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Water Wars: Japan’s Defense Buildup Signals a Shift Away from Post-WWII

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Former U.S. Fighter Pilot to Face Charges for Training Chinese Military

 Former U.S. Marine Corps fighter pilot Daniel Edmund Duggan, 54, was arrested in Australia at the United States’s request and is being held while facing extradition. Charges include training Chinese military pilots to land on aircraft carriers in violation of the Arms Export Control Act (22 U.S.C. § 2778) and International Traffic in Arms Regulations (22 C.F.R. Parts 120-130). As referenced in a previous Lawfare article, the BBC reported in October that up to 30 former U.K. pilots may have been recruited by China to train Chinese military aviators. Following the BBC’s report, the Australian Department of Defence launched an investigation into similar reports that its pilots had accepted well-paid training roles in China. Duggan’s arrest followed closely on the heels of Australia’s inquiry into this alleged unsanctioned sharing of military knowledge.

According to the Associated Press, Duggan served in the U.S. Marine Corps for 13 years as an AV-8B Harrier pilot and flight instructor before leaving the service in 2002. He relocated to Australia, became an Australian citizen, and renounced his U.S. citizenship. From 2005 to 2014, he managed a business called “Top Gun Tasmania,” in which he and other former military pilots took tourists for rides in jet aircraft. He then moved to China, where he worked as an aviation consultant and shared an address with Chinese businessman Su Bin, who was sentenced to four years in prison in 2016 for stealing information on U.S. aviation technology and transferring it to the Chinese military. 

Duggan’s defense counsel, Dennis Miralis, maintains that Duggan has been “singled out” for extradition since other Australian citizens have provided military instruction to foreign governments and have not faced the same consequences. Miralis claims that Duggan’s extradition is political in nature, presumably alluding to geopolitical tensions between China and the U.S. and its allies, which have resulted in a “crackdown” on former Western pilots who have transferred military aviation knowledge to China. Duggan contests and denies the allegations against him.

 

U.S. and China Spar Over Close Maneuver

U.S. Indo-Pacific Command (USINDOPACOM) released a statement in December 2022 alleging that, on Dec. 21, a Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) J-11 fighter jet performed an “unsafe intercept” of a U.S. Air Force RC-135 reconnaissance aircraft in international airspace over the South China Sea. The Chinese pilot reportedly maneuvered in front and within 20 feet of the nose of the U.S. aircraft, forcing the U.S. pilot to take evasive measures to avoid collision. USINDOPACOM released video footage of the encounter along with its statement. In response to the incident, USINDOPACOM affirmed its commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific and asserted that the U.S. Joint Force will continue to fly in international airspace and operate at sea “with due regard” for the safety of vessels and aircraft under international law. It likewise expects all countries in the Indo-Pacific region to “use international airspace safely and in accordance with international law.”

The Chinese military has presented a conflicting account of the incident. Releasing its own video, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Southern Theater Command accused the U.S. of deliberately misleading the public, distorting facts, blaming the innocent, and attempting to fool the international community. According to an article published on Jan. 1 by China Military Online, PLA spokesperson Col. Tian Junli stated that Chinese aircraft were deployed to track and monitor the U.S. aircraft, which was conducting close-in reconnaissance near the Paracel Islands (Chinese: Xisha Qundao; Vietnamese: Quần đảo Hoàng Sa). Tian alleges that the U.S. aircraft disregarded repeated warnings from the Chinese pilot, abruptly changed its flight attitude, and forced the Chinese pilot to evade. Tian demanded that the U.S. “restrain the operations of front-line air and naval troops, strictly abide by relevant international laws and agreements, and prevent any accidental event at sea and in the air.” In a press conference on Dec. 30, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Wang Wenbin accused the U.S. of frequently deploying ships and aircraft to conduct close-in reconnaissance of China, which jeopardizes Chinese national security. Wang stated that the United States’s “provocative and dangerous moves are the root cause of maritime security issues” and urged the U.S. to stop deflecting blame on China. He affirmed that China will continue to “resolutely defend its sovereignty and security.”

