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Defense & Security
Group of Chinese army soldiers in uniform lining up in Tiananmen

China’s Military Buildup: the Biggest Since 1945?

by Greg Austin

The Australian government asserts that China’s military buildup is the largest of any country in post-war history. Their threat perception is overblown. The Australian government claims that China has made the biggest military buildup of any country since 1945. The statement is contained in the 2023 Strategic Review: “China’s military build-up is now the largest and most ambitious of any country since the end of the Second World War.” The claim has been repeated in several media interviews by the Defence Minister Richard Marles in Australia and overseas. Such claims are hard to pin down since analysing them throws up different possible methods for assessing a buildup, let alone its ambition. Nevertheless, on the basis of a normal interpretation of “biggest military buildup” since 1945, the dubious honour falls to the USSR in the 23-year period from 1962 (the Cuban missile crisis) to 1985 when it was engaged in global confrontation with the United States and military confrontation with China on their mutual border. If we compare the surge we saw in the USSR in that 23-year period with the surge in China’s buildup in a similar time span, between 2000-2023, the conclusion is stark. China’s build up is not only smaller in terms of comparative growth rates in key categories of military capability (nuclear warheads, intercontinental missiles, submarines, and principal surface combatants), but the end point in numbers arrived by China at the end of its 23-year buildup are far smaller than those achieved by the USSR in 1985. For example, the USSR had 40,000 nuclear warheads in 1985 and China in 2023 has only 500. The USSR in 1985 had ten times the number of intercontinental and sea-launched nuclear ballistic missiles as China does today. China is currently engaged in a modernisation and likely expansion of its forces in coming years, but the comparison over 23 years between China (2002-2025) and the Soviet period (1962-1985) would not change significantly. For the time being, however, the claim by the Australian government would not appear to be borne out by the facts. There is another contender to join the ranks ahead of China in the record for the biggest military buildup since 1945, and that is the United States in the 23 years from 1949 to 1972. This period began just after the start of the Cold War in 1948, the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty in 1949, and the victory of Communist Forces in the Chinese Civil War in the same year. In that period, the US fought two major local wars: in Korea and in Vietnam. The end point of this period is marked by détente between the US and both the USSR and China, and the US-Soviet strategic arms limitation agreements. Table 1 below offers a comparison of numbers for selected categories of military platforms and for nuclear warheads at the end point of the three different buildups over the selected 23-year periods. The data shows that China cannot claim to have the biggest military buildup since 1945, and that it sits well behind the USSR and the US in that effort. Table 1: Platform numbers at the end-point of the buildup US 1972, USSR 1985, CHINA 2023. Source*     US 1972 USSR 1985 PRC 2023 ICBM 1,000 1,396 350 SLBM  656 983 72 N-Warheads  26,516 ~40,000 ~500 Strategic Submarines (SSB or SSBN)  41 70 6 Attack Submarines (SSK and SSN)  94 206 53 Aircraft Carriers  17 3 2 Principal Surface Combatants  242 280 97 Bomber ACFT  455 847 500 Tactical Combat ACFT  7,560 6,300 2,394 Tanks  9,434 52,600 4,200 Artillery  6,318 39,000 7,600   The government’s intent in using the phrase “biggest military buildup” in connection with China is to imply it is the biggest military or strategic threat that Australia and its allies have faced since 1945. This implication is reinforced by the equally questionable claim by the prime minister and many officials over several years that Australia faces its most challenging strategic environment since 1945. This proposition is as easily contradicted by the facts as the claim about biggest military buildup, as analysed in my critique in the journal of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, under the title, “Australia’s Drums of War” published in 2021. China poses clear threats to Australian strategic and military interests, but the pace and scale of its military buildup have only been modest compared with the two historical examples cited. The categories selected for Table 1 relate primarily to China’s capability to project power well beyond its coastal areas and beyond Taiwan. That set of categories used is one often seen in comparisons of national military capabilities in the broad. In contrast, there are categories of platforms where the buildup has been more rapid and consequential, such as in dual-use (conventional or nuclear) intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBM) and smaller ships (corvettes) and patrol craft. Yet these capabilities relate almost entirely to coastal areas or near sea areas, especially for localised contingencies involving Taiwan and/or Japan. The rapid expansion of these lighter and smaller maritime forces and the large number of IRBMs for localised contingencies is what Australia and its allies need to address. In particular, the expansion of the number of smaller patrol craft would be a particularly powerful enabler for unconventional scenarios of strategic pressure by China on Taiwan. It is doubtful that the exaggeration of China’s general military buildup is helpful in achieving that focus. China has good options for irregular operations and subversion against Taiwan that it will almost certainly take before risking a major military confrontation with the US and its allies. *Data is not fully consistent in different sources. For China, the data in Table 1 is based on the US Dept of Defence, “Military and Security Developments in the People’s Republic of China,” October, 2023. Data for the USSR is based on Department of Defense, “Soviet Military Power 1986,” 1986. Data for the US is based on several official US documents. These include ‘The Joint Chiefs of Staff and National Military Policy 1969-72,” 2013; Naval History and Heritage Command, “US Ship Force Levels 1886-Present,” undated; US Dept of State, “Transparency in the US Nuclear Weapons Stockpile,” undated; and Congressional Research Service, “US/Soviet Military Balance Statistical Trends’ 1970-1980,” October 1981. The author has also consulted IISS, “The Military Balance 1973,” 1973. Note that the census date for these various sources is not always clear but the author has assumed them to refer to platform holdings during the year indicated in Table 1 even if the publication date is the year following.

Defense & Security
Bomb with the Flag of North Korea

Nuclear tensions on the Korean Peninsula set to worsen in 2024

by Alistair Burnett

2024 looks set to be an even more perilous year than 2023 on the Korean Peninsula as nuclear threat and counter threat have escalated even further since the beginning of January. On New Year’s Day, South Korea’s defence ministry repeated previous threats to destroy the North Korean “regime” if it uses nuclear weapons. This was a response to North Korean leader, Kim Jong Un’s speech the day before in which he told his military to prepare for possible war. Since then, Kim has said he has given up on the idea of peaceful reunification with South Korea designating it a hostile state and again warned of possible war. In the past week alone, Kim has called for a change in the constitution to designate Seoul as Pyongyang’s “primary foe” and a confidence building military agreement with the South agreed in 2018 has started to fall apart as the South Korean armed forces resumed frontline aerial surveillance in the wake of North Korean artillery exercises near a South Korean island on the maritime border between the two states. The expected change in the constitution of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea’s official name) follows an amendment last year that enshrined nuclear weapons in it. This week has also seen the North testing what it says is a solid-fuelled hypersonic missile and an underwater nuclear drone in response to what some observers say is the largest ever joint naval exercise between South Korea, the United States and Japan. Analysts believe Pyongyang is developing both so-called strategic and tactical nuclear weapons in order to deter the US which is committed to use nuclear weapons in South Korea’s defence. North Korea has been testing more and more advanced ballistic missiles and warheads, some with the range to reach the US and has also said it is developing ship-launched cruise missiles, while the Americans have been mounting repeated shows of force including military exercises using nuclear-capable aircraft and the visit of a nuclear-armed submarine to South Korea. Last year, the US and South Korea agreed to increase their cooperation on the planning for the use of nuclear weapons following earlier statements by South Korean President, Yoon Suk Yeol, that suggested Seoul might develop its own nuclear weapons. Yoon has since cooled talk of acquiring nuclear weapons, but the debate continues in policy circles. Another escalatory move has been increasing military cooperation between the US, South Korea, and Japan, which also endorses the use of American nuclear weapons in its defence. In the light of this, some analysts see the Korean Peninsula as the most dangerous nuclear flashpoint in a world that currently has no shortage of conflict involving nuclear-armed states in Ukraine and Gaza. Alicia Sanders-Zakre, ICAN’s Policy and Research Coordinator, called for restraint on all sides: “Inflammatory nuclear rhetoric and threats, accompanied by military exercises and weapons tests, ramp up tensions and bring us closer to the brink of catastrophe. All nuclear-armed states, including North Korea and the US, as well as those allied on nuclear policies, such as Japan and South Korea, need to take urgent steps to de-escalate tensions and to break free from the dangerous doctrine of nuclear deterrence. Joining the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons is a crucial step to delegitimise nuclear deterrence and eliminate nuclear weapons.” North Korea uses the same justification for its actions as the US, and the other declared nuclear-armed states. Just like Washington, Pyongyang says it is committed to disarmament, but argues the security threats it faces mean it needs nuclear weapons to deter its enemies. The doctrine of deterrence is based on the threat to use nuclear weapons with all the catastrophic consequences that would entail for the whole world. As the states parties to the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons (TPNW) declared at their recent meeting in New York: “the renewed advocacy, insistence on and attempts to justify nuclear deterrence as a legitimate security doctrine gives false credence to the value of nuclear weapons for national security and dangerously increases the risk of horizontal and vertical nuclear proliferation.” The TPNW is growing in strength and has just welcomed its 70th state party while a further 27 countries are signatories. These states recognise that the total elimination of nuclear weapons is a global imperative and they are showing responsible leadership by championing the treaty as the best way to end the existential threat posed by nuclear weapons.

