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10 notable defence-military events around the globe in 2018

In 2018, the world witnessed historic dialogues and intense strategic competition between major powers. To depict the world in 2018, the National Defence Journal would like to introduce 10 notable defence-military events.

1. An opportunity for peace on the Korean Peninsula

US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at the meeting in Singapore (photo: Reuters)

On June 12th 2018, after nearly 7 decades of hostility, US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had a historic meeting in Singapore and signed a joint agreement. In that document, Pyongyang agreed to strive for a denuclearized Korean Peninsula while Washington pledged to ensure Pyongyang’s security. Besides, senior-level Inter-Korean meetings brought about encouraging results and opened a new era on the Korean Peninsula. After the meetings, each party had positive moves. America decided to indefinitely suspend selective exercises with South Korea while North Korea pledged to cease its nuclear tests. North Korea and South Korea determined to restore the relations between the two sides, reduce intensity in the border area, remove the risk of war, and strive for the common goal of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. However, to achieve the ultimate goal, relevant parties will have to follow a long, tough road map.

2. The outbreak of tension in the US-China relations in many aspects

American and Chinese delegations on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit held in Argentina (photo: Nikkei)

In early 2018, US President Donald Trump suddenly launched a campaign for comprehensive strategic competition with China. Economically, America imposed a 10% tax on 200 bn USD of Chinese exports to America, and it would be up to 25% on 267 bn USD of the rest in the future. Militarily, America criticized China for acquiring Russia’s most modern materiel and asked Beijing to join other countries in negotiating a global deal on medium-range nuclear missiles. The recent arrest of a leader of the Huawei, which is China’s largest telecom equipment maker and the main telecom equipment supplier of Chinese Army, reveals the way America and several Western countries deal with the issue on Chinese technological espionage and undermine Beijing’s military capacity. In return, China imposed a 10% tax on 100 bn USD of American exports to this country, while strongly criticizing Washington’s intervention and hegemony, adding that it would not take a step back regardless of any external force. This has been the most tense move in the strategic competition between the two sides over the past few decades and greatly impacted on the global security.

3. America’s new strategies and moves impacting on the global security

Soviet Union leader Mikhail Gorbachev and US President Ronald Reagan signed the INF Treaty on December 18th 1987 (photo: Reuters)

On January 19th 2018, America introduced the new National Defence Strategy with a plan to build the most powerful armed forces in the world in response to the two “strategic rivals”, namely Russia and China. In its new global counter-terrorism strategy (released in October 2018), America saw extremist Islamic terrorist groups as the top threats to Washington’s external and domestic interests. It is the first time America has announced a counter-terrorism strategy since 2011. While releasing strategies, America decided to unilaterally withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, restore sanctions against Tehran, and establish the US Space Force. It is worth noting that America threatened to withdraw from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty signed with Russia in 1987, which would possibly deal a blow to the system of strategies to stabilize the world.

4. Large-scale cyber attacks on many countries

US Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein addresses the press conference about hacking attacks (photo: AP)

Large-scale deliberate cyber attacks were one of the greatest challenges to many countries in 2018. In mid July 2018, a cyber attack shook Singapore, in which 1.5 million health records, including Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s were stolen. In early August 2018, the Bank of Thailand announced that personal information of over 120,000 clients, most of them registered online services, was taken. The risk of cyber attack was on the rise when the US Department of Justice arrested hackers in late August 2018 who launched a series of cyber attacks on over 100 American companies. It should be noted that those hackers were all senior members of the Fin7 cybercrime group which had its members all over the world and carried out a lot of cyber attacks on America, UK, Australia, etc., causing losses of tens of millions of USD in each case.

5. The clash between Russia and Ukraine in the Kerch Strait

Two aircraft of Russia deployed to the Kerch Strait after the clash with Ukraine on November 26 (photo: Reuters)

On November 25th 2018, the Russian Border Guard opened fire on and captured 3 Ukrainian ships which were believed to violate Russian waters in the Kerch Strait. Right after the capture, Ukrainian President Poroshenko announced the state of war, employed the regulations on the state of emergency across the country, and placed the entire armed forces on alert. Meanwhile, Russia stated that Kiev deliberately effected the situation to provoke Moscow and at the same time deployed many warships, cargo ships, and even aircraft to seal off the Kerch Strait. In that context, US President Donald Trump urged the EU to support Ukraine and impose more sanctions on Russia, while announcing the cancellation of his meeting with Russian President Putin which had been scheduled to take place on the sidelines of the G-20 Summit in Argentina in a bid to express his strong opposition to the incident. Besides, Secretary General of the NATO Jens Stoltenberg urged Russia to release Ukrainian ships and crew members. UK Prime Minister Theresa May stressed that ships must be free to pass through the Kerch Strait to Ukraine’s seaports. According to experts, this is a serious incident which could ignite a war unless it was under control.

