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Pakistan’s Second Strike Capability: Implications for South Asian Stability

Mehwish Akram

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The aim of this paper is to analyze the implications of Pakistan Second Strike Capability on the stability of South Asia using the lens of structural realism. This paper is divided into four main parts that are how Pakistan second strike capability will influence policies at national level within in Pakistan at government level and response of epistemic community towards this development.

Secondly, how Pakistan second strike capability will have its impact on regional dynamic especially its effects on Indian side at their government level and in terms of its effects on the epistemic community of India. Thirdly, what would be the international response with respect to Pakistan second strike capability? According to the international community, this would have the stabilizing effect on the South Asian region.

India already has a second strike capability it’s the ability of the state to strike back at the enemy through sea-based nuclear weapons as their backup. But what if Pakistan also acquires this capability it would have a stabilizing effect on this region. This would balance the power in the South Asian region. The first question that is needed to be answered is whether Pakistan has a second strike capability or not. If Pakistan has a second strike that is claimed in conference arranged by SVI in Islamabad former Defense Secretary retired Lt Gen Naeem Khalid Lodhi assured those present of Pakistan’s Second Strike Capability against India – a military term meaning that Pakistan is in a position to defend itself should its land-based nuclear Arsenal be neutralized This revelation completely changed the security dynamics of the region. However, Gen Lodhi, refrained from going into further details about what exactly constitutes Pakistan’s second strike capability or whether it was land, sea or air based, nor did he provide any clues as to whether Pakistan was any closer to achieving a submarine-based “assured second strike capability” considering that India is known to be working towards this .

Pakistani sea-based second strike capability will depend on a sea-launched alternative of the Hatf-VII Babur cruise missile. The Hatf-VII a medium-range subsonic cruise missile that is submarine-based launch system would need to operate in waters relatively close to the potential enemy’s shores (in Pakistan’s case, India). This brings up a problem for Pakistan’s plans for a sea-based deterrent that more established nuclear powers with sea-based deterrents such as the United States, Russia, and the United Kingdom haven’t faced. The credibility of a second strike capability lies in the difficulty of detecting submarines carrying submarine-launch ballistic missiles. Undersea radars and other anti-submarine warfare techniques already a major point of interest for the Indian armed forces could undermine Pakistan’s sea-based deterrent.

Pakistani Government stance on Second Strike Capability

The official stance of a government of Pakistan can be traced back in 2012 when they announced the creation of a Naval Strategic Force Command. It implied that the country now possessed a sea-based second nuclear strike capability. But there is no official stance about Pakistan second strike capability because government officials avoid giving any statement related to it. The likely chances are that Pakistan is near to acquire second strike capability. According to experts, Pakistan has a potential as they had been working on improving their Naval Strategic Force since 2012.

As per India Today, “Pakistan will build two types of submarines with Chinese assistance the Project S-26 and Project S-30. The vessels are to be built at the Submarine Rebuild Complex (SRC) facility being developed at Ormara, west of Karachi. Intelligence sources believe the S-30 submarines are based on the Chinese Qing class submarines-3,000-tonne conventional submarines which can launch three 1,500-km range nuclear-tipped cruise missiles from its conning tower. A Very Low Frequency (VLF) station at Turbat, in southern Balochistan, will communicate with these submerged strategic submarines.”

This provides evidence that Pakistan is working on building its Naval Strategic force with the help of the China. They are improving the existing capacity of their submarines that can carry a nuclear warhead over them. S-30 Submarines are replicated copy of Chinese Qing class submarines that have an ability to launch a 1,500km range of ballistic missiles. But at the official level, we have no statement that claimed that Pakistan government accepted openly that they have acquired or near to the point of achieving Second Strike Capability. Although Indian side accused Pakistani side they have Second strike capability but they are avoiding to claimed it.

Epistemic community views about Pakistani Second Strike Capability 

Pakistani epistemic community viewed Pakistani Second Strike capability critically because according to them the never-ending arms race between Pakistan and India will have the destabilizing effect on the region. According to the epistemic community of Pakistan, the second Strike capability will disturb the stability in the region. India will go further for an arms race in order to achieve arms superiority in the South Asian region. The increase of nuclear weapons within the region will have negative repercussions. It would increase the number of nuclear arsenals in the South Asian region.

