The PRC’s Two-Level Game.

Coming on the heels of the recently signed Solomon Islands-PRC bilateral economic and security agreement, the whirlwind tour of the Southwestern Pacific undertaken by PRC Foreign Minister Wang Yi has generated much concern in Canberra, Washington DC and Wellington as well as in other Western capitals. Wang and the PRC delegation came to the Southwestern Pacific bearing gifts in the form of offers of developmental assistance and aid, capacity building (including cyber infrastructure), trade opportunities, economic resource management, scholarships and security assistance, something that, as in the case of the Solomons-PRC bilateral agreement, caught the “traditional” Western patrons by surprise. With multiple stops in Kiribati, Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, PNG, Vanuatu and East Timor and video conferencing with other island states, Wang’s visit represents a bold outreach to the Pacific Island Forum community.

A couple of days ago I did a TV interview about the trip and its implications. Although I posted a link to the interview, I thought that I would flesh out was what unsaid in the interview both in terms of broader context as well as some of the specific issues canvassed during the junket. First, in order to understand the backdrop to recent developments, we must address some key concepts. Be forewarned: this is long.

China on the Rise and Transitional Conflict.

For the last three decades the PRC has been a nation on the ascent. Great in size, it is now a Great Power with global ambitions. It has the second largest economy in the world and the largest active duty military, including the largest navy in terms of ships afloat. It has a sophisticated space program and is a high tech world leader. It is the epicenter of consumer non-durable production and one of the largest consumers of raw materials and primary goods in the world. Its GDP growth during that time period has been phenomenal and even after the Covid-induced contraction, it has averaged well over 7 percent yearly growth in the decade since 2011.

The list of measures of its rise are many so will not be elaborated upon here. The hard fact is that the PRC is a Great Power and as such is behaving on the world stage in self-conscious recognition of that fact. In parallel, the US is a former superpower that has now descended to Great Power status. It is divided domestically and diminished when it comes to its influence abroad. Some analysts inside and outside both countries believe that the PRC will eventually supplant the US as the world’s superpower or hegemon. Whether that proves true or not, the period of transition between one international status quo (unipolar, bipolar or multipolar) is characterised by competition and often conflict between ascendent and descendent Great Powers as the contours of the new world order are thrashed out. In fact, conflict is the systems regulator during times of transition. Conflict may be diplomatic, economic or military, including war. As noted in previous posts, wars during moments of international transition are often started by descendent powers clinging or attempting a return to the former status quo. Most recently, Russia fits the pattern of a Great Power in decline starting a war to regain its former glory and, most importantly, stave off its eclipse. We shall see how that turns out.

Spheres of Influence.

More immediate to our concerns, the contest between ascendent and descendent Great Powers is seen in the evolution of their spheres of influence. Spheres of influence are territorially demarcated areas in which a State has dominant political, economic, diplomatic and military sway. That does not mean that the areas in question are as subservient as colonies (although they may include former colonies) or that this influence is not contested by local or external actors. It simply means at any given moment some States—most often Great Powers—have distinct and recognized geopolitical spheres of influence in which they have primacy of interest and operate as the dominant regional actor.

In many instances spheres of influence are the object of conquest by an ascendent power over a descendent power. Historic US dominance of the Western Hemisphere (and the Philippines) came at the direct expense of a Spanish Empire in decline. The rise of the British Empire came at the expense of the French and Portuguese Empires, and was seen in its appropriation of spheres of influence that used to be those of its diminished competitors. The British and Dutch spheres of influence in East Asia and Southeast Asia were supplanted by the Japanese by force, who in turn was forced in defeat to relinquish regional dominance to the US. Now the PRC has made its entrance into the West Pacific region as a direct peer competitor to the US.

Peripheral, Shatter and Contested Zones.

Not all spheres of influence have equal value, depending on the perspective of individual States. In geopolitical terms the world is divided into peripheral zones, shatter zones and zones of contestation. Peripheral zones are areas of the world where Great Power interests are either not in play or are not contested. Examples would be the South Pacific for most of its modern history, North Africa before the discovery of oil, the Andean region before mineral and nitrate extraction became feasible or Sub-Saharan Africa until recently. In the modern era spheres of influence involving peripheral zones tend to involve colonial legacies without signifiant economic value.

