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The strategic nature of the US bombings in Libya

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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Although some US military decision-makers have recently said that the air raids on Sirte are to be considered “purely tactical” – as also General Petraeus stated on August 4 last – the US operations in Libya which started on August 1 last have evident strategic importance.

Let us provide some data with a view to having a real perception of the situation: the US air actions are led by the Africa Command, AFRICOM, the US structure which since 2008 has been cooperating with all the African countries, except for Egypt, with which it has a separate agreement. Said structure has its headquarters at the Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart.

The AFRICOM ground unit, namely the United States Army Africa (USARAF), has its own autonomous base and command at the Caserma Ederle in Vicenza.

In short, with this air-naval operation in Libya, the North American African Command has three clear strategic goals: 1) excluding the NATO-Europe from its Southern region and forcedly directing it eastwards and south-eastwards, towards China, Russia and, shortly, India; 2) opposing the Chinese and Russian expansion to Africa at geoeconomic and military levels; 3) managing, in the future, the great pan-African unification process, precisely on the basis of the US model.

Moreover, the bombing of Sirte by US aircraft has a further obvious strategic significance: while the Russian Federation has now become the reference point of the Greater Middle East with the next stabilization of Syria, the United States want to mark the Maghreb territory a) with a view to avoiding a Russian action in Libya; b) supporting their regional Arab allies; c) closing down a space to their European allies, uncertain of everything except for the multiculturalist subjection to the “permanent jihad”.

The US operation called Odyssey Lightning consists in supporting only the Government of National Accord (GNA) installed in Tripoli, the only one recognized by the United Nations as opposed to the Tobruk one and its ground forces, which last month advanced against the ISIS positions in Sirte. They are only the Misrata Forces, not fully connected with al-Sarraj’s National Accord.

In spite of its international support, the government in Tripoli is linked to militias, such as the above stated Misrata Forces and the Al Bunyan Al Marsoos “the Solid Structure” – armies which, like all the other local politicians and numerous militias, are all paid only with the funds from the Central Bank of Libya.

And, despite this, al-Sarraj’s government really controls only the coast of Tripoli and two adjacent neighbourhoods.

Furthermore, according to the latest data available, the Central Bank of Libya manages a monetary base of over 115 billion Libyan dinars, but with a quasi-money which is worth approximately twice as much as that monetary base.

It is worth recalling that the “quasi-money” is the share of bank assets which are more easily convertible into cash.

Hence it is easy to imagine that if – as currently happens – the oil flow from the Libyan coast starts again (now that the oil sector analysts predict a rise in the oil price up to 70-80 US dollars a barrel since the second half of this year), the money available to the various Libyan military forces will increase, with obvious negative effects on the peace process and the reunification of the country.

Also the share of Turkish, Saudi, Qatari and even Egyptian aid to their proxies will increase, with a view to avoiding the expansion of the Libyan oil market and promoting their national direct and indirect exports.

Or maybe – as happened with Qatar at the beginning of the inauspicious insurgency against Gaddafi – the issue will be to trade the Libyan oil, possibly magically turning it into “national product.”

Let us revert, however, to the planned air military actions of the US Africa Command.

Five operations put in place on the first day of August and on the first day of the military action Odyssey Lightning, four ones on August 2-3, as well as some ground operations of the US Special Forces to agree with the various factions, while so far the US military activities from the sea have been defined as “precision strikes”, which are also very effective on the ISIS materials and depots in Sirte.

The first mission started from the US amphibious assault ship Wasp, off the Gulf of Sidra, while other aircraft departed from land bases in Italy and initially from Jordan.

The naval group of the USS Wasp also includes the transport dock ship USS San Antonio and the landing ship USS Whidbey Island, while the medium-range missile control system is based in Rota, Spain.

The three US ships host the 22nd Marine Expeditionary Unit, which has also MV22 Osprey aircraft, along with other AV-BB units.

Osprey is a tiltrotor for the deployment of ground forces inside the Libyan territory, while the US Expeditionary Naval Corps also has Super Cobra helicopters, other UH-1Y Venom transport helicopters and the CH-53E Super Stallion ones for troop transport.

