Experts and politicians are familiar with several variants of the 2018 NPR. The Huffington Post published a draft in mid-January. On February 2, in the run-up to the February 5 deadline to meet the central limits of the US–Russia New START treaty, the NPR was officially presented in the Pentagon by representatives of the Department of Defense, the Department of State, and the Department of Energy. The full text of the document was then briefly deleted from the Pentagon website.
On February 6, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis personally presented the NPR to the House Armed Services Committee. Witnesses point out that this version differed slightly from the previous one. One of the main changes had to do with the appearance of a chart showing how the US is lagging behind Russia, China and North Korea in upgrading its nuclear arsenal (see Fig.1). In the first draft, the entire Korean Peninsula was shown in the colours of the North Korean flag; in the next version, the chart represented Taiwan as a Chinese territory; in the following one, Russia “lost” the Kuril Islands in their entirety. The latest variant of the chart appears to be true to life, but this minor incident may indicate a certain degree of inattention to detail on the part of those who compiled the document. It is worth mentioning that the NPR summary has also been published in Russian, Chinese, Korean, Japanese and French: this suggests that Washington believes it extremely important to inform its allies and adversaries about the US approach to nuclear arms.
The Russian Factor
The Trump administration’s nuclear doctrine specifically emphasizes the degradation of the system of international politico-military relations in the second decade of the 21st century, a process characterized by the quantitative and qualitative increase of challenges and threats to US interests. This situation resulted from the international activity of “revisionist powers”: Russia, China, North Korea and Iran. The document repeatedly mentions this “revisionism”, so it is worth listing the nuclear-related accusations Washington is levelling against Russia.
The NPR accuses Russia of three main “sins”:
- breaching the INF Treaty by testing and deploying a long-range ground-based cruise missile;
- pursuing a “escalate-to-deescalate” strategy. This strategy implies delivering a limited tactical nuclear strike should the threat of losing a conventional conflict become imminent, in order to subsequently impose the terms of conflict settlement on the adversary. This concept belonged exclusively to the realm of journalism until recently, even though renowned experts did discuss it actively and aggressively, albeit somewhat sceptically;
- upgrading its nuclear arsenals, including via the development of various exotic delivery platforms. Everyone seems already accustomed to fantasies about hypersonic glide vehicles, but the mention, in this context, of a strategic intercontinental torpedo with a megaton-class warhead (known as Status-6) is puzzling and unexpected.
The Russian Foreign Ministry’s reaction to the publication of the new US nuclear doctrine came in the form of a prompt and fairly apposite comment: “Russia’s Military Doctrine clearly limits the possibility of using nuclear weapons to two hypothetical defensive scenarios: first, in response to an aggression […] involving the use of nuclear or any other weapons of mass destruction, and second, in response to a non-nuclear aggression, but only if Russia’s survival is endangered. The 2014 Military Doctrine introduced a new term, the ‘system of non-nuclear deterrence’, which implies preventing aggression primarily through reliance on conventional (non-nuclear) forces.”
The comment continues: “We are deeply concerned about Washington’s no-limits approach, under which it might use nuclear weapons in ‘extreme circumstances’, which are not limited to military scenarios in the new US doctrine. […] If this is not the doctrinal enhancement of the role of nuclear weapons, what then does Washington imply when it uses the term with regard to Russia?”
One may mock the lexical peculiarities of the Russian comment, but it does contain a commendably succinct and exhaustive description of the country’s nuclear doctrine. It should be stressed that the Foreign Ministry was merely reacting. Had it been proactive in explaining the country’s stance on nuclear weapons and their qualitative and quantitative parameters to partners, opponents and society, all questions regarding Russia’s conceptions and arms may have been resolved before making their way into the NPR and similar documents.
