Despite the belligerent nuclear statements by Russia and the U.S. in the first quarter of 2018, the configuration of a possible future for the international arms control regimes can be seen beyond the veil of rhetoric.
The address to the Federal Assembly by President Vladimir Putin, who has since been re-elected, was striking and unprecedented in terms of its nuclear-missile revelations. However, it generated a fair share of criticism, and rightly so for the most part. In particular, the visualization of the new nuclear delivery systems included a number of previously demonstrated animations, including the understandably criticized “footage” of MIRVs arriving at Florida, which was borrowed from a video related to the future Sarmat ICBM that had been included in a TV film devoted to the Voyevoda ICBM. One aspect that wasn’t entirely understandable was the clearly doctored footage of a target being allegedly being hit by a Kinzhal, a system that is currently very close to deployment. It is, however, worth noting that all the systems featured in the presentation – the heavy Sarmat ICBM, the Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle, the Burevestnik nuclear-powered cruise missile of unlimited range, the Poseidon nuclear-powered unmanned underwater vehicle, the Kinzhal airborne rocket system, and the Peresvet combat laser system – were all, to one extent or another, started as Soviet projects aimed at counteracting the deployment of U.S. ABM as part of President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative.
This, however, is beside the point. The key part of Putin’s address was the message to the effect that Russia is prepared to overcome the problems posed by any existing or future U.S. ABM system. Shortly after the president’s address, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu expressed his bewilderment at why the U.S. would need a “leaky” ABM umbrella. Putin himself clarified his position in an interview with NBC, effectively declaring that Russia was ready for further reductions in strategic offensive weapons, the ABM threat notwithstanding. An external symptom of this readiness is the absence of ABM on the agenda of the next iteration of the international security conference in Moscow, which originally emerged as a platform for discussions on U.S. ABM-related issues. Thus, we can assume that the demonstration of nuclear delivery systems that are invulnerable a priori to any existing or future anti-missile systems had a therapeutic effect and significantly lowered the tone of hysterical talk concerning the development of the U.S. ABM system.
The most recent evidence of the possibility of a new agreement came in the form of a telephone conversation between Putin and Trump on March 20, after which the two presidents declared their interest in a meaningful discussion on strategic stability aimed at preventing a new arms race . The first step towards a positive agenda should be a joint statement on strategic stability by the two countries’ presidents. Apart from the traditional talking point about the impossibility of winning a nuclear war, the statement would benefit from the inclusion of assurances stating that the new defensive and offensive weapons do not aim to undermine the deterring potential of each country’s nuclear forces, and that neither of the two are striving to create nuclear weapons that would be applicable in local conflicts.
In this context, despite the negative backdrop of the current Russian-U.S. relations, the need to discuss the parameters of the future nuclear deal has once again become a hot topic, even though Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova asserts that the time for such talks has not yet arrived.
Problems with prolongation
The simplest and most obvious option would be to prolong the current New START for another five years until 2026. There are, however, a number of obstacles to this.
Trump is extremely opposed to all the achievements of the Obama administration, including in the nuclear field. The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear program is falling apart and, according to unofficial reports, the New START came under criticism during Trump’s first phone conversation with Putin.
Russia continues to be critical of the U.S. approach to reducing the number of nuclear delivery platforms and launchers. This criticism does not appear to be extremely significant, but it does illustrate the shortcomings of the current New START in terms of the mere possibility of such a problem emerging once the combined permitted levels of strategic offensive weapons under the New START have been reached.
The INF Treaty is a burning topic: the two sides have officially accused each other of breaching the document, while denying the accusations leveled against themselves. It should be noted that the U.S. has already codified its accusations, including as part of sanctions against enterprises involved in the production of 9M729 cruise missiles for the Iskander-M theater missile system (Novator Design Bureau and Titan-Barrikady).
Both the U.S., under its new Nuclear Posture Review, and Russia, under its new government armament program through 2027, are slated to phase in nuclear delivery systems which fall outside the scope of the New START.
