Special session 1
Nuclear dangers in the Asia-Pacific
Executive Director, IISS-Americas
Cabinet Councillor, National Security Secretariat, Japan
Deputy Secretary-General, Political Affairs; Political Director, European External Action Service
Major-General (Retd) Yao Yunzhu
Director Emeritus, Center on China-America Defense Relations, Academy of Military Science, People’s Liberation Army, China
Major-General (Retd) Ha Jungyul
Vice Chairman, Policy Committee, Democratic Party of Korea (DPK); Head of National Defence and Security, The Institute for Democracy, DPK
The session focused on the growing threat posed by North Korea. All four speakers highlighted the rapid progress made by Pyongyang in both nuclear-weapon and ballistic missile technology in contravention of United Nations Security Council Resolutions. These developments have caused concern because of their destabilising effects, globally as well as in the region. Shigeo Yamada from Japan and Jean-Christophe Belliard from the European Union (EU) also highlighted additional fears related to North Korea’s possession of chemical and biological weapons, its continued use of cyber attacks and its persistent human-rights abuses. All four speakers agreed on the need for dialogue. Engagement with Kim Jong-un’s regime was almost universally viewed as the only viable option for reducing tensions; however, there was debate as to whether now was the right time for useful engagement. The EU was willing to provide diplomatic assistance should conditions improve, rekindling its crucial function in the negotiation of the Iran nuclear deal.
Major-General (Retd) Yao Yunzhu emphasised the importance of Beijing’s role and its desire to re-establish dialogue through the framework of the Six Party Talks. She emphasised Chinese efforts to seek an acceptable first step, such as the proposed freeze of North Korean missile tests in exchange for a suspension of the annual US–Republic of Korea military exercises. Major-General (Retd) Ha Jungyul from the Republic of Korea also agreed that restarting the Six Party Talks should be a key objective, but the volatility of the situation made this difficult. The basis upon which negotiations could begin, however, was not identified. Furthermore, there was recognition that amid continued testing of ballistic missiles the only viable option at the moment was to increase pressure, primarily via sanctions.
There was also detailed discussion of missile defence technologies, and particularly the United States’ Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system and China’s aversion to its deployment in South Korea. China is concerned about the surveillance capability offered by THAAD’s radar links to US systems deployed elsewhere in the region, which, it believes, will impact Sino-American strategic stability. The session also heard debate over the credibility of US extended deterrence and regional security guarantees.
Special session 2
New patterns of security cooperation
Dr Tim Huxley
Executive Director, IISS-Asia
Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin
Chief of the Defence Force, Australia
U Thaung Tun
National Security Advisor, Union Government of Myanmar
General Denis Mercier
Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation
Lieutenant-General He Lei
Vice President, Academy of Military Science, People’s Liberation Army, China
The session provided a wide-ranging overview of existing structures and developing trends in security cooperation in the Asia-Pacific. It also addressed the global, interconnected and complex nature of the current security environment, and how this affects the opportunities for cooperation.
Speaking from an Australian perspective, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin highlighted the broad range of shared security challenges in the Asia-Pacific, many of them non-traditional. These included environmental security threats, organised crime, cyber threats and terrorism. Myanmar’s National Security Advisor U Thaung Tun highlighted ‘unprecedented’ changes in the regional security environment. He mentioned populist movements, the apparently reduced US security role in the region, and social media and ‘fake news’ as recent challenges to existing structures. There is a proliferation of security forums, he said, with the result that more coordination on both traditional and non-traditional threats has become necessary.
General Denis Mercier, Supreme Allied Commander Transformation, North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO), noted that hybrid and cyber threats, from both state and non-state actors, were impacting the security environment just below the threshold of conflict, further deepening its complexity. Information- and intelligence-sharing are vital, he said, as is interoperability. Lieutenant-General He Lei, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army delegation leader, discussed three challenges to regional security and stability: the nuclear issue on the Korean Peninsula; the lack of trust between states (and here he stated that actions seen as necessary by one country are sometimes interpreted ‘viciously’ by others); and a lack of coordination among key players. He mentioned Chinese President Xi Jinping’s proposal for a ‘New Asian Security Concept’ as one possible solution to these problems.
The session discussed whether the region’s existing institutional framework for such cooperation is adequate, or whether new structures are needed. Most participants agreed that concentrating on improving current mechanisms would be more fruitful than further dissipating energy across new ones. The recently agreed framework for a code of conduct in the South China Sea was also addressed, with some delegates expressing hope that the framework would pave the way for a swift agreement on the code of conduct itself.