Such positive promotion of Russia’s strategic non-nuclear deterrence concept merits in-depth analysis. In his speech at an open session of the Defence Ministry’s Board in late 2017, General Valery Gerasimov, Russian Chief of the General Staff, provided an exhaustive description of the “non-nuclear deterrence components” being formed in Russia as applied to the weapons systems currently employed. These include the S-400 SAM system, the Bastion coastal anti-ship missile system, submarines and sea-surface ships armed with Kalibr missiles and also, with certain reservations, the Iskander-M theatre missile system (“operational-tactical”). It is worth mentioning that all the aforementioned systems are, to varying degrees, dual-capable, i.e. they can be tipped with nuclear warheads. The problem of dual-capable nuclear/conventional arms is growing ever more acute. In particular, one of last year’s publications by the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, under the editorship of James M. Acton, is devoted to this topic.
The US Response
Washington is planning to employ a combination of the following elements in order to deter Russia:
- the US nuclear triad (intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear submarines armed with ballistic missiles, and heavy bombers);
- non-strategic nuclear forces from the USA and other countries in Europe, i.e. B611 aerial bombs and the nuclear sharing concept, which Russia has been criticizing for many years;
- the nuclear forces of British and French allies.
This approach appears to be a serious obstacle to the future of bilateral strategic offensive arms reduction. At the same time, it may also prove instrumental in overcoming the seeming deadlock. Washington, in effect, is introducing its allies’ nuclear arsenals into the Russia–US strategic stability equation, meaning that Russia now has every reason to take these arsenals into account in future talks. Moscow will certainly have to introduce into the equation some of the Russian nuclear components that have until now remained outside the scope of limitation and reduction agreements, and were even excluded from the transparency principle. However, certain progress is possible here, provided that third nuclear countries (ideally China as well) are involved in the process.
Let us now discuss the materiel portion of the NPR: the assessment of America’s needs for nuclear delivery platforms.
The Trump administration believes that America is nowhere near being “great again” when it comes to nuclear weapons. This opinion is not entirely true. Nevertheless, the NPR calls for creation and deployment of new systems in addition to the new B-21 Raider bomber, LRSO air-launched cruise missile, GBSD intercontinental ballistic missile, new Columbia-class submarine (all effectively launched under the Obama administration), and the modernization/service life extension programmes for existing nuclear warheads, which are nearing completion. The document identifies the need for nuclear-tipped sea-launched cruise missiles and lower-yield warheads for Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
The NPR also sets the rather vague objective of developing advanced nuclear delivery platforms and “alternative basing modes”, which may imply mobile ground-based (or airborne!) launchers. Sea-launched cruise missiles are meant to fill the gap caused by the INF-Treaty-related limitations, both in response to Russia’s “transgressions” and in other theatres saturated with missiles of nations not bound by the treaty. Notionally, low-yield warheads for submarine-launched ballistic missiles are meant as a deterrent against attempted use of tactical nuclear weapons in conventional conflict.
The NPR authors believe the US president will thus be able to deliver a nuclear strike that would not result in a full-scale nuclear war. It remains unclear how Washington’s adversary is supposed to distinguish an incoming low-yield munition from a full-blown first-strike weapon. The single-missile argument does not hold water, because a single launch from a submarine with subsequent air burst is considered a classic tactic for blinding enemy early warning and missile defence radars, to be followed by the multiple-launch application of the entire arsenal. Curiously, the UK had such sub-strategic submarine-launched ballistic missiles in its armoury more than 20 years ago. Discussions continue as to whether these munitions are effective. It would appear that the preservation of the “nuclear taboo” proves the usefulness of such munitions. On the other hand, the existence of “serious” strategic weapons in the arsenals of several leading world powers seems no less convincing a reason why nuclear arms have not been used in anger to date.
Apart from the aforementioned aspects of nuclear arms development, the NPR pays special attention to less publicly known components of the US nuclear arsenal: the nuclear command, control and communications (NC3) system and nuclear warheads.
