Defense Secretary James Mattis while unveiling the strategy of the US Defense Department on January 19, 2018 underscored the key priorities of the US in the security sphere. He made some significant points.
First, Mattis spoke about the threat which the United States faces from both Russia and China. Said Mattis:
‘We face growing threats from revisionist powers as different as China and Russia, nations that seek to create a world consistent with their authoritarian models—pursuing veto authority over other nation’s economic, diplomatic, and security decisions,’
Both Russia and China criticized the US’ strategy.
Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov responding to Mattis’ remarks and the Trump Administration’s approach towards Russia, said: ‘it is regrettable that instead of having normal dialogue, instead of using the basis of international law, the US is trying to prove their leadership through such confrontational strategies and concepts’.
A spokesman of the Chinese embassy in Washington reacting to the report and Mattis’ speech said: ‘…if some people look at the world through a Cold War, zero-sum game mindset, then they are destined to see only conflict and confrontation.’
Second, Mattis spoke about a free Indo-Pacific, and the increasing relevance of alliances and partnerships. Said the US Defence Secretary: ‘A free and open Indo-Pacific region provides prosperity and security for all. We will strengthen our alliances and partnerships in the Indo-Pacific to a networked security architecture capable of deterring aggression, maintaining stability, and ensuring free access to common domains,’
How would the US strategy be viewed in Asia, particularly India?
Mattis’ reference to threats emanating from China, and the reference towards the authoritarian models being pursued by these nations is significant, Trump himself has been agnostic to political systems, and while speaking of Democratic systems, he has been largely indifferent. While the US did make compromises with authoritarian rulers, and tyrannical regimes, Trump does not even pay lip service to the values, the US has stood for long.
Martin Wolf in an article for the Financial Times titled Davos: The liberal international order is sick’ very rightly says: ‘Yet now, when potent authoritarian regimes challenge democracy, the US has withdrawn its moral support. Mr Trump even shows sympathy for autocrats abroad’
While the new strategy speaks about alliances, Trump has been critical of NATO. Mattis too spoke in favour of alliances saying, ‘We will be willing to be persuaded by them, recognizing that not all good ideas come from the country with the most aircraft carriers,”
Even in the context of China, Trump has been unpredictable. He was floored by the warm reception given to him as well as the commitments made by Chinese investors, during his Chinese visit in November 2017. Trump while speaking at the Great Hall of the People during his visit blamed previous US administrations for the Trade Deficit. Said the US President:
“But in actuality I do blame past [US] administrations for allowing this out of control trade deficit to take place and to grow. We have to fix this because it just doesn’t work … it is just not sustainable.”
Mattis’ reference to a free and fair Indo-Pacific would certainly be welcomed in India, Japan and Australia. The Quad Alliance (India, Australia, Japan and the US) has repeatedly spoken in favor of a free Indo-Pacific, and Democracy has been repeatedly cited as a key common factor. At the meeting held between representatives of the four countries, on the eve of the East Asia Summit in Manila in November 2017, the thrust was on a free and fair Indo-Pacific. There was also an emphasis on shared values of these four countries. The US State Department issued a statement, saying:
“committed to deepening cooperation, which rests on a foundation of shared democratic values and principles.”
Causes of concern
While there is a lot to welcome in the Defence Strategy unveiled by the US, New Delhi would pay careful attention to a few points:
Mattis spoke about terrorism. There is no doubt, that the Trump Administration has come up with some tough words for Pakistan based terror groups, including those targeting India, such as JeM (Jaish-E-Mohammad) and LeT (Lashkar-E-Taiba). During his meeting with Pakistani Foreign Minister, Khawaja Asif, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had shared a list of 20 terror groups operating from Pakistan including LeT and JeM. US has also repeatedly supported a proposal to declare JeM chief Maulana Masood Azhar as a terrorist, though China has blocked this move. At the same time, seeing Trump’s unpredictability it remains to be seen whether he will go whole hog against terror groups targeting India. Apart from this, countries like Saudi Arabia and China will do their best to soften US attitudes towards Pakistan.
