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National security strategy: Why full disclosure isn’t essential

The security scenario has a large variable component in today’s world and it is accepted that the life of long-range security assessments itself had generally been shortened, writes D.C. Pathak

The demand for a declared National Security Strategy (NSS) is rightly a matter of public debate and open analysis by strategic experts.

It has to be realised, however, that not all aspects of the strategy of handling national security could be openly announced for the very reason of confidentiality of the information on the country’s threat scenario which is at the base of responses required to be put in place under that strategy at any given point of time.

The security scenario has a large variable component in today’s world and it is accepted that the life of long-range security assessments itself had generally been shortened.

There is open agreement on a number of initiatives that are to be taken to serve the cause of national security such as promotion of public education that is designed to spread an awareness among the citizens that they all have a contribution to make for safeguarding national security in a democratic dispensation where the state considered itself responsible for the security of people as well.

The validity of many publicly known concepts like ‘national security being inseparable from economic security’, the threat to cyber security and cyber data running through the lifelines of the country and open warfare giving way to ‘proxy wars’ in this new era where the instrumentality of ‘terrorism’ was in full use in the latter, is now well established and this had created new paradigms for framing the national security strategy.

Many components of this strategy — both in terms of the inputs on which it was formulated and the appropriate responses it deemed necessary — would have to be treated as ‘protected information’ to be kept from the prying eyes of the adversary.

An evaluation of who the ‘friends and enemies’ are in the present and for the future, would itself be an assessment that the government would like to keep to itself notwithstanding the stand that might be taken by it in public — for reasons of being politically correct.

National security is rooted in a combination of defence capabilities, a strong security set up anchored on competent national Intelligence agencies and the total ‘national power’ attributable to a developed economy providing for a strong national infrastructure, utilisation of demographic dividend and free trade agreements with other major countries.

In the sphere of defence, details of import of military equipment preferably with a provision for its manufacture in India on suitable terms and conditions, may become known but the pattern of its deployment will remain a confidential part of whatever would be made public in the name of India’s national security strategy.

Defence plans are conditioned by military intelligence, including signal intelligence, that was by its very nature a secret. The critical national infrastructure is run on cyber systems which involve creating a robust and confidential cyber security framework.

Demographic situation is relevant to the broader issue of national security in the sense that it determines the potential strength of the country for the future.

Two-third of India’s population is below 35 years and this gives this country a strategic advantage over China that has an aging population. The NSS may declare plans of how the country would rally the youth for serving the cause of national security.

Finally, since economic security would be strengthened by the success achieved by diplomacy in working out trade pacts with other friendly and economically strong countries, the crucial role of diplomatic power in enhancing national security on that count alone, should find a prominent mention in the NSS.

The macro aspects of national security are by and large in the public domain and these all would figure in a declared NSS for giving a suitable message to the international community about India’s political will to safeguard its national interests and also for instilling confidence among the people of India that the regime was well attuned to handling any threats to national security.

Today’s national security set up evolved over a period — particularly since the ‘Kargil war’ that had resulted from Pakistan’s attempt to surreptitiously infiltrate army personnel with Islamic militants on the high mountains of Ladakh and occupy a couple of peaks in Drass sector in May 1999 — ought to be defined in the NSS document.

The functions of national intelligence agencies, including Intelligence Bureau, Research and Analysis Wing, and National Technical Research Organisation, can be broadly explained and also the supporting National Security Council Secretariat (NSCS) headed by National Security Advisor (NSA), presented in some detail.

NSCS had the responsibility of ensuring that threats to national security were constantly studied and analysed and the framework of coordinated responses to deal with them was laid down — covering the spheres of military, internal governance and diplomacy.

National security is an integral concept that mandates an ongoing coordination among the civilian, technical and military intelligence agencies. While the NSA plays a crucial role in the formulation of security policy, he is also the final arbiter on the issues of intelligence coordination.

In the Indian context, NSA is the member secretary of the NSC which was placed under the PMO in 2002 and also is the head of the NSCS as already mentioned. He performs three major strategic functions. In the Nuclear Command Authority the Prime Minister chairs the Political Council (PC) for according political sanction while the Executive Council headed by NSA makes operational assessments that helped the PC in decision making — the Strategic Forces Command headed by a Commander-in-Chief would execute the decisions on the ground.

With the threat to cyber security gaining significance, India has established a National Information Board (NIB) which is chaired by the NSA for formulating the National Cyber Security Policy, ensuring information security and handling the threat of ‘information warfare’.

A Centre for Development of Advanced Computing has been created and a Cyber Emergency Response Team (CERT-IN) has also been established. Finally, a nine-member Defence Planning Committee (DPC) has been constituted under the chairmanship of the NSA in 2018 with senior representatives from the Ministry of Defence, External Affairs and Finance as members, to align strategic objectives, defence requirements and financial allocation.

The DPC is also responsible for policy and strategy, capability development, defence diplomacy, defence production and creation of a manufacturing ecosystem. The institution of NSA is thus the kingpin of the system that ensures an integral look at national security and a coordinated response from various wings of the government to the security scenario existing at any given point of time.

The demand for declaration of a NSS has been voiced in many circles — many freelance strategic analysts have been pressing for it in particular — but the issue here basically is one of understanding the reality that there was a difference between publicly announcing the defence and security infrastructure built up by the country and not letting the adversaries know what counter-measures India is envisaging to deal with them.

The spectrum of hostile forces facing the nation itself was not static and the rise of the era of ‘proxy wars’ had further added to the importance of intelligence which was, by definition, information gathered and kept confidentially.

NSS outlines the country’s security objectives and the ways to be adopted to achieve the same.

In the areas of defence, international relations and counter-intelligence measures, the country’s policies and systemic build up could be made public and they would become the declared components of NSS at the macro level in a formal strategy document.

The framework of response to covert threats to security is on a different footing as it would have to be kept outside the public domain for the reason that it is based on intelligence or ‘protected information’.

In the sphere of defence, India finalised its Defence Acquisition Policy (DAP) in 2020 and the Defence Minister Rajnath Singh went on record to say that the DAP derived its ethos and spirit from the clarion call of an ‘Aatmanirbhar Bharat’ and ‘Make in India’, and aimed at ensuring that contemporary technology-based equipment is made available to the services in a time-bound fashion for modernising our Defence Forces.

It gives special attention to ‘Ease of doing business’ to encourage foreign investors to set up manufacturing entities in the defence industrial corridors provided by India.

DAP strives for achieving ‘Self Reliance’ rooted in indigenisation and innovation supported by strategic partnerships.

In the area of foreign policy India has made it clear that it believed in a multipolar world order, that it opted for bilateral or multilateral friendships based on mutual security and economic interests without prejudice to world peace and that it was willing to assert its voice as a major power on the issues of war and peace as well as human development.