The epistemic community of Pakistan viewed Pakistan Second Strike capability critically as for them it is another form of nuclear escalation between two regional players. Pakistani Second Strike Capability will not have stabilizing effect on the region. India will not accept Pakistan’s Second Strike Capability as it would undermine the power of Indian Second Strike Capacity. The balance of power as per Indian side will be disturbed because when both countries will have Second Strike capability.

The epistemic community advocated the idea of Nuclear Free Weapons Zone in South Asia because it would initially limit the number of nuclear weapons in the region and then eventually towards complete disarmament of the South Asian region. It was rejected by Indian side the epistemic community criticized the Indian role for not preventing nuclear proliferation in the region. The unnecessary arm race in South Asia is a source of concern and worry.

Indian Official Stance about Pakistan second strike capability

The Indian government openly accused Pakistan that they have Second Strike This would undermine their ability to influence Pakistan and other regional states according to their national interests. But if Pakistan acquires the Second Strike Capability it would undermine their power within the region. India has aspirations to become a regional hegemon in South Asia such developments would hurt their interests and their long-term goals in the region. India always suspects Pakistan actions because of their historical bitter legacy and history of wars between both countries.

Indian media and their government blamed Pakistan. They have Second Strike Capability and they got this technology from China. Indian observed Pak-China relations closely because for them the mutual relations between these two countries would harm their interests. India has border issues with China. The Indian government is suspicious of Pakistani policy posturing because they are major rivals in the region and compete with each other within the region. India is economically more viable than Pakistan. In terms of their nuclear capability they are more or less equal.

According to Indian side Shaheen III would suggest that Pakistan will have the ability to target Indian naval vessels in the Bay of Bengal. Pakistan would need an extremely effective and accurate terminal guidance system. This would help a missile to trace the targeted vessels movement and adjust its trajectory accordingly after flying across the entire Indian mainland. Another benefit which would make Shaheen III standout could be the multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRV) capabilities. Pakistan would use these payloads on Shaheen II as well.

From an Indian perspective, the status-quo is highly irrational and unstable in the long-run. The Indian problems are further increased by the fact that the Pakistani state is in despair today with a multilayer of threats emerging from its domestic instability. A society which is near to collapse with serious problems of insurgency, ethnolinguistic and politico-religious clashes and a failing economy gives India an upper hand. Despite Islamabad’s statement that its atomic weapons and the related infrastructure is in safe hands with multiple layers of security but there is a deep sense of uneasiness in the Indian strategic landscape.

Views of Indian Epistemic Community

Indian epistemic community viewed Pakistani Second Strike capability critically because according to them the never-ending arms race between Pakistan and India will have the destabilizing effect on the region. According to the epistemic community of India, the second Strike capability will disturb the stability in the region because India will go further for arms race in order to achieve arms superiority in the South Asian region. The increase of nuclear weapons within the region will have negative repercussions.

The epistemic community of India viewed Pakistan Second Strike capability critically as for them it is another form of nuclear escalation between two regional players. Pakistani Second Strike Capability will not have stabilizing effect on the region. Pakistan will not accept Indian Second Strike Capability. This would undermine the power of Pakistan Second Strike Capacity and balance of power in the South Asian region.

The epistemic community advocated the idea of limiting the number of nuclear weapons especially sea-based nuclear arsenals in South Asia. It would initially limit the number of nuclear weapons in the region and then eventually towards complete disarmament of the South Asian region. It was rejected by Pakistani epistemic community as they criticized the role of Pakistan for not making this region a stable and peaceful place without nuclear weapons.

Impact of Second Strike Capability on South Asia

According to Pakistan, their Second Strike Capability will have stabilizing effects on South Asia region because it would balance the power between India and Pakistan. India and Pakistan are two major powers of this region they need to build consensus in order to get rid of unnecessary arms race within the South Asian region. The Pakistani perspective is based upon their perception of security as they feel insecure from India.

According to an epistemic community of Pakistan, it will not bring stability but instead, this would start another type of arms race between India and Pakistan. The security dilemma is the main reason why these two states can never feel secure as they suspect each other behavior and their foreign policies. The epistemic community is of the view that they should control their nuclear arms race in order to secure the peace of the South Asian region. This can only be achieved by building trust between India and Pakistan.

