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HAS DOD FOCUSED ON THE WRONG ISLAND WAR IN INDOPACOM?

CHINA AND THE PHILIPPINES HEAT UP

 THE WEEK IN STRATEGY

Summaries and Links to This Week’s Curated Strategy Articles

May 27 – June 2, 2024

Depiction: High Above the US-China War in the Philippines.

 

THE BIG PICTURE


INDO PACIFIC: Escalating tensions in the South China Sea highlight Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s strong stance at the Shangri-La Dialogue, warning that any fatal incident would be akin to an act of war. Despite U.S. support, Chinese coercion continues, risking a military crisis. China’s defense minister has acknowledged the importance of newly renewed military-to-military communications with the United States as tensions escalate in the Asia-Pacific, while at the same time accusing Washington of causing friction with its support for Taiwan and the Philippines. China's efforts to control these waters contrast with responses from neighboring countries. The strategic challenges include China's gray-zone tactics and assertive actions against Philippine vessels, risking broader conflict due to mutual defense treaties. Concurrently, China's maneuvers towards Taiwan underscore the fragile balance of power in the region. Understanding these dynamics is crucial for managing and preventing escalation.


USA: Tentative improvement in U.S.-China relations is highlighted by the planned establishment of new military communication channels, aiming to stabilize the strained relationship and prevent potential conflicts, especially concerning Taiwan. The upcoming meeting between U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart, Dong Jun, at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore marks a significant step. While these channels may not resolve all issues, they represent a hopeful sign amid deteriorating relations. Despite skepticism due to China's history of canceling such channels, this development is seen as positive. Meanwhile, President Biden is urged to abandon the proposed U.S.-Saudi defense deal, criticized for potentially destabilizing the Middle East and harming Biden’s political standing. Additionally, the upcoming 80th anniversary of D-Day offers a critical moment for Western leaders to reaffirm unity and commitment to democracy amidst current global tensions. These events underscore the importance of strategic communication and historical reflection in managing international relations and conflicts.


MIDDLE EAST & AFRICA: President Biden has proposed a temporary six-week cease-fire to halt the ongoing conflict in Gaza, facilitating humanitarian aid and paving the way for permanent peace negotiations and reconstruction. Despite the urgent need for diplomacy amid significant casualties, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has rejected the idea, insisting that military operations will continue until Hamas is dismantled. Concurrently, Iran's political landscape is shifting following President Raisi's death, with upcoming elections exposing societal divisions. In South Africa, the 2024 election could reshape the political landscape as the ANC faces dissatisfaction and potential coalition formation. The central point is that these developments underscore the complexities and challenges in achieving stability and reform amid ongoing conflicts and political shifts.


GLOBAL ECONOMICS & TECH

In "Costs of Economic Fragmentation Include Moving to Hard-to-Work Places," published by Bloomberg and authored by Brendan Murray, the article discusses how the realignment of global supply chains to geopolitically neutral economies increases operational complexity and red tape, impacting productivity and efficiency. (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2024-05-30/supply-chain-latest-costs-of-economic-fragmentation)

 

In "Southeast Asian Exports Seen Surging Through 2030," published by Bloomberg News, the article highlights a report from Nomura predicting that exports from Southeast Asia will significantly increase as companies shift production to avoid tariffs and trade barriers, with nations like India, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Mexico being major beneficiaries. This production diversification is driven by intensifying US-China trade tensions, leading firms to reduce reliance on China. Despite these shifts, the dependence on Chinese intermediate goods will persist, posing challenges to completely severing ties. [Read more](https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2024-05-29/southeast-asian-exports-seen-surging-through-2030).