As part of measures to safeguard its internal security, India has fiercely denounced terrorism in all its forms from all international forums and called for international cooperation to combat terrorism, drug trade and covert cross border offensives.

It is a matter of great satisfaction that India has taken an independent stand on Ukraine-Russia military confrontation and Israel-Hamas conflict — the two biggest events affecting the geopolitics of our times — and come out on top as far as the handling of international relations was concerned. All of this defines the National Security Strategy of India through action rather than words.

(The writer is a former Director of the Intelligence Bureau. Views are personal)

ALSO READ: China Masks Military Space Presence, Warns NASA Chief

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China Masks Military Space Presence, Warns NASA Chief

The NASA chief said he hoped “the Chinese space programme would come to its senses and understand that civilian space is for peaceful uses…reports Asian Lite News

The chief of US space agency NASA has told lawmakers in Washington that China is using civilian programmes to hide military objectives in space.

“China has made extraordinary strides [in space] especially in the last 10 years, but they are very, very secretive,” Bill Nelson told the appropriations committee of the US House of Representatives as he testified on the US space agency’s 2025 budget request.

“We believe that a lot of their so-called civilian space programme is a military programme. And I think, in effect, we are in a race.”

Nelson also stressed that it was “incumbent on us” get to the moon, first as he warned: “my concern is if China got there first and suddenly said ‘ok this is our territory, you stay out’.”

The NASA chief said that the US was not going to lose its “global edge” in space, “but you got to be realistic that China is really throwing a lot of money at it and they’ve got a lot of room in their budget to grow.”

“I think that we just better not let down our guard,” Nelson added.

The NASA chief said he hoped “the Chinese space programme would come to its senses and understand that civilian space is for peaceful uses,” but added: “We have not seen that demonstrated by China.”

With the Artemis programme NASA wants to put humans on the moon again after more than 50 years. The moon landing mission Artemis 3 was recently postponed to September 2026.

The long-term goal of Artemis is to establish a permanent lunar base as a foundation for missions to Mars.

ALSO READ: China Fuels Russian Defence Industry Expansion

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‘China Aiding Russia’s Defence Base Expansion Amid War’

An official from the Joe Biden administration reportedly claimed that the Chinese and Russian entitles have also been working jointly to produce drones inside of Russia.

Amid the ongoing war in Ukraine, China is helping Russia ramp up its defence industrial base at such a large scale that Moscow is now undertaking its most ambitious expansion in military manufacturing since the Soviet era, CNN reported, citing senior Biden administration officials.

One of the official claimed that the Chinese and Russian entitles have also been working jointly to produce drones inside of Russia.

The support from China is having a significant impact on Russia’s ability to continue its assault on Ukraine, while Ukraine’s military has been plagued with equipment and weapon shortages. The challenge for Ukraine is exacerbated by Republicans in the US Congress continuing to block a vote on a new American military aid package to Kyiv.

“One of the most game changing moves available to us at this time to support Ukraine is to persuade the PRC (People’s Republic of China) to stop helping Russia reconstitute its military industrial base. Russia would struggle to sustain its war effort without PRC inputs,” said a senior administration official, adding that Chinese “materials are filling critical gaps in Russia’s defense production cycle,” CNN reported.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi (R) shakes hands with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov during their meeting in New York. (File Pic: Xinhua/Han Fang/IANS)

According to the report, this week Gen. Chris Cavoli, the commander of US European Command, told lawmakers that Russia has been “quite successful” at reconstituting its military since it invaded Ukraine more than 2 years ago, and its capacity has largely “grown back” to what it was before the invasion. US officials are now making clear that China is largely responsible for that rapid build-up.

As a demonstration of this deepening China-Russia partnership: in 2023, 90 per cent of Russia’s micro-electronics imports came from China, which Russia has used to produce missiles, tanks, and aircraft, a second official said.

Russia’s rapidly expanding production of artillery rounds is due, in large part, to the nitrocellulose coming from China, officials said. This comes as Russia appears on track to produce nearly three times more artillery munitions than the US and Europe, CNN reported earlier this year.

Beyond the defence hardware, China is helping Russia to improve its satellite and other space based capabilities for use in Ukraine, and providing imagery to Russia for its war on Ukraine, the officials said.

Chinese President Xi Jinping (L) and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin sign the statements on elevating bilateral ties to the comprehensive strategic partnership of coordination in Moscow, Russia, June 5, 2019. (Xinhua/Li Xueren/IANS)

Some of this information comes from downgraded US intelligence, officials said.

The support from China is compensating for the significant setbacks that Russia’s defense industry experienced early in the Ukraine war due to US sanctions and export controls.

President Joe Biden raised concerns about China’s support for Russia’s defense industrial base in a phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping earlier this month, following other officials repeatedly raising the concerns with their Chinese counterparts, officials said.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken also raised the matter with US allies during his recent Europe trip, the officials said. The US has not seen any interruption to the ongoing Chinese support since that Biden-Xi phone call, though sometimes it takes time to see changes come to fruition.

China continues to steer clear of providing Russia with lethal weaponry, which the US has warned against since the beginning of the Ukraine war, but in many cases, the inputs can be just as impactful as lethal weaponry, CNN reported.

US officials said it is imperative for the US and its allies to persuade China to stop this practice, though success will be hard to measure. Earlier this year Xi heralded a new year of growing coordination with Russia during a call with President Vladimir Putin.

Earlier this month, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen delivered China a warning of ‘significant consequences’ if Chinese companies provide support to Russia for the Ukraine war during her trip to the country.

CNN said in its report that the Biden administration also issued an executive order targeting third country banks that facilitate support to the Russian defense industrial base and following that action, the US has been touch with banks around the world to build up compliance systems to avoid inadvertently being caught up in this trade, which would result in US sanctions. (ANI)

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Security is no more a stand-alone function

The era of ‘proxy wars’ and the advent of cyber warfare have compelled the world to take note of the convergence of economic security, externally instigated attacks on systems on which the governance of the country rested and resort to ‘misinformation’ and ‘deepfakes’ even to influence the outcome of elections in a targeted country, writes D.C. Pathak

The security of a democratic state includes the security of its citizens and today both are contingent on the wider security of the world at large. Similarly, at the level of an organisation its well-being is linked to the security situation within the country.

In the prevailing unsafe environment ‘enterprise security’ could no more be relegated to a set of hired ‘guards’ and security ‘supervisors’ since it has become a ‘mainstream’ function taking care of the organisation as a whole, including its members.