Defense & Security
Map of the Korean Peninsula

Precarious Year Ahead for the Korean Peninsula

by Bruce Klingner

SUMMARY The Korean Peninsula seems always to be on the knife edge of calamity. North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal, its more threatening language, and the potential for more provocative and aggressive actions are a volatile combination. Overreacting to Pyongyang’s inflammatory threatening language is dangerous, but so is dismissing potential signals of a resumption of deadly tactical attacks. Indications are that this year will be even busier for Korea watchers who long ago learned to keep both a pot of coffee and a bottle of scotch nearby to deal with the inevitable crises. KEY TAKEAWAYS 1. North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal, its more threatening language, and the potential for more provocative and aggressive actions are a volatile combination. 2. Overreacting to Pyongyang’s inflammatory threatening language is dangerous, but so is dismissing potential signals of a resumption of deadly tactical attacks. 3. Reducing the potential for invasion while increasing transparency with respect to military forces can reduce the potential for miscalculation and a military clash. It appears that 2024 is going to be a year for greater North Korean provocations, heightened tensions, and increased potential for tactical military clashes along the inter-Korean border. Pyongyang’s rhetoric and military posture have become more threatening, and the regime recently abandoned a military tension-reduction agreement with Seoul. That said, Pyongyang is unlikely to start a major war with South Korea and the United States deliberately. In other words, put your helmets on, but there’s no need to get under the desk just yet. More Bombastic and Threatening Rhetoric During major speeches in December 2023 and January, North Korean “Supreme Leader” Kim Jong-un described the Korean Peninsula as being “on the brink of a nuclear war” and called on his military to accelerate preparations for “a great event to suppress the whole territory of South Korea by mobilizing all physical means and forces including nuclear forces.”1 Kim warned that North Korea “does not want war, but we also have no intention of avoiding it” and that a “physical clash can be caused and escalated even by a slight accidental factor in the area along the Military Demarcation Line.”2 Kim Yo-jong, Kim Jong-un’s powerful sister, declared similarly that “the safety catch of [the] trigger of the Korean People's Army (KPA) had already been slipped” and that Pyongyang “will launch an immediate military strike if the enemy makes even a slight provocation.”3 Kim Jong-un also abandoned decades of North Korean policy seeking reconciliation and reunification with South Korea, instead describing inter-Korean relations as now being between “two hostile and belligerent states.”4 This declaration is particularly noteworthy because Kim is implicitly criticizing the unification policy of both his grandfather Kim Il-sung and his father Kim Jong-il. Such blasphemous remarks coming from anyone else would have immediate and dire consequences. To emphasize the new policy, Kim disbanded all government agencies devoted to relations with South Korea and demolished the massive monument to Korean unification that had been commissioned by his father Kim Jong-il, describing it as an “eyesore.”5 North Korea backed up its diatribes with artillery fire along the naval boundary off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula. Pyongyang fired a total of 350 shells during three consecutive days in early January, and South Korea responded by firing 400 artillery rounds. While all shells remained on each country’s side of the disputed Northern Limit Line that delineates the de facto maritime border between the two Koreas, they did land in the former buffer zone created by the 2018 inter-Korean Comprehensive Military Agreement. That bilateral risk-reduction accord had proscribed artillery fire and military drills near the border area. Pyongyang’s nullification of the agreement in November 2023 will return armed North and South Korean troops back to closer contact. Seoul announced that it would resume army, navy, and Marine Corps live-fire artillery drills and regiment-level field maneuvers within five kilometers of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ).6 North Korea’s belligerent declarations, along with escalating provocations, may be intended to influence both the April 10 South Korean National Assembly election and the November U.S. presidential election. However, such actions would more likely affirm pre-existing progressive and conservative views rather than they would to induce any voters to change sides. Inexorably Growing Military Threat North Korea has been on a multi-year binge of testing and deploying improved nuclear-capable systems that can target South Korea, Japan, and the continental United States. Most recently, Pyongyang successfully launched a solid-fueled ICBM, a solid-fueled intermediate-range missile with a hypersonic maneuverable warhead, its first military reconnaissance satellite, submarine-launched cruise missiles, and an underwater nuclear-capable drone. Knowing that he is backed in the U.N. Security Council by China and Russia could embolden Kim Jong-un to pursue even more provocative behavior. In the past, Beijing and Moscow were willing to impose U.N. resolutions and sanctions after North Korean ICBM and nuclear tests, but both countries now block new international actions in response to Pyongyang’s repeated violations of previous U.N. resolutions. North Korea could conduct its long-awaited seventh nuclear test—either of a new generation of tactical battlefield nuclear weapons or of Kim’s promised “super large” weapon. In its last nuclear test in 2017, Pyongyang exploded a hydrogen bomb at least 10 times as powerful as the 1945 atomic weapons used against Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The regime could also launch an ICBM over Japan and demonstrate multiple-warhead or re-entry vehicle capabilities. To date, all ICBM launches have been on a nearly vertical lofted trajectory to avoid flying over other countries. North Korean provocations are expected to increase in the run-up to the annual U.S.–South Korean large-scale military exercises in March. Trilateral Axis of Authoritarianism Pyongyang’s recently strengthened relationship with Moscow is another cause for concern. In return for shipping over a million artillery shells and rockets to Russia for Moscow to use in its attacks on Ukraine, North Korea is likely to receive some military technology. While some experts believe that this could include nuclear warhead, re-entry vehicle, or ICBM technology, Moscow is less likely to provide those “crown jewels” than it is to provide lower-level conventional weapon technology. However, any Russian assistance to improve North Korean weapons is worrisome to the U.S. and its allies. Both China and North Korea responded to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine by increasing their economic and military support to Moscow. There is growing apprehension of the risk of horizontal escalation in which Beijing or Pyongyang could take advantage of the global focus on crises in Ukraine and the Middle East to initiate their own coercive or military actions against Taiwan or South Korea. Clashes but Not War Some experts speculate that the situation on the Korean Peninsula is the most dangerous it has been since the 1950 North Korean invasion of the south and that Kim Jong-un has already made the strategic decision to go to war.7 However, despite its menacing posturing, Pyongyang would not have sent massive amounts of artillery shells and rockets as well as dozens of its new KN-23 missiles to Russia if it were contemplating starting a war with South Korea. Nor has any buildup of North Korea military forces along the inter-Korean border been detected. More probable is another tactical-level military clash along the DMZ or maritime Northern Limit Line. South Korean officials privately comment that they cannot rule out another deadly North Korean attack such as the 2010 sinking of the South Korean naval ship Cheonan and shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, which cumulatively killed 50 South Koreans. Danger of Stumbling Into Major Conflict Both Koreas have been more vocal in their vows to strike preemptively if they perceive—or misperceive—the other side as preparing for an attack. In 2022, North Korea revised its nuclear law and disturbingly lowered the threshold for its use of nuclear weapons. The regime is developing smaller tactical nuclear warheads for deployment to forward-based units, and their proximity to allied forces across the DMZ could lead to a “use it or lose it” strategy for its vulnerable nuclear arsenal during the early stages of a conflict. South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol has shown a greater willingness to respond firmly to North Korean threats than his predecessor did. He directed enhancement of South Korea’s preemptive attack capabilities and declared, “Should North Korea make a provocation, we will punish it many times over.”8 He told his military to “immediately respond and retaliate before reporting to [higher authorities and] sternly and swiftly smash the enemy’s intentions to stage provocations on the spot.”9 The danger of miscalculated military action is real, even at a tactical level. In 2015, Seoul announced that North Korea had fired 13 artillery shells into South Korea and it had responded with 39 shells into the North. However, a subsequent investigation by United Nations Command revealed that there had been no North Korean military attack. Instead, South Korean counter-battery radar had misinterpreted a nearby lightning storm as inbound artillery fire. Luckily, North Korea did not respond to the unprovoked South Korean action. What Washington Should Do Washington must walk a fine line between maintaining a strong military posture to deter and if necessary respond to North Korean military actions while also minimizing the risk of inadvertent escalation into a strategic war. With this in mind, the U.S. should: • Enhance trilateral security cooperation. The U.S., along with South Korea and Japan, should continue ongoing efforts to increase coordination among their three militaries. South Korean President Yoon acknowledged the importance of Tokyo’s role in a Korean contingency, including the seven U.N. Command bases in Japan. During their August 2023 Camp David summit, the three leaders pledged even more extensive trilateral military exercises, real-time exchange of information on North Korean missile launches, and increased cooperation on ballistic missile defense. The leaders’ commitment to consult and coordinate responses to common security threats was a major step forward in trilateral military cooperation but stopped far short of formal alliance. The three countries should continue and expand the scope of the trilateral combined military exercises that resumed in 2022 after a four-year hiatus. The wide-ranging exercises reversed the degradation in allied deterrence and defense capabilities as did the resumption of U.S. rotational deployment of strategic nuclear-capable assets to the Korean theater of operations. • Ensure that military exercises are strong but constrained in location. The U.S. and its allies should be aware that any large-scale unannounced combined military operations close to North Korea’s borders run the risk of being misinterpreted by Pyongyang as preparations for an allied attack. Therefore, while maintaining high levels of military training, the exercises should be announced beforehand and not conducted close to North Korean forces along the DMZ. Washington should also counsel Seoul against highly escalatory responses to North Korean actions. However, appearing too heavy-handed in trying to curtail a South Korean response to a tactical-level attack risks undermining ongoing U.S. efforts to reassure Seoul of America’s commitment to its defense. After both 2010 North Korean attacks, South Korean officials privately complained that the U.S. had “sat on its ally” and prevented a South Korean retaliation. More recently, North Korea’s growing ability to hit the American homeland with nuclear weapons caused South Koreans to doubt the viability of the U.S. as an ally and led to greater domestic advocacy for an indigenous nuclear weapon program. • Push for risk-reduction talks. There seems to be little potential for a diplomatic off-ramp on the road to crisis with North Korea. Since late 2019, the regime has rejected all U.S. and South Korean entreaties for dialogue on any topic, including provision of humanitarian aid. Nor does Pyongyang’s cancelling the inter-Korean Comprehensive Military Agreement bode well for negotiations. However, the proximity of several militaries to each other, rising suspicions, and mutual threats of preemptive attacks are a recipe for disaster. Washington and Seoul should call on Pyongyang to discuss potential risk-reduction and military confidence-building measures similar to those in the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty and the accompanying Vienna Document of Confidence and Security Building Measures. Reducing the potential for either side to conduct a sudden-start invasion while increasing transparency with respect to military forces can lower tensions by reducing the potential for miscalculation leading to a military clash. Conclusion The Korean Peninsula seems always to be on the knife edge of calamity, but North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal, its more threatening language, and the potential for more provocative and aggressive actions are a volatile combination. Overreacting to Pyongyang’s inflammatory threatening language is dangerous, but so is dismissing potential signals of a resumption of deadly tactical attacks. Indications are that this year will be even busier for Korea watchers who long ago learned to keep both a pot of coffee and a bottle of scotch nearby to deal with the inevitable crises.   References: 1- Korea Central News Agency, “Report on 9th Enlarged Plenum of 8th WPK Central Committee,” KCNA Watch, December 31, 2023, (accessed February 5, 2024). https://kcnawatch.org/newstream/1704027054-512008976/report-on-9th-enlarged-plenum-of-8th-wpk-central-committee/ 2- Ibid. and Brad Lendon and Gawon Bae, “North Korea’s Kim Vows to Dismantle Father’s Unification Arch as He Declares South Korea ‘Principal Enemy,’” CNN, January 16, 2024, https://www.cnn.com/2024/01/16/asia/north-korea-kim-unification-arch-intl-hnk/index.html (accessed February 5, 2024). 3- Reuters, “North Korea Vows Military Strike If Any Provocation, Fires Artillery Rounds,” January 7, 2024, https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/north-koreas-kim-yo-jong-vows-immediate-response-provocation-kcna-2024-01-07/ (accessed February 5, 2024). 4- Korea Central News Agency, “Report on 9th Enlarged Plenum of 8th WPK Central Committee.” 5- Lendon and Bae, “North Korea’s Kim Vows to Dismantle Father’s Unification Arch as He Declares South Korea ‘Principal Enemy.’” 6- Chae Yun-hwan, “Military Set to Resume Drills Halted Under 2018 Inter-Korean Accord Buffer Zones,” Yonhap News Agency, January 9, 2024, https://en.yna.co.kr/view/AEN20240109007400315#:~:text=SEOUL%2C%20Jan.,artillery%20firing%2C%20officials%20said%20Tuesday (accessed February 5, 2024). 7- Robert L. Carlin and Siegfried S. Hecker, “Is Kim Jong Un Preparing for War?” Henry L. Stimson Center, 38 North, January 11, 2024, https://www.38north.org/2024/01/is-kim-jong-un-preparing-for-war / (accessed February 5, 2024). 8- Sarah Kim, “After North Declares ‘Hostile’ Relations, Yoon Vows to ‘Punish’ Regime in Case of a Provocation,” Korea Joongang Daily, updated January 18, 2024, https://koreajoongangdaily.joins.com/news/2024-01-16/national/northKorea/Yoon-vows-to-punish-North-Korea-many-times-over-in-case-of-a-provocation-/1959411?detailWord= (accessed February 5, 2024). 9- Hyung-Jin Kim, “North Korea’s Kim Vows to Bolster War Readiness to Repel US-Led Confrontations,” Associated Press, updated December 28, 2023, https://apnews.com/article/north-korea-kim-party-meeting-missiles-27803fcfbfa9cb2a89d6fb5e824e9c0c (accessed February 5, 2024).