Two facts are clear: after the probable cleaning up of the Sirte area, the United States plan to land and typically place boots on the ground, thus betting on a new network of Libyan warlords determined – with the US coordination – to wipe out ISIS from Libya.

Incidentally, the United States have a clear strategic and political interest in avoiding the European allies’ support as much as possible.

This both to prevent terrorist attacks on the EU territory and, above all, to have full tactical and strategic autonomy in Libya.

The other fact is that the United States intend to bet only on Fayez al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord while the forces – including the European ones – which support Haftar’s “Operation Dignity”, which are allied with the Saiqa of Benghazi, the militias from Zintan, the militias of the Warshefana and, above all, the guards who control the oil wells, depend weakly from Tobruk.

Not to mention France, Saudi Arabia and Egypt, supporting Khalifa Haftar and his Libyan National Army. However, we have reason to believe that the “Operation Dignity” forces could be the real centre of gravity for a future Russian action in Libya – which is the greatest danger for the United States.

In other words, the United States have chosen to support only al-Sarraj’ small government and hence to accept a future splitting of the Libyan territory, at least into two parts.

This is supremely contrary to European interests. Finally the United States have decided to create a bridgehead, through the Tripoli government, which can expand the AFRICOM presence south and east of Libya.

These are all US legitimate intentions which, however, should have been discussed and analyzed together with the now irrelevant European partners, who only see the trees, namely immigration from the Libyan shores, but not the wood, namely the geopolitics which causes and exploits it, also at militarily level. And we will see it in the near future.

The naive automatic pro-American approach of the US European allies, which is a result of the now ceased Cold War, is a strategic danger in itself for the European Union and for the EU Mediterranean countries. The United States have diverging interests compared to Europe, both in Libya and in the rest of Africa.

And what if – instead of muttering multiculturalist myths – the EU had organized an operational Conference to create and deploy a Spanish-French-Italian military force, with the Russian approval, which could stabilize the coastal areas and wipe out – even with the US aid and support – the Caliphate from Sirte, without blocking the Libyan national reunification process?

Is it possible for a guerrilla army such as ISIS, living in underground shelters and in the maze of urban centres, to be considered a traditional military force “whose actions against the United States and its allies must be prevented”, as the motivation for the Africa Command action reads?

We doubt it, as indeed we doubt that totally abandoning the Tobruk government will be a rational strategic choice.

Certainly the Tobruk government members began to rule from a railway wagon and still have relations with the Muslim Brotherhood but, since last June, there have already been several meetings and negotiations between al-Sarraj’s GNA and some members of the Tobruk Parliament, which could be facilitated by us and supported explicitly by the international community.

Nobody, not even the United States, have anything to gain from a fragmented Libya, with or without the ISIS viper in their bosom.

What about Italy? In her question time at the Chamber of Deputies, the Defence Minister, Roberta Pinotti, said that “so far the US operations have not involved Italy, neither logistically nor for overflying the national territory, and they have developed consistently with the UN Resolution of 2015 and in response to a specific request for support made by the lawful and legitimate Libyan government”.

Hence, in the opinion of the Italian Defence Minister, al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord is the only lawful and legitimate one, even though it is clear to everyone that there exists no government in Libya.

In Italy there was no rational analysis of the protests made by Russia and the Tobruk Government, which could shift bag and baggage to the Islamist-jihadist front of the Libyan insurgency, while Russia asked that the US bombings could take place after a resolution of the UN Security Council.

As a clear result of the AFRICOM overflying operations, since August 4 there have been very harsh clashes between the Tripoli militias – mostly those in Misrata, faithful to al-Sarraj, but paid by others – and the Benghazi Defence Brigades (BDB).

During said clashes at Ajdabiya, in the “oil crescent”, Haftar’s military have accused the local fighters of having favoured the ISIS jihadists’ escape from Benghazi.

Is therefore possible, in such a complex region where “the friend of my enemy is my friend”, and only on a local basis, to consider only the Government of National Accord in the list of the good ones?

