Numerous peacekeeping missions conducted by the UN “drastically” failed to “maintain peace and security” in the “conflict-rigged” regions. The article focuses on the peacekeeping missions conducted by the UN during the late 1990s, while carefully “assessing the operational mechanism” of the UNTAG in Namibia and its interaction with UNPOL and CIVPOL while keeping in mind the “geo-political” impact of a “failed intervention” and later providing “viable pragmatic solutions” to ensure a “successful implementation of peace-building and peace-keeping initiatives”. Peace-keeping mission’s success depends heavily on “regional political actors”, whereas to ensure a smooth “democratic transition”, support from international aid organizations, non-government institutions remains vital.
Although, “carefully preparing rehabilitation and restructuring programs” while “timely monitoring and evaluating its implementation”, coupled with a “viable pragmatic framework of the peacekeeping mission”, are some of the primary factors responsible for ensuring “regional political cooperation” in an effort to maintain peace.
In the last decade, the world witnessed formulation of various Peacekeeping missions especially strategized to re-vitalise “peace and stability in the region”. However, in the light of frequently increasing international and regional stakeholders such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), power countries such as the US, Britain, Japan, Germany, international institutions such as the European Union (EU), League of Arab States (LAS), Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN), and African Union (AU), United Nations remains the principle agency whose participation in peacekeeping missions, is “vital”. Today, over 15 peacekeeping missions are deployed under the leadership of UN Department for Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO), the principle agency of the UN, which inspite of “formidable expertise and experience” continues to face immense criticism for “fulfilling partial or fraction of expected results”. The criticism highlights two “significant facts”: UN has a habit of “repeating the same mistake in every new mission”, highlighting the “failure to achieve numerous objectives” stated in the “over-ambitious mandate” of UN missions particularly in Cote d’Ivoire, Somalia and Haiti. On the contrary, a large segment of “socio-economic development initiatives” remains “unachieved” as witnessed from its bitter experience in Rwanda and Sudan.
The article emphasis on the need for UN take a “responsible leadership role” in “resolving international conflicts”, disregarding the “pressure from international political arena” or “acute criticism received from military and security experts” on recent “unfavourable outcomes” from peacekeeping missions. The answer to these “unfavourable outcomes” lies within the successes achieved by the UN peacekeeping missions coupled with numerous successful “resolutions” passed the UN Security Council. The particular case of Namibia and the measures successfully implemented by the then UN Transition Assistance Group while ensuring“ peaceful transition of power” through “elections” and paving a way for a “democratically elected government”, are vital to assess and formulate future peacekeeping missions. The article’s focus is to “carefully understand and assess operational mechanism of the UNTAG” which made it a successful peacekeeping mission while understanding the factors responsible for making the mission a success and “simulating those factors in the peacekeeping missions of today”.
History of Namibia and UNTAG formation
To analyse the factors responsible behind UNTAG mission’s successful, it is important to understand the history of Namibia and the scenario which resulted in the formation of UNTAG. The question of “political stability in Namibia” is as old as the UN itself, perhaps older. Series of dialogues, discussion sand multiple responsible actors advocating for a “peaceful solution” in Namibia, were largely “responsible factors” of its success.
The political quest to control Namibia began with the invasion of British led South African Union forces defeated the then German troops during World War I. Although, the “disputed” Namibia came under the supervision of League of Nations “mandate”, the then British dominated troops of South African Union enjoyed “political and administrative” control over the region. However, during post-World War II, the International Court of Justice “over-ruled” the de-facto political and administrative control of South African Union forces on Namibia terming it “illegal and violation of all international laws”, brushing the judgment aside, South Africa continues to treat Namibia as its own “province”. In an effort to achieve independence from the then South African “occupation” of Namibia, a violent faction in the name of South Africa People’s Organization was formed.
Clearly mentioning the “international status” of Namibia, the then United Nations Security Council passed numerous resolutions between the year 1966 and 1968. Namibia was now under direct UN administration, whose responsibility was given to the then formed UN Council on South West Africa. After completing numerous “fact-finding missions”, the UN Council on West Africa agreed that “the South African occupation of Namibia was illegal” and in 1975 declared to “democratically conduct elections under the UN supervision”. While three members of the P5 countries plus Canada and Germany “debated for a peaceful independence”, the then “apartheid gripped” South Africa wanted to retain its “occupation” on Namibia. United Nations, then officially recognized SWAPO as a “responsible stakeholder and partner in peaceful discussions”, in 1976.
The official formulation of the UNTAG peacekeeping mission was complete in early 1978, whereas its mandate was completely “strategized” by the end of the same year, with a principle focus of “carrying out peaceful democratic transition of power while declaring Namibia’s independence”. However, the official deployment of UNTAG was delayed for eleven years only to be implemented after a temporary ceasefire between SWAPO and South African troops in April 1989. The time taken by UN to successfully deploy its peacekeeping mission was largely contributed to the Cold-War which will be significantly addressed in the later section of the article. The UNTAG peacekeeping mission lasted for one complete year and its formal closing came only when the state assembly received a formal declaration from then UNTAG Special Representative on 21st March 1990.
Essential elements of success
To draw an initial assessment of the UNTAG mission in an effort to compare it with other UN peacekeeping missions, it is imperative to first understand the nomenclature of its mandate. The Mandate not only states the “operational mechanism of UN troops on the ground, but also acts a framework strictly defining the actions of UN personnel”, including their “rule of engagement” while highlighting “objectives of the mission” with an interim timeline.
The principle discussion during the “formulation of any UN Mandate” largely rests on Chapter VI or Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. Chapter VI explicitly states the use of military force only in cases when “fired upon” while explicitly mentioning a formal “ratification of all stakeholders”, meanwhile Chapter VII states the use of necessary military force without “formal ratification of any stakeholder”. Today, experts continue to argue on the successes achieved by peacekeeping missions implementing Chapter VII of the UN Charter, as the mission remains “independent” and free to initiate any formal military engagement while inducing “political pressure” if necessary, in an effort to “maintain peace and stability in the region”. The Rwandan genocide is a perfect example, as the mission received only the mandate of Chapter VI making it “impossible to initiate a direct confrontation” with violent factions. In this scenario, the mission failed largely because of an unmatched mandate.