India on the hand is of the view that Pakistan Second Strike Capability will have a destabilizing effect on South Asia because it disturbs the balance of power. Pakistan Second Strike Capability will undermine the power of Indian superiority in terms of creating a security threat for them by challenging their abilities to launch the possible attack if they are targeted by Pakistan. In general, Indians view Pakistan Second Strike Capability as the major threat to their security. The security dilemma will cause more harm to the stability of the South Asian region.

According to Indian epistemic community, the Pakistani Second Strike Capability will cause more problems for both countries because they already feel insecure from each other. This would create more apprehensions about Pakistan. They are not willing to work for the stability of South Asian region their national interests are most vital than the regional security and harmony. The Indian epistemic community is very critical in explaining the role of Pakistan in promoting peace in the region and  ending the never-ending nuclear arms race in South Asia.

Theoretical Explanation 

According to structural or neo-realism first two concepts ‘anarchy’ and ‘structure’ are entwined. The ‘structure’ of the international system is called as ‘anarchic’. ‘Anarchy’ does not imply the presence of chaos and disorder. It simply refers to the absence of a world government (Waltz 1979, 88). With no overarching global authority that provides security and stability in international relations. The world politics is not formally and organized in hierarchical order. International politics is shaped by ‘anarchy’, in contrast to domestic politics that is structured by ‘hierarchy’. The international system is often defined in terms of an anarchic international structure.

An ‘anarchic structure’ has two main characteristics First every actor in the international system is responsible for protecting itself this interpretation the international system is “self-help system”. This system is consists of egoistic units who mainly search for to survival. National states are the only entities in international relations that have the centralized legitimate authority to use force to look after them from external threats. Sovereign states are the main units of the international system and the primary actors in world politics. Therefore, the organizing principle of the international structure is ‘anarchy’, and this ‘structure’ is defined in terms of states. Secondly, states always feel threatened by a potential attack from others.  

According to structural realism international world order is anarchic in nature as there is no centralized authority means that at international level there is no authority that regulates the behavior of states. The states are independent in their domestic dealing with people residing inside the state. Sovereignty is a power of a state to do whatever within the boundaries of the state no external power can interfere into the matters of the state. The state protects itself from threats by self-help as there is no authority that can provide security to the state.

Pakistan Second strike Capability is based upon the structural realism main assumptions that at international level there is anarchy that means there is no single authority at the international level that can ensure the security of the state. Under these circumstances, Pakistan Second Strike Capability is based upon the principle of self-help. Pakistan had to rely on its capabilities to ensure her security.

Pakistan feels insecure because India acquires Second Strike Capability and the balance of power is disturbed in the South Asian region. In order to ensure the security of Pakistan, they also acquired Second Strike Capability and try to balance the power in the South Asian region. As per structural realism, it is right of the state to ensure its security by relying on their abilities without any help from external powers or external actors to protect their vital national interests. In case of South Asia, Pakistan and India are rivals and both competing with each other to dominate the regional politics of the South Asia.

In my view, Structural realism explains the behavior of Pakistan because they feel insecure of growing non-traditional security threats emerging from India. India is far more superior in comparison to Pakistan in terms of its conventional power. Pakistan is competing with India by increasing nuclear capability and tactical weapons also called as mini-nukes. Pakistan is small state as compared to India in terms of its size and power. There is no centralized authority that can provide security to all states so they had to rely on their capacity to protect them from external threats.

Pakistan is relatively an insecure state because of the historical legacy of bitter relationships with India and they have fought numbers of wars in order to reassert their power within the South Asia. Pakistan is not as strong as India but Pakistan tried to project its power within the region. The Second Strike Capability of Pakistan is the example how they are trying to maintain a balance of power in South Asia. Although India has aspirations to become regional hegemon Pakistan is trying to maintain a balance to prevent India from dominating the whole region of South Asia. According to structural realism, anarchy is the main root cause of the conflict and insecurity that why states tend to accumulate more power in order to feel secure. The structural realism explains Pakistan Second Strike Capability in most appropriate manner because it is the international structure that is forcing Pakistan to improve their security by increasing their capacity to deal with insecurities. 