Have we already committed to the Tripoli government without al-Sarraj’s government having yet won the confidence vote of the Tobruk House of Representatives? And what will happen to us if the Tripoli Government of National Accord falls? We will be deprived of credible relations with all the other forces operating in Libya and be exposed to any retaliation, inside and outside our borders.

One of the possible players for us would be Khalifa Haftar’s “Operation Dignity” – supported by some members of the French and British intelligence services – which is expanding to Eastern Libya.

As already said, Haftar’s money comes from Saudi Arabia, Egypt and France. Moreover, Russia has already shown its intention to appoint him as its point of reference in the Libyan chaos.

“Operation Dignity” is a real army and Haftar commands it with the iron fist of the true professional of weapons, while the United States are still pushing for a varied and unreliable alliance of Islamic militias to be led by Tripoli -– which is difficult in a situation in which Russia supports Cyrenaica, though still indirectly.

Hence we will have the probable reaction of the jihadist terrorism on our territory without any strategic gain in a country which is so vital for us, namely Libya.

Furthermore, the US air campaign authorized by President Barack Obama for a period of thirty days could not be fully effective against ISIS in Sirte and the militias of Misrata could distance themselves from the al-Sarraj’s Government of National Accord.

While it is obvious that an intervention boots on the ground by a European force is not rational, also considering that the EU Member States have diverging interests in Libya, it would be at least useful not to be committed to one single – and not even the strongest – party concerned.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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A new world without “old” rules?

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On May 30, President Vladimir Putin submitted to parliament a bill on suspending the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate and Shorter-Range Missiles (INF). With Washington having failed to respond to Moscow’s proposals to resolve existing differences concerning the treaty, Russia has been forced to respond to President Donald Trump’s February 1 announcement about the start of the US exit from the 1987 accord. How dangerous is Washington’s irresponsible behavior to global strategic stability?

Over the course of the past three decades, the INF treaty has faced a great deal of pressure from changing realities of a political, military and technological nature, earning the unofficial status of the “most vulnerable” agreement in the field of nuclear arms control. For example, the treaty is pretty vague about the status of the US combat drones, whose characteristics mirror those of the ground-based cruise missiles it bans. And also about the ballistic target launch vehicles used in the development and testing of missile defense systems, and which are similar to short- and medium-range missiles. And, finally, about launchers of the US missile defense system being deployed in Europe since 2015, which are also capable of firing medium-range Tomahawk cruise missiles. The INF treaty thus effectively constrains Washington’s attempts to maintain military-strategic, “escalation” supremacy in a number of key regions around the globe.

Therefore, the Trump administration apparently thought that it was the right time for it to walk away from the INF treaty, which is fraught with a serious strategic destabilization and increased uncertainty for America’s main rivals (which, according to Trump’s National Security Strategy, are Russia and China), without posing any immediate strategic threat to the US itself.

Scrapping the INF accord is also fraught with unraveling the existing system of global strategic stability, with the START-3 treaty (also known as New START, and set to expire in 2021) remaining the only bilateral agreement limiting the two countries’ nuclear missile arsenals. The START-3 treaty is particularly important in that it is open to extension without the need to obtain parliamentary consent in both Russia and the United States, which is especially important in view of the current standoff between Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress. Besides, this could throw in doubt the future of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).

With the US and Russia already differing on the size of their nuclear armories, a formal exit from the INF treaty is a clear demonstration of Washington’s refusal to engage in a dialogue about a specific nuclear issue.  However, all nuclear-related issues are closely intertwined, so if the US withdrawal from the INF treaty results in the termination, or even just a suspension of the START-3 treaty, this would be the end of the legally binding mechanism of mutual checks agreed upon by the parties. This would throw the dialogue on nuclear disarmament back decades and force the parties to get back to square one and start negotiations on the limitation and reduction of nuclear arms virtually from scratch.