Although, it extensively depends upon the “intensity of conflict and presence of responsible stakeholders”, the mandate including Chapter VI proved to be vital, in case of UNTAG in Namibia, and a perfect example to “implement successful peace and stability in a region” without the direct use of military action.
Furthermore, the responsibility to “build and secure negotiations” further increase the stakes of responsible parties, which can be highlighted from “extensive diplomatic engagements between SWAPO and South Africa.
However, no individual can predict the “the success of peacekeeping mission solely from either Chapter VI or Chapter VII mandates”. Although, the difference will be created when the “mandate is able to fulfill the operational requirements of a peacekeeping mission”. This “burden of responsibility” only lies with the Permanent Members of the United Nations Security Council.
Role of international communities
Experts have “traditionally” credited the success of UNTAG peacekeeping mission to “effective communication and coordination” between the then members of United Nations Security Council. This statement is essentially correct, as the global dynamics were “fluid” then, in the light of the Cold War. With “principle of uncertainty” hanging over the mission, the then member nations of the Security Council adopted the 1978 UN Security Council Resolution 435, while ensuring “legal necessities” of the mission and formally deploying the UNTAG forces by the end of Cold War.
In the light of Cuban troops withdrawal from Angola, the then policy makers at the UN were not willing to take any chance of “outgoing clashes” between SWAPO in Namibia and angered Cuban forces, thus delaying the deployment of UNTAG peacekeeping force for over eleven years, even after successful ratification of the then Resolution 435. In the meantime, South Africa was taking desperate “maneuvers” in an effort to retain its “colony” under the apartheid system, rallying behind the then Reagan administration through a strategic partnership agreement: South Africa, however “hesitantly” accepted the UN led leadership of Namibia while forming an alliance with the US to prevent communism from spreading from Mozambique to Angola and South Africa. South Africa made a “political maneuver”, establishing relationship with Washington in the light of the latter’s “involvement in South Africa’s domestic politics”.
Washington on the contrary, needed South Africa’s support, in an effort to address the issue of Namibia’s independence, needing a formal consent from South Africa under the Chapter VI of the UN Charter. Washington refrained to infiltrate militarily in Angola and Namibia, as these “geographies” did not hold much “political value”. Furthermore, Washington could not afford another proxy war especially when the “political and economic” stakes were high, after its recent “costly gamble” in Vietnam.
Taking the communist perspective, which were then Cuba and Angola, with Soviet Union supporting them, Soviet Union could not maintain a grip in Cuba. The winds of “communist politics” were drastically changing course. Moreover, South African military units along with forces of Frente Nacional da Liberaçao de Angola (FNLA) and the National Union for Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) soldiers, financially aided by Washington, began “aggressive” military attacks on Soviet backed Cuban and Angolan troops within Angola. This resulted in “politico-military campaign” supported by both blocs. In 1984, the then President of Angola, declared the withdrawal of its troops, only under three conditions:
a)South Africa must remove all its troops from Angolan territory.
b)Implement Resolution 435, but only under the leadership of UN.
c)Immediately cease all US and South African intervention in Angolan domestic politics.
It remains a fact that, “Post-Cold War period brought a tremendous shift in international politics” which also ended the “stalemate in UN Security Council” making it “effective” to take decisions again. Furthermore, in case of Namibia’s independence, the role of UNTAG peacekeeping mission was vital and received a significant support from international communities (all actors) ensuring a “positive result”. The need for members of the UN Security Council and other international communities to support any UN peacekeeping mission, is absolutely vital, without which, the peacekeeping mission will not be able to deliver necessary progressive results.
Role of regional communities
The success of the UNTAG peacekeeping mission was not only possible because of an extensive support from international communities, the necessary support from regional and domestic cooperation remained vital during “electoral proceedings”. The theory to conduct elections in a conflict state has been “discussed and debated rigorously, many questioning the UN’s state building initiatives, however, in Namibia, without “opening the doors to free and fair elections, UNTAG peacebuilding successes couldn’t have achieved. From a point of “traditional analysis”, there are three key points policy makers must remember. Some may be unique for Namibia, while other case analysis can be “effectively used to reinforce on-going peacekeeping missions while formulate effective operations in the near future”.
a) To begin with, the “root cause of the issue” along with cooperation and coordination between multiple regional stakeholders at various levels provided strength to the “peacekeeping initiatives” right from the beginning. The “stance” taken by multiple stakeholders were “clear” highlighting the difference between “contested parties” and parties “voicing to achieve a same goal”, which separated the “two conflicted parties from other groups”. This eased the efforts taken by the UN military Observer units to monitor ceasefire. Moreover, bilateral communications between the “contesting stakeholders” through mediation from an international inspector, United Nations in this case, easily communicated between the two.
b) It would not be incorrect to state that, the issue in Namibia was “largely one-sided” especially in the context of “regional political turmoil”. Border skirmishes, violent ethnic clashes and resources distribution, did not affect the peace process. The incumbent peace-keeping missions in Sudan and missions in Rwanda, the threats to peacebuilding were extensive.
c) Moreover, the Namibian government institutions, before the deployment of UNTAG peacekeeping forces, were “structurally functioning”, as the institutions did not receive extensive damages in the civil war. With a large section of government institutions still functioning, across the country, UNTAG were able to “operate and carry out constitution election successfully” using such “institutional support”. It is important to note that, the supervision of UN mission in Congo largely failed because of absence of vital “institutional infrastructure”, which were decimated in subsequent civil wars.
While carefully assessing the role of “civil society in the success of UNTAG peacekeeping mission”, it is imperative for domestic entities to play a responsible role, to ensure the success of peacekeeping missions. These domestic entities included regional, local and national political organizations, the press, civil society institutions, non-government agencies, government entities and various minority groups. The responsibility taken by local masses during elections, changed the course of Namibian history. As a matter of fact, the voters appearing to cast votes outnumbered even the UN voting estimation exceedingly by 50:1. The total recorded turn out was at 97 percent.
