Sunday, April 29, 2012

South China Sea - Mare Nostrum?

The South China Sea is a marginal sea, joining the Southeast Asian states with the Western Pacific, functioning as the throat of global sea routes.
There are two main island groups in the South China Sea - the Paracel Islands are in the northern part, about 200 miles from the coast of Vietnam and the Spratly islands which is spread through the southern part of the South China Sea and include about 100 small islets, sand bars, reefs, and rocks. Apart from that we have smaller islands – Pratas and Macclesfield Bank.
At the heart of the South China Sea dispute lays a contradiction called EEZ – Exclusive Economic Zone. So, before we discuss the South China Sea dispute, let’s understand EEZ.

Brief History of EEZ & UNCLOS:

In the older days, around 17th Century, we had a concept of 'freedom of the seas' in which national rights were limited to a specified belt of water extending from a nation's coastlines, usually three nautical miles, according to the 'cannon shot' rule developed by the Dutch people. All waters beyond national boundaries were considered international waters, which according to Grotius were “free to all nations, but belonging to none of them" - In his book "mare liberum"
In the early 20th century, some nations expressed their desire to extend national claims: to include mineral resources, to protect fish stocks, and to provide the means to enforce pollution controls. Slowly countries started drawing their own "national boundaries".  In 1956 UN held its first conference on the Law of the Sea in which territorial rights on Ocean was discussed but it was not until 1982 that we saw the culmination of thousands of years of international relations and conflict with nearly universal adherence to an enduring order for ocean space - United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
UNCLOS establishes international property law erga omnes that is by legal and political necessity and requires a bargained consensus to be effective. This bargain essentially provides coastal states with extended but limited jurisdictions (EEZ), while ensuring that the seabed and its mineral resources beyond were the “common heritage of mankind” that would peaceably and sustainably benefit all.
The concept of EEZ was adopted in the 1982 United Nations Conference on the Law of the Sea.
An exclusive economic zone (EEZ) is a 200-nautical-mile sea area measured from the low-water baseline (the level reached by the sea at low tide) of a state’s coast or of an inhabitable island under its sovereignty. An EEZ, as well as its relation, the continental shelf – the seabed and its subsoil up to 350 nautical miles from the coast – is a closely guarded asset.  Under UNCLOS, a state has sovereign jurisdiction over the area’s living and non-living marine resources.
When EEZ claims overlap, UNCLOS leaves it to the member states to sort out their differences through mutual discussion and consensus. It is this overlap of EEZ which is the cause of all disputes in the narrow stretch of South China Sea.

The South China Dispute:

Dispute 1: Vietnam Vs People's Republic of China (including Taiwan) over Paracel Island
China and Vietnam claim sovereignty over the Paracel island chain, from which China evicted Vietnam in 1974, in the dying days of the Vietnam War. Taiwan—because it is the “Republic of China”—mirrors China’s claim.
In order to demonstrate its sovereignty China's has been staging big military exercises in the South China Sea and also declared plans to develop group tourism on the archipelago.

Dispute 2: Malaysia Vs Philippines Vs Brunei Vs People's Republic of China (including Taiwan) Vs Vietnam Vs Indonesia over Spratly Island
All of these countries stake their claim over Spratly Island, except for Indonesia and Brunei, which only says that it falls under its EEZ as defined by UNCLOS.
While China shows a 1947 China map detailing its claims, which demarcates practically the whole of South China Sea with “Nine Dashed Line”, Vietnam says it always ruled Spratly since 17th century. Philippines invoke its geographical proximity to the Spratly Islands as the main basis of its claim for part of the grouping. Malaysia claims not all but a small number of islands in Spratly.
Dispute 3: China Vs ASEAN
In an attempt to minimise the risk of conflict in South China Sea, the two reached a common “Declaration on Conduct” (DoC) in 2002, but efforts to turn it into a formal and binding code has never materialised.  China argues that ASEAN has no role in territorial issues, and insists on negotiating with the other claimants bilaterally. ASEAN sees this as an effort to pick off its members one by one and argues that its own charter forces members to consult.
Foreign Policy Analogy: The smaller South East nations are pursuing the negotiating strategy of the weak — internationalize the conflict.  Like the one followed by Yasser Arafat’s for an “international conference” over the Arab-Israeli conflict, whereas Israel like the Chinese, always preferred bilateral talks.  Both China and Israel resist international conferences where smaller countries can gang up on them.

