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Strategy of U.S. Anti-Russia Sanctions Becomes Clearer

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On Friday, April 6th, Reuters headlined “Russian businessmen, officials on new U.S. sanctions list”, and opened: “The United States on Friday imposed major sanctions against 24 Russians, striking at allies of President Vladimir Putin over Moscow’s alleged meddling in the 2016 U.S. election and other ‘malign activity’. Below are the most prominent businessmen targeted along with their main assets and connections as well as extracts from the U.S. Treasury statement.”

As that Reuters list makes even clearer than before, U.S. economic sanctions against Russia are focused against mainly the following four categories of targets in Russia:

Russian competitors to America’s largest international oil companies. These specific U.S. firms were listed, on March 27th, in an excellent article by Antonia Juhasz in Pacific Standard magazine, “INSIDE THE TAX BILL’S $25 BILLION OIL COMPANY BONANZA: A Pacific Standard analysis shows the oil and gas industry is among the tax bill’s greatest financial beneficiaries.” There, they were listed in rank order. For example: the largest such firm, Exxon/Mobil, was given $5.9 billion in “2017 Tax Act Savings,” and the second-largest, Philipps 66, won $2.7 billion in it. The latest round of anti-Russia sanctions focuses clearly against these international U.S. oil firms’ Russian competitors.

However, previous rounds of U.S. sanctions have especially focused against:

Russian competitors of Lockheed Martin and other international U.S. weapons-firms —  Russian manufacturers that are selling, to foreign governments, military aircraft, missiles, and other military equipment, on the international markets: competing military products. The competitive purpose of these sanctions is to boost not U.S. international oil-firms, but U.S. international weapons-firms.

Russian banks that lend to those firms. Some of these banks have also other close ties to those firms.

Russian Government officials, and billionaires, who cooperate with Russia’s elected President, Vladimir Putin. Putin refuses to allow suppliers to the Russian military to be controlled (such as are the military suppliers to America’s Government) by private investors (and especially not by foreigners); he wants the weapons-manufacturers to represent the state, not the state to represent the weapons-manufacturers; i.e., he refuses to privatize Russia’s weapons-producers, and he instead insists that all firms that supply Russia’s military be controlled by Russia’s elected Government, not by any private investors. (By contrast, The West relies almost entirely upon privately owned weapons-makers.) He also prohibits foreign interests from controlling Russia’s natural resources such as oil firms, mining, and land-ownership, and this explicitly applies even to agricultural land. However, most important are Russia’s Strategic Sectors Law (otherwise known as “Strategic Investment Law”), which defines as a “Strategic Entity” and thus subject strictly to control only by the Russian Government and citizenry, four categories: Defense, Natural Resources, Media, and Monopolies. Russia’s refusal to allow U.S. billionaires to buy control over these — to buy control over the Government — is, to a large extent, being punished by the U.S. anti-Russia sanctions.

Focusing on the latest round: The Reuters article lists the specific main targets of the new sanctions. These targets are, as described by the U.S. Treasury Department, and as quoted by Reuters:

  • “Oleg Deripaska is being designated … for operating in the energy sector of the Russian Federation economy.”
  • “Viktor Vekselberg is being designated for operating in the energy sector of the Russian Federation economy.”
  • “Kirill Shamalov is being designated for operating in the energy sector of the Russian Federation economy.”
  • “Andrei Skoch is being designated for being an official of the Government of the Russian Federation.”
  • “Suleiman Kerimov is being designated for being an official of the Government of the Russian Federation.”
  • “Vladimir Bogdanov is being designated for operating in the energy sector of the Russian Federation economy.”
  • “Igor Rotenberg is being designated for operating in the energy sector of the Russian Federation economy.”

Those are the ones that the Reuters article specifically listed. In addition, there are:

DESIGNATED RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS

Andrey Akimov, chairman of the board at Gazprombank

Andrey Kostin, president of VTB bank

*Alexey Miller, chief executive of Gazprom

Mikhail Fradkov, president of the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies

Sergey Fursenko, member of the board of directors of Gazprom Neft

Oleg Govorun, head of the Presidential Directorate for Social and Economic Cooperation with the Commonwealth of Independent States Member Countries

Gazprom is Russia’s oil-and-gas giant; and, likewise in accord with Putin’s demand that national-security industry remain under state-control instead of control by private investors, its controlling investor is the Russian Government. However, a few individuals are listed who are simply Russian Government officials, presumably likewise more cooperative, with carrying out the intentions of the elected President, than the U.S. and its allied governments consider to be acceptable.

Clearly, the special focus of these sanctions is on supporting U.S. international oil firms competing against Russian international oil firms.

On January 26th, Reuters bannered “U.S. hits Russian deputy minister and energy firms with sanctions”, and opened:

The United States added Russian officials and energy firms to a sanctions blacklist on Friday, days before details of further possible penalties against Moscow are due to be released.

A Treasury Department spokesperson said the department is “actively working” on reports required under the “Countering America’s Adversaries Through Terrorism Act” and aimed to release them consistent with timelines in the legislation.

Trump or his Treasury Secretary were actually responding to pressure from “Democrats” and unnamed others; but, when the final statement from the Treasury was issued on January 29th (and largely ignored by the press), it turned out that no new sanctions were issued, against anyone. The billionaires’ lobbyists had achieved nothing more than to provide (via the anti-Russia verbiage from members of Congress) to the American public, yet more anti-Russia indoctrination in support of America’s war against Russia; but, this time, no real action was taken by the President against Russia.

On 28 December 2017, the ‘private CIA’ firm Stratfor, which does work for the CIA and for major U.S. corporations, had headlined, “Russia Won’t Sit Still for Additional U.S. Sanctions”, and summarized prior U.S. economic sanctions against Russia:

Since the Soviet period, the United States has targeted Russia with numerous sanctions. The primary ones currently in effect were instituted over human rights violations and the conflict in Ukraine. In late 2012, the United States expanded its Soviet-era sanctions over human rights and approved the Magnitsky Act to punish those deemed responsible for the death of Russian tax accountant Sergei Magnitsky, a whistleblower who investigated Kremlin abuses and a tax-fraud scheme. The act penalizes dozens of people believed to be involved in the case, but the measure has evolved into a platform for the United States and its allies to punish Russia for a much wider scope of human rights abuses. 