Defense & Security
 COSCO Shipping vessel in the Red Sea.

China's powerlessness in the Red Sea

by Johann C. Fuhrmann

Houthi attacks pose a strategic dilemma for Beijing. Washington has asked Beijing for support to curb attacks by Yemen's Houthi rebels on merchant ships in the Red Sea, the Financial Times reported on Wednesday, citing US government circles. China's own interest in de-escalation and securing trade and supply chains appears to be obvious. However, why China is holding back in the conflict, even though it is economically heavily dependent on exports, raises questions. Despite displeasure: Beijing's restraint The Yemeni Houthi militia has been attacking ships and thus supply chains in the Red Sea since mid-November last year, presenting the Beijing leadership with a strategic dilemma: as an exporting nation, China is dependent on secure trade routes, while at the same time the People's Republic is striving to establish itself as a force for peace and order in the region. For the Chinese leadership, this means walking a political tightrope with an uncertain outcome. There is no question that the current attacks by the Houthi militia on merchant ships in the Red Sea are a thorn in China's side. Mao Ning, the spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, recently appealed to the Houthi militia to stop attacking ships in the Red Sea. The Houthi militia sees itself as part of the "Axis of Resistance" against Israel, which also includes the radical Islamic group Hamas. On 12 and 13 January 2024, the United States and the United Kingdom, with the support of Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands, launched a series of attacks against the Houthi in Yemen with airstrikes and cruise missiles in response to the terrorist organization's attacks. Around 60 percent of Chinese exports to Europe pass through the Suez Canal, which connects the Red Sea with the Mediterranean. "The attacks have tripled container prices for Red Sea passages and extended transit times by many days when bypassing the Houthi route. At the end of December, Chinese car manufacturer Geely warned of delays in the delivery of its electric cars due to the 'situation' in the Red Sea," reports Beijing-based FAZ correspondent Jochen Stahnke.[2] The crisis has long since reached the port of Piraeus in Greece, in which the Chinese state shipping company COSCO holds a 67 percent stake. Due to supply bottlenecks for Chinese batteries, according to rbb information, even production at the Tesla plant in Grünheide, Brandenburg, will have to largely cease at the end of the month[3]. The disruption to supply chains is hitting the Chinese economy at an extremely unfavorable time. The People's Republic is in the midst of a real estate crisis, is struggling with high youth unemployment and faces the threat of deflation. In the face of these challenges, the Chinese economy is relying heavily on exports. A recent example of this is the announcement by Chinese car manufacturer SAIC to acquire 14 transport ships. Apparently, dissatisfaction with the current developments in the Red Sea has also reached the Chinese Ministry of Commerce. Mei Xinyu from the Chinese Academy for Economic Cooperation, a think tank linked to the Ministry of Commerce, underlines this in a blog post with the words: "There is one thing that the Huthi rebels and their supporters need to understand: The biggest user of the Suez Canal route is none other than China."[4] It is striking that the Beijing Foreign Ministry's call for de-escalation in the Red Sea followed a statement by the Houthi that there would be no future attacks on Russian and Chinese ships. Nevertheless, China's trade also relies on ships sailing under different flags. According to media reports, some ships even use radio signals to pretend to be Chinese, even though they do not originate from China - for fear of attack. The Beijing press praises this practice as a success of Chinese "soft power". Shen Yi, a professor at Fudan University, explained this to the Global Times, saying: "The Houthi militias have no interest in attacking Chinese ships. The reason is simple: China makes fair comments and takes fair actions on issues in the Middle East. China has no special interests in the region and is only committed to peace, security and stability in the region."[5] However, no mention is made of the extent to which the escalation is damaging the core interests of the Chinese economy. Meanwhile, the political leadership in Beijing is keeping a surprisingly low profile with regard to the conflict. What is striking, however, is that Chinese state propaganda blames the USA and Israel in particular for the escalation of violence and presents the People's Republic as a guarantor of peace. In this context, the Global Times emphasizes: "China's justice lies in not taking sides or being biased. China does not support the use of force by the Huthi in the Red Sea to disrupt trade routes. At the same time, however, it criticizes the biased approach and double standards of the US in the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, as well as the use of force to counter violence."[6] The question remains, however, how China's efforts to appear neutral can be explained, especially in light of the fact that the conflict in the Red Sea is severely disrupting the People's Republic's trade interests. China's strategic dilemma The US request to China to provide support in the fight against the Houthi rebels has so far met with no response in Beijing. There is no indication that China has any interest in participating in the US-led military mission - on the contrary. There is also no indication that Beijing is trying to influence the Huthi through diplomatic channels. This at least seems possible, as the Houthis maintain close ties with Iran, with which China has good relations. The reluctance of the government in Beijing can be attributed to a variety of reasons. China is a major trading partner of Iran, which in turn supports the Houthi rebels. China sources around a tenth of its crude oil needs from the mullahs, and Beijing avoids angering Tehran by turning against the Houthis. There also appears to be no demand on Iran to influence the Huthi. Moreover, Beijing has explicitly sided with the Palestinians in the Gaza war. Paul Nantulya from the National Defense University in Washington believes that the competition between China and the US also plays a role: "Participation in a US military operation would be seen as 'capitulation to US interests' and 'humiliation of China' by the Chinese political and military establishment," Nantulya told the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.[7] China also sees itself as an advocate of the "Global South", the so-called developing and emerging countries. In the Middle East conflict, this attitude is manifested in China's solidarity with the Palestinians. This support is in line with China's general orientation as an advocate for countries outside the Western sphere of influence, particularly in Latin America, Africa and the Arab world as a whole. In doing so, China is positioning itself against what Beijing perceives as the "imperialist" United States and its allies. There is no question that Israel is perceived in this context primarily as a "US ally" and an "imperialist power" in the Middle East, despite its previously good relations with the People's Republic. In his article for the Frankfurter Rundschau, Sven Hauberg adds another dimension to these observations. He quotes May-Britt Stumbaum, an Asia expert at the Center for Intelligence and Security (CISS) at the University of the Federal Armed Forces in Munich, who explains: "I think China is keeping out of it because they have very little operational experience and there is a great risk that they will embarrass themselves." Stumbaum emphasizes that China may be acting cautiously for this reason, so as not to reveal its actual military capabilities. "Nobody should know how strong the Chinese military really is. But that would no longer work if China took part in missions and openly showed its weaknesses."[8] Outlook: China as a regulatory power - has Beijing run out of steam? It is currently still extremely convenient for China's leadership to criticize US military attacks as warmongering, while securing maritime trade routes is actually also in Beijing's interests. At present, China is leaving it to other states to defend its own interests in the region. The key question, however, is how long this cost-benefit calculation can last from Beijing's perspective. The disruption of supply chains in international trade is currently hitting China, which is in a precarious economic situation, at a sensitive point. The situation is not comparable to Putin's war of aggression against Ukraine. Here, China has at least managed to benefit economically, as China's exports to Russia have risen sharply. At the same time, the People's Republic is benefiting from cheap energy supplies from Russia, which has recently made Moscow the most important crude oil supplier for Beijing, overtaking Saudi Arabia. China's hopes of becoming a regulatory power in the Middle East and curbing the influence of the USA in the region have suffered a setback. Just under a year ago, Beijing undoubtedly pulled off a surprise diplomatic coup: Through China's mediation, an unexpected agreement was reached between Iran and its arch-enemy Saudi Arabia in April 2023, which included the resumption of regular diplomatic relations and the exchange of ambassadors. However, the Chinese dream of gaining international recognition as a factor of influence and stability in the Middle East seems to be coming to an early end these days in view of China's impotence in the Red Sea. References: [1] Financial Times 2024: US urges China to help curb Red Sea attacks by Iran-backed Houthis, abrufbar unter: https://www.ft.com/content/bba68661-6c9b-41b5-ab74-d573b3a27c54, letzter Zugriff: 25.01.2024. [2] Stahnke, Jochen 2024: Wie China mit den Huthi-Angriffen im Roten Meer umgeht, in: FAZ.net, abrufbar unter: https://www.faz.net/aktuell/israel-krieg/wie-china-mit-den-huthi-angriffen-im-roten-meer-umgeht-19466421.html, 25.01.2024. [3] rbb24: Tesla muss Ende Januar Fertigung wegen Lücken in Lieferketten stoppen, abrufbar unter: https://www.rbb24.de/wirtschaft/beitrag/2024/01/tesla-gigafactory-produktionsstopp-brandenburg.html, letzter Zugriff: 25.01.2024. [4] Mei, Xinyu 2024: Huthi-Spiel mit dem Feuer, in chinesischer Sprache abrufbar unter: https://new.qq.com/rain/a/20231217A05WXS00, letzter Zugriff: 25.01.2024. [5] Global Times 2024: US escalates Red Sea tensions, while China voices fairness, Ausgabe: 17. Januar 2024, S. 5. [6] Global Times 2024. [7] Siehe hierzu den lesenswerten Beitrag: Hauberg, Sven 2024: Suezkanal ist wichtige Handelsroute – doch China hält sich im Kampf gegen die Huthi-Rebellen auffallend zurück, Frankfurter Rundschau, abrufbar unter: https://www.fr.de/politik/krieg-china-huthi-miliz-rebellen-rotes-meer-iran-suezkanal-usa-israel-gaza-zr-92782955.html, letzter Zugriff: 25.01.2024. [8] Hauberg, Sven 2024.

