Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Possible Use of Nuclear Weapons in Sino-Japanese War

Greetings from the Australian National University in Canberra, where Robert Ayson and Desmond Ball are speaking on the alarming topic of "Escalation in the East China Sea: A Political and Military Possibility". Their thesis is that a dispute between China and Japan in the East China Sea could result in a way which draws in the USA. A lack of crisis management and China’s command and control system's vulnerability could result in their use of nuclear weapons. Professor Ball stated that the USA had plans for "limited" use of nuclear weapons against China, including in a conventional war between China and Japan. Attacks on US undersea surveillance systems around China, some of which are collocated with Japanese facilities may also provoke a nuclear response on Chinese mainland bases. Knowing this China would then be tempted to make a preemptive nuclear strike. One area for concern is that the PLAN (Cihinese Navy) may become overconfident in its abilities.

Executive Summary:
  • Political competition and a lack of crisis management mechanisms could make it very hard for China and Japan to resist escalatory pressures in the very plausible event of a minor armed clash in the East China Sea.
  • Japan’s reluctance to use force may be less extensive than some assume and its connections to US strategy and C4SIR systems increase the prospect of early American participation.
  • Command and control vulnerabilities could mean serious pre-emption pressures if Beijing thought a larger conflict was possible. American attacks on the PLA’s conventional war-fighting systems could create perverse incentives for China to use its nuclear weapons early while it was still confident in its physical ability to do so.
This would suggest some obvious actions:
  • Crisis management mechanisms including a secure political hot-line and military to military communication channels which are regularly tested. Military personnel should visit each other, observe exercises and attend training courses.
  • The USA could ensure it has a Command, Control, Communications, Computers, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance System (C4SIR) which can operate separately from that of Japan. Japan could harden its system.
  • China could make clear it has a robust C4SIR. China's deployment of military forces world wide recently may be in part to send such a message to potential enemies. This could include conducting exercises which the media and other nations military leaders are invited to attend. China could improve its C4SIR using its considerable commercial ICT industry capability and workforce.
Ayson and Ball recommend:
  1. Australian planners should assume that China and Japan may not be able to continue avoiding minor hostilities over their conflicting East China Sea claims.
  2. Australian planners should also assume that initial hostilities between Japan and China could easily escalate into a much more serious conflict, potentially involving the United States and possibly crossing the nuclear threshold.
  3. Australian policymakers and decision-makers should encourage their Chinese and Japanese counterparts to treat the Sino-Japanese relationship as an adverse partnership involving common as well as competing interests.
All of this is worrying for Australia as a close partner of the USA and Japan. I suggest Australian could go further and help directly with some of the risk reduction measures, especially where China and Japan could not be seen to be doing this directly. Australia could provide some channels for communication in a crisis. If Australian politicians and military commanders know their Chinese and Japanese counterparts and have secure and robust technical communications with them, they could help defuse a crisis.

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