and areas not only for defending Japan but also “maintenance of international peace and security in the Far East.” However, US bases are located on Japanese sovereign territory and Japan’s consent is not automatic. Prior consultation, before US military combat operations commence, is therefore critical in responding to a contingency in Taiwan.

Japan has its own reasons for concern over a Taiwan contingency. If Taiwan falls, Okinawa would then be vulnerable to PRC takeover, as the Pacific Forum report warns. Yonaguni, the westernmost island of Okinawa, is only about 70 miles from Taiwan. In 2016 the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) afresh established a camp on the island. The following year, then-Commander of USPACOM Harry Harris and then-Chief of Staff, Joint Staff Kawano Katsutoshi jointly visited the brand-new camp.

In December 2021, the late former Prime Minister Abe Shinzo insisted that a Taiwan contingency is the equivalent of a contingency for Japan. This should come as no surprise: in addition to strategic considerations, bilateral ties between Japan and Taiwan are underpinned by deep friendship. Japan is by far the most liked country among the Taiwanese public. Thousands of ordinary people in Taiwan expressed deep condolences for the assassination of Abe Shinzo, due to his deep commitment to Taiwan. When the 9.0 magnitude earthquake and tsunami hit Japan in 2011, the Taiwanese people enthusiastically expressed solidarity with their Japanese friends. Taiwan, an island of just 23 million people, contributed the second-highest amount of donations following this disaster, behind only the United States.

Japan has tried to enshrine the Taiwan issue as the priority of the US-Japan alliance. In February 2005, the US secretaries of state and defense and the Japanese foreign and defense ministers held the ministerial 2+2 meeting. Already at the time, common strategic objectives of the joint statement included the Taiwan Strait. The joint statement of the 2+2 meeting in June 2011, “Toward a Deeper and Broader US-Japan Alliance: Building on 50 Years of Partnership,” encouraged “the peaceful resolution of cross-Strait issues through dialogue.” During then-Prime Minister Suga Yoshihide’s visit to Washington DC in April 2021, the joint statement also underscored the importance of peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait at the summit level for the first time since the end of a formal diplomatic ties with Taipei. Following the leaders’ meeting, the G7 shared their concerns over the Strait. At an incoming summit in Hiroshima in May, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio is expected to coordinate the G7 nations to express continued concern.

Notwithstanding, there is no platform to coordinate the efforts of the three sides. As Beijing takes more assertive actions, these three governments should act now. In my view, the three parties should discuss trilateral security cooperation. Thinking about the triangle security-wise, the weakest side is the tie between Japan and Taiwan. The first challenge for trilateral cooperation is strengthening the security linkage between Tokyo and Taipei.

This new minilateral should start with modest steps. The framework should be functional during a contingent scenario, and establishing a communication channel will be critical, especially at the beginning, to plug the lack of contact. Another gap to fill is cooperation in the maritime domain. Unlike in Ukraine, this would be a significant battle theater, but Taiwan’s navy and coast guard are far less—or not at all—integrated with their US and Japanese counterparts.

A big picture is definitely needed. But a small step is suitable for creating momentum, especially to avoid antagonizing Beijing too much and too soon. There could be several measures to take for practical use. In 2022, it was reported that Japan was considering sending active-duty personnel from the JSDF instead of retired personnel. Someone with an active connection with the JSDF will be an essential channel between the two militaries. As China steps up its efforts in the East and South China Seas, cooperation between the two island countries in the maritime domain is also critical. The memorandum of understanding regarding the collaboration between the US Coast Guard and its Taiwanese counterpart could be a good example to follow. Based on the tangible results of security cooperation between Japan and Taiwan, a trilateral partnership could be established. In fact, trilateral collaboration has already been built up in Taipei. President Tsai Ing-wen has repeatedly touched on “GCTF”—the Global Cooperation and Training Framework—to advance cooperation in practical areas, including training, public health, and digital economy. Honolulu could be another acceptable location to smooth communication among the three parties. The tropical city is host to US Indo-Pacific Command, and active personnel from the JSDF and other militaries are dispatched there.

As discussed above, Japan should pursue another minilateral framework in the Indo-Pacific to stabilize the region; it is high time to forge trilateral security cooperation among the United States, Japan, and Taiwan. And some minor steps would be fitting for the very beginning.