Defense & Security
Successful North and South Korean satellite launches

A tale of two satellites: ISR on the Korean Peninsula

by Timothy Wright

Successful North and South Korean satellite launches underscore both countries’ ambitions to possess an independent space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance capability to support their respective deterrence postures. Paradoxically, better ISR capabilities may also improve stability on the Korean Peninsula. Within two weeks, North and South Korea have each successfully launched their first military geospatial imaging satellites. Although the information-gathering capabilities of North Korea’s satellite are probably inferior to South Korea’s, Pyongyang will likely improve this over time, possibly with Russian assistance. Space-based systems will increase Pyongyang and Seoul’s capability to hold each other’s territory at risk, but paradoxically may also improve stability. Targeting tactics Space-based intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) systems play an important role in the so-called ‘kill-chain’ through which militaries detect, track and engage targets with precision-strike systems. Pyongyang and Seoul possess large arsenals of precision-guided ballistic and land-attack cruise missiles, but their respective ISR capabilities to inform targeting decisions are less mature by comparison. North Korea has developed several types of uninhabited aerial vehicles (UAVs) for ISR purposes, but sensor, endurance and communications constraints limit their utility, and they are vulnerable to South Korean and United States air defences. South Korea has more advanced ISR capabilities, but it has historically relied on United States space-based assets for its geospatial imagery needs.    North Korea said that it developed a space-based ISR capability to provide its armed forces with ‘real-time information’ to improve its ‘war deterrent’. Following the successful launch of the Malligyong-1 satellite on 21 November, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said that it provided North Korea with ‘eyes’ to complement its ‘fist’. To underline this point, North Korean state media claimed the satellite imaged Andersen Air Force Base on Guam and other ‘ major targets in the enemy region’ that North Korea could target in a conflict, without releasing imagery. Similarly, South Korea said that it is developing its space-based ISR capabilities to enhance the effectiveness of its so-called 3K deterrence architecture. It envisages South Korean forces detecting and targeting North Korean missile launchers and command-and-control in the event of an imminent or unforeseen North Korean missile launch. Both countries have made clear their recent launches are merely a first step to building out a space-based ISR layer. North Korea has said that it will launch an unspecified number of satellites in the future. Seoul plans to follow the 1 December launch of a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket with the deployment of four synthetic-aperture radar satellites by 2025, giving it an all-weather capability. Launch implications Although North Korea’s launch is an achievement for Pyongyang after earlier launch failures, the satellite’s likely poor image quality might provide limited initial returns. After a prior North Korean launch of a military-satellite similar to the Malligyong-1 failed, South Korean and US investigators judged, based on recovered parts, that the payload had ‘no military use’, suggesting its sensors and communication equipment were of poor quality. Even so, the successful launch on 21 November provides Pyongyang with an independent capability that will likely mature through domestic refinement, illicit acquisitions and potentially foreign assistance. South Korea claims that Russia provided unspecified input on the Chollima-1 satellite-launch vehicle (SLV) following two failed launch attempts earlier this year. Russian President Vladimir Putin also apparently pledged to provide support for North Korea’s space programme during a September meeting with Kim at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, possibly as repayment for much-needed ammunition to support Moscow’s war in Ukraine. Because SLVs incorporate dual-use components and technologies that can also be used in ballistic missiles, Pyongyang’s satellite launch was condemned by France, the United Kingdom and the US as destabilising and a violation of multiple United Nations Security Council Resolutions related to North Korea’s sanctioned ballistic missile programme. The Chollima-1 SLV’s first-stage rocket motor, for instance, is derived from the Soviet-designed RD-250 engine that has powered several different North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles, such as the Hwasong-14, Hwasong-15 and Hwasong-17. An advancement in North Korea’s SLV capabilities will undoubtedly have some benefits for its ballistic missile programme. Although Pyongyang regularly tests ballistic missiles, it is unlikely to have used this launch to disguise testing military capabilities related to its missile programme. South Korea’s military space programme also has received some external assistance. The country launched its satellite on a SpaceX Falcon 9 SLV from the US government’s Vandenberg Space Force Base. Future satellite launches might continue to use US technology alongside South Korea’s burgeoning SLV capability. Supporting stability Perhaps paradoxically, Pyongyang and Seoul’s new space-based ISR capabilities may have some unexpected stability benefits by reducing mutual fears of pre-emption. In a crisis, a lack of information may exacerbate pre-emption fears and could trigger escalation. South Korea’s deterrence doctrine is based on Seoul’s fear that North Korea may pre-emptively use conventional or nuclear weapons against it. North Korea is arguably concerned about South Korea’s analogous precision-strike capabilities, evidenced by recent changes to its nuclear doctrine to delegate launch authority if Kim were killed. Although space-based ISR will allow North and South Korea to target each other more effectively in a conflict, their new capabilities might also be useful in a crisis by providing Pyongyang and Seoul with greater situational awareness that could reduce the risk of inadvertent escalation.

Defense & Security
Kim Jong Un’s Latest Threats of War

What to Make of Kim Jong Un’s Latest Threats of War

by Patrick M. Cronin

Why is Pyongyang ringing in the new year with warmongering? North Korea’s official newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, is predicting a year of living dangerously, marked by the “highest risk of confrontation.” Addressing an end-of-year party plenum, Kim Jong Un cautioned that “war can break out at any time.” He added, however, that foreign military confrontation would be met by “a deadly blow to thoroughly annihilate” the enemy and subjugate “the whole territory of South Korea.”  Kim’s dire forecast is a matter of concern, but not because deterrence is likely to fail. The North Korean leader wants others to fear the prospect of war, which is why he (once again) threatened that the Korean peninsula is “on the precipice of nuclear war.” But Kim wants to sharpen his “treasured sword,” not fall on it.  North Korea may be viewed as preternaturally bellicose, but menacing discourse is not harmless prattle. The sharp rhetoric emanating from the Kim regime masks serious internal and external goals that impinge on vital U.S. national interests and regional security. For starters, Kim needs to justify his fixation on military spending. Clearly, three military parades, 44 missiles, and 64 flights a year are difficult to sustain. The notion that U.S. and allied military exercises are making the thought of war on the peninsula “realistic” is propaganda. Even so, Kim’s pledge to launch three more military spy satellites in the coming months is realistic, if also suggestive of one of the concrete benefits of adopting Russia as North Korea’s primary defense partner. North Korea’s anemic economy cannot support additional military spending. The ambitious five-year defense modernization plan Kim unveiled three years ago is perpetuating the country’s impoverishment. Pyongyang’s boast of a 40% increase in the country’s gross domestic product last year masks a fragile and sanctioned economy, overly dependent on China, which accounts for 90% of North Korean exports. While North Korean exports to China rebounded to about $300 million in 2023, a shocking 57% of that total came from exports of wigs, false beards, eyebrows and eyelashes. A weak and vulnerable economy is precisely why the North Korean regime places a higher priority on cyber theft than it does on legal trade. When you can raise more than $2 billion from hacking, who needs to maintain so many foreign diplomatic outposts in Africa? So, U.S. and South Korean authorities must step up their game if they are to prevent cyber heists like the one on Orbit Chain on New Year’s Eve that probably netted North Koreans $81.5 million in cryptocurrency.  Kim Jong Un also is relying on cooperation with like-minded partners to compensate for his diplomatic failures with South Korea and the United States. Having strengthened ties with Russia by providing additional ammunition for Moscow’s war of aggression — and North Korean mortar and rocket shells are increasingly visible on the Ukrainian battlefield — Kim is in a position to leverage relations with Beijing.  China’s Xi Jinping, locked in a fierce competition with the United States, appears eager to lend an extra hand to help North Korea. Xi’s New Year’s Day greeting to Kim said that “the new situation in the new era” further underscores the need to take “a strategic and long-term perspective” on China-North Korea relations. North Korea’s diplomatic outreach to Russia and China not only is a counterpoise to growing trilateral relations among the United States, Japan and South Korea but also a useful means of undermining Seoul as it begins a two-year stint as a nonpermanent member of the United Nations Security Council.  Setting a belligerent tone to commence the year is also Pyongyang’s way of trying to subvert South Korea’s democratic government. There was no subtlety in labeling South Korea “a hemiplegic malformation and colonial subordinate state.” Furthermore, as South Koreans mark the centennial of the birth of former president Kim Dae-jung, the Kim regime might be engaging in wishful thinking that progressives will rise in protest against the conservative administration of Yoon Suk-yeol. Politics is as polarized as ever and South Korean police are reinforcing security after the stabbing of the leader of the main opposition political party and an online threat to kill the head of the ruling People Power Party. But Kim Jong Un must have an even greater fear of losing his totalitarian power than is suggested by state-controlled media. Burnishing Kim’s credentials as a benevolent father figure and feigning more democratic elections shows a need to appeal to popular support. Even more telling was the Jan. 1 airing on North Korea’s KCTV of the movie A Day and A Night, which highlights the real story of how a nurse uncovered a counter-revolutionary plot to overthrow the Kim Il Sung government. The point of the Pyongyang-produced movie is to ensure North Korean people are sufficiently motivated to protect their leader.  Finally, threatening conflict is a cost-effective way for the Kim regime to amplify America’s trending theme of dread about the fate of American democracy. The West has a rich supply of smart pessimists who regularly churn out frightening warnings. No doubt Kim also would like for us to unburden ourselves by accommodating a nuclear North Korea and removing U.S. troops from the peninsula.  Oh, to recall the “beautiful letters” that Kim Jong Un penned to then-President Donald Trump after their brief flirtation with peace in the summer of 2018. 

