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MAD’s Midlife Crisis: The Impact of US-Russia Rivalry on International Arms Control

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The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF Treaty), signed between the United States and the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics in 1987, required both countries to eliminate all of their nuclear and conventional ground-launched ballistic and cruise missiles with ranges of 500–5,500km. The two sides eliminated 2,692 short-, medium- and intermediate-range nuclear-armed missiles by 1991 — the first time ever that an entire class of nuclear weapons has been eliminated. In July 2014, the US State Department officially alleged that the Russian Federation was violating the INF Treaty by conducting flight tests of a ground-launched cruise missile with a range that is prohibited by the treaty. Since then, Russia has repeatedly denied the accusations, and has accused the United States of deploying defense systems in Romania and Poland which could potentially be used to deploy Tomahawk cruise missiles with a range of up to 2,500 km. Indeed, in May 2016, the United States placed into operation the Aegis Ashore Ballistic Missile Defense System in Romania equipped with Mk-41 launchers, with a similar system scheduled to be completed in Poland by 2018. Russia has also repeatedly accused the US of producing and deploying armed drones that are equivalent to ground-launched cruise missiles. In early October 2016, Russia deployed short-range, nuclear-capable Iskander-M ballistic missiles in the Kaliningrad region, the westernmost territory of Russia, as part of its regular military maneuvers. Officials in Washington and Moscow have accused each other of provocations with these deployments which are designed for or capable of undermining the other party’s deterrence capabilities.

Despite the heated rhetoric, up to now neither the US nor Russian allegations indicate that Russia or the United States currently plans to withdraw from the INF Treaty. On 11 October 2016, in his statement on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Reykjavik Summit, US Secretary of State John Kerry reiterated that the vision of Reykjavik was still alive today and urged Russia to return to compliance with the INF Treaty. As for the possible Russian withdrawal from the INF Treaty, according to the Russian expert Petr Topychkanov, the action-reaction chain initiated by such a withdrawal would “lead to growing missile threats to Russia in Europe and to further erosion of the arms control regime, if not its total destruction, which is not in Moscow’s interest.” In our opinion, one of the options to settle these disputes could be to engage in confidence-building measures as per the existing provisions under the INF Treaty. It is worth recalling that Article VIII provides for a Special Verification Commission (SVC) to act as an implementation body for the treaty, resolving questions of compliance and a dispute-resolution mechanism. As the INF Treaty is of unlimited duration, States Parties can convene the SVC at any time. On 15-16 November 2016, the 30th session of the SVC took place in Geneva and delegations from Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and the United States discussed issues related to implementing the treaty. The convening of a meeting of the SVC for the first time since 2003 could be a strong sign of the commitment by Russia and the US to resolve the existing dispute through negotiations rather than threats of withdrawal from such an important treaty.

Russian concerns over the compatibility of NATO nuclear-sharing practice with the provisions of the NPT

Another long-standing compliance dispute between Russia and the US is the issue of NATO nuclear-sharing and the perceived incompatibility of this practice with the provisions of the NPT. According to the understanding of Russia, NATO nuclear-sharing violates Articles I and II of the Treaty: Article I prohibits nuclear-weapon states that are parties to the NPT from transferring their weapons to non-nuclear states, and Article II prohibits non-nuclear states receiving nuclear weapons. The question of whether the treaty applies in times of war is a very crucial one to the interpretation of the legality of nuclear-sharing. According to the US interpretation of the NPT, the treaty does not apply in times of war. It means that the non-nuclear NATO partners in effect become nuclear powers in time of war. Following this logic, nuclear-sharing is legal (or at least not explicitly prohibited in the NPT) in times of war. According to the publicly-available data, NATO’s system on nuclear-sharing currently provides between 160 and 200 tactical nuclear weapons (B-61 warheads) with an overall capacity of 18 megatons stored inside six air base vaults across Europe. Stockpiling of US tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) outside the territory of the US has for a long time been a stumbling block in US-Russia bilateral disarmament negotiations. The situation was further exacerbated when the US unveiled its plans to modernize its tactical nuclear arsenal in Europe. The new US weapon, the B61-12, is intended to replace all its older versions and is capable of destroying more targets with increased accuracy and consequently with limited damage to structures and lives nearby. It will be a “smart” bomb which can be guided to hit its target with great precision using exactly the right amount of explosive yield to only destroy what needs to be destroyed. That is why some military experts call these new warheads more “ethical”, stating that their use would have less severe humanitarian consequences. From Moscow’s view, the planned modernization of the US bombs could drop the threshold of using nuclear weapons when US nuclear bombs in Europe could become “battlefield weapons”.

As a result of NATO enlargement up to Russia’s borders, the Alliance has gained a numerical superiority over Russia. In these conditions, Russia considers national TNWs a necessary means to offset such superiority in Europe. It is worth recalling that in response to NATO enlargements in 1999 and 2004, Russia partially suspended (in 2007) and then completely halted (in 2015) its participation in the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE). In our opinion, if the favorable conditions for disarmament negotiations emerge in the future, one of the options would be to link the issue of TNW reductions and revival of the negotiations process on the CFE with measures on limiting NATO further expansion. However, since the conclusion of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) in 2010, there has been little progress toward further nuclear arms reductions. Even before the 2014 events in Ukraine, US-Russian relations were characterized by a serious deficit of trust and constant reciprocal claims in non-compliance with disarmament bilateral and multilateral agreements.

