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Piercing the shield: A leaner and meaner Russia beyond nuclear strategies

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Authors: Dr. Matthew Crosston & Troy Baxter

Russia’s history as a nuclear state is extensive and well-documented. It was the second country in the world to acquire nuclear weapons (after the US) and since that point it has been the world leader in stockpiled nuclear weapons. The only other nation to remain in close contention was the US and it was estimated to have some 10,000 fewer nuclear warheads than Russia at each nation’s respective stockpiling peak. Russia has historically placed a significant emphasis on nuclear power and nuclear deterrence as a primary deterrent strategy since it first acquired the capability.

This was best exemplified during the nuclear stock-piling frenzy of the Cold War, where nuclear weapons were acquired at a rate that will likely never be seen again, and more recently with its declaration that it has the capability to punch through the US missile defense system. Yet, despite Russia’s historical comfort and reliance on nuclear power as a deterrence strategy, the end of the 20th and beginning of the 21st century saw Russia moving away from strict nuclear deterrence. Treaties such as START I, II, SORT and the New START, which all worked to reduce nuclear stockpiles in the US and Russia, indicated that a trend towards disarmament, coordination and cooperation was the new norm taking over in place of the old one of confrontation, competition and mutually assured destruction. Happily, to some it seemed that a shift in the Russian defense ideology was taking place: from the old hat concept of nuclear deterrence to the new one of slow but steady disarmament and international cooperation. Such an assessment of Russia’s defense ideology, however, has now been all but dismissed, as it was recently revealed that Russia has already started dispersing missile defense penetrating technology throughout its military and plans on developing new types of such weapons moving forward. This declaration is saying very publicly that Russia does not consider nuclear deterrence to be an old hat concept. In fact, the nation is saying very loudly and deliberately that nuclear deterrence is as relevant as it’s ever been and that it is intent on protecting its geostrategic realm of operations, just perhaps with a leaner and meaner face that is accentuated by nuclear and non-nuclear means.

The US and NATO have been progressively encroaching further into Russia’s geostrategic areas of operation and the discussion of a NATO missile defense system has only narrowed the gap further and caused greater Russian consternation. The fear for Russia is that the installation of this missile defense system, which has largely been spearheaded by the US, would significantly reduce its nuclear deterrent capabilities in its very own backyard. However, the US claims the defense system is being put in place in order to counter the potential Iranian and North Korean nuclear threat and that it is not set up in order to defend against a nuclear arsenal the size of Russia’s. This may very well be true in logistical or strict military terms, but it fails the perceptional conventional wisdom scratch test: you cannot propose to have missiles in Eastern Europe to ‘defend against Iran ONLY’ and expect the Russian side to believe it.

Russia does, as previously mentioned, have a massive stock pile of nuclear weapons. The American limited missile defense system would be incapable of defending against an all-out nuclear warhead blitzkrieg. Moreover, it would be short-sighted of the US to believe that a nation as historically skeptical as Russia with a leader as historically Machiavellian as Vladimir Putin would blindly accept this explanation as fact and move on, particularly as Iran and North Korea continue to cooperate in nuclear arms control talks with the UN (though unevenly). It certainly appears as if the US is positioning itself to undermine Russia for reasons other than what it has stated publicly. In any event, this potential subversion is not a fact lost on Vladimir Putin and this has no doubt contributed to the continued strain in US-Russian relations.

These relations are arguably at their lowest point since the height of the Cold War. The conflict in Syria has only served to exacerbate them. Both nations are still engaged in the conflict (despite a Russian ‘partial’ withdrawal) and appear to be cooperating in the bombing campaign against DAESH. This cooperation, however, has not been free of tension and criticism. Russia appears to be engaged in the conflict largely in order to show its strength on the international stage and loosely-tied claims of stopping DAESH in Syria hurts potential radical Islamist movements in Southern Russia. Russia doesn’t just want but needs to be seen as an equal player to the US, which is why the nation wasted no time dropping bombs in Syria a mere 24 hours after it received political approval from the Russian parliament. Ultimately, Russia wants a say in what happens in the region next. It wants the ability to weaken the US presence in the Middle East. This is a higher priority than many first surmised, which was why it deployed a significant military force to Syria despite a sluggish sanctions-hit economy and subsequent depreciating currency. Russia has shown that it is willing to make significant military and financial commitments to Syria in order to protect its geopolitical interests in the area, regardless of the fact that it may be unsustainable economically over the long-term.

It is clear that Russia has not been swayed by the allure of disarmament and international cooperation to such a degree that it is willing to abandon coincident strategies that still push its national and global interests. The nation is still firmly entrenched in its belief that the US must be ‘managed’ at all times. By all indications the US firmly believes in the same strategy about Russia, as it continues to try and gain the upper hand across several different arenas and strategies. The fact that the proposed missile defense system can also be repurposed as an offensive system, if needed, only adds to the strategic concern for Russia. Russia is fully aware of the US’ geostrategic intentions to continue moving into what Russia considers its regional spheres of exclusivity. This is arguably what compelled Russia to move military forces into Syria – not just strategic objectives but PERCEPTIONAL ones.

What this says is two things. First, that both the US and Russia are still firm believers in the maintenance of old school rivalry, even under situations where they share the same objective (like defeating DAESH). Second, Russia is willing to continue to aggressively protect its geostrategic interests even if it means significant risk to itself. Some might call that the Russian penchant for irrational foreign policy behavior but it is also fueled by a strong Machiavellian logic bent on balancing American power by any, and multiple, means necessary. The apex of concern for Russia is that a world powered by American influence unchallenged is an unhealthy world for Russian visions of the future. That influence, even if it cannot be stopped entirely, has to be rivaled and compromised, whether it is politically, diplomatically, or militarily. Its deployment of a military force in Syria weakened this American influence to the point where it is almost impossible to imagine today how any Syrian conclusion will emerge that is fully endorsed or governed by American ideas alone. And that, in the end, may be the most important ‘victory’ for Russia in this. In the old days of nuclear deterrence, piercing the shield was a purely physical military consideration. Today, that concept has expanded and been enriched by new Russian thinking. And that, moving forward, may be the biggest concern for America.

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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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Defense

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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