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THE USA

“Can a U.S.-China Military Hotline Stop the Downward Spiral? New communications channels between the superpowers are a hopeful sign.”  Foreign Policy. James Crabtree’s article discusses the tentative improvement in U.S.-China relations, highlighted by the planned establishment of new military communication channels. This initiative aims to stabilize the strained relationship and prevent potential conflicts, particularly concerning Taiwan. The upcoming meeting between U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and his Chinese counterpart, Dong Jun, at the IISS Shangri La Dialogue in Singapore marks a significant step towards this goal. The article emphasizes that while these communication channels may not solve all issues, they represent a hopeful sign in the broader context of deteriorating Sino-U.S. relations. Additionally, it highlights the structural challenges and skepticism surrounding the effectiveness of such hotlines, given China's history of canceling them during diplomatic tensions. Despite these challenges, the development of these channels is viewed as a positive move towards reducing misunderstandings and managing military dynamics more effectively.

 

In "The U.S.-Saudi Agreement Is a Fool’s Errand," published by Foreign Policy and authored by David M. Wight, the article argues that President Joe Biden should abandon the proposed U.S.-Saudi defense deal. The agreement, which includes U.S. security guarantees and support for Saudi Arabia’s civilian nuclear program, is criticized for undermining U.S. strategic goals and potentially destabilizing the Middle East. Wight asserts that the deal would embolden Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s reckless behavior, increase the risk of nuclear proliferation in the Persian Gulf, and fail to significantly deter Iranian aggression. Additionally, the deal could harm Biden’s political standing domestically by deepening divisions within the Democratic Party and alienating key voter blocs. The author concludes that for the sake of the international order and U.S. interests, Biden must abandon this misguided agreement. (https://foreignpolicy.com/2024/05/29/us-saudi-defense-deal-biden-mbs-nuclear-security-iran-election/)

 

In "The 80th Anniversary of D-Day: An Opportunity to Seize," published by War on the Rocks and authored by Sam Edwards, the article discusses the significance of the upcoming 80th anniversary of D-Day amidst current global tensions, particularly the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Edwards draws parallels between past D-Day commemorations during the Cold War and today's geopolitical climate, suggesting that the anniversary offers a critical moment for Western leaders to reaffirm their unity and commitment to democracy. The article emphasizes that President Joe Biden has a unique opportunity to deliver a powerful message that underscores the importance of transatlantic solidarity and the ongoing struggle against authoritarianism. The author also reflects on how D-Day anniversaries have historically been used to address contemporary political concerns and rally public support.

 

CHINA

The South China Sea Risks a Military Crisis” by Sarang Shidore, published by Foreign Policy, discusses the escalating tensions in the South China Sea, highlighting Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.'s strong stance at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore. He declared that any fatal incident involving Philippine citizens in the ongoing standoff with China would be nearly tantamount to an act of war. Despite U.S. support and the strengthening of alliances, incidents of Chinese coercion and military assertiveness continue, raising the risk of a military crisis. The article suggests that mutual restraint and strategic patience are necessary to avoid further escalation and manage the territorial disputes. (https://foreignpolicy.com/2024/05/31/philippines-south-china-sea-shangri-la/).

 

In "The East and South China Seas: One Sea, Near Seas, Whose Seas?" published by War on the Rocks and authored by April A. Herlevi and Brian Waidelich, the article examines the strategic and geopolitical complexities of the East and South China Seas. It highlights China's efforts to assert control over these waters, regarded by Beijing as its "near seas," and contrasts this with the diverse and evolving responses of neighboring countries like Japan, the Philippines, Vietnam, and Malaysia. The authors argue that understanding the distinct dynamics of each sea is crucial for addressing the challenges posed by China's territorial ambitions. They advocate for U.S. policymakers to push for Senate ratification of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea and to support regional allies in maintaining access to these critical maritime regions. (https://warontherocks.com/2024/05/the-east-and-south-china-seas-one-sea-near-seas-whose-seas/)

 

Are China and the Philippines on a Collision Course?” by Dean Cheng, Carla Freeman, Ph.D., Brian Harding, and Andrew Scobell, Ph.D., published by the United States Institute of Peace, examines the escalating tensions between China and the Philippines in the South China Sea. The article highlights China's aggressive actions, such as the use of water cannons and maritime militias, against Philippine vessels, which raise the risk of conflict involving the United States due to their mutual defense treaty. This situation underscores the strategic challenges and potential for a broader regional conflict.

