HMS Queen Elizabeth: A £6.2bil Ode to Nationalism

The UK Royal Navy is currently constructing two Queen Elizabeth -class aircraft carriers, the first of which was named the HMS Queen Elizabeth today.

These are the UK Navy’s largest ships to date. The HMS Queen Elizabeth is scheduled to commission in 2017 and to be fully operational by 2020.

The Queen said that the new warship “marks a new phase in our naval history”, apparently referring to the UK’s steady slide into naval obscurity. The massive aircraft carrier is a desperate attempt for the Royal Navy to remain relevant, and will presumably be deployed in the Asia/Pacific, late to the party.

That the Royal Navy named its new ship on the American Independence Day is a signal of the UK’s intent to independently project military might as a major power in its own right—of course, the ship will be carrying US-made F-35 fighter jets, so make of that what you will. It is also notably smaller than the American “super carrier” USS  Nimitz.

Comparison of the HMS QE carrier and the USS Nimitz carrier | Image: Wikipedia

The HMS QE will require “most of the Royal Navy to support it and protect it” according to RUSI Director Michael Clarke, effectively creating a single-carrier battle group.

Considering its limited utility and the ongoing cuts in the MOD, the cost of the cumbersome ship is excessive. There are serious doubts that the next government will find the funds to run both the HMS QE and its sister carrier, the HMS Prince of Wales.

The naming ceremony eschewed the traditional breaking of a bottle of champagne in favor of a bottle of Scottish malt whisky, a nod to the Scottish ship yards where it was assembled and perhaps a plea for them to forget about that nasty Scottish independence business. Ed Miliband declared, almost threateningly, “As a part of the United Kingdom, I’m confident that shipbuilding in Scotland will have a positive future and continue to thrive.”

China Publishes New 10-Dash Line Map of Territorial Claims

China's new 10-dash line map | Image: Xinhua
China’s new 10-dash line map | Image: Xinhua

On Tuesday, China unveiled a new “vertical atlas” of territorial claims, including Taiwan, the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh (“South Tibet”), the continental shelf extending to the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islapolicies s, and almost the entirety of the South China Sea.

The old nine-dash line maps either used boxes to enlarge the Spratly and Parcel Islands, or instead cut off most of mainland China. The new ten-dash line map is elongated to show continental China and all of its territorial claims, stretching down to the coasts of Malaysia and Indonesia, on one map with the same scale.

china nine dash line
China’s older “cow’s tongue” nine-dash line map, recreated in English by the CIA | Image: Wikipedia

This is the latest in a string of territorial altercations, which some analysts are suggesting might lead to war. While China’s territorial disputes are all long-standing, complex, and unique, they are not impossible. If China and its neighbors were interested in resolving their territorial disagreements they could do so without much ado: for instance, as China and Vietnam have done in the Gulf of Tonkin, where the two countries share fishing rights without explicit claims of sovereignty. This suggests that China—and Japan, regarding the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands—is not only refusing to solve its territorial disputes but deliberately aggravating tensions.

The simplest explanation is that the Chinese government is invoking nationalism to: create a superficially unified public, rallying behind the government; distract from domestic problems; and to bolster support for aggressive foreign policies.

“Japan’s Maritime Disputes”: Review of the Chatham House Event

Event details

“Japan’s Maritime Disputes”
Chatham House
Talk by Professor Tom Berger, International Relations at the University of Boston
Open to the public, on the record (Chatham House rule not in effect)


Prof. Berger opened by stating the US-Japanese relations are having a “schizophrenic moment”—that the American pivot is sincere and it’s a productive time for trade and security, but there is a harsh ideological clash, and Abe and Obama “are not natural soul mates”. He goes on to say that a combination of geostrategical changes and geocultural changes are lend themselves to this, the ideal environment to develop the US-Japanese alliance wherein the tension commands attention but remains a manageable problem (for now).

The geostrategic situation has shifted from hegemonic American air/maritime power and Japanese isolation but potential for great power status to a new regional balance where China is rising as America declines, and where Japan no longer fears an American-led war by entrapment but where America fears being pulled into territorial squabbles.

The principle geocultural change is a “rising tide of nationalism”, though Prof. Berger was keen to point out that the “hydraulic model” employed by journalists is reductive. Abe is not an old-style (imperial) militarist, and Japan’s not too nationalistic; rather it’s not nationalistic enough. Nationalism and unity allowed Japan to rise until World War II, and its 20th century defeat was institutionalized, militarily and morally, and reinforced by the Japanese left. Since the 1950s Japan has sought to rediscover its unity: constitutional changes were made imbuing the education system with nationalism, and military policy was altered to allow Japan to become more independent (and by extension less dependent on the US). Abe’s support then comes from: perceived Chinese aggression on the Senkakus and the resulting sense of threat; and “Abenomics” (economic reform). That is, the conservatives supporting Abe are not ideological nationalists but pragmatists.

