The NewsFeed is a press review with a summary of a selection of articles and events that occurred in the past two weeks. Keep track!
In this edition that covers the last two weeks, you can read about Chinas view on the war in Ukraine and weapon deliveries to the latter country. We also adress Denmarks change in security and defence politics and the Germany choosing their new heavy transport helicopter.
To give us feedback on the NewsFeed and help us improve it, please answer our survey
Focus: All eyes on Ukraine. But what is China doing?
Since the 24th of February, all eyes are set on Ukraine and Russia. The development of this war merits all attention, concern and response it gets. However, one has no to forget that next to Russia, there is another country that concerns politicians and experts by insisting on opposing the western way of life. Even though Russia is the one most present right now and the one that started an open war for its geopolitical interests, one has not to forget that China, the second power, is most actively watching the events that unfold in eastern Europe and drawing its political and military conclusions.
To give an approach to this grant thematic, this weeks´ Focus will consist of two subchapters that cover three perspectives in regards to China.
1. Chinas reaction/behaviour towards to war in Ukraine
In recent diplomatic conflicts/political tensions between western countries and mostly Russia, China always played a rather neutral role: not decisively argumenting in one of the sides favour and keeping a certain political distance to the topic. Possible reasons for this behaviour were the important economic relations, China has with most notably the US and the EU and the fact that tensions are simply bad for political relations, economic interest and therefore for the entire global project China is aiming at.
Now, with the start of the war in Ukraine, experts recognize a shift towards a “pro-Russian neutrality”, as the German Institute for Global and Security Studies, puts it. China has declared the Russian aggression and NATOs eastward enlargement equally responsible for the current war and has helped Russia to bypass western sanctions by providing some alternative financing possibilities coming from China. At the same time, many of Chinas Banks have suspended relations with Russia and Belarus and companies have denied selling spare parts for aircraft that could be useful for Russia. Then again, China has expressed itself against hard European sanction against Russia.
To sum up: China´s political course is still rather neutral. However, one might wonder how much of this neutrality is truly the interest of staying of the grid for political and economic sanctions and in what way China is “sitting on the fence”, watching and analysing the events that unfold in Europe from an outer perspective. Especially regarding joint diplomatic and economic abilities, from European countries, these last months have been very interesting to watch and also in regards to the functionality and practical use of Russian military equipment, it must have been a very interesting time. Since China still operates a number of licensed-built Russian military equipment (especially in the air force) itself and is guaranteed to be in diplomatic conflict with the US and the EU while pursuing its own political interests, China can, and surely has, learned a lot simply by retaining a neutral, but very watchful, point of view during this conflict.
2. China own geopolitical ambitions
For reasons of simplification, we will determine two geopolitical regions that represent Chinas interest. These are the South-China Sea and the Island of Taiwan.
Regarding the South China Sea, these are regarded to be international waters by western countries: therefore, free passage must be granted for trade, observation and research shipping. China, on the other hand, claims the region for itself and thereby clashes regularly with western military aircraft or ships. Just lately, an Australian maritime patrol aircraft was intercepted by a Chinese fighter jet and forced away by maneuvering close and then deploying countermeasures in that got into the engine of the RAAF-aircraft. Encounters like these happen on a regular basis and reach from aircraft being blinded by lasers from Chinese warships to patrol aircraft being harassed while on UN-mission; an international institution in which China has a permanent seat as one out of five countries responsible for world peace.
In the meantime, the exact same country flies fighter bomber approach exercises into Taiwanese airspace and declares a definitive military intervention if Taiwan should declare its independence from China.
Military cooperation and external operations
About the relevance of Multiple Launch Rocket Systems in Ukraine and the concern that western countries attribute to their delivery
Whereas combat has been gathering in Donbas, Ukrainian forces are now suffering severe losses as a result of better Russian artillery coordination and logistics. Faced with clear inferiority regarding military equipment in spite of previous deliveries from western countries, Ukraine urges the USA and other European military powers to speed up heavy weaponry deliveries in order to resist the invader in the first instance and then and then reverse the trend of the conflict. One major game-changer that could rebalance the forces might lie in the decision to supply Ukraine with the rocket artillery that the government in Kyiv has long asked for. We are talking about a long-range weapon system that could be used against the Russian artillery positions: the so-called Multiple Launch Rocket System, MLRS. The warheads provide a max. range of 80km, whereas howitzer batteries delivered until now do not exceed 40km of range; therefore, preventing Ukrainian forces from hitting targets far behind the frontlines. Long-time unsure about the delivery of such weapons because of their long-range capability to reach the Russian territory, Joe Biden initially refused to deliver the MLRS to avoid aggravating the situation. However, four M142 HIMARS (High Mobility Artillery Rocket System), a variant of the MLRS, capable of firing salvos of six M30 or M31 GPS/inertial guided rockets against targets more than 80km away, are to be supplied according to the US Department of Defence.
In parallel, the UK should supply the cutting-edge M270 and Germany four of their MARS II systems: both systems belong to the MLRS-family and offer the same statistics as their US-counterpart. This UK’s and Germany´s decision has been co-ordinated closely with the US.