Masatoshi Murakami ([email protected]) ) is an associate professor at Kogakkan University in Japan and a visiting fellow with the Air Command and Staff College of Japan and Nakasone Pease Institute. He previously worked with the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as a career diplomat and has conducted research as a visiting fellow at Pacific Forum this spring.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

PacNet #24 – How to help Korea-Japan rapprochement endure

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It is newsworthy on its own that conservative South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol flew to Tokyo to meet with Prime Minister Kishida Fumio last week. Yoon’s predecessor, the progressive Moon Jae-in, demonstrated little interest official meetings with his Japanese counterparts across his five years as president, one of the few things he had in common with his conservative forbearer Park Geun-hye. Park, whose political opponents were quick to label her the daughter of a Japanese-trained military strongman, also avoided meetings with Abe Shinzo without an American mediator present. Instead, she focused her efforts on Chinese leader Xi Jinping, in a vain hope that he would play a proactive role in inter-Korean reconciliation. As the PRC’s bilateral trade with South Korea has come to dwarf exchanges between South Korea and Japan, so have its diplomatic interactions with Seoul’s leadership compared to Japan’s.

For those concerned about regional security, especially North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile arsenals and, increasingly, the PRC’s revisionist aims for the Indo-Pacific, the tensions between Japan and South Korea have long been a source of frustration. Their lack of cooperation hinders intelligence sharing, and prevents a united front against malign North Korean and PRC actions as Pyongyang and Beijing know they can use historical issues to drive a wedge between Washington’s two Northeast Asian allies.

Yet bad security policy has proven to be good politics in both countries. It’s only with recent developments—Beijing’s sanctions against South Korea over missile defense, its lack of transparency over COVID, its acts of cultural chauvinism at Korea’s expense—that South Koreans’ assessments of the PRC began to sink even lower than that of Japan. Even that is a phenomenon largely attributable to the younger generations in Korea, particularly 20- and 30-somethings who do not remember their country’s period of military dictatorship, spearheaded as it was by individuals who drew inspiration from Japan’s Meiji Restoration and who took aid from Japan in exchange for normalization. The generation beyond that, however, which resisted the military dictatorship, has generally been skeptical of deals with Japan—going all the way back to the 1965 normalization treaty—and are still disproportionately influential in Korean politics.

Add to that the fact even the younger, more anti-PRC generation isn’t particularly pro-Japan (as reactions to Yoon’s recent moves have revealed) and that Japanese politicians aren’t above downplaying their country’s historical record and pressing claims to territory South Korea administers, and it becomes clear why closer security ties between the two have remained a fantasy confined to the imaginations of American diplomats and generals.

At least, that’s what we thought. In recent weeks, Yoon’s government has announced a deal with Japan over the contentious issue of wartime forced labor. This resulted in enthusiastic—perhaps excessively so—reactions from partners of the two countries, including the United States. Then Yoon traveled to Tokyo—the first summit between Korean and Japanese heads of state in 12 years—and toasted with Kishida. Then Japan announced that it would lift its export restrictions on South Korea, a major step (albeit one confirming that the restrictions, announced in 2019 as tensions over the wartime labor began rising, were always politically motivated).

That these are serious steps toward rapprochement is beyond question. What is more debatable is how long-lasting they will be. Yoon’s steps have already been denounced by the Japan skeptics in the opposition party, who still have an overwhelming majority in the National Assembly. As noted above, even the younger generation that distrusts the PRC does not support Yoon’s forced-labor deal. Comparisons are already being made to the 2015 US-brokered deal in which Tokyo compensated the “Comfort Women”—wartime victims of Imperial Japanese sexual slavery—as a deal a conservative administration has struck without the majority support of the public, and which a progressive successor could easily undo. After all, the tensions with Japan that defined Moon’s administration did not begin with the forced laborers issue or Japan’s export whitelist, but escalated before that, when Moon annulled the Comfort Women deal.

The maverick Yoon, however, has some advantages that Park Geun-hye did not. He is not beholden to the legacy of the Park family—as head of the Seoul Central District Prosecutors’ Office, his most famous case is probably Park herself—nor to the legacy of Japanese colonization. His popularity, while never particularly high, may have already reached its nadir in late 2022. Yoon is also, unlike Park in 2015, less than a year into his presidency, with much time left for this supposed “betrayal” to fade from voters’ minds. Yoon, though less confrontational toward Beijing than some in the Anglosphere had hoped, is still far less accommodating of the PRC than Moon (or Park) and might yet cause a sharp shift in Northeast Asian security dynamics by moving closer to Tokyo.