This geocultural shift toward nationalism is also present in South Korea and China, as these countries come into their increased strength. Both states have anti-Japanese sentiments and South Korea in particular can’t politically continue to ignore Japan’s imperial war crimes, but likewise both China and the ROK have set aside political concerns in favor of pragmatism, especially in trading.

During the Q&A Prof. Berger was asked about the nuclear issue, Japanese domestic politics, and the motivations behind the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute. He finished by remarking that nationalism in Japan is taboo and therefore seductive, and it’s more likely to fuel anti-Korean sentiment via kimchi boycotts than militarization.

Prof. Tom Berger speaking at Chatham House, June 12, 2014 | Image: Morgan Potts
Prof. Tom Berger speaking at Chatham House, June 12, 2014 | Image: Morgan Potts


Pardoning Prof. Berger’s casual ableism (“schizophrenic moment”), the talk was compelling. Berger acknowledged the plurality of Japanese perspectives and implicitly noted that it is from plurality and competing voices that states arrive at their “national interest” which directs policy.

However it also seemed fundamentally contradictory: is Japan experiencing a “rising tide of nationalism” under Abe, reflected in the Senkaku dispute and desire to lessen security dependence on America? Or rather is Japan not nationalistic, putting aside ideology and nationalism for pragmatism?

I would suggest that Japan is in fact nationalistic in its foreign policy, especially regarding the island dispute: if Japan (and China, it takes two after all) were pragmatic instead of nationalistic, the two states would table the issue of sovereignty and agree to jointly develop the resources within the EEZ of the Senkaku/Diaoyus, much as China and Vietnam have come to a fishing agreement in the Tonkin Gulf. Instead, the two nations exploit the dispute over otherwise meaningless barren rocks for their nationalistic effect on domestic populations—if this continues, Abe might rediscover Japanese unity after all.

Aegis Destroyers and Ballistic Missile Defense in Japan and South Korea

The Aegis combat system is quickly becoming the hallmark of sophisticated navies. Specifically, it is an advanced command and control, and an integrated weapons system, which features anti-submarine warfare systems, anti-aircraft warfare systems, the Phalanx CIWS to defend against anti-ship missiles, and Mark 41 Vertical Launch system. Simply put, Aegis uses high-powered computers and radar to track and guide weapons to enemy targets. It was developed by RCA, which was sold to various other American electronics corporations before being absorbed by Lockheed Martin which currently produces the systems. The US Navy has employed the Aegis system on its ships since the 1980s; it is also deployed by the navies of Spain, Norway, Japan, and South Korea. Australia and NATO forces intend to employ the system in the next few years to bolster their missile defense capabilities.

South Korea

ROK bought Standard Missile (SM)-2s in 2009 which would ultimately be used on Aegis destroyers. Aegis ships also have SPY-1D radar designed for early warning. In 2012 ROK also purchased Green Pine  land-based radar from Israel. South Korea’s Aegis ship is the Sejong Daewang (“Sejong The Great”) Class destroyer, aka KDX-III (Korean Destroyer III): a guided missile destroyer, jointly produced by Lockheed Martin and Hyundai Heavy Industries. The KDX-III is nearly identical to the American Arleigh Burke Class destroyer, except for its longer hull which makes it the largest surface ship in the world to carry the Aegis system. Though the ROK’s destroyers carry the Aegis radar tracking software they do not currently have interceptors. The ROK announced this past summer that it would upgrade from SM-2s to SM-6s by 2016, and a budget proposal accepted by the Joint Chiefs of Staff shows plans to procure three additional Aegis destroyers by 2020.


Japan’s BMD is comprised of six SM-3 missiles on their four Aegis destroyers, and the PAC-3 Patriot system. Tokyo is increasing the number of SM-3s from six to eight over the next ten years.

Last year PAC-3 was deployed in Okinawa and Tokyo’s Ministry of Defense HQ in a symbolic demonstration of capability, obviously not practical as using the missiles would, for instance, shatter every window in Shinjuku. Similar demonstrations of defense capability were made in 2009 and 2012 during North Korean missile threats.

Such demonstrations are more show than substance. Japan has other concerns aside from North Korean aggression: stagnant economy, territorial disputes with China, the Fukishima fallout, and the abduction of Japanese citizens by North Korea which is seen as far more pressing than the DPRK nuclear/missile threat, and the assurance of US alliance makes BMD even less of a priority—yet, the Japanese have still chosen to keep those four very expensive Aegis-equipped boats.

