Less than a month remains until the next summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), which will take place in Qingdao, China on June 9 and 10. The event is already being touted by the media and official figures of the participating countries as one of the most important international events of the year. All the more so because it will mark the first time that the six member states (China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) are joined by India and Pakistan. Journalists and analysts were quick to point out that the participants account for a sizeable share of world’s population, territory, natural resources and economic potential. The impressive figures suggest that the SCO will inevitably become a key “load-bearing structure” of the future world order.
There is no denying the strides made by the organization in terms of its institutional development since its inception at the turn of the century. And, of course, it would be bad form to look down on the diplomats, officials and experts who have invested so much energy in building the SCO over the past two decades. However, it is also true that now is not the best time for high fives and victorious statements. The SCO has obviously entered adulthood, but it has not yet emerged as a fully mature international institution. Furthermore, it runs the risk of becoming an “eternal teenager,” with its numerous transition problems and frequent changes in hobbies and attachments, but without any particular occupation or specific purpose in life.
Choosing the Priorities
At the turn of the century, Russia and China were extremely concerned about the growing global and regional instability. On the one hand, the growing threat of international terrorism, political extremism and separatist movements was already quite evident. On the other hand, the reaction of the West, primarily of the United States, to these challenges raised many questions and objections. It is no coincidence that the first substantive SCO document, adopted by the six member states in the summer of 2001, was the Shanghai Convention on Combating Terrorism, Separatism and Extremism.
However, in the very first years of the SCO there was a significant disparity in the interpretations of the “three main evils” and ways to counteract them. Not only did these differences persist, but in many instances they even grew over time. For example, the SCO member states backed the Russian counter-terrorist operation in the North Caucasus in the early 2000s, but Moscow’s decision to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008 was not met with similar support, for obvious reasons. And the reaction of the SCO member states to Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014 was an even more clear signal of the diverging approaches to separatism.
The interpretations of the other two “evils” have also diverged on a number of occasions. These differences would come to the fore every time a conflict emerged, such as in the case of Uzbekistan’s relations with Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. What some SCO members viewed as political extremism or downright terrorism others perceived as the legitimate struggle of ethnic minorities for their rights. As for the settlement of complex territorial disputes between China and the post-Soviet states of Central Asia, these problems were mainly resolved through bilateral negotiations, rather than with the help of multilateral SCO mechanisms.
Unfortunately, the SCO cannot as yet boast any significant contribution to solving the Afghan problem, one of the most burning security problems in the region. The SCO Afghanistan Contact Group was established in 2005, and Kabul received observer status within the organization in 2012, but the situation in that country has hardly improved over the past 10 years. It would be wrong to blame the lack of progress exclusively on the SCO, but the organization’s current status of cooperation with Afghanistan is hardly cause for celebration either.
Trying to Diversify
To be fair, the SCO’s work to coordinate efforts in countering international terrorism, separatism and extremism has already brought some practical results and acquired certain positive dynamics. The new Programme of Cooperation among the SCO Member States on Counter-Terrorist, Counter-Separatist and Counter-Extremist Measures for 2019–2021 is expected to be approved at the Qingdao summit. The organization’s anti-drug strategy is in the final stage of development. Other plans include intensifying operations of the SCO’s regional anti-terrorist structure.
Yet it would be an exaggeration to say that the SCO serves as a framework for a common security strategy of its member states. Just like before, the main efforts aimed at developing cooperation are focused on bilateral relations, primarily relations between Russia and the other SCO member states. The SCO itself remains largely a “geopolitical showcase” intended to demonstrate the effectiveness of “non-Western” approaches to multilateral cooperation, and to the world order in general.
At some point, China attempted to shift this focus to less sensitive areas of potential cooperation. In particular, Beijing proposed strengthening the economic dimension of the SCO’s activities, up to and including setting up a free trade zone and fostering economic integration among the member states. Though nobody objected to this proposal, China’s partners proved predictably unprepared for such a development. They all were seriously concerned about Beijing’s possible economic expansion, and none of them was particularly enamoured with the prospect of becoming an economic appendage of China.
Moscow had its own concerns about the Chinese proposals. Russian experts believed that intensified economic cooperation within the SCO aimed at a future free trade zone would eventually lead to that organization replacing the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) as the key driver of Eurasian integration, thus depriving Russia of the central role in this process.
As a result, the idea of a free trade zone was only actively supported by Kazakhstan and has not yet resulted in any detailed expert evaluations. China was eventually forced to shift the focus of its economic strategy in Eurasia from the SCO to the One Belt One Road Initiative, and the free trade zone idea is hardly ever mentioned in the latest SCO documents.
In practice, the role of the SCO was reduced to that of bringing bilateral or tripartite sub-regional economic projects together under one roof. This umbrella organization may have done something to conceal China’s economic domination in the region, but it did not change the essence of the ongoing processes.
With all its teething problems, the SCO’s two potential development trajectories remained relatively open. Until recently, that is. The organization could continue with its attempts to reach a new level of multilateral cooperation on security while trying to expand the scope of this cooperation by tackling unconventional threats and challenges head-on. Or it could strengthen its economic component consistently, gradually nearing the establishment of a free trade zone, albeit not as fast as Beijing would like.