It is well known that the lack of credible information concerning the status of the armed forces of conflicting parties usually leads to inflated quantitative and qualitative assessments of the opponent’s capabilities and a build-up of one’s own capabilities to a level that would guarantee adequate counter-measures. The current US-Russia saber-rattling has the potential to unleash a new arms race. It would be particularly dangerous in case of strategic nuclear weapons because it would undermine strategic stability, a state of affairs in which countries are confident that their adversaries would not be able to undermine their nuclear deterrent capability. As Russian academic Alexey Arbatov stresses, “the reduction of stockpiles of nuclear weapons over the past quarter century led to an unexpected psychological effect. An understanding that it is impossible to win a nuclear war disappeared. None of the world leaders uses this formula now [“nuclear war cannot be won and should not be fought”].”

Disarmament diplomacy in action: Russian and US approaches for strengthening WMD regimes

Certainly, the existing regimes for non-proliferation or prohibition of WMD differ from each other. While the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC) and the NPT have institutionalized specialized agencies and organizations mandated to verify its implementation by States Parties on an international level (the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) respectively), another major disarmament treaty — the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC) — was agreed upon without including any verification mechanisms to assure compliance. The NPT, unlike the Conventions prohibiting entire classes of WMD — such as chemical and biological — does not prevent the development, production, use and stockpiling of nuclear weapons, but rather legally formalizes the division of those who have the right to possess nuclear weapons and those who do not. However, all disarmament regimes have one thing in common: a regular review process in which all decisions are made on a consensus basis. At the same time, the severely disappointing outcomes of two recent reviews — the 2015 NPT RevCon in New York, and the 2016 BWC RevCon in Geneva — make it clear that if States Parties fail to find common ground on some initiatives in the framework of existing multilateral treaties, it could lead to a crystallization of unreconciled camps with diametrically opposed views and mutually exclusive initiatives regarding the ways of strengthening the respective regimes.

Russian and US attitudes for strengthening the NPT

The 2015 NPT RevCon, which ended without consensual adoption of a final document, showed the unwillingness of States Parties to the treaty to find common ground on two main issues: establishing a WMD-free zone in the Middle East and interpretation of disarmament commitments under Article VI of the NPT. Concerning the WMD-free zone in the Middle East, the final draft text included a proposal for the UN Secretary-General to convene a conference on the WMD-free zone no later than 1 March 2016, with all decisions on preparations and on the agenda of the conference to be taken by a consensus. This initiative was supported by the Russian delegation, which took the lead in conducting multilateral consultations and drafting the proposal. However, the imposition of a tight deadline as well as the proposal for deprivation of veto rights on convening the conference were unacceptable for the US delegation, and therefore the US, along with Canada and the UK, did not support the final document.

Regarding the issue of nuclear disarmament commitments, several remarks should be made. The main contradiction stem from a fundamental divergence between Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) and most Non-Nuclear Weapons States (NNWS) as to what constitutes credible progress of nuclear disarmament and what the obligations Article VI of the treaty entail. Under Article VI, the parties should “pursue negotiations in good faith on effective measures relating to the cessation of the arms race at an early date and to nuclear disarmament and on a treaty on general and complete disarmament under strict and effective international control.” NWS interpret nuclear disarmament as a gradual process conditioned upon maintaining strategic stability, and therefore, in their view, the preservation of nuclear deterrence. Russia and the United States, along with other NWS, maintained that they are fully compliant with the provisions of the Treaty and resisted the establishment of any concrete timetable for disarmament in their joint statement of P5 at the NPT RevCon.

At the same time, from the view of most NNWS, long-term investments and modernization programs in NWS demonstrate the unwillingness of the P5 to move away from reliance on nuclear weapons. This leads to a situation where the P5 are regarded by more and more states as de facto being in noncompliance with their NPT obligations in Article VI. As the Austrian diplomat Alexander Kmentt said in his closing statement delivered on behalf of 49 states, “there is a wide divide that presents itself in many fundamental aspects of what nuclear disarmament should mean. There is a reality gap, a credibility gap, a confidence gap, and a moral gap.” However, none of the P5 accepted the notion that there is any “legal gap” in their fulfillment of efforts to achieve a world without nuclear weapons. This discussion was not closed after the RevCon, and a group of states — supporters of the initiative to address the humanitarian impact of nuclear weapons — continued to pursue a campaign in favor of a nuclear weapons ban. On 27 October 2016, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution A/C.1/71/L.41 which provides for convening a UN Conference to negotiate a comprehensive convention on nuclear weapons to prohibit their possession, development, production, acquisition, testing, stockpiling, transfer, use or threat of use. Negotiations were set to take place in March and June 2017 in New York. Unsurprisingly, Russia and the United States voted against this resolution, and both countries warned that adoption of a nuclear-weapons-ban treaty would create two legal frameworks with mutually exclusive provisions on the status of nuclear weapons. As Robert Wood, US Ambassador to the Conference on Disarmament (CD) noted, adoption of a nuclear-weapons-ban convention “risks creating an unbridgeable divide between states, polarizing the political environment on nuclear disarmament, and effectively limiting any future prospect for achieving consensus, whether in the NPT review process, the UN, or the CD.” Both countries declared that they will not participate in the nuclear-weapons-ban treaty negotiations.