The article details how China's gray zone tactics and territorial claims have heightened tensions, pushing the Philippines to strengthen alliances with the U.S. and other regional partners. The authors argue that China's assertiveness in the South China Sea is not just about regional dominance but also reflects broader strategic ambitions that challenge U.S. influence. The potential for miscalculation and conflict remains high, necessitating careful management of the situation to avoid escalation. (https://www.usip.org/publications/2024/03/are-china-and-philippines-collision-course)

 

In "As China Tests the US-Philippines Alliance, Here's How to Respond," published by Foreign Policy and authored by Derek Grossman, the article explores China's aggressive maritime tactics against the Philippines and the increasing likelihood of armed conflict in the South China Sea. Grossman highlights how China's gray-zone tactics, such as using water cannons and military-grade lasers against Philippine vessels, challenge the US-Philippines Mutual Defense Treaty. He argues for a revised treaty to address modern threats, enhanced US-Philippines military cooperation, and potentially leveraging technological advancements like drones to counter Chinese aggression. (https://foreignpolicy.com/2024/05/29/as-china-tests-the-us-philippines-alliance-heres-how-to-respond)

 

In "China-Taiwan: A Reality Check for Taipei and Its Western Allies," published by Bloomberg and authored by Jenni Marsh, the article details the immediate challenges faced by Taiwan's new President Lai Ching-te, who is contending with China's aggressive military maneuvers and internal political strife. Following Lai's inauguration, Beijing criticized his speech as a declaration of Taiwanese independence and responded with its largest military drills in a year. Concurrently, Taiwan's parliament, influenced by opposition groups favoring closer ties with China, passed legislation reducing Lai's presidential powers, which sparked significant protests. These developments highlight the fragile balance of power and the difficulties Taiwan and its allies, including the United States, face in countering China's assertive tactics.

 

In "China’s Role in Ukraine," published by The New York Times and authored by German Lopez, the article examines how China is indirectly supporting Russia's war efforts in Ukraine by purchasing Russian oil and expanding trade, thus bolstering Russia’s economy despite international sanctions. China’s provision of essential components, such as microelectronics used in Russian military equipment, further underscores its strategic partnership with Moscow. The article also discusses the broader implications of this support, suggesting that it represents a new phase of superpower competition reminiscent of a Cold War dynamic, as the U.S. and its allies continue to aid Ukraine. The outcome of this conflict could significantly influence China's future actions regarding its own territorial ambitions, particularly concerning Taiwan. (https://www.nytimes.com/2024/05/28/world/europe/china-ukraine-russia-support.html)

 

MIDDLE EAST & AFRICA

Israel-Hamas War Briefing: Biden outlines cease-fire proposal to end war” by The New York Times details President Biden's proposal for a temporary six-week cease-fire aimed at ending the ongoing conflict in Gaza. The cease-fire is intended to pave the way for negotiations that would ultimately lead to a permanent resolution and the reconstruction of Gaza. The proposal highlights the urgent need for a pause in hostilities to facilitate humanitarian aid and rebuild war-torn areas.

