PacNet #6 What happens in Ukraine will not stay in Ukraine

Russia’s recent ultimatum to both the United States and North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) on Ukraine and European security could set a dangerous precedent, with effects that reach far beyond Europe.

The ultimatum, issued in two draft agreements (one between Russia and the United States, one between Russia and NATO) follows an unprecedented Russian military buildup along the Ukrainian-Russian border. In them, Moscow demands US and NATO guarantees that Ukraine and Georgia will never join NATO.

Moscow wants to resolve an issue, pertaining to European security, by concluding an agreement with the United States, without Europeans and other powers in the room. This mentality is reminiscent of the Cold War, when global affairs were managed by just two countries: the United States and the Soviet Union.

The world has changed, however. Today, we live in a globalized, interconnected world, and what happens in Europe will not stay there. There can no longer be just “European” security. For instance, some 40% of European trade traffic transits through the South China Sea, and cross-Strait relations have direct implications for the economic security of the United States and Europe, as well as Japan and the Republic of Korea.

What’s more, the world is connected by vast networks of underwater communication cables serving as the nerves and blood vessels of the digital age-world economy. There is also a net of free trade agreements, logistic highways, and energy supply routes going beyond the oceans and the continents.

Significantly, more than half of the world’s nuclear powers are in the Indo-Pacific. Security concerns include the long list of territorial claims between states in the Indo-Pacific, not to mention the regular testing of ballistic missiles in this region.

So, how can security issues in Europe be addressed in isolation of developments in Asia?

If Russia gets its way, and the United States and its partners honor Moscow’s demands, there will be consequences for the Indo-Pacific security environment that the United States and its regional partners have been busy reshaping. The Quad, AUKUS, and recent bilateral agreements between Japan and Australia exemplify these efforts. Strengthened US security guarantees to several key states in the region serve as a backbone of regional security.

So, if Moscow is serious about obtaining security guarantees, then the scope and format of negotiations must be extended. At minimum, the countries of the G7, plus Russia, China, India, and Australia should be involved in such talks; these countries, after all, cover 70% of the world’s GDP and half of its population. All cards should be on a table, including territorial claims, maritime issues, and the security of logistic networks and communication lanes. This may be ambitious, but the time is right to shape a new world order. A good first step would be to compare notes; no disease can be cured without proper diagnosis.

Until then, there must be agreement that Russia’s demand—that European security be decided on a purely bilateral basis—is unacceptable.

Accepting this would signal that countries can get away with blackmail, intimidation, and even force to achieve their goals. China would likely be emboldened to proceed with its own goals—and not just vis-a-vis Taiwan, but also in the East and South China Seas.

The nations of the world, therefore, must unite and reject the idea that major powers are entitled to spheres of influence. No major power should have the right to rule over smaller states they deem to be in “their” sphere. While we in Ukraine busily study possible routes of Russian invasion, major powers should realize that the real distinction should be between states which want to live in peace and those which seek illegal advantages over others in their neighborhood. Rules should matter more than power.

Neither of the two biggest knots of tension in world politics—Ukraine and Taiwan—should be resolved by force, and if they are, expect the international order to change significantly as it would open the floodgates to more aggressive actions.

Dr. Sergiy Korsunsky is the Ambassador of Ukraine to Japan.

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PacNet #60 – AUKUS’ short- and long-term implications for Taiwan

More than a mere pact over submarines, the Australia-United Kingdom-United States trilateral (AUKUS) signifies the crossing of a strategic threshold by Washington and its partners, past robust competition and toward outright confrontation. This, naturally, has significant implications for Taiwan’s security.

By agreeing to afford Australia access to nuclear naval propulsion and other advanced strategic technologies—a first since the US-UK Mutual Defense Agreement of 1958—AUKUS fortifies the US-led order to deter military challenges in the region. AUKUS, of course, has the Chinese Community Party (CCP) regime in mind. This strengthening of the defense relationship with Canberra, even at the expense of political fallout with Paris, signals to Beijing that Washington (and its partners) are preparing in case of conflict.

Taiwan is where such conflict looks likely, given the irredentist claims by China, the significance of its geography to major regional powers (e.g., the United States, or Japan), and its critical role in the global supply chain.

Nuclear-powered submarines (or SSNs, as the US Navy calls them) will give Australia the range, transit speed, and endurance to provide meaningful presence in the Taiwan Strait. Moreover, SSNs are one of the few assets able to penetrate and conduct sustained operations within China’s anti-access area-denial, particularly in combination with submarine-launched cruise missiles. The other long-range strike capabilities provisioned under AUKUS (Tomahawk cruise missiles for the Hobart-class destroyers, air-to-surface missiles for Royal Australian Air Force fighter aircraft, precision strike missiles, and US-Australian collaborative development of hypersonic missiles) will also strengthen Australia’s capacity to support US military operations in first-island-chain contingencies.

What’s more, AUKUS signals strengthened British security commitments to the Indo-Pacific, already demonstrated by the HMS Queen Elizabeth carrier strike group’s 28-week deployment to the region.

These contribute to enhancing the so-called “integrated deterrence” championed by the Biden administration, particularly Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin.

Implications for Taiwan

Though heartened by AUKUS, Taipei remains cautious about its significance for its security.

If AUKUS partners are committed to deterring China from conquering Taiwan, the three governments must reassess their policy regarding defense cooperation with the island. For example, London still imposes strict restrictions on defense exports to Taipei. Canberra, for its part, has long forbidden direct contact between Taiwanese officials with Australian defense establishment outside of the military education system. Not surprisingly, then, Taipei is prudent in its expectations of any realignment of Canberra’s security cooperation posture, especially given Australia’s economic interdependence with China.

The United States has begun making headway towards enhancing Taiwan’s defense while managing tensions with China. One example appears to be quietly encouraging a select number of allies to loosen restrictions on security cooperation with Taipei, including defense technology, intelligence, and other exchanges. Similar policy realignment should be among priority considerations for AUKUS countries.

AUKUS countries, meanwhile, are unlikely to deploy additional military capabilities to change the power balance in the Taiwan Strait by 2027, when US-based sources say the threat of Chinese invasion is most severe. Current Australian power projection assets are limited to six Collins-class conventionally powered submarines, with the deployment of nuclear submarines still over a decade away. Also unclear is Britain’s willingness and ability to rapidly base and sustain substantive capabilities in the Indo-Pacific that would contribute to deterring and, if necessary, winning a major military conflict with China. AUKUS’ significance to Taiwan, therefore, is primarily over the long term.

