Zones of Future Conflicts

BEIJING/WASHINGTON/BERLIN (Own report) – German government advisors are warning against an arms race and possible military confrontations in East Asia. As a recent study by the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) explains, China’s attempts to take control over its coastal waters and its maritime trade routes collide with the USA’s attempts to uphold Washington’s claims to maintain its “international leadership role.” The arms buildup of the Chinese Navy and the initial shift of US armed forces to the Pacific are colliding head-on and could – in the worst case – result in armed conflict. In effect, as a NATO partner of the United States, Germany would also be implicated in cases of conflict. German naval vessels are already being incorporated with growing frequency into the US Navy’s combat units. Berlin is also contributing to the expansion of NATO military cooperation with the pro-western countries of east and Southeast Asia, and the Pacific regions through military policy measures and arms exports. German naval circles are also demanding that the German Navy soon be given an arms upgrade and an offensive posture.

China’s Caribbean

The arms buildup of the Chinese armed forces – particularly the Chinese Navy – is the point of departure and the analytical focus of a new SWP study. The author of the study and a Senior Fellow at the SWP’s “Research Division International Security,” Michael Paul, contends that China’s maritime arms buildup is aimed at two objectives: Beijing seeks to gain “sovereignty over its coastal waters” to create “a sort of maritime buffer zone in the area of the first island chains (Japan-Taiwan-the Philippines-Indonesia).” This is “readily understandable and comparable to the USA’s relationship to the Caribbean realm.” That Washington places high significance on having it under control, is generally known – at least since the October 1962 Cuba Crisis. In addition, according to the author of the SWP’s study, China is highly dependent “on maritime routes.” “Critical maritime supply lines (…), such as through the Straits of Malacca, insure its supplies of oil, gas, other natural resources, as well as food and other commodities.” Because these are essential to the thriving economic development of the country, the People’s Republic of China protects its westward maritime trade routes.[1] The attempts to establish port bases along the Indian Ocean, is often referred to as the “strategy of a string of pearls.” (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[2])

No Longer at Will

As the SWP study points out, China’s endeavor to protect its coastal waters and its maritime trade routes will “result in the USA no longer being able to operate in these areas at will,” which collides with Washington’s claims. “The Obama administration came to office on the premise of reviving the USA’s leadership role,” SWP author Paul recalls. If the People’s Republic of China takes control of its coastal waters, the USA would then have to take China into account. One example can be seen during the 1996 Taiwan Crisis. At the time the balance of power was unambiguous. “The USA ended (the crisis, gfp) through a show of force, the SWP study recalls that the USA sent two aircraft carrier battle groups ‘the USS Independence’ and the ‘USS Nimitz’ into the conflict zone.” “Such a procedure” today, would already be “much more dangerous.” The Chinese Navy has, in the meantime, “asymmetrical capabilities” – for example ballistic anti-ship missiles – with which “access to a region can be denied (Anti-Access/A2) or the maneuverability can be reduced within an area (Area Denial/AD).” These would limit “the USA’s power projection capacity.“[3]

Ties to NATO

Germany is already supporting this shift in US foreign and military policy. This can be seen in the fact that the “Berlin-Canberra Declaration of Intent on a Strategic Partnership,” signed between Germany and Australia, in January of this year, contains an explicit military policy component and Australia’s tighter ties to NATO.[6] Simultaneously, Berlin is endeavoring to strengthen its military ties to the Southeast Asian countries and is contributing to their massive arms buildup. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[7]) Circles in the German Navy are also demanding reinforcements of the German war fleet and the creation of more powerful EU units – for example, the establishment of a “European” aircraft carrier strike group. Recently, according to an analysis by the CDU-affiliated Konrad Adenauer Foundation, “Germany’s political and military presence in the key regions of the global maritime network must be reinforced.” The German Navy’s arms buildup is advancing.[8]

“Carrier Strike Group” Member

With growing frequency, the German Navy is also incorporating its warships into US battle groups. Just a few days ago, a German Navy submarine and a “tender” (replenishment ship) returned from joint maneuvers with the US Navy. According to the Bundeswehr, the exercise (“Westlant Deployment”) was an “intensive exercise with the US Navy, to coordinate and consolidate procedures.” The Bundeswehr explained that the German warships sailed “in an American battle group” comprised of “up to 30 units,” and together with “surface vessels, submarines, helicopters and aviation” – not closer described – “procedures and techniques were tested.”[9] This past spring, for the second time ever, a German frigate was for, several months, incorporated into a carrier strike group around a US aircraft carrier. Observers assume that this will happen more often in the future. Last spring, the frigate’s captain stressed that the frigate would of course “defend” the entire carrier strike group, if it would have come under attack – a clear indication of what could be the consequences of incorporation into the US battle groups, even without explicit German war plans.[10]

The West as the Hegemonic Power

The SWP now confirms that an arms race looms on the Eastern Asian horizon and that it is not out of the question that this arms race could “escalate into a military confrontation.” The think tank sees the greatest danger arising from the conflict over Taiwan, even though territorial conflicts over islands in the East and South China Seas could escalate out of hand as well. The author uses as an “example of growing tensions,” the “maneuvers in September 2012, in which first the Chinese Navy and then the US and Japanese militaries exercised re-conquering an island.” “A month later, the aircraft carrier, ‘USS George Washington’ was dispatched to the South China Sea,” the author recalls, “just a few days after the east fleet” of the Chinese Navy “had carried out maneuvers in the area.”[11] The SWP also indicates that in such a conflict, Berlin would take the side forcing Beijing to renounce. “Decisive will be, whether China will be willing to accommodate the presence of a hegemonic US power, as a necessary evil for regional stability.”

Full article: Zones of Future Conflicts (German Foreign Policy)

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