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Taking a Stand: Foreign Militaries in the Caspian



It has been almost one year since the IV Caspian Summit in Astrakhan, Russia, where the presidents of the five Caspian states[1] signed a political declaration that denied any foreign military presence in the Caspian Sea.

This means that possible future deployment of NATO forces in the area will not be allowed. According to Russian President Vladimir Putin, this declaration “sets out a fundamental principle for guaranteeing stability and security, namely, that only the Caspian littoral states have the right to have their armed forces present on the Caspian.”[2] The Caspian Sea has been a relative strategic backwater for most of history, which begs the question: why are Russia and Iran, in particular, so interested in protecting the sovereignty of Caspian waters now?

In 1722, Tsar Peter the Great created Russia’s Caspian Flotilla. At the Flotilla’s headquarters shines a plaque still today with a quote from him that says, “Our interests will never allow any other nation to claim the Caspian Sea.”[3] This has been the case for centuries as no state dared to challenge Russia over the Caspian. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union and formal recognition of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan as sovereign independent states, things in the Caspian have begun to take a more interesting turn.

The Caspian Sea holds about 40 billion barrels of oil and is second to the Persian Gulf in regards to the size of oil and gas reserves.[4] When Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan gained sovereignty after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, they contracted with Western oil majors to explore the Caspian’s untapped potential.[5] However, figuring out which state controls what in the area has remained an extremely fickle endeavor. Even though some of the states have settled with bilateral treaties to divide the sea, many boundaries remain uncertain. A project called the “Trans-Caspian Pipeline” is one of the issues that the states have difficulty agreeing on. Turkmenistan would like this project to begin in order for them to ship natural gas to Azerbaijan and then on to Europe but Russia and Iran do not agree.

This tension has led to slight conflicts between the Caspian littorals. In 2001, Iran used jets and a warship to threaten a BP research vessel prospecting on behalf of Azerbaijan in an area that each country thought was their own. In 2008, there was another case of uncertain boundaries when Azerbaijan used gunboats to threaten oil rigs operated by Malaysian and Canadian companies who were working for Turkmenistan because these companies were operating in an area close to the water border between Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan.[6] In 2009, an Iranian oil rig accidentally entered waters that belonged to Azerbaijan. Rather than the show of strength it performed in 2008 with Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan instead did nothing and complained about being powerless against an aggressive Iran.

So, back to the original question, why do Russia and Iran care so much about keeping foreign militaries, especially the United States and United Nations, out of the Caspian? Do they share the same ideas and reasoning? Looking at the Trans-Caspian Pipeline, this project would allow Turkmenistan to sell natural gas in a way that exclusively benefits itself and those they sell to. If this happened Russia might see a decrease in its energy sales, since it would be available elsewhere, but the real heart of the matter would be the loss of Russian strategic soft power. It is not interested in seeing any state, Caspian or Western, compromise its ability to dictate power through natural resources. This has always been an important aspect of Caspian control for Russia.

In 2013, Russia’s crude oil, petroleum, and natural gas exports made up 68% of their total export revenue for that year.[7] 14% of this was natural gas sold to Europe. According to Dmitry Shlapentokh, professor of Soviet and post-Soviet history, “Russia is strongly against the project for a trans-Caspian pipeline carrying gas from Turkmenistan to Azerbaijan and may threaten to use military force should the two former Soviet republics decide to go ahead regardless.”[8] This is a problem not only for Turkmenistan, but also carries over to the current issue of Russia and Iran preventing a UN or US military base in the area. If there was a Western base in the Caspian region, then Russia’s expectation of being able to ‘persuade’ Caspian littoral states when needed could become much more complicated.

So not only could Russia be worried about the financial and strategic implications of foreign militaries in the Caspian, there might also be another factor: namely, the relationship between Russia and the United States. After Russia decided to get involved in the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and allowed for the annexation referendum in Crimea, tensions have been high. The sanctions that were implemented by the West in response represented the toughest action taken against Russia since the peak of the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Having a Western military forces in the Caspian area could certainly deter Russia from possibly making the same type of foreign policy decisions to its other neighbors which, if this was an option Russia wishes to keep, could be why Russia has worked to prevent foreign militaries in the Caspian.

But why would Iran care? Does Iran agree with Russia’s foreign policies so much that it is willing to push as hard as Russia? Or is there another factor that is driving Iran’s decisions? Recently, the nuclear accord struck with Iran and which the US Congress could not block, has been front and center in Western media. The majority of Americans believe that Iran will break the agreement.[9] If Iran does have plans to break the deal, or wishes to have that option available to it strategically, a US or UN military base or military forces in the area could stop such plans from becoming explicitly realistic.