Defense & Security
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North Korea’s Spy Satellite Launch Is One Giant (and Dangerous) Question Mark

by Bruce Klingner

Pyongyang successfully launched its first military reconnaissance satellite after two previous failures. North Korea has developed a robust missile arsenal but, until now, lacked a remote reconnaissance capability to identify, track, and attack U.S., South Korean, and Japanese military targets. The satellite’s capabilities, as well as whether it incorporated Russian technology, remain unknown. North Korea announced the satellite surveilled U.S. military bases in Guam and vowed to launch several additional reconnaissance satellites “in a short span of time.” South Korea responded by suspending portions of an inter-Korean military agreement meant to prevent military clashes along the DMZ, raising tensions on the peninsula even further. On November 21, Pyongyang conducted its third attempt at launching its Malligyong-1 military reconnaissance satellite onboard a Chollima-1 rocket. Previous launches in August 2023 failed to achieve orbit, but clearly, North Korea learned some valuable lessons. The South Korean navy salvaged some of the rocket and satellite debris from the ocean floor, enabling technical analysis, though the results have not been disclosed. Kim Jong-un declared the regime’s intention to develop a military reconnaissance satellite in his January 2021 directive to the regime’s defense industry. Other delineated military projects included a solid-fuel ICBM, tactical nuclear warheads, hypersonic gliding flight warheads, and a nuclear-powered submarine. >>> North Korea and Russia: How Far Could Their Partnership Go? North Korea reported an “important final-stage test” in December 2022 involving a mock satellite and subsequently released two poor-quality images of the Korean Peninsula. Experts denigrated the grainy, low-resolution images as being of far worse capability than commercially available imagery. Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korea’s leader, responded angrily that the test was to show the feasibility of the system rather than the eventual quality of the imagery. In April 2023, Kim underscored the importance of having “several reconnaissance satellites on different orbits [for] securing real-time information about the hostile forces’ military scenario and moves.” Ironically, North Korea’s most recent satellite launch occurred the same day the regime criticized South Korea and the United States for “recklessly” militarizing space, describing Seoul’s upcoming launch of its own reconnaissance satellite as an “extremely dangerous military provocation.” It is possible that Russia provided technology to improve North Korea’s satellite launch capabilities in return for Pyongyang’s shipments of massive amounts of artillery ammunition to Moscow. During Kim’s September 2023 trip to Vladivostok, President Vladimir Putin hinted at providing military and technological support to North Korea. Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned Russia was providing “technology and support” for North Korea’s military programs, though without elaborating on details. A South Korean military official told reporters that an 80-ton liquid fuel engine was transferred from Russia to North Korea even before the September summit. Russian engineers traveled to North Korea after the summit. More likely, however, North Korea’s long-planned launch occurred too quickly after the Kim-Putin summit to have incorporated new Russian technology. Pyongyang announced it had developed the satellite and launcher “by its own efforts and technologies.” Pyongyang has frequently failed initial tests of new missile systems before eventually succeeding. South Korea responded to the launch by partially suspending the 2018 Comprehensive Military Agreement, which then-President Moon Jae-in hailed as a major step in improving relations with Pyongyang. The accord established mutual risk reduction and confidence-building measures to reduce the potential for inadvertent military escalation. However, the Yoon Suk Yeol administration declared that North Korea repeatedly violated the agreement and criticized provisions of the deal, which curtailed allied reconnaissance and military training activities. The Yoon administration announced it would suspend Article 1, Clause 3 of the agreement and restore airborne reconnaissance operations along the DMZ. >>> Next-Generation Interceptor Needed in Greater Quantities to Stay Ahead of the North Korean Missile Threat Any North Korean launch using “ballistic missile technology” is a violation of numerous U.N. resolutions, regardless of whether it is depicted as a civilian space launch. While China and Russia will veto approval of any new U.N. resolutions, the United States should step up its enforcement of U.S. and U.N. sanctions and work systematically with the international community to target North Korean violators, as well as entities in Russia, China, and elsewhere that facilitate Pyongyang’s transgressions. The U.S. should also counter the growing North Korean military threat by strengthening security cooperation with allies South Korea and Japan, while encouraging these two allies to improve their bilateral cooperation. Last year, the U.S. resumed large-scale military exercises with South Korea and restarted rotational deployments of strategic assets, both after a four-year hiatus. Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo also restarted trilateral military exercises. These measures have augmented allied deterrence and defense capabilities. The three nations should consider a return to pre-2018 training levels as a minimum requirement for future training schedules. Given the escalating growth in North Korean nuclear and missile forces, Washington should confer with Seoul and Tokyo on a training regimen that includes all military services and goes beyond ballistic missile defense and anti-submarine exercises to include air and ground forces. The historic trilateral Camp David Summit in August paved the way for greater American-led military, economic, and technological cooperation against common security threats in the Indo-Pacific. The three leaders, however, will need to operationalize the extensive security agreements they reached as well as commit greater resources to offset advancing Chinese and North Korean military capabilities represented by this launch. This piece originally appeared in The National Interest https://nationalinterest.org/feature/north-koreas-spy-satellite-launch-one-giant-and-dangerous-question-mark-207448

Defense & Security
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How North Korea Could Affect the War