Rise of terrorism as an instrument of ‘proxy war’, targeting of economic lifelines of the country by the enemy and the advent of natural or man-made disasters on the national security agenda have all impacted on the security and safety of organisations — big or small — and put a new focus on the security management of corporate entities.

Terrorism basically is ‘resort to covert violence for a perceived political cause’ and since a ’cause’ was driven by ‘motivation’ it was no surprise that faith-based driving force rooted in ‘radicalisation’ in the Islamic world with its advocacy of ‘Jihad’, had become the new terror threat globally.

Arising out of certain geopolitical developments traceable to 9/11 and the resultant ‘war on terror’ launched by the US, this danger faced nations across the world.

India and its strategic establishments were particularly affected because of cross-border terrorism instigated by Pakistan against the country.

In the post-Cold war era of ‘proxy wars’ there is also the added threat of enemy taking recourse to economically damaging the opponent in order to weaken the latter.

The need for economic security has in the process, added to the ‘mainstreaming’ of security function. Also,the importance of proactive measures required by organisations and individuals to deal with disasters, has further sharpened the role of the security set-up of the enterprise.

A deeper understanding of security of a business enterprise today calls for a conscious adoption of many practices that added upto the mainstreaming of security function.

First, it should be understood that security is basically protection of the three assets of the organisation — physical assets, manpower and protected information, against covert attacks of the enemy.

It clearly runs through the length and breadth of the enterprise correspondingly requiring ‘physical’, ‘personnel’ and ‘information’ security to prevent ‘sabotage’, ‘subversion’ and ‘espionage’ respectively. This makes security a mainstream function by the very nature of its mandate. In sensitive establishments of strategic importance personnel security is of overriding importance.

Apart from ‘antecedent checks’ at the time of recruitment, there has to be an internal ‘vigilance’ set up in place integrated with the ‘security’ function to detect signs of ‘vulnerability’ in an employee — a member given to addiction, living beyond means or developing an unnatural and intimate friendship with an outsider of opposite gender, may have to be taken note of for reasons of security.

As regards security of information, it has to be protected first through ‘classification’ by way of giving the information a marking like ‘restricted’, ‘confidential’ or ‘secret’ and then determining the ‘need to know’ ambit within the organisation. Since most information is now on internet, a cyber security administrator under the IT Act is to be appointed and the security head would be a key functionary working with the latter. All of this makes security a very special function.

Security is an integral or complete looking concept requiring all its dimensions — physical, personnel and information — security related — to be perfected. Further, security being a protection against the hidden attack of the unseen adversary, it is clearly anchored on information about the likely sources of threat that would have to be collated and analysed.

Most business corporates therefore had a central set-up for studying the market, evaluating the competitors and pooling together all reliable information relating to the three kinds of risks already mentioned. It produces what is called ‘Business Intelligence’ incorporating the ‘risk assessment’ for the enterprise. This means that the set-up has to be headed by a competent leader who had the skills of assessing what lay ahead in terms of both ‘opportunity’ as well as the potential ‘risks’. This functionary has to be swift in handling information, capable of making assessments and confident about extending the outreach all the time.

Personal security of the leadership of an enterprise that made a substantial contribution to national economy is an important responsibility of this set-up in view of the recognised concept that a country’s economic power strengthened its national security as well.

The second most important aspect of security is that it has to work on the authority of the top man of the enterprise. The chief of security has a matching knowledge of how various wings of the organisation were working. He should have the locus standi to take note of any flagrant violation of security even by a senior member of the organisation and for that reason alone should have a direct line of communication with the head of the enterprise.

In fact, it is said that the top man should also consider himself as the head of security. Further, since security embraces all resources and members of the organisation it needs to be incorporated at the level of policy and should be one of the determinants of organisational ethics and in fact of the system of management of the enterprise itself. Also, since security does not come cheap it requires planned funding.

On his part the security chief should have the ability to realise that ‘cost effective’ security was the best security even when the organisation was liberal with funding. If two persons can do a job where three were deployed earlier or when the number of steps for completing an operation could be reduced from four to three, this makes the functioning more efficient and cuts delays.

Finally, the ultimate mainstreaming of security is reflected in the dictum — now well established — that the security of an organisation required contribution of all members, high or low in the hierarchy. It flows from the thought that if the enterprise ensured every member’s security then the latter also owed it to oneself to do whatever was possible to strengthen the security of the organisation.

The importance of the security set-up being able to run ‘awareness’ programmes for the organisation as a whole suggests itself. This is best done through periodical informal ‘briefings’ that would also help to facilitate flow of information relevant to security from members to the security chief.

The security set-up has to be manned by people who were information savvy and professionally up-skilled. Such people can distinguish essentials from non-essentials in the context of security, know that ‘you have to reach information — information will not reach you’, have curiosity which creates the ‘spirit of inquiry’, show an interest in human nature and behaviour and have an analytical mind.

The era of ‘proxy wars’ and the advent of cyber warfare have compelled the world to take note of the convergence of economic security, externally instigated attacks on systems on which the governance of the country rested and resort to ‘misinformation’ and ‘deepfakes’ even to influence the outcome of elections in a targeted country.

Artificial Intelligence is getting into security domain — both in analysing the threats and finding solutions for dealing with them. Today, people handling enterprise security have to be familiar with various dimensions of knowledge economy and intricacies of misuse of cyber space by the adversary.

Security has become a demanding function linked to the mainstream of the organisation that was sought to be protected and dependent on people, who had special skills deserving of a higher level of recognition and compensation than what ever was existing earlier.

(The writer is a former Director of the Intelligence Bureau. Views are personal)

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China’s SCS Actions Grow Aggressive

China has been harassing Philippine resupply missions to the Sierra Madre’s garrison of Philippine marines for more than a decade, but last year it intensified these efforts to an alarming scale…reports Asian Lite News

Chairman Xi Jinping, as part of his hardening stance against the Philippines, has obviously instructed agencies like the China Coast Guard (CCG), which is directly under his command, to demonstrate greater vigor in the South China Sea.

Indeed, Second Thomas Shoal has emerged as a potent flashpoint in the South China Sea, a submerged reef situated 194km west of the Philippine island of Palawan. This reef is where the Philippine Navy’s old landing ship BRP Sierra Madre was grounded in 1999 to reinforce Manila’s territorial claim. Second Thomas Shoal is located just 32km from China’s own Mischief Reef military base.

China has been harassing Philippine resupply missions to the Sierra Madre’s garrison of Philippine marines for more than a decade, but last year it intensified these efforts to an alarming scale. For example, a swarm of 38 Chinese vessels maneuvered recklessly and employed water cannon during a resupply mission on 10 November 2023. Then, on 10 December 2023, the CCG deliberately rammed a Philippine vessel.

