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Assessing United Nation’s commitment to “resolve conflict”: The need to re-strategize Peacekeeping missions

Anant Mishra

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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.

Introduction

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

“Mission-specific” Mandate

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.

Effective structure

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”.

Time management

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.

Conclusion

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.

Anant Mishra is a security analyst with expertise in counter-insurgency and counter-terror operations. His policy analysis has featured in national and international journals and conferences on security affairs.

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Capabilities of Indian Armed Forces Exposed

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India’s Armed Forces Capabilities exposed during the Sino-India recent clashes in Ladakh. Indian Army was established on the fools day, 1 April 1895; 125 years ago by the East India Company, the British ruler of Sub-Continent. The aim and objectives of establishing the Indian Army were to protect the Companies economic interests, conquering the neighboring states, countering the insurgencies, suppressing the locals, maintaining the rit of British rulers, looking after the British empire, etc.

After getting independence from British rule in 1947, the Indian Army became the current day Indian Army, with its same ideology, aims, and objectives. The same training was continued, and the same traditions were inherited. Furthermore, to date, the current Indian Armed Forces are playing almost the same role. The conquered Goa, Sikkim, Hyderabad, Juna Ghar, and many other independent states. They are still fighting against the insurgencies like Assam, Maoist, Naga Land, Kashmir, Sikh, and,  etc. They are still suppressing their own local people like in Punjab, Haryana, Assam, Bihar, Kashmir, and minorities like Muslims, Christians, Sikhs, Dulats, and low caste Hindus, etc.

In fact, further deterioration started when they kept Muslims away and were not inducting Muslims in the armed forces. However, they inducted few on the ceremonial basis but were not given command or power or high ranks or important position since the 1965 War between India and Pakistan. The similar actions were initiated in the 1980s, after the Golden Temple (Sikh’s Holiest shrine) attack against the Sikhs. The Sikhs in the Armed Forces are no longer trusted and are not given important positions or commands. Recently, Indian Army Chiefs remarks about Ghurkas have an adverse impact of a strong regiment of Ghurkas. Ghurkas are originally Nepalis, but the British inducted then in the Indian Army and noticed as one of the best fighting soldiers. Then they deputed Ghurkas all over India and also used them in overseas operations during World War I & II. Even in today’s Indian Army, they constitute a considerable population and known for their bravery. Nevertheless, humiliating remarks by the Indian Army Chief has hurt them, and they are disgruntled. What will be the Indian Government policies, and future course of actions regarding Ghurkas, is still unpredictable.

The reputation of the Indian Army in suppressing its own people is notorious, and the violations of human rights have exceeded all records. According to Human Rights Independent Organizations, India has surpassed all records of human rights violations in the history of human beings. Especially, their role in Kashmir, Punjab, Assam, Bihar, Naga Land are the worst demonstrations.

Even, personals of Armed Forces deputed in such states are getting mental sickness, and some of them commit suicides. Most of the Indian Military personnel are not willing to be posted in the troubled area.

Some of the countries in the Western World have refused issuance of Visas for Military personnel involved in War-Crimes in Kashmir and other states. In fact, the movement for trail against those involved in war-crimes is gaining momentum. I am sure, sooner or later, all those who so ever are involved in war crimes will face severe punishments depending on the degree of their involvement and intensity of war- crimes.

The disparity of salaries, perks, and privileges between the high ranked officers and low ranked soldiers is huge, creating disgruntles. The uniform, shoes, food provided to low ranked soldiers are pathetic. Weapons and amminition is rather out dated. War-Machines are dysfunctional. Disgruntled Armed forces, with dysfunctional war-machines, could not face well-equipped, well-trained, well-looked-after, Chinese forces.

Talks between the two forces (India and China) at the Major General Levels have failed, and the next round of talks at a higher level of Lt. Generals is under schedule. The PM Modi is hiding and refraining from the public appearance or commenting on the situation between India and China conflict in the Ladakh region. India’s Media is passive and low-profile on the subject, while the Foreign Ministry is also a bit conservative and careful in giving any strong statement.

Indian Media’s aggressiveness against Pakistan and Armed Force’s aggressiveness has vanished in case of China. Indian armed forces’ capabilities are exposed already.