by Can Kasapoğlu

As Kim Jong Un arrives in Russia for arms talks with Vladimir Putin, Hudson Institute Senior Fellow Can Kasapoglu offers a defense intelligence assessment of North Korea’s potential to affect Russia’s stumbling invasion campaign. Executive Summary Having failed to quickly conquer Ukraine, the Kremlin now pursues a war of attrition to wear down the will of Kyiv and NATO nations supporting the Ukrainian military. In this attritional fight, Russia enjoys a manpower advantage over Ukraine but faces setbacks in sustaining the necessary firepower. North Korea, which possesses an arsenal compatible with Soviet-Russian systems and the production capacity to augment it, could provide Moscow with the armaments it seeks. Pyongyang could also support Moscow in cyber warfare and training new recruits by dispatching its large special forces detachments. Russia and North Korea, along with Iran, represent an emerging axis that the West should take seriously as a global security threat. 1. North Korean Artillery Systems Could Replenish Moscow’s Stockpiles When it launched its invasion of Ukraine, Moscow anticipated a blitz intervention lasting a few weeks. Its military planners’ intelligence preparation of the battlefield (IPB) reflected this assessment. This is why Russian fighters were afforded generous provisions of artillery at the outset of the war. Available intelligence reports suggest that when the war began, each Russian battalion tactical group possessed up to two batteries of howitzers and a rocket battery. Subsequently, complete artillery brigades engaged Ukraine’s combat formations, unleashing overwhelming firepower at a high tempo to support the main axes of effort in a multifront war. At their heaviest, Russian artillery salvos regularly used 24,000 shells per day, and peaked on some days at 38,000 shells. As the campaign wore on and Russia’s initial intelligence estimates proved faulty, this rate dropped to 10,000 shells per day by the first quarter of 2023. At present, Russia’s artillery salvos utilize between 5,000 and 10,000 rounds daily. This change in fire patterns reflects Russia’s diminution of its own ammunition stockpiles. The Russian military used a total of 12 million artillery rounds in 2022. At its current rate of usage, it is on pace to use close to 7 million rounds in 2023. This means that the Russian military is using an average of 13,600 fewer shells per day this year than it used last year. This is troubling for Moscow since its defense industry can only produce 20,000 rounds per month of the Soviet-remnant 152mm-class weapons that dominate its artillery units. The overall artillery round production rate of the Russian industry falls somewhere between 2 million and 2.5 million shells per year. This is the void that Pyongyang could fill. Artillery and rockets are core assets of the Korean People’s Army (KPA). Open-source intelligence assessments estimate that the KPA operates some 14,000 to 20,000 artillery pieces of all kinds. At least 10,000 pieces of this stockpile are the 122mm-class rocket systems and 152mm-class artillery that are compatible with Russia’s heavily Soviet-era arsenal. Seventy percent of North Korea’s fire systems are forward deployed at high readiness, while some 4,000 are stored in underground networks. In any baseline wargaming scenario, KPA combat formations can volley up to 500,000 shells per hour at the outset of hostilities and sustain that operational tempo for several hours or opt for a prolonged conflict with a reduced artillery tempo of 10,000 shells per day. Worryingly, thirty percent of North Korea’s artillery and rocket deterrent is certified with chemical warfare agents, drawing upon up to 5,000 tons of Pyongyang’s stocks of chemical weapons. Initial assessments have suggested that the Kremlin is interested in North Korea’s 152mm-class artillery shells and its 122mm-class rockets, which the KPA uses as the mid-range artillery in the rear echelons of its combat formations. Pyongyang’s defense industries have been diligent in cloning artillery and rocket systems in these classes—with some added touches of their own. Their M-1974 Tokchon, for example, is simply the derivative of the Soviet 152mm-class D-20 howitzer and the ATS-59 tractor. The KPA operates thousands of 122mm-class MLRS and 152mm-class artillery, along with an enormous arsenal of ammunition certified for these weapons. Even more troublingly for Ukraine and its Western allies, North Korea could provide support to Russia that extends beyond 122mm- and 152mm-class solutions. The KPA’s longer-range fire-support systems—the 170mm Koksan self-propelled gun, with a range of some 60 kilometres, the M-1985/1991 truck-mounted 240mm-class rockets (which are highly mobile and destructive), and the 300mm-class heavy-rocket KN-09 (which has a range of 200 kilometres)—would be incredibly dangerous in Russian arsenals, especially when used in urban and semi-urban settings. Russia could seek to acquire these weapons systems. Should Kim Jong Un sign off on transferring some of these armaments to Moscow, it would not be his first rodeo. In December 2022, the White House revealed intelligence showing that Russia’s infamous Wagner network had received rockets from Pyongyang. 2. North Korean Tactical Ballistic Missiles Could Alter Battlefield Dynamics In a prolonged high-tempo conflict, Russia is running out of advanced tactical ballistic missiles. Its expenditure rate has long surpassed its production capacity of these key armaments. Here, too, North Korea could offer help to Moscow. Although it possesses fewer tactical ballistic missiles than artillery and rocket systems, the missiles it does possess could rain terror onto Ukraine’s population centers, even in small numbers. To grasp this issue, one needs to understand Russia’s missile warfare efforts in Ukraine. In January 2023, the Ukrainian Defense Ministry’s official tracking efforts determined that Russia had unleashed 750 SS-26 Iskander tactical ballistic missile salvos up to that point in the invasion. At that time, Ukrainian sources estimated that Russia had less than 120 Iskanders remaining in its stockpiles. Whether that figure was precise or exaggerated, Moscow, with a flagging production rate of only five Iskander tactical ballistic missiles per month, was quickly depleting its stocks of this vital weapon. Pyongyang could not supply the Russian military with thousands of ballistic missiles, as it could do with its stores of Soviet-compatible artillery and rockets. Nevertheless, transfers of a few hundred ballistic missiles remain within the realm of possibility. Short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) are the foundations of North Korea’s missile proliferation efforts. While Pyongyang has a large arsenal of liquid-propellant missiles possessing a Scud baseline, the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation prefer newer, solid-propellant missiles with better accuracy and shortened launch cycles, as these weapons stand a better chance against being hunted down by the Ukrainian military while causing more reliable damage. Unfortunately, Pyongyang also possesses stocks of these solid-fuelled, road-mobile tactical ballistic missiles. According to the US Defense Intelligence Agency, in one single military parade in October 2020, North Korea showcased 52 solid-propellant SRBMs on 6 different wheeled and tracked transporter erector launchers (TELs). In 2021, it was estimated that North Korea possesses some 600 solid-fuelled SRBM variants. Pyongyang’s next-generation tactical ballistic missile systems are menacing weapons. These assets feature a quasi-ballistic trajectory, improved accuracy (especially compared to other North Korean systems in the same range), and broad warhead configurations. All these features would support Russia’s missile warfare campaign. One of Pyongyang’s tactical ballistic missiles is the KN-23. The KN-23 is often portrayed as the North Korean version of the Russian SS-26 Iskander-M, as both projectiles follow a quasi-ballistic, depressed trajectory. The KN-23 is also capable of executing pull-up manoeuvres when homing in on a target. These features put extra stress on missile defense and make the KN-23 a hard-to-intercept threat. Moreover, in missile tests the KN-23 has demonstrated a range of 690 kilometres, with a flight apogee—the highest point in a rocket’s flight path—of 50 kilometres when carrying a lighter payload. It can also deliver a combat payload of one-half ton within a range of 450 kilometres. Should Russia acquire this weapon, it would bode ill for Ukraine’s air defense. Interestingly enough, the KN-23 was on display when Russia’s Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu paid a recent visit to North Korea. The Russians may also show interest in the KN-24, another quasi-ballistic missile endowed with a powerful warhead. Some writings suggest that the KN-24 is modelled after the American ATACMS. North Korea test-launched the missile in 2019 with a depressed trajectory, showcasing a range of 400 kilometres and an apogee of 48 kilometres, and, in another test, a range of 230 kilometres with an apogee of 30 kilometres. In March 2020, Pyongyang conducted another launch, unleashing two KN-24 missiles that registered a maximum range of 410 kilometres and an apogee of 50 kilometres. The 2020 test reportedly featured missiles that could perform pull-up manoeuvres. Available evidence shows that both the KN-23 and the KN-24 likely deliver two main combat payload configurations—either a unitary warhead with one half ton of high explosives, or a submunition option packed with hundreds of charges. These warheads have a lethality radius of between 50 and 100 meters that expands against soft targets hit by submunition variants. In comparison with North Korea’s legacy, Scud-derivative tactical ballistic missiles, the KN-23 and KN-24 enjoy favourable circular error probable (CEP) rates, indicating that the newer missiles are more accurate weapons than their aged forebears. 3. North Korea Could Assist Russia in More Unconventional Ways While artillery and rockets seem the likely focus of any assistance Pyongyang could provide to Russia, North Korea could also affect the conflict in more unconventional ways. The first of these is cyber warfare. Pyongyang has gradually built a notorious cyber warfare deterrent. In 2016, North Korean agents hacked South Korean Cyber Command, contaminating its intranet with malware, and stealing confidential data. North Korea’s hackers also hacked the Bangladesh Central Bank in 2016, pulling off a notable heist. Alarmingly, the hackers even used the Society for Worldwide Interbank Financial Telecommunications (SWIFT) banking networks to do so. Pyongyang and Moscow had already established collaborative ties in cyberspace well before the invasion of Ukraine. The burgeoning security relationship between North Korea and Russia could push them to target the West in retaliation against sanctions. The second opportunity for unconventional cooperation between the two nations is in special forces and combat training. According to British Defense Intelligence, the Russian military is preparing to recruit 420,000 contract troops by the end of 2023. Understaffed and penurious non-commissioned officers’ corps with inadequate combat training have plagued the Russian military for decades. North Korea employs the largest special forces branch in the world, with some 200,000 servicemen. Thus, one cannot rule out the North Korean military dispatching training missions to help with Russia’s incoming waves of draftees. Plagued by skyrocketing armour losses in Ukraine, the Russian military has begun to put decades-old T-62 tanks onto the battlefield. To do so, Russia has pulled some 800 T-62s from Cold War–era storage and modernized them with 1PN96MT-02 thermal sights and reactive armour. While this upgrade package is less than glamorous, it is the only way to keep a museum piece in the fight. Herein lies another potential area for unconventional cooperation between Moscow and Pyongyang. North Korea has an arsenal of armour some 3,500 units strong, with large numbers of the T-62. Russia could seek to modernize North Korea’s T-62s to acceptable standards in an effort to buttress its own decrepit arsenal. 4. Battlefield Update Following the usual pattern of the conflict, the war zone has seen high-tempo clashes paradoxically married to a static battlefield geometry. There have been no major territorial changes over recent weeks. Marking a tactically important achievement, however, Ukraine’s counteroffensive has managed to incrementally widen and deepen the Robotyne bulge across Novopokrovka in the southwest and Verbove in the southeast. The Russian first lines of defense are stable and have continued to hold the line, stymieing Ukraine’s efforts to attain a breakthrough. Weapons systems assessments on several fronts in the south and northeast indicate that Ukraine is continuing to conduct first-person-view kamikaze drone strikes. Open-source defense intelligence suggests that the Ukrainian Armed Forces are cherry-picking advanced Russian assets, such as T-80BV main battle tanks and 240mm-class Tyulpan heavy mortars, to inflict maximum asymmetric destruction. Ukrainian special forces also conducted a raid in the Black Sea, recapturing the Boika Towers oil and gas drilling platforms situated between Snake Island and occupied Crimea. Regardless of whether the Ukrainian military can hold these facilities, its success in capturing them revealed major gaps in Russia’s real-time intelligence capabilities. Western military assistance programs for Ukraine have also begun to show some progress. The American military reportedly even asked for extra training sessions for the Ukrainian armour crews before combat deploying US-provided Abrams tanks, which Ukraine’s mechanized formations will probably start operating in a matter of weeks. It remains to be seen if they will be immediately sent to the front lines. Ukrainian combat pilots are also set to start their training on the F-16 aircraft, with optimistic and more conservative estimates of the training timeline for basic operational efficiency coming in at 3 months and 9 months. Notably, news stories now report the improving chances of ATACMS tactical ballistic missile transfers to Ukraine. Our previous writings have assessed how important it is for Ukraine to strike the Russian rear. The ATACMS could play a critical role in furthering this objective. In the northeast, the Russian military is conducting frontal assaults with no major progress in the direction of Kupiansk. US-transferred cluster munitions artillery shells reportedly made a difference in preventing Russian advances in this sector. On September 9 and 10, the Russian military unleashed a barrage of Iran-manufactured Shahed-131 and Shahed-136 loitering munitions to pound Kyiv. While Ukrainian air defense intercepted the bulk of these munitions, the volley marks the ability of the Russia-Iran axis to sustain large-scale drone salvos for over a year. Russia’s defense industries have made considerable progress in co-producing the Iranian Shahed-131 and Shahed-136 loitering munitions baselines at home, further enabling Moscow’s high-tempo drone warfare efforts.