Regional dynamics

Japan has a high level of cooperation with the US, not least of which involved the US-Japan Defense Pact and the high assurance value of American military exercises in the region. This starkly contrasts to the minimal cooperation in missile defense between South Korea and Japan, and between South Korea and the US. While the Japanese are content with relying on the Americans for missile defense, South Korea is moving toward an increasingly independent missile defense system.

Power, Law and the South China Sea: IISS Panel Review

This afternoon the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) held a panel discussion on the territorial disputes in the South China Sea. The panel was held in the Ascham Room in Bloomsbury House, a large open space on the 2nd floor with views of tall leafy trees, with US Naval War College Professor Peter Dutton and Australian National University Associate Professor Katherine Morton, Chaired by IISS Senior Fellow Christian Le Mière.

The main debates which emerged focused on different methods of dispute resolution in the SCS, China’s adherence (or selective lack thereof) to international law, the influence of the US in the region, and the domestic tension in Chinese politics regarding territorial claims. Both panelists argued that China will not use military power to defend its disputed territories, but rather a blend of economic and diplomatic pressure, which should also be viewed as an exercise of power.

M. Dutton explained the preferred methods of dispute resolution for the involved states: regarding diplomacy, China prefers bilateral resolutions; “others” (presumably ASEAN members) prefer multilateral negotiations; and the Philippines has launched an arbitration case to be resolved by an international tribunal. Non-diplomatic methods were universally deemed power-based, either through armed conflict or non-militarized coercion (economic and political). M. Dutton argued that China won’t use armed conflict as a dispute resolution technique because it might clash with US interests (Taiwan and the Philippines are American allies), and because China wants to adhere to international norms in its so-called peaceful rise to power.

Dr. Morton opened by remarking that China is and will remain a conservative stakeholder of international law and that the motivation for China to become a maritime power is historical. China rejects the UNCLOS on the basis of historical entitlement, and Beijing sees international pressure for multilateral negotiation as an excuse for foreign intervention. Dr. Morton suggested that there is a “rightful” and “limited” Chinese maritime perspective: the former argues that China deserves maritime power and jurisdiction based on historical presence, and will be bullied by other major powers if it doesn’t aggressively seize maritime opportunities; and the latter posits that China should not defend its disputed territories militarily because it is in China’s interests to focus on economic opportunities instead. She concluded that China has adapted to the “ASEAN way”, and now we shall see if ASEAN will adapt to the Chinese way.

The audience in attendance was a half-full room of middle-aged men with a few middle-aged women, plus me. All the questions were taken from men in the front row; as always with these events, there is only ever time for about 3 and the rest are relegated to the dustbin.

In the end we were left with lingering questions: Will the Philippine arbitration move China to more meaningful negotiations? Is the US neutral? (Answer: No.) How will the US presence in the region influence the outcomes of these disputes? How are tensions between law and policy generally resolved, and how does that apply to the SCS?

As an IR theorist my main frustration is the continued obsession with “balancing” of state power. I would have preferred an analysis of the geography of the SCS (continental shelves, resource distribution, naval traffic), the subtle ways in which states utilize language in their diplomatic negotiations, or a challenge to the assumption that China makes territorial claims based entirely on nationalism. If you’re going to focus on states and power, at least give us a detailed overview of the naval hardware.

US-ROK-Japan Trilateral Naval Exercises

The USS George Washington is an American nuclear-powered supercarrier with the capacity to accommodate up to 80 aircraft. Its flight deck is 4.5 acres, its anchors weigh 3 tonnes each, and it’s generally considered to be a floating military base.

The ship moored at South Korea’s largest port, Liberty Port in Busan, on 2013-10-04 to participate in naval exercises with the ROK and Japan between 10-8 and 10-10. Accompanying it were guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam and guided-missile destroyer USS Preble.

The KNCA denounced the arrival of the warship: “This clearly indicates that they are the very criminals escalating tensions on the Korean Peninsula and wrecking peace there.”

US naval presence in Busan is expected to grow, as the USFK broke ground for a new HQ on South Korean naval base last August. The current HQ is in Seoul, while ROK naval HQ is in Busan.

In a separate exercise, the South Korean Navy and Marines and US Marine Corps are engaging in a 10-day training exercise to practice sea-to-land manoeuvres on the Eastern coast. They will mobilize some 10 warships, 3000 marines, 30 armored vehicles, and 20 aircraft.