Geopolitically, Washington’s actions are changing the strategic landscape throughout the Eastern Hemisphere. If the United States decides to bring medium-range or short-range missiles back to Europe, this would inevitably lead to a new spike in tensions with Russia. Washington is bending enormous political, diplomatic, and media efforts to put the “blame for the breakdown of the INF treaty” at Russia’s doorstep, and is looking for a new source of cohesion for NATO, namely to force America’s European allies to adopt the new rules of the game proposed by Washington, which is explicitly insisting on a “monetization” of allied relations. What we see are attempts to dismantle the system of strategic stability by economic means, portraying Russia’s responsive measures to European allies as “aggressive plans,” which necessitate an increase in their defense outlays so that they can buy expensive US weapons designed to defend against an imaginary “Russian threat.”

Meanwhile, the US withdrawal from the INF treaty could further undermine trust between Washington and other NATO allies, bringing back memories of the political crisis over the deployment of Pershing-2 missiles in the late 1970s – early-1980s, when “bloc discipline” within NATO was still strong. Today, Europe will have to choose between ensuring continued US loyalty at the cost of resuming its role of a hostage to Washington’s short-term tactical intentions and pursuing a much more European-oriented defense policy. Some experts believe that the latter option could deepen the already existing split in the EU and even lead to its collapse. Above all due to the intractable contradictions between those who view the US not merely as a guarantor “against external threats,” but also as a counterbalance to a number of leading EU countries that are beginning to see the continuously diverging interests of the United States and continental Europe.

As for the impact the elimination of the INF treaty could have on European security, it would be of a truly comprehensive nature as NATO’s deterrence strategy hinges on a strategic nuclear potential that will not be directly affected by the termination of the treaty. Hiding behind the Trump administration’s openly negative view of the START-3 agreement is a much greater threat to Europe because, according to Western analysts, the negative developments around this treaty would seriously undermine NATO’s nuclear deterrence capability.

While admitting that the recent events have forced Europe to “wake up from hibernation,” the experts wonder exactly what the increasingly divided European Union will do “in a situation of increasing danger.”

The impact of all this on Asia will be even more destabilizing, as the White House often justifies pulling out of the INF treaty by imaginary threats from China and North Korea. However, most experts consider a complete elimination of Pyongyang’s nuclear missile potential as “unrealistic” in the foreseeable future for the simple reason that nuclear weapons are the most reliable, if not the only, guarantor of the preservation of the political system currently existing in North Korea. Therefore, sooner or later, “the United States will revert to a purely forceful policy towards North Korea,” including by deploying medium-range missiles in the region. However, this would pose a serious security threat to China, because these missiles would endanger “the political decision-making centers and the military administration of China, as well as many of the most important military installations of the People’s Republic.”

Apparently not so sure about its ability to defeat China in the emerging global rivalry, Washington now wants to draw Beijing into the costliest of all arms races – a race of nuclear missiles.

Moreover, scrapping the INF treaty would only exacerbate the problem of nuclear non-proliferation in Asia. Many US experts believe that in the event of a new arms race – now between the United States and China, Beijing could, at least within the next decade, “overtake” the United States in the number of deployed new land-based medium- and short-range missiles. Given the current tensions between the two countries, chances for them to engage in a meaningful dialogue on military-strategic matters look pretty slim. With the Trump administration trying to water down its commitments pertaining to regional security, a buildup of these two leading powers’ military might could force Washington’s Asian allies, including Japan, South Korea and Australia, to make independent decisions on strategic security. India, and probably Pakistan too, would have to respond to China’s growing strategic potential, and in the worst scenario, this could kick-start a nuclear arms race in Asia.  

Russia has always been firmly and consistently opposed to attempts to “dismantle the instruments of strategic stability,” which would only stoke up mistrust between nuclear powers and “militarize their foreign policy thinking.” Therefore, Moscow has consistently reaffirmed its desire to continue “work to save the INF treaty, despite the US position.”

Hating to get involved in an all-stops-out arms race, Russia keeps reminding the United States and the whole world of its readiness to “engage in meaningful and across-the-board negotiations on all aspects of disarmament.” However, the US leaders, just like in the bad old times, are doing exactly the opposite, looking for ways “to dismantle the already established system of international security.”

