Maritime Arms Race

BERLIN |

BERLIN (Own report) - The German government should focus its arms buildup on its naval forces also to be prepared for rivalry with the People's Republic of China, according to a foreign policy expert. In an article published in the leading German foreign policy magazine, the expert calls on Germany to focus on the military protection of its commercial vessels, because its affluence, to a large degree, depends on maritime trade. This is particularly important in the Indian Ocean, where an "arms race" can be expected between China and India. Since some time, German experts have been attentively watching the naval arms buildup of China, its South East Asian neighbors and India - also from the perspective of possible conflicts between Beijing and Washington. China has important interests in the Western Pacific, where "Asia's strategic maritime trade routes" cross and "rich deposits of oil, gas and minerals" have been discovered, note German naval experts. Recently, Beijing was quite irritated by US naval presence in this region. Whereas Washington is reinforcing its naval activities and alliances in the Western Pacific, German strategists are focusing on the Indian Ocean, China's western sphere of interests.

Free Maritime Trade Routes

Berlin should focus its arms projects on reinforcing its navy, demands the foreign policy expert Thomas Speckmann in the magazine "Internationale Politik", whose current issue is focused on the question of how the Bundeswehr should be organized in the future. Speckmann reiterates that not only "80 percent of the world's trade is carried out over maritime routes" - an extremely important factor for an export nation like Germany - but that Germany also has the world's third largest merchant marine and the largest fleet of container ships. Whereas China and India are gradually insuring more and more of "their supplies of raw oil from the Near and Middle East with their own navies," Germany - still banking "on the US Navy to assure free maritime trade routes" - is allowing itself to notably weaken its navy. Six out of ten German submarines were decommissioned in June 2010. Only two units are planned as replacements and they are still in construction. A similar development can be observed for other aspects of the navy. This trend must be urgently reversed.[1]

Central Water Bridge

Speckmann considers that the maritime routes through the Indian Ocean, used for a large segment of the still booming German East Asia trade, should have special attention in the arms buildup efforts.[2] In the Indian Ocean, "at the central water bridge connecting Europe to Asia and Africa," not only must "the threat of piracy be thwarted." In fact, German naval vessels have for some time been on patrol in the western Indian Ocean at the Horn of Africa, to combat piracy. But above all, the Internationale Politik article explains, this is where "the rivals - China and India - are building up powerful fleets." In the near future, German vessels will be cruising in an Ocean "in the midst of a maritime arms race." Therefore, counter measures should be taken.

Sea Blockades

Whereas Speckmann calls for the construction of more battleships, naval experts, for some time, have been following with closer attention the rearmament of Asian combat fleets. The specialized magazine MarineForum explains that the rivalry between China and the United States is becoming more obvious. The People's Republic has strong interests in the western Pacific, where "Asia's strategic maritime trade routes," cross and where there are "rich deposits of oil, gas and minerals." Beijing is becoming quite irritated over the presence of foreign, particularly US, warships in the area. The problem is not only the ownership of the islands in the South China Sea, claimed by China and other countries (including Vietnam, the Philippines and Japan). Also of strong importance is who controls the straits, so important for maritime trade.[3] MarineForum explains that China is seeking to enhance its influence in the area, because it has to avoid "being cut off from maritime traffic by blockades of the South East Asian straights or the passages between Japanese islands, in times of crisis and conflict." This is not only true for the western Pacific but also for the Indian Ocean, where large portions of China's raw materials imports are transported.

The Ultimate Capital Ship

MarineForum investigates the arms buildup as well as Chinese-American rivalry based on submarine fleets. It is often alleged that China could equip itself with its own aircraft carrier battle groups. This, however, completely overlooks that submarines have become the "predominating maritime combat weapon." "The submarine, today," according to the magazine, "is the ultimate capital ship, with the capability of destroying every battleship that comes within range, while simultaneously having the capacity for attacking land-based targets without exposing its position."[4] Therefore, it is exceedingly improbable that China will "massively invest in the construction of aircraft carriers." "The increase, both in numbers and in capabilities, of submarines in the Pacific realm would seriously place carriers in jeopardy of being sunk." In fact, the People's Republic of China has long since been investing "intensively in the development of submarines as its means of power projection" and is pursuing the long-term objective of building a formidable submarine fleet.

Submarine Arms Buildup

The rise in tensions in the seas around China, according to MarineForum, indicate that the People's Republic is not the only power acquiring ultra-modern submarines. Vietnam is also buying submarines. Australia is in the market for new submarines and so are Singapore and Japan. "In all, approx. 80 - 100 new submarines will be commissioned by 2020, in the Pacific realm," according to MarineForum, many of which equipped with cruise missiles and ultra-modern optical fiber guided torpedoes. India, which "evidently (...) does not want to lag behind China" is joining the arms race as well. "India has ordered submarines from France and Germany." In addition, the US Navy maintains "around 50 nuclear powered submarines in the Pacific realm."[5] According to MarineForum, the US Navy was greatly impressed a while ago, when a Chinese submarine sneaked up on a US-American aircraft carrier battle group and suddenly surfaced in their midst. This incident, the review writes, symbolizes the great significance of comprehensive submarine modernization. At the same time, it clearly demonstrates the future lines of conflict between the USA and China.

The German Contribution

The current edition of MarineForum confirms that tensions are particularly in the South China Sea, with the prospect of spreading to the Indian Ocean. The journal says that "Washington is strengthening its security partnership with the countries around the South China Sea, from its old ally Manila to its new partner Hanoi." In addition, "the USA is supporting the bordering countries' cohesion in international forums." Washington insists on being included in the resolutions of territorial conflicts in the region. "And on Guam, the southernmost island of the Mariana Islands and still sovereign US territory, its military presence is being upgraded." US Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton is quoted saying "we admit to our presence in the Pacific. We are a Pacific power."[6] Whereas Washington is primarily concentrating on the west Pacific, with its own warships and a strengthening of its alliances seeking an absolutely permanent foothold, German strategists are eyeing the western sector of the Chinese sphere of influence - the Indian Ocean. If the projects were realized, German naval vessels would be standing ready at the western end of the probable conflict region, in the case of a confrontation between the transatlantic alliance and China.

[1], [2] Thomas Speckmann: Alle Mann an Bord. Warum die Zukunft der Bundeswehr auf dem Wasser liegt; Internationale Politik November/Dezember 2011
[3] Klaus Mommsen: Raufbold oder Partner? China instrumentalisiert seine "Volksbefreiungsmarine"; MarineForum 10/2011
[4], [5] Maxim Worcester: Die Rolle des Unterseeboots im Kampf um die Vorherrschaft im Pazifik; MarineForum 9/2011
[6] Sidney E. Dean: Chinas rivalisierende Partner. Noch ist es nur Streit um Rohstoffe; MarineForum 11/2011