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Preparing For The Next Round Of Belligerent Nationalism

Prof. Louis René Beres

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“It must not be forgotten that it is perhaps more dangerous for a nation to allow itself to be conquered intellectually than by arms.” Guillaume Apollinaire, “The New Spirit and the Poets” (1917)

 More than anything else, a nation-state survives along with the corresponding society’s intellectual and moral underpinnings.[1] In the case of US President Donald Trump’s patently childish “Space Force,” neither precondition is evidenced. And at the same time that Trump has been abandoning essential treaties with Russia and economic arrangements with China, this president acts as if extending belligerent nationalism into space is somehow a rational plan.

Quite plainly, Donald Trump, who prides himself on “attitude, not preparation,” is sorely mistaken.[2]  Prima facie, any such extension of geopolitical competition would be anything but gainful. Among many other things, Space Force expresses the reductio ad absurdum of a dissembling president’s wholesale indifference to wisdom and ethics. It will only heighten the probability that America could be “conquered intellectually,” not “by arms.”

There is more. Space Force  represents an ironic reaffirmation of past Trump policy failures. Where it is correctly understood as a logically derivative posture from this president’s “America First,” the operational role of his “Force” will be to extend Realpolitik[3] or power politics to places where it has never existed before, still-pristine and “vertical” places. Significantly, as Realpolitik has never worked here on earth,[4]  any intelligent observer should feel compelled to ask: Why should belligerent geopolitics now work on a “galactic” level?

There are multiple ironies to be considered. As is the case of Donald Trump’s foreign and domestic policies in general, Space Force will be founded upon myriad failures of the past. In  essence, these failures are all aspects of the “balance of power world system originally bequeathed at the Peace of Westphalia in 1648. This conflict-oriented state system, an “everyone for himself”[5] pattern of interminable international warfare, was born at Westphalia, immediately following the Thirty Years’ War.[6] Though certain “Westphalian” zero-sum interactions might still have been more-or-less tolerable before the appearance of nuclear weapons, they are unsustainable  in our bitterly acrimonious and proliferating nuclear world. Unassailably, they are even more dramatically unsustainable at this fearful time of worldwide disease pandemic.

It’s not complicated. What America  needs today is not just another gratuitous or destined-to-fail weapon system[7] (how could it possibly “succeed” if it doesn’t calculably contribute to this country’s “assured destruction capability”?), but rather a more conspicuous, well-intentioned presidential commitment to global interdependence/worldwide cooperation.[8] Although true that – at least for the foreseeable future – the United States must take appropriate steps to ensure the overall credibility of American nuclear deterrence, it is not true that such credibility requires retaliatory “coverage” in all prospective theatres of large-scale military engagement.[9]

Even if the Russians should “succeed” in militarizing space first – and even if this militarization were to involve nuclear elements – a fully suitable U.S, countervailing strategy could still remain entirely on this planet. In these calculations, the prospective aggressor (here Russia) would be unconcerned with the geographic origins of any American retaliatory destruction. After all, those origins would have no material consequence as  long a US retaliatory strike  were judged sufficiently probable and “assuredly destructive.”

This is an absolutely key reason why the United States has no identifiable need for maintaining any specific supremacy in space. Expressed differently, this means that an American president can readily maintain an indispensable US “assured destruction” capability vis-à-vis Russian and/or China without adjusting principal target sets according to ever-changing venues of enemy missile deployments. As far as what president Trump has called his newly proposed space force “super-dooper missile” – not exactly the terminology of a scientist or military professional – it represents only a caricatural reference, one more appropriate for 1950s-era children’s’ television programming than for any seriously complex US strategic reality.[10] 

Nuclear strategy is certainly a “game” that an American president should always be prepared to “play,” perhaps even for the indefinite future, but not without some conspicuous prior understandings of history, science and very elementary formal logic.

Going forward, US President Trump must remain systematically aware of all conceivable circumstances that could place us in extremis atomicum,[11] but this focus will need to be broadly conceptual, and not childishly centered on American “super” missiles or reassuringly “big” bombs.

 Instead of “America First” (Trump’s overall term for a system that willfully punishes the Many for the presumed benefit of a contrived Few),  a rational American president should reject all derivatives and corollaries of “Westphalian” dynamics.[12] Accordingly, any foreign policy that naively seeks to maximize America’s own well-being at the zero-sum expense of other states and peoples would be acting against certain binding norms of international law[13] and contra its own national security interests at the same time.