The Ukraine sanctions imposed by the United States (and, to a lesser extent, by the European Union, Canada, Australia and Japan) stem from Russian involvement in the conflict there and includes the conflict in eastern Ukraine, Russian support of the previous government, the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 and the annexation of Crimea. Those penalties include:

  • Limits on debt issuance to Russia’s six largest banks, four primary state oil firms and four state defense firms.
  • Sanctions on Russia’s energy industry, prohibiting U.S. firms from providing, exporting or re-exporting goods and technology related to deep-water, Arctic offshore and shale oil and natural gas projects in Russia.
  • Bans on subjects receiving dual-use goods by Russia’s primary state defense companies.
  • Sanctions (travel and asset freezes) against hundreds of Russian entities and individuals. 

That was a fair summary; but, because Stratfor derives some of its income from the CIA, it stated as being facts, instead of as being lies, that “Sergei Magnitsky [was] a whistleblower who investigated Kremlin abuses and a tax-fraud scheme,” even though Magnitsky actually was never a “whistleblower,” and he was, to the exact contrary, assisting an American hedge-fund operator to illegally avoid $230 million in taxes that were due to the Russian Government and which tax-fraud had been reported not by Magnitsky as any ‘whistleblower’ but instead by, essentially, a bookkeeper, who was afraid of being prosecuted if she didn’t report to the police this tax-evasion that she was working on. Furthermore, Stratfor’s “to punish those deemed responsible for the death of” Magnitsky also is a lie, because the only person who so “deemed” was the American tax-fraudster who had employed Magnitsky. That employer accused Russia’s police of beating to death in prison this criminal suspect, Magnitsky, and he used, as ‘documentation’ for his charges, fake ‘translations’

into English of the police documents, and these ‘translations’ were taken at face-value by U.S. and EU officials, who couldn’t read Russian, and who wanted to cooperate with, instead of to resist, the U.S. Barack Obama Administration and the UK David Cameron Administration.

Furthermore, Stratfor, when it refers to “human rights violations and the conflict in Ukraine,” is actually referring instead to “the most blatant coup in history”, as the head of Stratfor put it when describing what the Obama regime referred to as the ‘revolution’ that in February 2014 had overthrown Ukraine’s democratically elected Government and that then began an ethnic-cleansing campaign to get rid of the residents in the areas that had voted over 75% for the President whom the U.S.-run operation had overthrown. In fact, U.S. think-tanks criticized Obama for providing insufficient assistance to the newly installed Ukrainian regime’s firebombings of the places where over 90% of the residents had voted for the now-ousted Ukrainian President. And that was entirely typical. This is a sort of ‘philanthropy’ that America’s billionaires receive ‘charitable’ tax-writeoffs for funding (donating to). No matter how aggressive a U.S. President may be against Russia, America’s aristocracy (through their ‘philanthropies’ etc.) complain that it’s not aggressive enough — America’s Government must do yet more, in order to ‘support human rights’ abroad.

So, that’s what America’s anti-Russian sanctions are all about: serving America’s billionaires.

first published at strategic-culture.org

Investigative historian Eric Zuesse is the author, most recently, of They’re Not Even Close: The Democratic vs. Republican Economic Records, 1910-2010

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COVID-19 As an Agent of Change in World Order

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Image: Alexandra Nicolae/Unsplash

The Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has claimed millions of lives. It has severely damaged the economy of the world. The consequences of the pandemic are expected to go much further. The virus has threatened the functioning of national and international politics. It has disrupted the international system through which events are controlled in the world. In one way or the other, all the fundamental constituents of the World Order have been reshaped. Henry Kissinger, former US Secretary of State, forewarned, “The coronavirus epidemic will forever alter the world order.”

COVID-19 could potentially vary the following aspects of the existing World Order.

Cooperation

COVID-19 easily crossed international borders. It has been observed that states cooperated with each other on the strategy of containing the virus. The World Health Organization (WHO) played an important part in integrating the states on the issue of contemporary health emergency. The WHO remained an ineffectual organization when the United States, under the presidency of Donald Trump, withdrew from it. Bringing the US back in the WHO was among the first presidential orders given by President Joe Biden.

Some scholars, on the other hand, view this warm cooperation by the US in the international arena as a facade for uniting to oppose the rise of China. The ‘America first’ approach of Donald Trump meant American protectionism. Joe Biden is said to have used the opportunity created by the COVID-19 pandemic to walk in step with allies in Asia.

Security

Power-practicing states have rarely downright inclined towards the standards of human security defined by the United Nations in its 1994 United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Human Development report. The report lays down the basic tenets of human security. Food, economic and health security are among important entities of human security. The pandemic has facilitated in proving the momentous nature of international institutions and cooperation. Security, therefore, has been redefined. The priorities have been shifted to health security.

Balance of Power

One may assume that in these trying times of the pandemic the states have come closer to fight the disease. However, this claim is not validated by hard-boiled political thinkers. Disruptions in the global economy tend to destabilize international politics, therefore, conflicts are likely to increase in the post-Covid world. For instance, the ongoing economic competition between the US and China is likely to continue to soar as the two states begin to engage in the ‘New Cold War’. The US has put blame on China for the spread of the coronavirus. Trump had repeatedly termed the coronavirus as the ‘China virus’. To neutralize the blame, China is active in the research and development of the COVID-19 vaccine. The crisis has facilitated China in showing the world its capability. In the long run, this could sway the balance of power.

However, neither China nor the United States is in a state in which it could emerge as a ‘winner’ in a way that would dramatically shift the balance of world power in favour of either state.

Vaccine Race

The production of mass-scale COVID-19 vaccine is no less than a race of the order of space race or arms race. Manufacturing COVID-19 vaccine is not only a matter of saving lives, but also a matter of saving face for some world leaders. Russia, US, UK, Germany, India and China are among the top competitors in the vaccine race. Vladimir Putin, Russian President, is eager to debut the vaccine to the world. It would be a sign of prestige in the international society and help Russia impose the new world order it vies for. Similarly, China has its own ambitions to lead the world, and inoculating the world is one way to do it.

The redistribution of power in post-Covid world will be dependent on states’ accomplishment in curbing the virus.