The Development Strategy of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Until 2025 adopted at the July 2015 summit in Ufa was presented in an oversimplified way and allowed for various priorities to be set and various scenarios for the further development of the SCO to be implemented. However, the expansion of the organization that followed two years later changed its prospects significantly, narrowing the once-ample scope of opportunities. By embracing India and Pakistan, the SCO passed an important point of no return in its institutional development.
It is not about the expansion per se. Had the SCO accepted Mongolia, Turkmenistan and Belarus – or even Vietnam or a post-UN sanctions North Korea – as full members, for example, the power balance within the organization would not have change in any significant way. The SCO’s political foundations would also have remained the same. Just like the original six SCO member states, the aforementioned countries are believed to be communist or post-communist; they share many “generic features” and a long history of interaction with one another in a variety of formats. Not all of these countries can be viewed as convenient partners, but it is unlikely that many current members, such as Uzbekistan, can be treated as such either.
The expansion of the SCO through the addition of India and Pakistan presents fundamentally different problems. These two new members radically change the geographic, demographic, strategic and political balance within the SCO. More importantly, they bring the burden of bilateral conflicts, severe political differences, territorial disputes, historical grievances and mutual suspicions to the organization. There are conflicts, territorial disputes and mutual suspicions among the original SCO members, but nothing close to the Kashmir problem when it comes to longevity, intensity and the loss of life.
In addition, neither India nor Pakistan belong to the (post-)communist world: the two countries share the British colonial legacy and have a completely different experience of statehood and political development (incidentally, the SCO’s official languages have always been Russian and Chinese, not English). The SCO must also contend with the complicated relations between India and China.
At the present time, it is difficult to predict how the SCO’s expansion will affect its operation. Most likely, it will now be much more difficult to find a common point of contact on the most pressing strategic, political and economic problems. And there is a new potential complication on the horizon: Iran and Afghanistan are planning to join the organization and will thus bring their own views on global politics and strategic stability and their own ambitions and interests with them.
As has been repeatedly demonstrated by other intergovernmental associations, attempts to expand an organization while trying to deepen ties within it carry significant risks. As a relatively young and not completely developed structure, these risks are particularly high.
One opinion has it that Eurasia is suffering from an “institutional deficit” – a lack of complementary multilateral development and security institutions found in abundance in other regions. This suggests that there should be as many such institutions as possible.
The idea is correct, in a sense: Eurasia is not yet fully formed as an independent region; until recently, its various parts belonged to other geopolitical and civilizational entities. Yet we must remember that a number of inter-regional and global structures gravitate towards Eurasia in one way or another. This means that the SCO is still facing institutional competition, albeit in an implicit and relatively mild form. We have already mentioned the SCO’s rivalry with the EAEU, but this is not the only possible scenario.
For example, the BRICS organization (which includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) is based on the Eurasian triangle of Russia, India and China (the “RIC” part of the acronym). Now that India is a member of the SCO, the latter has come to reproduce, somewhat belatedly, the Eurasian triangle of BRICS; this implies potential rivalry between the two structures, which the SCO is likely to lose in the end. Even though BRICS was established five years after the SCO, institutionally it is more developed in a number of aspects. Suffice it to compare the New Development Bank (NDB), which is operating successfully under the auspices of BRICS, and the numerous SCO Development Bank and Development Fund projects that have yet to materialize.
In terms of security, much has been said about the dangers of competition between the SCO and the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Even though the functions of the two organizations do not overlap entirely, and the composition of their participants is different (the CSTO comprises Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan), the two entities have obviously similar missions. This could actually have come in handy had they competed in resolving the very serious 2010 Kyrgyz crisis, for example. However, both organizations preferred to disassociate themselves, or at least minimize their intervention.
It would be fair to note that, despite the CSTO’s numerous shortcomings, its future as the key security organization at the centre of Eurasia appears to be more favourable than that of the SCO (especially considering the fact that the latter has now been joined by the strategic antipodes of India and Pakistan). In fact, many of the security issues in the region will continue to be resolved bilaterally rather than multilaterally.
So, it turns out that the continuing institutional weakness of the SCO, coupled with its extremely broad mandate and the erosion of the Russia–China core through the adoption of new members can transform the organization into a suitcase without a handle: something too unwieldy to carry but too precious to abandon. It is, of course, true to say that the SCO remains useful as a discussion platform for global and regional problems, with all its ministerial summits and meetings. But can ceremonies and non-specific political declarations remain a sufficient justification for the organization’s existence in the long run?
The European Experience
The solution can often be found in the same place as the problem. It is in the institutional weaknesses of the SCO that its unique role in the Eurasian space can be found. The inclusion of India and Pakistan suggests the direction for the organization’s further development. It is clear that, with India and Pakistan on board – and even more so if Iran and Afghanistan join the club – the SCO will never again be the same group of like-minded countries it was supposed to be two decades ago. Nevertheless, it can become a platform for communication between potential or actual opponents, a tool for developing uniform standards and rules of conduct within the multi-directional and potentially highly conflict-prone Eurasia of the 21st century.