Besides “cooperation and coordination” from international and domestic stakeholders, the objectives of the UNTAG peacekeeping mission followed by relentless efforts undertaken by its personnel, resulted in successful constitution elections. The mandate of the mission “coupled” the effectiveness and the efficiency of UNTAG personnel in Namibia, which gave desired results. It is imperative for the mission to fulfill “operational goals”, even overlooking the people’s “suspicions”. It is also important to note that, beside UNTAG, there were no “successful” peacekeeping missions that democratically conducted constitutional elections; “UNTAG was swimming in unchartered territories”. If the elections turned out to be a failure or “rigged”, would not only have dissolved the legitimacy of political institutions but could have raised questions on the ability of UN peacekeeping while “extensively” compromising UN position of “neutrality”. Besides South Africa, almost every stakeholder had “certain hidden agendas” forcing them to support UNTAG.
Apart from this “complex political understanding”, there was an “effective and efficient” cooperation and coordination between different military officers, advisors, civilian staffers and UNPOL officers. The mission was not only to observe a ceasefire, but it largely extended to “conducting free and fair elections” which needed the support of UNPOL and civilian staffers. The triggered an “intensely complex, integrated multidimensional response” coupled by “extensive and rigorous communication” within all sectors and command units within UNTAG headquarters. This indeed was a “complex scenario”, especially when the deployed troops hailed from different countries with different command structure and expertise.
Besides communication and integrated command structures, the mission responsibility largely depended on “skilful resourceful officers”, who maintained a direct communique with their headquarters in New York, will facing “numerous threats to peace”.
However, there were series of “frequent rigorous” clashes between SWAPO and South African military units, and fighting began intensive with every clash. This occurred during the initial deployment of UNTAG observers, in a time when the personnel strength was half. The peacekeeping initiatives were further reinforced with diplomatic communique, which resulted in a meeting between UN diplomat and the two “contentious” parties. SWAPO then began to actively participate in DDR (Disarmament, De-mobilization and Reintegration), only when UNTAG was in full strength. With complete in strength, UNTAG headquarters responded actively while establishing an effective communication with all UNTAG mobile and command units, in an effort to quickly resolve the conflict. The failure of timely communication resulted in loss of numerous lives during UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda. Policy makers must note that, communication plays a vital role in de-escalating conflict.
The UNPOL acted as a bridge, connecting commanders in UN HQ directly with the masses. The observers deployed under civilian police units, were strictly instructed to not to take an action directly, rather focusing on the development of local police units, South African police, until the independence of Namibia.
The civilian police units were strictly tasked to maintain “peace, security and the rule of law ”while remain “unbiased” throughout the time. This was quite a difficult task. The local masses were not aware about the civilian police structure, new to their environment, building trust remained vital. Civilian police units conducted numerous peace building public centric initiatives, in an effort to gain trust. South Africa tried to portray a “negative image” about civilian policing, while strengthening their tactics of “guerrilla warfare” in an effort to counter police with an objective to create chaos. With an effective communication with UNTAG HQ and other command and mobile units, the UN successfully countered the insurgency through diplomatic means.
Furthermore, the success of the mission extensively depended on “winning hearts and mind”, the cooperation of the masses and their coordination with the UNTAG observers remained vital. As stated in aforementioned arguments, the mandate of UNTAG was strictly political; “free fair and democratically” conduct constitutional elections. In the past UN peacekeeping operations, “conducting free and fair elections” was no less than a nightmare for officers and commanders of UN. Indeed democratically conducted elections boosts the moral, but if the election fails, the domino effect created by the failure to conduct free and fair elections will instigate cataclysmic events. After the formal declaration of elections, the masses are “vulnerable to violence”. During this time, UN HQ discusses multiple challenges, especially those faced during formulation of a timeline, voter registration and counting procedures, selection of the electoral system, plus the availability of a suggestion/complain box. The responsibility is not limited to only “conducting elections” but ensuring that the electoral candidates do not violate any laws established or install dictatorial control over the government, remains vital for peacekeeping officers to address. UNTAG successfully addressed all the aforementioned “challenges”. Since, Namibian masses had no “electoral” experience, hence, the masses were given “extensive” electoral education. UNTAG HQ successfully distributed numerous multi-lingual pamphlets and distributed them throughout the country. The officers closely worked with religious establishments and local policy leaders in an effort to create awareness among the masses, while spreading the agenda and purpose of the UN mission. Despite facing serious financial challenges, UNTAG successfully achieved its mandate. Considering all stages (from monitoring to implementation), not one issue pertained. The UNTAG officers demonstrated highest “responsible behaviour and completed their task with outmost professionalism while maintaining timely and effective cooperation and coordination with command and mobile units”.
To successfully achieve the mission-mandate, timing was imperative. Timing played a phenomenal role in the success of UNTAG mandate:
a)UNTAG HQ maintained it separate timeline syncing it with the timeline established to conduct elections, which began on the day of its deployment. Furthermore, the role of the stakeholders and their presence were all accounted for, making UNTAG the only agency to conduct elections.
b)Most importantly, the time between the ratification and acceptance of the 1978 Resolution of 435 and UNTAG peacekeeping missions formal deployment in 1989, eleven years were significant for UNTAG to simulate and prepare.
Policy makers must note that, the actual deployment structure remained the same even after its deployment in 1989.This structure was further reinforced with “ready to support” stakeholders. This made UN’s image as a principle agency to carry out peacekeeping missions “concrete” as it relentlessly pursued the then members of the UN Security Council to ratify and adopt the Resolution 435, while “extensively engaging” with all stakeholders.
Moreover, a large section of UN peacekeeping officers, extensively worked on identifying viable pragmatic policies to conduct free and fair Namibian elections in these eleven years. This ensured a “constant flow of information, management of information while maintaining constant and effective communication between the stakeholders. In this case, the preparations were “exceedingly lengthy” and “available time was cautiously and judiciously” utilized in relation to the “mandate and operational mechanism along with personnel management and communique”, which ultimately resulted in the success of UNTAG mission.