In further resupply missions this year, the CCG has routinely employed water cannon against Philippine civilian resupply vessels, resulting in damage to boats and injuries to crew.

Concerning the most recent incident in late March, Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) spokesman Commodore Jay Tarriela complained, “Their barbaric act of using water cannon to attack the resupply boat that endangered the lives of the Filipino troops is a clear manifestation of their blatant disregard of international law.”

The CCG and People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) are the culpable parties in these acts of gray-zone coercion, but the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) plays a supporting role. For instance, a PLA Z-8 helicopter was recently filmed hovering low over a team of Philippine scientists on Sandy Cay, just 3km from Philippine-occupied Thitu Island, in a deliberate attempt to force them off the sandbar.

Before they withdrew, the scientists confirmed that the fish and coral were in a “very poor state” amidst a manmade pile of rubble. Chinese dredging and land reclamation has given that country an extra 1,300 hectares of land in the Spratly Islands.

The Philippines occupies eight features in the Spratly Island chain, the largest of which is Thitu Island. PAFMM vessels have swarmed other shoals in the Philippine exclusive economic zone (EEZ), with 135 boats detected at Whitsun Reef last December, for example. Beijing’s sea control tactics feature swarming to achieve temporary local control, plus mission-kill actions like water cannon, ramming and now the use of helicopters. Unfortunately, the Philippines does not have the necessary fleet nor size of ships to effectively counter such tactics, plus it is reticent to employ more capable Philippine Navy assets in case it amplifies tensions.

Why is China doing this? It reflects Beijing’s exceptionalist stance, whereby it believes international law does not apply to it. The most obvious example is the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s ruling in 2016 that Beijing’s South China Sea territorial claims have no legal basis whatsoever. China is prosecuting aggressive expansionist maritime territorial claims, and it is adamant it wants to control everything within its illegal and ambiguous Nine-Dash Line claim.

Sino-Philippine ties were relatively good under Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, primarily because he complied with Chinese demands. As long as the Philippine government remained subservient to Beijing, China held its forces in check. However, as soon as Manila stood up for its rights, China took its gloves off.

Today, China persistently refers to an “agreement” whereby the Philippines promised to remove Sierra Madre from Second Thomas Shoal. For example, China maintains that Manila “has gone back on its own words, refused to fulfill its commitment, repeatedly broken its promise made to China, and severely violated Article 5 of the Declaration on the Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea”.

The Philippines denies that any such agreement exists. Duterte possibly made such a commitment, but he certainly did not put it on paper because it would have been deeply unpopular at home. Furthermore, China has failed to provide any evidence of such an agreement.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has been more proactive in defending Philippine sovereignty than Duterte ever was, and he has scotched any promises his predecessor may have made. In January 2023, Marcos met Xi and they agreed to resolve differences peacefully. However, that very same month, Filipino fishermen inside the Philippine EEZ were chased away by the CCG, and the following month the CCG aimed a laser at a PCG vessel.

The CCG is supposed to be enforcing maritime laws and enhancing maritime safety. Instead, the force is a blunt weapon in the government’s arsenal of nationalistic territory grabbing and coercion.

In the face of China’s blatant aggression, Manila has changed tack. As PCG spokesman Tarriela pointed out: “…The Philippine government has chosen to expose China’s aggression and unlawful actions in the West Philippine Sea. It is important to clarify that the escalating tensions in the West Philippine Sea are not caused by the United States, but by the PRC. While the US is an ally of the Philippines, it is not the root cause of the tensions. The Chinese government should avoid confusion and learn to recognize that if they were only sincere in their words and chose not to bully other countries in the South China Sea, tensions would not be as high. Unless, of course, what China means on lowering tension is being submissive or not reacting to their bullying and aggressive actions!”

From 2016 to June 2022, Manila filed 388 diplomatic protests against China concerning the latter’s actions in the South China Sea. The Marcos administration had filed an extra 147 protests as of late March 2024. Philippine-US ties rebounded after Duterte, who is staunchly anti-American, departed.

However, the two Mutual Defense Treaty partners need to decide what an “armed confrontation” entails and how they will respond to Chinese provocation. The American military is stretched taut by current commitments and conflicts in places like Ukraine and the Middle East, though its P-8A aircraft have provided overwatch during Second Thomas Shoal resupply missions.

Manila’s induction of BrahMos coastal missile batteries and the eventual acquisition of multirole fighters will give the Philippines more heft, but such assets are wholly inappropriate against China’s gray-zone tactics. This is precisely Beijing’s purpose. It operates just under the threshold that it believes equates to armed conflict, but at the same time it continues to push the boundaries. The PCG and Philippine Navy need a stronger presence to deter an emboldened China, though without unnecessarily stoking tensions.

China will not mind pressuring the Philippines into an unfortunate incident, as indicated by the following type of comment. Hu Xijin, a former editor of the Chinese Global Times tabloid, tweeted, “As a media professional, I strongly advocate that China should not fire the first shot in various frictions. This should be upheld as a principle of goodwill for peace in the South China Sea. But the Philippines should listen carefully: Once the Philippines fires the first shot, I fully support China’s PLA in making Philippine ships riddled with bullets. I believe most Chinese people will support it by then.”

Collin Koh, Senior Fellow at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies of the S.Rajaratnam School of International in Singapore, countered, “[If the] PRC fires the first shot, it triggers the Mutual Defense Treaty. [If the] Philippines fires the first shot in defense of legitimate maritime interests and the PRC hits back, it also triggers the Mutual Defense Treaty. You may quibble whether the Americans will commit, but any prudent PRC defense planner won’t take these calculations in a cavalier manner.”

It is clear that a South China Sea Code of Conduct between China and other claimants, which Beijing has been stalling for years, will achieve nothing either. Instead, the Philippines needs to widen its circle of international supporters. Indeed, numerous nations have come out in favor of Manila and have lambasted China for its violent actions.

Last year, the Philippines gave permission for the USA to access four new military sites, in addition to five already approved for American use. The USA is investing USD109 million in infrastructure improvements at seven of these bases. On 11 April, President Joe Biden will host President Marcos and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in their first-ever trilateral summit that marks a growing confluence of support.

As another example, Japan’s navy is planning to take part in a Philippine-US military training exercise in the South China Sea later this year. The three conducted a trilateral coast guard exercise last year, all indications of increasing cooperation.

Tokyo is expected to elevate the Philippines to a “quasi-ally” status, similar to the level of Australia or the UK. China is highly critical of US support for the Philippines. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian asked, “Who has been stirring up trouble and making provocations on the South China Sea issue? Who has been breaching the common understandings between our two countries and reneged on their own commitments? Who has been staging a show and hyping up tensions? Who has been pulling forces outside the region to interfere in the issue?”