Expert analysis of the two videos yields conflicting interpretations of who was in the wrong. Chinese state-run news outlet the Global Times interviewed an anonymous Chinese military expert, who claims the videos show that the U.S. aircraft maneuvered dangerously toward the Chinese aircraft, while the Chinese aircraft did not engage in any dangerous maneuvers. By contrast, aviation and military experts interviewed by CNN agreed that, as the smaller and more maneuverable aircraft, the Chinese jet was “firmly in the wrong” and had a responsibility to stay out of the way of the larger aircraft. However, a former Air Force pilot told CNN that, while the Chinese response was “divorced from reality,” the U.S. response was “pure theater” and overly dramatized the situation.

While China considers the Paracel Islands part of its sovereign territory, the U.S. considers them merely “occupied” by China and their sovereignty disputed between China, Taiwan, and Vietnam. In furtherance of its commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific and with the aim of keeping sea lanes open for international navigation, the U.S. routinely transits ships and aircraft through disputed areas. China views these freedom of navigation operations as provocations harmful to the peace and stability of the region. In response, the Chinese military has developed a pattern of aggressively intercepting ships and aircraft operating in the vicinity of its maritime claims.

 

U.S. Freedom of Navigation Operations in the South China Sea

On Nov. 29, 2022, the U.S. Defense Department published a China Military Report that provides, according to Pentagon Press Secretary Patrick Ryder, “an authoritative assessment of … the current course of [China’s] military and security strategy.” The report identified Beijing as “the only competitor with the intent and, increasingly, the capacity to reshape the international order,” highlighting the PLA’s intention “to accelerate the integrated development of … the PRC’s armed forces,” which if realized, “could give the PLA capabilities to be a more credible military tool” as the Chinese government “pursues Taiwan unification.” 

According to the Defense Department, the “Chinese response to a U.S. freedom of navigation operation in the South China Sea highlighted the premise behind the department’s [report.]” On the same day that the Defense Department published the China assessment, the USS Chancellorsville sailed in the South China Sea near the Spratly Islands to “uph[o]ld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging restrictions on innocent passage imposed by the People’s Republic of China.” Under the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), warships can make an “innocent passage” through another country’s territorial waters without prior notification. However, Chinese authorities claimed that the USS Chancellorsville’s presence “violated China’s sovereignty.” The U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet called the PLA’s account “false,” and Ryder stated that “the U.S. will continue to fly, sail, and operate wherever international law allows.” 

The U.S. is engaged in freedom of navigation operations elsewhere, too. On Jan. 5, the USS Chung-Hoon passed through the Taiwan Strait in what the U.S. military and the Taiwanese defense ministry called “routine activity.” The USS Chung-Hoon’s presence elicited a statement from the Chinese Embassy in Washington urging the U.S. to “immediately stop … undermining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.” 

 

The U.S. Doubles Down on Aid and Arms Support to Taiwan Amid Chinese Displays of Force 

On Nov. 14, 2022, in a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping, President Biden raised objections to Beijing’s “coercive and increasingly aggressive actions toward Taiwan, which undermine peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait.” In response, Xi “stressed that the Taiwan question is at the very core of China’s core interests … [and] must not be crossed in China-U.S. relations.” Xi’s position was consistent with his vow to “never renounce the use of military force to take control of Taiwan” at the Chinese Communist Party’s 20th National Congress. On Dec. 23, President Biden signed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023, which authorized up to $10 billion in security assistance over the next five years to strengthen Taiwan’s military capabilities and deter Chinese aggression. 

In response, on Dec. 26, Beijing sent 71 planes and seven ships toward Taiwan in a 24-hour “display of force directed at the self-ruled Island.” According to the Taiwanese defense ministry, the incursion included “42 J-10, J-11, J-16 and Su-30 fighter jets, two Y-8 maritime patrol aircrafts, a KJ-500 early warning aircraft, as well as a CH-4 and a WZ-7 military drone.” Shi Yi, the spokesperson for the PLA’s Eastern Theater Command, called the move “a firm response to the current U.S.-Taiwan escalation and provocation.” An official from the White House National Security Council characterized China’s military activity as “destabilizing … and undermin[ing] regional peace and stability.” This more recent incursion comes on the heels of China sending 18 bombers into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone. In response to elevated aggression from China, Taiwan plans to extend compulsory military service to one year starting in 2024, up from the current requirement of four months. 