The problem of differential interpretation of Article VI obligations is not a new one. This contradiction was formulated in a lapidary way by the famous Spanish diplomat and writer Salvador de Madariaga in 1973: “Nations don’t distrust each other because they are armed; they are armed because they distrust each other. And therefore to want disarmament before a minimum of common agreement on fundamentals is as absurd as to want people to go undressed in winter. Let the weather be warm, and they will undress readily enough without committees to tell them so.” [1] However, as former US diplomat Lewis Dunn notes, the polarization and divisions within the NPT community, especially between the P5 and NNWS are greater and more dramatic than they have been for over 30 years. The problem is that different States Parties to the NPT review process appear increasingly unwilling to compromise or to search for a consensus. As the Russian expert on nuclear weapons Andrey Baklitskiy rightfully notes, there appears to be a “growing temptation to move the discussion on the most contentious issues to the UN General Assembly or to some ad hoc body, where decisions would be taken by a majority rather than consensus. That would enable the majority of the states to ram through their own agenda, ignoring the position of the dissenting states.”

As a result, the 2015 NPT RevCon showed at a glance the main contradictions of this regime. On the one hand, Russia and the United States, as the major nuclear states, unanimously opposed any deadlines for nuclear disarmament as well as the initiative to convene a Conference on a comprehensive nuclear-weapons ban. The US and Russia are also unanimous when it comes to dealing with horizontal nuclear proliferation — the Iranian nuclear deal being very illustrative in this regard. In other words, Russia and the United States show their preparedness and willingness to work hand in hand on nuclear disarmament of other states. On the other hand, given the current stalemate of bilateral US-Russia relations, with political tensions being high and robust channels of communication being blocked, negotiations on further reductions of US and Russian nuclear arsenals seem extremely problematic. Since New START entered into force in February 2011, further progress on nuclear disarmament has stalled. It is not even clear whether New START will be extended for a further 5 years after 2021. From that perspective, the antagonism between the proponents of different viewpoints toward total nuclear disarmament is likely to deepen in the future.

Russian and US attitudes for strengthening the BWC

The 8th BWC RevCon is another demonstrative example of the weakness of disarmament diplomacy to bridge deep and long-standing divisions. Even though a consensual final document was agreed, the decisions contained in it were minimal, especially when compared with a large number of proposals and innovative ideas put forward to strengthen the Convention. One of the main stumbling blocks was the discussion over the necessity of an international legally-binding verification instrument for the BWC. The issue of a legally-binding protocol under the BWC is not new. During the 1990s, States Parties attempted to develop a legally=binding protocol in the framework of the ad hoc group. In 2001, in the course of the 5th RevCon, this effort fell apart due to the position of the United States, who rejected the draft proposal as well as any further negotiations and claimed that such a protocol would not help strengthen compliance with the BWC and would hurt US national interests. However, the US arguments were not convincing for the majority of States Parties, including Russia. Since 2001, Russia has constantly called for the resumption of negotiations on an international legally-binding protocol as the only credible and sustainable method of strengthening the BWC.

One of the solutions to enhance comprehension among States Parties in the aftermath of the deadlock of the 2001 RevCon was the establishment of an inter-sessional program (ISP). Starting in 2003, the ISP has consisted of two annual meetings (meeting of experts and meeting of States Parties) to address specific topics. It should be noted in that regard that both Russia and the US consider the ISP as a useful mechanism to put forward their initiatives and discuss a variety of BWC-related issues. Not all proposals tabled by Russia and the US at the 8th RevCon were mutually exclusive; therefore, achieving compromise decisions on some issues was feasible. For instance, both countries were in favour of establishing an Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) for examining the modalities of a new mechanism aimed to review the progress in science and technologies in the biological sphere. The Unites States put forward a BWC Implementation Review Initiative as a form of peer review exercise to strengthen the Convention at the national level, and supported other voluntary measures intended to promote transparency and confidence in compliance. While Russiaand some other countries — such as members of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM)- were not convinced that promoting voluntary peer review exercises was the optimum way to strengthen the BWC, it was possible to find a consensual formulation of usefulness of voluntary peer review mechanisms by making a reservation that they are not a substitute for verification. As for other initiatives proposed by Russia, they were also not necessarily doomed to fail. For instance, Russia proposed to examine the operationalization of mobile biomedical units under the BWC to deliver protection against biological weapon, investigate their alleged use, and to suppress epidemics of various etiologies. While the US delegation did not consider this as an effective operative measure, they were, however, ready to give it prominence in the next ISP and discuss this initiative further. However, the 2016 BWC RevCon showed that the option of putting aside diverging views regarding a legally-binding verification instrument was no longer an effective way to tackle issues under the BWC. A certain number of delegations — mainly NAM member-states — were steadfast in their conviction that any voluntary compliance confidence options would be a distraction from the goal of establishing a legally-binding protocol. Concerning the ISP issue, some delegations — again, such as from the NAM — were very resistant to the idea of giving the ISP the mandate to make decisions. From the Iranian point of view, for example, any ISP of the substantive nature being proposed would make governments too comfortable with the status quo and thus inhibit moves towards a legally-binding instrument for verification. Iran reiterated its position in a closing statement by saying that “the best way [for the time being] was not to go ahead and give more power to the ISP, change its format and modalities and create a de-facto secretariat, by giving more mandate and human and financial resources to the ISU [Implementation Support Unit].” As a result, instead of an expanded ISP, States Parties could only agree on the continuation of convening annual meetings of States Parties and preserving the ISU in its current membership.