Likewise, the Chinese Embassy in the Philippines remarked that “inviting wolves into the house” and forming “exclusive cliques” would not help resolve South China Sea differences, but would ultimately backfire. In similar vein, Lou Qinjian, spokesperson for the Second Session of the 14th National People’s Congress, said last month, “China is opposed to bloc confrontation, and its cooperation with neighboring countries is open, inclusive and not exclusive.”

He accused Manila of “smearing China’s legitimate, reasonable and restrained measures that aimed to safeguard territorial sovereignty and maritime rights”.

Yet these territorial issues fall under the purview of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Manila anchors its claim on its legitimate EEZ as outlined by UNCLOS, while China’s basis is its “historical” Nine-Dash Line that holds absolutely no legal authority.

China’s argument is that it refused to participate in the 2016 Permanent Court of Arbitration case, and that therefore it is not bound by its conclusions. However, the tribunal can proceed even if one party refuses to engage. That means that the validity and enforcement of the tribunal’s decisions do not hinge at all upon China’s participation. By signing and ratifying the UNCLOS treaty itself, China has already bound itself to the court’s authority and rulings, despite protests to the contrary.

Unfortunately, China is encouraging its law enforcement and military personnel to be even more vigorous in enforcing illegal territorial claims. There is a legacy of idolizing military personnel who go beyond the call of duty, a prime example being PLA pilot Wang Wei whose J-8II fighter collided with an American EP-3E reconnaissance plane 110km from the Chinese coast on 1 April 2001.

Wang died as a result of his gung-ho antics, and the Singaporean academic Koh noted: “Wang was known before his demise for his bold, sometimes daredevil and overzealous flying. His departure served as a rallying point for the Chinese Communist Party, and his ‘feats’ regularly upheld as a role model for younger generations of PLA combat aviators, which is itself worrisome.”

The Philippines has been using civilian vessels, supported by PCG boats, to resupply the Second Thomas Shoal garrison. It must now implement best practices for resupplying the garrison, and eventually replace this grounded rust bucket that was only ever an interim solution. China’s actions have already prompted Manila to consider establishing a more permanent outpost there. For example, an oil platform- type structure that can land helicopters would increase the potential cost of Chinese interference.

Naturally, restoring Philippine control over its EEZ requires the full spectrum of diplomatic, economic and information tools. Manila cannot afford to lose control of Second Thomas Shoal, as it did with Scarborough Shoal in 2012. In the face of such withering and dangerous Chinese actions, Manila must show strong resolve, a stance for which it needs the support of America and other allies. (ANI)

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UN warns of major security threat in Congo

Heavy fighting between the Congolese army and M23 has intensified in the eastern part of the country, forcing civilians to flee…reports Asian Lite News

War is on the doorstep of eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Goma city and the region is at breaking point, activists and aid workers have said, as the United Nations sounds an alarm over the situation in the Central African country.

“One Congolese person out of four faces hunger and malnutrition,” Bintou Keita, the head of the UN’s DRC peacekeeping mission MONUSCO, told the UN Security Council this week, warning of a rapidly deteriorating security situation and a humanitarian crisis reaching near catastrophic levels.

Heavy fighting between the Congolese army and armed group M23 has intensified in the eastern part of the country since February, forcing hundreds of thousands of civilians to flee their homes as the rebels make territorial gains.

The armed group “is making significant advances and expanding its territory to unprecedented levels”, Keita said at the UN on Wednesday.

This comes as fierce battles between the army and rebels have reached the outskirts of Sake, a village about 25km (15.5 miles) from regional economic hub Goma – marking a major advancement for M23.

About 250,000 people fled their homes between mid-February and mid-March, according to UN figures, with the vast majority seeking shelter in and around Goma. Pockets of makeshift tents have popped up along roads or desolated areas with no access to basic aid.

“Things are at a breaking point,” said Shelley Thakral, a World Food Programme spokesperson, after returning to Kinshasa from a trip to Goma. “It’s quite overwhelming – people are living in desperate conditions,” she told Al Jazeera. Many people have fled in a hurry with no belongings and now find themselves in cramped camps with little prospect of returning, she added.

The effects are also being felt inside Goma, where civilians have seen the price of basic commodities skyrocketing and health services being disrupted by a steady stream of refugees coming in. “The situation is at its worst and war is at the door,” said John Anibal, an activist with civil society group LUCHA based in Goma.

As the fighting spreads, it is also intensifying. According to ACLED, an independent data-collecting group, the use of explosives, shelling and air raids since the start of this year has quadrupled compared with the average in 2023.

More than 200 armed groups roam the area, vying for control of its minerals, including cobalt and coltan – two key elements needed to produce batteries for electric vehicles and gadgets, such as PlayStations and smartphones.

Among the groups, M23 has posed the biggest threat to the government since 2022 when it picked up arms again after being dormant for more than a decade. Back then, it had conquered large swaths of territory, including Goma, before being pushed back by government forces.

The conflict in eastern DRC is also deeply intertwined with the Rwandan genocide. In 1994, more than 800,000 Tutsis and Hutus were killed by violent Hutu armed groups. In the wake of the fighting, Hutu genocidaires and former regime leaders fled to the DRC.

Today, Kigali accuses Kinshasa of supporting one of the Hutu armed groups present in eastern DRC, the FDLR, which it sees as a threat to its government. And the DRC, alongside the UN and the US, have accused Rwanda of backing the M23. Kigali has denied this.

At the UN Security Council meeting on Wednesday, the DRC’s ambassador to the UN Georges Nzongola-Ntalaja called on the intergovernmental body to take a stronger stance against Rwanda.

“The council must cross the Rubicon of impunity and impose on Rwanda sanctions commensurate with its crimes,” said Nzongola-Ntalaja.

Rwanda responded heatedly. The country’s UN representative, Ernest Rwamucyo, said that “ethnic cleansing targeting Congolese Tutsi communities reached unprecedented levels”.

The renewed fighting has come at a delicate moment for the country as the MONUSCO mission is pulling out of the country after 25 years at the request of the Congolese government. The first phase of the withdrawal is expected to be complete by the end of April, and all peacekeepers will leave by the end of the year.

The government of President Felix Tshisekedi accused the UN mission of failing to protect civilians. Instead, it gave soldiers of an East African regional bloc the mandate to fight back against the rebels.

But that ended last December after the president accused the regional force of colluding with the rebels instead of fighting them. So he turned to another force, SADECO, composed of southern African nations to do the job.

Observers are sceptical that this new mission will succeed where its predecessors failed.

“I don’t see this as a stabilising intervention, at most, it will postpone the issue because there is no one military solution,” said Felix Ndahinda, a researcher on conflict in the Great Lakes Region.