On Dec. 28, the Biden administration approved “a potential 180 million-dollar arms sale” to Taiwan. Though Washington “has long provided arms to the island under the terms of the Taiwan Relations Act,” the move is likely to further provoke Beijing. This arms sale would follow a more than $1.1 billion arms sale to Taiwan in September. On Jan. 20, Taiwan’s representative in Washington, Bi-khim Hsiao, emphasized that it is “critical to send a consistent message” that “force will be met by a strong international response, including consequences.” 

 

Philippines Balances Delicate Relations Between the United States and China

U.S. Vice President Harris Visits the Philippines; United States and Philippines Reach EDCA Agreement

On Nov. 22, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris met with Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. in Manila to reaffirm U.S. commitment to its bilateral relations with the Philippines, which include security and economic cooperation. Most notably, Harris asserted the United States’s defense commitment to the Philippines if it were to come under attack in the South China Sea, stating: “An armed attack on Philippine armed forces, vessels or aircrafts in the South China Sea would invoke U.S. mutual defense commitments.” Harris also reiterated U.S. support of the Philippines’s endeavors to defend international rules and norms in the South China Sea. Harris’s statement likely refers to the 2016 international arbitral ruling that invalidated China’s territorial claims to the area determined to be part of the Philippines’s exclusive economic zone pursuant to UNCLOS.

Harris’s three-day visit to the Philippines also included a stop at Palawan, a Philippine island that sits on the edge of the South China Sea, where she spoke to members of the Philippine Coast Guard on principles of sovereignty and freedom of navigation, while denouncing China’s intimidation tactics in the South China Sea. Harris is the highest-ranking U.S. official to visit Palawan to date. Many South China Sea analysts noted that the stop at Palawan, along with the overall objectives of Harris’s Philippines itinerary, signaled Washington’s effort to cement strategic ties with Manila, a treaty ally critical to help counter China’s increasing aggression, especially toward Taiwan. Protesters, however, rallied against the visit by Harris, stating that it was an omen of the Philippines being caught between U.S.-China tensions: “We don’t want our country to be used as a pin board or launching pad of the wars of the United States against China or any other country,” said Liza Maza, an official of the International League of Peoples’ Struggle.

The visit was well received by Marcos, who said during his meeting with Harris that he did not “see a future for the Philippines that does not include the United States.” Compared to his predecessor, Rodrigo Duterte, who was known for his appeasement of China, Marcos Jr. has taken measures to build ties between the Philippines and the United States. Most recently, the Marcos administration has moved toward full revival of the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement (EDCA), a security cooperation agreement signed between the United States and the Philippines in 2014 that faded under Duterte. Under the EDCA, the Biden administration plans to allocate $66.5 million to establish critical infrastructure on military bases across the Philippines expected to host U.S. troops. 

 

Defense Secretary Austin Announces Agreement to Increase U.S. Military Presence in the Philippines

Early this month, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced an agreement between the U.S. and the Philippines to give the U.S. military access to four more locations in the Southeast Asian nation. The agreement will allow the U.S. to station military equipment and build facilities across nine locations, marking the largest military presence in the Philippines in over 30 years. According to the BBC, with this deal Washington has “stitched the gap in the arc of U.S. alliances” that spans from Japan and South Korea in the north to Australia in the south, completing its arc around China.

In the 1980s, the Philippines hosted large U.S. military bases with 15,000 troops stationed on Philippine soil. Analysts do not believe this agreement heralds a return to that heavy presence but, rather, reflects the United States’s desire to access areas from which “light and flexible” operations could be carried out. Gregory B. Poling, director of the Southeast Asia Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), believes that the U.S. is not looking for permanent bases in the Philippines. “It’s about places, not bases,” he remarked. U.S. troops will come and go in small rotations through several locations facing potential flashpoints, including the Scarborough Shoal, Taiwan, and the Spratly Islands. According to Poling, the aim is to deter further territorial expansion by China.