The decision to block foreign militaries from the Caspian Sea is a threat to the strategic interests of America and, to a lesser extent, the EU. Potentially, it could have negative repercussions on energy security. By removing any Western military influence in the region, Russia will be able to maintain the regional hegemony it considers its natural birthright. In addition to that, Iran will be able to ensure greater strategic flexibility moving forward with the nuclear accord. While in the West these maneuvers will inevitably be portrayed as dangerous and destabilizing, some credence must be given to the Caspian littoral states, especially Iran and Russia, for how dangerous and destabilizing they themselves might see foreign militaries operating freely in their own backyards upon Caspian waters. As the old adage goes, what you see depends largely upon where you stand. This seems especially apropos when trying to figure out the complexity of military life in the Caspian.


[1]  Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan.
[2]  Dettoni, J. (2014, October 1). Russia and Iran lock NATO out of Caspian Sea. Retrieved from
[3]  Kucera, J. (2012, June 22). The Great Caspian Arms Race. Retrieved from
[4]  Metzel, M. (2014, September 29). Real breakthrough reached at 4th Caspian summit – Putin. Retrieved from
[5]  Ibid.
[6]  Ibid.
[7]  United States Energy Information Administration. (2014, July 23). Oil and natural gas sales accounted for 68% of Russia’s total export revenues in 2013. Retrieved from
[8]  Dettoni, J. (2014, October 1). Russia and Iran lock NATO out of Caspian Sea. Retrieved from
[9]  Agiesta, J. (2015, September 13). Poll: Americans skeptical Iran will stick to nuclear deal. Retrieved from

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Negating Nuclear Bluff



The war of words between India and Pakistan’s militaries prove that both South Asian nuclear states are intertwined in a traditional security competition. Indian Army Chief Gen. Bipin Rawat, while delivering the annual Army dinner, stated:”We will call the (nuclear) bluff of Pakistan. If we will have to really confront the Pakistanis, and a task is given to us, we are not going to say we cannot cross the border because they have nuclear weapons. We will have to call their nuclear bluff.” Such statements of calling the ‘nuclear bluff’, ‘increased cross- border firing by Indian forces, which coupled with the proclamation of surgical strikes can lead to crisis instability in the region.

Director General Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Asif Ghafoor responded to the Indian army chief’s ‘nuclear bluff’ assertion by saying that such statements are unbecoming from a person of a responsible stature. He further stated that “Well, it’s their choice. Should they wish to test our resolve they may try and see it for them..…Pakistan’s credible nuclear deterrence is the only thing stopping India from a war.” Such statements by the Indian military officials, and a quick calculated response from Pakistan, have raised the concerns of security analysts regarding the regional security and strategic dynamics.

It could be an appropriate tactic of General Bipin for securing finances for the modernization of the Army, but an absurd and destabilizing statement for the strategic stability in South Asia. According to the analysts, such statements by Indian military officials can lead to crisis instability and force the Pakistan to hasten its evolution towards war fighting nuclear doctrine. Another alarming reality is that General Bipin has failed to realize the repercussions of misreading Pakistan’s nuclear weapon capability and too much confidence in India’s Cold Start Doctrine. Hence, Pakistan’s successful test of the ‘submarine-launched cruise missile Babur (SLCM Babur)’ can be viewed as a befitting response to India.

According to Pakistan’s Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR), Babur is submarine-launched cruise missile with range of 450 km. It was fired “from an underwater dynamic platform” and “successfully engaged its target with precise accuracy; meeting all … flight parameters”. The development of Babur (SLCM) is a significant component of a “credible second-strike capability” and a step towards reinforcing Pakistan’s policy of Credible Minimum Deterrence through self-reliance and indigenization.

Previously, on January 9, 2017, Pakistan conducted its first successful test of indigenously developed submarine launched cruise missile Babur-III.  Babur-III is also advanced, mature and indigenously developed series of cruise missiles. The First test of Babur-III was considered by Pakistan’ security planners as a major milestone and a right step in right direction towards reliable second strike capability. After the successful test of  Babur-III, Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, while congratulating the nation and the military on the first successful test-fire of the Submarine Launched Cruise Missile stated: “The successful test of Babur-3 is a manifestation of Pakistan’s technological progress and self-reliance.” He added: “Pakistan always maintains policy of peaceful co-existence but this test is a step towards reinforcing policy of credible minimum deterrence.” Therefore successful test of Babur-III, submarine launched cruise missile finalized the triad of Pakistan’s nuclear forces and second test of Babar on March 9, 2018 has enhanced Pakistan’s deterrence based on Second Strike Capability.