Shatter zones are those areas where Great Power interests meet head to head, and where spheres of influence clash. They involve territory that has high economic, cultural or military value. Central Europe is the classic shatter zone because it has always been an arena for Great Power conflict. The Middle East has emerged as a potential shatter zone, as has East Asia. The basic idea is that these areas are zones in which the threat of direct Great Power conflict (rather than via proxies or surrogates) is real and imminent, if not ongoing. Given the threat of escalation into nuclear war, conflict in shatter zones has the potential to become global in nature. That is a main reason why the Ruso-Ukrainian War has many military strategists worried, because the war is not just about Russia and Ukraine or NATO versus Russian spheres of influence.

In between peripheral and shatter zones lie zones of contestation. Contested zones are areas in which States vie for supremacy in terms of wielding influence, but short of direct conflict. They are often former peripheral zones that, because of the discovery of material riches or technological advancements that enhance their geopolitical value, become objects of dispute between previously disinterested parties. Contested zones can eventually become part of a Great Power’s sphere of influence but they can also become shatter zones when Great Power interests are multiple and mutually disputed to the point of war.

Strategic Balancing.

The interplay of States in and between their spheres of influence or as subjects of Great Power influence-mongering is at the core of what is known as strategic balancing. Strategic balancing is not just about relative military power and its distribution, but involves the full measure of a State’s capabilities, including hard, soft, smart and sharp powers, as it is brought to bear on its international relations. 

That is the crux of what is playing out in the South Pacific today. The South Pacific is a former peripheral zone that has long been within Western spheres of influence, be they French, Dutch, British and German in the past and French, US and (as allies and junior partners) Australia and New Zealand today. Japan tried to wrest the West Pacific from Western grasp and ultimately failed. Now the PRC is making its move to do the same, replacing the Western-oriented sphere of influence status quo with a PRC-centric alternative.

The reason for the move is that the Western Pacific, and particularly the Southwestern Pacific has become a contested zone given technological advances and increased geopolitical competition for primary good resource extraction in previously unexploited territories. With small populations dispersed throughout an area ten times the size of the continental US covering major sea lines of communication, trade and exchange and with valuable fisheries and deep water mineral extraction possibilities increasingly accessible, the territory covered by the Pacific Island Forum countries has become a valuable prize for the PRC in its pursuit of regional supremacy. But in order to achieve this objective it must first displace the West as the major extra-regional patron of the Pacific Island community. That is a matter of strategic balancing as a prelude to achieving strategic supremacy.

Three Island Chains and Two Level Games.

The core of the PRC strategy rests in a geopolitical conceptualization known as the “three island chains” This is a power projection perspective based on the PRC eventually gaining control of three imaginary chains of islands off of its East Coast. The first island chain, often referred to those included in the PRC’s “Nine Dash Line” mapping of the region, is bounded by Japan, Northwestern Philippines, Northern Borneo, Malaysia and Vietnam and includes all the waters within it. These are considered to be the PRC’s “inner sea” and its last line of maritime defense. This is a territory that the PRC is now claiming with its island-building projects in the South China Sea and increasingly assertive maritime presence in the East China Sea and the straits connecting them south of Taiwan.

The second island chain extends from Japan to west of Guam and north of New Guinea and Sulawesi in Indonesia, including all of the Philippines, Malaysian and Indonesian Borneo and the island of Palau. The third island chain, more aspirational than achievable at the moment, extends from the Aleutian Islands through Hawaii to New Zealand. It includes all of the Southwestern Pacific island states. It is this territory that is being geopolitically prepared by the PRC as a future sphere of influence, and which turns it into a contested zone.

(Source: Yoel Sano, Fitch Solutions)

The PRC approach to the Southwestern Pacific can be seen as a Two Level game. On one level the PRC is attempting to negotiate bilateral economic and security agreements with individual island States that include developmental aid and support, scholarship and cultural exchange programs, resource management and security assistance, including cyber security, police training and emergency security reinforcement in the event of unrest as well as “rest and re-supply” and ”show the flag” port visits by PLAN vessels. The Solomon Island has signed such a deal, and Foreign Minister Wang has made similar proposals to the Samoan and Tongan governments (the PRC already has this type of agreement in place with Fiji). The PRC has signed a number of specific agreements with Kiribati that lay the groundwork for a more comprehensive pact of this type in the future. With visits to Vanuatu, Papua New Guinea and East Timor still to come, the approach has been replicated at every stop on Minister Wang’s itinerary. Each proposal is tailored to individual island State needs and idiosyncrasies, but the general blueprint is oriented towards tying development, trade and security into one comprehensive package.