Dispute 4: United States of America Vs Republic of China
The two have locked horns over the issue of freedom of navigation & over flight and the right to conduct military exercises within other countries’ EEZ. America insists they are permissible while China objects to them.
China has recently started talking of its claims in the South China Sea as a “core national interest" at par with Tibet, Taiwan and Xinjiang Province.

What is so special about South China Sea?

1. Petroleum & Natural Gas Resources: 
US Energy Information Administration (widely regarded) in its report in 2011 stated that fossil fuels are expected to continue supplying much of the energy used worldwide.
World use of petroleum and other liquids will grow from 85.7 million barrels per day in 2008 to 97.6 million barrels per day in 2020 and 112.2 million barrels per day in 2035. It is also stated that most of the growth in liquids use is in the transportation sector, where, in the absence of significant technological advances, liquids continue to provide much of the energy consumed. Liquid fuels remain an important energy source for transportation and industrial sector processes. Transportation is an extremely important factor in a country’s growth and development. Hence energy security of liquids is extremely essential to maintain a sustainable growth.
World natural gas consumption will grow from 111 trillion cubic feet in 2008 to 169 trillion cubic feet in 2035. Natural gas continues to be the fuel of choice for its relatively low carbon intensity compared with oil and coal make and helps in reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
According to US Energy Information Administration the South China Sea has proven oil reserves of 7 billion barrels and an estimated 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas – same as the proven reserves of Qatar.

2. Major Sea Route & Maritime Region:
The South China Sea joins the Southeast Asian states with the Western Pacific, functioning as the throat of global sea routes. More than 50% of the world's annual merchant fleet tonnage passes through this sea and 1/3rd of all maritime traffic. The oil transported through the Strait of Malacca from the Indian Ocean, en route to East Asia through the South China Sea, is more than 6 times the amount that passes through the Suez Canal and 17 times the amount that transits the Panama Canal. Roughly two-thirds of South Korea's energy supplies, nearly 60% of Japan's and Taiwan's energy supplies, and about 80% of China's crude-oil imports come through the South China Sea.
Control of the South China Sea would facilitate China’s dominance of Asia, since US ships and aircraft as well as those of Japan, South Korea and other countries would have to have Chinese permission to transit the South China Sea, a major supply and transit route.
People’s Liberation Army’s Navy (PLAN) - Despite having one of the longest coastlines in the world, China has traditionally been a land power and has not had a navy of consequence. But now, in an era where strategic security depends upon supply lines and natural resources, the People’s Republic of China has been devoting much time and thought into developing a navy capable of defending its lifeline of energy and mineral supplies.
The PLAN in recent years has been increasing its naval capacity, building more destroyers, cruisers, and submarines and more importantly on a new tactic known as Area Anti-Access Denial (AAAD). This is basically the strategy of denying operational ability to an enemy in a specific location.  China has been bolstering this capability using advanced navy and submarine warfare like Anti-Surface to ship Missiles (ASM), Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles (ASBM) etc.
The United States (the US 7th Fleet) and Japan have the two largest navies in the world. Hence it would be reasonable for the PLAN to believe that in a time of crisis the U.S. would block access to crucial resources China needs and imports through the Straits of Malacca (in South China Sea).
The fastest way to win a war is to destroy an enemy’s ability to wage it. To combat the larger operational capability of the US Navy, the PLAN has constructed a series of AAAD strategies focused on island chains as defensive perimeters.
The first island chain runs through the South China Sea and is called the “First Island Chain of Defense” and hence the even greater interest of China to stake its claim in this sea.
The Second Island Chain of Defense is less distinctive, running southward from northern Japan through Guam, Micronesia, and terminating near New Guinea.
Chinese strategists view these “chains” as defensive perimeters to occupy or, at the very minimum, deny an enemy access to the area they encompass.
There is apprehensions in Indian defence circles that the ‘String of Pearls’ around Indian Ocean might be the China’s “Third Island Chain of Defense”.
3. Fishing & Marine Biodiversity:
There are also profuse fishing opportunities within the area. This region accounts for 10% of world’s fishing catches. The sea also holds one third of the entire world's marine biodiversity, thereby making it a very important area for the ecosystem.

