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Growing militarization in Arctic amid increasing disputes

Bahauddin Foizee

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With the rapid melting of ice in the Arctic region, the long-isolated region is becoming a more accessible zone for commercial fishing, fresh water, minerals, coal, iron, copper, oil, gas, and shipping. Thus, the region is increasingly catching the world powers’ attention.

Arctic states – Canada, Denmark (via Greenland), Russia, Norway and the U.S. – are in rush to exploit all these opportunities from the region, which is believed to hold huge oil and natural gas resources. With such lust for resources, there is the likelihood that the slow militarization, which has already been initiated by the stake-holding states, will be intensified, jeopardizing the peace and stability of the region and the globe.

DISPUTES

The Arctic region is located around the North Pole and surrounded by landmasses of the aforementioned five countries. Since the Arctic region was “inaccessible” until the end of 20th century because of the layers of thick ice, there were less territorial disputes until the beginning of this (21st) century. However, ice are melting rapidly in the Arctic region because of the global warming, clearing this ice-covered region from ice. The ice of the region is already reduced by as much as 50% from 1950s. The region is warming faster than other areas across the globe. Such rapid melting of ice is making the region a more “accessible” zone. The melting of the sea ice has been opening up trade routes (during the summers) between Asia and Europe through the Arctic Ocean; the same region where such trades routes were unimaginable even couple of decades ago. In 2007, the Northwest Passage between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans opened for the first time in memory.

The constant change in the climate and the increasing accessibility to the region would make the extraction of oil and gas from the region much easier. Estimations from different corners reveal that the region is speculated to hold oil reserves of upto 13% of the global total of undiscovered oil, upto 30% of natural gas, and also other precious metals. Such ‘speculations’ and ‘accessibility’ have given rise to plenty of disputes that have emerged among the aforementioned five countries surrounding the region.

However, among those disputes, the most intensified ones are: (i) regarding boundaries in the Beaufort Sea and the status of the Northwest Passage between the U.S. and Canada, (ii) regarding Hans Island between Canada and Denmark (via Greenland), (iii) regarding the Lomonosov Ridge – a mountain range across the region — among Canada, Denmark and Russia, (iv) and regarding the maritime border from the Bering Sea into the region between the U.S. and Russia. Therefore, all countries surrounding the region are involved in disputes regarding the ownership and control over different parts of the region. Alongwith these five Arctic countries, China and the UK are also involved in the dispute through their claims over the Svalbard archipelago, which happens to be within the region.

Some of the Arctic countries that are claimant to the disputes have been attempting to come to a solution through the Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf (CLCS) and the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). However, a constructive solution, which would bind all the claimants to the Arctic disputes to abide by it, could not be reached through these CLCS and UNCLOS. This is because, both CLCS and UNCLOS lack the appropriate mandate from countries across the world, including the aforesaid five Arctic countries, to impose “legally binding” decisions or provisions for any maritime disputes. Therefore, the absence of a binding legal regime creates scopes for intense territorial and maritime disputes concerning the control, exploration and exploitation of the energy resources in such a region that is becoming increasingly accessible for such purpose (i.e. purpose of energy exploration and exploitation).

MILITARIZATION

In the prevailing scenario, all the Arctic countries, which are involved in the territorial and maritime disputes among themselves, have been moving towards militarizing the region in order to acquire each of their respective objectives in the region. Norwegian foreign secretary Jonas Gahr Stoere already expressed that the presence of “military, navy and coastguard” in the region is necessary. Canada planned deep water “naval facility” at Nanisivik, which lies at the entrance to the disputed Northwest Passage. Canada promised (under former PM Stephen Harper’s administration) to build armed ice-breakers, several patrol ships and several vessels in order to proceed towards gripping the Arctic. In 2011, Canada conducted large-scale “military exercises” in the region.

In August 2015, the U.S. permitted Shell to drill for oil in the Chukchi Sea, which falls within the periphery of Alaskan Arctic. The U.S. “Coast Guard” has already deployed “sophisticated ships, aircrafts and other maritime assets” in the Alaskan Arctic for the duration of Shell’s drilling in the Arctic. Through such presence, the U.S. is not only trying to exploit energy resources of the Arctic region, but also trying to keep its “military presence” deep inside the region.

On the otherside, in 2007, Russian scientists dived to the seabed in the Arctic Ocean and planted a titanium Russian flag (Russia claimed that it was flag of Russia’s ruling party) in order to beef up their claims. Russia has already moved to restore a Soviet-era “military base” and other “military outposts” in the Arctic. In early 2015, Russia exercised Arctic “military patrols” from its Northern Fleet, involving “38,000 servicemen, more than 50 surface ships and submarines and 110 aircrafts”. More interestingly, Russia is currently planning to jointly explore for oil in Russia’s Arctic fields with China, which is increasingly becoming a strong “military power” besides being an economic giant. Through such move, Russia is trying to make sure that Russia has a “rising military power” like China involved into its stake in the Arctic region so that such cooperation favours Russia at the time of escalation of any “military conflict”.

WRAPPING UP

As of yet, the Arctic region is largely untouched by mankind. However, with the ice caps melting, access to the Arctic oil and gas reserves, which is estimated to be worth hundreds of billions of dollars, will become easier – a prediction that has already sparked a military competition in the region. Such militarization of the region is likely to increase with almost all the countries urging for increasing their military deployments and exercises, and there appears little hope & opportunity for any diplomatic resolution (or political agreement) regarding the disputes. It can be well presumed that without any diplomatic resolution (or political agreement), the current non-hostile debate over the Arctic could turn into a violent confrontation.

It seems our globe does not lack reasons to engage in chaos. The two world wars began as European conflicts, only to turn gradually into world wars. Likewise, if the disputes over the control of the Arctic resources are not resolved quickly, it could turn into a larger military conflict that would not just involve the Arctic countries, but would also drag a larger part of the world into this conflict. And for sure, the start of such war would mean the cold, yet beautiful, Arctic region would become the targets of war machines– destroying the environment and the stability of the region and the globe.

Bahauddin Foizee is an international affairs analyst and columnist, and regularly writes on greater Asia-Pacific, Indian Oceanic region and greater Middle East geopolitics. He also - infrequently - writes on environment & climate change and the global refugee crisis. Besides Modern Diplomacy, his articles have appeared at The Diplomat, Global New Light of Myanmar, Asia Times, Eurasia Review, Middle East Monitor, International Policy Digest and a number of other international publications. His columns also appear in the Dhaka-based national newspapers, including Daily Observer, Daily Sun, Daily Star, The Independent, The New Nation, Financial Express, New age and bdnews24com. He previously taught law at Dhaka Centre for Law & Economics and worked at Bangladesh Institute of Legal Development.

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Defense

Negating Nuclear Bluff

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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

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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

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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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