Another significant factor which forced Pakistan to acquire Second Strike Capability is India’s doctrinal transformation as it is clearly transforming its Nuclear Doctrine. New trends are emerging in India’s nuclear strategy as it is moving towards a ‘first-use’ or even a ‘first-strike nuclear strategy’. India’s nuclear doctrine is based on the ‘strategic ambiguity’, therefore it has been anticipated that India is shifting its nuclear strategy towards ‘counterforce targets’ rather than ‘counter value targets’. The second emerging trend is that India is moving towards the strategy of “First Use” or “Preemptive strike” from the “No-First Use strategy”. The abandoning of no first-use, development of missiles defense shield, fake claims of surgical strikes and calling the nuclear bluff are developments that are perilous for the regional security. Indeed, such events have forced Pakistan to maintain deterrence through qualitative and quantitative developments in nuclear forces. In the strategic landscape of South Asia, the presence of Pakistan’s credible second-strike capability is imperative for the continuity of the strategic stability between/among strategic competitors: India and Pakistan.

Subsequently, harsh statements by Indian military, its shifting nuclear doctrines and maturing sea based/ballistic missile defense developments capabilities are threatening for Pakistan. Such developments by India have been countered by Pakistan by carrying out two tests of nuclear-capable missiles, ‘Babur-3’ submarine-launched cruise missile (SLCM) and ‘Babar’. Pakistan’s tests of SLCM has further reinforced the debate on South Asian maritime security, second-strike capability and missile defense technologies in the regional landscape. To conclude, it’s impossible for the Indians to alter the strategic equilibrium between India and Pakistan. Though Islamabad is not matching the Indian conventional military buildup, yet it is gradually advancing its nuclear arsenal. Hence, Pakistan’s successful test of indigenous Submarine Launched Cruise (SLC) Missile ‘Babur’ has negated India’s desire to call Pakistan’s ‘nuclear bluff’ and has augmented the credibility of Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence strategy. Addition of ‘Babur’ in Pakistan’s military inventory confirms that Pakistan armed forces are prepared to thwart any kind of Indian armed forces military adventurism.

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A Likely Path to Nuclear Annihilation

Eric Zuesse



U.S. President Donald Trump asserted on the morning of April 12th, “Never said when an attack on Syria would take place. Could be very soon or not so soon at all!” This statement from him is interpreted here as constituting a public promise from him to start the overt phase of America’s invasion of sovereign Syrian territory, no longer just continue the prior phase, which has relied instead upon America’s proxy forces, which originally were the ones that were led by (U.S.-Saudi-Qatari-UAE supplied and armed) Al Qaeda in Syria, but increasingly now are Syria’s Kurds, which have taken control over a third of Syrian territory, in Syria’s northeast. This area includes the oil-producing region, from Deir Ezzor northward, and the conquest would cripple Syria’s economic future, so that U.S-Saudi control of the entire country would be only a matter of time.

On April 4th, Emily Burchfield, a program assistant at the Atlantic Council — NATO’s leading PR agency — headlined the following, in order to explain the U.S. military’s (i.e., NATO’s) objectives in Syria (and the whole headline-bloc is quoted here, because it succinctly states the article itself): Analysis: Washington Still Has Work to Do in Former ISIS Territories

Before the U.S. pulls out of Syria, Washington needs to address a governance gap left in some former ISIS territories. Otherwise, marginalized Arab communities will likely ally with the Syrian government or extremist forces, writes Emily Burchfield of the Atlantic Council.

The U.S. military, in other words, cannot accept that “marginalized Arab communities” will “ally with the Syrian government.” Analogous within the United States itself would be if some foreign power refused to accept that “marginalized White communities” will “ally with the U.S. government.” In other words: this is clearly a military demand (a demand that came to be expressed here by a paid employee of NATO’s top PR agency, the Atlantic Council) to break up the country.

Whereas the prior U.S. President, Barack Obama, had tried everything short of all-out direct military invasion — as contrasted to indirect invasion by U.S. proxy armies of jihadist mercenaries — in order to conquer or at least to break up Syria, the current U.S. President, Trump, is resorting now to the direct military invasion route: he’s taking the path that Obama had declined to take.

Syria’s allies are Iran and Russia. These allies have enabled Syria to survive this long, and they all would be capitulating to the U.S. if they accepted the U.S. military invasion of Syria. For them to do that, would be for them to display, to the entire world, that the United States is their master. The U.S. Empire would, in effect, be official, no longer merely aspirational.

In the case of Russia, since it is the other nuclear super-power, this would be not just a surrender to the other nuclear super-power, but also Russia’s doing that without even waging a conventional-forces war against the U.S. Empire. That is extremely unlikely.

Consequently, Russia is probably now (on April 12th) coordinating with Iran, and with its allies, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon, a conventional-forces war against the invaders.

If that conventional-forces war inflicts more damage to U.S.-and-allied forces than they inflict against Syria, that would, in military terms, constitute a “military defeat” for the U.S.

