Toward a More Humane PLA

The PLA and International Humanitarian Law: Achievements and Challenges
Lt. Col. Wang Wenjuan
Institute for Security and Development Policy
October 2013

English: A Chinese soldier with the People's L...

English: A Chinese soldier with the People’s Liberation Army waits to assist with American and Chinese delegation’s traffic at Shenyang training base, China, March 24, 2007. Defense Dept. photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. D. Myles Cullen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Even leaving aside the tragic events of June 1989, speaking of the humanitarian record of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) seems almost an oxymoron. We simply do not think of the PLA in those terms.

Wang Wenjuan does, though, and in her paper she makes a clear case that China’s military leaders are at least going through the motions. She documents the understanding international humanitarian law (IHL) at the highest levels of command, the degree to which it is integrated into PLA training and indoctrination programs, and the fact that the PLA is even engaged in “research” into humanitarian law.

What matters, of course, is the behavior of the force on the battlefield and in the administration of areas captured and occupied in combat, or areas administered under a peacekeeping mandate. In the two decades during which Wang suggests that the PLA has been in compliance with IHL, the force has never faced a true test of its resolve. And there lies the rub.

In language designed carefully not to place her career in jeopardy, LTC Wang makes clear that more effort is needed to ensure that the PLA behaves in the field according to its professed ideals. History has proven that this is a tall order even for the armed forces of democratic powers (Amritsar, My Lai, and Abu Ghraib, for example.) The PLA has much to prove, and Wang understands that the PLA has a long way to go before it can face such a test.

Free eBook of the Day: U.S. Global Defense Posture, 1783–2011

U.S. Global Defense Posture, 1783–2011
Stacie L. Pettyjohn

144 pp.

In a refreshingly thin volume, Stacie Pettyjohn offers us an overview of how the U.S. approach to its national defense evolved from a minimalism that could barely defend the national frontiers to global interventionism.

It is a thoughtful, largely apolitical study that points us to a future where the U.S. treads more lightly overseas, and as such will offer food for thought for all of us who debate U.S. foreign policy.

Today’s Free eBook: Crisis and Escalation in Cyberspace

Crisis and Escalation in Cyberspace
Martin C. Libicki

We are starting a new feature of The Peking Review today: our Free eBook of the Day.

While the books featured here will usually have a China hook (and we’ll explain it when it does), the primary purpose of this feature is to simply call your attention to a book we think our readers might find interesting that is available for the effort of a download.

Our first book is Martin Libicki’s examination of what the US Air Force would have to do if it found itself operating in the midst of a cyber-attack. As the most technologically-dependent of the US services, the Air Force makes a superb test-case of the rigors of operating in a hostile electronic environment.

As China is the implicit adversary in a conflict of this nature, it is a compelling read for those of us watching events both immediate and long-term unfold in the western Pacific.

China’s Uneven Rise

China’s Petroleum Predicament: Challenges and Opportunities in Beijing’s Search for Energy Security | Andrew S. Erickson.

Tip of the hat to Andrew Erickson for catching this excellent essay in Jane Golley and Ligang Song’s new Rising China: Global Challenges and Opportunities (PDF). Kennedy’s chapter focuses on the China’s growing dependence on imported energy, and stands out in this excellent compendium.

As for the book, Golley and Song have made it downloadable, and it is well worth it. Arguably, the most vexing challenges China faces are domestic, but Rising China focuses on the international points of friction that are likely to be exacerbated by domestic politics.

The list of international challenges generated by this work is by no means comprehensive: such an inventory would require a bookshelf, and a full review of China’s security challenges would occupy a wall. Nonetheless, the authors – both Chinese and foreign – have created a catalog of the most critical issues, and one that lacks the demagoguery and angst of less scholarly studies.

Preventing Childhood Obesity: China’s Next Great Health Challenge?

Crop of Children with various body composition...

Image via Wikipedia

Early Childhood Obesity Prevention Policies
Institute of Medicine
The National Academies Press
October 2011

As a nation that is still developing and remains largely poor, China has not yet had to contend with the challenge of early childhood obesity. A walk along the shopping avenues in Beijing or Shanghai during a national holiday, watching prosperous urban parents walking with their youngsters, is enough to make one realize that China’s reckoning with fat kids is coming, and right soon – at least for prosperous urban dwellers.

The United States is already dealing with a serious early childhood obesity problem, a matter that affects not only parents and health officials, but physicians, child care providers, and the folks in charge of providing children with lunches and meal programs. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies of Science has produced a blueprint to prevent and reduce early childhood obesity.

China’s Ministry of Health would do well to tap this resource. As fast foods proliferate and diets in China get richer, children here will start to face the same challenges as their counterparts in the US.

The Air Force and the War on Drugs

Panamanian motor vessel Gatun during the large...

Image via Wikipedia

The conflicts elsewhere in the world have cast the War on Drugs into something of a popular eclipse: it is just not something you hear about much, until the Coast Guard, Border Patrol, or a local police force captures a healthy-sized cache of drugs from someplace. The matter remains at the forefront of many minds, however, not least among those in the Pentagon, where the inter-agency effort to stem the flow of narcotics into North America remains an important, albeit not focal, raison d’etre.

In The Latin American Drug Trade: Scope, Dimensions, Impact and Response, homeland security expert Peter Chalk does offers a detailed update on how the drug trade operates in a day of Mexican cartels and mini-submarines. While the purpose of the study is to examine the role the U.S. Air Force might play in the War on Drugs, most of the book delves into the gritty detail of how drugs move from Latin American fields into American cities.

Smugglers have taken some innovative steps in the drug trade in response to more sophisticated U.S. efforts to stop it, but at its heart the interdiction battle is still a cat-and-mouse game that will get worse until either the entire supply – or most of the demand – dries up. There is no sense in making it easy for criminals, however, and ten years into The Long War, there have been technical and tactical innovations that can be readily applied in the War on Drugs specifically, and in homeland security more broadly.

Chalk’s work is a superb primer for those interested in the narcotics trade, in transnational crime, and in the role the armed forces should be playing in that effort.

Demographics and Global Security

Strengthening bonds between Indian, U.S. Soldiers

Image by The U.S. Army via Flickr

When I was in high school, I had a European History teacher who explained to us how countries with an large cohort of breeding-age young men relative to the rest of the population were more likely to make war on their neighbors. The argument was simple: too much young testosterone lying around was a sufficient domestic political liability that it needed to be spent in the advancement of national interests abroad. Hence, war.

I have always found this a tad deterministic, so I was pleased to see Martin Libicki and his co-authors publish Global Demographic Change and its Implications for Military Power. While the authors stop short of a full debunking of the population pressure theory of war, they analyze it in a modern context, incorporating historic data and using data to call into question the prospect of a future (2011-2050) conflict driven by “too many boys.”

The examination is thorough and convincing, but I have to wonder whether or not India’s growing working-age population vis-a-vis China will not, at some point, offer India a manpower advantage over China in any trans-Himalayan conflict. China’s effort to control its population and put its young people to work in more productive pursuits has been admirable, but India has not kept up to the same extent by either measure. Left with lots of young people, would not India choose to reclaim disputed territories on the Chinese border versus allowing their frustrations to fester into sectarian violence?

An excellent and worthy read, especially for those of us focused on Asian security.