None of this comes as a surprise. For over two decades the PRC has been using its soft power to cultivate friends and influence policy in Pacific Island states. Whether it is called checkbook or debt diplomacy (depending on whether developmental aid and assistance is gifted or purchased), the PRC has had considerable success in swaying island elite views on issues of foreign policy and international affairs. This has helped prepare the political and diplomatic terrain in Pacific Island capitals for the overtures that have been made most recently. That is the thrust of level one of this strategic game.

That opens the second level play. With a number of bilateral economic and security agreements serving as pillars or pilings, the PRC intends to propose a multinational regional agreement modeled on them. The first attempt at this failed a few days ago, when Pacific Island Forum leaders rejected it. They objected to a lack of detailed attention to specific concerns like climate change mitigation but did not exclude the possibility of a region-wide compact sometime in the future. That is exactly what the PRC wanted, because now that it has the feedback to its initial, purposefully vague offer, it can re-draft a regional pact tailored to the specific shared concerns that animate Pacific Island Forum discussions. Even if its rebuffed on second, third or fourth attempts, the PRC is clearly employing a “rinse, revise and repeat” approach to the second level aspect of the strategic game.

An analogy the captures the PRC approach is that of an off-shore oil rig. The bilateral agreements serve as the pilings or legs of the rig, and once a critical mass of these have been constructed, then an overarching regional platform can be erected on top of them, cementing the component parts into a comprehensive whole. In other words, a sphere of influence.

Vietnamese Oil Rig in a contested zone.

Western Reaction: Knee-Jerk or Nuanced?

The reaction amongst the traditional patrons has been expectedly negative. Washington and Canberra sent off high level emissaries to Honiara once the Solomon Islands-PRC deal was leaked before signature, in a futile attempt to derail it. The newly elected Australian Labor government has sent its foreign minister, sworn into office under urgency, twice to the Pacific in two weeks (Fiji, Tonga and Samoa) in the wake of Minister Wang’s visits. The US is considering a State visit for Fijian Prime Minister (and former dictator) Frank Baimimarama. The New Zealand government has warned that a PRC military presence in the region could be seriously destabilising and signed on to a joint US-NZ statement at the end of Prime Minister Ardern’s trade and diplomatic junket to the US re-emphasising (and deepening) the two countries’ security ties in the Pacific pursuant to the Wellington and Washington Agreements of a decade ago. 

The problem with these approaches is two-fold, one general and one specific. If countries like New Zealand and its partners proclaim their respect for national sovereignty and independence, then why are they so perturbed when a country like the Solomon Islands signs agreements with non-traditional patrons like the PRC? Besides the US history of intervening in other countries militarily and otherwise, and some darker history along those lines involving Australian and New Zealand actions in the South Pacific, when does championing of sovereignty and independence in foreign affairs become more than lip service? Since the PRC has no history of imperialist adventurism in the South Pacific and worked hard to cultivate friends in the region with exceptional displays of material largesse, is it not a bit neo-colonial paternalistic of Australia, NZ and the US to warn Pacific Island states against engagement with it? Can Pacific Island states not find out themselves what is in store for them should they decide to play the Two Level Game?

More specifically, NZ, Australia and the US have different security perspectives regarding the South Pacific. The US has a traditional security focus that emphasises great power competition over spheres of influence, including the Western Pacific Rim. It has openly said that the PRC is a threat to the liberal, rules-based international order (again, the irony abounds) and a growing military threat to the region (or at least US military supremacy in it). As a US mini-me or Deputy Sheriff in the Southern Hemisphere, Australia shares the US’s traditional security perspective and emphasis when it comes to threat assessments, so its strategic outlook dove-tails nicely with its larger 5 Eyes partner.