Sadly, nothing could possibly be more apparent to anyone who bothers to think logically and historically about such literally existential matters.[14]

The world is a system. Everything, therefore, is interrelated.  Among other things, no American foreign policy success can be achieved at the willfully sacrificial expense of other countries and peoples. No such presumptive success is sustainable if the rest of the planet must thereby expect a more violent and explosive future. In this connection, it would be difficult to argue that Donald Trump’s Space Force could in any way lead us toward a less violent or less explosive global future.

Very difficult.

A manifestly corrosive American national tribalism is being “protected” by U.S. Space Force. Nothing more. When all cumulative policy impacts are taken into careful analytic account, this “soulless”[15] derivative of “America First” and belligerent nationalism will emerge as anything but patriotic. What else should we reasonably conclude about a planned U.S. military posture that would injure this country and various other countries abjectly, unambiguously and at the same time?[16]

 Among other basic issues here, it is effectively impossible to calculate the vast number of associated interactive effects of these significant injuries, especially where they would expectedly be “force-multiplying” or synergistic. By definition, wherever a synergistic injury would obtain, the “whole” of any inflicted harm would be greater than the tangible sum of its “parts.”

Today, at a time when America’s fight against worldwide disease pandemic should represent this nation’s very highest-priority security challenge, US Space Force offers a strategic posture that is wholly misconceived and prospectively lethal. Left in place, it will further exacerbate a deliberate presidential choice of gratuitous belligerence as the favored style of American military interaction. Ironically, what is required, instead, is the readily decipherable opposite of Space Force.

This means, in essence, a broadened US leadership awareness of human and societal interconnectedness.[17]

 History is duly instructive. From the 1648 Peace of Westphalia to the present fragmenting moment, world politics have been shaped by a continuously shifting balance of power and , correspondingly, by variously relentless correlates of war, terror and genocide. Ideally, of course, and against all calculable odds, hope should continue to exist. But now, even under the most imaginably optimistic circumstances, it should surely sing more softly, unobtrusively, even in a prudent undertone.

 For Americans now increasingly endangered by Trump’s visceral or seat-of-the-pants foreign policies, more will be required than superficial or sotto voce modulations. Soon, merely to survive on this imperiled planet, all of us, together, will have to rediscover an individual human life, one consciously detached from narrowly ritualistic patterns of conformance, mindless entertainments, shallow optimism or any other disingenuously contrived expressions of some utterly imagined tribal happiness. At a minimum, such survival will demand a prompt and full-scale retreat from what Donald Trump has termed “America First” and from all of its rapidly dissembling correlates. In this regard, Trump’s Space Force is the foreseeable result of a much deeper societal pathology, a know-nothing American populism that drives out intellect and reason in favor of incessantly deliberate mystifications and collective self-delusion.

Thomas Jefferson and America’s other Founding Fathers had already understood something very basic: There is always a necessary and respectable place for serious erudition. By learning from history, Americans may yet glean something from “America First” that is necessary to opposing any actual iterations of Space Force. They may learn, even during this national declension Time of Trump, that a ubiquitous mortality is more consequential than any glittering administration promises of “supremacy,” “advantage” or “victory.”[18] Our current time on earth is more meaningfully a time of agony than of algorithm.

In The Decline of the West, first published during World War I, Oswald Spengler asked importantly: “Can a desperate faith in knowledge free us from the nightmare of the grand questions?” This remains a vital query, but one that will never be adequately raised in our universities, on Wall Street or absolutely anywhere in the Trump White House. Still, we may learn something productive about these “grand questions” by studying American roles and responsibilities in a radically changing world politics.

This task must be about intellectual struggles, not weapons per se.

At that point we might finally come to understand what has thus far eluded us. The most suffocating insecurities of life on earth can never be undone by militarizing space and by abrogating pertinent international treaties. To argue otherwise is to further mar a wholesale unfamiliarity with world and national history with inexcusable derelictions of both logic and science.[19]

In the end, even in Trump-era American foreign policy decision-making, truth is exculpatory. In what amounts to a uniquely promising paradox, Space Force could help illuminate a blatant lie that may still let us see the underlying truth. This truth is peremptory and not really mysterious or unfathomable. Americans require, after all, a substantially wider consciousness of unity and relatedness between individual human beings and (correspondingly) between adversarial nation-states.

There is no more urgent requirement.

None.