In all likelihood, any new initiatives with regards to the ISP or voluntary compliance confidence measures will be extremely difficult to implement in the framework of the consensus-based decision-making process. Without any doubts, the current stalemate over the legally-binding protocol will not be resolved without convening comprehensive negotiations on this subject. This mission is not impossible: according to the closing statement delivered by US Ambassador Robert Wood, the US was “prepared to engage in a discussion of the full range of proposals for strengthening this Convention” (emphasis added). Notwithstanding that there are big differences in the US and Russian attitudes toward strengthening the BWC and even mutual allegations in non-compliance with BWC provisions, both Russia and the US were ready to show some flexibility on a number of respective proposals. Neither the US nor Russia was interested in decreasing the value of the ISP. However, a variety of stumbling blocks (including disputes over an international export control regime and legally-binding protocol) made it impossible to conclude the work of the RevCon in a successful way. As the Australian diplomat Ian McConville rightfully noted, in order to avoid a widening split in the BWC community, “we need to break down the existing deep divisions among states parties so that our common goal of strengthening the BWC can continue apace.”

The US and Russian attitudes for strengthening the regime for the prohibition of chemical weapons

Although elimination of the remaining chemical weapons stockpiled in Russia and the United States — the two largest possessors of chemical arsenals — has yet to be completed, the emphasis of the CWC regime is gradually shifting from finalizing chemical weapons disarmament to preventing states rearming with this WMD and preventing non-state actors using chemical weapons. The CWC, as a Convention which eliminates an entire WMD class, is based on a general purpose criterion, which encompasses all toxic chemicals and their precursors, except where intended for purposes not prohibited under the Convention, irrespective of circumstances or perpetrators. The Convention’s prohibitions are comprehensive in scope and future changes in science and technology are taken into account. However, the 24-year old CWC faces limitations related to chemical weapons terrorism. At the time it was decided that the discussion of terrorism-related issues in the scope of the negotiated Convention would have further complicated the already difficult negotiations because of the lack of consensus regarding a universally-acceptable definition of terrorism, which is why the word ‘terrorism’ does not even appear in the Convention. However, it is evident that chemical weapons terrorism cannot be handled with the standard systems that have been established for interstate relations. Although the use and production of chemical weapons are prohibited in perpetuity since 1992, as we see in the Middle East region, chemical weapons are by no means weapons of the past.

On 1 March 2016, at a plenary session of the CD, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov proposed to open negotiations on a Convention for Suppression of Acts of Chemical Terrorism in view of rising evidence of such WMDs falling into the hands of non-state armed groups. Having said that chemical terrorism is now “a grave reality of our time”, Lavrov stressed that it was important to take into account that the CWC does not fully address the challenge of countering chemical terrorism. Legal rationale for the initiative was further developed in an explanatory note to the Russian proposal. It is stated in this document that the fundamental requirement of the Convention not to use chemical weapons in any circumstances, as well as to develop, produce, stockpile or transfer chemical weapons applies to states parties only. The prohibition against non-state actors gaining access to chemical weapons is implied only in Article VII of the CWC, which obliges each state party to ban non-state actors on its territory or in any other place under its jurisdiction as recognized by international law from undertaking any activity prohibited under the Convention and put in place criminal punishment for such illegal activity. From Moscow’s view, UNSC Resolution 1540 addresses solely the implementation of national measures with the aim to prevent chemical weapons or its components from falling into the hands of terrorists. As for the 1997 International Convention for the Suppression of Terrorist Bombings, its scope is limited: firstly, to the use of “a lethal device”; secondly, to the specified locations of its use; thirdly, to the intent to cause death, a serious bodily injury or extensive destruction of the objects mentioned in the Convention.