New Zealand, however, has a non-traditional security perspective on the Pacific that emphasises the threats posed by climate change, environmental degradation, resource depletion, poor governance, criminal enterprise, poverty and involuntary migration. As a small island state, NZ sees itself in a solidarity position with and as a champion of its Pacific Island neighbours when it comes to representing their views in international fora. Yet it is now being pulled by its Anglophone partners into a more traditional security perspective when it comes to the PRC in the Pacific, something that in turn will likely impact on its relations with the Pacific Island community, to say nothing of its delicate relationship with the PRC.

In any event, the Southwestern Pacific is a microcosmic reflection of an international system in transition. The issue is whether the inevitable conflicts that arise as rising and falling Great Powers jockey for position and regional spheres of influence will be resolved via coercive or peaceful means, and how one or the other means of resolution will impact on their allies, partners and strategic objects of attention such as the Pacific Island community.

In the words of the late Donald Rumsfeld, those are the unknown unknowns.

19 thoughts on “The PRC’s Two-Level Game.

  1. Thanks Stephen.

    Still tinkering with it. I was forced to change format themes because the entire site crashed after I did some mandatory upgrades even though I did not know what I was doing. Now it is trial and error time.

  2. Thanks Barbara. I just hope that you are more focused on the content of the text than on the look of the page!

  3. Just listening to your latest podcast. Thanks so much for that.
    Focus naturally is on NZ, Australia, and the US. What is the thinking about France? They have a large interest in the Pacific, but never mentioned in these discussions. Surely they have a role to play here.

  4. Stephen:

    You are absolutely right, and my apologies for not discussing France’s role in the SoPac. Selwyn and I have mentioned it in the past and I have written about it on the web site (in discussing the regional security architecture), but a dedicated show might be worth doing. Let’s just say that France is fully on board with the ant-PRC coalition, so if I were to be uncharitable I would say that what we now have is the old colonialist coalition getting back together in the face of a new pretender to the throne (and the UK has returned to the Indo-Pacific as well after the downfall of Hong Kong). Anyway, I will talk to Selwyn about doing a dedicated show or at least a full segment about France.

  5. Thank you, very much, for another excellent commentary and discussion on your FB podcast from Thursday. PB is a wise head; backed by pure intelligence, and a wealth of experience going back decades. He continues to amaze and impress us with his knowledge and insights. I agree and understand all that he says – that the real threat of nuclear war is currently Europe (the comment from the poster re the risk of nuclear war in the Pacific is a knee-jerk comment, not thought through clearly at all); that the real problem with the SW Pacific bi-laterals with China will be the security aspect – eg with the Solomons, that China can bring in its own security forces to protect its own nationals whose economic (I guess) interests need protecting …not so much the servicing of the grey-hulls. Another superficial assessment and skewed emphasis from the media (like the obsession with the meeting of JA and Joe Biden).
    I beg to differ about the honorary doctorate from Harvard. Harvard is the most prestigious university in the US, is it not (along with Yale). There are not many PMs from NZ who have been given such honours, let alone from Harvard (I cannot remember any recent NZ PM given an honorary degree, from anywhere!). I watched some of that ‘Commencement’ ceremony on demand, and was fascinated. Impressed and amazed. Honoured, for NZ. I think it was important. And you are right of course, it was a muddly trip for JA; and she did her best.
    I have yet to read your dissertation (above). It will not be ‘old news’. I just need the time, and the fortitude lol. (You shouldn’t say its ‘overlong’. It puts me off lol)
    Thanks again for so much – you are a national treasure. I have wondered how, or why, you have ‘washed up’ on our shores (I mean that in the nicest possible way!). But then I think NZ is such a funny little country, so far away – which can still be a protection (do we still not feel that, especially with recent global developments); yet is also basically an engaged and free, Western democracy (MMP helps, as opposed to other Western voting systems); and we can still engage with the rest of the world so easily via the internet and all its platforms.
    One last comment : my partner made the comment how all the Pacifica leaders go either to Auckland, or Australia, when they need specialist medical treatment (as has happened recently – both Fijian and Tongan leaders, ministers). The unfortunate Ukrainians fleeing their country under invasion have gone to eastern European, free and democratic countries, not (willingly) to Russia. I cannot see any Pacifica leaders or any of its peoples going to China, for any reason, not necessarily for medical reasons, and definitely not as refugees.
    I remember the lifting of the status of that ocean sanctuary in Kiribati … like many things it has gone under the radar now but serves as a signpost for subtle influences and changes, not necessarily for the better or to the advantage of Pacific peoples. Like you, I fully doubt China’s integrity. If Kiribati goes under water through sea level rise (one of, if not the most vulnerable Pacific island nations) , the Kiribatis will not seek refuge in China. (Indeed, there has already been talk of them coming here to NZ). Just an interesting observation about where one’s best interests lie – something any of the Pacific Island nations should think about before they become too deeply involved with and too indebted to China. Its like bottom lines.
    Kind regards, and with much appreciation.