The US NC3 system has long been in need of modernization because it consists largely of slightly modified Cold-War-era technology. At the same time, the NPR emphasizes the increase in, and qualitative changes to, the threats in outer space and cyberspace, the two key command-and-control arenas that apply not only to nuclear arms. To bring the NC3 system up to date and make it reliably stable, the NPR calls for massive reforms, the deployment of new subsystems, and the introduction of protection against all types of threats. It is in this context that the document contains the extremely controversial thesis stating that nuclear weapons may be used in response to a conventional attack on critical infrastructure, even a cyberattack against NC3 systems. The connection between nuclear arms and cyberthreats is becoming a particularly hot topic. It appears that within the debates involving the NPR, the sides would do well to at least reach a mutual understanding of the problem, if not work out common rules of the game.
The NPR contains detailed and tightly deadlined targets for the National Nuclear Security Administration (which formally reports to the Department of Energy but operates independently) to prolong the service life of existing warhead types until 2030 (this may require upgrades, as illustrated by the example of the W-76 warhead for the Trident II submarine-launched ballistic missile). Also by 2030, the USA must produce up to 80 plutonium pits, which are critical to the manufacture of nuclear charges. In fact, these targets were generally described back in 2007–2008, and their importance was reiterated following the signature of New START in 2010–2011. The USA is not planning to conduct any nuclear tests (with the exception of those required to ensure the safety and efficiency of the nuclear arsenal). On the other hand, Washington does not intend to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty either.
The new NPR pays somewhat less attention to non-proliferation, nuclear terrorism and arms control than the previous versions, and mainly focuses on the rivalry between the superpowers.
According to official estimates made public in late 2017, full implementation of the US nuclear modernization programme will require up to $1.2 trillion through the year 2046. Coupled with massive spending on missile defence (incidentally, the Department of Defense will shortly release a Missile Defense Review, whose title conspicuously omits the word “ballistic”), and the growing needs of all conventional military branches, the planned expenses might be streamlined by postponing the implementation of some projects and completely abandoning others, which is not unknown in the history of the US defence industry.
The Doctrine as the Catalyst of Discussion
The modernization of nuclear weapons is inevitable and even advisable for all nuclear powers. Russia, for one, continues to deploy and develop advanced nuclear systems. Universal nuclear disarmament remains a thing of the distant future; shiny new missiles appear to be safer to handle than rusty old ones, and they are better at deterring potential adversaries.
A number of provisions contained in the NPR make one reconsider the existing attitude towards the role of nuclear arms in the contemporary system of international politico-military relations and start devising new conceptual approaches. It would be an utter mistake to return to “escalation dominance”, the “missile gap,” and other antiquated Cold War theses, which are hardly applicable to the contemporary polycentric nuclear world.
Nuclear weapons as an aspect of great power competition were too quick to disappear from the international agenda (together with the very notions of competition and great power), with the focus shifting towards various global problems associated with sustainable development. The new US NPR clearly indicates the fallibility of this approach. At the same time the discussion spurred by the publication of this document gives one hope for the emergence of a new approach to building a stable multipolar world.
First published in our partner RIAC
Revitalising the Quad
With a high-level informal meeting of the Foreign Ministers of US, India, Japan and Australia on the side lines of the last month UN General Assembly meeting, the much needed impetus has gained to the quadrilateral security dialogue (quad) concerning the security of the Indo-Pacific. The genesis of the quad grouping can be traced back to the 2007 Malabar naval exercise, but proclaimed it as an idea for security of the Indo-Pacific by Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe in 2013 with his ‘Security Diamond’ concept and revived it in 2017 with a new security dialogue mechanism. Since then the four member countries have had official level meetings largely on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit. Indeed, quad is a grouping of regional heavyweights in their backyard, Japan in the western Pacific, India in the Indian Ocean and Australia in the southern Pacific along with the most powerful military in the world, the US. However, China perceived it as a mechanism to counter its rise. Undoubtedly, the looming China “threat” is the rallying point of the quad formation.
China views quad as a grouping as well as individual countries differently. Beijing sees quad is a potential military alliance under US leadership against China. At the same time it doesn’t see individual regional countries as a threat and presumably view with varied perspectives: it opposes Japan being a ‘normal’ military power but is satisfied with an ally of the US; it objects to a strong India-US defence cooperation because US technical support would help India become a regional hegemon in the Indian Ocean theatre; while remain neutral to Australia.