History offers examples of international institutions that were created (and operated successfully) not as alliances united by common goals and values, but rather as mechanisms for the interaction of opponents. Perhaps the most well-known example of this was demonstrated by Europe from the 1970s to the 1990s. Following two years of hard work, the summer of 1975 saw the signing of the Final Act of the Conference on Security and Co-operation in Europe (the Helsinki Accords), which postulated the fundamental rules of the game as applied to the continuing division of the European continent.
The Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe (CSCE) was established as a permanent international forum of all European countries, as well as the United States and Canada. Unlike the OSCE, which superseded it in January 1995, the CSCE was created at a time when any unification of Europe under the umbrella of common values and coinciding interests was out of the question.
1970s Europe and present-day Eurasia are obviously very different. For example, back then, Europe was rigidly bipolar, whereas Eurasia of today is seeing multi-polarity grow in the absence of clearly defined political and military alliances. In 1970s Europe, the pressure of global problems (climate change, the scarcity of resources, migration) was still almost imperceptible, whereas today’s Eurasia is suffering from them more and more each year. Europe was mostly focused on conventional security, whereas Eurasia needs to respond to unconventional challenges, from international terrorism to cybercrime. In Europe, first they agreed on the principles and then they created an appropriate international structure. Something completely different may happen in Eurasia – the existing structure may have to come up with new principles and rules of the game.
But the main thing is that in Eurasia, just like in Europe in the 20th century, there is an urgent need to define the general parameters of interaction in the context of profound differences between the continent’s countries on many fundamental issues – differences that are unlikely to be overcome in the foreseeable future. Managing competition is no less important than developing cooperation in this context. And the SCO could play a very important role here.
The Way to the Future
What does this mean in practice? First, now that the SCO has started expanding, it must continue with this process. The more members there are, the more legitimate the organization will grow. The prospects for further expansion are very good. At the moment, in addition to the eight full members, the SCO includes four observers (Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia), 10 candidate observers (Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Maldives, Qatar, Syria, Ukraine and Vietnam) and six dialogue partners (Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Turkey). In other words, almost 30 Eurasian countries are already in the SCO orbit. In the first years of the SCO’s existence, considerable work was done to develop the criteria and specific provisions, first for obtaining observer status and then for obtaining the status of dialogue partner.
Second, just like in Europe of the 1970s, the SCO might become a platform for discussing and devising the fundamental principles of relations in situations of differing or conflicting interests. New Helsinki Accords for Eurasia? Why not? Not in the format of the original document, of course: the world has changed since then, so too have global politics. The “10 Helsinki principles” should be amended for Eurasia in the light of what has happened over the past four decades.
Third, we must abandon the idea of seeking a “narrow specialism” for the SCO; in fact, the organization’s existing specialisms should be expanded further. As is known, the CSCE was built on the basis of “three baskets” or chapters: 1) “questions relating to security in Europe” – arms control, conflict prevention and confidence-building measures; 2) “cooperation in the fields of economics, of science and technology, and of the environment” – trade and economic aspects of cooperation, as well as environmental security; 3) “cooperation in humanitarian and other fields” – the protection of human rights, the development of democratic institutions, and the monitoring of elections.
In modern Eurasia, the three most important dimensions of international life (security, economic development and the humanitarian dimension) develop primarily in parallel. They are managed by various bureaucratic structures, their budgets rarely overlap, and experts tend to concentrate on one of the three dimensions. The SCO’s updated mechanisms could be instrumental in integrating these three dimensions into uniform multilateral projects.
The future of the SCO may consist not only in successful competition with other Eurasian organizations, ad-hoc coalitions or continental international regimes, but also in the role of integrator for the efforts of numerous players in the Eurasian political arena. If the SCO fills this niche, it will complement other regional and inter-regional structures such as BRICS, the CSTO, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the EAEU, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the G20, etc. Moreover, the SCO already has cooperation agreements with most of these organizations. Now it needs to implement those accords in practice.
This will turn the SCO into a cornerstone which, while scornfully rejected today by many ambitious builders of new Eurasian security and development structures, will sit at the heart of the building yet to be erected.
First published in our partner RIAC
The Need to Reorient New Delhi in the Indo-Pacific
Beijing’s overt expansionism in South Asia and the South China Sea (SCS) continues to threaten India’s maritime security. The rise of China as an Asian military and global economic power has also disrupted the inherent security and multilateralism of the Indo-Pacific region (IPR).
In response, New Delhi along with others has adopted the concept of the Indo-Pacific. However, over the last decade New Delhi’s orientation in the IPR has been particularly “Pacific-oriented”, resulting in a less than comprehensive approach to India’s maritime security priorities in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR).
India’s Strategic Goals in the Indo-Pacific
China’s so-called “peaceful rise” has been betrayed by Beijing’s growing territorial designs in South Asia and the SCS; the ongoing buildup along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), and China’s militarised outposts in the SCS are evidence to this. These designs have also been operationalised through economic measures under its predatory Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), of which the “silk road” is a challenge to India’s maritime security.
India’s strategic competition with China has provoked the expansion of national material capacity and foreign policy measures. These are aimed at developing and preserving collective regional security and multilateralism, in India’s primary and secondary interest areas.