Although the Russian initiative was supported by a number of states participants at the CD, other states reacted to Russia’s proposal critically. Some delegations stressed that the Conference was not an appropriate forum to develop international instruments on terrorism issues, even associated with WMD. Other delegations raised the question of different memberships in the CWC and the CD. It was also noted that it might take considerable time before the proposed Convention would reach the universal adherence that the CWC already enjoys. The US was unconvinced that there was significant value to be gained from a new legally-binding convention as there were a number of existing instruments. From the US perspective, if there is a gap, it is the implementation gap. The US also refuted the Russian argument that the issue of chemical terrorism could not be tackled at the national level and should not be scattered under various existing mechanisms. Moreover, they pointed out that Russia’s proposal itself relied on the same mechanisms, i.e. national implementation. In the US view, “negotiations for a new legally binding convention could at best result in a superfluous and unnecessary mechanism, and at worst distract the international community and provide the very actors that they aimed to deter with opportunities for their exploitation.” To date, the CD remains deadlocked and the probability of reaching consensus on the Russian proposal is very low.

It appears that the current discordance between the US and Russia over chemical weapons terrorism is due to the diametrically-opposing views of these countries about who is responsible for numerous chemical weapons attacks in Syria. It should be noted that the OPCW and the CWC have neither capacity nor mandate to determine the questions of responsibility and accountability. That is why several international mechanisms have been established to determine whether or not chemical weapons were used in Syria (the OPCW Fact Finding Mission) and to identify individuals or entities responsible for use of chemical weapons (the UN-OPCW Joint Investigative Mechanism [JIM]). However, the JIM was not mandated to act and function as a judicial or quasi-judicial body. Moreover, it has no authority or jurisdiction, whether directly or indirectly, to make a formal or binding judicial determination of criminal liability. To date, the JIM found evidence that both the Syrian Arab Armed Forces and non-state armed groups operating in Syria used toxic chemicals as a weapon in several confirmed incidents in 2014-2015. Although Russia recognizes and takes into account the conclusions of the JIM regarding the use of chemical weapons by terrorist groups in Syria, it refutes the arguments asserting that chemical weapons were used by Syrian government. As the Russian Ambassador to the United Nations Vitaly Churkin noted, the conclusions contained in JIM reports were not substantiated by sufficient testimonial basis, they were full of contradictions and therefore were unconvincing to draw far-reaching conclusions about the guilt of Syrian government structures in crimes related to chemical weapons.

The 21st annual session of the Conference of the States Parties to the CWC held in The Hague in December 2016 was characterized by an unprecedented level of politicization and polarization among its members due to the Syrian dossier. Prior to the December Conference, the Executive Council (EC) of the OPCW voted in favor of taking further measures against the Syrian government’s illegal possession and use of chemical weapons. The vote was described by many observers as unusual as the EC generally operates through consensus. The text of the decision was supported by 28 members from 41, just enough to reach the required two-thirds majority. Russia voted against this decision and said that “there have been sad precedents in the past when these types of “conclusions” were used to form the basis for the adoption of far-reaching decisions.” One should note that a disregard of consensus could result in the creation of different camps constantly opposing each other regarding the implementa¬tion of the CWC, finally producing a weakening of the legitimacy of the Convention and its implementing organs.

Without pretending to be exhaustive in analyzing the differences in attitudes of Russia and the US for strengthening the regimes against WMD, we tried to understand whether the current US-Russian antagonism constitutes a serious threat for sustainability of existing international disarmament mechanisms. We are convinced that Russia and the US, as countries with the largest nuclear arsenals, should be the ones to initiate major steps to strengthen currently-eroding WMD regimes. Although the NPT, CWC and BWC remain the main bulwarks of the international disarmament regime, we are witnessing nowadays a crystallization of unreconciled camps with opposed views on a variety of long-standing issues. For the most part, Russia and the US find themselves on opposite sides of the barricade by taking the lead for promoting mutually-exclusive initiatives. Even if both countries stand-by-side in opposing horizontal nuclear proliferation in the context of the NPT, Russia and the US are evidently not prepared to further cut their respective nuclear arsenals because of their unresolved compliance disputes and reciprocal claims in undermining strategic stability. Therefore, the US-Russian stalemate over bilateral nuclear disarmament gravely impacts the regime of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and deepens the antagonism among states parties to the NPT. As US Professor William Perry rightfully notes, “the fate of civilization hangs in the balance, and it is up to our two great nations, who are the world’s leaders in nuclear weapons, to take the lead in eliminating the existential danger posed by these terrible weapons. That is the spirit of Reykjavik, and it is even more vital today than it was thirty years ago.”

[1] Salvador de Madariaga was also Chairman of the League of Nations disarmament commission in 1922. Salvador de Madariaga, Morning Without Noon, Westmead, UK: Saxon House, 1973,P. 48–49.

First published in our partner RIAC

MSc in International and European Studies, Associate Political Affairs Officer at the UN Office of the Special Envoy for Syria

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S-400 Ballistic Missile Defence System and South Asian Strategic Stability Dynamics

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The actual use of nuclear weapons by the two south Asian nuclear rivals has been barred since overt nuclearization and the sense of mutual vulnerability is there. The mutual vulnerability entails that the two states has the power and capability to attack each other but due to the fear of terrible relation in response, they refrained from indulging in such activity, and the nuclear deterrence prevails, which becomes the reason for regional stability. India, however in its pursuit to attain regional hegemony and prestige, trying to remove this sense of mutual vulnerability by going for the aggressive military force postures and attainment of technology. India intends for a multi-layered defensive shield, and has indigenously developed a part of it, and has attained the technology form US, Russia, and Israel as well in order to complete its four –layered defensive shield, in its capital New Delhi and Mumbai. This pursuit of BMD system can create a false sense of security in the minds of Indian policy makers, and that could destabilize the region as they could go for any aggressive action against Pakistan, with the intention of defeating enemy at every level.