The announcement has prompted backlash from China. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning accused the U.S. of threatening regional stability. “Out of self-interest, the United States continues to strengthen its military deployment in the region with a zero-sum mentality, which is exacerbating tension in the region and endangering regional peace and stability.” Mao called on countries in the region to remain vigilant against being coerced and used by the United States.

The announcement met some resistance within the Philippines as well. Renato Reyes, secretary general of New Patriotic Alliance, a left-wing group, is concerned about the historical inequality in the relationship between the U.S. and the Philippines and cites a history of abuses and social costs inflicted upon its people. He also expresses concern that the Philippines will be “caught in the middle” of a confrontation between the U.S. and China.

 

Philippines-China Tensions Simmer Over South China Sea; Philippines President Marcos Jr. Meets Chinese President Xi

Just two days before U.S. Vice President Harris’s speech at Palawan, Chinese and Philippine ships had a tense encounter in the South China Sea over debris that Philippine officials believe was from a Chinese rocket, providing one example of recent tensions between the two countries.

On Nov. 21, Vice Admiral Alberto Carlos of the Philippine Navy reported that Philippine sailors had spotted debris near Thitu Island (Chinese: Zhongye Dao; Philippines: Pag-asa Island; Vietnamese: Đảo Thị Tứ), and as a Philippine naval boat was towing away the debris, the Chinese Coast Guard blocked the boat twice before it “forcefully retrieved” the debris by cutting the rope used to tow it. This narrative, however, was refuted by China. During a regular press conference the same day, Mao Ning, spokesperson for China’s Foreign Ministry, denied confrontation between the Chinese Coast Guard and the Philippine boat, stating that “there was no so-called interception and seizure at the scene.” On Dec. 14, the Philippine Senate filed a resolution condemning Chinese actions.

Additional encounters throughout the months of December and January added to bilateral tensions. On Dec. 14, the Philippine Department of National Defense (DND) released a statement “expressing alarm over the reported swarming of Chinese ships off Iroquois Reef [Chinese: Houteng Jiao] and Sabina Shoal [Chinese: Xianbin Jiao]” in the South China Sea, calling the swarming “unacceptable” and maintaining that the DND “will not give up a single square inch of the Philippine territory” pursuant to President Marcos’s directive.

In late December, the Western Command of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (WECOM) also confirmed reports of Chinese fishing vessels doing landfill work around the Spratly Islands. In response to both reports, the Philippines not only denounced China’s actions but also increased military presence in the region. On Dec. 19, the U.S. State Department published a statement supporting the Philippines on both fronts, stating that the reported “escalating swarms” of Chinese ships “interfere with the livelihoods of Philippine fishing communities” and that the United States “share[s] the Philippines’ concerns regarding the unsafe encounter that the PRC Coast Guard initiated with Philippines naval forces in the South China Sea.” The Chinese Embassy in Manila rejected the State Department’s assertions, issuing a statement urging the U.S. to “stop using the South China Sea issue to stir up troubles, sow discord between China and the Philippines and undermine stability in the South China Sea.” Such alleged incursions by China have been ongoing and have led some Philippine lawmakers to propose bills that would designate interisland sea lanes to demarcate foreign and domestic ships and would impose fines and/or prison time for violations of the law.

Despite rising tensions over the South China Sea, President Marcos met with President Xi on Jan. 4. This was Marcos’s first state visit to Beijing. A joint statement released by the two governments highlighted that the leaders reached agreement “to conduct cooperation in the four key priority areas of agriculture, infrastructure, energy and people-to-people exchanges, and pursue additional avenues of cooperation in the areas of defense and security, science and technology, trade and investments.” At this meeting, 14 bilateral agreements were signed, including one that focused on bilateral cooperation on infrastructure initiatives under China’s Belt and Road Initiative. On the South China Sea front, Xi and Marcos Jr. agreed to “appropriately manage differences” and “reaffirmed the importance of maintaining and promoting peace and stability in the region.” To accomplish this goal, the two countries agreed to establish a direct communication mechanism between their foreign ministries. The two leaders also agreed to restart negotiations on oil and gas exploration in the South China Sea. Both leaders expressed optimism about the future of bilateral relations; Marcos Jr. said that he looks forward to “opening a new chapter of comprehensive strategic cooperative relations” with China.