The draft law on suspending the INF treaty submitted for parliamentary consideration reserves President Putin “the right to renew the treaty.” Commenting on the issue, Franz Klintsevich, a member of the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, noted that Russia “leaves the door open.” Moscow is ready to “resume its commitments under the INF treaty any time,” and gives the United States “a chance to think again.” Moscow has also reaffirmed its strong commitment to upholding the principles of strategic stability, with presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov calling the START-3 treaty “the cornerstone of international security and disarmament architecture.” Russia’s unconditional interest in promoting a constructive and meaningful dialogue was thus emphasized again.

Meanwhile, the prospects of global strategic stability are getting increasingly vague. Optimists say that since formal agreements mainly fix the level of mutual trust, the existing model of strategic stability is becoming a thing of the past for objective reasons. To avoid “strategic chaos,” the leaders of the world’s three leading nuclear powers need to look for new formats of stability indirectly, independently, and even “unilaterally. Pessimists, for their part, believe that having signed treaties is always better for security than not having them at all. Treaties are indispensable as they stand in the way of escalations inherent in the realm of nuclear deterrence. A collapse of the INF treaty can easily dismantle “the entire system of nuclear arms control” and lead to chaos with disastrous consequences “for the security of … superpowers and the whole world“. Thus, consistent efforts to resume the dialogue between Russia and the United States would be the best way out in the current situation, because it would at least help find a new understanding of strategic stability shared not only by our two nations but, ideally, by all the other nuclear powers. Otherwise, at the end of the day, those who wish to “re-deal” the cards of strategic stability for their own benefit will have to realize the futility of their effort. Better sooner than later.

 From our partner International Affairs

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Grab your Coats: Can America succeed in the Arctic?

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Authors: Mathieu Barron and Dr. Jahara Matisek*

It should not be a surprise that the Arctic is melting: climatic warming was identified by the scientific community in 1979.More alarming, though, is that 58% of Arctic sea ice has melted since 1980. Besides being troubling for environmental reasons, the melting of the Arctic opens a Pandora’s Box of geopolitical disputes over ownership of economic resources and newly navigable sea lanes. Chief among the dispute is the claiming of Economic Exclusion Zones (EEZs) as dictated by the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Law of Sea. Such EEZ areas grant a country 200 nautical miles of exclusive access and rights to resources, such as fishing, natural gas, oil, minerals, etc. In the Arctic, there are valuable mineral resources, to include, nickel, copper, coal, gold, iron, natural gas, oil, uranium, tungsten, and diamonds, and then there are vast biological resources (e.g. fish, etc.).

The treasure trove of resources would be incredibly useful to any state, whether it be Russia or Norway. More importantly, numerous sea lanes are soon to open, to include the Bering Strait and the Transpolar Sea Route, which cuts directly through the Arctic Circle. With the Arctic being a dynamic environment, how should the United States (US)act to promote American prosperity to advance influence in the region?

Before identifying “success,” it is imperative to get a grasp of the region as a whole – who the main actors are, what the primary issues are, what the history of the region is. In the Arctic’s case, the Arctic Council is a who’s who in the northernmost portion of the planet. The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum with eight members: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the US. In addition, there are six permanent participants, each representing indigenous Arctic peoples. The Council was founded to promote cooperation, coordination, and interaction between its members. Generally, this means working together to respond to oil spills, management of fisheries, scientific research, and search and rescue operations.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, there were multilateral operations in icebreaking and search and rescue, to include founding of the Arctic Council in 1996. However, the current Arctic environment in the 21st century is framed by great power competition from Russia and China, who are deviating from norms of conduct regarding the region. Moreover, these two countries are contriving new ways of boxing the US and other Western allies out of the region by signing trade deals with one another and building up Arctic military capabilities that are outpacing the West.

A Russian Arctic?

Russia is America’s biggest competitor in the realm of the Arctic for good reason. About a half of the Arctic – its people, and coastline, and likely a half of its hidden resources – belong to Russia. Even more, the Arctic sea ice on the Russian end melts faster and fuller than the ice on the Canadian end, allowing for more access to resources and shipping lanes. Outside of their geographic advantage, Russia maintains a significant edge in military assets in the Arctic Circle, showing no intention of reducing this footprint.