Conclusion

According to Pakistan, their Second Strike Capability will have stabilizing effects on South Asia region because it would disturb the balance the power between India and Pakistan. The Pakistani perspective is based upon their perception of security as they feel threatened from India. According to the Pakistan, their Second Strike capability will help to maintain a balance of power because India already has second strike capability if both states have this capability. It would balance the power configuration of South Asia.

Pakistan Second strike Capability is based upon the structural realism main assumptions that at international level there is anarchy which means that there is no single authority at the international level.  Under these circumstances, Pakistan is also improving its ability to protect her from potential threat emanating from the Indian side. Pakistan Second Strike Capability is based upon the principle of self-help. Every state is dependent upon their own capacity to protect them from external threats.

India on the hand is of the view that Pakistan Second Strike Capability will have the destabilizing effect on South Asia because it will disturb the balance of power in the region. Pakistan. In general, Indians view Pakistan Second Strike Capability as the main threat to their security. The security dilemma in case of South Asia will cause more harm to the stability of this region.

To conclude the stability of South Asia is dependent upon the behavior of both Pakistan and India they need to build trust and their nuclear doctrine are not very clearly stated as they have few abstract concepts within their doctrines. Pakistan and India need to remove the misunderstanding to bring peace and stability in the region. South Asia is a significant region in terms of its geostrategic location and its role in international politics is promising because they take part international negotiations on disarmament and non-proliferation.

Mehwish Akram holds masters degree in International Relations and currently doing M Phil in Political Science. Her areas of interest are Democracy, Political theory and Environmental politics .

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Modernization of nuclear weapons continues- number of peacekeepers declines

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The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) launched the findings of SIPRI Yearbook 2018, which assesses the current state of armaments, disarmament and international security. Key findings include the following: all the nuclear weapon-possessing states are developing new nuclear weapon systems and modernizing their existing systems; and the number of personnel deployed with peace operations worldwide continues to fall while the demand is increasing.

​​​​​​World nuclear forces: reductions remain slow as modernization continues

At the start of 2018 nine states—the United States, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea)—possessed approximately 14 465 nuclear weapons. This marked a decrease from the approximately 14 935 nuclear weapons that SIPRI estimated these states possessed at the beginning of 2017.

The decrease in the overall number of nuclear weapons in the world is due mainly to Russia and the USA—which together still account for nearly 92 per cent of all nuclear weapons—further reducing their strategic nuclear forces pursuant to the implementation of the 2010 Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (New START).

Despite making limited reductions to their nuclear forces, both Russia and the USA have long-term programmes under way to replace and modernize their nuclear warheads, missile and aircraft delivery systems, and nuclear weapon production facilities. The USA’s most recent Nuclear Posture Review (NPR), published in February 2018, reaffirmed the modernization programmes and approved the development of new nuclear weapons. The NPR also emphasized expanding nuclear options to deter and, if necessary, defeat both nuclear and ‘non-nuclear strategic attacks’.

‘The renewed focus on the strategic importance of nuclear deterrence and capacity is a very worrying trend,’ says Ambassador Jan Eliasson, Chair of the SIPRI Governing Board. ‘The world needs a clear commitment from the nuclear weapon states to an effective, legally binding process towards nuclear disarmament.’

The nuclear arsenals of the other nuclear-armed states are considerably smaller, but all are either developing or deploying new nuclear weapon systems or have announced their intention to do so. India and Pakistan are both expanding their nuclear weapon stockpiles as well as developing new land-, sea- and air-based missile delivery systems. China continues to modernize its nuclear weapon delivery systems and is slowly increasing the size of its nuclear arsenal.

In 2017 North Korea continued to make technical progress in developing its nuclear weapon capabilities, including the test of—what was claimed to be—a thermonuclear weapon, in September. North Korea also demonstrated unexpected rapid progress in the testing of two new types of long-range ballistic missile delivery systems.

‘Despite the clear international interest in nuclear disarmament reflected in the conclusion in 2017 of the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons, the modernization programmes under way in the nuclear weapon-possessing states indicate that genuine progress towards nuclear disarmament will remain a distant goal,’ says Shannon Kile, Senior Researcher with the SIPRI Disarmament, Arms Control and Non-proliferation Programme.

* ‘Deployed warheads’ refers to warheads placed on missiles or located on bases with operational forces. ** ‘Other warheads’ refers to stored or reserve warheads and retired warheads awaiting dismantlement.