Structural weaknesses in governance, lack of state presence in remote regions and interethnic rivalries, are among causes that the state is failing to address, Ndahinda told Al Jazeera.

“In the last 30 years, different interventions have been addressing partial symptoms of the problem rather than looking at the full picture – till that is not done, you can only postpone, but not resolve, the issue,” Ndahinda said.

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Countering Long-Range Threat From A Prime Adversary

It is a matter of great satisfaction that India is putting a comprehensive strategy in place for countering the threat from China and in a multi-prong response concentrating on measures to deal with the adversary on land and sea as well as in the air- through the development of missile and drone technology, writes D.C. Pathak

 It is now well established that China has — with the Sino-Pak axis bolstering its threat potential — emerged as the source of a lasting danger for India’s defence and security and for that reason alone that country needed to be studied in depth on a continual basis from the angles of ideology that governs it, the philosophy that guides its military growth and the advance it is striving to achieve in the sphere of technology of combat.

From what appears in the public domain by way of its proclaimed objectives, President Xi Jinping’s China has been following the strategy of gaining ‘civil-military fusion’, total supremacy of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) and a steady push towards becoming the second superpower through the economic and technological route — apart from pursuing the path of a defence build-up.

Xi’s rise to power in China now matches that of Mao Zedong and his definition of Chinese ideology as ‘Marxism with Chinese characteristics’ is part of “Xi’s Thought” put in the party’s constitution.

Significantly, it calls for embracing the ‘Civilisational strength’ of China to build the nation- there is a learning from this for India. While making rapid strides in the area of using technology including artificial intelligence (AI) for the purposes of offence and defence, China wants to buy time for its economic consolidation and is apparently inclined to avoid a military confrontation with its main rival — the US, at present. This came out during the meeting between US President Joe Biden and his Chinese counterpart Xi at the APEC summit in San Francisco in November last year.

It must have come as a relief to Xi when Biden observed that the US was “not seeking a conflict with China” — the US President obviously had Russia weighing on his mind far more in the context of the ongoing Ukraine-Russia military confrontation.

It is a matter of great satisfaction that India is putting a comprehensive strategy in place for countering the threat from China and in a multi-prong response concentrating on measures to deal with the adversary on land and sea as well as in the air- through the development of missile and drone technology.

Indo-US relations are being constantly upgraded in the context of a new Cold War appearing on the horizon between the US and China and India is also successfully opposing the Chinese designs at international forums while assuming an active profile on a multilateral platform like Quad, in association with the US.

In a Marxist state, the released party documents tell a lot about which way the country was proceeding and these have to be closely studied and analysed.

Cyber warfare and the use of social media as an instrument of combat come naturally to China as they fit in with the Marxist maxim of ‘winning a war without a battle’ and so does the thesis of ‘two steps forward one step backwards’ that was designed to get away with ‘salami slicing’ which was likely to be practised by the adversary on our borders.

Since May 2020, the Chinese troops have engaged in aggressive activities and precipitated skirmishes along the Sino-Indian border.

India has done well in the regime of Prime Minister Narendra Modi to carry out the necessary military build-up along the India-China border, particularly in Eastern Ladakh and Arunachal Pradesh and also push forward the civilian settlements there to match the Chinese activities along LAC.

A lot is being done also to enhance the Naval power of India in the Indian Ocean where China was using Male as a springboard for deploying its Naval ‘spy’ ship possibly for hydrographic studies in the Indian Ocean.

China has managed to have an ingress in Afghanistan because of Pakistan’s initiative in arranging a ‘give and take’ between the Taliban Emirate and the Marxist state and has also stepped up its political and economic bonding with India’s neighbours including Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, and Maldives.

India has to safeguard its neighbourhood against China’s attempts to use these countries to create bases for anti-India activities.

Against a Marxist China that has called for rallying behind the ‘civilisational strength’ of the country, India has to respond with the ‘whole of the nation’ strategy and project the mandate that democratic India was ‘one nation’.

The substratum of ‘one man one vote’ on which India’s democracy has been tested over decades, leaves little scope for politics of religion, caste and region particularly when the governance of the country did not carry any denominational stamp and the state policies did not make any distinctions amongst citizens.

Moreover, nationalism strengthens democracy and the political opposition would do well to own it with full vigour. India is a land of socio-cultural diversities and different modes of worship but with one secular political umbrella created by the multi-party system submitting to a common electoral process.

Indian parties have to learn to keep national security above politics and not inject any element of ‘separatism’ in their campaigns.

Narratives of ‘majoritarianism’, ‘authoritarianism’ and ‘minority concerns’ can not become the tools of running politics from behind and care has to be taken to ensure that ‘influence warfare’ of anti-India lobbies often working in conjunction with civil society groups opposed to the government of the day, did not damage our national interests by running a ‘proxy’ offensive for vested reasons.

Indian voters always prove to be shrewd judge of the merit and performance of the rulers and opt for good governance. Also, the average Indian showed great sensitivity to matters of security of the nation and even pushed personal economic concerns into the background whenever called upon to contribute to such a higher cause. In the present context, the promise of a stable government would be a major concern of the voter.

There is another emerging area of concern for India attributable to Sino-Pak collaboration.

The Biden administration in the US has for some time been engaged in defending Islam as a faith that ought not to be discredited and defamed and seems to have felt particularly concerned over Islamophobic trends noticed in the US in the wake of the Israel-Hamas confrontation that began with the terrorist attack of Hamas on Israel on October 7 last year.

In a statement issued by the White House on March 15, it was announced that the US will develop the first-ever “national strategy to counter the scourge of Islamophobia and hate in all its forms” in the US and elsewhere.

The unusually large civilian casualties of over 30,000 resulting in Gaza from the Israeli attacks and domestic developments like forced resignations of the Presidents of Harvard and Pennsylvania universities for permitting pro-Palestinian demonstrations on the campus, seemed to have compelled the White House to try to be politically correct by speaking up against Islamophobia.

Not unexpectedly, Pakistan and China co-sponsored on March 15 a draft resolution in the UN General Assembly on ‘measures to combat Islamophobia’, which was passed with 115 nations including both the US and Russia supporting it, no member expressing its opposition and 44 countries including India, Brazil, Ukraine and a number of European countries like UK, France, Germany and Italy, abstaining from voting.

Pakistan was representing the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) — the 57-member block of Muslim countries chaired by Saudi Arabia.

India Pakistan border

India rightly took the stand that all acts motivated by anti-Semitism, Christianophobia or Islamophobia should be condemned and faiths other than Abrahamic religions should also be brought under the purview of the resolution.

India pointed out that anti-Hindu, anti-Buddhist and anti-Sikh sentiments had also surfaced internationally.