Today, peacekeeping missions conducted by UN, continues to face “questions on its legitimacy”. Many experts, think tank policy specialists and political leaders world-wide not only “consider it as an intervention” but also raises questions on “moral and ethnic grounds”. Superimposed by past unsuccessful peacekeeping missions the perception of general masses have drastically changed. Some raises questions on the missions “sustainability”, while many questions the “dilemma of democracy or the rise of dictatorial regimes”.
Policy makers and expert military strategists continue to face numerous challenges in “devising an appropriate peacekeeping strategy”. Every mission is new and seek different approaches, especially in its complexities, stakeholder’s approach and superimposing mandates. Although, one factor that could determine the success of peacekeeping mission, “operational mechanism”, which certainly exists in every mission, if “harness effectively and efficiently” with a right mandate, has the potential to drive mission successfully. However, it will not be incorrect to say that, UNTAG did not face any “complex hostile environment” as compared to UN missions in Rwanda, Sudan and Somalia. However, the successes achieved during UNTAG mission in Namibia, highlights certain “facts” applicable in all future UN peacekeeping initiatives.
a)It is absolutely vital for members of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to formulate a “mission centric mandate”.
b)The success of any peacekeeping mission largely depends upon cooperation and coordination at international, national, local and regional levels. This step should be further reinforced by “creating community centric development programs/initiatives”.
Then comes the “eccentricity of timing and pre-planning.
If the mandate is achieved before the estimated established time, the confidence of the people will increase and so does the missions/organizations authenticity and legitimacy. Policy makers must prepare thoroughly, assess and simulate all probable/possible scenarios, in an effort to increase their “effectiveness” to respond to “unprojectable situations”, which are always “possible” during UN peacekeeping operations.
US-China Tensions in South China Sea
Following the end September incident in South China Sea when a Type 052 destroyer of Chinese Navy cut ‘across the bow’ of US Navy destroyer USS Decatur when the US vessel was passing near the Gaven Reef in Spratly islands, Trump administration has taken a serious note of this incident . It was a very close encounter which reminded of the U.S. Navy EP-3 surveillance plane disaster in 2001 when Chinese navy plane rammed into the US surveillance plane, and what followed was a diplomatic crisis. Just a week later after the two destroyers crossed each other paths, President Trump made a very curt remark on the earlier Obama administration and called it “impotent” for its lackluster approach in containing Chinese activities in South China Sea. President trump added that as Obama administration did not undertake necessary counter measures, Beijing is posing serious challenges to US ships which are operating in the contested waters of South China Sea. The impending confrontation was expected but the problem for Trump is the magnitude and timing of such confrontation would jeopardize its deft maneuvers in diplomacy. Trump has held first summit meeting with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un to manage the nuclear threat that the dictatorial regime poses to US, South Korea and Japan. Any escalation of maritime tensions would have a cascading effect on its peace initiatives with North Korea.
According to rough estimates South China Sea contains 17.7 billion tons of crude oil and more than 190 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. Given these large estimated reserves and also very rich fishing grounds in the shallow waters of South China Sea, many nations around its periphery have claimed sovereignty over the more than 80 islands /islets islands. South China Sea is also a commercial shipping route which witnesses $4.5tn of maritime trade passing through its waters. China claims more than 80 per cent of the maritime m area of South Chain Sea citing the nine dash line drawn by Chiang Kai Shek’s nationalist government in 1949. South China Sea had a history of close encounters which were seen when Chinese navy killed 70 Vietnamese sailors in 1988 over occupation of Johnson South Reef, and thereafter when during confrontation with Philippines in 1995, it occupied Mischief reef. The features in South China Sea are islets and rocks which at times of low tide are barely 4-5 meters above the sea level and these get submerged during the high tide.
The island building process that China has undertaken has started threatening the safety and security of the sea lanes. In few of the islands under Chinese occupation in the South China sea, China has developed necessary infrastructure to support operations of the military aircraft and also missile defence batteries creating serious challenge to the US navy, and also challenging freedom of navigation for navies of other ASEAN countries as well as those of India, Japan and Australia. This assertive approach that China has adopted has resonated in the ASEAN multilateral meetings but a strong counter narrative, and criticism from the multilateral institution is missing. The ASEAN nations fearing Chinese riposte along with Chinese aggressive behaviour have tried to engage China so as to bring about a Code of Conduct in the disputed waters. China has imposed fishing ban in certain months each year in the third richest fishing grounds in the world, and also has intimidated the other claimant states fishing vessels in the past. Chinese navy had harassed Philippines Coast Guard and had snapped the undersea cables laid by a Vietnamese ship. In 2009 USS Impeccable also had to weather annoying tactics by Chinese fishing boats who have been acting as the third line of defence after Chinese navy and Coast guard. This aggressive behavior and demarcation of safe zones by the Chinese navy in and around the islands that China occupies, have threatened lives and livelihood of fishing communities of Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam and Philippines who make their living out of the fisheries that they catch in South China Sea.
In July2016, the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCA) had given a verdict in favor of Philippines when the country took the issue of illegal Chinese occupation of features particularly islets and small islands in the EEZ of the Philippines to the international tribunal. It adjudicated that all those features which could not sustain human habitation have not right to seek an Exclusive Economic Zone(EEZ) of 200 nautical miles, and also declared that Chinese occupation and reclamation activities is illegal. The Philippines while awaiting an international support and US action given the fact that US and Philippines have a Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) sought refuge with China to resolve the crisis. For a long time, China has been insisting on bilateral negotiations with other claimant states including Vietnam, Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei. Taiwan also occupies the largest island in South China Sea known as Itu Iba which is centrally located and it of immense strategic importance. The island building and the installation of military support and logistics structure has annoyed US and it has made very strong remarks with regard to Chinese construction activities. However, in terms of dissuading Chinese activities there has been a sublime response from US. As a result of US non–intervention, China has built nearly 2,000 acres of reclaimed land in and around its islands in South China Sea.