Though seemingly oriented toward greater American power and security, building an American Space Force would merely propel this country’s disordered military strategy from one untenable posture of belligerent nationalism to another. What the proponents of Space Force ignore, inter alia, is that all national security options should always be examined from the standpoint of their cumulative impact. If the credible effect of this new America First policy initiative will be to spawn various reciprocal postures of belligerent nationalism among principal foes (i.e.., Russia and potentially China) the net effect will prove sorely destabilizing and comprehensively negative.[20]

At this exceedingly precarious moment in world and national history, the president of the United States must do everything possible to heed the poet Apollinaire’s warning of “intellectual conquest.” Though “force of arms” will assuredly remain a derivative source of military power and threat, America’s principal emphasis must now  be placed on variously promising concepts and ideas, not on expanding the “hardware” or tactics of willful human destructiveness. Instead of withholding funds from the World Health Organization,[21] Donald Trump must finally acknowledge the interminable futility of belligerent nationalism, and – correspondingly – take certain tangible steps toward expanded worldwide cooperation.

Could this actually happen?[22] To be sure, the probable likelihood of any success here is bound to be very small, but the time-dishonored alternatives are all uniformly misconceived and inherently catastrophic.[23] If America’s president should retain even a tiny remnant of leadership commitment to rational decision-making, he will quickly understand that U.S. Space Force is the reductio ad absurdum of a long-dying belligerent nationalism or Realpolitik.[24]

It is hardly a medical or biological secret that the factors common to all human beings greatly outnumber those that differentiate one from another. Accordingly, unless leaders of all great states can finally understand that the survival of any one state will inevitably be contingent upon the survival of all, true national security will continue to elude every nation on earth, even the most “powerful.”

The bottom line? The immediate security task must remain a proper conceptualization and refinement of national nuclear strategy. Simultaneously, however, President Trump must somehow learn to understand – together with all other far-sighted national leaders – that Planet Earth is an organic whole, a fragile unity that exhibits rapidly disappearing opportunities for avoiding successive war and dismemberment. To seize these residual opportunities,  Washington  must learn to build solidly upon the foundational insights of Francis Bacon, Galileo and Isaac Newton, and upon the much more recent summarizing observation of Lewis Mumford: “Civilization is the never ending process of creating one world and one humanity.”[25]

Obviously, the United States has no inherently special obligations in this regard, nor can it afford to build its own most immediate security policies upon narrowly distant hopes. Still, if expressed as an ultimate vision for more durable and just patterns of world politics, Donald Trump might recognize the indissoluble link between America’s own physical survival and that of the wider international system. In the final analysis, merely to keep itself “alive,” America will have to do whatever it can to preserve the global system as a whole. For the moment, this is an idea insurmountably far from the consciousness of America’s current president.

To instruct still further from Pierre Teilhard de Chardin’s The Phenomenon of Man, “The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the extremity of `everyone for himself’ is false and against nature. No element could move and grow except with and by all the others with itself.”


[1] The seventeenth-century French philosopher Blaise Pascal remarks prophetically in Pensées: “All our dignity consists in thought….It is upon this that we must depend…Let us labor then to think well: this is the foundation of morality.” Similar reasoning characterizes the writings of Baruch Spinoza, Pascal’s 17th-century contemporary. In Book II of his Ethics Spinoza considers the human mind, or the intellectual attributes, and – drawing further from Descartes – strives to define an essential theory of learning and knowledge. Much of this effort was founded upon familiar ( to Spinoza) certain  Jewish sources.

[2] “Who is to decide which is the grimmer sight,” asks Honore de Balzac, “withered hearts, or empty skulls?”

[3] See, by this author, Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order, Lexington Books, 1984; and Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy, Lexington Books, 1983. Regarding philosophical foundations of Realpoliitk: “Right is the interest of the stronger,” says Thrasymachus in Bk. I, Sec. 338 of Plato, THE REPUBLIC (B. Jowett tr., 1875).  “Justice is a contract neither to do nor to suffer wrong,” says Glaucon, id., Bk. II, Sec. 359.  See also, Philus in Bk III, Sec. 5 of Cicero, DE REPUBLICA.

[4] Power politics or a “balance-of-power” has never been more than a facile metaphor. Despite its name, it has never had anything to do with ensuring or ascertaining equilibrium. As such, balance has always been subjective, a matter of assorted individual perceptions. Adversarial states in this “Westphalian” dynamic can never be sufficiently confident that strategic circumstances are suitably “balanced” in their particular favor. In consequence, each side to any contest or competition must perpetually fear that it will somehow be left behind, this creating ever wider and even cascading patterns of national insecurity and collective disequilibrium.