Indian representative strongly advised the UN to maintain itself above such faith-related matters as this otherwise would have the effect of dividing the world body into “religious camps”.

The move of Pakistan and China at the UN confirms the strategic strength of the Sino-Pak axis and reminds India of its adverse potential for this country.

India houses the second-largest Muslim population in the world and believes in treating all religions with equal respect.

There has been considerable criticism in Pakistan of the announcement of the implementation of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) by India which was meant for accommodating the non-Muslim minorities persecuted in the three Islamic countries in India’s neighbourhood — Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan.

The Pak-sponsored resolution in UNGA was aimed, on one hand, at defending Islam against the implicit criticism of Sharia-ruled states for the unequal status accorded to non-Muslims by them and running down India, on the other, for the alleged suppression of Muslim minority in this country.

Introducing the resolution in the UN General Assembly, Munir Akram, Permanent Representative of Pakistan at the UN, referred without naming India, to the lynching of Muslims by cow vigilantes as well as the attacks on women wearing the ‘hijab’ and particularly denounced the act of “gleefully consecrating a Hindu temple on the ruins of a historical 500 years old mosque”.

It appeared that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the US were on the same side of the fence — in believing that there is a rising trend of anti-Muslim hate reflected in unequal immigration policies, profiling and restrictions placed on Muslims in according citizenship to them, in many parts of the world.

The democratic world however, should be aware that it is Islam that claimed supremacism of faith on the ground that it was declared as the only ‘perfect’ religion — which also happened to be the last — and did not place other religions on an equal footing.

The US wants to keep its hold in the Middle East and for that reason consistently stands by its old friends Saudi Arabia and UAE. It should however, be fully cognisant of the fact that in the wake of the ‘war on terror’, the hold of Islamic radicals had become stronger in the Muslim world creating a divide between the ‘radicalised’ countries hostile to the US-led West and those in deep friendship with the US. The former carries the historical legacy of the Nineteenth century Wahhabi Jehad that was directed against the European colonial powers in Algeria, Arabia and India — this could be one reason why countries like the UK and France unlike the US, abstained from voting on the Pak-sponsored resolution against Islamophobia moved in UNGA.

India has to watch out for hostile lobbies pushing ahead with their propaganda on Muslim issues on the lines of the UN verdict.

Indo-US relations draw strength from a shared concern over the rise of Islamic radical forces in the Muslim world and this is reflected in the deep friendship enjoyed by the two countries with Saudi Arabia and UAE which were targeted by radical forces.

The US policymakers would do well not to let any manoeuvrings of Pakistan or the influence of anti-India lobbies alleging unequal treatment of Muslim minorities in India, affect their better judgement. In the final analysis, there is no change in the security assessment that the Sino-Pak strategic alliance remains on top of the threats to India and requires a comprehensive handling in the spheres of defence, internal security and diplomacy.

Both Pakistan and China, it may be recalled, had joined hands in campaigning against India on the issue of Kashmir, particularly after the abrogation of Article 370 of the Constitution by the Indian Parliament in August 2019. India has to be extra vigilant against the ‘information warfare’ being run by the two hostile neighbours of India on the domestic matters of this country.

(The writer is former Director of the Intelligence Bureau. Views are personal)

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Indian Navy’s Daring Operation Garners Global Acclaim

Indian Navy’s recent anti-piracy mission off Somalia underscores New Delhi’s formidable special forces prowess, aligning with global standards, according to analysts…reports Asian Lite News

The massive operation carried out by the Indian Navy to rescue a commercial ship from pirates off Somalia’s coast last weekend shows how New Delhi’s military has developed special forces capabilities on par with some of the world’s best, CNN reported, citing several analysts.

The navy rescued 17 crew members of the vessel MV Ruen during an anti-piracy operation lasting nearly two days, with no casualties reported. Around 35 pirates surrendered and were taken into custody, the Indian Navy said.

The operation involved a navy destroyer, a patrol ship, an Indian Air Force C-17 transporter flying more than 1,500 miles to airdrop marine commandos, a naval drone, a reconnaissance drone and a P-8 surveillance jet, the Indian Navy release said.

“The success of the operation marks the Indian Navy as a top-class force in terms of training, command and control, and other capabilities,” said John Bradford, a Council on Foreign Relations International Affairs fellow.

“What marks this operation as impressive is how risk was minimised by using a coordinated force that includes the use of a warship, drones, fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, and marine commandos,” he added.

Experts are concerned that the volatile security situation in the Red Sea due to attacks by Yemen-based Houthi rebels on commercial shipping may tie up international forces and provide a window for Somali pirates in the nearby Horn of Africa – presenting a multi-billion-dollar threat to the global economy, CNN reported.

Yemen and Somalia are among the region’s poorest nations, both ravaged by years of civil war.

Somali pirates’ capture of the MV Ruen in December last year marked the first successful hijacking of a vessel off the country’s coast since 2017.

Spanish, Japanese and Indian warships tracked the Malta-flagged, Bulgarian-managed bulk carrier as it was taken into Somali territorial waters, according to a December report from the European Union Naval Force.

But when the Ruen, now operated by a pirate crew, last week left Somali waters with the intent of committing acts of piracy on the high seas, the Indian Navy made moves to intercept it.

The destroyer INS Kolkata, operating in the area to help ensure international maritime security, used a ship-launched drone to confirm the Ruen was being operated by armed pirates, the Indian statement said.

After the pirates fired on the drone, destroying it, and then on the Indian warship itself, the INS Kolkata responded by firing on the Ruen, disabling its steering and navigation, the statement said.

As INS Kolkata sought the surrender of the pirates, the commandos parachuted in after a 10-hour flight from India, the air force said on X. Rafts were also dropped into the ocean from the large transport for marines to reach the Ruen.

The Indian show of force proved too much for the pirates, the CNN report added.

“Due to sustained pressure and calibrated actions by the Indian Navy over the last 40 hours, all 35 Somali pirates surrendered,” the navy statement said.

Bulgarian leaders, including President Rumen Radev, thanked India and Prime Minister Narendra Modi for the operation.

“My sincere gratitude to (PM Modi) for the brave action of (the) Navy rescuing the hijacked Bulgarian ship ‘Ruen’ and its crew, including 7 Bulgarian citizens,” Radev posted on X.

Analyst Carl Schuster, a former US Navy captain, said the incident highlighted the professionalism of the Indian Navy and said Delhi’s marine commando force, known as MARCOS, had learned from its US and British counterparts.

“The Indian Navy itself is a highly trained and disciplined professional force,” Schuster said.

“MARCOS’ nearly eight months of training is modelled after Britain’s SAS. Despite a very intense selection process, only about 10-15 per cent of those who enter the training graduate,” he said.