Financial World Order                                                        

The World Bank has estimated a 5.2% shrinkage in the global economy due to COVID-19 pandemic. Both the United States and China are eager to restore their Covid-hit economies in a way that one’s is greater than the other. In a substantial way, the United States is leading the world economy. It is one-fourth of the world economy. 80% of world trade is in USD. China aims to alter this mode of payment in international trade. It is giving competition to the US in terms of global trade exchange by building banks of its own. The pace of economic recovery adopted by the two competitors shall decide the post-Covid financial world order.

Dependency

Both the United States and China need allies to compete in the ‘New Cold War’. The COVID-19 pandemic has given them the opportunity to make allies via health assistance. The COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) facilities plan to distribute a major share of the vaccination to low and middle income countries. In July, 2020, China promised a $1 billion loan to Latin American and Caribbean countries. The US is also keen on this practice as Joe Biden is a strong advocate of global institutionalism.

COVAX could be a novel form of a bailout package. If this is so, the dependence of the Third World on the First World is likely to be increased.

Technology

As an agent of latent function, Covid has helped boost innovation. The states who have better technology are odds-on to impose their World Order. During the COVID-19 crisis, there has been an exponential growth in technology adoption. This implies that the military will have better strategic equipment than pre-Covid era. In modern international relations, military strength is the core determinant of state power.

Health as element of national power

Before the coronavirus pandemic, the elements of state power were either military strength or economy. The pandemic has shown that health can also be an indirect element of national power. The states with better healthcare have better chances of containing the virus. Their economy has better prospects of getting restored. Resultantly, the ‘healthy’ states have advantage over others in carrying on with their power politics.

Climate Change                                           

Due to closure of industrial sectors in the lockdown period, the global economy has collapsed. In the initial stage, it was expected that the lockdown will be a blessing in disguise for the cause of climate change. To restore the economy, however, governments of both developed and developing countries have no option but to reopen their industries. This means more emissions of carbon. The climate agreements are likely to be postponed until the economy is put back on track. The oil price decrease due to the pandemic will facilitate the poorer states in restoring their industries. This is another impediment in the way of a carbon-free global economy. Thus, the post-Covid world will have adverse effects on climate.

Threat to the political Right

The pandemic has proved to be unfortunate for the rising Right. Populism, nationalism and demagoguery do not seem to be working for the right wing leaders. The COVID-19 pandemic requires performance and output rather than speeches and slogans. This is so evident from the 2020 US Presidential elections. Donald Trump had been highly criticized for being a populist leader. His handling of the pandemic is one of the main factors that cost him the election. Similarly, in other parts of the world, people are demanding good governance rather than falling for rabble-rousers.

End of Globalization?

Globalization has severely been affected due to the pandemic. However, the process of globalization was slowing long before the pandemic, even before the election of anti-internationalist former US President Donald Trump. Some scholars are predicting the end of globalization due to the pandemic. Others argue that the pandemic shows how interconnected the world is. They see a potential growth in globalization and cooperation among the states, especially regarding the COVAX. Historical data show that crises tend to reinforce globalization. Globalization also helps to boost the fallen economy. Employment is an important part of globalization. There has been a significant surge in unemployment rate due to the lockdown imposed to cease the spread of the virus. To rectify the damages, people will tend to cross international borders. Therefore, immigration and, consequently, globalization is likely to increase in the post-Covid world.

COVID-19 pandemic alone may not change the World Order altogether. The transitions brought by the pandemic in the international system are likely to decide the leader of global political order. The post-Covid World Order depends on how and how fast the world emerges out of the pandemic. Vaccinating the world is the need of the hour. The contenders of the vaccine race need to be all-inclusive in the process of inoculation. If the United States or China succumbs to vaccine nationalism—the practice to limit the dosage of COVID-19 vaccine to domestic use— it will be difficult for them to ally other states in their vision of the new World Order.

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Broad Cyber-Consensus

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On Friday March 12, 2021, the United Nations adopted the report of the UN Open-Ended Working Group (OEWG) on Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security. The document was supported by consensus and, since all member states were able to take part in the OEWG, we can say that it reflects the views of most of the international community. The report marks the culmination of the OEWG’s two years of work on introducing a new format for negotiations on security in cyberspace launched in 2018 at the initiative of Russia. The successful completion of the group’s work suggests that demand for such a platform exists. This is particularly important, given that the OEWG will continue its activities in the new convocation for 2021–2025.

A Victory for Diplomacy

Andrey Krutskikh, Special Representative of the President of the Russian Federation on Issues of International Cooperation in the Field of Information Security, called the adoption of the report “a triumphant success for the Russian diplomacy,” while the Ministry of Foreign Affairs lauded the significance of the moment in its official commentary.

To better understand why the adoption of the report has exactly seen such a success, we need to take a trip into the recent past. The issue of information security was included in the UN agenda in 1998, after Russia presented its draft resolution “Achievements in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security” to the First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly. Negotiations have been ongoing since 2004 in the form of closed discussions in Groups of Government Experts (GGEs) involving between 15 and 25 states (the seventh composition of the GGE is expected to conclude its work in May 2021).

The negotiations started to pick up steam in the early 2010s, as three GGE consensus reports have shown. For example, the 2010 GGE report’s recommendations included furthering the dialogue among states on cyber norms, introducing confidence-building measures, exchanging information on national legislation and policies as well as identifying measures to support capacity-building in less developed countries as a means to reduce the risks associated with the use of information and communication technologies (ICT). The 2013 report reflected the OEWG’s conclusion that international law “is applicable and is essential to maintaining peace and stability and promoting an open, secure, peaceful and accessible ICT environment” (while conceding that a common understanding on the application of these rules needs to be worked out), and that state sovereignty applies to the conduct of ICT-related activities by states. Among other things, the 2015 report sets out the norms, rules or principles of responsible behaviour of states in the context of the ICT use.

The UN negotiating process on cyber threats stalled after 2015. The fifth convocation of the GGE in 2016–2017 failed to accept a consensus report, as the participants disagreed on how international law should be applied to state activities in cyberspace. This led to the United States and Russia putting forward separate initiatives in 2018. The United States and its co-sponsors proposed that the next GGE be convened to continue the discussion in a narrower circle. Meanwhile, Russia called for the negotiating process to be “more democratic, inclusive and transparent.” To this end, Moscow tabled a proposal to create an open-ended working group for all member states interested and hold consultative meetings for all other interested parties, namely business, non-governmental organizations and academia. Two parallel formats were launched as a result – the OEWG and the UN GGE.