Total figures include the highest estimate when a range is given. Figures for North Korea are uncertain and are not included in total figures. All estimates are approximate.

Number of peacekeepers falls globally, despite increasing demand

There were 63 multilateral peace operations active during 2017 (one more than in 2016): 25 operations were deployed in Africa, 18 in Europe, 9 in the Middle East, 6 in Asia and Oceania, and 5 in the Americas.

The total number of personnel deployed in multilateral peace operations decreased by 4.5 per cent during 2017, from 152 822 to 145 911. Nearly three-quarters of all personnel were based in Africa. The decrease in the number of personnel is explained by the fall, by 7.6 per cent, in deployments by the United Nations, whereas the number of personnel in non-UN operations increased by 2.3 per cent to 47 557.

Although the UN clearly remains the principal actor in peace operations, African actors are claiming an increasing role in African peace and security matters. This is reflected in the establishment in February 2017 of the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel) Joint Force (Force Conjointe des Etats du G5 Sahel, FC-G5S).

UN peacekeeping reform remained high on the international agenda in 2017. However, these discussions were overshadowed by two other significant developments during the year: the greater insecurity of personnel deployed in UN peace operations; and the efforts—particularly by the US administration—to drastically reduce the UN peacekeeping budget.

In 2017, UN missions witnessed a dramatic escalation in fatalities linked to hostile acts—in both absolute terms (from 34 in 2016 to 61 in 2017) and as a ratio of the number of uniformed personnel deployed (from 0.31 to 0.61 per 1000 uniformed personnel). Whereas in preceding years most fatalities occurred in the UN mission in Mali, in 2017 the UN operations in the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of the Congo also faced substantial losses.

‘An independent review into the security of peacekeepers released in 2017 (2017 Cruz Report), suggested that UN peacekeeping operations should adopt a more robust and less risk-averse force posture,’ says Timo Smit, Researcher with the SIPRI Peace Operations and Conflict Management Programme. ‘However, this raises the question, which was not addressed by the Cruz Report, as to how the UN should generate sufficient forces that are both willing and capable of adopting such a posture.’

In 2017, UN peace operations—like African peace operations—could no longer be certain of predictable and sustainable funding. The budget cuts and related troop reductions meant that the UN had to rethink its strategy in many operations. ‘Is it realistic to expect the UN to continue to do more with less, and is it worth taking the risk?’ says Dr Jair van der Lijn, Director of SIPRI’s Peace Operations and Conflict Management Programme.

‘A number of finance-contributing countries hoped that budget cuts might be used pragmatically to strengthen peacekeeping reform. However, the actual effects of resource reduction on some operations might put peacekeepers at further risk and leave populations more vulnerable,’ says Van der Lijn.

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NSG Expansion for Non-NPT States: India and Pakistan’s Case

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The ascent of the NSG as one of the critical and influentialcartel groups promoting the cause of non-proliferation intends to urge India to become part of it by passing the chronicled reality that the NSG was created against the Indian nuclear weapons tests. The Great Powers possessing nuclear weapons have already given certain exemptions to India in terms of trading in the field of nuclear technology transfer. However, these special exemptions by the NSG members are not consistent with the purported arrangements of the NSG that does not permit a state unless it is party to the NPT.

Albeit Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) was made against the Indian atomic test, it is astonishing to note that even the NSG’s revised guidelines of June 2013 did not name India specifically, whose nuclear weapon test wound up in the creation of NSG.

NSG works on the consensus by following the two prominent sets of its normative posture. Firstly, it is responsible to strictly follow the guidelines for nuclear exports. Secondly, it also relates to nuclear related exports. It is imperative to note that the first set of NSG’s guidelines deals with elements such as a) nuclear materials, b) nuclear reactors and equipments, c) non- nuclear materials for reactors, d) plants and equipments for the reprocessing, enrichment and conversion of nuclear material and, e) nuclear technology for each of the above nuclear export elements. Whilst, the second set of NSG guidelines largely deals with nuclear export related materials such as fuel cycle and nuclear explosive for industrial purposes only. Both of these two sets of NSG guidelines are consistent with the provisions of internationally binding treaties in the field of nuclear non-proliferation such as the NPT and many other.