Near-term options

AUKUS countries should advance an ambitious security cooperation agenda focused on a Taiwan Strait conflict scenario. At a strategic level, they should participate in joint war planning. At the operational level, they should consider a joint working group to ensure interoperability—including, most importantly, with Taiwan forces and C4ISR (Command, Control, Communications, Computers Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance) systems.

Between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, there should be discussions about assisting Taiwan with defense systems and/or related technology, which can help alleviate the severe arms embargo Beijing imposes on Taipei. AUKUS countries should also explore expanded participation through track-2 discussions on collective measures for countering gray-zone threats, improving regional interoperability, and enhancing intelligence sharing.

In the short-term, however, even before such measures are enacted, AUKUS signals to Taiwan that key countries are now willing to push back more seriously against Beijing’s rising military assertiveness. It suggests to Taipei that outside help is increasing, making its leaders more resolute in the fight for its own defense and survival, which is critical to strengthen deterrence against Chinese military adventurism.

Fu S. Mei (tdrfsm@aol.com) is Director at the Taiwan Security Analysis Center in Manhasset, New York.

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PacNet #58 – Why the UK was the Big Winner of AUKUS

An earlier version of this article appeared in The Diplomat.

The diplomatic and media spat has only now begun to die down since the announcement on Sept. 15 of the AUKUS security partnership between Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States. While the agreement has been presented as allowing Australia access to sensitive US technology to acquire eight nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarines, the agreement also involves cooperation in other sensitive areas. AUKUS meant the concomitant cancellation of Australia’s contract with the French Naval Group to build 12 conventionally-powered submarines.

For the United States, the strategic benefits of AUKUS are symbolically important, but otherwise modest. Upon celebrating the 70thanniversary of the ANZUS alliance with Australia and New Zealand, the United States extolled Australia as its historic partner, the only country that has been involved in every war—from the justified to the ill-considered—that Washington has fought since 1917.

Today, Australia is completely on the US side in its rivalry with China. Having a fellow member of the Five Eyes intelligence-sharing arrangement (dating from World War II) and, more recently, a member of the Quad as an even closer ally in the Indo-Pacific is a plus for Washington. More concretely, having an Australian submarine force of some eight vessels as an auxiliary fleet to the US Navy in the South China Sea makes good, if marginal, strategic sense for the Pentagon.

However, whether the perceived loss of autonomy and sovereignty is in Australia’s own interest is a cause of some debate Down Under. While supporting, in principle, the acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines under AUKUS, the opposition Labor Party has criticized the government for the 10-year gap in submarine capacity that will result from waiting till 2040 for the first of the yet-to-be-designed vessels to arrive.

It is also unlikely that the submarines will be built in the United States for two reasons. On the one hand, as things stand today, the specialized US shipyards already have their order books full over the next decades producing vessels in much larger numbers—and in absolute priority—for the US Navy. On the other, Australian requirements would seem to be for a smaller hunter-killer submarine than those produced for the US Navy, and rather for something akin to the Royal Navy’s existing Astute-class submarine.

US manufacturers such as Lockheed Martin were already set to provide the weapons systems for the 12 Australian submarines commissioned under the aborted project with the French; they will now do so for the eight vessels planned under AUKUS. US companies will, however, more fully benefit from other aspects of AUKUS with the development and manufacture of high-technology weaponry. Still, these cooperative arrangements were already underway prior AUKUS. For example, the emblematically named Loyal Wingman unmanned aerial vehicle developed by a subsidiary of Boeing in Australia had its first flight in February of this year.

So, if in economic terms the United States is not the major beneficiary of AUKUS, this leaves the United Kingdom. Somewhat surprisingly the role and, above all, the economic interests of the United Kingdom in the pact have been left unexamined. Britain has not suffered from any of the diplomatic blowback that has occurred since Sept. 15. For example, while Paris recalled its ambassadors from Canberra and Washington, its ambassador in London remained in place. At the time this was interpreted as a subtle way of pooh-poohing the importance of the United Kingdom. Perhaps, also, given the parlous state of relations across the Channel as the unfortunate but predictable consequences of Brexit are worked through, it may have seemed unhelpful to add another area of contention.

Most commentators have essentially highlighted the symbolic value of AUKUS for London. At worst, this means reviving a kind of Anglosphere with echoes of Churchill and Roosevelt or even shades of a return of the British Empire in the Indo-Pacific. At best, it involves giving some substance to the post-Brexit trope of a Global Britain, returning as a major security actor in the region almost 60 years after the withdrawal from “east of Suez.” From this perspective, the timing is not inconsequential. The AUKUS announcement was made the day before the presentation by the president of the European Commission, Ursula Von der Leyen, to the European Parliament of a Franco-German-inspired major policy paper on the EU Strategy for the Indo-Pacific.

The timing of the announcement may have been prompted by London to eclipse any European foreign policy grandstanding. If so, it was quite effective: the EU Strategy went largely unreported. However, for Canberra it seems not to have been clever to offend a key European country while in negotiations for an EU-Australia free trade agreement.

Beyond the symbolism, and the post-Brexit one-upmanship, the importance of AUKUS for Britain lies elsewhere. A recent post from International Institute for Strategic Studies in London traces the genesis of AUKUS to a request made by the chief of the Royal Australian Navy to his British counterpart. This request is understandable: Historically the Australian submarine fleet has been dependent on expertise from the Royal Navy and several senior officers are from Britain. But other than questions of comradeship, for very rational reasons, the British seemed to have jumped on this opportunity. At a practical strategic level, AUKUS will enable Britain to have more permanent basing rights for its own nuclear-powered submarines in Australia. This would enable a more sustained naval presence in the Indo-Pacific rather than the fleeting deployment, as at the moment, of a naval group around the Royal Navy’s flagship, HMS Queen Elizabeth.

Nevertheless, the most important benefit of AUKUS for Britain is for what former US President Dwight Eisenhower famously described as the military-industrial complex. A mere two days after AUKUS was announced, the British government awarded two contracts to BAE Systems and Rolls-Royce for initial design work on a new generation of nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarines for the Royal Navy. It makes a great deal of industrial sense to share design costs with a reliable partner-client, i.e., Australia, especially as BAE Systems already has a significant presence there.