  6. Well, with all the talk about upholding the ‘rules based order’ one should perhaps be wondering what does that really mean? What order of rules was being upheld when Kabul was carpet bombed 2001, or when Iraq was rudely invaded 2003, or when Tripoli was bombed to destroy the regime there, or when weapons were diverted to the rebel forces in Syria??? Can anyone really believe that US actually has an agenda to uphold any rules except their own rule with an iron rod? And how much would this be a consideration for Sogavare, Bainimarama and the other leaders of small island nations of the Pacific? Or is it purely because we don’t buy their bananas that they feel an interest in business and diplomacy with Beijing?

  7. So I have now carefully read the dissertation above (‘the PRC’s 2-level Game’) – and I have a couple of questions.

    Firstly, how do you know the ‘Three Islands Chain’ strategy? Is this actual PRC policy? Or is it worked out as some kind of strategic logic by Western geo-political analysts, partly based on observation of Chinese expansion activity.
    And does (or did) the USA have some similar geographic-based strategy? (Perhaps you answered that in paragraph 3 of the last section (‘Western Reaction’) …

    In reply to the poster above, there is only one mention in the text of the so-called ‘rules-based order’ – and it is qualified.
    And I do not know why we do not buy bananas from Fiji, I’m sure we used to. We may still do – perhaps they are those ‘bobby bananas’, the wee ones, they sell in the shops here :-)

    My 2nd question is a more loaded one (no pun intended) – for pablo – do you think NZ should be re-arming??
    I know things can change very quickly. It is the nature of the world in the 21st century. Look at Europe – 12 months ago one might’ve thought NATO was irrelevant (I know Trump wanted it so) and dying. Now it is very much alive and kicking with nations who have resisted it for decades clamouring to join. It all happened so quick – who would’ve thought.

    Thanks so much – no-one else talks about these kind of things as you do, your podcasts and column here, not in any detail.
    This is probably your most important point, above –
    “Given the threat of escalation into nuclear war, conflict in shatter zones has the potential to become global in nature. That is a main reason why the Ruso-Ukrainian War has many military strategists worried…”
    I have thought the same, and that the mainstream world is sleepwalking.
    There is precious little commentary in the media here about the bigger picture/s.
    Kind regards.

  8. Barbara:

    Thanks for your kind words. I do what I can to contribute to NZ based on my background and experience.

    In answer to your two questions, allow me to provide this by way of response:

    1) The three island chain theory is rooted in Alfred Thayer Mahan’s Sea Power geopolitical theory, which basically states that the countries that control the seas via naval power will control the world. That is in contrast to continental and rimland geopolitical theory, which emphasises control of land masses and strategic choke points and coastlines, respectively, as keys to global supremacy, and later Air Power geopolitical theory, which maintained that control of the skies was the key to winning wars and projecting power. Needless to say, in modern days a number of hybrid approaches have been adopted as part of 5th generation joint warfare concepts, which now induce cyber warfare as a component part.

    Mahan’s students and successors subsequently applied his thought to the Asia Pacific by developing the three island chain theory. For the US Navy (Mahan was a US admiral at the turn of the 20th century), the strategy was the reverse of what I have outlined in the post above–in order to rule the Pacific Rim first it had to gain control of the waters between the Aleutians, Hawaii and the Galapagos, then those from Japan to the Southwestern Pacific and finally the inner seas and territorial waters of East and Southeast Asia.

    In the 1990s PLAN strategists took the three island chain theory and turned it on its head, emphasising the incremental control of first the inner seas, then the middle line from Japan through Guam and into the South Pacific and eventually out to the Aleutians and Hawaii. They added the concept of the “Nine Dash Line” to demarcate their territorial claim in the South China Sea (see: This conceptual evolution might be called a form of geopolitical dialectic, wherein adversaries appropriate, synthesise and expand upon the original concept in accordance with their positions and perspectives.

    2) I do not think that NZ needs to rearm but instead, to re-orient its military. It is a maritime nation with a land-based army as its major component, no combat Air Force and limited naval assets and airlift and patrol capability. The Army needs to be reduced and streamlined, with emphasis on special operations, peacekeeping/making/enforcement and humanitarian assistance (e.g. combat engineers and medics who can provide help to vulnerable populations). It does not need large armoured or artillery units but instead needs to be “light” and emphasise stealth, speed, mobility and manoeuvre. The Navy needs significant upgrading, and a close air support (CAS) squadron needs to be re-established so that the RNZAF can independently cover ground troops or naval assets in a number of conflict scenarios (as it is, NZDF troops rely on the CAS of allies when in trouble, something that led to unfortunate events in Bamiyan and earlier in East Timor). The ability of NZ to defend its EEZ requires a robust maritime patrol capability both on the surface and in the air, neither of which is present at the moment (and even with the purchase of the P8s to replace the ageing P3s, NZ will only have 4 of them and not enough qualified air crews to keep the P3s as backups)

    Trouble is, this will require lifting military spending by a significant amount, even if it is not the total spent but the areas in which money is spent on defence that matters (this is in response to those who keep saying that NZ needs to spend more of its GDP on defence, which is now at <1.6% of GDP). That is not a politically attractive position to hold given the NZ electorate's concerns with other priorities such as health, housing and poverty alleviation and the reluctance of the middle and upper classes to accept increased taxes of any sort, much less dedicated to defence spending). Moreover, the re-organization of the force structure will encounter two sub-problems: resistance from the military status quo on the one hand; and inability to meet recruitment goals on the other. Young NZ'ers are reluctant to join the military even if it offers them a career path out of poverty (say, in aircraft mechanics or maritime engineering, telecommunications etc.). The Army brass, of which there are many more of them than their RNAF and RNZN counterparts, will not be pleased to see their ranks and budgets reduced, so it will be a hard sell for any Defence Minister, much less by the type of Defence Ministers that NZ is prone to see appointed. That means that the can will continue to be kicked down the road even though the threat landscape is changing and the storm clouds are now appearing on the horizon.

  9. Brilliant. Thank you.
    So the Three Island Chain theory still has relevance today – simply because we live in a physical world, yes?
    And has it been proven – are there examples from the past. I guess the USA proves it – with Alaska and part of the Aleutians; Hawaii; and … American Samoa ? Then perhaps Japan – Guam – and ? I am trying to wrack my brain here, with a little help from google, which is overly complicated …. the Marshall Islands?

    You will have to forgive me, I am a lay person trying to come to grips with this. Reasonably well-educated (AU). Never even studied Political Studies, the 1st rung on this ladder. But keenly interested in international affairs as we worry about the outcomes of yet another’ war in Europe’. (And I had thought, while the rest of the world is preoccupied with Europe, it was inevitable the PRC would get up to something! Divided and conquered, something along those lines ….)

    Your 2nd answer is interesting, and a very useful overview. True again.
    I see a new naval ship with icebreaking ability has been cancelled by the govt as a result of the costs of covid. Do you have anything to say about that. And what does a CAS squadron look like – what is it made up of?
    Spending on defence and arms is always expensive. Maybe if our comfortable lives become more threatened, the middle and upper classes will swallow the bitter pill of more taxes. ( They may have to be quick about it!) I have long thought tax should be increased to make our society more equitable. Now perhaps for defence capability as well. Maybe all those regular overseas holidays might have to be cancelled … maybe we won’t have anywhere to go to !
    and re the P8s – repeated comments say the P3s are ageing and need replacing. Is it realistic to keep the P3s (much as we love them. And I understand they can fly lower than the P8s – their search capability is thereby better than the new P8s … yes? The P3s have done such good work there.)