 

Biden's plan comes amid ongoing violence and significant casualties, emphasizing the importance of diplomatic efforts to achieve lasting peace. The initiative is part of broader international efforts to stabilize the region and address the root causes of the conflict. The proposed cease-fire would involve close cooperation with international partners to ensure its success and create a framework for sustained peace talks. (https://www.nytimes.com/live/2024/05/31/world/israel-gaza-war-hamas-rafah)

 

After Biden’s Push for Truce, Netanyahu Calls Israel’s War Plans Unchanged” by Aaron Boxerman, published by The New York Times, discusses the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's response to President Biden's call for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Netanyahu emphasized that Israel would not agree to a permanent cease-fire as long as Hamas retains military and governing power. His statement, aimed at domestic supporters, counters Biden's proposal for a temporary six-week cease-fire, which seeks to halt hostilities and facilitate negotiations for a lasting peace. (https://www.nytimes.com/live/2024/06/01/world/israel-gaza-war-hamas-rafah)

 

Israel Pushes Deeper Into Rafah, but Gaza Exit Plan Remains Unclear” by Aaron Boxerman, Raja Abdulrahim, and Thomas Fuller, published by The New York Times, describes the Israeli military's deepening incursion into Rafah, southern Gaza, amid international calls for a cease-fire. Despite the intensifying offensive and resulting devastation, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu maintains that the military campaign will continue until Hamas's capabilities are dismantled and all hostages are returned. The article highlights the lack of a clear exit strategy for Gaza, leaving the region in prolonged conflict. (https://www.nytimes.com/live/2024/06/01/world/israel-gaza-war-hamas-rafah).

 

Israel-Gaza War: Updates” by The New York Times. Protests in Tel Aviv and other cities call for an end to the conflict. Israeli, Egyptian, and U.S. officials plan to meet in Cairo to discuss reopening the Rafah crossing for humanitarian aid.  (https://www.nytimes.com/live/2024/06/01/world/israel-gaza-war-hamas-rafah)

 

Iran Readies for Presidential Elections After Raisi’s Deadly Helicopter Crash” by Stefanie Glinski, published by Foreign Policy, explores the political landscape in Iran following the death of President Ebrahim Raisi in a helicopter crash. The upcoming presidential election on June 28 aims to select his successor, with notable contenders like Saeed Jalili and Mohammad Mokhber. The crash has exposed societal divisions, with millions mourning while others view Raisi's death as a chance for change. The election is expected to highlight these divisions and potential for reform.  (https://foreignpolicy.com/2024/05/30/iran-readies-for-presidential-elections-after-raisis-deadly-helicopter-crash)

 

South African Election: A Weakened ANC May Shake Up the Country” by Arijit Ghosh, published by Bloomberg, explores the implications of the 2024 election for South Africa's political landscape. Despite voter dissatisfaction due to an energy crisis, corruption, and unemployment, the African National Congress (ANC) is expected to remain the largest party, though not with a majority. This will force the ANC to form coalitions, possibly with business-friendly parties, allowing for reforms in power supply, transportation, and public services, potentially addressing long-standing issues. (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2024-05-29/south-african-election-a-weakened-anc-may-shake-up-the-country)

 

RUSSIA

 “Developing an Economic Security Agenda for NATO” by Anna Dowd and Dominik Jankowski, published by War on the Rocks, argues for a renewed focus on economic security within NATO to counter threats from Russia and China. The article suggests launching a NATO Economic Deterrence Initiative to enhance economic resilience, intelligence sharing, and policy coordination. The alliance can better address the complex global challenges by reintegrating economic security into NATO's strategic considerations and ensure a more comprehensive deterrent posture.  (https://warontherocks.com/2024/05/developing-an-economic-security-agenda-for-nato)

 

Russian Missiles Hit Ukraine’s Energy System, Again” by Constant Méheut, published by The New York Times, reports on a large-scale air assault by Russian forces targeting Ukraine's energy infrastructure. The attack involved 53 missiles, with a third hitting their targets, including critical infrastructure in western Ukraine near NATO borders. The strikes have significantly damaged the energy sector, leading to rolling blackouts and further straining Ukraine's air defense systems. President Zelensky has urged NATO allies to intercept Russian missiles near their borders to alleviate pressure on Ukrainian defenses. (https://www.nytimes.com/2024/06/01/world/europe/russia-ukraine-missile-strikes.html)

 










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