Given the issues of technical specifications and industrial capacity mentioned above it would appear that, by default at least, most of the production will occur in the United Kingdom. This would involve a lower level of local production in Adelaide compared to that under the contract with the French. Moreover, the yet-to-be designed class of submarines for Australia would enter service in the 2040s, the same timeframe as that mooted for the British subs. This is a decade after both the next generation of US nuclear-powered hunter-killer submarines, as well as the initially planned entry into service of the conventionally powered submarines envisaged in Australia’s contract with the French. Thus, a major motivation for Britain is in the industrial logic of economies of scale. Such economies would benefit most of all the United Kingdom.

Beyond this understandable industrial logic, there are also electoral concerns that underpin the AUKUS announcement. In his short declaration on Sept. 15 with the US president and his Australian counterpart, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson insisted on the jobs that would be created in his country. He somewhat heavy-handedly insisted these industrial jobs would be created in those poorer, pro-Brexit constituencies in northern England that swung to the conservatives in the 2019 elections, but which cannot be considered as permanent Tory territory.

As European middle powers and important arms manufacturers, France and Britain share a similar approach. While appealing to historic ties, such sales of weaponry are designed to tie the buyer into a degree of international partnership. The difference, however, is that France, unlike Britain, is a resident middle-power in the Indo-Pacific. The French territory of New Caledonia is Australia’s closest eastern neighbor, so in that sense France’s now much-damaged partnership with Australia also has a domestic dimension.

It is therefore not surprising that the loss of the submarine contract has engendered not merely recriminations, but a concerted reevaluation in the last two months of French—and even European—strategy in the Indo-Pacific, and the place of Australia within that framework. It remains to be seen whether Canberra’s decision to throw in its lot with the United States, to the detriment of damaging relations with other partners, is in the county’s national interest.

David Camroux (david.camroux@sciencespo.fr) is an honorary senior research fellow within the Centre for International Studies (CERI) at Sciences Po.

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PacNet #57 – Building on AUKUS to Forge a Pax Pacifica

An earlier version of this article appeared in Real Clear Defense. 

America’s offer to supply British and US nuclear submarine technology to Australia (AUKUS) became a political fact almost instantly. President Biden and prime ministers Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison announced it. Yet, whatever its outcome, if it’s just limited to building subs, it’s unlikely to deter Beijing. To accomplish that and create a real Pax Pacifica, Washington will have to up its ante and forge additional strategic technology collaborations between Japan, South Korea, and Europe.

What will happen if Washington doesn’t? Seoul and Tokyo could go their own way. Having been rebuffed after asking Washington to help it build nuclear submarines in 2020, South Koreans now wonder why Washington just said yes to Australia. Assuming Seoul proceeds with its plans, though, it would squander billions on nuclear submarines unlikely to perform well in the closed and shallow seas that surround Korea. Worse, it would give Seoul a pretext to enrich uranium for its subs with plants that could also produce weapons-grade material for bombs. Japan would hardly stand for this. Count on it, and possibly others, developing additional nuclear weapons options, straining rather than strengthening America’s security ties in the region.

This, however, is hardly inevitable. Washington, Tokyo, Seoul, Canberra, and Europe could create a Pax Pacifica by tightening the nuclear rules and collaborating on new, cutting-edge technological projects. The aim would be to get China to realize that any regional hot war it might threaten in the short run would only further catalyze a larger cool competition against it that it would likely lose.

How might the United States and its allies pull this off? One way, recently suggested by former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, would be to amplify the Australian-UK-US deal’s nonnuclear features—its space cooperation, unmanned underwater warfare systems development, and advanced computing and missile collaboration—and open them up to the participation of Japan, South Korea, and others as appropriate.

Washington also could forge new collaborations. One might be an ROK-French-US (ROKFUS) initiative to build an enhanced space surveillance system that, among other things, could aim to eliminate the blind spots the moon’s brightness creates near it for our ground-based telescopes. France, the hips of the European Space Agency and NATO’s space command, should be interested. So should Seoul, which otherwise is poised to waste billions on unnecessary space launch systems and redundant navigational satellite constellations. Meanwhile, the project’s surveillance system could keep track of Chinese military and civil satellites, including those near the moon, threatening critical US and allied satellites in geostationary orbits.

Another useful project would be to have Germany, as the European Union’s lead, work with Japan and the United States on advanced computer and communications systems that could help could crack codes, secure communications, and open up closed internet systems. This deal (DEJPUS?) could exploit Japan’s, Europe’s and America’s considerable accomplishments in these fields, Japan’s and Germany’s current cooperation on advanced computing, and help assure US and European markets for the systems the undertaking might generate. This, after China’s rush to tap the European 5G market, would be no mean accomplishment. It also could help penetrate Beijing’s Great Firewall, which tracks and censors open communications in and outside China.

These additional initiatives could include additional participants. Their aim would be to reduce Japan’s and South Korea’s incentives to go their own way (or nuclear); encourage Europe’s democracies to engage more deeply with those of the Pacific; and create peaceful counters to Chinese economic, military, and diplomatic forms of intimidation.

Sound too good to ever be true? It may be. Certainly, there’s one question Chinese and Russian critics of AUKUS raise that could make all this stillborn:  Isn’t sharing nuclear submarine technology with Australia directly at odds with reining in nuclear risks? For many, the answer is yes. It ought to be just the opposite.

Former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans has publicly supported AUKUS so long as Australia keeps clear of enriching its own uranium. Scott Morison’s Australia’s Liberal Party, which enjoys a mere one-seat majority in Australia’s House, seems to be listening: Prime Minister Morison recently stated that Canberra does not intend to develop a civilian nuclear program. Even if it did, Australia has no need to enrich uranium or reprocess spent reactor fuels. As such, Australia could follow the UAE and Taiwan’s example by forswearing these activities in its nuclear cooperative agreement with the United States.

This could be done by amending the existing US-Australia nuclear cooperative agreement or 123, which currently prohibits the transfer of any controlled US nuclear technology for any military purpose. Agreeing legally to forgo enriching and reprocessing also has the advantage of short-circuiting nuclear proliferation critics at the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty Review Conference this coming January. Finally, it would help further restrain South Korea, which would like to enrich uranium and reprocess US-origin spent fuel but is prohibited from doing so by its current nuclear cooperative agreement with Washington.

As for concerns regarding highly enriched uranium, which would fuel the subs but could also help make nuclear weapons, both the US Los Angeles and the British Astute-class submarines use this fuel. Their reactor cores, however, do not require refueling for 33 years or more and cannot be serviced without cutting open the hulls. Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom should exploit this by announcing that either the United States or the UK will retain title to the fuel, so Australia will have no need to touch it.