Since the NSG rises up as one of the important cartel groups in the field of non-proliferation, it is not free from the critical issues it confronts. For instance, the Indo-US nuclear deal and the NSG’s nuclear exemptions to India has become a critical issue for the NSG in terms of sustaining its credibility. This indicates that NSG may drift away from the provisions it sets and undermine its own set of guidelines.

However, there can be certain plausible options that the NSG may undertake to restore and enhance further its normative posture and credibility as one of the rising cartels in the field of international non-proliferation like the NPT would recognize both India and Pakistan as nuclear weapons states before they think of joining the NSG. Presumably, as India and Pakistan enhance their nuclear maturity, the NPT and NSG could eventually recognize these nuclear weapons states with the ultimate motive to strengthen the non-proliferation regime

It is also encouraging that the NSG could expand its membership by inducting more states that may include those states which are either Party to the NPT or those who have not yet joined the NPT. If in case India is embraced before Pakistan, it could have critical consequences for regional arms race and increased over reliance on nuclear weapons in the South Asia.  Alternatively, the NSG could relax its provisions unanimously agreeing that it could eventually pave the way for both India and Pakistan to join the NSG. However, both would remain legitimate and responsible nuclear weapons states by following the essential parameters of the international non-proliferation regime including that of the additional protocol of the IAEA. Furthermore, the NSG might adopt tostrictlystand by its provisions without showing any flexibility by not allowing both India and Pakistan to become part of the NSG unless they fully satisfy the guidelines of the NSG particularly joining of the NPT.

In a nutshell, this may not be favorable to the NSG as this would show NSG too rigid, discriminatory, and limited by not increasing its membership. Plausibly, expanding its membership and promoting the cause of non-proliferation, the NSG could enhance its credibility in the field of non-proliferation by making both India and Pakistan obligatory to the essential parameters of the non-proliferation.

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NATO–Russia Council: What Are the Outcomes?

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The principal outcome of the NATO–Russia Council (NRC) held on May 31, 2018 is that it actually took place. The Council had been planned for the eve of the next NATO summit scheduled for July 11–12, 2018. Therefore, both parties have clear reasons and motives to get together and discuss mutual interests and concerns within this specific context.

In terms of practical outcomes, the Council offered few. The agenda generally repeats the limited range of issues from the six previous meetings at the ambassadorial level. Agreeing to meet with NATO, Russia sends the alliance a positive signal that the country is ready to maintain political and diplomatic contacts within the Council and discuss mutual concerns even in the current “reduced” regime, and that it is also ready to pursue the dialogue, search for opportunities to return to a dialogue on particular issues and carry out work in the areas of mutual interest.

Unlike the previous sessions of the Council, the results of these recent meetings were not made public. The websites of official agencies ran only short communiques. Today, Russia has taken a serious and well-thought-out step by not abandoning the dialogue proposed by NATO. At the same time, however, we expect the Council meeting to contribute to practical progress, to help achieve a productive dialogue and to restore a practical agenda.

The principal outcome of the NATO–Russia Council held on May 31, 2018 is that it actually took place. While it was NATO that proposed holding the consultations, it was unclear what the real agenda would be and what practical outcomes were to be expected. And these are the key issues. Russia continues to emphasize the need for tangible results, particularly in the current political crisis. On the other hand, it is also noteworthy that the Council was planned for the eve of the next NATO summit, which is scheduled for July 11–12, 2018. Therefore, both parties have clear reasons and motives to get together and discuss mutual interests and concerns within this specific context. Despite the apparent stalemate in the NRC, the opportunity to compare notes in the run-up to the most important event on the NATO calendar, which will be attended by heads of state and government, should not be squandered. The Russian side largely took these very circumstances into account.

In terms of practical outcomes, the Council offered few. The agenda generally repeats the limited range of issues from the six previous meetings at the ambassadorial level. Although the participants of the NRC round table did not plan to discuss anything new, they naturally took the new realities and the military and political situation into account. The emphasis at the previous NATO–Russia Council was on the WEST 2017 joint strategic military exercise between the armed forces of the Russian Federation and Belarus. This time, in discussing transparency, reducing risks and tensions and preventing military incidents, Russia was primarily interested in the upcoming large-scale Trident Juncture 2018 exercise.