Besides the procurement of Israeli Iron Dome system, India has acquired Russain S-400 Triumf Air Defence System as well, in $5.43 billion deal between India and Russia, in 2016. The delivery of this system has recently been started. The S-400 system is developed by the Almaz Central Design of Russia and can primarily engage the cruise missiles, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles and aircrafts, at an altitude of 30km and 400km in the range.

The introduction of ballistic missile defence system in South Asia can make the already volatile region even more unstable, by increasing the chances of war in the region. The acquisition of such system will make India even more aggressive and could potentially lead to instability. India could potentially attack Pakistan’s Political, economic and strategic sites, with a view that they can halt the attack in response to that, which is really absurd.

India is trying to destabilize the deterrence equation, and hence Pakistan has to take appropriate steps before hand in order to maintain the credibility of its deterrence. Pakistan, keeping in view the economic constraints has not indulged in the development of BMD System, but is looking for more viable options to maintain the strategic stability in the region.

Though BMD system has some vulnerability as well, as no system could give 100% protection, as it is effective against the UAVs, aircrafts and cruise missiles, and not against the ballistic missiles, hence, the credibility get undermined. Moreover, India will be only protecting a few cities under this umbrella, and not the whole of the country falls under this, which will spark outrage amongst the Indians as well. Furthermore, given the short flight time between the two countries, the debris can still fall on the Indian side, causing damage over there as well. Moreover, the efficacy of Multiple Independent Re-entry Vehicles (MIRVs) can’t be undermined, as BMD can hit only one missile at a time, and the MIRVs or the launch of multiple missiles simultaneously, BMD wouldn’t be able to intercept them all, which undermines the credibility of the BMD System.

The end of cold war gave rise to the regional hegemonic mindset, to which South Asia also became the victim. This approach has become the reason for regional chaos and instability. India continues to aspire its hegemonic behavior, continuously indulge Pakistan in conventional and unconventional arms race, the negative impact of BMD will also be driven in South Asia by compelling the vertical arms proliferation, which will further the instability in the already volatile region. Though, Ballistic Missile Defence System is a defensive technology, but India wants to exploit it offensively against Pakistan, by creating a false sense of security and going aggressively towards Pakistan, and to exploit the strategic, economic and political assets for bargain. Furthermore, BMD also undermines the core of regional stability which is the concept of deterrence. The exclusion of the phenomenon of nuclear deterrence will accentuate the arms readiness, and ‘use it or lose it’ strategy by the other state for its protection. Hence, it could prove to trigger nuclear war in the South Asian region.

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Bangladesh-France Defence Cooperation in the New Era of Geopolitics

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The journey of Bangladesh-France bilateral relations started from 14th February 1972 when France recognized Bangladesh as a sovereign state. On 17 March 1972, Bangladesh opened its resident Diplomatic Mission in Paris. France extended its valuable support of the government and people of the Republic of France during the War of Liberation in 1971. The people of France spontaneously came forward, under the leadership of the renowned French thinker and philosopher André Malraux, to mobilize international public opinion in support of the Liberation War in 1971. Since then, the relations have been going through a solid base of mutual cooperation involving high-level political visits and mutual understanding. Responding to the invitation of the President of the French Republic, Emmanuel Macron, the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina has completed an official visit to France on 9-14 November 2021. The visit came when the bilateral relationship is ready to proceed to the next level given the issues and development of the engagement with progress in areas of the economy, trade as well as prospects of defence cooperation.

Notably, bilateral trade between Bangladesh and France is growing steadily. The two-way trade stands close to US$2 billion, France is now Bangladesh’s 5th largest export destination. Readymade garments alone account for around 90% of Bangladeshi export earnings from France, and French exports to Bangladesh include spare parts for aircraft and vessels, naval ships. In South Asia, Bangladesh is the largest support receiver of AFD (Agency France Development). Moreover, the visit has been remarkable when the European countries namely Britain, Spain, Germany, Italy, Netherlands are flocking to strike defence cooperation and France is showing enthusiasm after the formation of AUKUS on the one hand, and Bangladesh is stepping forward to define its defence and security cooperation through technology transfer, development of indigenous capability of defence equipment. It has also been marked as a shift in the foreign policy approach of Bangladesh.

The Defence arragements

France and Bangladesh are now highlighting their shared will to develop and deepen all aspects of their partnership from economic to strategic security. The visit of PM Sheikh Hasina demonstrates how both the countries emphasise transforming the traditional relations into defence cooperation. Having accorded a warm reception at Elysee Palace on the first day of her five-day visit to France, PM Sheikh Hasina sat for a discussion with her counterpart French President Macron to further the current pace of relations. On the 9th November 2021, both the leaders signed a letter of intent (LoI) to mark the defence cooperation reaching in next level. The LoI includes a) capacity building, b) technology transfer, c) training facilities and d) providing defence equipment based on the needs expressed and each party’s ability to respond to them. To that end, both countries agreed to strengthen dialogue and continue their cooperation which was launched during the visit.