However, over the years, New Delhi’s adoption of the IPR concept has witnessed a disproportionate emphasis on the eastern sub-region of the Indian Ocean (EIO) in terms of its maritime security priorities, resulting in a Pacific-oriented approach. A number of factors have brought about such an orientation.
A Pacific-Oriented Approach and the EIO
First, India’s strategic advantage along the “Indo-Pacific straits”. The “Malacca dilemma” gives New Delhi an edge over China’s energy supply-lines, and regional trade from the IOR to the western Pacific Ocean. This advantage is furthered by the development of material capacities, most significant of which has been the establishment of India’s first integrated command on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
The Andaman and Nicobar Command’s (ANC) surveillance and kinetic capabilities not only improves India’s own security status, but also signals its contribution in preserving collective regional security in the EIO, for example, through the India-Australia-Japan-US Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QSD), or Quad.
Second, the origins of the IPR concept in the now famous “confluence of the seas” speech delivered by PM Shinzo Abe to the Indian Parliament in 2007. The mention of, “[a] “broader Asia” that broke away geographical boundaries…”, or Southeast Asia, highlighted the political locus of the IPR’s confrontation with an “assertive China”. The continued militarisation of the SCS, growing tensions in East Asia, and the US-China strategic competition, helps perpetuate Southeast Asia’s prominence in the IPR discourse.
Third, New Delhi’s continuation of the “Look East” policy as the “Act East” policy (AEP) in 2014. Building on historical ties with Southeast Asia, New Delhi placed ASEAN at the core of the AEP. ASEAN is also considered “central to India’s footprint in East Asia”. These foreign policy measures, focused on developing resilient trans-regional connectivity and supply-chains, flow past the EIO, from the Andaman Sea, through the Malacca strait, to Southeast Asia and beyond.
Fourth, and finally, India’s growing importance in the US-China strategic competition. China’s economic influence in Southeast Asia, along with its large military capabilities, poses a threat to the US’s position as an influential extra-regional power. The recently ratified Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) has been the latest in a list of disruptions to the US’s predominance in the IPR.
As India’s maritime goals continue to converge with that of the US and its regional allies – Japan, Australia, and the Republic of Korea – New Delhi’s interests will stretch further into the Pacific theatre, to the SCS, East China Sea and Western Pacific. In fact, some suggest that the idea of a military command on the Andaman and Nicobar Islands was in fact, first discussed by President Bill Clinton and PM P.V Narashima Rao as a deterrent against China in 1995.
Furthermore, the US defines the IPR as, “…the region which stretches from the west coast of India to the western shores of the United States…”, thereby excluding the WIOR from its strategic approach to the Indo-Pacific theatre. This explains why the sub-region is understated in India’s IPR discourse.
While Indian Navy (IN) manoeuvres in the region have been generally limited to the IOR, the recent Galwan Valley clash saw an IN warship deployed to the SCS; coincidentally, during an ongoing US naval exercise in the area. There is also a growing call for the expansion of IN presence to the Western Pacific, beyond its mission-based deployments.
Reorienting New Delhi Towards the WIOR
This Pacific-orientation has resulted in the omission of the western sub-region of the Indian Ocean Region (WIOR) from India’s strategic approach to the IPR. The use of the term “Indo-Pacific straits” for those between the EIO and Southeast Asia, already exclude the sub-region from India’s strategic approach to the IPR.
A comprehensive approach to the IOR should obviously entail an emphasis on India’s maritime security priorities in both sub-regions of the IOR.
This in turn will allow New Delhi to realise its interests in the larger Indo-Pacific theatre.
The WIOR is physically a much larger arena, with different regional and extra-regional actors. However, it is a significant arena within the IPR for much of the same reasons as the EIO
The main obstacle of the WIOR, when placed within the IPR concept is that India’s approach to the region diverges greatly from its current IPR partners. Differing priorities, conflicting interests and historical contexts, for example with regards to Pakistan and Iran, have generally muted the region.
The decision to hold the second phase of the 2020 Malabar Exercise in the Arabian Sea is a welcome move in reinforcing the sub-region in India’s IPR approach. New Delhi’s reception of the recently signed Maldives-US defence agreement is also a sign of India’s slow reorientation to the WIOR.
India’s position in the WIOR gives it a number of strategic advantages. The Indian peninsula along with the Lakshadweep Islands and Laccadive Sea, offers New Delhi a unique edge in protecting and overseeing much of the world’s goods trade from the Atlantic Ocean, and energy supplies from West Asia to the Pacific Oceans. The development of material capacities in this arena will act as a springboard for the further enhancement of collective regional security.
The growing participation of extra-regional actors in the WIOR, such as France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the EU, signals to New Delhi the need to include the region in its IPR approach. Pursuing mutually beneficial security and economic arrangements with actors besides its existing IPR partners will also help circumventing current contrasts in maritime priorities and geostrategic interests.
More importantly, China’s growing military and economic presence in the Arabian Sea, through the “string of pearls” and the “maritime silk road”, remains a threat to India’s traditional ties to, and its status as a net-security provider in the WIOR. The Chabahar Port in the Balochistan-Sistan province in Iran is one such economic interest that has seen much controversy; the recent exclusion of India from the Zahedan railway project, and the subsequent agreement of a $400 billion strategic partnership between China and Iran.