The results, however, are not entirely up to him.

If Seoul’s partners and allies, concerned about the PRC and North Korea’s intentions for the region, want to see a South Korea that’s more active in the region, they need to encourage more activity following this development. The Quadrilateral Security Dialogue should, if it’s not going to make Seoul a fifth member, deepen and normalize their cooperation with it, either by itself or in a Quad-Plus format with other partners. Japan, which has not always been encouraging of South Korean participation in international forums such as the G7, should support Seoul as it seeks to embrace its “middle power” status, including increased engagement with ASEAN and the Pacific Islands, places where America’s partners are essential to US efforts to counter PRC influence.

While Japan’s leadership should not resort to censorship, it also does not behoove Tokyo’s efforts to strengthen bilateral ties when domestic politicians and political movements fan anti-Korean sentiment and receive little pushback.

The United States can also play a role that extends beyond words of affirmation—and can do so by taking some long-overdue steps. Both Korean and Japanese  manufacturers  have  cried  foul  over  2022 US Congressional legislation, which seeks to reshore American manufacturing but has had the side effect of nullifying tax credits and subsidies for foreign manufacturers, even those who, like Korean and Japanese companies, seek to build on the US mainland. Such manufacturers should have been rewarded regardless of Korea-Japan ties; that their relations are improving is as good a time as any to take such a step. Now would also be a good time to take steps toward a unified plan of action making countries, such as South Korea, less vulnerable to Beijing’s economic coercion.

Any deal between South Korea and Japan is more likely to endure the more Koreans see it as benefitting them. Yoon, whatever else one thinks of him, is taking a bold step in defiance of precedent and public opinion, but should not be the only one taking such steps. 

Rob York ([email protected]) is Director for Regional Affairs at Pacific Forum and editor of Comparative Connections: A Triannual E-journal of Bilateral Relations in the Indo-Pacific.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

PacNet #23 – Japan’s new strategic policy: Three overlooked takeaways

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Japan has signaled its intent to strengthen its national security and defense posture significantly in an increasingly volatile Indo-Pacific. When he met President Joe Biden in January 2023, Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio, referring to Japan’s new National Security Strategy, declared he would “fundamentally reinforce our defense capabilities.” This includes raising the Japanese defense budget to approximately 2% of GDP by 2027. This will gratify many in Washington who share a determination to strengthen the alliance militarily and bolster combined deterrence postures.

Kishida’s remarks came a month after the release of the new National Security Strategy, accompanied by the National Defense Strategy (renaming the prior National Defense Program Guidelines) and Defense Build-Up Program (formerly Medium-Term Defense Program).

Together these documents together present a grim picture of the security situation Tokyo and its US ally face. The NSS states that “Japan’s security environment is as severe and complex as it has ever been since the end of World War II.” Russian aggression in Ukraine, Chinese assertiveness in the East and South China Seas and across the Taiwan Strait, and North Korea’s nuclear missile ambitions top the list of dangers. The NSS identifies them as countries that seek to “revise the existing international order.” In the context of strategic competition, the NSS states the boundaries between peace and war have become blurred through “gray zone” activities, malicious operations in the cyber and information spaces, the use of economic statecraft, and a vigorous technological arms race.

The NSS (along with NDS and DBP) represents a highly coordinated response on Japan’s part. They have been dubbed “historic,” a “paradigm shift,” and a “revolution” by some analysts, while some have offered more skeptical appraisals on their actual implementation. Heretofore debates have primarily centered on defense budget increases and acquisition of counter-strike capabilities.

But there are three other key leitmotivs of the documents that have not attracted as much comment.

First, the NSS unabashedly foregrounds “universal values” as a “national interest” and “fundamental principle” of its strategy. While many observers have questioned the sustainability of the former prime minister (and current vice president of the Liberal Democratic Party) Aso Taro’s “values-oriented diplomacy” since his time as party leader, it appears to be back with a vengeance. The NSS speaks of “upholding universal values such as freedom, democracy, respect for fundamental human rights, and the rule of law.” It excoriates states that do not share such values and points to their malignant actions to undermine a “free, open, and stable international order.” Japan’s commitment to project its Free and Open Indo-Pacific “vision” thus frames the almost Manichean contest between liberal democracies and authoritarian states as “a historical inflection point.” Japan now states it “will maintain and protect universal values.” For a country that long eschewed taking ideological leadership and intrusive democracy promotion, this emphatic statement is quite a departure.