The OEWG report is the first tangible result of the UN negotiations on cyber threats since 2015, which was made possible by a number of factors. First, the overwhelming majority of UN member states were interested in such a format (119 nations voted in favour of the Russia-drafted resolution in 2018), as it would avail many of them the opportunity to participate in a GGE for the first time.

Second, those countries that refrained from supporting the OEWG were nevertheless active in its work, and they put no obstacles in the way of adopting the final document. Representatives of 91 states spoke at OEWG meetings during the two years of its work. That is almost half of all UN member states, while one third of them have never been part of the GGE.

Finally, Jürg Lauber, Chairman of the OEWG and Permanent Representative of Switzerland to the UN, was widely praised for the work he did to push the negotiations through. He continued to perform his duties as Chairman even after being transferred from New York to Geneva. It was through Lauber’s chairmanship that an additional link between the OEWG and the GGE was established (one of the criteria for choosing Switzerland was the country’s participation in the closed GGE), which helped avoid competition between the two formats. The coronavirus pandemic posed yet another challenge for the Chairman of the OEWG and its participants. While the original plan was to adopt the OEWG in the summer of 2020, the final session of the Working Group was postponed for several months.

Let the Talks Continue

Content-wise, the report reflects the coordinated assessments of the current situation in cyberspace and, in accordance with the OEWG’s mandate, contains the following topics:

  • Existing and Potential Threats
  • Rules, Norms and Principles for Responsible State Behaviour
  • International Law
  • Confidence-Building Measures
  • Capacity-Building in ICT
  • Regular Institutional Dialogue on ICT

The OEWG participants agree that there is a growing risk of ICT being used in inter-state conflicts and see an increase in the malicious use of ICT both by state and non-state actors as an alarming trend. The report notes the potentially devasting consequences of attacks on critical information infrastructure (CII). Specifically, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of protecting the healthcare infrastructure. Inter-state interaction, as well as interaction between the state and the private sector, is important.

However, the OEWG report does not put forward any practical solutions to a number of information security problems, primarily in inter-state relations. The way international law should be applied in cyberspace largely remains a bone of contention. Despite the successful adoption of the OEWG report, negotiators have yet to find compromises on key issues.

In terms of the regulatory framework, the report essentially reiterates the agreements reached earlier within the framework of the GGE, such as those relating to the applicability of the rules, norms and principles for responsible state behaviour. The OEWG participants conclude the report by stating that additional legally binding obligations may be introduced in the future.

The proposals put forward in the report are, for the most part, of a general nature. States are urged to continue to inform the Secretary-General of their national views on the applicability of international law on the use of ICT in the context of international security, discuss these issues at the United Nations as well as envision confidence- and capacity-building measures.

More practical steps feature the recommendation that states nominate a national Point of Contact responsible for information security at the technical, policy and diplomatic levels who would then be included into a kind of international directory.

A group of over 40 countries led by France and Egypt managed to get an initiative of their own—proposed back in the fall of 2020 and urging to introduce a permanent forum on cybersecurity to replace the OEWG and GGE—included in the recommendations. The initiative, dubbed as the Programme of Action for Advancing Responsible State Behaviour in Cyberspace, appears in one of the paragraphs in the OEWG report, which lends weight to it and serves as the basis for discussions in the next convocation of the group.

One of the main reasons why we have not seen any breakthrough agreements in this regard is because of the sheer number of participants in the discussion on information security issues. On the one hand, this has brought new participants into the negotiations—those endorsing the previously agreed points—thus boosting their international clout. On the other hand, many participants demanded that a common denominator be identified, with all the difficult questions taken off the table. The last leg of the negotiations, in particular, saw a non-consensus draft part of the report published in a separate document, the Chair’s Summary.

The fact that the report was adopted by consensus does not mean that the participants in the negotiations have overcome the differences in their approaches to security in cyberspace. Rather, they have agreed to put fundamental issues on the back burner. Michele Markoff, U.S. cybersecurity negotiator, conceded in her Explanation of Position at the Conclusion of the UN Open-Ended Working Group that the report was “not perfect,” noting that the United States had reservations about the need for a new OEWG to convene. She also stated that the United States could not subscribe to calls for new legal obligations in cyberspace, citing non-compliance on the part of certain states with the existing regulations. That notwithstanding, the United States sees the report as a step forward.

Negotiations after Negotiations

Negotiations on cyber threats have now been going on for decades, broth at the United Nations and on other venues, and they are likely to drag on for many years to come. The OEWG report is an important milestone in the process and a reminder of the importance of multilateral efforts. According to Andrey Krutskikh, the successful completion of the group’s work “opens up huge opportunities for ensuring the success” of the current GGE, the Expert Group on Cybercrime—established during negotiations at the United Nations General Assembly Third Committee at the initiative of Russia—and the OEWG, whose mandate for 2021–2025 has been adopted.

Success or failure of future negotiations in the OEWG will depend on three main components. First, the relations between the key players will define how productive the talks actually are. While Russia and the United States may have managed to put their differences aside in order to reach a consensus on the report, the differences themselves have not gone anywhere. The sides still bang heads over such issues as attribution in cyberspace, the possibility of applying the norms of international humanitarian law to cyberattacks, etc. This is made all the worse by the new trend towards using the ICT for military and intelligence purpose as well as by numerous public accusations and threats emanating from both sides. One such example is the recent New York Times article on U.S. preparations for a retaliatory attack on Russian networks following the large-scale hack of U.S. government departments and corporations (known as the SolarWinds hack), which Russia is said to have carried out. Cybersecurity remains a sore point in U.S.–China relations as well. Tensions between major powers need to be reduced if we are to see any real progress in multilateral relations on this issue.

The second factor is related to the competition between the negotiating platforms. The OEWG has the advantage that is enjoys broad support among UN members, and its mandate has been written into the respective Resolution of the General Assembly. That said, the GGE format is also widely supported within the United Nations, and the “Russian” resolution received fewer votes in the First Committee of the United Nations General Assembly last year than it had in 2018, while the “American” resolution actually received more. What is more, the United Nations does not have a monopoly when it comes to negotiating platforms on cybersecurity, as a number of non-governmental initiatives on cyberspace regulation have appeared in recent years. France is actively pushing the Paris Call for Trust and Security in Cyberspace, which has the support of almost 80 nations as well as of many civil society organizations and companies. Six working groups are to be launched under the initiative in order to advance international norms and develop practical cooperation in cybersecurity. The competitive environment will mean that the OEWG will need to produce more tangible results in areas that are important for the participants.