Combine that with a legally binding pledge not to enrich or reprocess and additional American-European strategic technological collaboration with Japan and South Korea, and Washington could set the stage not only for less nuclear proliferation but a Pax Pacifica with real staying power.

Henry Sokolski (henry@npolicy.org) is the executive director of the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center in Arlington, Virginia, and author of Underestimated: Our Not So Peaceful Nuclear Future. He served as deputy for nonproliferation policy in the office of the U.S. Secretary of Defense during the George H.W. Bush administration.

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PacNet #55 – What’s in a word? Calling it “containment” makes a huge difference

Any discussion of US-China relations will, without fail, include Chinese denunciations of America’s mistaken efforts to wage “a new Cold War” against China to check its rise and contain the spread of its influence. The US reply that heightened competition is not containment and attempts to show differences between the two policies are dismissed as empty rhetoric or outright deceptions.

It’s a frustrating conversation because the US policy is to compete with China, not to contain it, and there is a real and important distinction between those two approaches. The problem is that when I began to explore what a real containment strategy would look like—thinking, “that’ll show ‘em!”—it was quickly clear that it’s easy to confuse the two. Even rollback, an aggressive Cold War policy that sought to reverse Soviet influence, can be espied in elements of Western policy toward China.

But it’s critically important to differentiate between clear-eyed competition and blunt-force containment. Competition holds out hope for cooperation and a constructive relationship; containment does not. That hope could make all the difference.

When China looks at the United States, it sees a country increasingly subject to the growing influence of hostile forces. Following the Biden-Xi summit last month, Xinhua noted the Biden administration’s vow “that it does not intend to have a new Cold War with China.” But that grudging concession followed a long complaint about those in Washington who are “still latching onto looking at the world through a zero-sum lens and creating ‘imaginary enemies.’” Those “die-hard zero-summers” “resurrect Cold War metaphors” and reflect “Washington’s deeply ingrained Cold War paranoia.” This “obsolete thinking and entrenched ideological bigotry” is “exactly the way in which the United States once reacted to the Soviet Union’s achievements in the Cold War years.”

The commentary then provided a list of US actions that it says confirm the United States’ hostility to China’s rise. They include formation of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue “to counter China.” Conducting Freedom of Navigation operations and regional war games “to flex its muscles.” Playing the Taiwan card—selling weapons, sending warships through the Taiwan Strait, and strengthening ties—“to disrupt China’s drive for national reunification and development.”

China’s ambassador to the United States Qin Gang added more items to the indictment in recent remarks to the Brookings Institution’s Board of Governors. He denounced plans “to host a Leaders’ Summit for Democracy to throw ideological labels on others, attack those different from them, and refuse to respect and recognize other countries’ development paths.” He rejected attempts to “abuse and overstretch the concept of national security, set up the so-called ‘Clean Network’ and ‘democratic technology alliance,’ and suppress foreign companies without any justifiable grounds.” And he dismissed US efforts to “politicize” the COVID-19 outbreak, contrasting the response to the pandemic—arguing over its origins—with the joint effort by the two countries to halt the 2014 Ebola outbreak in Africa.

It’s easy to lengthen the list of charges: establishing the Australia-UK-US (AUKUS) trilateral security partnership; strengthening US alliances around the region; the campaign to deny Huawei markets around the world; promoting diplomatic campaigns to secure international condemnation of Chinese actions in Hong Kong and Xinjiang; and encouraging a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics that China will host.

Each of those US actions makes sense to me, either as a reaction to Chinese behaviors that threaten US interests or those of its neighbors. From my perspective (and that of many others), US responses are defensive and designed to protect the status quo.

But as Qin countered in his remarks, “what are the rules? Who made these rules? Who are the traffic police?” Beijing looks to the United Nations for authorization for such actions and it has been silent. (A Chinese veto at the Security Council—actual or potential—could have something to do with that.) In that vacuum, US action looks capricious and unilateral.

What is troubling is my effort to contemplate a real containment strategy produced something that looked awfully similar to existing policy. It included the strengthening of security relationships throughout the region, with particular attention to China’s neighbors. The United States would engage in frequent exercises and shows of force to keep China off balance and force it to direct resources to the military. It featured diplomatic campaigns to spotlight Chinese transgressions and vigorous efforts to isolate the country. On the economic front, countries are discouraged from accepting Chinese aid, provided alternatives to those funds, and compelled to deny Chinese companies, its new technology competitors in particular, access to their markets. US companies are also discouraged from investing in or doing business with Chinese counterparts. All were designed to halt the spread of Chinese influence and isolate the country within the international order—to contain it.

The biggest difference would be this strategy’s efforts to undermine stability within China. These initiatives would identify sources of tension and friction in Chinese society and actively work to widen and magnify them. This would be the most aggressive expression of containment and is quite dangerous since it’s hard to mistake it for anything other than what it is: an attempt to destabilize the Chinese Communist Party and promote regime change.

My attempt to differentiate between competition and containment failed. That is frustrating because I genuinely believe—as do virtually all US policymakers and analysts—that US policy is designed to compete, not contain. Even hardline critics of US policy accept that conclusion since they complain that the United States isn’t doing enough to challenge China.

Does it matter? Is it significant that the United States is containing China but doesn’t use that word to describe its policy?

Absolutely. Containment asserts that the Chinese government is fundamentally illegitimate and cannot be given space in the international system. Competition, by contrast, bounds that enmity. By insisting that the United States “will cooperate when it can, compete when it should and confront when it must,” opportunities to work with the world’s second-largest economy and a formidable power are not dismissed out of hand. (The United States occasionally cooperated with the Soviet Union during the Cold War across a narrow range of issues, all directly related to security. There are more issues with which the West can work with China because of entrenched interconnections that never existed in Western-Soviet relations.)

Containment draws sharper, thicker lines between China and the West. It legitimates a wider range of actions, including offensive ones. Those then justify China’s pursuit of its own narrowly framed interests and validates responses that the West has already dismissed and condemned. It reinforces a downward spiral in relations. And since the goal is to contain China, there is little reward for Beijing to moderate its behavior—cooperation is no longer on the table.