In a similar fashion the member countries also view China “threat” separately- for US, it’s a peer competitor in spite of the economic interdependence andonly US can afford the magnitude of current trade war, while India and Japan are its neighboring countries and major trade partners so ill-afford to face security challenges or economic misery, and China is Australia’s largest trade partner but no qualms over security. And, India is more reticent in strengthening the quad because of its fear of “ally-entrapment”. Conversely, China continues its expansionism in the maritime domain, now reached upto India’s backyard. However, no single country can independently challenge China’s might and that China wants this situation continues in future.
Asia requires a regional balancing mechanism
As realism explains, peace and stability across the regions is ensured through balance of power. If one country emerged as a regional hegemon then it would seek to exploit others and start exercising its will over lesser states. Eminent realist Kenneth Waltzargued “unbalanced power, whoever wields it, is a potential danger to others.” So far, the old cold war centric balancing and US preponderance have been the main pillars of stability in Asia. But with the rise of China that balance is diminishing and Asia seems to be moving in the direction of unipolarity. However, a unipolar Asia with China at the centre would harm the interest of other heavyweights so structure demands a balancing mechanism to contain one-country dominance. The quad formation can be seen as a structurally driven balancing of secondary powers to prevent the region from unipolarity
At the same time, quad faces perspective and structural problems. No country in the region is willing to formally join in anycounter-mechanism that is being touted as ant-China. And China is vehemently opposing any sort of coming together of these four countries. For instance, when 2007 edition of bilateral India- US Malabar naval exercise was converted into a quadrilateral, China sent demarche to the participants asking the rationale behind such grouping and since then the four countries havenever joined together for a naval exercise.
Another perspective problem is how the quad is acceptable for other regional countries. Southeast Asian states fear that the regional politics will be dominated by great power game and Southeast Asia would be a theatre for jostling by these powers. So it upholds its time-tested inclusive approach in all regional formations, and nothing short of inclusivity.
On the contrary, quad must be seen as another regional organisations along with APEC, ARF, EAS and ADMM plus. All these organisations have different objectives, some of it are security oriented, and deliberations are in a consensus manner. However, none of it is able to address hard security issues that if a military clash took place between China and others then it is hardly to manage under such organizations. Though quad is not a region-wide organization but has the potential military capability to contain the threat both individually and collectively, if it is necessary. At some level the region requires a power balancing mechanism to maintain peace and stability.
Structurally, it is not a formal alliance so does no clear agenda and an action plan, except the idea of the need for preserving rule-based order in the Indo-Pacific. Japan and Australia are close allies of the US while India wants to keep its ‘strategic autonomy’ and doesn’t want to give any commitment to larger regional issues unless it directly confronts New Delhi. As a result, there has been no coherent agenda as to how this mechanism can be brought up. Threat perceptions and the counter mechanisms are varied for the quad members.
Under these circumstances, Quad needs to be kept under the soft balancing tactics as of now. A hard balancing by forming a military alliance would bring a cold war structure that will destabilize the region. The soft balancing can be converted into a hard balancing according to circumstances that if China ever sought to become a revisionist state. At the same time, instead of as a leader US should be a facilitator of the quad and the regional countries of India Japan and Australia should be allowed to drive the quad. Today trilateral mechanism blossoms within the quad: US- India-Japan and US-Japan- Australia, but there is no India-Japan- Australia trilateral mechanism. An India-Japan- Australia regional mechanism under the umbrella of quad can bring more energy to the quad. Also, it necessarily requires an action plan which could convince other regional countries of the importance of the quad in Asian security scenario.
The Game-changing Fallibility of BMD Systems: Lessons from the Middle East and South Asia
As the Middle East’s major powers recalculate their defence and foreign policies following last month’s missile strikes on Saudi oilfields, there have emerged some telling lessons with regard to the changing nature of modern warfare. While these lessons are perhaps painfully obvious to the likes of Saudi Arabia who have directly been on the receiving end of these attacks, they are also evident in the near deafening introspection being undertaken by the region’s other power brokers, the United States and Israel as well. This has been made clear by the fact that even after a month since the attacks took place, there remains a definite and near ironic aspect of shock and awe to what was otherwise a quick, covert and precision strike on a highly valuable target.