The third and final factor has to do with preserving the gap between the practical side of ensuring information security and the international discussion surrounding it. Tech companies face cyberthreats on a daily basis, but their expertise in dealing with these challenges is not in demand at these negotiating platforms. The OEWG report talks about the need for public-private partnerships in order to protect the CII. However, the OEWG could take this one step further by examining the lessons of the responses of the business world to large-scale cyberattacks and by speaking their minds when it comes to assessing the efforts of technology leaders to advance rules and norms in cyberspace. The OEWG has the potential to bridge this gap (the new group’s mandate allows it to work with business and other stakeholders), but it has not been exploited to the full thus far. The most active player in the first convocation from the business world was Microsoft, while Trend Micro, Huawei, Fujitsu and others have also taken part in informal consultations. Kaspersky Lab is the only Russian company involved in the discussions. Russia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs believes it is necessary “to create conditions for attracting the business world to the negotiation process on international information security (IIS), thus giving the public-private partnership an institutional character.” Two problems will first need to be resolved for this to happen: 1) how to motivate Russian businesses to take part in the negotiations; and 2) how to organize the interaction of different stakeholders in the OEWG in the most effective manner. Otherwise, the efforts of all sides will continue to lack the much-needed link to practical experience in this area.

From our partner RIAC

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Will the enduring Proxy-war be ever ended in Afghanistan?

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Abstract: this paper long-story-short explains a four-decade of Afghan conflict, the causes and effects of the ongoing proxy war in passage of the modern history of the country. Furthermore, this paper elucidates roles and conducts of the major powers in the conflict; it unveils their national security priorities as well, along with their rivalry and disputable foreign policy objectives. The paper also explicates whether peace and stability is achievable or not. Finally, it draws a tragic and upsetting conclusion, which is a black eye not only for the Afghan leadership but also for the global players. Despite no perception of any potential peace in Afghanistan, this paper by no accounts encourages an exodus of Afghan Nation.

 D-day in Afghanistan

Afghanistan is overwhelmingly engulfed and hampered by proxy-war roughly for 4 decades, and the country has become a chessboard not only for super powers but also for regional countries and beyond. The cumulative toll of the war on the country and its people is massive.The conflict between Soviet Union-India proxies and Pakistan-US proxies just began, when Sardar Muhammad Daoud Khan took an oath as Afghanistan’s first president in 1973. In the course of his tenure, ISI-CIA backed warlord Gulbudin Hikmatyar launched his first armed face off in the eastern Afghanistan, and meantime the KGB sponsored Marionettes and MSS puppets hurled their surge in the whole country.

As a result, pro-Soviet proxies toppled Daoud Khan`s presidency thru a military coup in 1978, which paved the way for the Red-army incursion. In the decade subsequent the Soviet invasion in 1979, 1.5million Afghans lost their lives, another million were wounded and disabled, 6.2 million took refuge either in Pakistan, Iran and the rest of the world, and 2.2 million more were internally displaced. The fiscal damage caused by invaders during this period approximated around $644.8 billion.  United States, China, Pakistan, Iran as well asArab countries initiated anti-Soviet front, and began to harbor, train, and sponsor and arm their proxies in order to defy pro-Soviet proxies. The armed strife lasted a decade and the so-called freedom fighters/jihadi terrorists caroled ´´war until the end of occupation´´. Thus, the era of invasion dramatically came to an end in 1989, but the proxy war continued, and the self-styled freedom fighter/jihadi terrorists again chanted ´´ war until the end of communist regime´´.

In 1992, the communist led government was ousted, following the super powers (Soviet Union and the United States) total withdrawal from the region.  Awkwardly, the proxy war interred into the new phase and the conflict warmed up among Indian, Iranian, Pakistani and Saudi proxies.

Iran and India supported the Northern Alliance, whereas Pakistan and Saudi Arabia backed Hikmatyar (1992-1996), in the aftermath of such a skirmish capital of the country was effusively ruined, and a 100 thousand innocent Afghans killed and 1000s either injured or disabled, thousands internally displaced and fled to rest of the world.  As Pakistan-Saudi Arabia came short to topple, the northern alliance led government, Pakistan and its Arab and western allies originated Taliban movement in 1994.

In 1996, Taliban movement was able to overthrow the Northern Alliance leadership and conquered two-third of the country, and ruled Afghanistan barbarically, brutally and mercilessly. Hence, Iran, India and Russia instigated counter-measures, called Resistance Front to fight back the Taliban Movement and the proxy war sustained until 2001.

In 2001, the 9 11 phenomena occurred in the US, and the American administration launched a crusade to bring to justice, who took American lives. Taliban movement, which harbored Usama Bin Laden the master-mind of the 9 11 incidence, rebuffed to hand over him to Washington, accordingly, the American Administration commenced a full-scale war against Taliban to get rid of the alleged Islamic Emirate, which ended up with American occupation.

America’s two-decade-long occupation, beginning in 2001, which still goes on resulted the death of 3.500 coalition forces and the loss of 150.000 Afghan civilian and military personnel, in order to achieve purported “Nation Building” and “Democratization”. The occupiers endeavored to bring to power their puppets, via phony democratic process in hope of using Afghan territory for their strategic purposes.

In 2002, Pakistan, China along with some Arab monarchies started to regroup Taliban movement and other proxies to fight pro-American and pro-Indian Kabul regime, due to the strategic divergence with the US, Russia and Iran have also jumped in, to support Taliban’s resurgence ironically with American taxpayers money. The insurgents (proxies) chanted again “the war until the end of foreign/American occupation”.

In 2020, some hoodwinked and naïve policy makers have advised Donald Trump the American potentate to draw down the combat forces, and open negation in order to reach an agreement with Taliban. The settlement was made between the US and the insurrectionaries, the US started withdrawing, expecting that peace will prevail in Afghanistan. Seemingly, peace will not carry the day, since the rebels call for war until dethroning Ashraf Ghani.

