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SCO: The Cornerstone Rejected by the Builders of a New Eurasia?

Dr. Andrey KORTUNOV

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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.

Expansion Dilemmas

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.

Institutional Rivals

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

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COVID-19 and Challenges to the Indian Defence Establishment

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The COVID-19 pandemic has created an uncertain situation all over the world. It is defined as the greatest challenge faced by the world since World War II. At a certain point, the pandemic had forced world governments to announce lockdowns in their respective countries that led to more than half of the human population being home quarantined. Since then, social distancing, travel bans, and cancellation of international summits have become a routine exercise. Most sectors such as agriculture, health, education, economy, manufacturing have been severely hit across the globe. One such sector which is vital to national security that has been impacted due to the pandemic is defence.

The effect of influenza and pneumonia during WWI on the US military was huge. The necessity to mobilise troops across the Atlantic made it even ideal for the diseases to spread rapidly among the defence personnel and civilians. Between mid-1917 and 1919, the fatalities were more so due to the disease than getting killed in action. Due to COVID-19, there have been many implications within the defence sector. Amid the ongoing transgressions in Ladakh, it becomes imperative to analyse the preparedness of the Indian defence establishment to tackle the challenges at hand.

Disrupting the Status Quo

Many personnel in the Indian armed forces have been tested positive for COVID-19. This puts the operational capabilities at risk. In one isolated incident, 26 personnel of the Navy had been placed in quarantine after being tested positive for COVID-19. The French and the Americans had a great challenge ahead of them as hundreds of soldiers were getting infected onboard their Naval vessels. Furthermore, the Army saw some cases being tested positive as well. In one such incident, the headquarters of the Indian Army had to be temporarily shut down because of a soldier contracting the virus. These uncalled disruptions are very dangerous for our armed forces. These disruptions challenge the recruitment process and training exercises.

Since the Indian Army has been involved in quarantining tasks, this exposes the personnel to the virus. As a result of this, the first soldier was tested positive on March 20 in Leh. Among them, those who work as medical personnel are even more exposed to the virus. In order to enforce damage control to the operational capabilities, the Army made sure that the non-essential training, travel, and attending conferences remained cancelled. They called off any foreign assignments and postings for the time being. The Army also made it a point to extend leaves for that personnel who were already on absence. This was a major preventive measure adopted to prevent further infection.

As a result of the lockdown that had been imposed nationwide, the defence services were forced to temporarily stall all the activities that relate to soldiering during peacetime. These activities include training, pursuing professional qualification, fitness tests and regimes, equipment maintenance such as unit assets and stores, up-gradation of the cadres among others. Since the Indian Army boasts of a force that has signed up voluntarily to guard the borders, most of the troops are away from their families, which makes it even more difficult during the times of crises. The mega biennial naval exercises scheduled to be held in Vizag were cancelled due to COVID-19. A total of 41 navies were planned to be a part of the joint exercises called MILAN. The Service Selection Board (SSB) training and the recruitment process have been put to a halt as well. This will severely impact the intake process for this year.

Handling Biohazards

The Army’s capable of operating in a Chemical, Biological, Radiological and Nuclear (CBRN) environment and has sufficient equipment like infantry vehicles, helicopters and tanks which can operate without any hassles. Since instances of chemical warfare have been witnessed in West Asia and other regions in the last two decades, the focus of the Army has been on that and not on biological warfare. Most Armies believe that bio-weaponry is still fictional and won’t come into play any time soon. Naturally, due to this mindset, most Armies are not capable of handling biohazards. This is a major setback in the time of COVID-19 and has to be addressed.

Riding Down the Slope

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the Indian economy has been nose-diving day by day. This is some bad news for the defence sector since the military spending will possibly be reduced as a result of the slowdown. According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), India’s GDP will grow at 1.9 per cent. This is one of the lowest in the history of post-independent India. Allocations and spendings will naturally take a hit and will take a long time to revive again. Defence manufacturing will also face a setback and discourage indigenous players who are looking at getting involved in the manufacturing and innovation sector. MoD has already received the Ministry of Finance’s circular that called for the defence spending to be limited to 15-20 per cent of the total amount allocated. This will ensure that the defence budget is not the priority for the finance ministry. A gap of Rs. 1,03,000 crore has been highlighted between the requirement and the allocated money. More than 60 per cent of this allocated amount anyway goes towards paying salaries and pensions. This means that the modernisation efforts will face a major slowdown in the next two years. Defence procurement is already difficult due to the bureaucratic hurdles, now the monetary crunch only adds more woes.