With South China sea heating up because of the recent incident, India will have to be cautious with regard to safeguarding its interest. The reported near confrontation between US and Chinese navy in the end of September 2018 is a matter of concern. India has also faced such intimidation tactics in the past when in July 2011 its naval ship AIRAWAT leaving the Vietnamese coast received radio message warning it of transgressing the Chinese territory in South China sea. Given this one off incident cannot be a parameter for the tension germinating in the disputed waters, India will have to be prepared for close encounters with the Chinese navy in future.
Israeli-Iranian Nuclear Standoff: So Far Only Verbal
A few days ago Israel and Iran traded accusations of harboring nuclear ambitions. Speaking at the 73rd session of UN General Assembly, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke about nuclear materials and equipment allegedly stored somewhere in Tehran.
The Iranian response did not take long coming with an enraged Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif blaming Israel for covert production of nuclear weapons.
According to Zarif, Israel is the only country in the region with a “secret” and “undeclared” nuclear arms program, which allegedly includes “a real nuclear arsenal.”
That the two countries have been engaged in a long-running cold war is no secret. Long before the 1979 Islamic revolution, the founder of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Khomeini, pursued a clearly anti-Israeli line in his speeches and sermons.
“I consider Israel’s independence and its recognition as a catastrophe for Muslims undermining the activities of Islamic governments,” he said over and over again.
“The Zionist regime must be wiped off the face of the earth, and with the help of Divine power, the world will soon live without the United States and Israel,” he added.
Tehran’s anti-Israel rhetoric hasn’t changed much since Khomeini’s death.
Today, Iran is the only country that does not recognize Israel’s very right to exist.
In its 70-year history, the State of Israel has fought seven major wars with the Arabs and endless armed clashes with Palestinians and the pro-Iranian Lebanese Hezbollah movement.
Jerusalem’s relations with many Arab states have generally returned to normal and when it comes to the confrontation with Iran, some of them have even allied with the Jewish state. Meanwhile, Iran is now seen by Israel as a major threat.
Israel’s nuclear program was initiated by its founder, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. After the end of the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, in which Israel was confronted by the Egyptian and Jordanian armies, Ben-Gurion realized that an atomic bomb was the only way for Israel to survive in the face of the Arab forces that outnumbered the Israelis many times over.
The history of the creation and possession of Israel’s nuclear weapons is interesting per se and reads like a detective story. What is really important, however, is Israel’s ability to obtain nuclear capability in a short time and virtually without conducting any nuclear tests . These days, the expertise gained over decades and the high performance of modern supercomputers make it possible to create realistic mathematical models of nuclear and thermonuclear warheads, which, in turn, makes it possible to avoid detonating a nuclear charge at a test site.
All this being said, however, Israel strictly adhered to the policy of “positive disguise” refusing to recognize the existence of its nuclear arsenal, hiding direct evidence of its existence and making veiled hints about its existence as a warning to enemies. Former Israeli prime ministers have made such hints more than once. In July 1998, Shimon Peres publicly admitted (without elaborating) that Israel possessed nuclear weapons. Ehud Olmert also indirectly confirmed that the Jewish state had an atomic bomb.
“Iran wants to possess nuclear weapons, following the example of Israel,” Ehud Olmert said in a 2006 interview with SAT1.
Leading politicians, like former US President Jimmy Carter and ex-IAEA Director Mohammed ElBaradei, have mentioned the presence of nuclear weapons in Israel. In 2013, Britain’s Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists asserted that Israel had about 80 nuclear warheads and possessed enough fissile materials to produce between 115 and 190 nuclear warheads. However, the production of nuclear warheads in Israel was “frozen” in 2004.
However, this “freeze” can quickly “thaw out,” and the entire Israeli nuclear complex, consisting of several major nuclear infrastructure facilities, will get back to work.
These facilities include:
Sorek Scientific Nuclear Research Center was set up n the 1950s in Nagal Sorek settlement outside Tel Aviv. Israel’s first 5 MW light-water nuclear reactor, brought in from the US as part of President Dwight Eisenhower’s Atoms for Peace program, was installed there.
This low-power reactor could not produce weapons-grade plutonium, and was mainly used for training specialists and devising methods of handling radioactive materials, which later came in handy in more comprehensive research. However, despite Israel’s persistent requests, the Americans refused to provide nuclear fuel and equipment that could be used in a nuclear weapons program, so in the late-1950s, France became the main source of materials and nuclear technologies for Israel. The Sorek Center is monitored by the IAEA.
Nuclear Research Center at Dimona. A natural uranium heavy-water reactor, built and later modernized by French specialists, has been operating there since 1964. The 28 MW reactor has a capacity 40-60 kg of weapons-grade plutonium. Until 2003, Israel had produced about 650 kg of plutonium – enough to build over 100 nuclear charges. (It takes between 3 and 8 kilograms of plutonium to produce a single nuclear warhead, depending on technology used). The Dimon Center of the IAEA is monitored by the IAEA.
Yodefat is a settlement in Galilee, where Israeli specialists reportedly assemble and dismantle nuclear weapons at the Raphael’s enterprise, called “Division 20”.
Kfar Zakharia – a missile base in the Judean Hills where strategic nuclear weapons and delivery vehicles are stored in warehouses.
Eylaban – a nuclear weapons site.
Israel’s Jericho missiles are made in Beer-Yaakov, and their tests are carried out mainly at the army base in Palmachim. A considerable number of Israel’s nuclear-capable aircraft are stationed at the nearby Tel Nof base. Israeli military commentator Joab Limor wrote about this in his article titled “Israeli Weapons of Mass Destruction” as early as in 2011, citing the British magazine Jane’s Intelligence Review.
Israel’s strategic nuclear forces are built around a classic nuclear triad, consisting of land-based intercontinental ballistic missiles, bomber-carried cruise missiles and cruise missiles on submarines. As a means of ground-based delivery, foreign experts consider the three-stage Jericho-3 missile (possibly 16 missiles), whose range is estimated at around 6,500 km with a payload of 350 kg payload (one nuclear warhead), and with a range of 4,800 km with a 1-ton nuclear warhead.