Second, Mattis’ aggressive remarks against not just China will also change geo-political dynamics, and push Russia closer not just to China, as well as Pakistan. This certainly is not good news for India.
Third while the report targets Iran, dubbing it as a rogue state and equating it with North Korea, the latter is extremely important for New Delhi, since India has lent financial assistance for the Chabahar Port which will be New Delhi’s gateway to Central Asia as well as Afghanistan. India would be vary of a situation where Iran too sways decisively towards China. So far, New Delhi has successfully balanced its relationship with US and Iran, while Iran has managed robust economic ties with China, while also strengthening linkages with India.
In conclusion, the US Defense Strategy is a mixed bag for India. New Delhi realizes the importance of the US, and the bilateral relationship has moved beyond individuals. Yet the US President’s unpredictability, and tendency to assume, that complex issues can be dealt with through mere transactionalism would be a cause of worry.
Indian Nuclear Safety After Nuclearization In South Asia
The geopolitics of the subcontinent is best defined by the intense enmity comprised of bipolar equation i.e. India and Pakistan. Both states are entangled with a complex regional security framework with major powers playing their role in it. Within this nuclear weapons have played a substantial role to revolutionize the relations among major powers and South Asian states.
In the geo-strategic landscape of South Asia, new challenges to security and peace are arising. Interestingly, the events that led to the May tests by India displaying its hegemonic designs is not merely an historical exercise. These tests at that time were also a death blow to American alliance with India.
After the May tests conducted by India, the landscape for the region changed all together, where, South Asia becomes a more dangerous place, and possibly a less-stable one. The decision to conduct these tests by India was initially greeted with widespread praise, but this has given way to an increasingly sober consideration of the new risks and costs that they engendered.
Keeping in mind the intentions India had in its mind, when it comes to nuclear tests, the plutonium for its 1974 and 1998 tests was diverted from its “civilian” nuclear facilities. After diverting this technology to pursue its hegemonic designs, India continued to claim its explosion was “peaceful” and advocated global nuclear disarmament, even as it rejected proposals by Pakistan to denuclearize South Asia.
The United States, the European Union and other countries though imposed sanctions for carrying out the tests on both countries, including restricting funding by international development banks. These sanctions were lifted quickly from India, no matter how well-meaning, served as an accelerant as far as the nuclear decision was concerned for the region. Washington seemed up till now to not to foreclose its dual role in dealing with both South Asian states, opening the way for the proliferation hawks (India) to tests and weaponization.
Henceforth, there are huge nuclear security issues in India. While the Indians don’t similarly tom-tom about their nuclear objectives in the realm of security and safety from rooftops. Any nuclear accident in India could have a serious impact on its neighbouring countries and hence, the insufficient safety and security measures are of great concern. After the extensive review, Indian auditor general informed that the nuclear program of the country is insecure and unregulated with many disorders. It further stated that the nuclear safety regulation in India had serious organizational flaws and numerous failings relative to international norms.
Apart from this, there are numerous facilities in India that use radioactive material for commercial purposes. Also it is believed that the facilities lax physical protection measures for the material. Such places include hospitals or cancer treatment centres, research facilities in the universities, industries like road construction and gas exploration.
Most importantly, in an email conversation, a former chairman of India Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) wrote that:
“In contrast [to Japan], in India we are most disorganized and unprepared for the handling of emergencies of any kind of even much less severity,”
He further added that:
“The AERB’s disaster preparedness oversight is mostly on paper and the drills they once in a while conduct are half-hearted efforts which amount to more [of] a sham.”
Adding in to this, in 2016, the EU mandated Conflict Armament Research’s report published upon weapons’-specific issues in conflict area, stated that seven Indian companies along with others have been found incorporating components used by the IS to fabricate improvised explosive devices (IEDs). The report has found that companies have produced, sold or received hundreds of components, such as detonators, cables and wires, used by IS terrorists to build IEDs.