What’s more, the fact that the strike took place despite the presence of one of the world’s most sophisticated missile defense systems, presents a telling example of how the technological balance in cruise missile development has shifted more in favor of offensive strikes at the expense of a once reliable defensive capability. As such, the ease and precision with which one of the world’s most closely guarded facilities were struck, shows that based on the widespread availability of current technologies, it is perhaps more reliable to count on a missile system’s offensive strike capabilities. Consequently, the opportunity cost of investing in and developing expensive missile defense shields based on this scenario becomes tremendously higher.
These lessons provide valuable strategic import to another nearby region which is also brimming with tensions amongst two extremely well equipped and militarily capable states. This refers to the South Asian region, where both India and Pakistan also seem headed towards a dangerous escalation of hostilities. As a result, both countries would do well to consider the lessons emanating from the above-mentioned Saudi experience. For instance, like Saudi Arabia, India has also been on a military spending spree over the last decade, importing some of the world’s most advanced weapons systems from across the world. Its massive economic growth has given it license to pursue a robust military modernization program that is keenly focused on enhancing its power projection capabilities. However, again like Saudi Arabia, India’s military also remains untested and risks being termed another ‘glitter force’ that is more concerned with procuring arms as a matter of prestige as opposed to operational efficacy. This for instance was clear during India’s aerial engagement with Pakistani Air Force jets in March, during which a sophisticated Israeli origin missile fired by India’s air defenses downed one of India’s own Russian made Mi-17 helicopters. Such lack of operational readiness and blind faith in untested systems is evident in both the Saudi and Indian experience highlighted above.
Specifically, regarding the US made Patriot batteries used by the Saudis and the Israeli made Spyder missiles used by India, the above incidents have shown that the efficacy and reliability of these systems in the real-time conflicts of today is quite patchy at best. If anything, any form of over-reliance on these systems runs the risk of a grave miscalculation which in effect is multiplied by the regional complexities of both their respective security environments. These miscalculations are already on display in the increasingly volatile Middle East, as the Western backed and Saudi led military alliance is just realizing. With the vulnerability of such missile defense systems now increasingly evident, there has also arguably been an element of deterrence that has been further reinforced. Consequently, the path to de-escalation appears a lot more rational than one which may escalate towards all-out war. The case of South Asia too was similar where the aerial engagement between nuclear weapons capable India and Pakistan, also ultimately reinforced the latter’s conventional deterrent while exposing gaps in the former’s much touted aerial defenses.
Yet, considering that the case of South Asia remains infinitely more precarious due to the presence of two adversarial nuclear weapons states, the above described developments pose additional yet considerably more important implications when applied to the region’s nuclear deterrence framework. In effect, they erode the belief that ballistic missile defense systems can serve as the backbone to what many a state would consider a winnable nuclear war. These primarily comprise of Nuclear Weapons States such as the US and India which in the recent past have increasingly relied on concepts such as counterforce, pre-emption and precision as key themes within their official military thinking. All under the premise that Missile defense shields offer a reliable and credible defense against an adversary’s pre-emptive or secondary nuclear strikes as part of their strategic calculus. India’s much vaunted purchase of the Russian made S-400 system presents a clear example of such a strategy.
In contrast however, the fallibility and faltering reliability of such air defence systems shows the immense dangers of adopting such an approach within scenarios that have the potential of irreversibly altering life on earth as we know it. Considering how peace and stability in the South Asian region is precariously balanced between Pakistan and India’s nuclear deterrence framework, the unreliability and increasing fallibility of missile defense systems thus warrant a serious re-evaluation of the strategic calculus of both nuclear weapons capable India and Pakistan.
Protracted Asymmetric Geopolitical Conflict
Each of us has his own definition of “geo-history”, and mine is the interface of the “geopolitical” and the “world-historical.”