[5] Says French Jesuit philosopher Pierre Teilhard de Chardin in The Phenomenon of Man: “The egocentric ideal of a future reserved for those who have managed to attain egoistically the  extremity of `everyone for himself’ is false and against nature.”

[6] International law remains a “vigilante” or “Westphalian” system. See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119, Together, these two treaties comprise the Peace of Westphalia.

[7] The Devil in George Bernard Shaw’s Man and Superman observes correctly that “Man’s heart is in his weapons….in the arts of death he outdoes Nature herself….when he goes out to slay, he carries a marvel of mechanisms that lets loose at the touch of his finger all the hidden molecular energies….”

[8] We may think here of the applicable Talmudic metaphor: “The earth from which the first man was made was gathered in all the four corners of the world.”

[9] Understood  at purely conceptual levels, US strategic thinkers must inquire accordingly whether accepting a visible posture of limited nuclear war would merely exacerbate enemy nuclear intentions, or whether it would actually enhance this country’s overall nuclear deterrence. Such questions have been raised by this author for many years, but usually in explicit reference to more broadly theoretical or generic nuclear threats. See, for example, Louis René Beres, The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis (1972); Louis René Beres, Terrorism and Global Security: The Nuclear Threat (1979; second edition, 1987); Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (1984); Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (1986); and Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (2016).

[10] As a child growing up in New York City in the 1950s, I am reminded of “Captain Video” and “Tom Corbett Space Cadet.” Plainly, such earlier children’s programs are not a proper model for US strategic forces, anywhere.

[11] See, by Louis René Beres at Harvard Law School: https://harvardnsj.org/2020/03/complex-determinations-deciphering-enemy-nuclear-intentions/ See also, by this author, at US Army War College,  https://warroom.armywarcollege.edu/articles/nuclear-decision-making/ and at Modern War Institute, West Point (Pentagon)  https://mwi.usma.edu/theres-no-historical-guide-assessing-risks-us-north-korea-nuclear-war/

[12] For the most part, these dynamics describe a more-or-less variable condition of “chaos.” Though composed in the seventeenth century, Thomas Hobbes’ Leviathan may still offer us a vision of this condition in modern world politics. During chaos, which is a “time of War,” says the English philosopher in Chapter XIII  (“Of the Natural Condition of Mankind, as concerning their Felicity, and Misery.”):  “… every man is Enemy to every man… and where the life of man is solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” Still, at the actual time of writing Leviathan, Hobbes believed that the condition of “nature” in world politics was less chaotic than that same condition extant among individual human beings. This was because of what he had called the “dreadful equality” of individual men in nature concerning the ability to kill others. Significantly, however, this once-relevant differentiation has effectively disappeared with the continuing manufacture and spread of nuclear weapons, a spread soon apt to be exacerbated by an already-nuclear North Korea and by a not-yet-nuclear Iran.

[13] According to Article 53 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties: “…a peremptory norm of general international law is a norm accepted and recognized by the international community of states as a whole as a norm from which no derogation is permitted and which can be modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character.” See: Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Done at Vienna, May 23, 1969. Entered into force, Jan. 27, 1980. U.N. Doc. A/CONF. 39/27 at 289 (1969), 1155 U.N.T.S. 331, reprinted in 8 I.L.M.  679 (1969).

[14] One may be usefully reminded here of Bertrand Russell’s trenchant observation in Principles of Social Reconstruction (1916): “Men fear thought more than they fear anything else on earth – more than ruin, more even than death.”

[15]  Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung both thought of “soul” (in German, Seele) as the intangible essence of a human being. Neither Freud nor Jung ever provided any precise definition of the term, but it was not intended by either in some ordinary or familiar religious sense. For both psychologists, it represented a recognizable and critical seat of mind and passions in this life. Interesting, too, in the present analytic context, is that Freud explained his predicted decline of America by making various express references to “soul.” Freud was plainly disgusted by any civilization so apparently unmoved by considerations of true “consciousness” (e.g., awareness of intellect, literature and history); he even thought that the crude American commitment to perpetually shallow optimism and material accomplishment at any cost would occasion sweeping psychological or emotional misery.

[16] From the standpoint of classical political and legal philosophy, such a national policy would be the diametric opposite of the statement by Emmerich de Vattel in The Law of Nations (1758): “The first general law which is to be found in the very end of the society of Nations is that each Nation should contribute as far as it can to the happiness and advancement of other Nations.”