This is disturbing as India being a party to the IAEA Convention on Physical Protection of Nuclear Material and its 2005 Amendment, is duty-bound to prevent the smuggling of atomic minerals of all kinds. This also comes in the backdrop of a 2014 report pegged “India’s nuclear security practices” that ranks it at 23rd among 25 countries known to possess at least a bomb’s-worth of fissile materials.
Arguably, it seems that the global nuclear security is as strong as the weakest link in the chain which deserves a more realistic assessment and is nothing more than only a patchwork of agreements, guidelines and multilateral engagement mechanisms. India has to take numerous steps to ensure the safety of its nuclear program. It is time India must shift its attention towards its nuclear safety. Due to the non-transparent nature of India’s nuclear energy sector, it is comparatively problematic to estimate the actual state of safety and security.
India’s Space Ambitions
On March 27, 2019 India has tested its first ever Anti-Satellite (ASAT) missile code named as ‘Mission Shakti’. India shot down one of its own Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite through a ballistic missile and became fourth country in the world after USA, Russia and China having the capability. ASAT weapons are the space weapons which allow a state to attack opponent space assets which disrupt communication channel. Indian ASAT test translates into New Delhi capability which can be used to destroy opponent satellites. The shooting down of its own low orbit satellite with a ground to space missile has made India a ‘space power’. This technology effects Intelligence, Reconnaissance and Surveillance (IRS) system of enemy state.
India has the ambitions to enhance its space capabilities as a part of its Defence Doctrine. This ASAT test by New Delhi touches a number of important issues which endanger the contemporary security environment of South Asia and the international security. At international level it generates a debate on space policy, politics and the weaponization. International community gave different reaction on Indian ASAT test. Indian missile test raised concerns in Pakistan as its security threats mainly coming from eastern border.
Pakistan responded that ‘ASAT test should have a matter of serious concern for global community, not only in terms generation of space debris but also because of its consequences for long term sustainability of peaceful space activities’. Bridenstine, administrator of NASA also condemned Indian ASAT test and said that 24 pieces out of 400 debris identified by NASA went above the apogee of International Space System (ISS) which could damage the ISS and other satellites. Russia and China also commended Indian ASAT test. Contrary, US reaction to Indian ASAT was quite supportive but they showed their reservation on debris. Pentagon’s statement in favor of Indian ASAT test shows clearly that US have biased attitude towards New Delhi’s developments. In general, such types of tests have negative impact on existing ISS. International rules and regulations about the space only stop a state from putting WMDs in the space. But it is a matter of concern that destruction of satellite creates debris which will ultimately affect the space system or other satellite. There should be a treaty which deals with the matter of debris.
South Asia security environment is marred with mutual hostility between two nuclear powers India and Pakistan. Owing to this enmity, both the states indulge in arms race. The action reaction spiral governs the arms race between India and Pakistan. This test will also start a new chapter of space race between two states.
The timing of the test i.e. 27th March was crucial in the context of existing tensions and aftermath of February 2019 military escalation between Pakistan and India. The crisis between two states started after 14 February Pulwama attacks in Indian occupied Kashmir (IOK) for which India blamed Pakistan. In this intense environment, the ASAT test opens up new avenue for intensification of existing clashes between the two nuclear armed neighbors. This test has strategic as well as political significance. Politically it is significant because soon after two weeks of this test, Indian general elections were going to be held. It can be said that the test was a way to strengthen BJP popularity and to gain right wing support in the elections.
Strategically, this test will not only disturb the stability of the region but also increase vulnerability which will ultimately challenge the existing deterrence stability of South Asia. Pakistan considers Indian developments a direct threat to its sovereignty; consequently this test can start a new space arms race in South Asia. Pakistan always in favor of demilitarization of space and tried to controlled arms race in South Asia. Pakistan due to economic constraints faces difficulties to maintain existing strategic balance of South Asia after Indian ongoing conventional and unconventional developments. International community especially US and West has dual standards vis-à-vis India and Pakistan. In this regard, Pakistan should further enhance its collaborations with China which is a time tested friend and strategic partner to maintain strategic stability of South Asian region.