6. There has been no end for the war in Syria yet

After the attacks in Idlib (photo: AFP)

In 2018, in spite of the fact that the Self-Proclaimed Islamic State (IS) was defeated, Syria was a battlefield as it is still the centrepiece of many countries’ strategies. On the night of April 14, alleging that the Syrian Government Army used chemical weapons, America, UK and France simultaneously staged air strikes on Syria, but they could not change the situation. Thus, when the opposition was pushed towards Idlib province, America and its allies saw a chance for their legal military presence in Syria. Meanwhile, the Syrian Government Army with the support of Russia and Iran determined to completely liberate the country. However, with about 3 million civilians and over 60,000 opposition fighters in Idlib, the United Nations believed that a military campaign would lead to a humanitarian disaster in Syria. Taking advantage of that situation, the opposition in Idlib (supported by various forces) consolidated its force and stepped up terrorist attacks in this area, thereby making the war in Syria more complex and prolonged.

7. The complex developments of the armed conflict in Yemen

The Yemeni pro-Government forces in suburban Hodeidah on November 14th 2018 (photo: VNA)

The armed conflict in Yemen reached its peak when the alliance led by Saudi Arabia and the Yemeni pro-Government forces launched large-scale military campaigns in an effort to regain the port city of Hodeidah from the Houthi rebellion (backed by several external forces) last June. According to observers, the increased conflict seriously impacted on the peace process and caused a humanitarian crisis in this Middle East country. Nevertheless, the conflict still continued to escalate with a series of bloody clashes between the two sides in late November 2018 in Hodeidah regardless of the UN call for a ceasefire. According to the statistics, over the past 4 years, the conflict in Yemen has made nearly 10,000 people dead, over 22 million people need humanitarian support, and 10 million people face the risk of being starved.

8. Terrorism continued to be widespread and unpredictable

The suicide bombing at Santa Maria church, Indonesia (photo: AP)

In 2018, despite the close collaboration between countries in the fight against terrorism, it continued to be widespread in various complex forms. Instead of large-scale operations, terrorists were organized into small groups including women, children and even lone actors (lone wolves) to attack civilians, authorities and even security forces in many countries. Typical examples were the attack on the Iranian Revolutionary Guard parade (September 22nd 2018) killing 29 and injuring 70, the assault on Chinese Consulate in Karachi, Pakistan (November 23rd), and the string of bombings in Indonesia in May 2018, killing and injuring nearly 100 people. Notably, only on the 20th of October, in Afghanistan, there were 168 terrorist attacks killing and injuring over 130 people. It is believed to be the way terrorism changes its method of operations.

9. An increase in military exercises worldwide

NATO’s exercise Trident Juncture (photo: AFP)

In early June 2018, the US military force stationed in the Europe and 19 countries held a large-scale exercise in the territories of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Poland. In September 2018, Russia held the “Vostok 2018” exercise with the participation of 300,000 troops, nearly 36,000 tanks, over 1,000 aircraft and 80 warships. This had been the largest exercise of Russia since the Zapad-1981 exercise held by the Soviet Union. In return, the NATO organized the exercise Trident Juncture in October 2018 with the participation of 250 aircraft, 65 warships, 10,000 land vehicles, and 50,000 troops from 29 NATO member states and its partners, namely Finland and Sweden in order to test its combat readiness capability in restoring the sovereignty of an allied country. Meanwhile, on November 21st, in Brazil, an exercise with the participation of 14 countries (including America and France) took place with the aim of enhancing the capability in air operation and in unconventional warfare.

10. Shangri-La Dialogue 2018 and new security challenges in the East Sea

US Defence Secretary James Mattis addresses the Shangri-La Dialogue 2018     (photo: Reuters)

From May 31st to June 3rd 2018, the 17th Shangri-La Dialogue took place in Singapore with the participation of nearly 600 representatives, including 40 Defence Ministers. The issues, such as nuclear program on the Korean Peninsula, Indo-Pacific vision, counter-terrorism cooperation were at the top of the agenda. In spite of the fact that there was no session for the East Sea issue, it was mentioned in most of plenary and simultaneous special sessions. At the Dialogue, many representatives advocated the observance of the international law and the freedom of navigation, and opposed the militarization in the East Sea. It should be noted that US Defence Secretary James Mattis publicly criticized the installation of the anti-ship and surface-to-air missile system and electronic-jamming equipment on the artificial islands illegally constructed by China. Meanwhile, Defence Ministers from the UK, France and several countries confirmed that they would continue pursuing the campaigns for the freedom of navigation in the East Sea. Those moves prove that the situation in the East Sea will continue to be unpredictable.

National Defence Journal

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