Two air squadrons of 18 F-15I Ra’am (Thunder) fighter-bombers each carrying a pair of Israeli-made Gabriel cruise missiles. This is the aerial component of the Israeli nuclear triad.
The naval component consists of five German-made Dolphin diesel electric submarines capable of carrying nuclear-tipped Gabriel cruise missiles.
In summation, it can be stated that Israel now has a wide range of non-strategic means of nuclear weapons delivery and an impressive nuclear arsenal by regional standards. The main emphasis is on the highly survivable maritime component of nuclear forces. This is deemed extremely important for Israel, which, being a small country, is very vulnerable to attacks weapons of mass destruction.
No so Iran, which has also been engaged in nuclear research since the 1950s. Over the years, the country has built up an impressive nuclear infrastructure.
However, no nuclear weapon has been created there, even though after the 1979 Islamic Revolution a secret directive on nuclear weapons development was adopted to ensure the survival of the Islamic regime, and a pertinent plan, dubbed “Ahmad” was drawn up with an eye to creating a nuclear warhead for a ballistic missile. By the way, it was the IAEA which, at the end of 2011, blew the whistle about the “Ahmad” project with a detailed twelve-page document titled “Possible military Dimensions to Iran’s Nuclear Program.”
According to the IAEA, the Amad project was abruptly scrapped at the end of 2003, as ordered by high-ranking officials in Tehran. Simultaneously, the personnel employed in various “Ahmad”-related jobs are believed to have initially remained at their workplaces in order to register and report on the results achieved by that moment. After that – from the end of 2003 to the start of 2004 – both the equipment and the workplaces of those engaged in the project were destroyed to leave as little evidence as possible that might point to the “delicate” nature of the work done there.
All this meaning that since 2004, Iran has not been engaged in any military nuclear activity. By amazing coincidence, Jerusalem froze its production of nuclear warheads in that very same year of 2004.
Israel insists that the military aspect of the Iranian nuclear program is still there. Even though the IAEA’s latest reports point to the contrary, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims that Iran is developing nuclear weapons at two secret sites in Tehran. Speaking at the UN, Netanyahu also recalled that in April he had produced tons of documents, which, according to him, had been obtained by Israeli intelligence in Iran.
“Since we raided [their] atomic archive, [the Iranians] have been busy cleaning out the atomic warehouse. Just last month, they removed 15 kilograms of radioactive material. You know what they did with it? They had 15 kilograms of radioactive material, they had to get it out of the site, so they took it out and they spread it around Tehran in an effort to hide the evidence,” the Israeli prime minister told the UN General Assembly in September.
Benjamin Netanyahu also showed several photos from a map application pointing to an address in Tehran, where he claimed nuclear materials were stored.
“What Iran hides, Israel will find,” Netanyahu and added, referring, to what he described as “the tyrants of Tehran”: “Israel knows what you are doing and Israel knows where you are doing it.”
“Israel will never let a regime that calls for our destruction develop nuclear weapons – not now, not in 10 years, not ever… We will continue to act against you in Syria. We will act against you in Lebanon. We will act against you in Iraq. We will act against you whenever and wherever we must act to defend our state and defend our people,” Netanyahu warned.
Israel has always been an ardent opponent of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) for Iran, adopted by international mediators in 2015, arguing that this will not stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Netanyahu still pointed to a positive consequence of the agreement
“By empowering Iran, it brought Israel and many Arab states closer together,” he said during his address to the UN General Assembly.
The recent mutual accusations of nuclear ambitions regularly leveled at each other by Tehran and Jerusalem are part of the war of words, elements of the Iran-Israeli Cold War, which has been going on for many years. The military-political tensions around Iran have been shooting up and the propaganda war between the two countries is heating up.
Undoubtedly, the Israeli politicians’ anti-Iranian nuclear rhetoric is aimed at the complete destruction of the 2015 nuclear deal.
The JCPOA is in a state of limbo now that the US has walked out of it and the other signatories are making every effort to salvage it in one way or another. If the deal collapses then Iran is sure to resume its military nuclear program which, in turn, will reflect very badly on the situation in the Middle East and around the world as no international organization, including the IAEA, will be able to control Tehran’s actions.
It looks like this is exactly what Jerusalem wants so that it can prove Tehran’s nuclear militancy and the correctness of its anti-Iranian policy.
 Nothing is definitely known about Israel’s nuclear tests. However, on September 22, 1979, a series of light bursts characteristic of a nuclear explosion of a 2–3 kiloton charge were recorded by the US satellite “Vela” 6911 near the Prince Edward Islands in the South Atlantic. It is widely believed that this was an Israeli nuclear test, possibly conducted jointly with South Africa.
First published in our partner International Affairs
The Vostok 2018 exercises and their strategic significance
The Russian, Chinese and Mongolian exercises known as Vostok 2018 have been particularly important both from a military and tactical viewpoint and due to their geopolitical significance.
Vostok 2018 (a Russian term generally translated as “East”) is an operation reaffirming the new strategic unity between Russia and China. Hence it conveys a very clear message to the West that it would be good for the Atlantic Alliance not to disregard or neglect.
The message is the following: if NATO wants to attack them or, in any case, enter the areas of Russian-Chinese interest in the Heartland, the response of the Sino-Slavic axis will be very harsh, to the point of raising the threshold of a possible Western attack to an intolerable level. Hence the unavoidable response from the “East” will be unbearable at technical, financial and political levels for the attacker alone.
With this really impressive operation – although the number of the forces on the field has not yet be fully defined ex post-Russia certainly wants to demonstrate that the United States cannot attack without expecting severe responses from the Russian Federation, probably capable of blocking the US itself – considering that, in this case, there would be an immediate reunification with the Chinese forces, with the Mongolian Armed Forces and probably also with other forces of the Central Asian region, which is certainly a fact not to be disregarded.
