Toward a More Humane PLA

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

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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.