Hypersonic glide vehicles are already being discussed by experts as future systems that would be capable of radically rearranging the global strategic landscape even if they are not tipped with nuclear warheads;
The “exotic” Burevestnik and Poseidon nuclear-powered nuclear delivery platforms, which have not yet been added to Russia’s arsenal, represent projects of assured destruction with nuclear retaliation. They are believed to be in a fairly high state of completion, but tests continue. It is impossible to predict the planned deployment timeline, locations, and numbers as of now: the exact parameters will depend on the situation with Russian-U.S. and global arms control regimes.
Nuclear-tipped sea-launched cruise missiles (SLCM) present a serious problem. Such missiles are nothing new, but for now there is no control regime that would apply to them. START I imposed an unverifiable limit of 880 SLCMs for both parties; in fact, these weapons have not been officially sent on combat duty to sea since the early 1990s as part of unilateral initiatives. In 2011, the U.S. finally decided to retire the nuclear-tipped variant of the TLAM-N Tomahawk cruise missile; the country has by now destroyed all the associated W-80-0 warheads . Russia historically (and most likely deliberately) maintains a certain degree of ambiguity when it comes to the types of its SLCMs that are potentially and actually capable of being tipped with specialized warheads (the same is true of other Russian missile types). The U.S. periodically describes its nuclear-tipped SLCMs as a response to Russia’s breaches of the INF Treaty, allegedly through the continued deployment of a ground-based type of cruise missiles with a range of around 2,000 km, and states that it is prepared to suspend its project should the matter be resolved. Washington keeps different deployment options on the table for its SLCMs, from the fairly obvious Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines to such exotic variants as Zumwalt-class stealth destroyers. Overall, it appears that in this particular context, Russia is merely a pretext, whereas the true reason that the U.S. re-admitted this class of nuclear weapons to its arsenal is China, with its rapidly developing naval force, which is being supported and reinforced by ground-based (and maybe even sea-based) ballistic anti-ship missile projects.
The air-launched aero-ballistic missile as part of the Kinzhal system is, in fact, an elegant solution to the INF Treaty problem, while not being formally covered by the New START.
As previously mentioned, Russia conducted an ABM “therapy” session for both the external audience and, perhaps more to the point, for internal consumption. However, given the previous history of the issue, primarily Moscow’s reiterated demands for legal guarantees that the U.S. ABM system will not be aimed against Russia and its other demands (including those voiced jointly with China), this topic should make its way into the future treaty in some form or another.
Should the two countries reach a compromise, a certain mechanism needs to be devised for both parties to save face, which is of particular importance given that Trump is facing stern opposition in Congress.
There is hope that one of the irritating arms control factors in Russian-U.S. relations will soon disappear: there are reports that the project to develop the Rubezh light mobile ICBM has been put on ice in favor of the Avangard missile . U.S. experts had previously voiced their concerns that the Rubezh project was primarily intended as a smokescreen for the deployment of intermediate-range ballistic missiles that are banned under the INF Treaty. Furthermore, the U.S. National Defense Authorization Act calls for preparing a report on the Rubezh.
Ways to resolve differences
Given the above, Russia and the U.S. could and should shift to a positive agenda by each making two concessions:
the U.S. would suspend its nuclear-tipped SLCM project and provide a symbolic gesture of giving up an ABM component as well as making it possible for Russian specialists to inspect European Aegis Ashore installations (including periodically);
Russia would suspend its Burevestnik and Poseidon projects and make a symbolic statement to the effect that it would not be deploying, say, 9M729 missiles, and would replace them in the constantly growing Iskander-M missile inventory with a certain future article, one which Russian developers are most likely already working on. To further ease pressure, Russia would invite inspectors to visit one of its separate missile brigades, possibly including a demonstration of the 9M729 that would unequivocally prove that the missile is not in breach of the INF Treaty;
Under the best-case scenario, the sides might consider the possibility of Russian experts visiting various components of the U.S. ABM system with frequent inspections and being present during tests of certain interceptor missiles, with U.S. experts similarly visiting Russia’s separate military brigades and observing test launches of theater missiles. However, given the current harsh confrontation between the two countries, such a scenario would appear to be utopian.
It is evident that both countries’ goodwill would be key to implementing this plan, but it is precisely this ingredient that has been lacking so far. In addition, possible outcries at home should not be discounted, either. In this light, Moscow and Washington would do well to work in advance to agree on the optimal wording that would highlight their achievements and the potential for the most efficient use of the previously allocated budgets for the projects that are to be suspended, and also for these projects to be promptly re-activated if need be. Such actions are capable of resolving the two countries’ differences on the INF Treaty and on the ABM program.