In this case, would Turkey accept a NATO action against the Russian-Chinese axis? It is unlikely. And what about Romania?
Meanwhile, the US theories and doctrines developed by the current Commands work on the assumption of a simultaneous war against the Russian Federation and China, with the deployment of vast land and maritime forces against Russia and mainly air forces against the People’s Republic of China.
The wars on two fronts, however, have never brought good luck to anyone and certainly the deployment of the Vostok 2018 forces conveys a clear message to President Trump’s America, where China is already taking revenge for the economic war unleashed against it by President Trump.
In particular, the Chinese revenge is taken through a strong secret and media commitment against the President in the upcoming midterm elections, while China knows its way around when taking actions in the Syrian region, certainly in agreement – once again – with the Russian Federation.
The Vostok 2018 exercises were above all a large-scale interforce military operation held from 11 to 17 September, involving the Central Russian military districts (Volga and Urals) and the Eastern one (Siberia) and at least 29 regions of the whole Federation, as well as the Russian Northern and Pacific fleets and finally the Aerospace and Aircraft Forces.
In the first stage of the Vostok 2018 exercises, which lasted two days, the Joint Strategic Operational Commands of the Eastern and Central Districts and the Northern Fleet were deployed throughout the Eastern operations theatre for combat preparation and training, in addition to fully deploying the Russian Navy between the North and the Far East.
The second stage, which lasted three days, was dedicated to the organization of the interforce groups to train and prepare the troops for escalating clashes and fights throughout the already defined theatre of operations.
There was a systematic use of the many firing ranges of the Eastern District, with defensive and counter-offensive actions particularly in the Trans-Baikal direction, as well as similar sea operations in the Pacific.
The idea was to support deep penetrations on the ground of naval infantry and specialized land brigades, with a strong protection from the air – a real air denial.
Six shooting ranges were used only for managing ground military operations, four of the Air Forces and the Anti-Air Defence, with actions also in the Sea of Japan, in the Bering Sea, in the Sea of Okhotsk, and then in the Avacinsky Gulf and in the Kronotsky Gulf.
Both Gulfs are located in the Kamchatka peninsula.
Considering the Russian and Chinese soldiers (who participated in all operations, even as mere observers), as well as the Mongolian soldiers, who specialized in land and counterattack actions, approximately 297,000 soldiers took part in the Vostok 2018 exercises, with 1,000 aircrafts and helicopters; 7,000 land vehicles, including 110 tanks; 36,000 guns and pieces of artillery, as well as over 80 ships. Numbers recorded after the operations, which are much greater than what officially expected initially by the Russian Defence Ministry.
It should be recalled that the previous exercises, namely Zapad 2017, focused on the West (in fact, Zapad is a Russian word meaning West), involved “only” 12,700 Russian and Belarusian soldiers.
In the framework of this year’s exercises, China had approximately 3,500 soldiers; 1,100 vehicles; 30 aircrafts and 24 helicopters.
A Russian brigade in charge of communications, stationed in Samara and counting 1,000 soldiers, was, for example, transferred to the Trans-Baikal area, 5,500 kilometres away from Samara.
200 Russian troops were moved from Orenburg for additional 5,000 kilometres eastwards.
It is the operational implementation of the new Russian military doctrines of the Material-Technical Support and Combat Service Support (MTO) theories dating back to 2010, but put in place – in large quantities and at great distances – only with this operation.
Furthermore, while the various joint operations of China and the Russian Federation within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) mainly regard counter-terrorist, counter-guerrilla operations and, in any case, asymmetric and non-conventional threats, Zapad 2018 only deals with conventional actions and hence war between States.
Moreover, as early as last year, Russia and China had carried out joint missile exercises.
However, why is the Russian Federation currently focusing on its Eastern flank?
History can help us to answer this question, as is always the case when it comes to strategic issues.
Russia has always been weak, often too weak, in the East.
Since that time, the Russian-Japanese war of 1904-1905 had placed the whole Siberian and Mongolian East out of the Russian framework, thus pushing Russia towards a disinterested West, towards which the majority of its people was already gravitating.
The current Russian leadership knows all too well how, in the early twentieth century, the British confidential documents considered Russia a “territory suitable for Socialist tests and experiments”. To some extents, the Bolshevik Socialism itself was a largely unfavourable adaptation to the economies and economic systems of the West and, later, of the United States.
When the USSR spent everything possible in the strategic parity of the Cold War, Mao Zedong-who was certain he had to do with the usual “enemies of the North”, namely the Russians -maintained instead that the Cold War was “a paper tiger”. Nevertheless, now the global equilibria have changed, and – just to paraphrase Mao Zedong again – there will be a hundred Cold Wars, a hundred different peaces.
During the Bolshevik revolution, however, Japan, Great Britain, Italy, the United States, Canada and China had occupied the whole Siberia and, hence, were pushing Trotsky’s Red Army to its Western borders, thus putting it in serious strategic difficulty. The Red Army was highly likely to be taken by surprise from the rear by the European countries.
The fact that the Bolshevik Russia defeated China in 1929 was at the origin of Japan’s arrival in Manchuria, which became Manchu-kuo, the first axis of Japanese penetration into Central Asia.
It is in this context that also the ambiguity of Xinjiang- the future area of development of Islamism and jihad in China -between Bolsheviks and Chinese has arisen.
The old Manchu-kuowas an axis capable of fully destabilizing the Chinese set-up, as well as stopping Russia’s economic and political expansion to Siberia and Mongolia – and it is currently still able to do so.
In fact, many Chinese leaders view the Republic of Taiwan as a “new imperial Japan”.
Hence, in a phase of strong tension with NATO and substantial end of the post-Cold War equilibria between the United States and Russia, the latter secures at first its East, so as to avoid a sort of Western “knight move” that could lead to a regionalization of the Russian Federation and to its being relegated to the status of a mid-level power – the US dream since the fall of the USSR.
On the other hand, China needs to control its central terrestrial space well, with a view to securing the Belt and Road Initiative and avoiding the many encircling manoeuvres that the United States has tried so far between India, Pakistan and Iran itself, which the United States tends – often naively – to destabilize also from the inside.
