ASEAN's Indo-Pacific War Stance: Which Side Will They Take?
Last week, Nikkei Asia reported on a tabletop wargame organized by the Sasakawa Peace Foundation that simulated a hypothetical conflict in Taiwan in 2026 (see also CSIS's war game). The exercise included approximately 30 participants, including former officers of the Japan Self-Defense Force, as well as Japanese and American academics and researchers. The simulation was based on the current hardware possessed by the main actors involved, namely China, Taiwan, Japan, and the US.
Photo from: Source The chosen timeline of 2026 is particularly intriguing, given recent comments by the Director of the CIA, William Burns, who revealed that the agency's intelligence report indicated Chinese President Xi Jinping had ordered his army to be ready for war by 2027. Burns was quick to clarify that this didn't necessarily mean war would break out in 2027, but rather that China was preparing for the possibility. This aligns with other reports that President Xi has instructed Wang Huning to draw up a plan for the reunification of Taiwan. Our previous scenario planning had assessed that such a conflict could occur around 2030.
In a recent wargame, Japan's prime minister declared a national state of emergency, granting the United States access to Self-Defense Force (SDF) bases in Okinawa and Kyushu, in addition to civilian airports. As tensions mounted, Japan identified Beijing's plan to attack SDF bases used by American forces, labelling it an "existential threat," according to Nikkei. The wargame demonstrated that heavy losses would be incurred by all sides involved. Taiwan, for instance, suffered 13,000 dead or wounded troops and lost 200 warplanes and 18 warships. The United States saw 10,700 troop casualties and lost 400 planes and 19 naval vessels, while Japan experienced 2,500 troop casualties and lost 144 fighter jets and 15 warships. China, on the other hand, lost over 40,000 troops and sustained losses of 168 jet fighters, 48 military transport aircraft, and 156 warships, including two aircraft carriers.
Military simulations or war games encompass a broad range of activities, from full-scale field exercises to abstract computerized models that can operate with minimal human involvement, such as the Rand Strategy Assessment Center (RSAC), which includes third-party participation in the simulation of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD). Manual simulations have likely been in use since the dawn of warfare, with chess being considered a type of military simulation, although its origins are subject to debate. More recently, the precursor to modern simulations was the Prussian game Kriegsspiel, which emerged in 1811 and is sometimes credited with Prussia's triumph in the Franco-Prussian War.
Images's Source: SIMNET: AN INSIDER'S PERSPECTIVE
Captain Thorpe was assigned to DARPA in 1981. With the assistance of Dr. Craig Fields, he began working on developing futuristic SIMNET technology in 1983. Their objective was to create a new generation of high-tech, networkable, microprocessor-based simulators that were both realistic and significantly less expensive than existing models. Subsequently, DARPA partnered with the Army to showcase this innovation in a combined arms setting, featuring 260 networked simulators across 11 locations in the United States and Europe. The demonstration was a resounding triumph and sparked additional interest in the revolutionary technology. In 1990, the SIMNET program was handed over to the Army, and procurement began in 1992 under the guidance of Colonel James Shiflett, Program Manager of Combined Arms Tactical Training (CATT) System.
FITE training program, source: US Navy Photo
Modern simulation programs, such as the Test and Training Enabling Architecture (TENA), have been developed to support training across various dimensions, including political, military, economic, social, infrastructure, and information (PMESII) effects within the framework of diplomatic, information, military, and economic (DIME) considerations. TENA is an architecture designed to promote interoperability across United States Department of Defense test and training systems, facilitating the exchange of information and ensuring that training can be conducted effectively and efficiently. The Future Immersive Training Environment (FITE) Joint Capabilities Technology Demonstration (JCTD) virtual reality system is a prime example of how simulation technology is being leveraged in training and is currently in use at the simulation center in Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, providing a cutting-edge platform for training exercises across PMESII and DIME considerations.
It is impossible for major powers such as China and Russia to ignore the possession of these simulation programs by DARPA and the US military, along with their regular military training programs. For instance, Cobra Gold, the largest international military exercise in mainland Asia, is currently underway in Rayong, Thailand, with the largest US attendance in a decade as Washington strengthens ties with a key security partner amid rising geopolitical competition with Beijing. More than 6,000 US military personnel are participating in the war games, alongside 3,000 Thai troops, which not only involve the normal land-sea-air exercises but also the first-ever space exercise.