Second, Japan’s new security strategy emphasises its “holistic” approach. This is evident in its “integrated” approach to strategy—where it will lever all aspects of its “comprehensive national power” (a term originally invented by the Chinese) to achieve its strategic objectives. It will employ diplomacy, defense capabilities, economic strengths, technological prowess, and intelligence assets in service of an integrated strategic approach. It seeks to create a “comprehensive defense architecture” by increasing coordination across organizational sectors such as the Japan Coast Guard and Maritime Self Defense Force, for example. The documents are replete with references to “cross-governmental” and “whole-of government” coordination, and “cross-community collaboration” (in advanced technology and R&D), indicating desire to break down institutional “siloing” that could impede a joined-up approach to the implementation of strategy.

This “integration” includes the military domain, where Japan continues to build a “Multi-Domain Defense Force” by marrying the “traditional” land-sea-air domains with the space, cyber, and electromagnetic domains. Integration also extends to allies and partners, with greater efforts to harmonize US and Japanese forces, since “No country can protect its security alone.” This includes bilateral integration with the United States through the Alliance Coordination Mechanism and Flexible Deterrent Options. The former focuses on information sharing, improving common situational awareness and coordinating responses from peacetime to conflict contingencies. The latter is designed to coordinate combined responses to deterring Chinese coercive activities within the maritime domain through military signalling and escalation control. Greater interoperability with close strategic partners, such as Australia and the United Kingdom, through Reciprocal Access Agreements, which provide legal and logistical frameworks  necessary to facilitate overseas training and military operations in one another’s countries, are a means toward improving inter-military coordination and force interoperability. This will result in a “multi-layered network” knitting together Japan’s regional ally and “like-minded” partners (e.g. Australia, India), in conjunction with “minilateral” mechanisms such as the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and Trilateral Strategic Dialogue. Japan is thus transcending its role as a single bilateral “spoke” of the US-led “hub-and-spoke” alliance system to become a subsidiary “hub” itself.

Japan is now acting to become accountable for its own national defense, eventually assuming responsibility for dealing with any invasion more independently (by 2027). This does not portend a move to complete national defense “autonomy” and a decoupling from the US alliance, but rather a determination to progressively assume of the primary burden for self-defense of its national territory.  Though it will rely on its US ally for some time, this will be a major step, prospectively freeing up US forces based in Japan for other activities. The DBP also indicates that “Such a defense capability must come with high readiness and response capability.” To achieve this, the increased defense budget will need to be allocated accordingly to acquire counter-strike capabilities that can deter or defeat an enemy invasion, supported by a robust defense industrial base (a “virtually integral part of defense capability”), and a hardening of its defense facilities, with ample stocks of fuel and munitions. As well as providing for the defense of Japanese territory, this makes a greater contribution to the alliance considering the diminishing resources (and increasing obsolescence) of the US’ force posture.

Third, combined with greater responsibility for its own national defense is the emphasis on streamlining the “responsiveness” of its defense architecture. This is part to the overarching recognition that “a strategy that integrates its national responses at a higher level” is required. The 2016 Peace and Security Legislation set the groundwork for this by freeing Japan of some of the former constraints upon it activities and permitting more collaboration with allies and partners. If deterrence fails, responsiveness of government and defense apparatus will be at a premium. To improve reaction times, decision-making procedures will become more “seamless,” contingency plans drawn up, and the mobility and readiness of rapid reaction forces improved (“mobile deployment capabilities,” per the NDS). This builds upon the earlier establishment of a National Security Council (in 2013) and centralization of decision-making in the Prime Minister’s Office, initiated under Abe Shinzo. This extends to inter-service crisis response coordination between the Self Defense Forces, police, and Japan Coast Guard, for example.