[17] On this indispensable awareness, we may learn from the ancient Greek Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, “You are a citizen of the universe.” A broader idea of “oneness” followed the death of Alexander in 322 BCE, and with it came a coinciding doctrine of “universality” or interconnectedness. By the Middle Ages, this political and social doctrine had fused with the notion of a respublica Christiana, a worldwide Christian commonwealth, and Thomas, John of Salisbury and Dante were looking upon Europe as a single and unified Christian community. Below the level of God and his heavenly host, all the realm of humanity was to be considered as one. This is because all the world had been created for the same single and incontestable purpose; that is, to provide  background for the necessary drama of human salvation. Only in its relationship to the universe itself was the world correctly considered as a part rather than a whole. Said Dante in De Monarchia: “The whole human race is a whole with reference to certain parts, and, with reference to another whole, it is a part. For it is a whole with reference to particular kingdoms and nations, as we have shown; and it is a part with reference to the whole universe, which is evident without argument.” Today, of course, the idea of human oneness can and should be fully justified/explained in more purely secular terms of understanding.

[18] See by this author, at Oxford University Press:  https://blog.oup.com/2016/04/war-political-victories/

[19] Says Jose Ortega y’Gassett about science (Man and Crisis, 1958): “Science, by which I mean the entire body of knowledge about things, whether corporeal or spiritual, is as much a work of imagination as it is of observation….The latter is not possible without the former.”

[20] Included in this assessment must be the expanding risks of US Presidential nuclear decision-making. By this writer, see Louis René Beres, The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists  https://thebulletin.onuclear rg/2016/08/what-if-you-dont-trust-the-judgment-of-the-president-whose-finger-is-over-the-nuclear-button/

[21] In stark contrast to President Trump, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the Director General of WHO, spoke modestly, intelligently and purposefully: “COVID-19 does not discriminate between rich nations and poor, large nations and small. It does not discriminate between nationalities, ethnicities, or ideologies. Neither do we,” he said. “This is a time for all of us to be united in our common struggle against a common threat, a dangerous enemy. When we’re divided, the virus exploits the cracks between us.”

[22] In partial reply, we may consider Karl Jaspers in Man in the Modern Age (1951): “Everyone knows that the world situation  in which we live is not a final one.”

[23] Federico Fellini, the Italian film director, once commented wisely: “The visionary is the only realist.”

[24] Louis René Beres’ earlier book, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (1984) was already organized around this same core assumption.

[25] There have been prophets of global integration in the modern era, especially Condorcet, Immanuel Kant, Auguste Comte and H.G. Wells. For the very best treatment of these prophets and their still-indispensable ideas, see W. Warren Wagar’s The City of Man (1963) and Building the City of Man: Outlines of a World Civilization (1971). Professor Wagar was a great visionary himself, one with whom I earlier had the honor to work at Princeton (World Order Models Project) in the late 1960s.

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Defense

Gulf Sands Shift as Anchors of Regional Security Loosen

Dr. James M. Dorsey

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China and the Gulf states are in the same boat as they grapple with uncertainty about regional security against the backdrop of doubts about the United States’ commitment to the region.

Like the Gulf states, China has long relied on the US defense umbrella to ensure the security of the flow of energy and other goods through waters surrounding the Gulf in what the United States has termed free-riding.

In anticipation of the day when China can no longer depend on security provided by the United States free of charge, China has gradually adjusted its defense strategy and built its first foreign military facility in Djibouti facing the Gulf from the Horn of Africa.

With the People’s Liberation Army Navy tasked with protecting China’s sea lines of communication and safeguarding its overseas interests, strategic planners have signaled that Djibouti is a first step in the likely establishment of further bases that would allow it to project long-range capability and shorten the time needed to resupply.

But Chinese strategic planners and their Gulf counterparts may part ways when it comes to what would be acceptable geopolitical parameters for a rejuvenated regional security architecture.

A rejiggered architecture would likely embed rather than exclude the US defense umbrella primarily designed to protect conservative energy-rich monarchies against Iran and counter militancy.

In contrast to China and Russia, Gulf states, as a matter of principle, favor identifying Iran as the enemy and have cold shouldered proposals for a non-aggression agreement. But for that they need the United States to be a reliable partner that would unconditionally come to their defense at whatever cost.