India and the South China Sea:

The disputes over South China Sea seemed to have heated adjacent waters of the Indian Ocean as well.
Recently China had strongly objected to India’s ONGC Videsh’s (OVL) venture for off-shore oil exploration in water’s belonging to Vietnam (not recognized by China). India has chosen to ignore the warnings and responded by stating that its cooperation with Vietnam is in accordance with international laws.
Point to be noted here is that, while China opposes India’s entry into the South China Sea, it insists on building strategic projects in Pakistan occupied Kashmir (POK) and on deploying troops there. Apart from this, China's recent maritime activities - such as its extended counter piracy patrols in the Indian Ocean and its involvement in a number of port development projects in Indian Ocean littorals (dubbed the "string of pearls"), have raised the suspicion in Indian defence circles.
Indian and ASEAN:
  • India recently backed US’s multilateral approach rather than China’s bilateral approach in solving the South China Sea crisis. India also supported freedom of navigation in international waters.
  • Maritime cooperation between India and ASEAN limited
  • Off late India seen as a credible counterweight to China. Hence Southeast Asian countries, wary of continued Chinese aggression in the South China Sea, have encouraged joint maritime exercises with India. The Indian Navy’s Milan exercise was one such example.
  • India and ASEAN countries must collaborate - India has a strong Navy with technological credibility that can be leveraged by ASEAN. Collaboration on missile technology, radar systems, capacity-building and patrolling piracy-infested areas are areas where ASEAN countries can work in partnership with India.
  • Most ASEAN countries are engaged in defence modernization programme – India with its long experience in using Russian products and developed technological capabilities for low cost servicing can be ASEAN’s countries ally.
  • Assisting ASEAN will also improve India’s relations with the Southeast Asian countries bilaterally and multilaterally
  • Balancing China power in the Indian Ocean Region.
India’s Maritime and Energy Security Needs: India has a strong interest in keeping sea lanes open in the South China Sea. The Sea is not only a strategic maritime link between the Pacific and the Indian Oceans, but also a vital gateway for shipping in East Asia. Almost, 55% of India’s trade with the Asia Pacific transits through the South China Sea.
Sakhalin is India’s largest equity oil investment (Greater details on Equity Oil Investments by India and Energy Security in my later post) abroad and the shipping oil passes through this sea route. First shipment was received at Mangalore in Dec 2006. Therefore, it is vital for India to have access to the region. If China continues to assert dominance over these waters, it will be difficult for India to continue with its activities through this channel.
India’s Way Forward:
  • Given its naval strength, only US have the capabilities to contain China in the South China Sea, should there be a confrontation. But currently the US is beset with economic problems and rising public debt. Its more than necessary presence in Middle East and the urgent to maintain trade ties with China, the US has maintained an ambivalent stance on South China Dispute in recent past.
  • India needs atleast 5-10 yrs to bring its infrastructure on par with that of China.
  • The Gilgit-Baltistan area is legitimately of India. India needs to focus here, identifying options to prevent Chinese foray, rather than getting involved in South China Sea dispute which is not India’s.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Agni-V : Details