Japan’s new strategic approach is perhaps best seen as an apotheosis of the determined efforts put in motion during the premiership of the late PM Abe, and a validation of these. This trajectory has been pursued by his successor Kishida, first in his “vision for peace” address to the Shangri-La Dialogue in June 2022. Unified by a clear statement of national objectives, including universal values and a commitment to uphold a rules-based order, Japan is investing heavily in marshalling the requisite resources to back this (“pragmatic realism”), drawn from the whole spectrum of the comprehensive national power it possesses. This is a recognition that strategic competition occurs across all domains, and it has become a national security imperative for Japan to improve its ability to deter and defend against attacks on its national territory, whilst assuming a greater burden within the US-Japan alliance. The ambitions of the national security documents, by their own admission are “unprecedented in terms of size and content.” Nevertheless, they signal Japan’s “steadfast resolve” to achieve them.

Time will tell if they are successfully implemented, or if they can be realized within the urgent timeframe available before a potential conflict breaks out.

Thomas Wilkins ([email protected]) is an Adjunct Senior Fellow (non-resident), Pacific Forum, Senior Fellow, Australian Strategic Policy Institute, and Associate Professor, University of Sydney.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

Photo: Prime Minister Kishida Fumio commemorates the 70th anniversary of the foundation of the Maritime Self-Defense Force on Nov. 6 by Pool via Reuters. 

PacNet #22 – The refresh of the Integrated Review: Putting Britain at the heart of the Atlantic-Pacific world

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On Monday, His Majesty’s (HM) Government released the refresh of the Integrated Review (IRR), the re-appraisal of the wide-ranging foreign and defense policy appraisal ordered by Boris Johnson when he became prime minister. His successor, Liz Truss, commissioned the refresh during her brief stint in 10 Downing Street, and incumbent Rishi Sunak continued it. The worsening geopolitical situation, especially Russia’s attempt to seize Ukraine by force but also the People’s Republic of China’s attempts to change the international order, motivated the refresh.

The worsening geopolitical environment

Like the Integrated Review of March 2021, the IRR establishes the parameters for British global engagement in an era of “systemic competition,” described as “the dominant geopolitical trend and the main driver of the deteriorating security environment.” However, unlike the Integrated Review, the IRR defines systemic competition as the “growing convergence of authoritarian states” to the extent that they are “working together to undermine the international system or remake it in their image.” In addition, the IRR sees the competition of the late 2010s and early 2020s deteriorating into an outright struggle:

Since…[2021], Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, weaponisation of energy and food supplies and irresponsible nuclear rhetoric, combined with China’s more aggressive stance in the South China Sea and the Taiwan Strait, are threatening to create a world defined by danger, disorder and division—and an international order more favourable to authoritarianism.

Key threats and challenges

In keeping with the growing emphasis on interstate rivalry and geopolitical confrontation, gone are the days when British security strategies emphasized terrorism or failed states as the principal threat to the United Kingdom and its allies and partners. This is not to say that HM Government discounts such threats. Instead, they are deprioritized in relation to the more significant threat from large or aggressive authoritarian states.

Unsurprisingly, given the character of the kleptocratic regime in the Kremlin and its ongoing offensive against Ukraine, Russia is characterized in the IRR similarly to the Integrated Review, i.e., as a “direct” and “acute” threat to British interests. There is no shadow of doubt that HM Government sees Russia as the most immediate threat to the United Kingdom and its allies and partners, particularly in the Euro-Atlantic. The British stance towards Russia has even hardened since 2021. While the United Kingdom is open to cooperation with the Kremlin, Russia has to cease to be a rogue state. Until then, HM Government plans to treat Vladimir Putin’s regime as a hostile opponent, if not an outright enemy.

The IRR goes further than the Integrated Review in reframing the PRC. While the Integrated Review described the PRC as a “systemic competitor,” the IRR calls the PRC an “epoch-defining systemic challenge.” An entire box is devoted to the nature of the threat the PRC—under the control of the Chinese Communist Party—poses to the British state and the international order more generally:

The CCP is increasingly explicit in its aim to shape a China-centric international order more favourable to its authoritarian system, and pursuing this ambition through a wide-ranging strategy—shaping global governance, in ways that undermine individual rights and freedoms, and pursuing coercive practices. China’s deepening partnership with Russia and Russia’s growing cooperation with Iran in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine are two developments of particular concern.

This language may not satisfy more pugnacious parliamentarians in Westminster but represents a considerable hardening in how HM Government sees the PRC. The IRR strongly confirms Sunak’s assertion that the United Kingdom considers the “golden era” proclaimed in 2015 by then-Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne to be over.