For its part, China goes to great lengths to avoid being sucked into the Middle East’s myriad conflicts. Adopting a different approach, Russia has put forward a plan for a multilateral security structure based on a non-aggression understanding that would include Iran.

No doubt, China, unlike Russia, wants to postpone the moment in which it has no choice but to become involved in Gulf security. However, China could find itself under pressure sooner rather than later depending on how Gulf perceptions of risk in the continued reliance on the United States evolve.

One factor that could propel things would be a change of guard in the White House as a result of the US election in November.

Democratic presumptive candidate Joe Biden, as president, may strike a more internationalist tone than Donald J. Trump, though a Biden administration’s relations with Saudi Arabia could prove to be more strained. Similarly, Mr. Biden’s focus, like that of Mr. Trump, is likely to be China rather than the Middle East.

By the same token, China’s appraisal of its ability to rely on the US in the Gulf could change depending on how mounting tensions with the US and potential decoupling of the world’s two largest economies unfolds.

China’s increased security engagement in Central Asia may well be an indication of how it hopes to proceed in the Gulf and the broader Middle East. China has stepped up joint military exercises with various Central Asian nations while its share of the Central Asian arms market has increased from 1.5 percent in 2014 to 18 percent today.

Founded in 2001 as a Central Asian security grouping, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) has expanded its relationships in South Asia and the Caucasus, and admitted Iran as an observer.

Referring to China’s infrastructure, telecommunications, and energy-driven Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) that seeks to link the Eurasian landmass to the People’s Republic, China and Central Asia scholar Raffaello Pantucci explained that: “China is expanding its security role in Central Asia to protect its interests in the region and is increasingly unwilling to abrogate security entirely to either local security forces or Russia.”

“By doing so, Beijing is demonstrating an approach that could be read as a blueprint for how China might advance its security relations in other BRI countries,”  Mr. Pantucci wrote.

Central Asia may find it easier than the Gulf to accommodate the Chinese approach.

The problem for most of the Gulf states is that taking Chinese and Russian concerns into account in any new security arrangement would have to entail paradigm shifts in their attitudes toward Iran.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – which has recently made overtures to Iran, insist that any real détente has to involve a halt to Iranian support for proxies in various Middle Eastern countries as well as a return to a renegotiated agreement that would curb not only the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program but also its development of ballistic missiles.

Caught between the rock of perceived US unreliability and the hard place of Chinese and Russian geopolitical imperatives, smaller Gulf states, including the UAE, in contrast to Saudi Arabia, are hedging their bets by cautiously reaching out to Iran in different ways.

They hope that the overtures will take them out of the firing line should either Iran or the United States, by accident or deliberately, heighten tensions and/or spark a wider military confrontation.

To be sure, various Gulf states have different calculations. Saudi Arabia and Bahrain have adopted the most hardline position toward Iran. Oman and Qatar have long maintained normal relations, while the UAE and Kuwait have made limited overtures.

In the short run, Gulf states’ realization of China and Russia’s parameters could persuade them to maintain their levels of expenditure on weapons acquisitions. And, in the case of Saudi Arabia and the UAE, to pursue the development of a domestic defense industry, despite the economic fallout of the pandemic, the drop of oil and gas prices, and the shrinking of energy markets.

Probably, so will recent Iranian military advances. Iran last week publicly displayed what is believed to be an unmanned underwater vehicle that would allow the Revolutionary Guards’ navy to project greater power – because of its long-range, better integrated weapons systems – and more efficiently lay underwater mines.

The vehicle put Iran in an even more elite club than the one it joined in April when it successfully launched a military satellite, a capability only a dozen countries have. When it comes to unmanned underwater vehicles, Iran rubs shoulder with only three countries: the United States, Britain, and China.

Iran’s advances serve two purposes: they highlight the failure of the United States’ two-year-old sanctions-driven maximum pressure campaign to force Iran’s economy on its knees, and, together with massive US arms sales to Gulf countries, they fuel a regional arms race.

To be sure, Russia and China benefit from the race to a limited degree too.

In the ultimate analysis, however, the race could contribute to heightened tensions that risk putting one more nail in the coffin of a US-dominated regional architecture. That in turn could force external powers like China to engage whether they want to or not.

“China is quickly learning that you can’t trade and invest in an unstable place like the Middle East if you don’t have the means to protect your interests,” said Israeli journalist David Rosenberg. “Where business executives come, warships and commando units follow, and they will follow big.”

Author’s note: This story was first published in Inside Arabia

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