Parameters of the new treaty
After the mutually irritating issues have been put to rest, however formally, the dialogue could proceed to a new comprehensive treaty. The following key criteria might be discussed:
A further reduction in the overall number of nuclear warheads. It appears important to agree to such a level at which the next phase of the process could accommodate, least painfully, the other nuclear powers, including the unofficial ones;
A clarification of the rules for counting heavy bombers and associated nuclear munitions: not in the context of either party’s advantages (which only exist in the eyes of the EU and Russian bomber patriots), but taking into account future military aviation and missilery developments, primarily for the Russian Kh-BD and US LRSO cruise missiles;
A clarification of the volume and nature of telemetry to be surrendered in the course of test launches of new ICBMs. The U.S. has been unofficially voicing its concerns about the New START procedure because Russia has tested and supplemented its arsenal with new systems since the treaty came into effect. Now the tables have been turned: Washington has launched work to develop the GBSD ICBM, and the new lower-yield warhead for the Trident II SLBM may also prove a peculiar weapon, despite the statements that it will be, in effect, a single-stage W76 with the index 2. In fact, the Trident missile itself will be replaced sooner or later.
The search for ways to classify and inventory new nuclear delivery systems, primarily as regards hypersonic glide vehicles;
Given Russia’s criticisms of the way the U.S. is denuclearizing its B-52H bombers, and in light of Washington’s ongoing (albeit somewhat vague) plans with regard to the Prompt Global Strike effort, the possibility of hypersonic glide vehicles being armed with non-nuclear warheads, and the Russian Defense Ministry’s conventional deterrence concept, which is directly linked to the development of such weapons, the topic of strategic conventional weapons could form a separate and important section of the future document.
The influence of intelligence, military, and criminal activities in cyberspace on strategic stability, including as regards the vulnerability of nuclear weapons. This topic has been highlighted, even if indirectly, in connection with the consistent disruptions of Russian-U.S. talks on information security and strategic stability in early March 2018.
Of particular importance is the possibility of partially involving representatives of other nuclear powers in the discussion of at least the fourth, fifth, and sixth bullet points listed above. Furthermore, should arms reduction processes continue even on a bilateral basis, all five nuclear powers could be involved in an information exchange and efforts to improve the transparency of strategic nuclear forces. At the same time, tactical nuclear weapons will remain beyond the scope of these efforts due to differences in regional dynamics, even though in theory nuclear charges might be inventoried collectively and not by individual country.
Russia and the U.S. retain the potential for mutually assured destruction. Both Putin’s statement to the effect that the world is hardly viable without Russia and the reminder by U.S. Strategic Commander Gen John Hyten that his country may deliver a devastating strike on Russia in any situation should cool hot heads around the world. For better or for worse, nuclear weapons remain the only guarantee against a major hot war in the current situation of massive international confrontation. A meaningful discussion as to the existence of and application scenarios for nuclear arms, any quantitative limitations, possible nuclear doctrines, and other measures of trust and transparency would help retain and strengthen communications between the two notional enemies, which is crucial to the future of the entire planet. This can only be possible if both parties approach the problem in a constructive way and demonstrate their willingness to compromise.
Resolving individual differences and finding points of mutual contact per se will not be able to form the foundation for a full-fledged Detente 2.0, but these efforts might help articulate the partners’ goals and objectives in negotiations. The mutual misunderstanding of each other’s true intentions is precisely what resulted in the continuing escalation of problems. This is why the two countries must learn how to listen to and understand each other anew.
. It should be noted, however, that both presidents previously expressed their readiness for such an arms race and that it had actually commenced.
. In the meantime, W-80-1 warheads remain in service with air-delivered cruise missiles; the future LRSO cruise missile will be tipped with the W-80-4 warhead of the same series.
. Previously, different sources would often mention Rubezh and Avangard in the same context, in different combinations. There is, however, no reason to believe that a lighter ICBM could propel a hypersonic glide vehicle over an intercontinental distance. On the other hand, China is planning to soon deploy its own vehicle precisely as an intermediate-range missile system; however, this subclass of missile weapons is outside the scope of our article.
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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