Towards a new British geostrategy?

Regarding geography, the IRR explains that both the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific theaters matter to the United Kingdom, with the former taking priority but the latter becoming increasingly important. The IRR confirms that the “tilt” to the Indo-Pacific, outlined in the Integrated Review of 2021, is complete and that the United Kingdom will prioritize establishing a more solid “footing” in the region. The Indo-Pacific is no longer a novelty but a pillar of British foreign policy. The IRR goes further than any recent British or foreign strategy by viewing the Euro-Atlantic and the Indo-Pacific as a single geostrategic space.

The IRR marks an ongoing evolution in British grand strategy, much like the Integrated Review it updates; not only does it confirm the return of belief in the importance of national sovereignty and resilience, but it also represents a movement away from post-Cold War neoliberal mantras, such as limiting the power of the state and forging a “rules-based international system.” Building on the Integrated Review of 2021, the IRR confirms that the United Kingdom will no longer seek to uphold this fraying system but push back against systemic rivals’ hegemonic regional or global designs. HM Government’s objective is to use British power to keep the international order of tomorrow free and open.

Unsurprisingly, then, the IRR emphasizes the importance of shaping the international environment through “balancing, competing and cooperating across the main arenas of systemic competition” while “working with all who support an open and stable international order and the protection of global public goods.” The IRR positions the United Kingdom as a committed multilateralist but one that will not hesitate to bypass existing structures or create new ones to thwart expansionist autocracy. It also calls for new instruments of economic statecraft and tighter cooperation with Japan, Canada, South Korea, and Australia to craft a favorable economic order.

Given the extent of the threat from Russia and the PRC, the IRR also emphasizes a posture of effective deterrence. This posture will attempt to “bring together the wider levers of state power to increase the costs of aggression by hostile actors above and below the threshold of armed conflict.” Plainly, the United Kingdom will use its naval and armed forces more dynamically to constrain hostile actors, just as it will forward deploy assets in its growing array of military facilities—with new bases opened over the past five years in Bahrain, Oman, and Norway and a reciprocal access agreement signed with Japan—to reassure partners and deter aggressors. In particular, HM Government intends to “contain and challenge Russia’s ability and intent to disrupt UK, Euro-Atlantic and wider international security.”

Finally, the United Kingdom plans to generate strategic advantage by capitalizing on national strengths. This may sound pedestrian: all countries work to enhance their strengths. Instead, it is an admission that British power has never resulted from the country’s size, but from the economic and political structures and instruments the British people have created to protect and extend their interests. As in the past, HM Government will have to work harder to uphold British influence in a world of systemic confrontation by leveraging areas where the country excels, such as maritime industries and science and technology.


With the Integrated Review of 2021, British foreign policy was already on a more robust trajectory. This review shifted and energized the United Kingdom’s strategic posture, which has continued to toughen despite the country’s domestic political changes. Consequently, Britain has racked up an impressive list of foreign policy successes, from co-creating AUKUS and deepening relations with Japan and ASEAN in the Indo-Pacific to leading the way in assisting Ukraine and containing Russia in the Euro-Atlantic, especially in Northern and Eastern Europe. The United Kingdom has also boosted defense spending: the IRR specified a £5 billion hike for the nuclear enterprise and new munitions, while Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, added an additional £6 billion in his spending review three days later. With these actions and increases in defense investment, HM Government has confirmed its “tilt” to the Indo-Pacific and re-emphasized its centrality to the defense of Europe. Global Britain and European Britain are not mutually exclusive.

But it is with AUKUS that the United Kingdom has shown the extent of its determination to prevent authoritarian powers from establishing hierarchical forms of international order. It is no surprise that the publication of the IRR and the confirmation of AUKUS occurred on the same day. AUKUS, perhaps the most significant minilateral arrangement to materialize in a generation, confirms Britain’s emergence as an Indo-Pacific power and the region’s connectivity with the Euro-Atlantic. HM Government’s participation in AUKUS demonstrates the emergence of the Atlantic-Pacific and the United Kingdom’s willingness to share sensitive strategic technology—in this case, designs for nuclear-powered attack submarines—with close allies and partners to actively constrain the PRC. The United Kingdom remains a vital ally and partner in pursuit of a free and open Atlantic-Pacific.