Most significantly, containment and its dismissal of cooperation threatens to alienate US allies and partners. Those governments are concerned by Chinese behavior but they are not all in on the hard line. The European Union strategy toward China echoes the current tripartite US approach identifying China as “simultaneously (in different policy areas) a cooperation partner, a negotiation partner, an economic competitor and a systemic rival.” Japan aligns closely with the United States but it too worries about closing the door on relations with China. A shift from competition to containment could fracture the broader coalition of forces that is essential if there is to be any hope of changing the Chinese government’s behavior.

It isn’t clear if China cares one way or another. In one moment, Chinese interlocutors call for changes in US declaratory policy—such as accepting “mutual vulnerability” or adopting a no-first use policy. In the next, they dismiss US rhetoric as empty talk, highlighting gaps in words and its actions. Ironically, in the next breath, they ask—in some cases demand—that those countries accept its own assertions of benign intent, and ignore all material changes in Chinese capabilities, as well as any steps that it has taken that undercut its professions of goodwill and desire for peaceful coexistence.

The Chinese are right about one thing: trust is in short supply. While there is blame enough to go around, the failure to recognize their part in that downward spiral guarantees continued deterioration.

Brad Glosserman (brad@pacforum.org) is deputy director of and visiting professor at the Center for Rule-Making Strategies at Tama University as well as senior adviser (nonresident) at Pacific Forum. He is the author of “Peak Japan: The End of Great Ambitions” (Georgetown University Press, 2019).

PacNet #53 – What should Washington expect from US-China strategic stability talks?

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said that US President Joe Biden proposed strategic stability talks to Chinese Chairman Xi Jinping during their virtual meeting on Nov. 15 and that “the two leaders agreed that we would look to begin to carry forward discussions on strategic stability.”

The United States has long sought such discussions with China, but Beijing has invariably declined, arguing that “conditions are not ripe” because the US nuclear arsenal is much larger than China’s. Yet while promising that it would stick to “minimum deterrence” (codewords for a small nuclear force), Beijing has been growing its arsenal and, per recent evidence, this growth is advancing much faster than anticipated, with no end in sight.

If strategic stability talks take place, what should Washington expect?

The findings of unofficial US-China meetings offer insights. In the absence of official strategic stability talks, these meetings were, for a long time, the only game in town. They stopped as the broader US-China relationship deteriorated, but some have resumed recently, and they provide important lessons for Washington. I offer five here.

Lesson #1: Expect to be blamed

Beijing will air grievances and appear largely dismissive to US (and allied) concerns. Beijing justifies its military build-up by pointing to “US aggressive moves,” including efforts to build a coalition of democracies against China. Washington will hear criticisms of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and the Australia, United Kingdom, and United States (AUKUS) pact, Beijing’s new bête noire. US explanations that Beijing’s actions have triggered those developments will fall on deaf ears, and Washington will be told to be “more rational” and to abandon its “Cold-War mentality” and its quest for “absolute security.”

Of course, Beijing will also accuse Washington of changing its policy vis-à-vis Taiwan, notably by deploying troops there and by suggesting that the United States has defense commitments with Taipei.

As a result, while Beijing will say that it wants to improve the bilateral relationship, it will not articulate specific actions China should take to that end. For Beijing, the United States has destabilized the relationship and therefore the responsibility for stabilizing it rests on Washington.

Lesson #2: Expect challenges to insulate the nuclear dimension from broader competition

Beijing will express rhetorical support for attempts to insulate the nuclear dimension of the relationship from competitive dynamics in broader US-China relations, but it will also stress that such dynamics make it difficult for China not to compete in the nuclear domain.

Beijing will insist that it is not a “revisionist state,” unlike the United States, which has withdrawn from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) and Open Skies treaties, is developing low-yield nuclear weapons, and is refusing to cooperate on peaceful nuclear uses. For Beijing, these actions “prove” that the United States is not sincere about strategic stability and, after AUKUS, nonproliferation.

Still, Beijing will stress that China and the United States should commit to never fighting a war, especially a nuclear war. Expect reference to the Reagan-Gorbachev 1985 statement that “a nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought” and a push for China and the United States to issue a similar statement.

Beijing, however, will go on to say that the chances of war will decrease if the United States refrains from deploying missile defenses or INF-range missiles in the Indo-Pacific. Read: Problems will go away if the United States lets China dominate the region. When Washington refuses and cites alliance commitments (which allies want strengthened because they fear China), Beijing will use this as evidence of US “nuclear aggressiveness.”

Lesson #3: Expect major disagreements over nuclear plans and strategies

Beijing will be angered that China is—will be—a major focus of the key US strategic reviews, notably the Nuclear Posture Review.

Beijing will dismiss US claims that China is now a US “nuclear near-peer” due to qualitative and quantitative force improvements, and possible posture change (to launch-under-attack). It will object that Chinese modernization complicates US-Russia nuclear reductions. It will reject arguments that the United States might consider building its arsenal back up (because it now has two major nuclear-armed adversaries, Russia and China) and that in response to requests from US allies, it might focus extended deterrence on China, not just North Korea.

Beijing will also reject the idea that it is politically impossible for Washington to acknowledge US-China mutual vulnerability—a goal that China has long sought. It will dismiss the charge that the apparent scope and scale of the Chinese build-up (and its open-endedness) suggests that China has given up on nuclear stability with the United States.

Instead, Beijing will maintain that Chinese nuclear strategy remains consistent and continues to be based on the same principles it laid out after it exploded its first nuclear device in 1964. These include the development of a small nuclear force and its use strictly for deterrence purposes, not warfighting. Beijing will stress that Chinese modernization aims solely to ensure that its forces remain survivable, and it will point to its no-first-use policy as the best example of China’s restraint. Beijing will dismiss “US media and think-tank speculations” about Chinese nuclear activities but insist that modernization is essential because China faces a “grave threat” from the United States.

Beijing will express skepticism over US claims that Washington has maintained a restrained posture in the Indo-Pacific, and that US missile defenses are limited. It will point to the US intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance technologies, arguing that China does not worry just about US firepower, but is also concerned by the US ability to search, locate, and neutralize Chinese forces.

Lessons #4: Expect crisis management to have potential

Beijing will reject limits on, let alone reduction of, its strategic weapons, but support efforts to avoid or manage crises and escalation. In other words, arms control is out, and crisis management is in.

Beijing may agree to a “multi-tiered crisis management dialogue” where the two countries define “basic principles” and explain perspectives on issues that concern the other. For instance, that could translate into the United States providing information about its damage-limitation and left-of-launch strategies in exchange for China explaining its co-location of nuclear and conventional systems.