A 2017reportshowed that Russia stationed 19 warships and 34 submarines in the Arctic, compared to one American warship and no submarines. From a 2018estimate, there are six Russian bases in the Arctic, each equipped with S-400 anti-aircraft weapons systems alongside forty icebreakers between the bases. More troubling, a Canadian report claims that Russian military investments are increasing in the Arctic, leading to the development of four brigade combat teams, 14 operational airfields, 16 deep-water ports, and11 icebreakers. Each of these investments are essentially a Russian proclamation of their own Monroe Doctrine in the Arctic.

Finally, more than ever, Russian bombers are flying over the Arctic, with NORAD reporting 20 sightings and 19 intercepts last year. These developments are in no way shocking – they are even partly expected – given their Cold War antecedent of behavior in the region. However, the Russian government believes it has a valid claim to the Arctic and its resources, and are signaling a strong intent to defend this claim with military force. After all, this is the same state which invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014. In shaping US plans for the Arctic, there is no bigger concern than Russian desires for increased influence and access to resources.

An American Response to Russian Arctic Hegemony?   

So how should the US respond to this emerging threat in an oft-ignored theater? The first step lies in making the Arctic a policymaking priority. As of now, the Arctic is given almost no legislative or military attention, and exists mostly in the periphery of policy debates. The word ‘Arctic’ appears once in the National Security Strategy (NSS) and a whopping zero times in the National Defense Strategy (NDS).From a strategic standpoint, the last thing the US wants is a conventional war with a near-peer adversary in the Arctic Circle. This harsh environment has limited infrastructure, narrow logistical networks, and austere operating conditions for humans and machinery alike.

It is important to establish a geopolitical environment similar to NATO’s position on Russia in continental Europe: a careful balance with an enforceable red line. As preferable as it would be to maintain the Arctic Circle as a paragon of international cooperation, it is ignorant to assume that the region exists in a vacuum free of maneuvering for personalist gain. Additionally, making the Arctic a cooperative bubble may only encourage Russian aggression elsewhere if the fear of punitive actions in the Arctic is close to non-existent. Would we see another annexation, or other indirect actions by Russia to capture land and resources in the Arctic?

A careful US and allied militarization focused on flexibility in the Arctic theater is the key to showing signs of strength at the North Pole. By developing airstrips and forming infrastructure in the Arctic region to protect newly-melted sea lanes and land routes, allied forces will gain a logistical foothold in an undeveloped region. Even more, building new icebreakers to replace the two remaining US Coast Guard vessel will ensure continued capability in forward presence and sea control as well as signaling commitment in the form of personnel and appropriations. Finally, increasing multilateral arctic training exercises amongst northern NATO allies, forming a joint interagency task force – while also continuing cooperative efforts across the Arctic Council is needed to demonstrate US resolve to prevent China and Russia from asserting de facto control of the North Pole.

While not a panacea, actionable measures – besides words – by the US and her allies will breathe fresh air into Cold War-era Arctic policies. This will demonstrate that the West will not permit this dynamic and valuable region to fall prey to bellicose Russian behavior. Working with international partners through the Arctic Council and NATO and by revamping US efforts in the Arctic, it is possible not only to enforce the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea, but to ensure American prosperity across the entire region. Guaranteeing the Commons of the Arctic, especially EEZs, will ensure American hegemony for the 21st century. If not, Arctic spoils will go to those, like Russia, that militarize it first.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US Air Force, Department of the Air Force, Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the US government.