We are marked by two anniversaries, that of the start of WW II in 1939 and its end in 1945. Fascism was a unique regime of terror, with a strategy of unbridled ‘exterminism’ and therefore constituted a unique political evil in world history. However, outside of its type of regime, strategy and tactics, was its ‘grand strategic’ goal also unique or was it not? Is there a resemblance or homology between, on the one hand, the doctrine of Ein Reich, the telos of world domination, a Thousand Year Reich, and the military moves of Germany and its Axis partners in the run-up to WWII, and on the other, that of a unipolar world order and global military expansionism; of open-ended unipolar global leadership? Is there a continuity or homology between on the one hand, the wartime US Grand Area planning for the postwar world (the documents of which were unearthed by Noam Chomsky), and the present Indo-Pacific strategy and on the other hand, the notorious earlier search for Lebensraum? Is the Indo-Pacific strategy an insistence on “maritime Lebensraum”?
If the answer is yes, and the two paradigms can be superimposed upon each other, then history provides only one answer: the united front and its extension, a global grand alliance. But a united front and grand alliance with whom, to what end?
Politics is combat. International politics is international combat. By the “suicide” of the Soviet Union (that post-mortem verdict was Fidel Castro’s), the Empire was unbound and it is now threatening world peace and the future of humanity itself. Every single arms control agreement (bar one) has been unilaterally renounced, but before that came the rollback of the Yalta and Potsdam agreements with the destruction of former Yugoslavia and the expansion of NATO. Now the empire seeks to dominate the entire global theatre in all possible spheres. This should not come as a shock or surprise. It is almost a law of physics (perhaps it should be called ‘geophysics’) that once unwisely unbound, the Empire would uncoil, spread, expand, and seek to dominate—in short, that the Empire would seek to behave as an empire.
The geohistorical question facing humanity today is how to constrain the Empire, but not return to the old delusions of how to do so. The Empire must be initially counterbalanced and then constrained– bound– permanently, until, as in the case of the Roman Empire, there is a benign change of beliefs (in this case, political) from within its own society, its own citizenry and not as before, a change in its external posture which proves in the long geo-historical term, to have been merely ephemeral, conjunctural, even tactical.
The Empire’s strategy as concerns Russia is quite simple to understand. It is a re-run of the strategy that enabled them to prevail in the Cold War. It is to provoke Russia into an arms race and exceed prudent spending limits, cause economic hardship and generate enough discontent that the citizenry, especially the young, will agitate, thereby causing psychological exhaustion and catalyzing peaceful democratic “regime change”, bringing into office a capitulationist/collaborationist administration sooner or later, in the wake of the end of President Putin’s term. Meanwhile, what is being played out in Hong Kong foreshadows the geohistorical endgame envisaged by the Empire for China and Eurasia as a whole.
By its global offensive, imperialism has potentially overstretched itself morally, ethically and politically. Not since Vietnam has imperialism had a potential target profile which is so large and so exposed. The targeting of Iran when that country has not violated the JCPOA can be turned into a massive indictment on the twin grounds of reason and logic as well as of natural justice. Similarly, the targeting of Venezuela can be exposed for the absurdity that someone who did not even run for Presidential office should be recognized as the legitimate President of a country. So also, the unilateral withdrawal from arms control agreements can be exposed for the danger this poses to humanity.
One of the most important principles of asymmetric political resistance is the identification of the most important strategic real estate as the moral high ground. The moral or moral-ethical high ground is the seizure and occupation of that terrain of argument which is recognized and recognizable as more rational, reasonable and of broader benefit to humanity, assuring “the greatest good of the greatest number” according to universal values and norms and not merely national or regional values and norms.
The main axial routes and themes of the political struggle should be Peace and Sovereignty. Firstly, these are themes that have a universal or near-universal resonance. Secondly, they allow the critic to fight for and occupy the moral high ground because the West has only a toehold on the moral high ground in all these cases. Thirdly, they are also the main achievements of humanity that are threatened by the Western offensive. Fourthly, they are themes that are likely to have resonance among peoples the world over, albeit with greater or lesser emphasis in different areas of the globe.