Beijing may also agree to improve implementation of existing crisis management mechanisms, strengthen them, and develop new ones, especially those that address risks in the space and cyber domains, and with artificial intelligence. Beijing may support establishment of an emergency management office. Of course, also expect Beijing to say that a US-China no-first-use policy would reduce the odds of a crisis and, in the event of a crisis, decrease the risks of nuclear escalation.

Cooperation will not be smooth, however. Beijing will warn that a “lack of trust” between the two countries is an impediment to progress and charge Washington with creating “the conditions of cooperation.” Consistent with Lesson #1—that problems in the relationship are the fault of the United States—it will call out Washington for “creating crises with China or near Chinese territory” and demanding that Beijing manage them. Beijing may also make “issue linkages,” saying Chinese cooperation on crisis management will be difficult without US “flexibility” on trade, technology, or another issue.

Lesson #5: Expect cooperation on some non-bilateral nuclear issues

Beijing will show interest in joint work on nuclear security. It will want to engage with Washington to advance the multilateral arms control and nonproliferation regimes, including the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty, International Atomic Energy Agency, Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, and Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Beijing will also voice support for US-China efforts to address proliferation crises, but cooperation will remain limited. For instance, while recognizing that North Korea is a problem, Beijing will assert that it can be solved if the United States offered “reasonable security guarantees” to Pyongyang, granted sanctions relief, and normalized US-North Korea relations. Short of that, Beijing will continue to argue that the United States is the problem and confirm the suspicion that it is “using North Korea to justify its regional alliances.”

Bottom line: Keep expectations low and get ready for the long haul

Washington, then, should have low expectations for US-China strategic stability talks. Profound differences and disagreements mean that discussions will be difficult and frustrating, and it will take time to produce deliverables.

Focusing on crisis management shows some promise, however, and joint work on non-bilateral issues may help build a framework for cooperation. In any case, broad “strategic nuclear” engagement has stronger odds of success than narrow nuclear work. Talks should include nuclear weapons, conventional weapons, missile defense, and emerging technologies and domains that have or could have an impact on bilateral strategic stability.

Finally, to perform well, Washington should ramp up expertise in this area, both inside and outside the US government. It needs more experts who understand both China and strategic stability. This should receive its full attention.

David Santoro (david@pacforum.org) is President and CEO of the Pacific Forum. He is the editor of US-China Nuclear Relations: The Impact of Strategic Triangles (Lynne Rienner, May 2021). Follow him on Twitter @DavidSantoro1

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.

Issues & Insights Vol. 21, CR 3 — US-Taiwan Deterrence and Defense Dialogue: Dealing with Increased Chinese Aggressiveness

INTRODUCTION

Taiwan needs much stronger friendships and more support, particularly from the United States, to counter Chinese moves and enhance deterrence of, and its defense potential against, Beijing. This is urgent because Taiwan no longer holds the qualitative advantage it once had over China’s People’s Liberation Army (PLA).

The United States supports a strong, resilient, and democratic Taiwan capable of maintaining its autonomy and ability to counter coercion and defend itself from any source, especially from China. Absent this, Washington’s widely shared vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific would be permanently undermined.

It is clear, therefore, that the United States and Taiwan should step up their joint work and strengthen their security relationship, and it is critical that they do so expeditiously. At the same time, from a US perspective, it is important not to embolden Taipei or exceedingly raise its expectations about the US role to deter and defend against Beijing. While Washington has an interest in strengthening the island’s deterrence and defense potential vis-à-vis Beijing, it also does not want to encourage Taipei to become belligerent toward Beijing. Engagement, therefore, involves striking a tough balance, and many topics to that effect remain difficult—and much too sensitive—to address and discuss at the official level, particularly when it comes to deterrence and defense questions.

To this end, the Pacific Forum, in partnership with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and in cooperation with the Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR), organized the inaugural Track 2[1]  US-Taiwan Deterrence and Defense Dialogue. The dialogue aimed to: initiate a discussion between the United States and Taiwan on deterrence and defense, and produce actionable and operationally relevant recommendations for policy; and to build a community of senior and young, up-and-coming officials and strategists well-versed in these issues both in the United States and Taiwan.

On Aug. 31-Sept. 1, 2021, more than 80 scholars, experts, and former and current government officials (the latter in their private capacities) from the United States and Taiwan convened for the inaugural Track 2 US-Taiwan Deterrence and Defense Dialogue in a hybrid format[2] (in Honolulu, and with participants joining virtually) to examine growing Chinese assertiveness vis-a-vis Taiwan and its impact on Taiwan’s security and Taiwan-US relations. Topics for discussion included US and Taiwan comparative threat assessments focused on the near-, mid-, and long-term threat posed by China toward Taiwan; Taiwanese and US defense policy plans, goals, and priorities; an examination of the whole spectrum of US strategic and conventional deterrence and defense, from gray-zone challenges to high-end contingencies; domestic attitudes in Taiwan and the United States and their impact on national decision-making; and the prospects for future cooperation aimed at strengthening deterrence without undermining the prospects for cross-Strait stability. The dialogue’s agenda underwent extensive pre-dialogue “socialization” with key stakeholders from both the United States and Taiwan to ensure that topics for discussions and eventual actionable recommendations generated were relevant to the national security interests and priorities of both countries.

The discussions, held under the Chatham House rule, were candid and cordial with the common purpose of improving Taiwan-US defense cooperation and enhancing Taiwan’s ability to defend itself. Disagreements existed on a number of issues both within and between the two delegations but the discussion, while frank and direct, was respectful and insightful. The recommendations contained in this report, unless otherwise specifically noted, were generated by the discussions as interpreted by this author. Both the agenda and participant list are included in the appendix; 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 sponsor, or the dialogue participants’ respective organizations and affiliations. For questions, please email Ralph@pacforum.org.

[1] Track 2 dialogues are conferences and workshops that bring together subject-matter experts, academics, policy analysts and, on certain occasions, unofficial representatives from governments, to discuss thematic issues and generate insights and nonbinding recommendations. Participants in track 2 dialogues are invited in their private capacity.

[2] In keeping with State of Hawaii COVID protocols, two back-to-back conference rooms were set up and video linked, each containing no more than 10 participants at any one time; the remaining participants, both in Honolulu and elsewhere, participated via WebEx, in strict compliance with State of Hawaii safety regulations.

Click here to download the full report. 