    I am of the nuclear free generation, my partner went out on the Harbour to protest the arrival of one of the USA’s (nuclear?) submarines in the 1970’s. War was never on our horizon (apart from Vietnam – not really ‘our’ war at all, only in so far as we sent troops) … and we have been fortunate for our and our children’s generation for our relative freedom from it …. But my parents were young people during WW2; my father served in the RNZAF at Wigram. He was married in uniform. They never forgot that war, nor the friendships forged in it. Even in old age they sang those old war songs, such was the impact it had had on their psyche. And that respect, love for peace has therefore been passed on to us, something never to be taken for granted.
    It is a sobering thought that as you suggest, new (and hopefully better) patterns of government (‘regime change’) can only, still, be forged through conflict. Can we still expect more physical war – with authoritarian (and expansionist) governments still running 2 of the world’s great powers, it is an awful thought that we probably can.
    Thank you, and kind regards.

  10. Thanks Barbara,

    For the links. I cannot fully answer your questions due to the press of other things but just a few points. Geopolitical theories are more often ideational or aspirational rather than practicable or achievable, so strategists develop them as guides to operational policy given extant and future capabilities. That leaves a lot of room for interpretation. We must remember that even f the PRC is fully committed to its version of the 3 Island Chain theory, it has a continental land mass and air space to consider. The Russians may not always be as “friendly” as they are now and India is definitely not.

    CAS involves either/or rotary or fixed wing platforms. Attack helicopters serve that role as well as serving as tank killers. Same goes for fixed wing aircraft. The old Skyhawks were designed with that in mind more so than air-to-air combat, but recent aircraft design has led to a divergence between air-to-air and CAS platforms. US A-10s are the ultimate fixed wing CAS platform and the new F-35s supposedly do that as well although most reports from experts is that it is an overpriced golden toilet that does neither air-to-air or CAS very well. But there are many countries that build rotary and fixed wing CAS aircraft so options are plentiful.

    The idea behind a combat icebreaker is a good one and should be pursued. The Canadian Navy has an impressive off-shore patrol vessel that might be a suitable option. I have a friend who serves on the first operational ship of its class:

  11. Thanks Barbara,

    For the links. I cannot fully answer your questions due to the press of other things but just a few points. Geopolitical theories are more often ideational or aspirational rather than practicable or achievable, so strategists develop them as guides to operational policy given extant and future capabilities. That leaves a lot of room for interpretation. We must remember that even if the PRC is fully committed to its version of the 3 Island Chain theory, it has a continental land mass and air space to consider. The Russians may not always be as “friendly” as they are now and India is definitely not.

    CAS involves either/or rotary or fixed wing platforms. Attack helicopters serve that role as well as serving as tank killers. Same goes for fixed wing aircraft. The old Skyhawks were designed with that in mind more so than air-to-air combat, but recent aircraft design has led to a divergence between air-to-air and CAS platforms. US A-10s are the ultimate fixed wing CAS platform and the new F-35s supposedly do that as well although most reports from experts is that the plane is an overpriced golden toilet that does neither air-to-air or CAS very well. But there are many countries that build rotary and fixed wing CAS aircraft so options are plentiful.

    The idea behind a combat icebreaker is a good one and should be pursued. The Canadian Navy has an impressive off-shore patrol vessel that might be a suitable option. I have a friend who serves on the first operational ship of its class:

  12. Thank you. Yes, I appreciate the press of other things.

    I realise we have seen the attack helicopters in action in footage from Ukraine.
    Have seen the A-10s too in recent footage on youtube – I was struck by their peculiar look with the ginormous twin engines partway along the fuselage.

    Lets hope the icebreaker will be back on the menu soon.

    Kind regards.

  13. Barbara,

    The key to CAS is to be able to fly low and slow while taking serious ground fire and still be able to deliver covering fire for troops on the ground (or kill tanks, boats etc.). The A-10 was designed as a high velocity cannon with an airplane built around it, with redundancies built into all systems. It is the US infantry’s best friend and I wish they would allow some to be designated for export. For NZ a combat icebreaking off-shore patrol vessel is an absolute requirement, but there is a lot more to do if NZ is to switch to a maritime-focused strategic posture.

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