Khalifa Haftar’s military advance
Khalifa Haftar’s military advance-started in Jufra on April 4 last – passed from the South, namely Fezzan, and partly from Central Libya, starting from the Westernmost point of the area of influence already gained by Haftar in the last military advances.
The support for his actions against Tripolitania, which stems from very old tensions (the Senussi King Idris boasted he never set foot in Tripoli), materialized with the support of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and the Russian Federation, as well as France in particular. Other countries, however, are and will be the future friends of Haftar’s forces, if the General wins throughout the Libyan territory.
Why so many allies? Firstly, Saudi Arabia regards Haftar as an opponent of Islamic terrorism, the first real danger of the Saudi Kingdom.
Also the United Arab Emirates, however, start from this first consideration and assessment.
Moreover, both the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have largely funded Al-Sisi’s coup against the Muslim Brotherhood of the then President Mohammed Morsi in 2013.
The Emirates also participated in the secret negotiations held last summer to have Libyan oil exported through external channels other than the one approved by the UN, namely the National Oil Corporation of Tripoli.
Haftar’s forces have already redirected oil shipments from the ports they control -to the tune of several thousand oil barrels.
Furthermore Saudi Arabia and the Emirates also funded the electoral campaigns of General Haftar’s candidates. This is a problem close to us, because the upcoming elections announced by the UN envoy, Ghassam Salamè, at the Palermo Conference, scheduled for next spring, will anyway be decisive, whoever funds them.
In any case, they will be blocked indefinitely due to the now evident proxy civil war that is taking place in Libya.
In addition, General Haftar started the April 4 offensive after informing Emirate’s Prince Mohammed bin Sayed al-Nayan on April 2 and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz (but not the acting Prince) on March 27.
The penetration into Tripolitania had already been militarily planned by General Haftar with both the Saudi and Emirate leaders, with whom he had very secret contacts.
The political will of the two Arab States in the peninsula is to put al-Sarraj’s government in Tripoli under such strong pressure as to make al-Sarraj accept the agreement that had been defined in the Abu Dhabi meetings with General Haftar himself on February 28 last.
In Abu Dhabi, the first issue to be discussed was the Sharara oil field, the most important one in Libya, held by General Haftar’s forces, as well as the gradual unification of the two State structures.
The signing of that agreement, which reaffirmed – sine die- the bureaucratic union of the two parts of Libya was welcomed everywhere, but evidently that agreement had been written on the desert sand.
For the Sharara oil field, Prime Minister al-Sarraj accepted the sale of 300,000 barrels/day, managed by the Libyan NOC, the Spanish Repsol, Total, the Austrian OMV and the Norwegian Equinor. However, no progress has been made so far.
Nevertheless the “Libyan National Conference” that the previous Palermo Conference had scheduled for late January 2019 was never held, despite the passion and enthusiasm shown for it by the UN envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salamé.
France sent its DGSE operatives to Haftar’s area in late 2015, encamped near the Benghazi airbase.
What does France want from General Haftar? It wants to close the Maghreb region to other countries’ influence – especially Italy’s – so as to create a large Françafrique area from Central Africa to all Mediterranean African coasts except for Egypt, which is too big for the forces (of France and Great Britain) that even had to stop – for lack of ammunition – during the first phase of Gaddafi’s Libya “conquest” and asked the United States to intervene.
Certainly France also wants all the Libyan oil, which is currently in General Haftar’s hands.
What about the Russian Federation? It supports Haftar, although with a sui generis approach. In fact, while I am writing this article, Haftar is holding a talk with Vladimir Putin for two reasons: he wants to sell weapons to the Libyan National Army, but also to avoid competition from Saudi Arabia, which is also a major oil producer and could add the Libyan oil and gas to its own, thus quickly becoming the unparalleled top exporter of crude oil in the world.