Besides, Bangladesh Civil Aviation Authority has signed an agreement with France Civil Aviation Authority to strengthen the cooperation in knowledge sharing and training of employees. It thus will help organize different events including aviation safety which is mentionable progress in the field of civil aviation of Bangladesh. As Bangladesh is setting about developing aviation and aeronautical capacity building to advance indigenous defence and military equipment, the defence deal marking technology transfer, knowledge sharing as well as capacity building will be of great importance for Bangladesh. Moreover, it is also a remarkable achievement of Bangladesh foreign policy in striking such an ambitious and bold arrangement with France.  

Significance of the defence cooperation

The recent defence and security arrangement between Bangladesh and France signifies profound importance in respect of political directions, geopolitical dynamism, geostrategic calculations and overall foreign policy moves. First, the defence deal denotes the rising political importance of Bangladesh in the global arena as the global power like France attaches priority to Bangladesh in South Asia and the Bay of Bengal region. Notably, the warm welcome to PM Sheikh Hasina in the Elysee Palace is a timely recognition of Bangladesh. Second, from the strategic point of view, the deal stipulates the growing geopolitical significance of Bangladesh amid shifting global power centre from Europe and North America to the Asia-Pacific region where Bangladesh is at the strategic juncture in the Bay of Bengal and Indian Ocean Region (IOR). The momentum has been created for at least two reasons: a) the confluence of strategic interest of both the countries in maritime security and blue economy put forward by a regional and global shift in strategic dimensions i.e. IPS, FOIP, BRI, QUAD, b) rising economies and flourishing markets in the region is turning the global market and supply chain into lucrative one to be flocked in here.

Third, it is notable that the major powers of the world including Europe, in recent years, have been placing increasing importance on defence cooperation with Bangladesh. Germany, France, Italy and Spain have become increasingly interested in supplying high-tech weapons when Bangladesh has taken the initiative of modernizing its armed forces through the “Forces Goal-2030” programme. During PM visit to France, Eric Trapier, CEO of Dassault discussed selling Dassault Rafale, a French twin-engine multi-role fighter aircraft. Fourth, as a common objective of both countries is to maintain regional peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region, the defence cooperation thus will further the shared principles. Both countries, therefore, jointly expressed their support for counter-terrorism efforts and agreed to enhance their cooperation. It has been more salient while the South-Asian security architecture is going through a constant change after the fall of Kabul to the Taliban. The deal is addressed to counter the growing re-rise of the threats of terrorism as Bangladesh has a policy priority to halt the spread of terrorism. Finally, the defence cooperation along with the LoI will have positive impacts on further development in non-traditional security like climate change, trafficking and socio-economic and trade engagement.

Facing a new era of geopolitics

First, going beyond the traditional approach of economic diplomacy, this visit has heralded a new era in foreign policy initiating the foundation of defence diplomacy. It has proved that Bangladesh is rising as a middle power with its growing importance in the global order. Second, as economic development extends the policy orientation to defence engagement, therefore, the visit has demonstrated that Bangladesh is being regarded as the rising economic power that is paving the way for consolidating its position in the world. Third, global recognition of Bangladesh as a crucial partner in the regional and international arena has also been proved by it. Now, the world is recognizing Bangladesh as an important player in world politics and diplomacy that once was being ridiculed by some Western powers. Fourth, it has facilitated the bilateral engagement with powerful states and obviously, it will extend interests when the joint statement stipulates the very nature and development of bilateral relations in areas of the economy, business, and investment.

Fifth, significantly, Bangladesh can exploit the opportunity created by the visit to further its policy in repatriating the Rohingya while France has extended its warm hands to Bangladesh. In thejoint statement both the states have underscored the need to ensure funding for the UN’s Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya in Bangladesh and to enable their voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return to Myanmar as soon as possible. Notably, in response to Bangladesh’s request to take the Rohingya issue to the UN Security Council, France has assured that they would remain beside Bangladesh until the permanent solution of the Rohingya crisis. This is an outstanding achievement of Bangladesh’s diplomatic manoeuvre. 

Sixth, Bangladesh as a geopolitically and geo-strategically important country in the Indo-Pacific region, has once again been proved, when the world powers are trying to court Bangladesh in engaging in the Indo-pacific alliance and France is not an exception to it. Seventh, the defence deal proves that Bangladesh has changed its policy directives by diversifying its exporters of defence equipment that signifies the policy autonomy of Bangladesh. Arguably, when there are larger options, there are bigger opportunities, signifying the policy efficiency and sustainability in strategic manoeuvres. Finally, amid the great power competition in the region and especially in the Bay of Bengal, the defence cooperation will provide profound significance to Bangladesh as it signals something to other powers in the region. In brief, the visit will facilitate cooperation in other areas like economy, trade, climate change, combating terrorism when Bangladesh foreign policy priorities are giving emphasis on economic diplomacy, climate cooperation, sustainable development, maritime security, attracting FDI as well as boosting trade.            