The analysts further emphasised that the Indian Navy holds over 20 years of experience in anti-piracy operations – and the restive security situation in one of the world’s major shipping lanes meant they were likely to be called on again, as reported by CNN.

The Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson, in January that maritime security in the region is a priority for India.

“The ongoing activities there are indeed a matter of concern, and it affects our economic interests,” MEA spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal said.

“We are consistently monitoring the situation. Our naval forces, and naval vessels are engaged in ensuring the safety of our commercial vessels,” he added. (ANI)

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Indian Navy Thwarts Hijack Bid by Somali Pirates

In a daring operation to safeguard maritime security, the Indian Navy successfully thwarted Somali pirates from using a ex-merchant vessel Ruen to hijack ships traversing the region, the Indian Navy spokesperson said.

The ex-MV Ruen, which had been commandeered by Somali pirates on December 14, 2023, was reported to have reappeared as a pirate vessel, threatening merchant shipping in the high seas. Responding swiftly to the threat, an Indian Navy warship engaged the pirate vessel on March 15.

According to a statement issued by the Indian Navy, it was revealed that upon interception, the Ruen when intercepted opened fire on the Naval warship, prompting a response from naval officials.

Acting in strict accordance with international law and protocols governing maritime security, the Indian Navy retaliated with minimal force necessary to neutralize the pirate threat and ensure the safety of seafarers and shipping lanes.

“#IndianNavy thwarts designs of Somali pirates to hijack ships plying through the region by intercepting ex-MV Ruen. The ex-MV Ruen, which had been hijacked by Somali pirates on #14Dec 23, was reported to have sailed out as a pirate ship towards conducting acts of #piracy on high seas,” the Navy said in a post on social media platform X.

“The vessel was intercepted by the #IndianNavy warship on #15Mar. The vessel opened fire on the warship, which is taking actions iaw international law, in self-defence & to counter piracy, with minimal force necessary to neutralise the pirates’ threat to shipping and seafarers. The pirates onboard the vessel have been called upon to surrender & release the vessel & any civilians they may be holding against their will,” it said.

The pirates aboard the vessel have been called upon by the Indian Navy to surrender immediately and release any civilians they may be holding against their will. The Indian Navy reiterated its unwavering commitment to maintaining maritime security and ensuring the safety of seafarers navigating through these perilous waters. (ANI)

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US Military chief tours arms plants with GOP lawmakers

Brown’s travel companions included both supporters and opponents of the current Ukraine aid package….reports Asian Lite News

As they stood before massive rocket launchers built in part by their Arkansas constituents, Republican lawmakers were getting an unambiguous message Thursday from America’s top military officer: A Ukraine aid package that’s stalled in Congress will not only help in the fight against Russia, but also support jobs in their districts.

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff doesn’t normally fly around the United States with members of Congress. But Gen. C.Q. Brown’s trip was part of the Pentagon’s full-court press to get the House to move forward on a $95 billion foreign aid package that’s key to getting critical munitions flowing to Kyiv again.

Brown’s travel companions included both supporters and opponents of the current Ukraine aid package. But even some who have been cautious said they do see a path forward for approval of the bill, which includes roughly $60 billion to support Ukraine.

“We want to be able to help our allies and also help keep our industrial complex to stay afloat,” said Rep. Bruce Westerman of Arkansas. “All of that said, it has to be a bill we can come to agreement on, and it has to be something that members of Congress feel like they understand what the mission is, and what the objective is, and what the plan is.”

Sen. John Boozman of Arkansas and Republican Sen. Markwayne Mullin of Oklahoma also joined Brown for a tour of Lockheed Martin’s factory in Camden, Arkansas, where they walked past workers assembling massive ring bases for the M270 Multiple Launch Rocket System and the tube components of the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System, or HIMARS. Both systems have been in high demand in Ukraine.

Mullin, who previously voted against the bill, said he still sees a way to get approval for the aid, which he supports.

“There is a package that’s being worked on the Senate and the House side that could possibly move forward,” he said, citing an idea that would give the US first rights to Ukraine’s mineral resources in return for the aid. It’s a type of loan that former President Donald Trump has supported and that could make the US less dependent on China, Mullin said.

“The whole world is out of ammunition,” said Boozman, who supported the bill. “Eventually we are going to get the dollars, because it’s so important.”

All three cited the impact the massive bill would have on the local workforce.

Brown also met with Oklahoma Republican Rep. Josh Brecheen on this trip, during a second stop at the McAlester Army Ammunition Plant in McAlester, Oklahoma. Brecheen has previously indicated he would not support the bill currently in the House.

In a call with reporters before the trip, Brown said he would use the time with the lawmakers, including during their flights, to talk about the importance of the supplemental national security funding.

“As I have done with other members, and I’ll do with these members, I’ll talk to them about the importance of the supplemental and not only how it helps Ukraine but also how it helps all of us. What I mean by that is much of the money, about 80 percent of the money out of the supplemental, will go back into our defense industrial base,” Brown said.

He said the funding is needed to replenish US military stockpiles that have been sent forward to Ukraine and that increased production ultimately generates income at home. It’s a point the Pentagon has increasingly pushed in recent months as current Ukraine funding ran out — and Ukrainian forces on the front line began to ration munitions against a much more robustly supplied Russian army.

Besides the HIMARS, Lockheed Martin’s Camden plant makes Army Tactical Missile Systems, or ATACMS, long-range missiles that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said have proved effective against Russian forces.

The McAlester plant produces Navy and Air Force bombs, but is also a major storage site for critically needed 155mm munitions. Brown and the lawmakers visited one of the munitions storage sites at the sprawling plant, where bunkers and storage sites hold an undisclosed number of pallets of 250-pound and 2,000-pound bombs, among tens of thousands of rounds of 155mm ammunition, much of it shipped back to the US from South Korea to be retrofitted for Ukraine. In support of Ukraine, the McAlester plant has also accelerated repair of Stinger and Hawk missiles.

The massive plant, which is one of several similar sites across the US, has orders to be ready at any time to surge and be able to send as many as 435 shipping containers — each able to carry 15 tons worth of munitions — if ordered to do so by the president. For the past year it’s been pulling from its storage sites to fill Ukraine’s needs when each new aid package has been announced.

Arkansas Republican Sen. Tom Cotton, a high-ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Oklahoma Sen. James Lankford, who negotiated the failed border bill that has now become a sticking point for the Ukraine aid bill in the House, had been scheduled to travel with Brown but were not on the trip.

The lawmakers have taken different approaches on their support for Ukraine as the war has dragged on.

In May 2022, the Arkansas senators split on a $40 billion Ukraine aid package, with Cotton joining Lankford in favor of the aid and Boozman opposed.

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