James Rogers ([email protected]) is Co-founder and Director of Research at the Council on Geostrategy, a think tank founded in March 2021 to help make Britain and other free and open countries more united, stronger, and greener.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.

Photo: Rishi Sunak arriving the US for the AUKUS summit by Stefan Rousseau at PA Wire.

PacNet #17 – The World After Taiwan’s Fall – PART TWO

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This is Part Two of our two-part PacNet on our study “The World After Taiwan’s Fall,” which reviews the key findings and recommendations:

Finding: The only thing slightly worse than the United States intervening and failing to reverse a PRC invasion of Taiwan would be the United States not intervening. A failure to come to Taiwan’s aid would be devastating to US credibility and could damage if not destroy the entire US alliance network. It would embolden the PRC, Russia, North Korea, and others to be more aggressive. If the United States tried but failed, all eyes would be on what Washington would do next. If the decision were to retreat to “Fortress America,” the damage to US and alliance credibility would again be devastating.

Recommendation: The United States should assume that it would be in its interests to respond—and win—should the PRC move to invade Taiwan. Because it should account for the possibility of a failed intervention, the United States should also reflect on its next moves to engage its allies and partners if China takes Taiwan. The United States should work with its allies and partners to help reverse the PRC fait accompli. It should thus rule out retreating to Fortress America.

Finding: There is uncertainty about Washington’s next move after Taiwan’s fall. While the Indian author was confident that the result would be a Fortress America approach, others were not so sure. Some argued that turning and running is not in America’s DNA. Others said it would be much more situation-dependent but believed the United States should work to restore the credibility of its alliances and continue to confront the PRC. To several authors, there would be a need to build an Asian equivalent to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) to prevent PRC adventurism and ultimately retake Taiwan.

Recommendation: The United States should be clear that its allies, partners, and friends expect leadership from Washington, especially in difficult times. Even if retreating to Fortress America were not an option after Taiwan’s fall, failure to lean in and rebuild could sink the US leading role in the world. The United States should thus bring its allies and partners together to halt further adventurism and ultimately mount a counteroffensive against the PRC.

Finding: The PRC would become more aggressive toward its neighbors if it were successful in taking over Taiwan. A few, including our Japanese author, feared that Japan would be next. Others saw the South China Sea as a likely area for increased PRC assertiveness. The Indian author worried about a flare-up on the PRC-Indian border, while the Australian author saw an expansion of PRC influence in the South Pacific. The Korean author, while likewise worried about increased PRC assertiveness, was more concerned that the PRC would give a green light to North Korea to march south.

Recommendation: The United States should rally the region and the world to help prevent the PRC from taking Taiwan by showing how such a development would have a direct impact on many countries, exacerbating risks and threats that these countries deemed “more immediate” or “more urgent.” Rallying the region entails raising awareness of the costs and risks involved in a PRC win over Taiwan and urging every regional player to help build a stronger collective deterrence and defense architecture in the Indo-Pacific.

Finding: Taiwan is in a strategic location. Its military and intelligence capacity can help Japan and other East Asian countries to avoid the threat of PRC expansionism. If Taiwan fell to the PRC, Beijing would gain unique military bases and intelligence facilities and would have unencumbered access deep into the Pacific. Beijing would be able to hold US forces in Okinawa and Guam at risk and invade vast territories of Japan and the Philippines, while also strengthening its dominance in the South China Sea and Southeast Asia. Beijing could also deny the United States and its allies the ability to maintain a forward presence in the Pacific.

Recommendation: Rallying the region around the danger of a PRC takeover of Taiwan should emphasize the dangers that would come next: greater PRC dominance of the region and a PRC sphere of influence tightly controlled by Beijing.

Finding: Nuclear proliferation would likely follow the fall of Taiwan in parts of Asia because regional states would fear that they could be next on the PRC’s hit list and would have reasons to doubt the ability (even the willingness) of the United States to defend them. Japan, South Korea, and Australia would consider going nuclear, though all three would also want to maintain their alliance relationship with the United States. Of note, however: the US, Japanese, Australian, and South Korean authors all regarded proliferation by others as inevitable, while being more nuanced when it comes to proliferation by “their” country.

Recommendation: Today there are many good reasons to strengthen US extended deterrence because the balance of power is shifting fast in the PRC’s favor. In the event of a PRC military takeover of Taiwan, strengthening US extended deterrence would become an utmost priority.