This great struggle cannot be waged with the guiding ideology solely of or governed solely by “State Interest” or “National Interest.” It can only be waged by the recovery of the spirit of “internationalism” that was present in the entire Soviet period. It is little appreciated that Stalin, the father of ‘Socialism in One Country,’ and political leader of the Great Patriotic War waged an international campaign against fascism. Even in periods of isolation and siege, Stalin’s perspectival approach was never one of a cultural or civilizational preoccupation. The struggle for Peace and Sovereignty, Against Interventionism and Global War, requires the building of global opinion and a global movement.
A contemporary Realist would immediately grasp the opportunity which has opened up in post-Cold War history, namely of compensating at least partially for the loss of those territories and Russia’s Western buffer, the rollback of Yalta and Potsdam and the USSR’s wartime gains and the advance of the NATO borders up to Russia, by the geostrategic gains on the Eastern front through the renewal of partnership with China. Obviously, this has been recognized and acted upon but it has yet to be optimized by the kind of diverse yet solid strategic relationships that the USA has through NATO in the West, and Japan and many other states in other parts of the world. A Realist would recommend a re-visiting, retrieval and revision of Article 1 of the 30 Treaty signed by Stalin and Mao, which recognizes that the security of Russia and China are indivisible and that any aggression against one will be regarded as aggression against the other and responded to accordingly.
There is a contradiction between the Western project of the encirclement of Russia and the intellectual response to that encirclement. One of the reasons for that contradiction is the fact that academies and think tanks have been shaped and formed by and sometimes in the decades of ‘peaceful coexistence’ and later ‘détente’ with the West and are almost structurally unprepared for the change in the global geopolitical-geostrategic ‘ecology’ as it were. These institutions were formed or reshaped by party edict as adjuncts of the tasks of negotiation with the West and the competition (which became enmity for a period) with China. They are structurally oriented towards the West; their institutional faces are turned westwards. Their entire spirit and ethos are those of partnership with the West and suspicion of China stemming from the 1960s and 1970s.
Institutions need to reflect the tasks of the new times, those of facing the West as an adversary in a protracted Cold War encompassing a global hybrid war; facing encirclement by the West and the global offensive of the West. Perhaps new joint analytical and academic institutions should evolve as intellectual-scientific superstructures of the SCO, BRICS, the Astana process and most importantly the partnership with China. A Russo-Sino joint think-tank or ensemble of think-tanks of Advanced Studies, as an intellectual microcosm or advanced prototype of a strategic alliance (not merely a strategic partnership) seems an imperative need.
The threat to Russia is nothing less than deeply, profoundly existential. If Iran is disaggregated by military action two things will result simultaneously. In a small scale equivalent of the collapse of the USSR and the dawning of the unipolar moment after the Cold War ended, there will be a dramatic shift of the balance of forces within the global Islamic community or ummah, to the Wahhabi/Salafists, just as in return to pre-1979, Western power is projected right back into an arena dangerously proximate to Russia’s ‘soft underbelly’ as the western analysts have always seen it. The intermediate ‘buffer state’ may not always remain so. Any deep damaging of Iran will also have global grand strategic implications of tightening the encirclement of Eurasia and weakening China.
Iran’s capacity for deterrence and if deterrence fails, its capacity for prolonged resistance and the same of Venezuela, will decide the level of resistance far away from Russia’s frontlines. If Afghanistan ended the USSR by bleeding it white, then the most effective Western policy in that theatre was to equip the so-called mujahidin with shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles to neutralize Soviet air power. If the USSR had not been so enmeshed in détente as to hold back the SAM-6s from and provide only a minimum supply of SAM-7s to the Vietnamese, then the damage inflicted on the US may have been such that it could not have gone on the offensive in Afghanistan a mere three years after the withdrawal from Saigon. While the US had no compunction in providing shoulder-fired to the Afghan mujahidin, with whom they had nothing in common ideologically, knowing full well that they would cause Soviet casualties especially among pilots, the USSR did have compunctions in providing SAM-6 batteries and a far more generous quantity of SAM-7s to the Vietnamese who were ideological comrades. The Vietnamese used to wryly remark to those of us in the Vietnam solidarity movement in Asia, that had the USSR provided them with the quantity and quality of air defense missiles that it gave the Arab states in the same period, the early 1970s, the Vietnamese would certainly have used them more effectively and with less losses than did the Arab armies.