 

PacNet #48 – New Zealand and AUKUS: Affected without being included

Seventy years ago Australia and New Zealand cut a deal with the United States. In exchange for accepting Washington’s generous peace agreement with Tokyo while they were still concerned about Japan’s intentions, Canberra and Wellington got a security treaty. A side-deal, at America’s insistence, was that the new alliance would not include the United Kingdom. Even the legendary UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill, who had returned to 10 Downing Street before the Australia, New Zealand, United States Security Treaty (or ANZUS) went into effect, was unable to get the United Kingdom added to the threesome.

In 2021 the Australia-United Kingdom-United States (AUKUS) security pact appears to have turned the tables. This time the United Kingdom is one of three, alongside Australia and the United States, and it is New Zealand’s turn to be left out. As the feelings of surprise wear off, some New Zealand commentators have found an easy explanation for their country’s exclusion. AUKUS means that Australia was in line to get nuclear-propelled submarines. New Zealand couldn’t belong because of its nuclear-free policy, which includes propulsionin addition to weapons.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern appeared to confirm this hypothesis. While signalling her government’s support for “the increased engagement of the UK and US in the region,” she also confirmed that nuclear-powered Australian submarines would not be permitted to operate in New Zealand’s internal waters (i.e., within the 12-nautical-mile zone).

But there are other, more convincing explanations. First, New Zealand isn’t in the submarine operating game. When (and if) the new subsurface vessels arrive, they will join a list of Australian commitments to advanced maritime combat capabilities for which New Zealand has no equivalents. The existing (conventionally propelled) Collins Class submarines, Air Warfare Destroyers, and Joint Strike Fighters are three other examples of this long-standing trend. New Zealand isn’t in the same capability league that Australia is set to play in with its two AUKUS partners. From a military technological standpoint, it would have made more sense to include Japan or the Republic of Korea than to contemplate a place for New Zealand.

Second, AUKUS will enhance Australia’s already extensive military integration with US forces. That’s a position only a very active ally of the United States could occupy. For the United Kingdom, another close US ally, AUKUS helps build London’s Indo-Pacific and trans-Atlantic credentials after Brexit. It’s true that New Zealand has been enjoying much warmer security relations with Washington since deploying forces to Afghanistan after 9/11.  There is the Five Eyes relationship as well. But formal ANZUS alliance relations between the United States and New Zealand have been suspended for more than three decades.

Third, AUKUS represents an elevated commitment among its three members, and especially between the United States and Australia, to confront China’s growing power in maritime East Asia. Any nuclear-powered submarines based in Australia, whether leased or owned by Canberra, will be an intrinsic part of a US-led order of battle for missions focused on China’s People’s Liberation Army. Concerns about China’s impact on regional stability have been growing in New Zealand’s national security community for much of the past decade. But Wellington still wants some separation from US-led efforts to treat China as an adversary, and from Canberra’s most strident criticisms of Beijing.

AUKUS would be a step too far in that context. But that’s still where the rub will hit New Zealand. Since the ANZUS crisis with Washington in the mid-1980s, governments in Wellington have come to see Australia as New Zealand’s one and only formal military ally. Their major statements of defense policy routinely include a commitment to respond should Australia come under armed attack. This does not mean that wherever Australia goes, New Zealand is bound to follow, but it does mean that Australia’s defense policy has an oversized impact on New Zealand’s choices.

Even before any new submarines arrive on the other side of the Tasman Sea (and they could be nearly two decades away), AUKUS could bring more of the US competition with China closer to New Zealand’s neck of the woods. There will be a greater presence of US warfighting platforms and personnel at Australian bases and ports. There is likely to be an even deeper integration of warning and strategic intelligence systems. More Australian targets are likely to feature in China’s war plans. Year by year New Zealand’s alliance commitment to the defense of Australia will carry bigger implications.

Wellington’s public expressions of alliance unity across the Tasman don’t entertain coming to Australia’s aid in a great power conflict further north. But this doesn’t necessarily forestall the possibility of an unwanted entanglement. When Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison was in Queenstown for a May summit with Ardern, he was asked what his government would expect from New Zealand if Australia got caught up in a war over the South China Sea or Taiwan. He indicated the answer lay in the ANZUS Treaty.

Australia’s latest partnership may give New Zealand’s extra reason to be concerned about Canberra’s approach to China in East Asian hotspots. Barely a day after the AUKUS announcement, Australia’s Foreign and Defence Ministers were in Washington for their annual AUSMIN meeting with US counterparts. The resulting statement broke new ground for US-Australian expressions of support for Taiwan. In a television interview conducted while he was still in Washington, and which was reported in one of New Zealand’s leading newspapers, Peter Dutton intimated that Australia would follow the lead of its US ally in the event that China sought to absorb Taiwan.

A few days later, New Zealand Minister of Foreign Affairs Nanaia Mahuta refused to be drawn in by a New Zealand journalist on Taiwan hypotheticals involving China, the United States, and Australia. But she emphasised New Zealand’s close relationships with traditional partners and noted that New Zealand vessels were presently exercising in East Asian waters. In a later write up, the New Zealand Defence Force explained that it had been operating “in the South East Asia region for decades as part of bilateral and regional defence engagement,” including with its partners in the [50-year-old] Five Power Defence Arrangements. But this was no ordinary trip. The NZDF also indicatedthat New Zealand forces had been working “off Guam” alongside the United Kingdom’s Carrier Strike Group led by the (conventionally powered) HMS Queen Elizabeth and had been exercising and training with US carrier battle groups led by the nuclear-propelled USS Ronald Reagan and USS Carl Vinson).

How do you stay connected but retain autonomy? Ardern’s government argues that New Zealand sees AUKUS through a “Pacific” lens, intimating some separation from the great power competition which the new partnership intensifies. While New Zealand now refers to its wider region in Indo-Pacific terms, Ardern’s definitive speech on the subject emphasized inclusiveness, multilateralism, and regional cooperation. But Wellington doesn’t get to write the region’s overall narrative. All manner of interpretations and connections will be made by others when the atmosphere is feverish. Bit by bit, New Zealand is getting closer to the flame. It doesn’t have to be a member to be affected by the bow waves that are likely to grow now that AUKUS is here.

Robert Ayson (robert.ayson@vuw.ac.nz) is Professor of Strategic Studies at Victoria University of Wellington.

PacNet commentaries and responses represent the views of the respective authors. Alternative viewpoints are always welcomed and encouraged. Click here to request a PacNet subscription.