Defense & Security
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This is how likely North Korean arms shipments to Russia are

by Frederic Spohr , Jannik Krahe

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Russian President Vladimir Putin have met at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, a spaceport in eastern Russia. Since Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine, the two states have grown significantly closer – and could now agree on arms supplies for Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine.  Russian President Vladimir Putin and North Korea's strongman Kim Jong Un held four hours of consultations. According to state media, the two leaders agreed on several cooperation projects and assured each other of solidarity. Most explosively, Russia plans to assist North Korea with its satellite program. Such support would almost certainly violate UN sanctions. Fittingly, the meeting took place at the Vostochny spaceport. Putin and Kim immediately went on a tour of inspection. Kim has "great interest in rocket technology and a focus on progress in space," Putin said. "I plan to acquaint him with the latest technologies during our tour of the base." The U.S. even assumes that an even hotter topic was on the agenda: ammunition deliveries to Russia for the war of aggression against Ukraine.  According to John Kirby, spokesman for the U.S. Security Council, Russia wants to order missiles and artillery shells from North Korea. Analysts believe it is realistic that North Korea will indeed supply arms. The composition of Kim's delegation also points to talks on arms deliveries. The head of state is being accompanied to Russia by high-ranking military officials, including Defense Minister Kang Sun Nam and Jo Chun Ryong, the head of the Munitions Industry Agency. It is the first foreign visit of Kim Jong Un in four years. The North Korean leader came to Vostochny in his luxury armored train. The meeting with Putin is another sign of rapprochement between the two states. North Korea is interesting to Russia not only as a possible munitions supplier. The Asian country is also one of the few states that diplomatically support Russia's invasion. With only six other states, North Korea voted against a resolution for Russia's withdrawal from Ukraine at the recent UN General Assembly. Even Iran, which supports Russia with drones, abstained from the vote. The North Koreans, on the other hand, are securing the support of a veto power in the UN Security Council by cooperating more closely with Russia. At the same time, they reduce their one-sided dependence on China, which is actually their most important partner. Moreover, closer cooperation could improve the desolate economic situation. In particular, the supply of food has deteriorated massively since the beginning of the Corona pandemic. The U.S. assumes that North Korea could probably pay for arms deliveries with food, among other things. In addition, North Korea will ask for raw materials and defense know-how in return. In addition to weapons, North Korea would also be able to send workers to Russia. Russia also has a labour shortage due to conscription because of the war. North Koreans could fill this gap – and bring foreign currency into the North Korean treasury. As early as last November, the U.S. had accused North Korea of supplying the Russian mercenary force Wagner with weapons. In January, Security Advisor John Kirby showed satellite images of a freight train allegedly delivering missiles to Russia.  However, this was not conclusive evidence of North Korean arms shipments to Russia. In the summer, the Financial Times published a report about North Korean weapons in Ukraine – but they were in the hands of the Ukrainian army. The Ukrainian Defense Ministry suggested in the report that the weapons had been captured by Russia. At present, however, there is nothing to suggest that North Korean weapons are being used on a large scale in Ukraine – the USA also admits this. Both states have denied reports of arms deliveries. Russia in particular could lose credibility if it actually obtains weapons. The UN Security Council has banned North Korea from exporting weapons with Russia's consent. If Russia were to actually import weapons now, it would undermine its own sanctions. However, there are many indications that Russia no longer feels bound by the rules in the Security Council anyway and is pushing ahead with an arms deal.  In July, Russia's Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu had already travelled to North Korea. Kim gave him a tour of a weapons display there featuring the latest North Korean military technology, including combat drones. At a military parade, Shoigu also inspected ballistic missiles actually banned by the UN Security Council. Also taking part in the tour was Deputy Defense Minister Aleksei Krivoruchko, who is responsible for Russia's ammunition and weapons procurement.  According to analysts, Russia is primarily interested in artillery ammunition: North Korea has shells compatible with Russian guns in 152mm and 122mm calibres.  Short-range missiles could also be on the Russians' shopping list. The North Korean KN-23, for example, is a further development of the Russian Iskander missile. Accordingly, Russian soldiers are likely to be familiar with the handling of the weapon. According to military experts, the KN-23 has a range of almost 700 kilometres. The KN-23 was also on display at the weapons exhibition Shoigu visited in North Korea. The United States is threatening North Korea that it will have to pay a "heavy price" if it actually supplies weapons. However, the U.S. has little opportunity to put North Korea under further pressure. However, bilateral sanctions, as well as sanctions imposed by Western allies, can hardly be increased. Russia, and presumably China as well, are preventing global sanctions in the UN Security Council - and seem unlikely to implement current sanctions. However, the Americans can act against companies that support secret trade between North Korea and Russia. For example, in mid-August, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on three Slovak companies. They allegedly tried to organize secret arms deals between Russia and North Korea.

Defense & Security
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Why China Supports the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone

by Hoang Thi Ha

Since 1999, China has expressed its readiness to sign the SEANWFZ Protocol and is the only Nuclear Weapon State willing to do so without reservations. This Long Read explores China’s strategic considerations behind this stance. INTRODUCTION The Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ) or Bangkok Treaty was signed on 15 December 1995 by the ten Southeast Asian states and entered into force on 28 March 1997. The States Parties to the Treaty are therewith obliged to ensure peaceful use of nuclear energy, and not to develop or acquire nuclear weapons, test nuclear explosive devices, or dump radioactive wastes within the zone. The Treaty includes a Protocol that is open to accession by the five recognised Nuclear Weapon States (NWS or P5), namely China, France, Russia, the United Kingdom (UK) and the United States (US), whose support and recognition are critical to the efficacy of SEANWFZ. The NWSs’ accession to the Protocol would entail their obligation to respect the Treaty, refrain from acts that may violate the Treaty, and provide negative security assurances (NSA), i.e., not use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against the SEANWFZ States Parties and within the zone. SEANWFZ is one of five nuclear weapon-free zones (NWFZ), which are seen as providing “the regional pathway” towards the ultimate goal of a nuclear weapon-free world. SEANWFZ was also considered an interim measure towards achieving the 1971 Zone of Peace, Freedom and Neutrality (ZOPFAN). Spearheaded by Malaysia, ZOPFAN aimed to achieve a Southeast Asia “free from any form or manner of interference by outside powers” but its realisation has been elusive, given that Southeast Asia is historically and geographically intertwined with the major powers’ strategic interests, and some regional states still maintain security alliances or close security ties with external powers. ZOPFAN’s ahistorical idealism was embedded in SEANWFZ’s key provisions regarding its expansive geographical coverage and the extensive scope of the NSA. This is the underlying reason for the lack of progress in getting the P5 – except China – to sign its Protocol up to now. China has been an outlier among the P5 in that it has expressed its intent to sign the Protocol since the late 1990s, shortly after the Treaty’s entry into force. The regional security environment has since deteriorated drastically with the intensification of US-China strategic tensions. Yet, China’s interest in SEANWFZ remains strong, and arguably has even increased as it sees itself as the target of a US-led strategy of “containment, encirclement and suppression”. This Perspective examines the legal and geopolitical intricacies of SEANWFZ that underlie China’s longstanding willingness to sign its Protocol in contrast to other NWSs. It argues that beyond non-proliferation considerations, supporting SEANWFZ serves China’s security interests amid its heightened tensions with the US and its allies. THE LONG JOURNEY OF GETTING THE P5 TO SIGN THE PROTOCOL The SEANWFZ States Parties – which are also the ten ASEAN member states – have held many consultations with the NWSs to persuade the latter to accede to the Protocol. The NWSs have objections and concerns regarding some substantive provisions of the Treaty and its Protocol (Table 1). • Expansive geographical scope Article 2 of the SEANWFZ Treaty states that the Treaty and its Protocol shall apply to the territories, exclusive economic zones (EEZ) and continental shelves (CS) of its States Parties. The inclusion of EEZ and CS is a unique feature of SEANWFZ that exceeds the standard coverage of only territories as in other NWFZs. It also goes beyond the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which prescribes the sovereign rights of a coastal state only with respect to the living and non-living resources in its EEZ and CS. The legal regime of EEZ and CS under UNCLOS is a delicate balance between the rights of coastal states and the freedoms of ocean user states. It remains a subject of contention between the majority of UN members, which hold that all states have the right to conduct military operations in any EEZ, and a minority of around 20 states (including China and some Southeast Asian states such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand), which impose restrictions on military operations by foreign powers in their EEZ. The inclusion of EEZ and CS in the geographical coverage of SEANWFZ is even more problematic due to the unresolved competing territorial and maritime claims in the South China Sea (SCS) among some Southeast Asian states and China. • Port visits and transit rights Article 3.2 of the Treaty forbids a State Party from developing, manufacturing, possessing, having control over, stationing, transporting, testing or using nuclear weapons. The US, UK and France maintain that there is a conflict between this article and Article 7 on the prerogative of a State Party to allow visits by foreign ships/aircraft to its ports/airfields or their transit in its territorial sea. These NWSs want to ensure that the Treaty would not impinge on their port visits and transit rights in the region (since these NWSs maintain the policy to neither confirm nor deny [NCND] the presence of nuclear weapons at a given location, the possibility that their visiting/transiting ships/aircraft in the region are nuclear-armed cannot be entirely ruled out). They insist on a clarification to ensure that Article 7 takes precedence over Article 3.2.• Extensive negative security assurances The NSA clause in the SEANWFZ Protocol requires that the NWSs commit not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons against any SEANWFZ State Party and not to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons within the zone. The latter part – “within the zone” – is problematic to the NWSs on two levels. First, the geographical application of SEANWFZ is not only expansive (involving the EEZ and CS of its States Parties) but also indeterminate (because of the territorial and maritime disputes in the SCS). Second, it would mean that an NWS cannot use nuclear weapons against another NWS within this expansive and indeterminate zone and cannot use nuclear weapons from within this expansive and indeterminate zone against targets outside the zone. This is well beyond the NSA that the NWSs traditionally extend to other NWFZs, which is limited to not using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against the territories of the zonal countries. • China’s sovereignty and maritime interests Unlike France, Russia, the UK and the US (the P4), China rarely stakes out its position with regard to the above-mentioned outstanding issues. China’s only stated concern vis-à-vis SEANWFZ is that the Treaty and its Protocol might contradict or undermine its territorial and maritime rights and interests in the SCS. To address this concern, during the consultations in 2010-2012, the SEANWFZ States Parties and China agreed that they would sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) stating that the Treaty and its Protocol shall not affect their respective territories, EEZ and CS. Table 1: Outstanding Issues Regarding NWS’s Accession to the SEANWFZ Protocol Source: Author Despite several consultations between the SEANWFZ States Parties and the P5 held in the late 1990s and early 2000s, these outstanding issues were not resolved, and the matter was put on the backburner. The momentum to get the P5 to sign the Protocol was revived in 2010-2011, in part due to the importance that the Obama administration accorded to strengthening the international non-proliferation regime. To address the outstanding issues, the SEANWFZ States Parties and the P5 negotiated a revised Protocol to the effect that: (i) in the EEZ and CS of the SEANWFZ States Parties, the P5 shall adhere to only Article 3.3 of the Treaty that bans the dumping of radioactive material/wastes; (ii) the SEANWFZ States Parties shall retain the prerogative to allow port visits and transit of foreign ships/aircraft pursuant to Article 7; and (iii) the P5’s NSA commitment shall be limited to not using or threatening to use nuclear weapons against the SEANWFZ States Parties. The scheduled signing of the revised Protocol by the P5 in July 2012 was forestalled by the reservations lodged at the eleventh hour by France, Russia and the UK. Some reservations by France or the UK state that accession to the Protocol shall not impair a NWS’ right of self-defence; a NWS can retract/review its obligations vis-à-vis a SEANWFZ State Party that ceases to be a party to the NPT, or breaches its non-proliferation obligations under the SEANWFZ Treaty, or develops other weapons of mass destruction. The most controversial reservation was made by Russia, which stated that it would not consider itself bound by the Protocol if a Southeast Asian state allowed foreign ships/aircraft carrying nuclear weapons to enter its territorial waters/airspace or to visit its ports/airfields. Given the NCND policy of some NWSs, the Russian reservation would put undue pressure on the SEANWFZ States Parties and challenge their prerogative to exercise their rights under Article 7. Due to the objection of some SEANWFZ States Parties to some or all of these reservations, the P5’s accession to the Protocol was put on hold, and the issue has been in hiatus since 2012. CHINA’S POSITION AND INTEREST VIS-À-VIZ SEANWFZ China’s readiness to sign the Protocol is a longstanding position that was registered as early as 1999. Beijing has indicated on various occasions that it is willing to be the first NWS to sign the Protocol, and to do so without reservations. The Chinese intent was reiterated by Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang during his meeting with the ASEAN secretary-general in March 2023. This article argues that China adopts a favourable approach towards SEANWFZ because the Treaty fits in with its nuclear doctrine and national security strategy, and accession to the Protocol could provide both geostrategic and diplomatic dividends for China. China’s No First Use policy China’s nuclear doctrine has been evolving in keeping with its growing nuclear capabilities and the changes in its external security environment. Yet, it still retains the self-defensive posture and the policy of unconditional No First Use (NFU) of nuclear weapons, which is reiterated in China’s 2019 Defence White Paper: “China is always committed to a nuclear policy of no first use of nuclear weapons at any time and under any circumstances, and not using or threatening to use nuclear weaponsagainst non-nuclear-weapon states or nuclear-weapon-free zones unconditionally (emphasis added).” To China’s credit, it is the only P5 country maintaining an unconditional NFU policy, which makes the Chinese nuclear doctrine less aggressive than those of other NWSs. Since China’s NSA commitment to Southeast Asian countries is well within the bounds of its NFU policy, its accession to the Protocol is more straightforward than that of the P4. China’s sea-based nuclear force China’s self-defensive nuclear policy seeks to maintain a “lean and effective” nuclear deterrence based on first-strike survival and second-strike capabilities. In the nuclear triad of an NWS – i.e., land-based nuclear missiles, strategic bombers, and ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs) – SSBNs are considered “the primary guarantor of second-strike capabilities” given their advantages in stealth and survivability. However, noisiness is the Achilles’ heel of Chinese SSBNs – from the Type 092 Xia-class in the 1970s-1990s to the newer Type 094 Jin-class – which makes them vulnerable to anti-submarine warfare and limits their ability to navigate far beyond the Chinese shores. It should be noted that the Chinese submarine fleet is home-ported at Yulin Naval Base on Hainan Island in the SCS; given its expansive claims in the SCS, China could justify the presence and operations of its SSBNs in these waters as falling well within its sovereignty and jurisdiction. Meanwhile, if the P4 respected the expansive geographic coverage of the SEANWFZ Treaty and the extensive NSA in the original Protocol – which is extremely unlikely, if not impossible – it would significantly undercut the deployment of their nuclear assets – particularly SSBNs – in a large swathe of maritime area in China’s southern vicinity, which would in turn enhance China’s strategic security and the defence of its sea-based nuclear deterrence. China’s anti-access/area-denial strategy China’s support for SEANWFZ is rooted in the strategic assessment that such an extended zone – if implemented – would contribute to the country’s anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) strategy which is aimed at denying the military power projection of superior adversaries in China’s near neighbourhood. Apart from investing in anti-ship, anti-air, anti-ballistic weapons and anti-submarine capabilities for its A2/AD system, China has also fostered regional arrangements and agreements that could be leveraged to delegitimise or discredit the military presence of foreign powers in the region. These include the SEANWFZ Treaty, as well as China’s proposal for a treaty on good neighbourliness, friendship and cooperation with ASEAN, China’s attempt to prevent Southeast Asian countries from conducting military exercises with foreign powers through a code of conduct in the SCS (COC), and its recent Global Security Initiative that embraces the ‘indivisible security’ concept. China’s sovereignty and maritime claims in the SCS Theoretically, if all NWSs accede to the SEANWFZ Protocol, they would be bound by the same legal obligations therein. However, the strategic security effect for the P4 and China would be significantly different because only the latter is located within the region. While the P4 are concerned about the undefined geographical scope of the zone due to the ongoing territorial and maritime disputes in the SCS, such ambiguity may work to China’s advantage. China has excessive sovereignty and maritime claims within its Nine-Dash Line that covers around 90% of the SCS. The coverage of China’s claims has been extended further with its ‘Four Sha’ concept whereby China asserts all maritime zones, including internal waters, territorial seas, contiguous zone, EEZ and CS, based on the so-called “four outlying archipelagos” in the SCS (Pratas, Paracels, Spratlys and Macclesfield Bank), which it is not allowed to do under UNCLOS as a continental state. China has demanded that an MoU be signed to ensure that neither the Treaty nor the Protocol shall affect its territory and maritime entitlements. This would effectively guarantee China’s free hand in defining the geographical scope of SEANWFZ in a flexible and selective manner that best serves its interests. For example, China may challenge nuclear deployments of other NWSs in the zone as violations of SEANWFZ but it can justify the presence of its nuclear assets in the zone on the grounds that such deployment takes place within China’s (claimed) territory and jurisdiction. Responsible nuclear weapon state discourse Since France, Russia, the UK and the US do not accept the extraordinary terms of the SEANWFZ Treaty and its original Protocol regarding the inclusion of EEZ and CS and the NSA commitment within the zone, SEANFWZ has no legal effect in preventing these countries from deploying their nuclear assets in regional waters beyond the territories of its States Parties. However, by signalling its readiness to sign the Protocol first and without reservations, China can turn SEANWFZ into a discursive and political weapon to project itself as a responsible nuclear power and claim the moral high ground in criticising the nuclear policy of the US and its allies as well as their nuclear assets in regional waters. Hence, SEANWFZ – and China’s interest in signing its Protocol – has gained greater salience in China’s regional diplomacy after the launch of the Australia-UK-US (AUKUS) tripartite security partnership in 2021, which aims to provide Australia with nuclear-powered (but conventionally armed) attack submarines. The Chinese government believes that AUKUS would “form an underwater military encirclement against China”. It has also argued that AUKUS violates the nuclear non-proliferation regime and has invoked SEANWFZ to criticise the deal. In March 2023, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson said that AUKUS “undercuts ASEAN countries’ effort to establish SEANWFZ and seriously undermines the ASEAN-centred regional cooperation architecture in East Asia”. Chinese commentaries state that China’s willingness to sign the Protocol is a manifestation of its “due responsibility as a major power that seeks peaceful development” and contrasts its position with the “irresponsible behaviours of the AUKUS countries”. CONCLUSION The SEANWFZ States Parties maintain a longstanding position that all outstanding issues with the NWSs should be resolved in a ‘package deal’ so as to enable their accession to the Protocol concurrently. Therefore, China has not been able to sign the Protocol despite its express intent to do so for decades. However, the rapidly deteriorating global strategic environment may warrant a rethink by the SEANWFZ States Parties on the ‘package deal’. The US and Russia – the two largest nuclear powers – have taken steps to walk back from their arms control obligations, including US withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and Russia’s suspension of its participation in the New START. Closer to home in East Asia, the race to develop nuclear capabilities is gathering pace. China is expanding and upgrading its nuclear arsenal and may become an atomic peer of the US and Russia by the 2030s, according to the US’ 2022 Nuclear Posture Review. America’s withdrawal from the INF raises the concern that Washington may introduce short-range ballistic and cruise missiles in Asia. The US’ Asian allies, while stopping short of developing nuclear weapons, are re-arming themselves to deal with nuclear threats (Australia with nuclear-powered attack submarines, Japan with counter-strike capabilities, and South Korea with submarine-launched ballistic missiles and its public debate on the need to acquire nuclear weapons). They are also seeking to consolidate the US’ nuclear deterrence umbrella in the region. Most ominously, Russia’s nuclear blackmail in its war against Ukraine draws home the vulnerabilities of non-nuclear-weapon states in the face of great-power bullying. Against this backdrop – and with China’s diplomatic activism – the SEANWFZ States Parties may drop the ‘package deal’ approach to pave the way for China’s accession to the Protocol. After all, it is a common practice that NWSs accede to other NWFZs’ protocols at different points of time. Apart from China’s NSA – which is already covered under its NFU policy – China’s accession would add a legal guarantee that it would not dump radioactive wastes in the zone, exert political pressure on other NWSs to follow suit, and raise the profile of SEANWFZ at a time when “the risk of nuclear weapons use is higher than at any time since the Cold War”. Yet, China’s accession would raise several legal and policy questions for the SEANWFZ States Parties. First, should China sign the original Protocol or the revised Protocol? Since the original is a non-starter for the remaining NWSs, using the revised Protocol would minimise legal complications when the SEANWFZ States Parties re-negotiate with them in the future. It is also important to ponder the implications of the above-mentioned MoU which would give China a free hand in defining the geographical scope of SEANWFZ in ways that serve its interests, possibly at the expense of those of SEANWFZ States Parties and other NWSs. Last but not least, China’s accession to the Protocol would be a strategic and diplomatic win for Beijing in its enduring quest to displace external military power from the region. In the final analysis, China values SEANWFZ not only because it is a regional non-proliferation regime per se but because its terms serve China’s strategic security in discrediting the nuclear forward deployment by foreign powers in China’s near neighbourhood. Now, as before, SEANWFZ States Parties remain confronted with the chasm between their nuclear weapon-free aspirations and their security interests from a balance of power in the region. This is as much a problem of strategic incoherence among the States Parties themselves as it is about their substantive differences with the NWSs.