It is also worth recalling the issue of raw materials: in Siberia, for example, the 2,750 kilometre pipeline bringing the Russian-Siberian oil to China is already operating – a tangible sign of Russian autonomy from the oil and gas sales to the West.
According to Russian estimates, Siberia owns 80% of the Russian oil reserves.
Moreover, still today China imports many minerals from Brazil or Africa, but Siberia is rich in gold, iron, manganese, copper, pyrite, aluminium, precious stones and mercury.
Hence defending the Asian axis of Russia and of China itself means securing the Heartland’s future autonomous development.
At operational plan, Russia needed Zapad 2018 to check its forces’ technological preparation, as well as to test the interforce command-control (the so-called C2) and to ensure and verify the strong coordination between the Army Ground Forces, the Navy and the Aerospace Forces.
Moreover, in this great exercise, an important role was also played by the Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and by the most advanced robotic technologies applied to Defence.
China participated in these latest joint exercises for some important reasons: firstly, China wants to convey to the West the message that it is allied with the Russian Federation – and not for fortuitous and contingent reasons.
It also wants to convey the message that it does not need the West for planning its defence towards Taiwan and the Pacific, which are US military reference areas eastwards.
During the exercises, however, China and Mongolia had the clear aim of stopping the conventional enemy’s advance.
The strong and stable alliance between China and Russia, which the former wanted to underline, is a clear sign of China’s markedly departing from Trump-led United States.
Secondly, China wants to demonstrate to Russia (and to those observing the political and military moves of two Asian and Euro-Asian countries) that its Armed Forces are efficient – so skilful to enable Russia to be projected onto the West without allowing encirclement or penetration from China towards Central Asia up to the Urals.
Thirdly, China wants to know well – in view of using them – the “hybrid warfare” techniques that the Russian Federation used and is still using in Syria and Ukraine.
It is also very likely that China has sent one of its spy ships between the Pacific and the Arctic – obviously without informing its allies.
Fourthly, China wants to assess how and to what extent the recent restructuring of its Armed Forces have negatively affected the fighting aptitude and the efficiency of its defensive system.
This must be certainly seen in relation to India – the future competitor for hegemony in Afghanistan and Central Asia- and also to Japan, which could thus be deterred from establishing a special relationship with Taiwan against the People’s Republic of China.
Finally, despite playing a marginal, but important role in the Syrian region, China also wants to learn the lessons learned by the Russian Forces in that region, which will be increasingly important for China, both for its counter-terrorist actions in Xinjiang and for controlling the routes of Turkish expansion into Central Asia, as well as to finally prevent the fall of Iran, an essential ally for China both from the economic and geopolitical viewpoints.
Once broken Iran’s defence arc, the US forces would be given free rein up to the Chinese borders, as well as in fighting and putting an end to the sword jihad in Southern and Central Russia.
It should also be recalled that, shortly before the Vostok 2018 exercises, there had also been the SCO operations called “Peace Mission 2018”, focused particularly on the Celiabinsk region, together with the Indian, Pakistani and other SCO forces.
Russia, which is one of India’s traditional ally, strongly wanted that country to be SCO member. Conversely Pakistan has always been China’s best ally in the Asian Islamic world.
Furthermore, the parallelism between these two joint military operations is a clear sign that Russia wants to increasingly use the Shanghai Cooperation Organization as a valuable asset against its jihadist terrorism, between Chechnya and the Caliphate areas, considering that – as reported by its news agency Amaq – in 2018 ISIS has organized seven terrorist attacks in Russia.
Five Russian policemen have been killed by jihadists between Stavropol and Nizhny Novgorod, and the same holds true for other Russian soldiers as a result of terrorist operations in Dagestan.
Early this year the FSB is supposed to have prevented as many as six jihadist attacks and arrested 189 people for alleged participation in illegal armed actions.
Allegedly ISIS cells operate also in Rostov, as well as in the autonomous area of Yamalo-Nenets, and in Yaroslav, Dagestan and Ingushetia.
In the previous Vostok exercises held in 2010 and 2014 (whereas the two exercises known as Zapad had been held in 1981 and 2017), China had never been invited. The focus and substance of the operations regarded a generic enemy invasion from the East (also from China?) or the simultaneous presence of several terrorist groups along the Russian Federation’s Eastern border.
Hence, by inviting the People’s Liberation Army of China, Russia tested the combat preparation and the doctrinal and technological evolution of an Armed Force that has never fought for decades.
However, the alliance between Russia and China will be stable and lasting: while the Armed Forces of the two countries were involved in the Vostok 2018 exercises, Putin and Xi Jinping met on the margins of the Eastern Economic Forum underway in Vladivostok.
Hence the Russian-Chinese message to NATO is clear: currently Russia is not at all isolated and it can perform effective operations on both the Eastern and Western fronts, with absolute efficiency and rapidity. Moreover, Russia wants to show that its military alliances are strong and expanding.
While, in all likelihood, NATO cannot currently hold operations of the same size as Vostok 2018 and probably has not the political “glue” that China, Russia and Mongolia proved to have in these exercises.
Also Turkey had been invited to take part in the exercises, but it silently declined.
What were the results of the Vostok 2018 exercises? According to Russian Commands, there was an innovation in the success recorded by the new air assault techniques with final operations on the ground, featuring a combined action of heavy aircraft and light attack helicopters.
A mass airdrop with 700 paratroopers and many land vehicles and artillery pieces, was carried out successfully in the intermediate area between East and West Russia.
Furthermore, the Northern Fleet carried out an interforce exercise with its naval infantry and the Arctic Brigade, reaching targets on the ground up to 270 kilometers from the coast.
In short, there was the testing of a strong doctrinal, technological, tactical and logistic evolution of a great Armed Force like the Russian one.
There was also the reaffirmation – often reiterated by Russian Defence Minister Shoigu – that the military alliance with China is and will be stable and that ultimately Russia and its allies – unlike others – can credibly contain a war on two fronts.
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