This would leave the U.S. only two options:

Either accept that Russia is another nuclear super-power (which the U.S. Deep State has refused to accept), and end the previously subterranian war to conquer it that was started by George Herbert Walker Bush on the night of 24 February 1990, or else blitz-attack Russia itself in order to eliminate enough of Russia’s retaliatory weapons so as to ‘win’ the nuclear war — i.e., inflict even more destruction upon Russia than Russia would still possess and control the surviving weaponry to inflict against America in response.

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Optical Missile Tracking Systems and Minimum Credible Deterrence



There was a time in human history when nuclear technology was the “it” technology; no one could imagine anything beyond it. The destruction and wrath it brought was not only terrifying but mesmerizing. It was fascinating for ordinary people, leaders, scientists and states that the smallest particle of matter upon breaking can release energy which could burn down a whole city in seconds. Thus, invention of nuclear weapons changed the way of thinking of nations, states and leaders. Mastering the fission of radioactive atom to enable it to release energy is not a child’s play; states invest billions in currency to make nuclear weapons.

At the operational level, a nuclear weapon requires delivery systems. In this regard, strategic bombers, ships, submarines and missiles are commonly used delivery vehicles by the states. But, one of the most significant and reliable delivery systems is missiles, With missiles, states can launch nuclear pay load from their own territory or from any other place without risking its human resource, in case of sending bombers. Missile technology all around the world is growing by leaps and bounds. After nuclearization, both Indian and Pakistan pursued missile technologies including ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, ballistic missile defences, Multiple Independently re-entry targetable vehicles and inter-continental ballistic missiles as well. States invest in nuclear weapons because it helps them achieve deterrence which stops states from using nuclear option due to fear of unacceptable damages to one’s vital interests. However, to endorse credibility of nuclear weapons, states invest in military modernization.

The main objective behind nuclearization of Pakistan was to create deterrence against India but without indulging into arms race. Thus, policy of minimum credible deterrence was developed by Pakistan. Later on, after India’s attempt to exploit the levels beneath nuclear threshold, Pakistan resorted to the policy of full spectrum deterrence without going for arms race. So, to create credible but minimum deterrence at the start of year 2017, Pakistan tested multiple independently reentry targetable vehicle (MIRV), which can deliver multiple nuclear war heads in one go.

Development of MIRV by Pakistan is neither consequence of ambitious national objectives nor is it meant to initiate an arms race in the region. But, it is to make nuclear deterrence viable against India’s BMDs which can intercept incoming ballistic missiles through interceptors and destruct them in the air.

Pakistan, due to its economic restraints could not go for BMD in response to India; as it is an expensive technology that has yet to achieve 100% success rate. So, considering its options, MIRVs came out as the most rational choice. However, MIRVs are one of the most complex technologies in which missile can carry more than one warhead in a single launch and with the capability to hit multiple individual targets. They require technological sophistication in not only sending so many vehicles in one launch but also in yield and most importantly in accuracy. With enough yield and accuracy MIRVs provide states the capability to go for pre-emptive strikes. Thus, MIRV have the capability to overwhelm the BMD system and resultantly eliminate the false sense of security under which India could go for first strike.

To increase the accuracy of MIRV missiles, Pakistan bought highly sophisticated, large scale optical tracking and measurement system from China. According to national news agency, Pakistan has deployed this sophisticated technology in battlefield. Before Chinese system, Pakistan was utilizing indigenous systems. Nonetheless, it will help Pakistan record high-resolution images of a missile’s departure from its launcher, stage separation, tail flame and, after the missile re-enters atmosphere, the trajectory of the warheads it releases. These functions will be possible because the system bought by Pakistan comes with a pair of high-performance telescopes equipped with a laser ranger, high-speed camera, infrared detector and a centralised computer system that automatically captures and follows moving targets. However, what makes this system unique is its ability to detect missile up to range of several hundred kilometers through the help of its telescopes. The timing of these telescopes are precisely synchronized with the atomic clock. Thus, now Pakistan can track different warheads going in different directions simultaneously. Moreover, through visual imagery, the missile developers can improve the accuracy and design of missile in much better way.

So, with this technological uplift, Pakistan will soon add Ababeel (MIRV) into its operational missile inventory. But, these actions by Pakistan are not to give rise to arms race rather they are the reactions to the actions taken by India. BMDs by India never strengthened nuclear deterrence or stability rather they eliminated the deterrence by nulling the credibility of ballistic missiles. As a result, to maintain credibility of its deterrence though minimum means, Pakistan opted for MIRV, as missile tracking systems are essential in improving the accuracy and designs of missiles. If anything indicates arms race in the region, it is India’s ICBMs, naval nuclear fleets and space weaponization.

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