In conclusion, Ukraine’s allies are now preparing to supply increasingly heavy weapon systems. Still led by the US, European powers like Britain and Germany follow suit. As the nature of combat in Ukraine is changing, the delivery of these weapons might give hope for at least a rebalancing of the forces.
Spain might be delivering Leopard 2 MBTs to Ukraine
Spain might send Leopard 2a4 MBTs to Ukraine. Currently, there is a lot of diplomatic back and forth regarding this possibility. It is concerning the exact number (anything between 10-40 MBTs) of units that could be sent and the state in which the MBTs are currently in. From that depends a realistic date of delivery.
If the delivery is confirmed and does take place, it would be a major breakthrough for western weapon deliveries to Ukraine. For now, only old soviet vehicles have been delivered to Ukraine, while stating that newer platform, like the Leopard 2a4 would be too complex to grow accustomed to in just a couple of weeks and need longer training before being operated by the Ukrainian army. This logic could now break with a first delivery of Spanish Leopards. The same tank model that is also operated by Germany, Poland, Denmark, the three Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands, to cite a few. All those countries have reacted to the invasion of Ukraine with drastic changes in their security and defence politics and/or have participated in weapon deliveries against Russia.
Germany reinforces its presence in the Baltic states
A few weeks ago, the Baltic countries, reformulated their principal demand towards NATO: The reinforcement of the northern battlegroups from a tripwire-force, that is supposed to symbolize the allegiance with NATO, to an actual fighting force, capable of repelling the enemy.
This demand has now been played back by Germany, as the chancellor Olaf Scholz visited the country of Lithuania last week. Germany is willing to deploy greater amounts of troops in Lithuania to reinforce its defending capabilities. Whereas the size of a full brigade seems already clear, the question if the concept of rotating battlegroups will be maintained or a long-stay-approach is followed is still pending.
Also unclear is if other countries will take part in the reinforcement, for now, no one has decided to contribute their forces to the initiative.
Denmark votes in favor of joining the EU Defence & Security policy
In the aftermath of the Maastricht Treaty adoption, Denmark accepted it with exemptions, in the fields of citizenship, monetary policy, justice and defence. Since then, Denmark, historically skeptical about the EU integration outside of the single market and economics, opted out from the Common Security and Defense Policy of the EU. It however did not prevent the country to participate in some military cooperation, such as the European Intervention Initiative or in Mali.
In the context of the war in Ukraine, though, the debate came back and a referendum was organised beginning of June to decide whether to come back from this decision. And the vote in favor of scrapping the opt-out won with a large majority of 67% of the votes.
“When there is war again on our Continent, then you cannot be neutral.”, Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said in reaction to the results. The outcome also received a warm welcome from the EU representatives, with the Commission’s president, Ursula Von Der Leyen, saluting a “strong message of commitment to our common security sent by the Danish people today”. Denmark may in the coming months reinforce its participation to the EU military operations.
Alongside this political decision, an increase of the Danish defence budget has been decided to reach 2% GDP in 2033.
Europe says “yes”, Hungary says “no”. What the “Union” in EU means.
Hungary and the EU are sometimes two very contradictive partners. On one hand, the country is an EU member state and should therefore follow the “principle of fair cooperation”, that is demanded by and from all EU member states. In recent time, and especially in regards with the sanction against Russia, the member state of Hungary has often blocked sanction packages against Russia, even though Prime Minister Viktor Orban said himself on the 26th of February: “Hungary made clear that we support all the sanctions, so we will block nothing, so what the prime ministers of the European Union are able to agree, we accept it and we support it.” Few months later and we have a totally different picture of Hungary’s behaviour in this crisis. The latest example being a reverse block against the sixth sanction package, that had already been fully discussed and agreed on. After a short renegotiation the package was finally adopted, but shortly later, sanctions against the patriarch Kirill were blocked again by Hungary. It is totally understandable that Hungary has its own economic concern and is very dependent on Russian material and gas deliveries. However, the solution cannot be to block the effort and unanimity of the rest of the 26 member-states. Solutions have to be found in a cooperative way and such that they represent the EU´s values of Unity, within (or in our case: despite) Diversity. Be it economic or political diversity. It is clear that the EU, as a union of values, simply cannot afford to leave a member state behind or to disregard its needs and troubles in these times. However, being part of a union of values also means to respect these values and necessarily, to think of the union first and ones own country-interests second.
Germany officialises its choice of the Boeing CH-47 Chinook
As it was foreseen since a few weeks, the German Ministry of Defence has officially decided to purchase 60 Boeing CH-47 Chinook heavy transport helicopter, to replace the 50 years old CH-53G still in operation in the Bundeswehr. It was announced by the German Minister of Defence, Christine Lambrecht, during the debate on budget at the Bundestag.
This decision is the final episode of many attempts to acquire this capacity, as it was first launched in 2017 and then abandoned for a matter of costs and requirements of participation of the German industry. The CH-47F has however been presented as a combat-proven and more affordable choice in this new bargain, compared to its competitor the Lockheed Martin CH-53K.
The only other manufacturers of such helicopters are American or Russian, leaving little diversity in the sourcing. 8 NATO countries are operating the Chinook, and 4 in the EU (Spain, the Netherlands, Greece and Italy).