The WIOR is also of concern to India due to extant interests, such as maintaining a strategic advantage vis-a-vis Pakistan, enhancing trade with Afghanistan and East Africa, piracy/terrrorism in the Arabian Sea, and energy supplies from the Middle East.
To secure India’s maritime priorities in the IOR, but also consolidate its vision for the IPR, New Delhi needs to reorient itself, determine its strategic advantages in the WIOR, and develop national capacity and foreign policy measures equivalent to those in the EIO.
On the Universality of the “Logic of Strategy” and Beyond
Just like several other scholars, military strategist Edward Luttwak argues that “the universal logic of strategy applies in perfect equality to every culture in every age”.[i] This implies that there is indeed one logic inherent to strategic thought, which, according to Luttwak, “cannot be circumvented […] and must be obeyed”.[ii]Mahnken further underpins the idea of the universality of the logic of strategy with the argument that war is a human activity and human nature has not changed throughout time.[iii]When considering Colin Gray stating that “there is an essential unity to all strategic experience in all periods of history because nothing vital to the nature and function of war and strategy changes”, it seems rather natural to accept a certain inevitability of strategic conclusions.[iv]
It is therefore necessary to pose the question which implications the existence of a universal logic of strategy might entail. If such a universally valid logic is assumed to exist, those who understand – or rather master – it best and manage to uncover its underlying cognitive mechanisms will be the most successful actors within the international system as they will be more able to foresee and therefore counter the strategies of possible opponents.
Additionally, to investigate the notion of a logic of strategy is particularly relevant considering the prospect of future wars. If there is a logic of strategy, which is further universally valid, then neither the scenario of a militarized outer space, nor the invention of highly lethal, insuperable biological weapons or the increasing development of and reliance on artificial intelligence will have any substantial, altering effect on it. This thought is congruent with Colin Gray, who claims that it would be a major fallacy to fall prey to the assumption that the invention of ever more modern weapon systems might change the presumed continuity inherent to strategy.[v] In this respect, it must also be emphasized that a certain trust in a universally valid logic of strategy must be handled carefully and must not confine strategic thinking. Hence, the notion of a logic of strategy hints towards the very practice of strategy.[vi]
The term “strategy” itself evolved over time and certainly captured a different meaning before World War One than it does today. This caesura was introduced by Freedman, who argues that this experience led to a widening of the concept “strategy” and to several attempts of redefinition, thus diverging from earlier notions of the concept as provided by von Clausewitz and others.[vii] However, Whetham points out that the notion of strategy and its inherent logic already permeated pre-modern eras, even if it was not yet considered or referred to as such by the respective protagonists.[viii]Approaching the term from a contemporary perspective, Gray very prominently defines strategy as “the bridge that relates military power to political purpose”.[ix]Angstrom and Widen engage with the term similarly when they write that strategy must be viewed as a rationalist process that reconciles “the political aims of war and the military aims in war”.[x] The notion of strategy can therefore be boiled down to the combination of means, ways and aims.
The term “logic” shall in this essay be understood as a rational process of reasoning that is based on various premises and finally leads to the acceptance of a valid conclusion.[xi]Considering that the sub-discipline of strategic studies was traditionally occupied with the question whether and to what extent strategic action is subject to historical, economic, social and technological regularities and patterns – thus whether certain premises indeed necessarily lead to specific strategic conclusions – the assumption of a specific “logic of strategy” does not seem far-fetched. Therefore, this essay argues that indeed a universally valid logic inherent to strategy can be identified, having overcome the constraints of time and space. However, this logic is not the only one. Strategy further operates along the lines of a time- and space-bound, actor-specific logic, which is why strategy must be perceived through a multidimensional lens – and which finally makes strategy so difficult.
On the logic of strategy
When approaching the notion of a logic of strategy, it is necessary to emphasize two preconditions. Firstly, the utility of the use of military force as an important tool of statecraft must be acknowledged.[xii] Secondly, one has to consider the general overarching perception of international politics that widely underlies the field of strategic studies, namely the notion of an anarchic self-help system with independent states at its center, which are all armed to a certain extent and therefore find themselves in security dilemmas.[xiii] Within this framework we will now consider what might constitute the logic of strategy.
When elaborating on the question whether there exist “guidelines” that inform strategic thinking, Gaddis concludes that the fact that strategists do not always have to start from square one increases the likeliness of a certain logic of strategy.[xiv] According to Angstrom and Wilden, the logic of strategy unfolds as its design necessarily bases on three core pillars.[xv]Firstly, military and political ends are perceived as two distinct aspects that need to be put into accordance, the application of military means serving the political ends. Moreover, the actor being concerned with strategy does not have unlimited resources at his/her disposal. Therefore, the aspect of the scarcity of resources is to be viewed as a cornerstone or fixed determinant of the underlying logic of strategy. This is a crucial factor because, as Gray points out, examples like Imperial France, Nazi Germany or the Soviet Union all demonstrate that the pursuit of political ends beyond one’s means is bound to fail.[xvi]Thirdly, Angstrom and Widen emphasize that the logic of strategy builds on the confrontation of opposing wills, which accounts for strategy’s interactive and consequently dynamic nature.[xvii] This component might be captured best by Beaufre, who approaches strategy as “the art of the dialectic of two opposing wills using force to resolve their dispute”.[xviii] It is crucial to highlight that the “opposing will” belongs to an intelligent, capable opponent. These three elements that define the logic of strategy are further interlinked, leading to repercussions among them.