The report by the American Enterprise Institute's Critical Threats Project raises more questions than answers about Russian President Vladimir Putin's decision-making. The report suggests that Putin is aware of the limitations and corruption within Russia's military system, and has acknowledged the need to address these issues before they are put to the test in a real conflict. Initially, Putin relied on informal groups such as the Wagner group to recruit volunteers for a "special military operation" in Ukraine, but his miscalculation of the Ukrainian army's resilience and the support it received from European countries led him to sideline the Wagner group and rely more on the traditional mechanisms of the Ministry of Defense to mobilize additional forces for the next stage of the conflict, which is expected to begin this spring.
According to our metageopolitical analysis, the war in Ukraine, although significant and intense, is unlikely to trigger World War III. In contrast, a potential conflict between China and Taiwan, Japan, and the US on the first line of theater would be more likely to lead to such an outcome. As we have previously noted, the war in Ukraine pales in comparison to the Korean War, with two implications. Firstly, despite producing nearly a million casualties, a truce and negotiations "freezing" the war temporarily have been possible for the last 70 years since 1953. Secondly, the war in Ukraine may also reach a truce after the results of the conflict become clearer in the summer. As President Macron and Chancellor Scholz have mentioned to President Zelenskyy, the EU is the result of a compromise between France and Germany after a bitter conflict, highlighting the possibility of reconciliation even after intense conflict. According to the recent interview, it seems Putin has been acknowledge of the risk of Russia's disintegration if war has been dragged on, plus his miscalculation on geopolitics of energy.
The third implication raises questions about President Putin's strategic calculations, particularly regarding his decision-making for a potential war in the Indo-Pacific in 2030, and whether he would collaborate with China to launch a full military offensive in Europe similar to Japan's proposal to Germany during World War II. But the Japanese proposal was met with disapproval from the Germans. They were concerned about the establishment of operational spheres as a precedent for future political divisions and disappointed with the absence of specific Japanese commitments regarding Russia in the treaty. This poses the need to consider Putin's perception of the historical precedent, including the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, which partitioned Eastern Europe between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union, and the Sino-Soviet pact during the Cold War, where China carefully avoided being the junior partner under the pact. Putin's memory of the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 may also play a significant role in his decision-making. While the war in Ukraine may lead to compromise and negotiation, Putin's ambitions for territorial gain, such as the "land bridge corridor" supporting Crimea, warrant careful consideration of his future actions.
See more information on the Group of friends in defense of the Charter of the United Nations, notable such core countries in the group as Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran with two countries from ASEAN members which are Laos and Cambodia, and also possibly Myanmar, since Myanmar's representative in UN is from NUG.
The question of the future of ASEAN in the event of a war in the Indo-Pacific remains a subject of intense interest among the diplomatic community in Bangkok. One question that arises is which side ASEAN will choose, and how it will respond to such a crisis. While some have posited the concept of "bamboo diplomacy," similar to Thailand's bamboo diplomacy, in which ASEAN would align itself with whichever major power appears strongest, we argue that this is a myth. (The concept itself is also a myth. Thailand's "foreign policy" is much more complex than what has been discussed in recent academic circles.) In truth, ASEAN is not a unified entity, as evidenced by cracks in its voting patterns in the UNAG regarding the war in Ukraine.
While a recent ASEAN survey suggests that the organization would side with the US and its allies, the reality is that individual ASEAN countries may behave differently. Thailand, for example, has attempted to take a neutral stance, but its voting patterns in the past have been contradictory. It is important to note that Thailand, as well as the Philippines, are Major Non-NATO Allies (MNNA) of the US. Thailand has fiercely fought back against criticism from the US and European countries during past coups, and its relationship with the US had been strained as a result.
However, the situation has improved under the Trump administration, which sent senior military officers like Adm. Harry B Harris to revive relations between the two nations. Despite official aid being barred by Congress in response to the coup, some intellectuals mistakenly believe that Thailand has shifted its alliance to China. In reality, Thailand has returned to a more liberal form of administration, making it unnecessary for the country to take sides with China if it chooses not to. As with all things in ASEAN, the reality is complex, and the organization is likely to navigate any future crisis in its own unique way.
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Stay tuned for updates on this exciting development!