Issues & Insights Vol. 21, CR 2 — The United States and Indonesia: Re-converging Security Interests in the Indo-Pacific

About this Report

Pacific Forum, with support from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and in collaboration with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies Indonesia (CSIS), organized the inaugural Track 2 U.S.-Indonesia Security Dialogue on June 1-3, 2021. Thought leaders from the United States and Indonesia, 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. Both the agenda and participant list are included in the appendix; 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 jeffrey@pacforum.org.


Key Findings and Recommendations: U.S.-Indonesia Security Dialogue

The United States and Indonesia, the world’s second and third largest democracies, form a consequential relationship in the Indo-Pacific. However, despite common values and shared interests, U.S.-Indonesia relations have yet to realize their full potential, especially on the security front. Many strategic imperatives should drive closer U.S. security engagements with Indonesia. These include Jakarta’s leadership role in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and other key regional institutions, its outsized role in promoting the security of vital sea-lines of communications and trading routes, its location as the archipelagic nation connecting the Pacific and Indian Oceans, its shared interest with the United States in countering violent extremism and other trans-national threat networks, and its activist and independent foreign policy. These realities, when leveraged, can facilitate a more coordinated and effective response to a multitude of geopolitical, economic, and security challenges in the region, and can advance the United States’ Indo-Pacific vision.

The Biden Administration has made clear that the Indo-Pacific is a “top priority,” an enduring theme through several U.S. administrations. U.S. officials have also stressed that the United States will seek to “build a united front of U.S. allies and partners to confront China’s abusive behaviors and human rights violations.” While this framing alone is unlikely to generate in-depth Indonesian cooperation, Jakarta is interested in working with the United States to stand up to China when needed and take a leading role in ensuring Southeast Asia’s strategic autonomy.

To this end, Pacific Forum, with support from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and in collaboration with the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS Indonesia), organized the inaugural Track 2 U.S.-Indonesia Security Dialogue on June 1-3, 2021. The dialogue was aimed at building a body of knowledge on the bilateral security relations that DTRA and other interested U.S. Government agencies could use to conduct better military engagements, and provide a more responsive and complementary capacity-building, with greater impact to improve deterrence. The organized panels were aimed at increasing awareness and understanding in Indonesia and in the United States of the two countries’ converging and diverging interests, defense and foreign policy doctrines, and views on key regional and global security issues. Doing so would achieve:

  1. increased awareness and understanding in the United States about Indonesian thinking related to regional security issues such as maritime security threats brought about by China’s expansive claims and assertiveness; nonproliferation; and nuclear security;
  2. increased awareness among Indonesian policy circles of U.S. security priorities related to the Indo- Pacific in general, and Indonesia and Southeast Asia in particular. In sum, these new expert insights and contextual recommendations advance the security relations of the two countries.

The dialogue’s agenda underwent extensive pre-dialogue “socialization” with key stakeholders from both the United States and Indonesia to ensure that topics for discussions and eventual actionable recommendations generated are relevant to the national security interests and priorities of both countries.

The recommendations contained in this report, unless otherwise specifically noted, were generated by the discussions as interpreted by the Principal Investigators. Both the agenda and participant list are included in the appendix; all participants attended in their private capacity.


Click here to download the full report. 

Issues & Insights Vol. 21, CR1 — The United States and Viet Nam: Charting the Next 25 Years in Bilateral Security Relations

About this Report

Pacific Forum, with support from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and in collaboration with the Diplomatic Academy of Viet Nam (DAV), organized the inaugural Track 2 U.S.-Viet Nam Security Dialogue on May 18-20, 2021. Strategic thinkers from the United States and Viet Nam, 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. Both the agenda and participant list are included in the appendix; 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 jeffrey@pacforum.org.


Key Findings and Recommendations: U.S.-Viet Nam Security Dialogue 

Washington and Hanoi left behind their past as Cold War adversaries and upgraded their relations into a comprehensive partnership in 2013. The relationship has since flourished considerably and rapidly. The next logical step is to elevate the relationship into a strategic partnership, i.e., a deepened security engagement. That process has already begun, but more work is needed, and urgently, given the increasingly tense situation in the South China Sea. The region continues to face growing security challenges – from irredentist claims and blatant sidestepping of the rule of law in many of the region’s maritime spaces, to the threat of pandemics and cybersecurity. So far, most Track 2 U.S. engagements with Viet Nam have centered on issues pertaining to development, empowerment, and historical reconciliation. The time is now ripe for a security-focused dialogue involving the two countries’ top strategic thinkers to build on current gains, underscore opportunities for deeper defense cooperation, generate sound and actionable policy and operational recommendations, and highlight the importance of a tighter partnership to the peace and stability of Southeast Asia and the broader region.

To this end, Pacific Forum, with support from the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA) and in collaboration with the Diplomatic Academy of Viet Nam (DAV), organized the inaugural Track 2 U.S.-Viet Nam Security Dialogue on May 18-20, 2021. The dialogue was aimed at building a body of knowledge on U.S.–Viet Nam security relations that DTRA and other interested U.S. Government agencies could use to conduct better military engagements, and provide a more responsive and complementary capacity-building, with greater impact to improve deterrence.

Moreover, the organized panel sessions were aimed at increasing awareness and understanding in Viet Nam and in the United States of the two countries’ post-Cold War security cooperation, and increasingly aligned strategic interests. Doing so would promote understanding of regional security issues with implications for bilateral relations through:

  • Increased awareness and understanding in the United States about Vietnamese thinking related to regional security issues such as maritime security threats brought about by China’s expansive claims and assertiveness, cybersecurity, nonproliferation, and economic security.
  • Increased awareness among Vietnamese policy circles of U.S. security priorities related to the Indo-Pacific in general, and Viet Nam and Southeast Asia in particular.

In sum, these new expert insights and contextual recommendations advance the security relations of the two countries.

Strategic thinkers from the United States and Viet Nam, including scholars, policy experts, and retired military and government officials participated in the dialogue. The dialogue’s agenda underwent extensive pre-dialogue “socialization” with key stakeholders from both the United States and Viet Nam to ensure that topics for discussions and eventual actionable recommendations generated are relevant to the national security interests and priorities of both countries.

The recommendations contained in this report, unless otherwise specifically noted, were generated by the discussions as interpreted by the Principal Investigators. Both the agenda and participant list are included in the appendix; all participants attended in their private capacity.


Click here to download the full report.