Just days after the Xi-Marcos Jr. meeting in January, the Philippine Supreme Court issued a ruling that may pose a challenge to China-Philippines joint oil exploration in the South China Sea. On Jan. 10, the Supreme Court held that the Joint Marine Seismic Undertaking—a 2005 oil exploration deal between the Philippines and Chinese and Vietnamese firms in the South China Sea—was unconstitutional because it allowed foreign entities to exploit natural resources without constitutional safeguards. Regional analysts state that this ruling may bring uncertainty to the success of future cooperation in resource ventures, suggesting that there remain existing domestic challenges to stronger relations between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea. 

 

In Response to China Threat, Japan Makes New Defense Investments 

Japan Protests Transits by Chinese Vessels

In November 2022, a Chinese PLAN surveillance ship transited through Japan’s territorial waters southwest of Kuchinoerabu Island south of Kyushu. Japanese officials said that this was the fourth “intrusion of a foreign warship” in 2022, marking a record high. This month, the Japanese Defense Ministry reported that three PLAN ships passed through Japan’s contiguous zone “just outside its territorial waters” near the Japan-controlled Senkaku Islands (Chinese: Diaoyu Dao). Shortly afterward, Japan announced that it would increase patrols of its territorial waters in the vicinity of the Senkaku Islands in response to the increasing presence of Chinese vessels. A Japanese government spokesperson has said that Chinese vessels have been detected on 28 occasions in Japan’s territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands. He called the intrusions “regrettable and unacceptable” and said that the Japanese government will continue to respond to the situation “calmly and firmly.”

 

Japan Seeks Stronger Deterrence Capability in Largest Defense Buildup Since World War II 

The Japanese government plans to relax guidelines for defense equipment transfers to allow exports to friendly countries. Currently, exports are allowed only to the U.S., but the change will allow exports to the U.K. and Italy. Japan is also considering allowing defense equipment transfers to countries “facing aggression that violates international law.”

Profit margins in Japan’s defense sector are lower than in other Japanese industries. A Defense Ministry official claimed that the country needs to “make the defense industry a profitable sector.” The Japanese government plans to provide financial support to the defense industry and may even nationalize some private defense firms.

Japan has been strengthening its defense posture in what has been dubbed its largest military buildup since World War II. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced that the country will spend 43 trillion yen ($326 billion) on defense over five years starting in 2023. Japan has undertaken to acquire counterstrike capabilities to strengthen its deterrence posture in light of China’s belligerent actions toward Taiwan and North Korea’s recent ballistic missile launches. To obtain counterstrike capabilities against China and North Korea, Japan expects to develop domestic missiles with a range of more than 1,000 kilometers and to procure U.S.-made Tomahawk missiles. Japan is also considering extending the anticipated range of its domestic missiles in order to defend the Senkaku Islands. The Defense Ministry also plans to deploy a surface-to-air missile defense unit on its westernmost island of Yonaguni, near Taiwan. 

China has accused Japan of “hyping up” the threat China poses in order to “find an excuse for its military buildup.” Beijing has called Japan’s increase in defense spending a “very dangerous development” and questions Japan’s commitment to a defense-oriented policy. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin urged Tokyo to “earnestly reflect on its history of aggression.”

 

Kishida Shoring Up Defense Ties With G-7 Tour 

Last week, Prime Minister Kishida concluded a series of visits with fellow Group of Seven (G-7) nations ahead of the G-7 Summit, which will take place in Hiroshima in May 2023. Kishida visited the leaders of France, Italy, the U.K., and Canada, and concluded his tour with a meeting with President Biden in Washington. While the visit is ostensibly tied to Japan’s presidency of the G-7 this year, according to Tomoo Kikuchi, an associate professor at Japan’s Waseda University, it may also have served as an opportunity for Japan to shore up defense ties with Western partners and “send a signal to China” that Japan and its partners will unite against any unilateral attempts to change the status quo in the region. 