As strategy describes the use of military means for the achievement of political ends, several authors have thus attempted to categorize the possible ways to use force. For instance, Robert Art distinguishes four functions of the use of force: defense, deterrence, compellence and swaggering.[xix] Why is this categorization important when reflecting on the logic of strategy? This is because the possible ways to use force (independently of which form the specific “force” takes) are not time-bound. When for example thinking of deterrence, one might be tempted to assume that this specific way to use force is inextricably linked to the deterrence function of nuclear arms in combination with the principle of mutually assured destruction (MAD). However, as Lonsdale vividly illustrates, Alexander the Great already mastered the interplay of military power and psychological effects and made use of coercion and deterrence in order to expand and sustain the newly shaping borders of his empire.[xx] This demonstrates that the logic of strategy operates on the basis of a certain toolkit of ways to use force, which have persisted over time.
Another aspect which could be interpreted as part of a universal logic of strategy might be its inherent paradoxicality. This feature is above all emphasized by Edward Luttwak, who postulates that the whole strategic sphere is permeated with a paradoxical logic deviating from day-to-day life’s ordinary “linear” logic.[xxi] He underpins this notion by referring to the proverb “Si vis pacem, para bellum”, the idea of nuclear deterrence (thus the interpretation of one’s readiness to attack retaliatory as genuinely peaceful intent) or by providing specific examples.[xxii] In this sense he draws attention to Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and claims that the Japanese were able to create a momentum of surprise only by neglecting crucial preparations.[xxiii] This means that within the realm of strategy, Luttwak’s paradoxical logic finds thorough application as the straightforward “linear” logic is viewed rather predictable and is therefore more likely to be punished.
In sum, the aspects outlined above could be perceived as being universally valid, throughout time and space. However, as will be argued, there is more to the logic of strategy that must be considered.
Going Beyond Strategy’s Universal Logic
In the following, the attempt should be undertaken to challenge the notion that there is indeed only a logic of strategy. One could firstly argue that strategy, bridging between military means and political objectives, is not only grounded in the specific universal logic as outlined before but that strategy is also always a choice among several available options. Then the question follows, if all options available would theoretically all be equally feasible, require the same resources and are similar in terms of effectiveness, which strategy would be adopted? One could argue that this depends on the involved actors, which, even if acting under the premise of rationality, are rooted in their specific historical, social and political contexts.
Strategy is therefore clearly not designed within a vacuum. The contents of strategy do not only derive from what was described above as composing the universally valid logic of strategy. If we return to the definition of “logic”, the term was understood as a process of thought, which leads from several given premises to a valid conclusion under the condition of rationality. Therefore, also the given time- and space-bound circumstances under which a certain strategy is formulated could be considered as forming their own logic. Angstrom and Widen summarize these circumstances as strategic context, which unfolds along the lines of six dimensions of politics (without claiming to be exhaustive): geography, history, ideology, economy, technology and the political system.[xxiv] Instead of treating them as mere contextual factors, it is important to consider the respective as constituting their own logic, along which strategy is aligned. However, Angstrom and Widen emphasize that these actor-specific factors only bear limited explanatory power and that it is difficult to assess to what extent these factors influence the design of strategies.[xxv] This, nevertheless, does not invalidate the notion that these actor-, time- and space-specific circumstances should be considered as another logic by itself. Acknowledging the existence of more than one logic of strategy penetrating the realm of strategy would further emphasize the importance of the specific embeddedness of strategy – without undermining the significance of the above identified universally valid logic of strategy. One would consequently accept that when it comes to strategy, one encounters several logics in action.
When returning to the initial question, which implications the existence of a logic of strategy would have, specifically regarding the prospect of success, it is worthwhile to consult Richard Betts, who asks “Is Strategy an Illusion?”.[xxvi] He argues that effective strategy is often impossible due to the unpredictability and complexity of the gap between the use of force and the aspired political ends.[xxvii] However, it is indeed because of this overwhelming complexity in which strategy operates that its underlying logics should be reflected upon. Gaddis refers to the universally valid features of the logic of strategy as a “checklist”, which shall be considered to contribute to the design of a successful, effective strategy.[xxviii] As was demonstrated above, it is nevertheless also crucial to consider the additional specific time-and space-bound logic of strategy. To understand the strategy of potential opponents, it makes sense to deconstruct its logical foundation, to consider the universally valid logic of strategy but also the respective underlying actor-specific logic. Strategy thus operates along a multidimensional logic, both universally valid and time- and space-bound. This is what makes strategy difficult but acknowledging this conceptual aspect might notwithstanding contribute to its further mastery.
[i]Luttwak, Edward N., The Rise of China vs. the Logic of Strategy (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 2012), vii.
[iii]Mahnken, Thomas G., The Evolution of Strategy… But What About Policy? Journal of Strategic Studies 34 no. 4 (2016), 52.
[iv]Gray, Colin S.,Modern Strategy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), 1.
[v]Gray Colin S., Why Strategy Is Difficult. JFQ (1999), 8.
[vi] Cf. Lonsdale, David J. and Colin S. Gray (eds.), The Practice of Strategy: From Alexander the Great to the Present. Oxford: Oxford University Press (2011).
[vii]Freedman, Lawrence. The Meaning of Strategy: Part I: The Origin Story. Texas National Security Review 1 no. 1 (2007), 90-105.
[viii]Whetham, David, The Practice of Strategy: From Alexander the Great to the Present. Edited by John Andreas Olsen and Colin S. Gray. War in History 21 no. 2 (2014), 252.
[ix] Gray, Modern Strategy,17.
[x]Armstrong, Jan and J. J. Widen,Contemporary Military Theory. The Dynamics of War (New York: Routledge, 2015), 33. Original emphasis.
[xii]Art, Robert J., To What Ends Military Power? International Security 4 no. 4 (1980), 35.
[xiii]Gilpin, Robert G., No one Loves a Political Realist. Security Studies 5 no. 3(1996), 26.
[xiv]Gaddis, John Lewis, Containment and the Logic of Strategy. The National Interest 8 no. 10 (1987), 29.
[xv] Armstrong and Widen, Contemporary Military Theory, 46.
[xvi]Gray, Why Strategy Is Difficult, 10.
[xvii] Cf. Armstrong and Widen, Contemporary Military Theory.
[xviii]Beaufre, André, An Introduction to Strategy (London: Faber and Faber, 1965), 22.
[xix] Cf. Art, To What Ends Military Power?
[xx]Lonsdale, David J., The Campaigns of Alexander the Great. In: John A. Olsen; Colin S. Gray (eds.). The Practice of Strategy: From Alexander the Great to the Present (Oxford: Oxford University Press 2011)33.
[xxi]Luttwak, Edward N., Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace (Cambridge and London: Harvard University Press, 2001), 2.
[xxiii] Ibid., 6.
[xxiv] Cf. Armstrong and Widen, Contemporary Military Theory, 36-43.
[xxv] Ibid., 42-43.
[xxvi] Cf. Betts, Richard K., Is Strategy an Illusion? International Security 25 no. 2 (2000), 5-50.
[xxviii] Gaddis, Containment and the Logic of Strategy, 38.
Biden, Modi and the Malabar Exercise 2020
So lastly, the reluctant President Donald Trump, keeping the value of the verdict, allows the GSA to begin the transition under the Presidential Transition Act 1963, on November 23, 2020 making the post-election resources and services available to assist in the event of presidential transition. This facilitates the formal transfer of power and helps the new President adjust his vision and the assessment of the world. Joe Biden has his own view of the burning issues around of which the expanding China, Taiwan, South China Sea, Iran, South Asia and Indo-Pacific constitute important fragments. Now since India is engaged in almost all these issues directly or indirectly and happens to be a long term strategic ally of US the talk between Biden and Modi carries several messages. In the meantime, the conduct of Malabar exercise, that formally involves all the QUAD members (India, Japan, the US and Australia) institutionalizes the strategic relationship in the region and promises more stability and peace.
Prime Minister Narender Modi, just like the heads of Canada, UK, and Australia congratulated the new elect on November 17, 2020. The President-elect Joe Biden, in turn, called him back for thanks and reaffirmation of many things suspected to be under shadow by many. The president-elect noted that he looks forward to working closely with the prime minister on shared global challenges, including containing COVID-19 and defending against future health crises, tackling the threat of climate change, launching the global economic recovery, strengthening democracy at home and abroad, and maintaining a secure and prosperous Indo-Pacific region (The Week). Mr. Biden expressed his desire to carry forward the strong ties between the two states and strengthen and expand the US-India strategic partnership alongside the first Vice President of South Asian descent Kamla Harris. His election policy papers also held that no important global challenge could be solved without the Indo-US partnership.
Besides crafting a greater Indian role in world politics, Biden’s reference to challenges of climate change, the Covid 19 pandemic and global economic recovery, the stress on democracy and peaceful and prosperous Indo-pacific sketch some significant flashes of the coming times. ‘Democracy Assistance’ has been an important objective of US foreign policy since beginning but India has a mercurial stance over the goal as it has succumbed to the exigencies of national interest and security thus playing safe with the undemocratic neighbours. Therefore the US reference brings the dictatorial and nondemocratic regimes into discussion that it aims to size.
Indo-Pacific and the Malabar I&II
The Indo-Pacific and the QUAD have gained prominence in recent past on account of heat generated in the South China Sea and China’s OBOR project affecting the trade interests of ASEAN members, India and the US in the Indian Ocean region. In the October 7, 2020 QUAD members meet at Tokyo the issues of collaboration among the democratic states and challenge to world peace, primarily from China, was discussed seriously. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called for the democracies to work together to protect people and partners from the Communist Party of China’s exploitation, corruption and coercion. He referred to the Chinese provocations in the East China Sea, the Mekong, the Himalayas, and the Taiwan Straits (Joshi October 7, 2020). The Indian External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar also called for likeminded countries to coordinate responses. Mr. Jaishanker held that we remain committed to upholding the rules-based international order, underpinned by the rule of law, transparency, freedom of navigation in the international sea, respect for territorial integrity and sovereignty and peaceful resolution of disputes (The Quint, October 7, 2020). However, a strong commitment lacked on the part of India which was met later during the Malabar exercise. India has a clear Indo-Pacific policy as articulated by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at the Shangri-La Dialogue in June 2018, which aims at protecting Indian interests in the Indian ocean region against China’s OBOR and SOP (String of Pearl). Peace and security in the region are high up on India’s list of priorities. As first and foremost, India’s economic interests in the region requires peace and convivial environment. At the same time, India has acknowledged rising China’s threats to its vital national interests in the region. Therefore, India’s strategy must be seen against the background of the interplay between India’s economic interests and national security (Purayil 2019).
The latest 24th edition of Malabar exercises have, however, put all the skeptics aside as India invited Australia also this time for the naval exercises and all the four QUAD members (India, US and Japan) have participated with great zeal. The more interesting thing is that the exercises take place at a time when the world is down with pandemic and the conflicting situations are flaring up in the Middle-East, Central Asia, Caucasus, South Asia and Far East. India is locked up in a border issue at Ladakh with China for over six months and South China Sea simmers under the fire of war threat. India’s tough times with its smaller neighbours also make the possibility of the institutionalization of QUAD and Indo-Pacific of immense importance.
The first phase of the exercise was held in the Bay of Bengal from November 3-6, and the second phase was conducted in the Arabian Sea from November 17-20. The navies of India, the US, Australia and Japan concluded the second phase of the Malabar naval exercise in the Arabian Sea that involved two aircraft carriers and a number of frontline warships, submarines and maritime aircraft (Mint. November 20, 2020). The major highlight of the exercise was participation of Indian Navy’s Vikramaditya carrier battle group and the Nimitz strike group of the US Navy.
The more significant outcome of the exercise appears to be the proposal of a new fleet by US. On November 17, 2020 speaking at the Naval Submarine League’s annual symposium, the outgoing U.S. Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite suggested the creation of a new fleet within the Indo-Pacific theater, which will take some load off the U.S. Seventh Fleet stationed near Japan. The fleet is to be placed in the crossroads between the Indian and the Pacific oceans, and going to have an Indo-PACOM footprint (Military Men. November 19, 2020). The region already has a Command known as U.S. Indo-Pacific Command found on 30 May 2018 and converted from United States Pacific Command (USPACOM) first found in 1947.
Initially, the Chinese response was balanced, stating that it has noticed the development and believes that military cooperation between countries should be conducive to regional peace and stability. But after the proposed fleet and the President-elect Joe Biden’s presumptive nominee for the secretary of defense position, Michele Flournoy, who is also seen as a China hawk in favor of a robust stance against the People’s Liberation Army, Navy, the idea of the First Fleet may very well carry forward to the next administration (Rej).
Since China had reacted sharply at the inclusion of Japan at the Malabar exercises in 2018 the inclusion of Australia this times irks it more as the idea of QUAD gets more institutionalized and the Indo-Pacific mapping further crystallized. The Biden’s quest for a stronger strategic partnership with India and support for Indian claim to permanent membership of the United Nations and the unflinching support for India against its security issues have raised eyebrows in Beijing. At one stage, the US presence in Diageo Garcia irked India but in the changed scenario the increased US presence in Indian Ocean doesn’t alarm it much, even though it curtails the Indian prominence. In view of OBOR project and the Chinese aggressiveness in the region, India has reconciled to the situation and even the US-Maldives agreement of September goes well with it. However, in the long run it is faced with a double challenge of plugging the Chinese dominance and saving its prominence and at the same time reconcile with a friendly ally in the US. Meanwhile, China, being the largest trade partner of Australia may hurt it economically and rake up heat at the Nine- dash line, Ladakh and Taiwan.
- Joshi, Manoj. October 7, 2020. “The Quad and the Indo-Pacific.” https://www.orfonline.org/expert-speak/quad-indo-pacific/
- Military Men. November 19, 2020. https://militarymen.in/us-navy-secretary-proposes-new-indo-pacific-fleet-the-diplomat/
- Mint. November 20, 2020. https://www.livemint.com/news/india/phase-2-of-malabar-2020-exercise-concludes-in-arabian-sea-11605889757803.html
- Purayil, Muhsin Puthan 2019. Geopolitics. “The 2019 Shangri La Dialogue and Reflections on India’s Indo-Pacific Strategy.” https://thegeopolitics.com/the-2019-shangri-la-dialogue-and-reflections-on-indias-indo-pacific-strategy/.
- Rej, Abhijnan. The Diplomat. November 18, 2020. https://thediplomat.com/2020/11/us-navy-secretary-proposes-new-indo-pacific-fleet/
- The Quint. October 7, 2020). https://www.thequint.com/news/india/we-will-work-together-s-jaishankar-meets-mike-pompeo-in-tokyo
- The Week. https://www.theweek.in/wire-updates/international/2020/11/18/fgn2-us-biden-modi.html
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