Finding: Nuclear proliferation is unlikely to extend beyond Asia. The European author, for instance, suggested that proliferation would not happen in Europe after Taiwan’s fall to China. The nonproliferation norm is strong there and for that to happen, it would take both a complete loss of US credibility and a direct and perennial threat to Europe.

Recommendation: The United States should keep in mind that nuclear proliferation is primarily a response to local or regional issues. Resolving these issues is thus essential to stall, stop, or reverse proliferation. The United States should also not underestimate the power of nonproliferation norms and of its stabilizing role as a regional and global security guarantor. In addition to reinforcing its defense commitments to its allies and partners, the United States should thus seek to strengthen the nonproliferation regime.

Finding: Taiwan’s fall to China would likely break some US alliances and reshape strategic relations in the Indo-Pacific. One author assessed that the Philippines and Thailand would likely break their alliance relationships with the United States and surrender to PRC hegemony. In addition, others talked about the possible (and for some the likely) band-wagoning of many states towards the PRC as the new center of power. That would be likely if an “axis of authoritarian states” emerges, dominated by China and Russia, that has drawn the conclusion that nuclear coercion (or nuclear use) helps score geopolitical points.

Recommendation: In addition to strengthening its alliances and nuclear umbrella with its current allies, the United States should consider deploying it over other countries or, at minimum, engage in much closer security cooperation with them.

Finding: There is disagreement as to whether a region-wide nuclear sharing arrangement would be beneficial. Our Korean and Indian authors ruled out the option. The latter said that it is something that the United States can foster before there is an invasion, not after. The former, meanwhile, said that it is not an option, especially under the current administration. Others were not as blunt. Our US author explained that such an arrangement has potential with the United States, but not without. Others hoped to keep the United States in a regional-wide nuclear sharing arrangement but did not rule out arrangements without it.

Recommendation: The United States should conduct a wide-ranging research effort to reflect on the ends, ways, and means of concluding nuclear sharing arrangements with its Indo-Pacific allies. This effort should draw on the NATO experience but be tailored to the Indo-Pacific, and it should explore the potential benefits, costs, and risks that such arrangements would entail.

Finding: Even before the latest PRC show of force around Taiwan in August 2022 (when the PRC conducted military exercises around the Island), there was general agreement that the United States and its allies and partners should coordinate more closely to signal resolve and enhance collective deterrence and defense in the Indo-Pacific. Reflecting on the implications of a PRC military takeover of Taiwan has made this project even more of a priority.

Recommendation: The United States should double down on its defense arrangements and security assistance to threatened allies and partners, especially Taiwan. Practically, that means it should make its defense commitments clearer and take steps to develop and deploy with them new capabilities. While the differences between Ukraine and Taiwan are clear, there is a danger that the PRC might equate Washington’s and/or NATO’s reluctance to engage a nuclear-armed Russia directly, especially if Russia is issuing not-so-veiled nuclear threats, with a similar reluctance or refusal to confront a nuclear-armed PRC. The United States should thus strengthen deterrence, including nuclear deterrence, and reject any “sole purpose” or “no first use” statement.

Finding: Thinking about US policy vis-à-vis Taiwan is evolving. All but two authors argued in favor of abandoning strategic ambiguity today; the Japanese and Korean authors worried about the PRC’s reaction to an explicit policy change. However, they, and everyone else, saw the need for the United States to articulate and demonstrate its resolve and preparedness to respond more clearly to defend Taiwan. The bottom line: the PRC should not doubt that the United States will respond to an invasion of Taiwan.

Recommendation: The study’s conclusion is that the best US response to the fall of Taiwan would be a concerted effort with like-minded US friends and allies to prevent further PRC aggression, if not through an “Asian NATO” then through a reinvigoration of existing alliances and new defense arrangements. It thus makes sense for the United States to enhance Indo-Pacific deterrence now to dissuade the PRC from moving against Taiwan in the first place, or to ensure that such an effort would fail. Action must be coordinated with allies and partners that also have much to lose should Taiwan fall under Beijing’s control.

David Santoro ([email protected]) is President and CEO of the Pacific Forum. Follow him on Twitter @DavidSantoro1.

Ralph Cossa ([email protected]) is President Emeritus and WSD-Handa Chair in Peace Studies at Pacific Forum.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged.