Threats to the Homeland

Threats to the homeland include both terrorist threats from non-state actors resident in ungoverned areas of South Asia and an active, developing ballistic missile threat from North Korea and credible Chinese nuclear missile capability to support other elements of China’s national power.
Terrorism Originating from Afghanistan and Pakistan (AfPak). Terrorist groups operating from Pakistan and Afghanistan continue to pose a direct threat to the U.S. homeland and undermine critical U.S. interests in the region. These interests include the prevention of conflict between India and Pakistan, which has the potential to go nuclear, and the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons.
Pakistan is home to a host of terrorist groups that keep the region unstable and contribute to the spread of global terrorism. The killing of Osama bin Laden at his hideout in Abbottabad, Pakistan, in May 2011 and an intensive drone campaign in Pakistan’s tribal areas bordering Afghanistan from 2010–2012 have helped to degrade the al-Qaeda threat. However, followers and funds still flow to al-Qaeda, which is set to play a greater role in Pakistan and in Afghanistan as the U.S. draws down in the region.
In response to ISIS’s seizure of territory in Iraq–Syria—in its calculation, sufficient basis from which to proclaim a “caliphate”—al-Qaeda can be expected to try to assert stronger control of territory in AfPak in order to have its own space from which to issue a rival claim of caliphate.
There have been reports of ISIS recruiting efforts in both Afghanistan and Pakistan, and several leaders from the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP–Pakistani Taliban) have pledged allegiance to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. In early February, a U.S. drone strike killed former Afghan Taliban member Abdul Rauf, who had become a recruiter for ISIS in the Helmand province of Afghanistan.1 U.S. Commander in Afghanistan General John Campbell told a congressional committee in February that the ISIS presence in Afghanistan was “nascent.”2
In addition to al-Qaeda, several other like-minded terrorist groups still thrive along the Afghanistan–Pakistan border, carry out regular attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and target U.S. interests in the region and beyond. The Afghan Taliban and its allies, headquartered in Pakistan, have stepped up attacks against the Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) over the past year and are making a push to regain territory in Afghanistan as international forces depart. As of June 2015, around 13,200 U.S. and NATO troops were in Afghanistan as part of Operation Resolute Support to train and advise the Afghan forces. The ANSF suffered a record number of casualties in 2014, with over 4,600 police and army personnel killed. Senior U.S. commanders have said that the high rate of combat deaths was unsustainable and that, when combined with high desertion rates, the Afghan army shrank by 11 percent from January–November 2014. A Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan could allow al-Qaeda to regain ground in the region and pave the way for terrorist groups of all stripes to reestablish bases there.3
High Profile Terrorist Attacks in South Asia 2014-2015

Pakistan’s continued support for terrorist groups that have links to al-Qaeda undermines U.S. counterterrorism goals in the region. Pakistan’s military and intelligence leaders maintain a short-term tactical approach of fighting some terrorist groups that are deemed to be a threat to the state while supporting others that are aligned with Pakistan’s goal of extending its influence and curbing India’s.
A terrorist attack on a school in Peshawar on December 16, 2014, that killed over 150 people, mostly children, shocked the Pakistani public and prompted the government led by Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to introduce a National Action Plan (NAP) to reinvigorate the country’s fight against terrorism. The action plan includes steps like lifting the moratorium on the death penalty for terrorists, establishing special military courts to try terrorists, curbing the spread of extremist literature and propaganda on social media, freezing the assets of terrorist organizations, and forming special committees, comprised of army and political leaders, in the provinces to implement the NAP.
Implementation of the NAP and the Pakistani military’s operations against TTP hideouts in North Waziristan should help to degrade the Pakistani Taliban’s threat to both Pakistan and the international community. There are few signs, however, that Pakistan’s crackdown on terrorism extends to the Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks that killed nearly 160, including six Americans. Shortly after the Pakistani media reported in late January that Islamabad was freezing the assets of LeT front organization Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD), LeT founder and JuD leader Haziz Muhammed Saeed announced that his organization was starting an ambulance service in Karachi, demonstrating that the organization still operates relatively freely in the country.
In early April 2015, Pakistan released on bail the mastermind of the Mumbai attacks, Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, who had been in Pakistani custody since 2009. The day before Lakhvi’s release, the U.S. Department of State had announced approval of nearly $1 billion in U.S. military sales to Pakistan. It seems likely that Pakistan will continue to pursue a lax policy toward the LeT regardless of U.S. inducements.
In April 2012, the U.S. issued a $10 million reward for information leading to the arrest or conviction of Hafez Muhammad Saeed. The LeT has engaged in recruitment and fundraising activities in the U.S. In September 2011, for instance, U.S. authorities arrested an American permanent resident born in Pakistan, Jubair Ahmad, for providing material support to the LeT by producing and uploading LeT propaganda to the Internet. Ahmad reportedly attended an LeT training camp in Pakistan before moving to the U.S. in 2007.4
The U.S. trial of Pakistani American David Coleman Headley, who was arrested in Chicago in 2009 for his involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks, led to striking revelations about the LeT’s international reach and close connections to Pakistani intelligence. Headley had traveled frequently to Pakistan, where he received terrorist training from the LeT, and to India, where he scouted the sites of the Mumbai attacks. In four days of testimony and cross-examination, Headley detailed meetings he had with a Pakistani intelligence officer, a former army major, and a navy frogman, who were among the key players in orchestrating the Mumbai assault.5
The possibility that terrorists could gain effective access to Pakistani nuclear weapons is contingent on a complex chain of circumstances. In terms of consequence, however, it is the most dangerous regional threat scenario. Concern about the safety and security of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons increases when Indo–Pakistani tensions increase. For example, during the 1999 Kargil crisis, U.S. intelligence indicated that Pakistan had made “nuclear preparations,” which spurred greater U.S. diplomatic involvement in defusing the crisis.6
If Pakistan were to move around its nuclear assets or, worse, take steps to mate weapons with delivery systems, the chances for terrorist theft or infiltration would increase. Increased reliance on tactical nuclear weapons (TNWs) is of particular concern because launch authorities for TNWs are typically delegated to lower-tier field commanders far from the central authority controls in Islamabad. Another concern to take into account is the possibility for miscalculations leading to regional nuclear war if top Indian leaders lose confidence that nuclear weapons in Pakistan are under government control or, conversely, hereafter assume they were under Pakistani government control after they ceased to be. In addition to the security of nuclear weapons, poor handling of nuclear materials in both Pakistan and India is a cause for concern.
There is concern that Islamist extremist groups with links to the Pakistan security establishment could exploit those links to gain access to nuclear weapons technology, facilities, and/or materials. The realization that Osama bin Laden stayed for six years within a half-mile of Pakistan’s premier defense academy has fueled concern that al-Qaeda can operate relatively freely in parts of Pakistan and might eventually gain access to Pakistan’s nuclear arsenal. A Harvard University Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs study noted in 2010 that Pakistan’s stockpile “faces a greater threat from Islamic extremists seeking nuclear weapons than any other stockpile on earth.”7
There is the additional, though less likely, scenario of extremists gaining access through a collapse of the state. While Pakistan remains unstable because of its weak economy, regular terrorist attacks, sectarian violence, civil–military tensions, and the growing influence of religious extremist groups, it is unlikely that the Pakistani state will collapse altogether. The country’s most powerful institution, the 500,000-strong army, which has ruled Pakistan for almost half of its existence, would almost certainly intervene and take charge once again if the political situation began to unravel.8 The potential breakup of the Pakistani state would have to be preceded by the disintegration of the army, which is currently not plausible.9
WWTA: The WWTA notes that the Afghan National Security Forces prevented the Taliban from achieving a decisive military advantage in 2014 but that they would require continued international support and funding to stave off an increasingly aggressive Taliban insurgency in 2015. With regard to Pakistan, the WWTA notes that the Pakistan government will focus on diminishing TTP capabilities in 2015 but that Pakistan’s provision of safe haven to the LeT will continue to be an irritant in Indo–Pakistani relations.10
Summary: The threat to the American homeland emanating from Afghanistan and Pakistan is diverse, complex, and mostly indirect and largely involves non-state actors. The intentions of non-state terrorist groups like the TTP and LeT toward the U.S. are demonstrably hostile. Despite the broad and deep U.S. relationships with Pakistan’s governing elites and military, however, it is likely that the net result of political-military interplay in Pakistan will continue to result in ambivalence with respect to terrorist groups that mean harm to American interests, both at home and in South Asia.
Missile Threat: North Korea and China. The two sources of the ballistic missile threat to the U.S. are very different in terms of their sophistication and integration into broader strategies for achieving national goals. The threats from North Korea and China are therefore very different in nature.
North Korea. In December 2012, North Korea successfully put a satellite into orbit. The same technology that launches satellites can be used to build intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). Three months later, North Korea conducted its third nuclear test. These events clearly signaled that new leader Kim Jong-un had no intention either of resuming North Korea’s Six-Party Talks pledge to denuclearize or of abiding by U.N. resolutions that require a cessation of Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs. Instead, Kim Jong-un would continue North Korea’s decades-long quest to develop nuclear weapons and the means to deliver them.
North Korea has declared that it already has a full nuclear strike capability, even altering its constitution to enshrine itself as a nuclear-armed state.11 Among North Korea’s many direct verbal threats to the U.S., in December 2014, the National Defense Commission warned that Pyongyang would “carry out an ultra-harsh war of reaction targeting the entire U.S. mainland, including the White House and the Pentagon. Our military and people are perfectly prepared to fight with the U.S. in all kinds of war, including a cyberwar.”12
The United States and South Korea have revised their estimates and now see a more dire North Korean threat. After recovering components of the intercontinental ballistic missile launched by North Korea in December 2012, South Korea assessed that it had “a range of more than 10,000 kilometers.”13 U.S. Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral James A. Winnefeld, Jr., attested to the North Korean missile threat in March 2013 when he stated, “We believe the KN-08 [North Korean long-range missile] probably does have the range to reach the United States.”14
In April 2015, General Curtis Scaparrotti, commander of U.S. Forces Korea, testified that he believes the North Koreans “have had time and capability to miniaturize a nuclear warhead. They have stated that they had had intercontinental missiles and they had a nuclear capability, and they paraded it. As a commander, I think, we must assume that they have that capability.”15 In April 2015, Admiral Bill Gortney, commander of the North American Aerospace Defense Command, told reporters that the KN-08 road-mobile ICBM “is operational today. Our assessment is that they have the ability to put a nuclear weapon on a KN-08 and shoot it at the [U.S.] homeland.”16
The Reach of North Korea's Missiles

According to press reports, U.S. experts concluded that the recovered North Korean missile provided “tangible proof that North Korea was building the missile’s cone at dimensions for a nuclear warhead, durable enough to be placed on a long-range missile that could re-enter the earth’s atmosphere from space.”17
China. Chinese nuclear forces are largely the responsibility of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Second Artillery Corps, which controls most of China’s ballistic missile forces. It is considered a “super branch,” but not quite an independent service. China’s nuclear ballistic missile forces include land-based missiles with a 13,000 km range that can reach the U.S. (CSS-4) and submarine-based missiles that can reach the U.S. when the submarine is deployed within missile range.
The PRC became a nuclear power in 1964 when it exploded its first atomic bomb as part of its “two bombs, one satellite” effort. In quick succession, China then exploded its first thermonuclear bomb in 1967 and orbited its first satellite in 1970, demonstrating the capability to build a delivery system that can reach the ends of the Earth. China chose to rely primarily on a land-based nuclear deterrent rather than developing two or three different basing systems as the United States did.
Furthermore, unlike the United States or the Soviet Union, China chose to pursue only a minimal nuclear deterrent. The PRC fielded only a small number of nuclear weapons, with estimates of about 100–150 weapons on medium-range ballistic missiles and about 60 ICBMs. Its only ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) conducted relatively few deterrence patrols (perhaps none),18 and its first-generation submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), the JL-1 (if it ever attained full operational capability), had limited reach. The JL-1’s 1,700-kilometer range makes it comparable to the first-generation Polaris A1 missile the U.S. fielded in the 1960s.
While China’s nuclear force remained stable for several decades, the Second Artillery has been part of the modernization effort of the past 20 years. Consequently, there has been modernization and some expansion of the Chinese nuclear deterrent. The core of China’s ICBM force is the DF-31 series, a solid-fueled, road-mobile system, with a growing number of longer-range DF-41 missiles that may be in the PLA operational inventory. China’s medium-range nuclear forces have similarly shifted to mobile, solid rocket systems so that they are both more survivable and more easily maintained.
Notably, the Chinese are expanding their ballistic submarine fleet. Replacing the one Type 092 Xia-class SSBN are several Type 094 Jin-class SSBNs, three of which are already operational. These are expected to be equipped with the new, longer-range JL-2 SLBM. Such a system would provide the PRC with a “secure second-strike” capability, substantially enhancing China’s nuclear deterrent. There is also some possibility that the Chinese nuclear arsenal now contains land-attack cruise missiles. The CJ-20, a long-range, air-launched cruise missile carried on China’s H-6 bomber, may be nuclear tipped, although there is not much evidence that China has pursued such a capability at this time. China is also believed to be working on a cruise missile submarine, which, if equipped with nuclear cruise missiles, would further expand the range of nuclear attack options.
As a result of its modernization efforts, China’s nuclear forces appear to be shifting from a minimal deterrent posture (one suited only to responding to an attack, and even then with only limited numbers) to a more robust, but limited, deterrent posture. While the PRC will still likely field fewer nuclear weapons than either the United States or Russia, it will field a more modern and diverse set of capabilities than India or Pakistan (or North Korea), its nuclear-armed neighbors. If there are corresponding changes in doctrine, modernization will enable China to engage in limited nuclear options in the event of a conflict.
WWTA: The WWTA references China’s strengthening of its nuclear deterrent and strategic strike options, its continued development of advanced ballistic and cruise missiles, and participation of its strategic missile forces in military exercises. The 2015 WWTA notes that China is likely to begin seaborne nuclear deterrence patrols in the near future but offers no judgment on the degree of threat that it poses to the U.S.
The WWTA classifies North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs as a “serious threat to the United States and to the security environment in East Asia.” In this regard, it reports that North Korea is “committed to developing a long-range, nuclear-armed missile that is capable of posing a direct threat to the United States and has publicly displayed its KN08 road-mobile ICBM twice. We assess that North Korea has already taken initial steps toward fielding this system, although the system has not been flight-tested.” The WWTA further states the Director of National Intelligence’s long-held assessment that North Korea’s “nuclear capabilities are intended for deterrence, international prestige, and coercive diplomacy.”19

U.S., South Korean, and Japanese Bases are Within Range of NK missiles.

Summary: The respective missile threats to the American homeland from North Korea and China are very different. China has many more nuclear weapons, multiple demonstrated and tested means of delivery, and more mature systems, but it is a more stable actor with a variety of interests, including relations with the United States and the international system. North Korea has fewer weapons and questionable means of delivery, but it is less stable and less predictable, with a vastly lower stake in the international system. There is also a widely acknowledged difference in intentions: China seeks a stable second strike capability and, unlike North Korea, is not actively and directly threatening the United States.

Threat of Regional War

America’s forward deployed military at bases throughout the Western Pacific, five treaty allies, security partners in Taiwan and Singapore, and growing security partnership with India are keys to the U.S. strategic footprint in Asia. One of its critical allies, South Korea, is under active threat of invasion from the North. Taiwan is under a long-standing, well-equipped, and purposely positioned military threat from China. Japan and the Philippines, by virtue of maritime territorial disputes, are under growing paramilitary, military, and political pressure from China.
In South Asia, India is geographically positioned between two major security threats: Pakistan to its west and China to its northeast. From Pakistan, India faces the additional threat of terrorism, whether state-enabled or carried out without state knowledge or control.
North Korean Attack on American Bases/Allies. North Korea’s conventional and nuclear missile forces threaten U.S. bases in South Korea, Japan, and Guam.
Beyond its nuclear weapons programs, North Korea poses additional risks to its neighbors. North Korea has an extensive ballistic missile force. Pyongyang has deployed approximately 800 Scud short-range tactical ballistic missiles, 300 No-dong medium-range missiles, and 50 Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missiles. The Scud missiles threaten South Korea, the No-dong can target all of Japan, and the Musudan can hit U.S. bases on Okinawa and Guam. Pyongyang continues its development of the Taepo-dong series of ICBMs, at least some of which have a range sufficient to hit parts of the U.S.20
North Korea has approximately 1 million people in its military, with reserves numbering several million more. Pyongyang has forward-deployed 70 percent of its ground forces within 90 miles of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), making it possible to attack with little or no warning, and of particular concern because South Korea’s capital, Seoul, is only 30 miles south of the DMZ.21 In addition to three conventional corps alongside the DMZ, Pyongyang has deployed two mechanized corps, an armor corps, and an artillery corps.22
South Korea. In 2005, South Korea initiated a comprehensive defense reform strategy to transform its military into a smaller but more capable force. Overall, South Korean military manpower would be reduced approximately 25 percent, from 681,000 to 500,000. The army would face the largest cuts, disbanding four corps and 23 divisions and cutting troops from 560,000 in 2004 to 370,000 in 2020. Seoul planned to compensate for decreased troop levels by procuring advanced fighter and surveillance aircraft, naval platforms, and ground combat vehicles.23
North Korea’s conventional forces are a very real threat, as clearly demonstrated by two deadly attacks on South Korea in 2010. In March, a North Korean submarine sank the South Korean naval corvette Cheonan in South Korean waters, killing 46 sailors. In November 2010, North Korean artillery shelled Yeonpyeong Island, killing four South Koreans.
Since the North Korean military is predominantly equipped with older ground force equipment, Pyongyang has prioritized deployment of strong asymmetric capabilities, including special operations forces, long-range artillery, and missiles. As noted, North Korea has deployed hundreds of Scud short-range ballistic missiles that can target all of South Korea with explosive, chemical, and biological warheads. The land and sea borders between North and South Korea remain unsettled, heavily armed, and actively subject to occasional, limited armed conflict.
U.S. Forces Operating in Chinese Missile Envelope

Experts have predominantly assessed that North Korea has developed several nuclear devices but has not yet mastered the ability to miniaturize a warhead or deliver it by missile. More recently, however, several studies have concluded that the North Korean nuclear threat is much greater than previously thought. Dr. Siegfried Hecker, former Director of the Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory, concluded that North Korea could have 20 nuclear weapons by 2016.24 The Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins SAIS predicted a worst-case scenario of Pyongyang’s having 100 nuclear weapons by 2020.25
In any event, enough information is available to conclude that North Korea has likely already achieved the ability to deliver nuclear weapons by means of its No-dong medium-range missile.26 Factors for such an assessment include the decades-long duration of North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs; the technology, expertise, and components acquired from collaborative involvement with Pakistan, the A. Q. Khan network, and Iran; repeated instances of experts underestimating North Korean nuclear and missile capabilities; North Korea’s declarations of its ability to hit the U.S. and its allies with nuclear weapons; and U.S. and South Korean government assessments of North Korean breakthroughs.
Press reports indicate that the CIA assessed that Pyongyang received a nuclear package from Pakistan, including detailed, step-by-step instructions to produce a Chinese-designed nuclear warhead that could be delivered by North Korea’s No-dong missile.27 Pakistani nuclear scientist A. Q. Khan reportedly stated that North Korea’s nuclear weapons were “the perfect nuclear weapons, technologically more advanced than ours.”28 Khan described how, in return for Pakistani assistance to Pyongyang’s centrifuge program, “North Korea would help Pakistan in fitting the nuclear warhead into the Ghauri missile.”29
In March 2013, the Korea People’s Army Supreme Command warned, “The U.S. should not forget that Andersen AFB in Guam [and] naval bases in Japan and Okinawa are within striking range of the DPRK’s precision strike means.”30 In April 2013, U.S. officials told reporters that North Korea “can put a nuclear weapon on a missile, that they have missile-deliverable nuclear weapons, but not ones that can go more than 1,000 miles [1,609 kilometers].”31
WWTA: The WWTA calls North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs “a serious threat to…the security environment in East Asia.” It also references North Korea’s export of ballistic missiles and associated materials to several countries and assistance to Syria’s construction of a nuclear reactor as illustrating “its willingness to proliferate dangerous technologies.”32 The WWTA warns that “[d]espite renewed efforts at diplomatic outreach, Kim continues to challenge the international community with provocative and threatening behavior in pursuit of his goals.”
Summary: North Korean forces arrayed against American allies in South Korea and Japan are substantial, and North Korea’s history of provocation is a consistent indicator of its intent to achieve its political objectives by threat of force.
Chinese Threat to Taiwan. China’s long-standing threat to end de facto independence of Taiwan and ultimately to bring it under the authority of Beijing—if necessary, by force—is both a threat to a major American security partner and a threat to the American interest in peace and stability in the Western Pacific.
Temperatures across the Strait have cooled significantly over the past eight years. Regardless of the state of the relationship at any given time, however, Chinese leaders from Deng Xiaoping and Mao Zedong to Xi Jinping have consistently emphasized the importance of ultimately reclaiming Taiwan. The island—along with Tibet—is the clearest example of a geographical “core interest” in Chinese policy. China has never renounced the use of force, and it continues to employ political warfare against Taiwan’s political and military leadership.
For the Chinese leadership, the failure to effect unification, whether peacefully or through the use of force, would reflect fundamental political weakness in the PRC. For this reason, there is no realistic means by which any Chinese leadership can back away from the stance of having to unify the island with the mainland. As a result, the island remains an essential part of the PLA’s “new historic missions,” shaping PLA acquisitions and military planning.
Two decades of double-digit increases in China’s announced defense budget have produced a much more modern PLA, much of which remains focused on a Taiwan contingency. This modernized force includes more than 1,000 ballistic missiles, a modernized air force, and growing numbers of modern surface combatants and diesel-electric submarines capable of mounting a blockade. As the 1995–1996 Taiwan Strait crisis demonstrated, Beijing is prepared to use at least open displays of force—and might have been willing to go further in the absence of a strong American presence.
The World's Nuclear Arsenal

It is widely posited that China’s anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) strategy—the deployment of an array of overlapping capabilities, including anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs), submarines, and long-range cruise missiles, satellites, and cyber weapons—is aimed largely at forestalling American intervention in support of friends and allies in the western Pacific, including Taiwan. By holding at risk key American platforms and systems (e.g., aircraft carriers), the Chinese seek to delay or even deter American intervention in support of key friends and allies, allowing the PRC to achieve a fait accompli. The growth of China’s military capabilities is specifically oriented toward countering America’s ability to assist in the defense of Taiwan.
Chinese efforts to reclaim Taiwan are not limited to overt military means. The “three warfares” highlight Chinese political warfare methods, including legal warfare/lawfare, public opinion warfare, and psychological warfare. The PRC employs such approaches to undermine both Taiwan’s will to resist and America’s willingness to support Taiwan. The Chinese goal would be to “win without fighting,” to take Taiwan without firing a shot or with only minimal resistance before the United States could organize an effective response.
WWTA: The WWTA does not reference the threat that China poses to Taiwan.
Summary: The Chinese threat to Taiwan is long-standing. Although currently obscured by positive political relations, the military threat is never off the table. China’s ability to execute a military action against Taiwan, albeit at high economic and political cost, is improving. Its intent to unify Taiwan with the mainland under the full authority of the PRC central government and to end the island’s de facto independence has been consistent over time.
Major Pakistan-backed Terrorist Attack on India Leading to Open Warfare Between India and Pakistan. An Indo-Pakistani conflict would jeopardize multiple U.S. interests in the region and increase the threat of global terrorism. Pakistan would rely on militant non-state actors to help it fight India and thus create a more permissive environment in which various terrorist groups could operate freely. The threat of conflict going nuclear would force U.S. businesses to exit the region and disrupt investment and trade flows, mainly between the U.S. and India, whose bilateral trade currently totals around $100 billion. An actual nuclear exchange would be devastating, both in human lives lost and long-term economic damage.
India and Pakistan are engaged in a nuclear arms race that threatens stability throughout the Subcontinent. They both tested nuclear weapons in 1998, thus establishing themselves as overtly nuclear weapons states. Both countries are developing naval nuclear weapons and already possess ballistic missile and aircraft-delivery platforms.33
Pakistan has the fastest-growing nuclear weapons arsenal in the world today. Islamabad currently has an estimated 100 nuclear weapons and is developing war plans that include the use of tactical nuclear weapons in the event of conflict with India. Pakistan’s development of a mobile dual-use battlefield ballistic missile with a range of only 60 kilometers is of particular concern,34 especially given such weapons’ impact on India’s nuclear use threshold.
The broader military and strategic dynamic between India and Pakistan is essentially unstable. As noted, Pakistan continues to harbor terrorist groups, like Lashkar-e-Taiba and Jaish-e-Mohmmaed (JeM), which attacked the Indian parliament in 2001. JeM leader Masood Azhar resurfaced in 2014 in Pakistan to address a large public rally where he called on suicide attackers to resume jihad against India.
Hafez Muhammed Saeed, LeT’s founder and leader of its front organization, JuD, also continues to operate freely in Pakistan, often holding press conferences and inciting violence against India during large-scale public rallies. In December 2014, Saeed held a two-day conclave in Lahore that received support from the Pakistani government, including security from 4,000 police officers and government assistance in transporting attendees to the gathering of more than 400,000. India condemned the Pakistani government’s support for the gathering as a “blatant disregard” for global norms against terrorism.35
The possibility of armed conflict between India and Pakistan seemed to heighten slightly following the May 2014 election to power of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Narendra Modi. While Modi initially sought to reach out to Pakistan by inviting Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his swearing-in ceremony, he subsequently called off Foreign Secretary-level talks that were scheduled for August 2014 to express anger over a Pakistani official’s meeting with Kashmiri separatist leaders. Modi’s cancellation of the talks signaled that his government is likely to take a harder line toward Islamabad than the one taken by his predecessor, Manmohan Singh, and tie progress in dialogue to Pakistani steps to crack down on anti-India terrorists. Before it took power last year, the BJP often criticized previous Indian Prime Minister Singh for being too soft on Pakistan. Another obstacle to improved Indo–Pakistani ties is the political weakness of Pakistani Prime Minister Sharif, whose government barely survived month-long street protests led by the opposition in August 2014.
Adding to the tension has been an increase in cross-border firing between the Indian and Pakistani militaries, raising questions about whether a cease-fire that has been in place since 2003 may be breaking down. In August 2014, the two sides engaged in intense firing and shelling along their international border (called the working boundary) and across the Line of Control (LoC) that divides Kashmir. India’s Border Security Force Director noted that the firing across the international border was the worst it had been since India and Pakistan fought a war in 1971.36 Tensions were defused following a phone call between the Directors General of Military Operations in which they mutually agreed to stop the firing. A similar escalation in border tensions occurred again in December 2014 when a series of firing incidents over a one-week period resulted in the deaths of at least five Pakistani soldiers and one Indian soldier.
In what could presage a slight thaw in relations, newly appointed Indian Foreign Secretary Subrahmanyam Jaishankar visited Pakistan in early March. Both sides reported they had constructive talks and would seek to narrow their differences. Jaishankar also reportedly raised Indian concerns with regard to cross-border terrorism and the cases against LeT leaders in Pakistani custody for involvement in the 2008 Mumbai attacks.
There is some concern about the impact on Indo–Pakistani relations of the international troop drawdown in Afghanistan. The vacuum created by the departing international forces will allow the Taliban and other extremists to strengthen their grip in the region, potentially reinvigorating the insurgency in Kashmir and raising the chances of a major terrorist attack against India. Afghan security forces successfully thwarted an attack on the Indian consulate in Herat, Afghanistan, in May 2014. A successful future attack on Indian interests in Afghanistan along the lines of the bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul in 2008 would sharpen tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad.
With terrorist groups operating relatively freely in Pakistan and maintaining links to the country’s military and intelligence services, the risk of the two countries climbing the military escalation ladder and eventually engaging in all-out conflict is relatively high. Pakistan’s nuclear weapons capability appears to have acted as a deterrent against Indian military escalation during both the 2001–2002 military crisis and following the 2008 Mumbai attacks, but the new government in India would be under great pressure to react strongly in the face of a terrorist provocation. Pakistan’s recent focus on incorporating tactical nuclear weapons into its war-fighting doctrine has also raised concern that if conflict does break out, there is now a higher risk of nuclear exchange.37
WWTA: The WWTA does not reference the threat to American interests from a Pakistani attack on India and potential escalation.
Summary: Indian military retaliation against a Pakistan-backed terrorist strike against India could include targeted airstrikes on terrorist training camps inside Pakistan. This would likely lead to broader military conflict with some prospect of escalating to a nuclear exchange. Neither side desires another general war. Both countries have limited objectives and have demonstrated their intent to avoid escalation. This is, however, a delicate calculation.
Major Chinese Border Incursion into India. The possibility of armed conflict between India and China, while currently remote, poses an indirect threat to U.S. interests because it could disrupt the territorial status quo and raise nuclear tensions in the region. A border conflict between India and China could also prompt Pakistan to try to take advantage of the situation, further contributing to regional instability.
Long-standing border disputes that led to a Sino–Indian War in 1962 have been heating up again in recent years. In April 2013, the most serious border incident between India and China in over two decades occurred when Chinese troops settled for three weeks several miles inside northern Indian territory on the Depsang Plains in Ladakh. A visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to India in September 2014 was overshadowed by another flare-up in border tensions when hundreds of Chinese PLA forces reportedly set up camps in the mountainous regions of Ladakh, prompting Indian forces to deploy to forward positions in the region. The border standoff lasted three weeks and was defused when both sides agreed to pull back their troops to previous positions. India claims that China occupies more than 14,000 square miles of Indian territory in the Aksai Chin along its northern border in Kashmir, and China lays claim to more than 34,000 square miles of India’s northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh. The issue is also closely related to China’s concern for its control of Tibet and the presence in India of the Tibetan government in exile and Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

Areas of Dispute Along the India-China Border

The Chinese are building up military infrastructure and expanding a network of road, rail, and air links in the border areas. To meet these challenges, the new Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in India has also committed to expanding infrastructure development along its disputed border with China, especially in the Indian states of Arunachal Pradesh and Sikkim. While China currently holds a decisive military edge over India, New Delhi is engaged in an ambitious military modernization program.
The Border Defense and Cooperation Agreement (BDCA) signed during then-Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to China in October 2013 is unlikely to reduce border tensions significantly or lead to a broader settlement in the near future. The accord is aimed at putting into place institutional mechanisms for maintaining peace along the border, but several Indian analysts worry that it is part of China’s effort to keep in place the status quo, which favors the Chinese. Some have even contended that the Chinese intend to buy time on their border disputes with India through the BDCA while focusing on other territorial claims in the Asia–Pacific.38
The BDCA affirms that neither side will use its military capability against the other and proposes opening a hotline between each country’s military headquarters, instituting meetings between border personnel in all sectors, and ensuring that neither side tails the other’s patrols along the Line of Actual Control (LAC).39 The agreement also includes language stipulating that in the event the two sides come face-to-face, they “shall exercise maximum self-restraint, refrain from any provocative actions, not use force or threaten to use force against the other side, treat each other with courtesy, and prevent exchange of armed conflict.”40
WWTA: The WWTA highlights that Indian leaders will pursue closer economic and trade relations with China to attract investment and close their bilateral trade gap. The WWTA further notes that New Delhi’s concern about perceived Chinese aggressiveness along the disputed border is likely growing in light of the border incidents.41
Summary: American interest in India’s security is substantial and expanding. The threat to this interest from China is active, albeit part of a broader, multifaceted bilateral relationship that includes many cooperative dimensions. Both India and China apparently want to avoid allowing minor incidents to escalate into a more general war. The Chinese seem to use border tensions for limited diplomatic/political gain vis-à-vis India, and India responds in ways intended to contain minor incursions and maximize reputational damage to China. Yet, despite limited aims, the unsettled situation and gamesmanship along the border could result in miscalculation, accidents, or overreaction.

Threats to the Commons

The U.S. has critical direct interests at stake in the East and South Asia commons that include sea, air, space, and cyber interests.
Washington has long provided the security backbone in these areas, which in turn has supported the region’s remarkable economic development. However, China is taking increasingly assertive steps to secure its own interests in these areas independent of U.S. efforts to maintain freedom of the commons for all in the region. It cannot be assumed that China shares a common conception of international space with the United States or interest in perpetuating American predominance in securing the commons.
Maritime and Airspace Commons. The aggressiveness of the Chinese navy, maritime law enforcement forces, and air forces in and over the waters of the East and South China Sea, coupled with ambiguous, extralegal territorial claims and assertion of control there, poses an incipient threat to American and overlapping allied interests.
East China Sea. Since 2010, China has intensified its efforts to assert claims of sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands of Japan in the East China Sea. Beijing asserts not only exclusive economic rights within the disputed waters, but also recognition of “historic” rights to dominate and control those areas as part of its territory.
Chinese and Japanese maritime law enforcement and coast guard vessels regularly operate in waters surrounding the Senkakus that are administered by Japan, raising the potential for miscalculation and escalation into a military clash.
In November 2013, China declared an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea that largely aligned with its claimed maritime exclusive economic zone (EEZ). The People’s Liberation Army declared that it would “take defense emergency measures to respond to aircraft that do not cooperate in identification or refuse to follow orders.”42
The announcement was a provocative act and another Chinese attempt to change the status quo unilaterally. The ADIZ declaration is part of a broader Chinese pattern of using intimidation and coercion to assert expansive extralegal claims of sovereignty and/or control incrementally.

South China Sea. Roughly half of global trade in goods, a third of trade in oil, and over half of global liquefied natural gas shipments pass through the South China Sea, which also accounts for approximately 10 percent of global fish catch and may contain massive potential reserves of oil and natural gas. It is hotly contested by six countries, including Taiwan and the Philippines, an American security treaty ally.
Incidents between Chinese law enforcement vessels and other claimants’ fishing boats occur on a regular basis in the South China Sea, as do other Chinese assertions of administrative authority. The U.S. presence also has become an object of Chinese attention, from confrontations with the ocean surveillance ship USNS Impeccable and the destroyer USS John McCain in 2009 to the confrontation with the guided-missile cruiser USS Cowpens in December 2013 and a dangerous intercept of a U.S. Navy P-8 aircraft in August 2014.
The most serious inter-regional incidents in the South China Sea have occurred between China and the Republic of the Philippines (RP). In 2012, an RP naval ship operating on behalf of its coast guard challenged private Chinese poachers in waters around Scarborough Shoal. The resulting escalation left Chinese government ships in control of the Shoal.

Overlapping Air Defense Zones of China, Japan, and South Korea

More recently, in March 2014, Chinese government ships attempted to prevent the rotation of troops on and replenishment of Philippines-held Second Thomas Shoal. Also in 2014, the Chinese began reclamation at several sites in the Spratlys on a scale that the Philippines Defense Minister called “massive and nonstop”43 and deployed an oil exploration rig in Vietnam’s EEZ. The deployment, accompanied by dozens of ships to include PLA Navy and other public vessels, raised tensions with Vietnam over the disputed waters.
Chinese officials have hinted that Beijing may declare an ADIZ above the South China Sea, presumably covering the 80 percent of the sea over which, for many years, it has consistently claimed “indisputable sovereignty.” To this end, China has begun a “large-scale” land reclamation program involving six reefs in the Spratly Islands, constructing islands and building facilities and airstrips and stationing artillery on them.44
Airpower. Although China is not yet in a position to enforce an ADIZ consistently in either area, the steady two-decade improvement of the PLA Air Force (PLAAF) and naval aviation will one day provide the necessary capabilities. Chinese observations of recent conflicts, including wars in the Persian Gulf, the Balkans, and Afghanistan, have all emphasized the growing role of airpower and missiles in conducting “non-contact, non-linear, non-symmetrical” warfare.
China also seems to have made a point of publicizing its air force modernization, unveiling new aircraft prototypes, including two new stealthy fighters, on the eve of visits by American Secretaries of Defense. (Secretary Chuck Hagel’s visit in 2014 was preceded by the unveiling of the J-15 naval fighter.) Those aircraft have been flown much more aggressively, with Chinese fighters flying very close to Japanese aircraft in China’s East China Sea ADIZ and conducting armed combat air patrols in the skies over Tibet.45
Consequently, the PLA has shed most of its 1960s-era aircraft, replacing them with much more modern systems. Today’s PLAAF is dominated by 4th- and 4.5th- generation fighter aircraft. These include the domestically designed and produced J-10, as well as the Su-27/Su-30/J-11 system, comparable to the F-15 or F-18, that dominates both the fighter and strike missions.46 Older airframes such as the J-7 are being steadily retired from the fighter inventory. China is also believed to be preparing to field two stealthy 5th-generation fighter designs. The J-20 is the larger aircraft, resembling the American F-22 fighter. The J-31 appears to resemble the F-35 but with two engines rather than one. One of the greatest challenges to Chinese fighter design remains the production of advanced combat aircraft engines.
China fields some long-range strike aircraft, largely the H-6 bomber based on the Soviet-era Tu-16 Badger. While this aircraft has little prospect of penetrating advanced air defenses, it is suitable as a cruise missile carrier. China also has used the H-6 as the basis for initial efforts at developing an aerial tanker fleet and seems to be examining other options as well. As China deploys more tankers, this will extend the range and loiter time of its fighter aircraft. China will then be better equipped to enforce its newly declared East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone and any possible future South China Sea ADIZ.
A variety of modern support aircraft have also entered the PLAAF inventory, including airborne early warning (AEW), command and control (C2), and electronic warfare (EW) aircraft. The Zhuhai Air Show has seen Chinese companies displaying a variety of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), reflecting substantial investments and research and development efforts. The surveillance and armed UAV systems include the Xianglong (Soaring Dragon) and Sky Saber systems. The most recent DOD report on Chinese capabilities also reports that China has tested a stealthy flying-wing UAV, the Lijian.47
China’s air defenses, which are under the control of the PLAAF, have also been steadily modernizing. China has acquired the advanced S-300 surface-to-air missile (SAM) system (SA-10B/SA-20), which is roughly analogous to the American Patriot SAM system, as well as developing their own advanced SAM (the HQ-9), which is deployed both on land and at sea. In early 2014, Russia announced that it would sell China the S-400 SAM system. This would mark a substantial improvement in PLAAF air defense capabilities, as the S-400 has anti-aircraft and anti-missile capabilities.48 China has deployed these SAM systems in a dense, overlapping belt along its coast, protecting the nation’s economic center of gravity. Key industrial and military centers such as Beijing are also heavily defended by SAM systems.
A third component of the PLAAF is China’s airborne forces. The 15th Airborne Army is part of the PLAAF, with three divisions of 10,000–15,000 personnel each. These are not believed to be assigned to any of the Chinese military regions but are instead a strategic reserve as well as rapid reaction force. In 2009, in the military review associated with the 60th anniversary of the founding of the PRC, Chinese airborne units paraded through Tiananmen Square with ZBD-03 mechanized airborne combat vehicles. These vehicles provide Chinese airborne forces with tactical mobility as well as some degree of protected fire support from their 30mm autocannon and HJ-73 anti-tank missile (a domestic version of the AT-3 Sagger)—something American airborne forces continue to lack.
One shortcoming of the Chinese airborne forces is the lack of military transport aircraft, although the PLAAF can undoubtedly call upon China’s substantial civilian fleet of airliners in time of crisis or war.
Sea power. As the world’s foremost trading state, China depends on the seas for its economic well-being. China’s factories are increasingly powered by imported oil, and Chinese diets contain a growing percentage of imported food. Chinese products rely on the seas to be moved to markets. At the same time, because China’s economic center of gravity is now in the coastal region, it has had to emphasize maritime power to defend key assets and areas. Consequently, China has steadily expanded its maritime power, including its merchant marine and maritime law enforcement capabilities, but especially the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN).
The PLAN is no longer an unsophisticated coastal defense force. Instead, since the end of the Cold War, China’s navy has moved away from a reliance on mass toward incorporating advanced platforms and weapons. Many obsolete vessels have been decommissioned, including scores of older, missile-armed, fast attack craft. In their place, China has produced a range of more capable combatants and is building each class in significant numbers. These range from the Type 022 Houbei missile-armed catamaran, armed with sea-skimming supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles, to the Type-052C Luyang-II destroyer, equipped with a phased-array radar for its HQ-9 surface-to-air missile (SAM) system. The HQ-9 is believed to be comparable to early model Patriot missiles, with its ability to combat most air-breathing systems and a limited anti–ballistic missile capability. Although these new ships are not replacing older Chinese surface combatants on a one-for-one basis, the overall capability of the PLAN surface force is steadily improving.
Similarly, the PLAN has been modernizing its submarine force. Since 2000, the PLAN has consistently fielded between 50 and 60 diesel-electric submarines, but the age and capability of the force has been improving as older boats, especially 1950s-vintage Romeo-class boats, are replaced with newer designs. These include a dozen Kilo-class submarines purchased from Russia and domestically designed and manufactured Song and Yuan class. All of these are believed capable of firing not only torpedoes, but also anti-ship cruise missiles. The Chinese have also developed variants of the Yuan, with an air-independent propulsion (AIP) system that reduces the boats’ vulnerability by removing the need to use noisy diesel engines to recharge batteries.
The PLAN also has been augmenting its aerial maritime strike capability. In addition to more modern versions of the H-6 twin-engine bombers (a version of the Soviet/Russian Tu-16 Badger), the PLAN’s Naval Aviation force has introduced a range of other strike aircraft into the inventory. These include the JH-7/FBC-1 Flying Leopard, which can carry between two and four YJ-82 anti-ship cruise missiles, and the Su-30 strike fighter. Within Chinese littoral waters, the PLAN Air Force can bring a significant amount of firepower to bear.
The PLAN also has been working to improve its “fleet train.” The 2010 PRC defense white paper notes the accelerated construction of “large support vessels.” It also specifically notes that the navy is exploring “new methods of logistics support for sustaining long-time maritime missions.”49
As with other aspects of PLA modernization, even as the PLAN is upgrading its weapons, it is also improving its doctrine and training, including increased emphasis on joint operations and the incorporation of electronic warfare into its training regimen. Such improvements suggest that PLA Air Force assets, space and cyber operations, and even Second Artillery forces might support naval aviation strikes. The new anti-ship ballistic missile forces, centered on the DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile (now reportedly at initial operational capability), should be seen as part of joint Chinese efforts to control the seas, complementing PLAAF and PLAN air, surface, and sub-surface forces.
WWTA: The WWTA references China’s investment in power projection, advanced weapons, and the development of the Y-20 transport plane but is quiet on the threat that these Chinese capabilities or others pose to the airspace commons.
Summary: In the absence of U.S. forces, China is increasingly capable of dominating the airspace across the East Asian littoral. The PLAAF’s array of modern systems gives China a substantial edge over many other countries in the region. The Japanese Air Self Defense Force and the Republic of Korea Air Force are not expected to field F-35s before the end of the decade. Neither Taiwan nor any Southeast Asian nation can match the PLAAF’s number of high-performance aircraft. China’s military and party leaders appear to be intent on establishing a dominant position in regional air and maritime commons.
Escalation of Territorial Disputes or Accidental Incidents at Sea. Because Beijing and others in the region see active disputes over the East and South China Seas not as differences regarding the administration of the commons, but rather as matters of territorial sovereignty, there exists the threat of armed conflict between China and American allies that are also claimants, particularly Japan and the Philippines.
Beijing prefers to accomplish its objectives quietly and through non-military means. When necessary, however, it uses military and economic threats, bombastic language, and enforcement through military bullying. Chinese paramilitary-implemented, military-backed encroachment in support of expansive extralegal claims could lead to an armed clash.
Rising nationalism is exacerbating tensions, making geostrategic relations in Asia increasingly complex and volatile. Nationalist themes are becoming an increasingly strong undercurrent, affecting policymaking. Although the nationalist phenomenon is not new, it is gaining force and complicating efforts to maintain regional stability.

Areas of Dispute in the South China Sea

Governments may choose to exploit nationalism for domestic political purposes, but they also run the risk of being unable to control the genie that they have released. Nationalist rhetoric is mutually reinforcing, which makes countries less likely to back down than in the past. The increasing power that the Internet and social media provide to the populace, largely outside of government control, adds an element of unpredictability to future clashes.
In case of armed conflict between China and the Philippines or between China and Japan, either by intention or as a result of an accidental incident at sea, the U.S. could be required to exercise its treaty commitments.50 Escalation of a direct U.S.–China incident is itself not unthinkable. Even keeping an inadvertent incident from escalating into a broader military confrontation would be difficult. This is particularly true in the East and South China Seas, where naval as well as civilian law enforcement vessels from both China and the U.S. operate in what the U.S. considers to be international waters.
WWTA: The WWTA states that “China will probably continue its increasingly provocative approach to maritime disputes, including a hardline stance toward Japan over the Senkaku Islands.” It also cites continued friction and the “increase[d] risk of escalation” over territorial disputes.51 It offers no judgment either on the threat that this poses to American interests or on the prospect for large-scale, conventional conflict in the region.
Summary: The Chinese have a growing capacity to disrupt the freedom of the commons that benefits the entire region. Both territorial disputes related to what the U.S. considers the commons and accidental incidents could draw the U.S. into conflict. China likely does not intend to engage in armed conflict with its neighbors, particularly American treaty allies, or the U.S. itself. However, China will continue to press its territorial claims at sea in ways that, even if inadvertently, cause incidents that could escalate into more belligerent action.
Space. One of the key force multipliers for the United States is its extensive array of space-based assets. Through its various satellite constellations, the U.S. military can track opponents, coordinate friendly forces, engage in precision strikes against enemy forces, and conduct battle-damage assessments so that its munitions are expended efficiently.
The American military is more reliant than many others on space-based systems because it is also an expeditionary military (i.e., its wars are conducted far distant from the homeland). Consequently, it requires global rather than regional reconnaissance, communications and data transmission, and meteorological information and support. At this point, only space-based systems can provide this sort of information on a real-time basis. The U.S. can leverage space in ways that no other country can, and this is a major advantage, but this heavy reliance on space systems is also a key American vulnerability.
China fields an array of space capabilities, including its own navigation and timing satellites, the Beidou/Compass system. It has three satellite launch centers, with a fourth under construction. China’s interest in space dominance includes not only accessing space, but also denying opponents the ability to do the same. As one Chinese assessment notes, space capabilities provided 70 percent of battlefield communications, over 80 percent of battlefield reconnaissance and surveillance, and 100 percent of meteorological information for American operations in Kosovo. Moreover, 98 percent of precision munitions relied on space for guidance information. In fact, “It may be said that America’s victory in the Kosovo War could not be achieved without fully exploiting space.”52
Consequently, the PLA has been developing a range of anti-satellite capabilities. These include both hard-kill and soft-kill systems. The former include direct-ascent kinetic-kill vehicles (DA-KKV), such as the system tested in 2007, but also more advanced systems that are believed capable of reaching targets in mid-Earth orbit and even geosynchronous orbit.53The latter include anti-satellite lasers for either dazzling or blinding purposes.54This is consistent with PLA doctrinal writings, which emphasize the need to control space in future conflicts. “Securing space dominance has already become the prerequisite for establishing information, air, and maritime dominance,” says one Chinese teaching manual, “and will directly affect the course and outcome of wars.”55
Soft-kill attacks need not come only from dedicated weapons, however. The case of Galaxy-15, a communications satellite owned by Intelsat Corporation, showed how a satellite could effectively disrupt communications simply by being in “switched on” mode all of the time.56
Before it was finally brought under control, it had drifted through a portion of the geosynchronous belt, forcing other satellite owners to move their assets and juggle frequencies. A deliberate such attempt by China (or any other country) could prove far harder to handle, especially if conducted in conjunction with attacks by kinetic systems or directed-energy weapons.

WWTA: The WWTA references China’s understanding of American advantages and vulnerabilities in space and its “develop[ment] of capabilities to disrupt US use of space in a conflict.”57 It does not offer a judgment on the threat that this poses to the space commons.
Summary: The PRC poses a challenge to the United States that is qualitatively different from the challenge posed by any other potential adversary in the post–Cold War environment. It is the first nation to be capable of accessing space on its own while also jeopardizing America’s ability to do the same. This appears to be its intent.
Cyber. Threats in this area derive primarily from China and North Korea, and both are serious.
China. The Verizon Risk Center identified China in 2013 as the “top external actor from which [computer] breaches emanated, representing 30 percent of cases where country-of-origin could be determined.”58 Given the difficulties of attribution, country of origin should not necessarily be conflated with the perpetrators, but forensic efforts have identified at least one Chinese military unit with cyber intrusions.59 Similarly, the Verizon report concluded that China was the source of 95 percent of state-sponsored cyber-espionage attacks.
China’s cyber-espionage efforts are often aimed at economic targets, reflecting the much more holistic Chinese view of both security and information. Rather than creating an artificial dividing line between military security and civilian security, much less information, the PLA plays a role in supporting both aspects and seeks to obtain economic intellectual property as well as military electronic information.
This is not to suggest, however, that the PLA has not emphasized the military importance of cyber warfare. Chinese military writings since the 1990s have emphasized a fundamental transformation in global military affairs (shijie junshi gaige). Future wars will be conducted through joint operations involving multiple services rather than through combined operations focused on multiple branches within a single service. These future wars will span not only the traditional land, sea, and air domains, but also outer space and cyberspace. The latter two arenas will be of special importance, because warfare has shifted from an effort to establish material dominance (characteristic of Industrial Age warfare) to establishing information dominance (zhi xinxi quan). This is due to the rise of the Information Age and the resulting introduction of information technology into all areas of military operations.
Consequently, according to PLA analysis, future wars will most likely be “local wars under informationized conditions.” That is, they will be wars in which information and information technology not only will be widely applied, but also will be a key basis of victory. The ability to gather, transmit, analyze, manage, and exploit information will be central to winning such wars: The side that is able to do these things more accurately and more quickly will be the side that wins. This means that future conflicts will no longer be determined by platform-versus-platform performance and not even by system against system (xitong). Rather, conflicts are now clashes between rival arrays of systems of systems (tixi).60
It is essential to recognize, however, that the PLA views computer network operations as part of information operations (xinxi zuozhan), or information combat. Information operations are specific operational activities that are associated with striving to establish information dominance. They are conducted in both peacetime and wartime, with the peacetime focus on collecting information, improving its flow and application, influencing opposing decision-making, and effecting information deterrence.
Information operations involve four mission areas:
  • Command and Control Missions. An essential part of information operations is the ability of commanders to exercise control over joint operations by disparate forces. Thus, command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance structures are a key part of information operations, providing the means for collecting, transmitting, and managing information.
  • Offensive Information Missions. These are intended to disrupt the enemy’s battlefield command and control systems and communications networks, as well as to strike the enemy’s psychological defenses.
  • Defensive Information Missions. Such missions are aimed at ensuring the survival and continued operation of information systems. They include deterring an opponent from attacking one’s own information systems, concealing information, and combating attacks when they do occur.
  • Information Support and Information-Safeguarding Missions. The ability to provide the myriad types of information necessary to support extensive joint operations, and do so on a continuous basis, is essential to their success.61
Computer network operations are integral to all four of these overall mission areas. They can include both strategic and battlefield network operations and can incorporate both offensive and defensive measures. They also include protection not only of data, but also of information hardware and operating software.
Computer network operations will not stand alone, however, but will be integrated with electronic warfare operations, as reflected in the phrase “network and electronics unified (wangdian yiti).” Electronic warfare operations are aimed at weakening or destroying enemy electronic facilities and systems while defending one’s own.62 The combination of electronic and computer network attacks will produce synergies that affect everything from finding and assessing the adversary to locating one’s own forces to weapons guidance to logistical support and command and control.
North Korea. In 2014, North Korea conducted a cyber attack on Sony Pictures in retaliation for the studio’s release of a satirical film depicting the assassination of Kim Jong-un. The cyber attack was accompanied by physical threats against U.S. theaters and citizens. Contrary to the perception that North Korea is a technologically backward nation, the regime has an active cyber warfare capability. In 2009, North Korea declared that it was “fully ready for any form of high-tech war.”63 According to South Korea’s National Intelligence Service, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un declared that cyber warfare was “a magic weapon” that empowered Pyongyang to launch “ruthless strikes” against South Korea.64
The Reconnaissance General Bureau, North Korea’s intelligence agency, oversees Unit 121 with almost 6,000 “cyber-warriors” dedicated to attacking Pyongyang’s enemies, up from 3,000 just two years ago. Defectors from the unit have told South Korean intelligence officials that hackers are sent to other countries for training as well as to conduct undercover operations. The unit’s hackers never operate primarily within North Korea since the country’s limited computer network would make it too easy to identify the source of the attack.65
Seoul concluded that North Korea was behind cyber attacks using viruses or distributed denial-of-service tactics against South Korean government agencies, businesses, banks, and media organizations in 2009, 2011, 2012, and 2013. The most devastating attack in 2013 against South Korean banks and media outlets deleted the essential Master Boot Record from 48,000 computers.66 North Korea also jammed GPS signals in 2012, posing a risk to hundreds of airplanes transiting Seoul’s Incheon airport. Lieutenant General Bae Deag-sig, head of South Korea’s Defense Security Command, stated that “North Korea is attempting to use hackers to infiltrate our military’s information system to steal military secrets and to incapacitate the defense information system.”67
WWTA: According to the 2014 WWTA, China “seeks to [continue] its expansive worldwide program of network exploitation and intellectual property theft.”68 Additionally, “the North Korean Government was responsible for the November 2014 cyber attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment (SPE), which stole corporate information and introduced hard drive erasing malware into the company’s network infrastructure, according to the FBI.”69 The 2015 WWTA noted that “Chinese economic espionage against US companies remains a significant issue.”70
Summary: With obvious implications for the U.S., the PLA emphasizes the need to suppress and destroy an enemy’s information systems while preserving one’s own, as well as the importance of computer and electronic warfare in both the offensive and defensive roles. Methods to secure information dominance would include establishing an information blockade; deception (including through electronic means); information contamination; and information paralysis.71 China sees cyber as part of an integrated capability for achieving strategic dominance in the Western Pacific region. For North Korea, cybersecurity is an area in which even its limited resources can directly support discrete political objectives.

Threat Scores

AfPak-Based Terrorism. There is a great deal of uncertainty surrounding the threat from AfPak. For the U.S., Pakistan is both a security partner and a security challenge. Pakistan provides a home and support to terrorist groups that are hostile to the U.S., other U.S. partners in South Asia like India, and the fledgling government of Afghanistan. Afghanistan is particularly vulnerable to efforts to destabilize it. Both Pakistan and Afghanistan are already among the most unstable states in the world. The instability of the former, given its nuclear arsenal, has a direct bearing on U.S. security.
The IISS Military Balance addresses only the military capabilities of states. Consequently, it does not provide any accounting of sub-state entities except as they relate to the possibility of Pakistani nuclear weapons falling into hands that would broadly threaten the American homeland or interests more broadly. In this regard, IISS states that Pakistan’s “nuclear weapons are currently believed to be well-secured against terrorist attack.”72 Pakistan’s Army Strategic Forces Command has 30 medium-range ballistic missiles, 30 short-range ballistic missiles, land-attack cruise missiles, and “likely nuclear capable” artillery in development. It also has “1–2 squadrons of F-16A/B or Mirage 5 attack aircraft that may be assigned a nuclear strike role.”73
This Index assesses the overall threat from AfPak-based terrorists, considering the range of contingencies, as “aggressive” and “gathering.”

Behavior and Capabilities of Threats from terrorism in the Afghanistan-Pakistan Region

China. China presents the United States with the most comprehensive security challenge in the region. It poses various threat contingencies across all three areas of vital American national interests: homeland; regional war (extending from attacks on overseas U.S. bases or against allies and friends); and the global commons. China’s provocative behavior is well-documented. It is challenging the U.S. and its allies, like Japan, at sea and in cyberspace. It has raised concerns on its border with India and is a standing threat to Taiwan. While there may be a lack of official transparency, publicly available sources shed considerable light on its fast-growing military capabilities.
According to the IISS Military Balance, among the key weapons in China’s inventory are 66 Chinese ICBMs; four SSBMs; 6,540 main battle tanks (300 fewer than 2014); 66 tactical submarines; 72 principal surface combatants (including one aircraft carrier and 17 destroyers); and 2,239 combat-capable aircraft in its air force. There are 1,600,000 members of the People’s Liberation Army.
With regard to these capabilities, the 2014 Military Balance states that “a lack of war-fighting experience, questions over training and morale, and key capability weaknesses in areas such as C4ISTAR and ASW, mean that [the PLA] remains qualitatively inferior, in some respects, to more technologically advanced armed forces in the region—such as South Korea and Japan—and it lags far behind the U.S.74 IISS also points out that China’s aircraft carrier has “yet to demonstrate the capabilities that would enable carrier battle group operations” and limitations with regard to its capacity for “sustained conflict within the region” and deployment beyond the region.75 The 2015 Military Balance contains neither of these caveats but does state that “without evidence from active operations…the actual extent of improvements in China’s equipment inventory and military doctrine remain difficult to assess.”76 This Index assesses the overall threat from China, considering the range of contingencies, as “aggressive” and “gathering.”

Behavior and Capabilities of Threats from China

North Korea. In the first instance, North Korea poses the most acute security challenge for American allies and bases in South Korea. However, it is also a significant challenge to U.S. allies in Japan and American bases there and in Guam.
North Korean authorities are very actively and vocally provocative toward the United States. While North Korea has used its missile and nuclear tests to enhance its prestige and importance—domestically, regionally, and globally—and to extract various concessions from the United States in negotiations over its nuclear program and various aid packages, such developments also improve North Korea’s military posture. North Korea likely has already achieved warhead miniaturization, the ability to place nuclear weapons on its medium-range missiles, and an ability to reach the continental United States with a missile.
According to the IISS Military Balance, key weapons in North Korea’s inventory include 3,500-plus main battle tanks, 560-plus light tanks, and 21,000 pieces of artillery. The navy has 72 tactical submarines, three frigates, and 382 patrol and coastal combatants. The air force has 563 combat-capable aircraft (40 fewer than 2014), including 80 H-5 bombers. IISS counts 1,020,000 members of the North Korean army. With regard to these capabilities, the 2014 IISS Military Balance states that “[e]quipment is mainly in a poor state, and training, morale and operational readiness all remain questionable.”77 The 2015 Military Balance does not repeat this quotation. It does say, however, that “maintaining ageing fleets of equipment while approaching anything resembling adequate training hours is likely an increasing difficulty.”78 Like the 2014 edition, it also cites North Korea’s “active pursuit” of nuclear weapons and the prospect that in the future, it could use its No-dong missiles and H-5 bombers to “deliver nuclear warheads or bombs.”79
This Index assesses the overall threat from North Korea, considering the range of contingencies, as “hostile” and “gathering.”

Behavior and Capabilities of Threats from North Korea