Here – regardless of OPEC or not – the situation does not change: the price of the oil barrel would be set by Saudi Arabia.
Russia’s allies on the field are not homogeneous in their alliances. Turkey and Algeria support al-Sarraj while – as already noted – the others support General Khalifa Haftar.
There is also the possibility of a Russian military base on Cyrenaica’s coast, when General Haftar fully wins the game.
Nevertheless, rumours are already rife that the Russians of the Wagner Group, the main private military group used by Russia, are present in the Benghazi forces’ area.
In late 2018, the Russian newspaper RBC reported that there were “Russian troops in Libya”.
General Khalifa Haftar’s forces, the Libyan National Army, moved from Fezzan – through the territories of the various local tribes – in two ways: with the good – and not only recent – good relations they had with that tribe world or with large cash payments.
The first military advance line of the Benghazi Free Army was between Bani Walid and Sabratha, towards Gharyan, the crossing point to Tripoli from the South.
In late March, many local, tribal and non-tribal brigades had changed sides, in favour of General Haftar, mainly thanks to the example of the Seventh Al Khaniat Brigade from Tarhouna, which started fighting with the Benghazi National Army that, in fact, advanced through the Southern districts of Tripoli.
The Seventh Brigade’s attack probably had the opposite effect, thus making some Tripoli’s brigades remain loyal to al-Sarraj’s government, although no one knows for how long.
Even the “moderates” of Misrata -led by the current Interior Minister of Tripoli, Fathi Bachaga – that until now have been open to future negotiations with General Haftar, have stiffened their stance in defence of Tripoli.
The troops of Misrata, the Libyan “Sparta”, amount to 15,000 soldiers and would make the difference in any future confrontation.
However, Misrata has already mobilized its military forces, but for the time being there is only a small Misrata force alongside the other forces in Tripoli.
The Benghazi Defence Brigades, which also include some soldiers from Misrata, and the Halbous militia have instead agreed to be part of Tripoli’s counteroffensive.
(Others’) money counts.
The Forces of Zintan, another major military centre of Tripoli’s armed forces, are divided between the group still loyal to Tripoli’s GNA, led by Oussama al-Jouili and Emad al-Trabelsi, while all the others are now supporting General Haftar.
The latter, can still rely on a large amount of ammunition.
The Rada Militia, led by Abdelraouf Kara, has not yet made any choice.
It is currently called “Unit for the Prevention of Organized Crime and Terrorism” and controls Tripoli’s nerve centres.
Hence if Haftar wins, the old Rada Militia will be on his side.
General Haftar has already had contacts with this organization, which is affiliated with the same Makhdalist Salafist movement that is already operating in favour of General Haftar in the East.
The strength of the African Salafist sect, which aims at an African and Libyan jihad, must certainly not be underestimated.
The strategy of forcedly re-proposing the Abu Dhabi agreement to al-Sarraj, who would obviously be weakened, is supported – on Haftar side – by Russia, which coincidentally voted a UN Security Council’s motion condemning General Haftar’s advance.
Egypt itself has some fears for the current advance of the Benghazi forces. It is afraid that this may have repercussions both on the many Egyptian workers still present in Libya and on the country’s internal equilibria.
France has supported General Haftar’s advance, also with its operatives – not only from the DGSE and its Service Action. France thinks that General Haftar’s advance is the only barrier against terrorism, but also the way to reconquer Libya after the disastrous operations following Gaddafi’s ousting in 2011.
General Haftar is openly pro-Gaddafi, as he demonstrated by having the Rais image portrayed on his banknotes printed in Russia.
Moreover France has greatly favoured Haftar’s advance in Fezzan by collecting and assigning to the Benghazi General the intelligence gathered by a spy-plane provided by CAE Aviation, a company belonging to DGSE and to its Service Action, in particular.
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