Kishida met with President Emmanuel Macron of France, who promised Japan his country’s “unfailing support.” During his meeting with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, the two leaders agreed to form a “strategic partnership,” and committed to “two-plus-two” security talks between their foreign ministers and defense ministers like those already taking place between Japan and the U.S., Australia, and India. Kishida and U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak signed a defense agreement allowing the two nations to deploy military forces on each other’s soil. This pact is Japan’s first defense agreement with a European nation, and it allows for joint military exercises between the two nations. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada reaffirmed his country’s commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific and to upholding a rules-based international order. The two leaders discussed bilateral trade, investment, and innovation. Kishida’s G-7 tour came in the midst of Japan’s largest military buildup in decades. Japan’s recent increases in defense spending will give it the third largest defense budget in the world after the U.S. and China. Kishida’s visits to G-7 nations signal to China that the G-7 will be united against any unilateral action to change the status quo in the Indo-Pacific region.

Japan’s security position has become precarious. Former Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi pointed out that Japan is “surrounded by nuclear-armed nations that refuse to adhere to international norms of behavior.” Chinese military activity has intensified, and North Korea launches missiles into the Sea of Japan with some frequency. In late 2022, North Korea launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan for the first time since 2017. In spite of these challenges, Japan’s response has been constrained by its post-World War II constitution. Japan constitutionally renounced war in the aftermath of its World War II defeat. Article 9 of the Constitution of Japan prohibits the “threat or use of force as means of settling international disputes” and has been interpreted to permit use of force to defend the territory and people of Japan only in response to an actual attack, not merely a likelihood or threat of attack. In exchange for this constitutional limitation on use of force, the U.S. has promised to defend Japan, and the country has relied on the U.S. military for protection. But as China’s military power continues to grow and shift the regional power balance in China’s favor, Japan seeks new security partners and pursues development of a more robust deterrence capability of its own. While acquisition of more security partners and a counterstrike capability would not necessarily conflict with Japan’s constitutional commitment to use of force for self-defense only, some observers view it as a “dramatic policy shift” away from post-World War II restraints on its use of military force, such as the government’s erstwhile rejection of certain armaments that might be used offensively, like intercontinental ballistic missiles and long-range strategic bombers.

Kishida’s G-7 tour concluded on Jan. 13 with his visit to Washington, which he described as a “very important meeting that goes beyond Chairing of the G7.” During the visit, he sought President Biden’s endorsement of Japan’s new deterrence strategy, including the development of long-range missiles capable of striking enemy bases. During the meeting, Biden signaled support for Japan’s more assertive defense posture and reaffirmed the U.S.-Japan partnership. Japan’s decision to double defense spending and take a more active role could signal a major change for the U.S. security alliance in the Indo-Pacific.

 

The U.S. and Japan Announce Newly Reorganized Marine Corps Regiment

As part of the expansion of U.S. and Japanese security cooperation, the U.S. announced that the 12th Marine Regiment, an artillery regiment based in Okinawa, would become the 12th Marine Littoral Regiment (MLR), one of three newly reorganized Marine Corps units planned for the Indo-Pacific region. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said that the new unit formation will include “advanced intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, as well as anti-ship and transportation capabilities that are relevant to the current and future threat environments.” Gen. David Berger, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, stated that the United States’s “enduring and undivided” relationship with Japan was key to the development of new operational concepts, like the MLR, that will ensure their ability to deter aggression in the region.

The MLR will be capable of deploying small groups of Marines to remote islands in support of U.S. or allied naval operations. It will employ three subordinate elements, including a Littoral Anti-Air Battalion, a Combat Logistics Battalion, and a Littoral Combat Team organized around an infantry battalion and augmented by an anti-ship missile battery. The MLR concept was developed as part of the Marine Corps’s “Force Design 2030,” which aims to place stronger emphasis on naval expeditionary warfare in contested maritime spaces in order to better align with the National Defense Strategy’s focus on competition with China.

 

North Korea Vows “Exponential” Increase in Its Nuclear Arsenal

In 2022, North Korea tested more than 60 ballistic missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). In response to North Korea’s flurry of recent missile launches, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command “call[ed] on the DPRK to refrain from any further unlawful and destabilizing acts” and emphasized that “[t]he U.S. commitments to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan remain ironclad.” 