Moreover, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had announced earlier that more than 9,000 posts belonging to the Military Engineering Services (MES) will be abolished in the said industrial division. The reason cited was that this would bring about a balance to the expenditure. Due to the lockdown, the military development has taken a hit and has seen a decline in the production of freights. As of now, there is no manufacturing that is ongoing as far as fighter planes or aircraft, in general, is concerned. Some of the signed defence deals and contracts are said to be reviewed due to the financial crunch. India’s defence budget is expected to see some cuts due to the economy slowing down. The pandemic has worsened this even further. There is already an existing order to cap the spending for the first quarter of this fiscal year. Most of the payments that are being disbursed is largely that of paying for the existing contracts. This will diminish any scope for procurement of newer defence equipment that helps in modernising the armed forces in the long run. According to a report, it says that the Ministry of Defence is looking at a savings of anywhere between Rs. 400 and 800 billion in the 2020-21 financial year. To quote Yuval Noah Harari from his recent article in the Financial Times would seem relevant in this case, “Many short-term emergency measures will become a fixture of life. That is the nature of emergencies. They fast-forward historical processes. Decisions that in normal times could take years of deliberation are passed in a matter of hours.”  India has displayed the significant political will to make impactful decisions during the pandemic. The question is, how far and how soon can we push ourselves to be prepared on all fronts?

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Rafale deal: A change in aerial balance in South Asia?

Shaheer Ahmad

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The induction of the first consignment of five Rafale jets in the Indian Air Force inventory is considered to be a game-changer in the aerial balance of the South Asian region. A multi-billion-dollar package will be beneficial to increase the air prowess of Indian Airforce. While equipped with weapons of tangible accuracy including long-range SCALP and Meteor missiles, it will be able to hunt any target with accurate precision.  The arrival of French-made engines has concerned neighboring Pakistan and China due to its high accuracy of conducting sea and ground attacks.

The experience of operation ‘Swift Retort’ and Chinese intrusion in Ladakh, compelled New Delhi to introspect the efficiency of IAF in any major or minor engagement in the future. The deal to acquire Rafale fighting jets to plug the loopholes in the aerial power of IAF was inked in September 2016.  This induction is meant to enhance the Indian Air force’s operational capabilities and will also assist it to overcome the technological disparity with the US manufactured Pakistan’s F-16 and Chinese Chengdu JF-17 thunder. However, the task for PAF to restrict IAF moves in the future has become more challenging. Despite its competence and better training of its personals as compared to IAF the air superiority is still not guaranteed if the technological gap between IAF and PAF gets wider. Notably, it’s hard to assess the proficiencies of one jet over another because the ‘man behind the machine is more critical’. 

Rafale is a twin-engine Medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRC) whose design instigate from Dassault Mirage with an up to date frame of the 1990s, already used by the French Navy and air force as well as by Egypt and Qatar. Furthermore, these jets were also engaged in combat missions in Afghanistan and Libya where they demonstrated a high proficiency. Whilst JF-17 thunder holds a conventional design originating from Mig 33 having an airframe of 1980s and it also demonstrated its capabilities in PAF’s Operation “Swift Retort”.

In an overall assessment, JF17 is a lightweight, conventional, fuel-economical, and cost-effective jet aircraft. The most momentous factor in JF17 thunder is it’s beyond visual range capabilities and integration of AESA radar that will not only allow detecting the wide-ranged targets but also to detect and lock multiple targets instantaneously. Meanwhile, it is less disposed to jamming and leaves a low sign to radar that makes the detection of fighter difficult hence increasing its reliability. Moreover, a crop numerical advantage and training aptitude due to the use of a similar platform and its cost-effectiveness makes itself a suitable aircraft for the Pakistan air force. Similarly, the ability of any up-gradation domestically for JF-17 also increases the feasibility of this aircraft, while Rafale lacks this opportunity because Indians lack the platform that can guarantee any domestic up-gradation for Rafale. Generally, Dassault Rafale is advanced in airframe, delta wing Canard design, semi stealth specter to counter threats as well as MBDA meteor that makes it a very affluent fighter with a high operational cost.

