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June 4, 2020
Notes from the Pentagon

U.S. protests Beijing illegal sea claim
U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft put the world body on notice this week that Chinese maritime claims in the South China Sea are illegal and must be rejected.

“The People’s Republic of China continues to make specious and destabilizing claims designed to extend its maritime area in the South China Sea,” Ms. Craft told Inside the Ring. “The United States will never cease to draw attention to these unacceptable claims, and this letter puts our views on the record for the world to see.”

Ms. Craft told U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres in the June 1 letter that Beijing must correct actions that are illegal under the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention.

“Specifically, the United States objects to China’s claim to ‘historic rights’ in the South China Sea to the extent that claim exceeds the maritime entitlements that China could assert consistent with international law as reflected in the convention.”

The letter was sent in response to a Chinese government letter in December invoking vague claims to “historic rights” in the South China Sea, a strategic waterway that has been the focus of political battles and international warship passages for more than 10 years.

Beijing in the note claimed sovereignty over all South China Sea islands, including the Pratas, Paracel and Spratly islands. China also asserted control over all waters in the South China Sea covered by the government’s claims to an exclusive economic zone and territorial seas.

China’s government and military have stepped up efforts to dominate the South China Sea, which is a major thoroughfare for international trade and the transshipment of several trillion dollars annually in goods.

Ms. Craft noted that the international Permanent Court of Arbitration unanimously ruled in 2016 in favor of the Philippines that China’s same maritime claims in the South China Sea were illegal.

The arbitration ruling “is final and binding on China and the Philippines,” she stated.

The United States also rejected China’s claims to control the sea as “internal waters” based on treating island groups and reefs as territory that comes with sovereign waters around them.

Additionally, Ms. Craft challenged China’s claims to maritime sovereignty based on the many reefs and islets in the sea, including entirely submerged features like Macclesfield Bank and James Shoal, as well as Mischief Reef and Second Thomas Shoal that, at “low tide elevations,” do not constitute lawful sea territory as Beijing claims.

“Such features do not form part of the land territory of a state in a legal sense, meaning that they are not subject to appropriation and cannot generate a territorial sea or other maritime zones under international law,” she stated.

Ms. Craft said China is using its illegal sea claims to restrict sea and air freedoms over international waters and airspace.

American military forces have been stepping up “freedom of navigation” operations in the sea by sending warships and warplanes in a bid to counter the Chinese maritime claims.

Defense Secretary Mark Esper said last month that the U.S. warship passages are aimed at countering Chinese “aggressive behavior” in the South China Sea.

The two ships “conducted freedom of navigation operations in the South China Sea to send a clear message to Beijing that we will continue to protect freedom of navigation and commerce for all nations, large and small,” he said.

Russian President Vladimir Putin signed off on a new strategic nuclear policy this week authorizing Russian military forces to use nuclear weapons in response to conventional strikes.

“The Russian Federation reserves the right to use nuclear weapons in response to the use of nuclear weapons and other types of weapons of mass destruction against it and/or its allies, as well as in the case of aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons, when it is itself at risk state existence,” the new policy decree states.

The decree on “Fundamentals of Russia’s Nuclear Deterrence State Policy” asserts that strategic nuclear weapons are defensive and intended as a deterrent of “last resort.”

Threat scenarios justifying the use of nuclear arms, according to the decree, include a buildup of nuclear forces near Russia and the deployment by enemy states of anti-ballistic missile defenses, medium- and short-range cruise and ballistic missiles, high-precision non-nuclear and hypersonic weapons, armed unmanned aerial vehicles and directed energy weapons.

Russia also now regards the deployment in space of missile defenses and strike systems as a threat that could require a nuclear response.

Under the new policy, the Russian president has sole authority to employ nuclear weapons.

Four conditions for the use of nuclear arms were listed: information about the launch of ballistic missile attacks on Russia or its allies; use of nuclear arms against Russia or its allies; enemy “influence” on critical state or military facilities that could lead to the disruption of nuclear forces; and “aggression against the Russian Federation with the use of conventional weapons, when the very existence of the state is threatened.”

Disclosure of the previously secret nuclear policy comes two years after Mr. Putin announced Moscow is building new strategic weapons, including a heavy intercontinental ballistic missile, a nuclear-powered cruise missile, a hypersonic strike weapon and a drone submarine armed with a megaton-level warhead.

The strategy is being closely studied by the U.S. Strategic Command, which is in charge of American nuclear deterrence and is overseeing a robust modernization of U.S. nuclear forces.

Mark Schneider, a former Pentagon nuclear policymaker, said the new Russian doctrine confirms that a nuclear counterattack to a conventional strike is a condition for the first use of nuclear weapons, not a limitation as some have interpreted.

“This represents a great victory for the extreme hard-liners in Russia who have been pushing for this for 10 years,” Mr. Schneider said.

The reference to using nuclear arms in response to “influence” on state and military facilities appears to indicate Moscow could use nuclear attacks in response to cyberattacks as well.

Gregory T. Monahan, acting chief of the U.S. Park Police, issued a statement this week to explain efforts to clear areas around the White House prior to President Trump visiting the outside of the historic St. John’s Church — known as the “Church of the Presidents” — that was damaged in a fire by rioters over the weekend.

Mr. Monahan said news reports inaccurately described those who were moved out of the park just before the visit as peaceful protesters.

The protests at Lafayette Park and the National Mall included activities that caused injuries to Park Police officers, destruction of public property and the defacing of memorials and monuments.

“During four days of demonstrations, 51 members of the USPP were injured; of those, 11 were transported to the hospital and released and three were admitted,” he stated.

On Monday, before the president made the walk to the church, “violent protesters on H Street NW began throwing projectiles including bricks, frozen water bottles and caustic liquids,” Mr. Monahan said.

The police chief also said intelligence reports revealed that protesters had called for “violence against the police.” Among the items discovered by police in the area were “caches of glass bottles, baseball bats and metal poles hidden along the street,” he said.

Anticipating the violence, police issued three warnings to clear the area over a loudspeaker and used horse-mounted patrols to clear the crowds.

“As many of the protesters became more combative, continued to throw projectiles, and attempted to grab officers’ weapons, officers then employed the use of smoke canisters and pepper balls,” Mr. Monahan said.

Contrary to widespread media reports, no tear gas was used to close the area around the park, he said.

  • Contact Bill Gertz on Twitter via @BillGertz.

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