Now the question is whether the proxy war will be ended anytime in the future, in other words whether peace and stability is achievable. The experts stipulate (for)an interim-government to integrate Taliban in the political system of the country. Some others enjoin additional approaches to be employed to transform the conflict, including the agreement to rule the country in accordance with a viable model, such as the Swiss model, whereby some representatives choose a leader for a limited time based on performance. Nevertheless, these approaches do not seem to be convincing and substantial, even if all at odds factions reach a comprehensive settlement to form a broad-based government, peace and stability will not be achieved, and the proxy war will be sustained.

Implications of global players’ divergence

In order to answer the above said question, we have to find out the root cause of the conflict, to the best of my knowledge; the Afghan proxy war is deeply ingrained in and intertwined with regional and trans-national disputes, therefore it makes sense to look into each conflictual issues one by one.

Indo-Pakistan dispute

Subsequent the end of British rule in 1947, British-India was divided into two separate nations, India and Pakistan, since then the countries have fought a series of conventional wars, mainly over the region of Kashmir, of which possession has been claimed by the countries. The partitioned, which was based on Hindu and Muslim majorities, caused mass migration and clashes, resulted hostility, violence and bloodshed. Consequently, the first Indo-Pak war took place in October 1947, following assault on Kashmir by Pakistan’s tribal forces. The war lasted roughly two years, which ended up with ceasefire and provisionary demarcation –now called the line of Control.

In 1965, the second Indo-Pak war occurred due to a series of cross-border clashes. The clashes turn to a full-scale war, when Pakistani soldiers crossed the line of control deep into the Indian administered Kashmir in search of starting insurgency against Indian army. The war came to an end, when officials of both countries agreed upon acknowledging peaceful vows.  

A third Indo-Pak war erupted, when Pakistan was further divided into two parts Eastern and

Western Pakistan. As a result, both East and West Pakistan began to tussle, due to the significant

Indian role in the conflict, eastern Pakistani soldiers Surrendered to Indian Army and Western      Pakistan got independence, which now called Bangladesh. In 1987, a nation-wide election took place in India and in Indian administered Kashmir, but the so-called Islamic movements did not acknowledge the result of the election, which eventuated an armed standoff against the Indian rule in Kashmir. Kashmir was acutely polarized, some of the inhabitants demanded independence from India, while the others sought to be integrated with Pakistan. Subsequently, armed résistance broke out, since then Pakistan’s ISI start to train, finance, shelter and sponsor the insurgent groups to fight Indian Defense forces, which has continued until here and now.

Sino-Indian row

Apart from border dispute, which occasioned a Sino-Indian war in 1962, China and India are warming up to contain one another; China has kicked off Belt and Road Initiative. This initiative (BRI) puts China at the heart of the new Pan-Eurasian economic order; the effort has drawn commitments from over 60 countries, and international organizations, and has been described as China’s project of the century.

The massive undertaking is divided into two main components: the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st-Century Maritime Silk Road. The “Belt” is a series of overland routes that will collectively connect China with Western Europe through the resource-rich countries of Central Asia. The “Road,” counter intuitively, refers to a dizzying sea route that flows around Southeast and South Asia, through Africa, and into the Mediterranean.

In counter measures, India has a continent-crossing plan of Washington-Tokyo oriented (South-Central Asia policy) which is called North-South Transport Corridor (NSTC); the objective is to link India with Central Asia, Caucasus and Europe thru Iran (if Iran is aligned with Washington) and possibly Afghanistan. India has been trying to interweave itself deeper within the infrastructural and economic fabric of Eurasia.

The NSTC is a multimodal trade corridor which extends from India to Caucasus, linking the India Ocean and Persian Gulf to Caspian Sea, which lies from Jawaharlal Nehru and Kandla port in western India to the port of Bandar Abbas in Iran, then go road and rail north thru Baku to the Caucasus and beyond.

The second route goes along the eastern side of the Caspian Sea, connecting the new Kazakhstan-Turkmenistan-Iran railway to amalgamate with the North-South Transnational Corridor.

The third route linking India with Chabahar port of Iran then goes to Afghanistan extends to Central Asia, which is currently suspended due to Washington’s mounting pressure to give it up if not India, will face sanctions. India is a big driver of enhancements to Iran’s Chabahar port. The country (India) is also backing a 218-kilometer road connecting the heart of Afghanistan with a border to Iran, the Kaladan multimodal project in Myanmar, the Trans-Asian Railway (TAR), which goes all the way from Dhaka to Istanbul, the India-Myanmar-Thailand Trilateral Highway, and, possibly, developing Trincomalee port in Sri Lanka as well as Delhi-Kabul Air Corridor in order to bypass and debase Beijing oriented Pakistani Corridor.

In the face of American drawdown, there are some speculations India is considering to deploy around 15 thousand troops to Afghanistan to deter threats posed by China and Pakistan and to safeguard its strategic projects in the region. Meanwhile India has consolidated its effort to support Afghan security forces in general and sponsor the Afghan intelligence Networks in particular. As a result of recent  joint actions,  Afghan intelligence Agency (NDS) and Indian intelligence organizations ( IB, RAW, DIA and the inter-service Joint Cipher Bureau),  the Afghan counter intelligence department was able to crack down the active and sleeping cells of Chinese MSS in the capital of Afghanistan.

Meantime India and China are pushing the blame game accusing one another for aggressive actions at the border points, which revitalize the Sino-Indian border dispute.

The sovereignty over two large and various smaller separated pieces of territory have been contested between China and India. The westernmost, Aksai Chin, is claimed by India as part of Jammu and Kashmir and region of Ladakh but controlled and administered as part of Chinese autonomous region of Xinjiang. The other large disputed territory, the easternmost, lies south of the McMahon Line.

It was referred to as the North East Frontier Agency, and is now called Arunachal Pradesh. The McMahon line was part of 1914 Simla Convention between British-India and Tibet an agreement rejected by China which caused Sino-Indian war in 1962. The border dispute was in somehow resolved in 1996 as part of Confidence-Building measures. 

But tension recently has risen as India has stationed sophisticated military hardware at the border, namely after receiving green signals from Washington and Tokyo, meanwhile India accuses China for acts of aggression at border, India claims, that China has ordered its military unites to be positioned at the crossing line, therefore India has taken reactionary steps.