Dr. Jahara Matisek (Major, U.S. Air Force) Assistant Professor, Department of Military & Strategic Studies, U.S. Air Force Academy. Non-Resident Fellow, Modern War Institute, West Point, U.S. Military Academy

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The BrahMos Test and its Implications

Musawar Sandhu

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The BrahMos which derives its nomenclature from the two rivers, the Brahmaputra in India and Moskva in Russia is claimed to be the world’s fastest cruise missile according to the Indian defence ministry’s latest press release. This Supersonic Cruise Missile is the culmination of a joint venture that was laid out in 1998 between Russia and India. On May 22, 2019 a day before the Indian general election results, India successfully test fired an air-launched ramjet-powered version of the BrahMos Cruise missile from a Sukhoi Su-30 MKI fighter jet. Boasting a range of 185 miles (300 kilometres) and the top speed of 2140 miles (3,450 kilometres) per hour, this missile is also claimed to be equipped with stealth technology rendering it undetectable by radar. The Indian defence ministry further maintained that the launch of the missile was quite smooth, and it followed the desired path before hitting the target at pinpoint accuracy.

The BrahMos has already been successfully tested from submarine, naval ship and land-based platforms. With the air launch of the BrahMos, India has purportedly acquired its long-sought strike capability from large standoff distances onto land and sea-based targets. Since 2016, India as a member of the Missile Control Technology Regime (MCTR) also intends to sell this weapon system on the International market with a special focus on South African and Southeast Asian states. The BrahMos has been highlighted as a product of the numerous technological advances made by its arms industries as part of its effort at greater indigenization. This move thus serves as one of the key steps taken towards India’s ambition of becoming a net exporter of arms, as opposed to one of the world’s largest importers as it is today.

This addition to India’s existing Missiles capability has considerable ramifications for Pakistan. For example, India intends to induct two squadrons of theSu-30 MKI fighter aircraft modified to be equipped with the BrahMos cruise missile. This would considerably enhance India’s standoff and first strike capabilities against Pakistan altering the strategic balance. India has always endeavoured to create space for limited war with Pakistan remaining well within the threshold of nuclear deterrence. With the inclusion of the BrahMos in the modified Su-30 aircraft, the strategic balance between Pakistan and India is likely to have grave implications for existing peace and stability in the South Asian region.

Within the post-Pulwama scenario where two Indian aircraft were shot down by Pakistan’s air force, there emerged certain gaps inIndia’s air warfare capabilities. This test can be thus seen as an attempt to address these gaps while adding to its overall capabilities. Being the world’s fastest cruise missile, it also acts as an anti-ship weapon with piercing capability that wouldpose a serious threat to Pakistan’s land and naval assets as well.

Pakistan in response successfully test fired its all-weather, nuclear payload-capable ballistic missile Shaheen–IIa day after the Indian test. This was carried out as training launch aimed at ensuring the operational readiness of Pakistan’s strategic forces’ capabilities. This test however may not be termed as a direct response because both systems have been designed differently keeping in mind their specific objectives. As per the official statement of Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), Shaheen–IIfully meets Pakistan’s strategic objective of maintaining its desired level of deterrence stability in the region. As a result, this test was aimed at projecting that any misadventure by India in the form of preemptive or counterforce strike would be dealt with an all-out attack on counter value targets instead.

It thus follows that India with its relatively larger economy and ambitions to dominate the region is currently provoking Pakistan into a costly arms race which it cannot afford at the moment. India on the other hand can afford the costly defensive capability of a multitier Ballistic Missile Defence System (BMDS) spread across its territories. In this regard, there is a consensus among Pakistan’s various diplomats, scholars and military planners that it should avoid indulging in an arms race with India, and instead should focus on enhancing the quality of its penetrative strike capability including second strike vis-à-vis India.

Hence, coming back to the implications of the latest test of the BrahMos, the missile race in South Asia has become immensely complex and multilayered with the introduction of supersonic and stealth capabilities. Both Pakistan and India, have to show some restraint for lasting peace and stability is to be maintained within the region. Since both country share a 3323 Km border (including Line of Control (LoC) in Jammu & Kashmir sector)with each other, any minute miscalculation in terms of detection, reaction and short flight times of the missiles may prove catastrophic for the entire region. In this regard, it is thus imperative that there exist sensible leadership on both sides that priorities restraint especially considering the fact that their actions directly affect the lives of almost one-fourth of the world’s population.

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