U Thaung Tun, National Security Advisor, Union Government of Myanmar
Special session 3
Defence implications of emerging technologies
Dr Bastian Giegerich
Director, Defence and Military Analysis, IISS
Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach
Chief of the Defence Staff, United Kingdom
David Koh Tee Hian
Deputy Secretary (Technology); Deputy Secretary (Special Projects); Defence Cyber Chief, Ministry of Defence, Singapore
Congressman Mac Thornberry
Chairman, Committee on Armed Services, United States House of Representatives
Colonel Zhu Qichao
Professor, National University of Defense Technology, People’s Liberation Army, China
Discussion in this session focused on the challenges and opportunities posed by emerging technologies for defence establishments and armed forces. An important sub-theme concerned the increasing pace of change. Artificial intelligence, said Colonel Zhu Qichao, ‘will reshape defence capability’. Technology was now, according to Air Chief Marshal Peach, ‘evolving faster than the military procurement process’. This not only required platforms to be better designed, so that they could evolve over time, but it also required institutions to adapt. One example was the fact that the information environment was evolving faster than the legal environment, a point made by Peach but alluded to by all speakers. Another important point concerned defence bureaucracy: the speed of technological development was challenging traditional procurement processes. During the discussion, former US defence secretary William Cohen said that decision-making for the acquisition of new technologies in the US was slowing as technological change accelerated. Congressman Mac Thornberry acknowledged some of the problems caused by bureaucratic processes. He said that the US Congress was attempting to strip away some bureaucratic layers and rigidity and was trying to use new technologies to increase flexibility and transparency. Meanwhile, it was noted that high-technology developments needed to be understandable to policymakers.
Cohen was also concerned about how to accelerate the decision-making process to match technical advances, a point made earlier by Peach, noting that decision-making was increasingly challenged by the introduction of new technologies. Command and control was tested by some new platform developments, such as hypersonics, as well as technologies for managing big data. At the same time, high-technology capabilities were not the only ones capable of causing harm, which placed greater stress on the need for resilience. In response to a question from British journalist Isabel Oakeshott about whether emerging technologies meant fewer military personnel were needed, David Koh said that technological advances could benefit Singapore’s armed forces as they grapple with a demographic challenge from declining numbers of people available for military service. The US armed forces, Congressman Thornberry noted, could operate with fewer personnel but would need to invest more in education. Peach, however, cautioned against pursuing novel effects at increasing cost if this meant fewer capabilities, with the outcome that ‘all the things that we identify as trends just get more difficult for us to counter’.
Special session 4
Practical measures to avoid conflict at sea
Senior Fellow for Naval Forces and Maritime Security, IISS
Senior Lieutenant-General Professor Dr Bui Van Nam
Deputy Minister, Ministry of Public Security, Vietnam
General Kazuaki Sumida
Vice Chief of Staff, Joint Staff, Japan Self-Defense Forces
Rear Admiral Donald D Gabrielson
Commander, Logistics Group Western Pacific; Commander, Task Force 73; Singapore Area Coordinator, United States Navy
Senior Colonel Zhou Bo
Director, Security Cooperation Center, Office for International Military Cooperation, National Defense Ministry, China
Developments in the South China Sea received less attention in the Dialogue’s plenary sessions than in previous years. However, this session offered an important opportunity to discuss mechanisms for managing the difficulties posed for interested governments and armed forces by a regional maritime domain that is increasingly congested and contested. Consideration of the tensions that might precipitate conflict at sea covered not just state-sponsored activities, but also non-state based actions including piracy, illegal fishing and terrorism. The session looked at the Asia-Pacific theatre in general, but focused particularly on the South China Sea, where interactions apparently have the clearest potential to generate tensions, due to the sheer number and diversity of actors involved.
While Senior Lieutenant-General Professor Dr Bui Van Nam from Vietnam highlighted the importance of international law and the usefulness of freedom of navigation operations, General Kazuaki Sumida from Japan drew attention to the importance of improving maritime domain awareness, noting the work his country’s self-defence forces were doing on this with partners in the region. Rear-Admiral Donald Gabrielson from the US focused on the role of confidence-building measures and their crucial place in the rules-based order, whilst also highlighting their importance in preventing any ‘tactical incidents’ from becoming ‘tragically strategic’. Senior Colonel Zhou Bo from China argued against exaggerating the threat to freedom of navigation posed by conflicting sovereignty claims at sea, arguing instead that Freedom of Navigation Operations risked inflaming tensions in the region.
Alongside calls for the final conclusion of a code of conduct in the South China Sea and the rejection of coercion or unilateral action, there was debate over the desirability of extending the application of the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea to include national coastguards as well as the underwater domain. One delegate raised the challenge of how to manage vessels that were unclearly marked or had crews whose credentials were unclear. An update was also offered on the utility and effectiveness of the US–China military hotline, with delegates hoping for a conclusion to ongoing discussions between China and Japan over the establishment of a maritime hotline between the two countries.