Agni - V is a three-stagesolid propellant MIRV (Multiple Independently Targetable Re-entry Vehicle) missile with a range of 5,000 kms and can carry a nuclear warhead weighing over 1-1.5 tonne. The missile can cover most of Asia, parts of Africa and Europe.
With Agni-V, India entered the league of Inter Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM) holding nations - US, Russia, France, UK and China. India started its missile development program in 1983 and inducted the first missile in 1989.
India started developing Agni missiles as part of India's Minimum Credible Nuclear Deterrence Program.
India has in its inventory other Agni series missiles also:
Agni I of 700 km range, Agni II of 2000 km range - meant to account for a threat from Pakistan
Agni III and Agni IV of 2,500 km to more than 3,500 km range - designed with china in their scheme of things.
Key features of Agni - V
i) 3 stage propulsion - Till now, India had 2 stages for all previous Agni releases.
ii) High road mobility for requisite operational flexibility and short reaction time - Made possible using 'canister technology', which is immediately after its manufacture, the missile will be hermetically sealed into an airtight canister. This process will increase its life.
iii) Multiple Independent Re-entry Vehicles (MIRVs) - Each missile capable of carrying 3-10 separate nuclear warheads. Each warhead can be assigned to a different target, separated by hundreds of kms
What all features/technologies were tested with Agni-V?
Among other technical parameters, this test validated engine, re-entry capabilities and guidance technologies as listed below:
(i) 3 stages of propulsion (remember earlier we just had 2-stage propulsion)
(ii) Composite Rocket Motors – made up of carbon composites which are high temperature tolerant (there was a report on this in NDTV 24X7, demonstrating its usefulness)
(iii) MIRV (Multiple Independently targetable Re-entry Vehicle) – Earth’s atmosphere re-entry capabilities (though there is no confirmation if MIRV was tested on 19th April'2012)
(iv) High accuracy Ring Laser Gyro based Inertial Navigation System (RINS)
(v) Micro Navigation System (MINS) ensured the Missile reach the target point within few meters of accuracy
See DRDO press release here
Technology (iv) and (v) mentioned above were already tested in Agni-IV, so this test was reinforcement of their functioning flawlessly and making India completely self-reliant.
Why does it take 3-4 yrs before the missile is inducted into service?
Any product once built, needs to undergo several round of tests. While this 1st test was successful, it will take another 3-4 years to induct the missile into service, after it goes through several more tests and user trials.
For e.g. a typical test can be, testing if Agni-V performs successfully to track and destroy incoming hostile missiles both inside the Earth’s atmosphere and outside the Earth’s atmosphere. This first test (on 19th April’12) did not check all of these. Infact if you check the DRDO website, there is no such confirmation on whether MIRV technology (hallmark feature of Agni-V) was tested or not.
So, once all of these will be tested, it will then be handed over to the ‘Strategic Forces Command’ by around 2014-15.
Now that the test is complete, several important decisions needs to be taken like including strategic doctrines (remember NFU), target definitions, number of missiles to be produced etc. The government has to make these decisions before it becomes an instrument of capable, credible deterrence. Also in real terms, sufficient number of missiles needs to be produced before inducting them into service.
Remember, any missile launch in future, against any country, needs to be discussed in a Cabinet Committee on Security meeting and the final Go-Ahead needs to be given by the Prime Minister.
Though, I must mention here that India has pledged to No-First-Use-but-Massive-Retaliation (NFU-MR) policy. It was agreed during NDA regime by Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee.  See here
Agni-V’s ballistic trajectory path along Indian Ocean 
Agni splashed down in Indian Ocean, between the southern tip of Africa and Australia. Time taken from launch to splash-down was around 20 mins.
Agni-V’s ballistic trajectory path through Earth’s Atmosphere
Three important phases of a ballistic missile: Booster, Mid-Course & Terminal
(i) Booster – uses all of its fuel (remember Agni-V has solid propellant) during this stage to gain acceleration. Remember it has to fight against Earth’s gravity, inertia and atmospheric drag.
(ii) Mid-course – longest phase of a ballistic missile. It is during this phase that the main use of MIRV comes into picture, where it guides its different warheads into respective target locations.
(iii) Terminal – In this phase the missile is re-enters the atmosphere with exceptional energy and follows a free fall. The energy generated against drubbing with atmosphere generates a lot of heat and there is a need to protect the warheads against burning out before hitting the target. The significance of heat resistant ‘carbon composite’ material (mentioned above) comes into picture.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Agni-V - What Is The Way Forward ?