Clearly, this will be a major exercise with the participation of up to 45,000 people, including representatives of partner countries. And Russia is understandably interested in the relation of the military activity to the declared functions of containing Russia. At the time, it is apparent that a sufficiently substantive discussion of the issues of reducing military threats and risks and developing joint steps in that direction cannot be considered without stepping up the inter-military dialogue, and that dialogue still does not work in the NATO–Russia Council format. Contacts have been established between NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe and Russia’s Chief of the General Staff, but that is not enough. It is obvious that discussing Risk Reduction – the problems of cutting risks, preventing and neutralizing military threats – requires a systemic dialogue, not only between military leaders, but also between specialized military experts. NATO does not agree to this: since April 1, 2014, all practical contacts have been cut, and practical cooperation and interaction have been blocked.

Agreeing to meet with NATO, Russia sends the alliance a positive signal that the country is ready to maintain political and diplomatic contacts within the NRC and discuss mutual concerns even in the current “reduced” regime, and that it is also ready to pursue the dialogue, search for opportunities to return to a dialogue on particular issues and carry out work in the areas of mutual interest.

It is not easy to confirm such sentiments in current conditions, particularly since seven diplomats from the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to NATO were stripped of their accreditation in March 2018. Russia does not merely view this as an unhelpful step; it sees it as narrowing the options for dialogue. But Moscow nevertheless agreed to the Council meeting, thus putting the ball in NATO’s court. Moving away from diplomatic parlance, this is a gift from the Russian side, since NATO will need to report on the second track of its relations with Russia at the July summit: balancing “effective containment” with “successful dialogue.” This task had become all the more pressing for the Alliance in the run-up to the summit. Its headquarters would like to demonstrate that the adopted formula had been productive, and Moscow did not want to exacerbate relations and give grounds for more anti-Russia rhetoric. Jens Stoltenberg can now quite responsibly report at the July summit that the dialogue is developing, without focusing attention on the difficulties and its practical ineffectiveness. Yet, if Russia sends such a signal and “gives a gift” to NATO before the summit, then NATO should consider the issue of how to pragmatically develop the dialogue with Russia in the future. Of course, it is also a very important test for Russia. NATO’s future policy will be clearer after the summit: whether the alliance will use the very fact that the NATO–Russia Council took place as a propaganda tool for reporting on the successes of its policy regarding Russia, since the latter is prepared to maintain a dialogue. Conversely, Russia’s signal could be interpreted differently, and NATO may consider and discuss the prospects and contents of its future dialogue with Russia in a pragmatic and consistent manner.

Agreeing to meet with NATO, Russia sends the alliance a positive signal.

Another nuance that is also a fairly important circumstance is the fact that the results of the Council’s meeting were not made public. Communiques on the websites of NATO and the Russian mission were very brief. They stated the agenda and briefly listed the issues under discussion. Moreover, the parties abstained from talking to journalists, and that makes the current Council different from its previous sessions, which were invariably followed by political commentary – including comments from the NATO Secretary General on the alliance’s website and answers to questions from the media. Now there is nothing of the sort, and this reticence means that the situation is unclear, and we should look at how NATO will react in the future and what discussions surrounding the Russian question at the summit will mean.

The topic of Russia at the upcoming summit is especially important against the background of events that may have an unfavourable impact on the general atmosphere of the summit. For example, the major complications in Euro-Atlantic relations, with Trump trying to stress the rather unpopular tenet of the “Old Europe” and showcase the successes of New Europe, which follows Washington’s politics and policies. Trump believes that “Old Europe,” primarily Germany, which has rather unsuccessfully laid claim to European leadership, is moving in the “wrong” direction.” This context is highly unfavourable for the summit itself, and possibly for Russia–Europe relations. A number of specific events, such as the attack perpetrated by the United States, the United Kingdom and France against military facilities in Syria, the publication of U.S. plans to deploy permanent military bases in Poland, etc., could also have a negative effect. This is all very serious and should be taken into account by both NATO and Russia. Today, Russia has made a serious, well-thought-out step by not abandoning the dialogue proposed by NATO. At the same time, however, we expect the Council meeting to contribute to tangible progress, help achieve a productive dialogue and restore a practical agenda.

First published in our partner RIAC

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