Iran-Saudi Arabia dispute

The Saudi-Iran dispute originated, when widespread riots and rattles erupted in Iran, which put Iranian at armed standoff. As aresult, the Iranian kingdom was toppled, and the King (shah) fled, and there was a power vacuum in the country in 1979. Thus, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini rushed to lead the mutiny, in order to fill the gap. He brought a strategic shift to the Iranian foreign policy, so that he tried to reestablish Iran as a regional power based on Shia Islam to counter-weight Sunni Islam. Although Iran had been a Shia country, but had had a secular regime and Shia Islam had not been promoted as state religion.  Khomeini’s strategic foreign policy shift  was perceived as warmongering by the Sunni Muslim world, and especially by Saudi Arabia, which has customarily declared itself as leader of the Islamic world. Moreover, the country is home for two holiest places –Mecca and Medina—, Saudi Arabia is the Guardian, and responsible to protect them reach out their role in the entire globe especially within the Islamic world. Therefore, millions of Muslim take part at pilgrimage each year, which has added to the importance of Saudi Kingdom as an advocate of Sunni Islam.

On top of geo-political and geo-strategic discrepancy that the Kingdom has with Iran, Saudi Arabia arranges Sunni Islam as fundamental of its foreign policy object, whereas Iran’s forward policy for the region based on the tents of Shia Islam, hence there is divergence of policy objectives, which challenge and contradict each other.  In addition, the countries are oil-rich and overflowed with petrodollars to export their dogmas to the rest of Islamic world, thru both conventional and unconventional measures.

Sino-Russian and USA animosity

Despite significant divergence between China and Russia in both regional and international arena, the countries has striven to expand their cooperation in several directions namely in diplomatic, political and defense realms. China and Russia consider the US as a challenge to the national security of both Beijing and Moscow. The countries are bearing in mind that alignment between Moscow and Beijing is thought to be the best possible measure to deter US hegemonic policy.  Russia and China are working together to the fill the gaps of their military capability, accelerating their technological innovations, supplementing each other’s defense competency to emasculate US global leadership, challenging US dominance in strategic regions as well.

Their joint naval drills are supposed to be projected as a counter-measure to minimize the US capability, and to defy US regional scenario. Furthermore, the countries accelerate their cooperation to erode US military advantages. In order to enhance their efforts, Russia provides China with advanced weapons to remove the US from their backyards. Their joint efforts have put America under immense pressure to reconsider its defense budget and its alleged commitments to advocate a free and open Indo-Pacific.  The countries are doing their best to counter American Democratic measure in form of “color revolutions”, substantiating each other to defend their interests in multidimensional environments, creating norms around cyber and internet sovereignty, and augmenting anti-American elements even radical Islamists to gain the power and expand their territorial control. They legitimize each other’s conducts to persuade swing states to abandon the US.

Moscow and Beijing consolidating their efforts to inter to the new spaces more likely Artificial Intelligence, they strive to offer diverse digital system and other technologies. They also joined hands to disqualify American financial measures in the global economic arena especially bypass the US sanctions and minimize the US ability in financial realm  as part of the US foreign policy objective.

They have long before tried to de-dollarize the world finical system, which will in turn curtail the US capability in the area of export control. Nonetheless, the US has launched counter measures to limit Sino-Russia cooperation and the threats they pose to Washington. In response to Sino-Russian partnership, the US stationed and installed vigilant technologies all around the countries to curb their liabilities. Additionally, in response to the Sino-Russian joint-partnership, the US adopted a new maritime strategy in December 2020 the three maritime services of the US military – the US Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. The strategy elucidates both China and Russia as resolute adversaries, who pose a long-term strategic threat to the national security of the US in the global arena particularly in Indo-pacific domain. In comparison to the old strategies, the new strategy presses on the importance of sea control, which ascribes the possibility of armed conflict with at maritime level. Moreover, the strategy signifies the importance of Coastguard as a part of main element to deter multidimensional threats posed by Sino-Russia. The new strategy also implies and stress on building partnerships and cooperation with other countries to defend the US global perspective.  It clarifies as well that current US defense capability is not sufficient. Thus, the maritime forces ought to be modernized in order to counter Sino-Russia maritime strategy. According to the new strategy the size and shape will boldly change to answer the current and future challenges.

Sino-Russia rivalry

China and Russia enmity lays back to the Chinese Eastern Railway (CER) conflict took place in 1929 between Soviet Union and China, which was the bloodiest conflict of its time. Joseph Stalin played a significant role to neutralize Chinese efforts to recapture the Railway. In order to attain its goals China used both conventional and asymmetric approaches to eliminate Soviet Union control over the Railway. Obtaining green signals from Japan, Stalin forcefully trespassed the region and pushed back Chinese armed forces, which was connoted as a sign of aggression, and ended up with border dispute. Throughout, the history both countries unsuccessfully endeavored to find a peaceful and acceptable solution to the border conflict. Consequently, in 2003 Russia and China signed an agreement to resolve the border dispute. In 2005, Moscow and Beijing finalized the border issue, nevertheless, Chinese leadership still claims that Vladivostok Russia’s Fareast city is part of Chinese territory, besides Beijing asserts that Russia has annexed 350.000 square mile of Chinese territory. Nonetheless, due to American Air, Land and sea superiority, in global level and particularly in Indo-pacific, Asian and African regions, which is considered as threat to the national security of China and Russia. Therefore, Moscow and Beijing agreed upon to build up partnership and cooperation along with filling each other’s gaps in term of defense, aerial, sea and digital technologies, to rule out American Maritime strategic challenges. In addition, kick out the US military forces from their back yards. It is worthwhile to note Sino-Russian cooperation or partnership is not strategic, because is not built on natural basis, rather it instituted on a tactical measure to deter American aggression. It is very conventional term that the enemy of my enemy is my friend, which means Beijing and Moscow have a common enemy “the United States”. Therefore, they disregard their border dispute for the time being, which will definitely be brushed up, when the US is out of the race in the global arena.