In conclusion, it can be argued that this visit will turn a new chapter in further strengthening the bilateral partnership between France and Bangladesh. As more European powers – France, Germany, Italy and Spain want the benefits of economic diplomacy using the channels of defence as well as economic sectors, Bangladesh can grab the opportunity. This visit will open up new paths for increasing cooperation and taking Bangladesh-France relations to a new height. That will be beneficial for both countries, considering the changing geopolitical realities and economic objectives. PM Sheikh Hasina’s visit has reflected the changing dynamics of Bangladesh foreign policy priority by putting a timely emphasis on defence cooperation considering strategic, geopolitical as well as economic points of views.   

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Defense

U.S. Withdrawal from INF Treaty: Policy Implications for China

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INF, “the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty”, was initially signed between Russia and USA in 1987. The treaty sought to demolish a whole category of nuclear and non-nuclear weapons; the ground launched ballistic and cruise missiles whose range varies between 500 to 5500 km.  Eventually, both U.S. and Soviet Union demolished 2692 ground operative ballistic missiles.

After approximately 23 years, in 2014, US allegedly held Russia accountable of its violation of the treaty, the “not to possess, produce, or flight test… and not to produce launchers of ground missiles” clause.  After repeated allegations, by February’19, President Trump decided to exit this treaty, mainly due to two reasons; the Russian non-compliance to the treaty and the threats from China’s growing intermediate-range missile arsenal. In response, Russia also withdrew from INF treaty.

China’s Response to US Withdrawal

U.S. immediately tried expanding the accord to include China to the treaty and restrict its growing ballistic missile arsenal, meanwhile, China opposed both US withdrawal and its intentions to extend the accord. According to China’s foreign military spokesperson, “making an issue out of China on withdrawing from the treaty is totally wrong.”

It should be kept in mind that China since mid-1990’s developed its huge arsenal of more than 2000 ground launched ballistic missiles, specifically, for its military strategy to counter U.S. forces if a regional conflict breaks out and USA tries to interfere, such as a territorial conflict in Taiwan or at any of its claimed islands in East and South China Seas.  Chinese believe that U.S. withdrawal from the treaty poses threat to the regional and strategic stability as U.S. would now possess a more aggressive nuclear policy. It could now be expected that U.S. would deploy land based ballistic missiles in East Asia which were fortunately banned under the INF Treaty.

Policy Implications for China 

  1. Foreign Policy Implications;

China, after the withdrawal of U.S. from INF treaty, should work on strengthening its alliances with countries of East Asia, especially Japan and South Korea. Because it can be very well predicted that Japan, being a US ally, would be pressurized and hence allow U.S. missiles on its bases to deter China. Such an alliance can only be diplomatically countered on the basis of mutual interests. The ultimate goal should be to keep U.S. interference out of Asia.

Other than that, levels of transparency should be maintained in foreign policy decisions, because high number of missiles, which can be armed with both conventional and nuclear explosives can create doubts, thus contributing to the risk of escalation in a military conflict.

  •  Defense Policy & Military Up gradation;

China can respond to such a withdrawal through its military capability up gradation; ensuring the survivability of its nuclear weapons, achieving command and control over modern ICBMs, introducing the use MIRVs, and by constructing and deploying advance nuclear submarines. Besides these, China can indulge in cyber weapons to suppress US command, communication and control systems.

China now must start working for the effective and efficient development of its nuclear triad, as its SSBNs, the ballistic missile submarines are not any competition to the U.S. ones.

  •  Economic/ Trade Policy Implication;

China is already growing to be a regional hegemon through both its hard and soft power capabilities. It is now in its best interest to expand its economic ties and invest in its foreign trade rather than in expanding its military arsenal, because China already has enough military capability to deter US. Furthermore, by withdrawing from INF, U.S. has only contributed in the quantitative increase of missiles and not qualitative, as US already had its sea and air missile deployed in the Asian region which are certainly more effective than ground ones.

There is also a high chance that by extending trade incentives to Japan and South Korea, China can diplomatically persuade them into not giving U.S. the access to their strategic bases. Japan had already opposed to U.S. withdrawal from the treaty, and according to its traditions, local governments have a say in foreign decision-making process, which of course are made through public consent, and it is noted that public sentiments in Japan are against the deployment of U.S. missiles into Japan’s territory.

In case of South Korea, it already has faced China’s economic and diplomatic sanctions of around $7 billion due to the deployment of US THAAD against North Korea, and now it wouldn’t want the same by allowing U.S. the access again to their strategic bases, this time directly targeting China. 

Conclusion:

It can be argued that U.S. withdrawal from the treaty was biased, and its plans for deployment of ground-based cruise missiles into Asian region are provocative, which can certainly destabilize the balance of the region, cause military confrontation between both the US and China, which can have high chances of escalation and can also certainly initiate an arms race.

It would be in better interest of super power states to diplomatically negotiate such matters and come up with an extended version of INF Treaty in order to contribute for the better cause of arms control and eventually disarmament.

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