By Ling Yunzhi
With the widespread COVID-19 pandemic and the lasting gaming among major powers, the year 2020 has seen profound and complicated changes in the international military security situation. Uncontrollable events such as massive conflicts or local warfare have not broken out between nations. Still, destabilizing factors affecting the world military security have obviously increased, with the ceaseless new problems and hotspots adding to the uncertainty of the international security environment, major-power relations, and regional situation.
Escalated military confrontation between major countries exacerbates risks.
In 2020, major-country competition stands out as the keynote of international politics. Despite the global pandemic, the US and Russia have actively made deployments and waged a more intense military confrontation, which exacerbates the risk of armed conflicts and severely challenges global security and stability.
Guided by its National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy, the US, in the face of a strategic environment with mounting uncertainties, has got more focused on major-country competition and stressed reshaping the international order and major-country landscape under the “America first” policy. While Washington has kept pressuring Moscow by means of aggressive military provocations such as forward deployment, close-in reconnaissance, and strength-flaunting, Moscow has chosen to launch equivalent revenge at first opportunity.
As their relation worsens, it’s foreseeable that their confrontation in the military security sector will become more frequent and intense, exerting far-reaching impacts on the future trend of international military security.
Regional disputes keep escalating amid a mixture of security threats.
Although the international security situation has remained peaceful and stable in general in 2020, it has seen escalated local turbulences, rising challenges, and growing traditional and non-traditional security threats – the entwined security threats of various types have piled up to make the general situation more complicated.
First of all, there are more security uncertainties in China’s surrounding region, with aggravated gaming across the Taiwan Strait and in the South China Sea. Washington has intensified its military ties with Taiwan island through the so-called "Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative (TAIPEI) Act of 2019" and the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2021 , and has signed off on a number of arms sales deals to Taiwan, casting a dark shadow over the cross-Strait relation. Moreover, it has ramped up military activities in the South China Sea by sending military vessels and aircraft there more frequently and pushing its coast guard and marine corps to get involved too. Incomplete statistics show that US military aircraft carried out operations more than 2,000 times over the South China Sea in the first half of this year, normalizing its so-called cruise of the region under the guise of“freedom of navigation”.
Second, security risks have increased in the Indo-Pacific region owing to the deepened military cooperation among the US, Japan, Australia, and India. India has kept stirring up border conflicts and frictions while the pandemic is still raging across the country, and it has tried harder to rope in its neighbors for a certain edge. On November 3, the US-Japan-India-Australia Malabar 2020 joint exercise kicked off at the Bay of Bengal, which marked the return of Australia after it quitted the exercise 13 years ago and the first time that all four countries participated, giving another push for their military collaboration.
At last, hotspot issues pop up around the world with unending new problems. The military conflicts at Nagorno-Karabakh have left over 4,000 dead, 8,000 injured, and tens of thousands homeless. The assassination of Iran's general Soleimani and its chief nuclear scientist Fakhrizadehhas thrown the US-Iran relation further down the cliff. These events, while indicating a trend of instability in regional security, have also further accelerated the evolution of regional security order.
Fast development of high-tech weapons marks a new stage of the arms race.
In 2020, driven by the the demand of warfare and AI technology, all countries around the world are energetically developing new combating forces in the sea, air, space, and cyber domains, vying for strategic advantages in military technology and weapons and equipment by developing more advanced unmanned, stealth reconnaissance and assault arms. The global arms race has entered a new stage.
As the world’s strongest military power, the US has continued to advance the arms race in cutting-edge military segments and accelerated the development and deployment of unmanned autonomous platforms, strategic anti-missile systems, and tactical nuclear strengths leveraged on its technological superiority and alliance system. Its capabilities of space exploitation and space combat have obviously enhanced this year.
As the only country in the world that can counter the US on the military front, Russia, by developing asymmetrical and strong-deterrence combat forces, has prioritized new-generation warplanes, unmanned combat systems, stealth intelligent weapons, and global navigation and positioning systems in its military equipment development.
As the US and Russia are both intercontinental powers, and each represents the sea-power states and land-power states, a military confrontation between them is sure to endanger global peace and stability. The two countries will continue to scramble for resources and combat advantages in the polar regions, outer space, and cyber domain, stepping up the military research, development, and application of nuclear deterrence, hypersonic weapons, AI, and unmanned technologies. These will only make the world more insecure and unstable, leading to the accelerated military strength building of other countries out of concern for their own security. As a result, the global arms race will get increasingly fierce and severe.
(The author is a researcher at the Centre for Asia-Pacific Development Studies, Nanjing University. This article is originally published on thepaper.cn, and is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.)