According to the management criteria, partnership or cooperation is based on three terms; short term, midterm and long term in other word operational, tactical and strategic, taking in to account the mentioned terminologies the Sino-Russia partnership is operational and tactical then to be strategic/long-term. While China has been shifting its soft strategic measures, the country tries to apply hard power in Central Asia “Russia’s back yard”.  Beijing considers stationing military forces in the region to defend the country’s Belt and Road initiative extended to the region. China wants to safeguard its geo-economic and geo-political objectives thru future military installations in Central Asia. Therefore, Beijing’s motives are irreconcilable with the foreign policy objectives of Moocow for the region, because China pursues to advance trans-Eurasian transportation corridor in order to bypass Russia. Furthermore, China recently built an airport in Xining-Uyghur autonomous district close to Afghan and Tajikistan borders, which is the first airport of such kind in the mountainous area of Badakhshan. China’s initiative in this form, offers Beijing enjoying upper hand to get hold on Natural resources of the disputed region. The country undertook to build extra 25 airports in the region in order to expand its military buildup.  Hence, Russia reconsiders its partnership with China, the balance between Beijing and Moscow is changing in the region.

In addition, Sino-Russian partnership is depended on China’s commitment to full carbon neutrality by 2060. The Beijing will reduce consumption of all fossil fuels, including natural gas, which will definitely play a significant role in future cooperation and partnership between Moscow and Beijing.

China has recently made public that the country will almost be carbon neutral in 40 years; means the country will reduce 65% of its oil consumption and 75% of its natural gas consumption. These assertions will disqualify forthcoming efforts to run a mega-pipeline “Power of Siberia-2” in order to pump Russian natural gas to China. In order to minimize its dependency on Russian Natural Gas, China has diversified its efforts to import natural gas from centrals Asian countries. China made a technological breakthrough in domestic natural gas production, which will in turn reduce Chinese dependency on Russia. In couple of decades, Russia will totally lose its fuel and gas advantages to leverage China. Between 2050.2060, China will independently handle its energy needs, and develop its defense, maritime and digital technology including artificial intelligence. China will increase its defense budget up to 1 trillion dollars. Until 2060, the US will completely be out as a major element of world order.So there would be no need for Russian cooperation, China alone would be in a position to police the world and Russia will become Beijing’s number one geo-political enemy.   

Turkish and Indo-Greek-Saudi potential conflict

Although Greece and India are separated by great geo-political distance, the countries cooperate and collaborate on many issues, and work closely to deepen and further, expand their bilateral ties, since Turkey pledged to harbor, train, and sponsor and arm Kashmiri separatist jihadi terrorist groups under the auspices of Pakistani ISI. The recent strategic developments have highlighted semi-dormant areas of common Indo-Greek security interests and concerns. The incentive for such a convergence between India and Greece caused by the hastily growing strategic cooperation between Turkey and Pakistan to utilize jihadi terrorism as a tactic to promote their foreign policy objectives, which occasions hypothetically risky destabilization potentialities in the eastern Mediterranean and South Asia.  From now on, it is clear that Erdogan’s Turkey is an obvious threat not only to Mediterranean, but also to South Asia and even to global peace and security. The Turku-Pakistani alignment has materialized a distinct threat to both Athens and New Delhi making Indo-Greek strategic cooperation a natural outcome of desire of both countries to secure and foster their strategic interests. Pak-Turku axis made Saudi the strategic ally of Pakistan during cold war and thereupon withdraw economic and strategic sponsorship, and join Indo-Greek alliance. Since then the countries even added Sudan exploring how to strengthen multilateral security cooperation with other states that share similar concern about Turku-Pakistani flexing their muscles in the Mediterranean, red sea and Indo-pacific region and South Asia. The partnership among Greece, India, Saudi Arabia and Sudan put immense pressure on the US to make Turkey give in the preplanned sale of T129 Atak Helicopters to Pakistan, because American technology is part of the aircraft design, the Turkish company selling the helicopters must first secure the US export licenses before delivery can take place.

Indo-Russian Split

New Delhi and Moscow have been enjoying fruitful bilateral relations since dozens of decades almost in all occupations, this relationship meaningfully turned to a strategic cooperation in 2000, since then the countries have been holding annual dialogue to further bilateral relations. For the first time, from the time when, the strategic cooperation emerged, Moscow called off the annual summit, initially due to Delhi’s participation in the Indo-Pacific initiative and Quad, whereby the country is more inclined towards the US hub in the region, which could assumingly pose a threat to the alleged Sino-Russian strategic partnership in the Indo-Pacific region. 

Furthermore, the Ladakh Standoff between China and India made Moscow choose to gradient towards Beijing, although the head of the Carnegie Moscow Center Dmitri Terin proclaims that Russia will not choose between Delhi and Beijing, while Russia looks at the world differently. In addition, it is in Moscow’s interest to encourage a multipolar region in which several powerful axes exist he added. Despite India is a sales market for Russian products especially military ones, and the country’s export to India reaches 8 Billion USD. Alternatively, Sino-Russian bilateral trade had crossed $110 Billion, China is a huge sales market for Russian energy, agricultural and military products, and China’s share increased to 18 percent since 2013, which was 16 percent thereupon.

China even overtook Germany to become Russia’s largest trade partner. Therefore, Moscow should choose between New Delhi and Beijing, so Russia chose China rather than India. Hence, India has no other choice, but setting up a strategic partnership with the United States and its allies. Consequently, the alignment between China and Russia, on the other hand cooperation between India and the US will widen the gap between Moscow and New Delhi, which will definitely have adversarial implication for the entire region.  

Conclusion: in accordance with the analysis, the proxy war may last 100 plus years, and the countries will keep the ongoing war taking place in Afghanistan. They have chosen Afghanistan, since the country is primarily, no man’s land and its inhabitants are cheap and sucker to be taken on board, hired and utilized as fodder in favor of any local, national, regional and trans-national state and non-state actors or institutions.

Promoting their foreign policy objectives thru Afghanistan serves more or less to avoid direct confrontation among rival countries. Imagine once the war or direct confrontation takes place between India and Pakistan, Saudi and Iran, Russia and China or the US and China, what may happen needless to say, devastation of the entire region. Having had both tactical and strategic weapons, their application definitely jeopardizes global peace and security. Therefore, they have preferred to launch and lengthen the Afghan proxy war, while they have vested interest and stake in maintaining the status qua in order to uphold their foreign policy objectives. Unfortunately, the underdogs and scapegoats of this bloody war are only Afghans, thus I hesitate to say that Afghanistan is the graveyard of empires; rather it is the graveyard of Afghans themselves. 

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