On Jan. 1, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, called for an “exponential increase of the country’s nuclear arsenal” in 2023. According to North Korea’s state-controlled media, developing a new ICBM is a top priority for Pyongyang in 2023 as it aims to develop “quick nuclear counterstrike” capabilities. North Korea launched short-range ballistic missiles toward its eastern waters on Dec. 31 and Jan. 1, indicating that North Korea is “leaning into the arms race against South Korea and the United States.” On Jan. 11, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol called North Korea’s missile tests and nuclear arsenal “a serious threat.” Yoon emphasized that South Korea needs to “prepare for war” to secure peace. At a policy briefing, Yoon stated for the first time that South Korea would consider building nuclear weapons of its own. However, he dialed back this comment at Davos, clarifying that “the Republic of Korea’s realistic and rational option is to fully respect the [Non-Proliferation Treaty] regime.” 

 

Analysis

CSIS experts war-gamed a Chinese amphibious invasion of Taiwan, concluding that in most scenarios, the United States, Taiwan, and Japan defeated the PLA and maintained Taiwan’s autonomy. Though CSIS assessed China would fail, it would be costly to all involved. In the scenarios, the United States and Japan lost “dozens of ships, hundreds of aircraft, and thousands of servicemembers … damage[ing] the U.S. global position for many years.” Taiwan’s economy would be severely damaged, and China’s amphibious forces would be “in shambles.” 

New research from CSIS shows that shipyards central to China’s effort to modernize its navy “attract billions of dollars of revenue and technology transfers from companies around the world.” The China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC) alone holds a 21.5 percent share of the global shipbuilding market and produces warships for the Chinese navy. CSSC was among the companies blacklisted under a Trump administration executive order prohibiting investment in firms tied to the PLA. Companies from leading democracies around the world, however, are “pumping capital into China’s shipbuilding industry” and “shar[ing] technology and know-how with CSSC subsidiaries.” CSIS called this a “red flag,” given that “[f]acilitating better resource-sharing between military and civilian ventures is a critical element of China’s [military-civil fusion] strategy.” 

The Diplomat’s Michael D. Swaine argues against U.S. military deterrence in the face of the growing possibility of China’s invasion of Taiwan. In Swaine’s view, such a policy “would almost certainly backfire,” sparking a war with China over Taiwan. Historically, Swaine argues, neither the U.S. nor China has thought of Taiwan as central to its strategic ambitions in the region. There is “no clear evidence,” according to Swaine, that control over Taiwan would give Beijing leverage over other neighboring countries such as Japan or South Korea. The United States’s adoption of a deterrence policy predicated on keeping Taiwan separate from China would be incompatible with its “One China” policy, which “formed the basis of the normalization of Sino-American relations.” Such a deterrence policy would likely cause Beijing to resort to force even if it possessed inferior military deterrence capabilities. If Washington and Beijing sincerely hope to avoid war over Taiwan, Swaine argues, Washington should reject military-centered worst-case assessments and place limits on Taiwan-U.S. interactions. Beijing, in turn, should unambiguously affirm that it has no timeline for unification. 

For the Council on Foreign Relations, Doyeong Jung argues that South Korea needs to “revitalize and refine” its military strategy to counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, called the “Three-Axis system.” South Korea’s first “axis” is a “Kill Chain,” or a preemptive precision strike against North Korea’s ballistic missiles or nuclear weapons. However, Jung argues, South Korea lacks the necessary reconnaissance satellites to “detect and identify North Korea’s missile attack.” Moreover, a “major question” surrounding South Korea’s use of the first axis is whether it is lawful under international law as anticipatory self-defense, especially given the difficulty of measuring “the extent of potential damage and proportionality.” South Korea’s second axis, “Korea Air and Missile Defense,” is subject to doubt given the difficulty of calculating the trajectory and speed of missiles such as Hwasong-8, North Korea’s hypersonic missile. Jung argues that South Korea’s third axis, “Korea Massive Punishment and Retaliation,” fails to satisfy conditions of proportionality under international law and could cause tensions between North and South Korea to escalate further.