Why does every move in our country(India) these days, draw cynicism and have some 'desi Durkheim' amongst us crib about India's state of poverty, health, malnutrition ? And then someone will draw our dear old 'Paaji' (the punjabi one, not Bengali), doing something funny, and then starts the unending 'Fabebook Bashing' , 'Re tweets' , "Bharat Mata Ki Jai .. " (no seriously, I have seen it) et. al.
When someone question such move(of launching missiles), it clearly shows lack of understanding of the geopolitical equations prevailing in the region. We need to understand that we aren't in the begin surroundings afterall. Alongside problems relating to Pakistan, terrorism and domestic insurgency, there lies a big Asian giant (China) , who is busy modernizing its military, has off late heightened its activities in Indian Ocean and is increasing its military expenditure(China's 2012-13 budget was over $120 billion, compared to India's $40 billion). In such an environment, India cannot afford to look the other way. Even though New Delhi cites China as a reason for its nuclear weapons and part of Beijing’s arsenal is intended to deter India, the risk of nuclear confrontation between China and India is considered to be low.
Successful Agni V test alongside, the triad of nuclear deterrence from sea, land and air, demonstrates India's strengthening defense and deterrence capabilities. The missile has particular relevance to India in the context of advance military capabilities in its neighborhood, enabling New Delhi to upgrade its present strategic posture of ‘dissuasion’ to that of ‘credible deterrence.’
Check what the Chinese had to say about this launch here
Having said that, a nuclear competition between China and India would bring multiple and unforeseen risks. Asymmetric capabilities(China around 250-300; compared to India's around 100) and threat perceptions between the two nations along with no progress on a nuclear dialogue and stability – embedded in a willingness to respect each other’s interests – risks could grow that some future confrontation between these powers might involve nuclear threats and misjudgments
Mistrust is an enduring feature of relations between India and China, however over the years some substantial elements of cooperation have grown and persisted – China has become India’s largest trading partner, security and political dialogues have improved, there is an annual defence dialogue between the two countries and also an operational-level measures to manage incidents on the disputed border.
But strategic-level issues of military co-operation and transparency or stable nuclear deterrence is yet to feature in any of these discussions.
Main reasons for mistrust in India-China relations:
(i) Disputed Himalayan Border and the legacy of 1962 border war. Both countries have postured and renewed their claim on the land.
(ii) India is concerned about China's increasing foray into the Indian Ocean, its overall military modernization, rising military expenditure, non-transparent nature of its programmes and objectives. India’s Military expense in 2012-13 budget is circa $40 billion, whereas China’s military budget for the same year is around $120 billion or even more, as Chinese don’t reveal the real numbers.
(iii) China’s strategic assistance to Pakistan on nuclear, military and missile is seen by India as a strategic attempt by China to ‘contain’ it in the Indian Subcontinent. Also remember the recent ‘stapled visa’ issue for J&K state residents?
On the other hand, growing India-US ties strategic partnership is perceived by China as a measure to ‘contain’ or limit its power including a potential blockade of energy imports traversing the Indian Ocean. A recent example being hardening of China’s stance towards India on several issues after the path breaking US-India civil nuclear deal in 2005.
(iv) China’s anxiety about Tibet and presence of some politically active Tibetan exile community in India. Remember whenever these Chinese people visit India, Tibetan people in India create a huge furore.
(v) Diplomatic and soft-power competition in other regions and in Southeast Asia.
(vi) Nuclear mistrust – There seems to be a no confidence between the two countries on nuclear relations.
The famous Panchsheel agreement with China spearheaded by Nehru was the first step towards principles of peaceful co-existence with neighbours, though it is a different thing that the 5-principles of Panchsheel agreement have never been followed either in letter or in spirit by China. This was followed by the 1962 war which led to more misunderstanding and bitter relations.
Inspite of that, recently India proposed to negotiate a nuclear No-First-Use (NFU) agreement with China, with a belief that it would confer mutual security benefits and led both countries towards a bilateral dialogue on nuclear relations. But it seems China does not consider India’s possession of nuclear weapons legitimate because it is not a recognised nuclear weapon state under the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). China has thus resisted any bilateral nuclear discussions.
China’s Nuclear Doctrine has historically been to use nuclear weapons as tool of coercion, with their value being in possession rather than use. Although China’s doctrine and capabilities are primarily aimed at deterring the United States, these also affect the security dynamic with India. Also there is an inherent ambiguity in the Chinese nuclear doctrine relating to its No-First-Use (NFU) pledge, because it says that it is applicable only to the members of NPT signees.  See here. Since India is not a signee to NPT, so it automatically excludes India. Moreover it does not rule out the use of nuclear weapons on ‘Chinese territory’, which presumably includes disputed territory as well.
On the other hand, India’s nuclear doctrine is premised upon a ‘credible minimum deterrent’. India’s NFU policy talks of no first use but massive retaliation ‘designed to inflict unacceptable damage’.
So what is the solution to all this?

In view of emerging no confidence on nuclear relations between the two nations, there is an urgent need to begin a dialogue on nuclear and strategic stability talks. The two countries must realise that the current silence on these issues in official discussions is unsustainable and in the interests of neither.
(i) Mutual respect for each other’s interests in the broader relationship
India needs to indicate its accommodative nature towards China’s legitimate Indian Ocean interests as a maritime trading and energy-importing nation.
On the other hand China needs to recognize India as a nuclear peer(which it has not as yet) and demonstrate the place for ‘relationship with India’ ahead or atleast at par with its ‘relationship with Pakistan’.
A good gesture can be to support India’s aspiration for a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council.
(ii) Use trade to get inroads into strategic bilateral talks between the two countries. I think some work towards this end has already begun.
(iii) Sit and discuss the nature and purpose of each other’s nuclear weapons programs and doctrines, as well as of their missile defence efforts. They can use this platform to clarify any doubts on NFU ambiguities between the two states.
(iv) Adopt ways that would stabilise deterrence and workable crisis management and communication mechanisms. There was a telephone hotline established between the PMs of the two countries in 2010. It is a good step forward, but serves little purpose unless both sides agree on the circumstances in which they need to use the hotline, and actually use it in those situations.
(v) Both countries should identify common ground and objectives to contain nuclear arms control, non-proliferation and disarmament globally. This might give two countries a platform to sign the CTBT (remember both countries haven’t signed the CTBT as yet).
Between the two nations, the overall aim should be to reduce tensions and to engage in periodic military confidence-building measures (CBMs) as a means of mutual reassurance.