That is perhaps the best single piece of explanatory evidence as to why the US recovered so fast from the Vietnam defeat while the USSR unilaterally withdrew from the Cold War and collapsed. It was a matter of will, and the consistent clarity of the US that the USSR was the enemy, and the determination to prevail over it. Later, the successor state of the USSR, the Russian state, with the Russian armed forces as its core, was seen as the enemy—even when the Russian administration and leadership may have been seen as a useful quasi-ally, partner and even ‘friend.’ Thus, on the questions of Iran and Venezuela, a contemporary Russian ‘dialectical and historical Realist’ analysis would consider a ‘reverse Brzezinski.’
China appears caught in a contradiction within an irony. The contradiction is that having entered the world capitalist order dominated by the West and become a major player within it, it now finds itself vulnerable to both economic and military threats simply because it proved to be strong enough to be an economic competitor but not strong enough to prevent, deter or prevail over a military build-up triggered by the inherently hierarchical and hegemonistic character of the system it had bought into. The irony is that China had found itself caught in a contradiction because it had forgotten Mao’s theory of contradictions which draws a fundamental distinction between antagonistic and non-antagonistic contradictions. China regarded the competition between itself and the West as a purely economic and therefore non-antagonistic contradiction, but the world system being not only an economic system but one of power, China’s peaceful rise was perceived by the West not as a ‘friendly’ or non-antagonistic contradiction but precisely as an antagonistic one, to be responded to not merely by economic means but also by military means, namely the biggest build-up of an armada in recent history through the Indo-Pacific strategy.
The irony is a dual one, because it was China that first cautioned the USSR about the idealistic and utopian nature of the project of “peaceful economic competition” with the West, but later pursued it with greater zeal and success than the USSR ever did or could. In the 1960s and 1970s, China had established a methodology of identifying the contradictions in the world at any given period and went on to hierarchize those contradictions. The listing would naturally shift over time and became irrationally anti-Soviet at one point; an irrationality that lasted a long period. However, the methodology of discerning, identifying and ranking contradictions was a realistic one, because it alerted China or anyone who used the dialectical framework, to the reality of antagonism, of hostility, in the world arena.
If the world’s foremost military power which disposes of the greatest destructive force known by history, regards one or more countries as adversaries, indeed as The Other(s), and backs up this policy perspective with the actual offensive disposition and concentration of men and material over time, then basic survival instinct should dictate that the states designated and treated as adversaries should seek to combine their military and non-military strengths to countervail and deter such a power which regards them with hostility and as threats. There are several such countries but only two such great powers, and these are Russia and China, in whichever order. Those who opine that Russia can slip out of this siege by living down a perception of a special relationship with China and associating as closely or even more closely with other great or big powers, seem to forget that Western moves against Russia’s interests preceded its renewed hostility to China.
The bottom line is that in any objective, dialectical and historical Realist analysis of Russia’s core interests, no relationship with Europe can be a substitute or even on par with a partnership with China. Not all vectors are equal, and some are certainly more equal than others.
Since neither Russia nor China can countervail the US-led Western alliance on its own, a closer equation is needed between the two than between either Russia or China and any other big power or powers. No other big power, however friendly, is the target of unremitting and adversarial Western action, and therefore will not take the same risks for either Russia or China as each of them should logically do for each other, since they both stand threatened and targeted. A Concert of Big Powers cannot be a substitute for a defensive United Front or coalition of states, of which the Russia-China relationship will be the main alliance, consisting of those sovereign states actively threatened in a military-economic sense by the West.
These are the strictly personal views of the author.
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