Rafales are considered superior over existing fighter jets present in PAF inventory and with the advanced technology they will relish an edge over Pakistani jets. But in case of any aerial engagement on Pakistani soil, Experts orate that in such a scenario Pakistani fighters will enjoy an edge due to its enhanced Air defense ground environment (ADGE) and also a window will remain open for PAF that when and where to carry out a counter strike as it did during operation ‘Swift Retort’. In such case, Indian numerical advantage and war resilience will be of less significance because these factors are relished by the party having a counter-strike option and that party will decide that how much allocation of resources is needed to engage for a mission after having a careful assessment of adversary’s air defense capabilities.

It’s also important to know that PAF and IAF can carry out surprise air raids nearby to the international border in peacetime without the probability of interception by adversary radars. Neither sides have the strength and capabilities to maintain 24/7 air surveillance across a 3323-kilometer long international border. Hence it’s also necessary for Pakistan to counter or deter any kind of surgical or tactical strike in the future. But the concern is still there that after the Balakot experience will India be deterred for conducting similar strikes in the future?

While viewing this scenario and having an experience of Balakot episode, PAF efforts to enhance its capabilities of airborne intercept radar and BVR missiles in JF-17 thunder’s fleet are noteworthy.  However, PAF should pursue an up-gradation on its existing F16 squadron. The presence of Rafale and S-400 air defense system will be challenging for PAF to retaliate, but the Indian S-400 and Rafale jets can’t shield the whole international border so the PAF needs a careful assessment to choose the targets that are not under the umbrella of S-400 or the access of Rafales while keeping in mind not to carry out an action that can trigger the adversary towards any escalation.

In a nutshell, the arrival of French-made engines equipped with long-range SCALP and meteor missiles having high precision is not only beneficial for Indian air prowess but it has also concerned its neighbors notably Pakistan for countermeasures. The experience of Operation Swift Retort and the recent military standoff in Ladakh has compelled New Delhi to modernize its Soviet-era air force by the induction of Dassault Rafales that will provide IAF an edge over the existing fighter jets in PAF’s inventory. However, the crop numerical advantage and training aptitude due to the use of a similar platform increases the feasibility of JF-17 thunder in PAF’s inventory. Hence in case of any aerial engagement in future the numerical advantage will be of more concern as 100+ JF-17 thunders will relish an edge over 36 Rafales and PAF will have the option of counterstrike that when and where to carry out a retaliation after carefully assessing the adversary capabilities in light of S-400 air defense system and Dassault Rafales. Hence Rafale jets have air superiority over existing Pakistani fighter jets but it can’t alter the aerial balance in South Asian region unilaterally.

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Pakistan’s Nuclear Diplomacy: Commitment Towards Non-Proliferation

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Ever since Pakistan became a nuclear weapon state, Pakistan’s nuclear diplomacy has been in practice on the principles of restraint and responsibility. Pakistan was even reluctant to enter the club of nuclear weapon states but soon after India had conducted its first nuclear test in the year 1974, going nuclear became Pakistan’s strategic compulsion. India’s series of nuclear tests in 1998 had compelled Pakistan to demonstrate its nuclear weapon capability accordingly to restore the strategic balance in South Asia. The development of Pakistan’s nuclear weapon capability primarily serves the purpose of a credible and reliable defence against the existential threat from India and to maintain peace and stability in the region. After the inevitable nuclearization of South Asia, Pakistan has never been a part of any arms race in South Asia.  Pakistan can neither afford and nor have an intent to indulge in an arms race in the region This is evident from the very fact that Pakistan has always been open for dialogues and arms control initiatives at the regional and international levels. In this regard, Pakistan’s recent proposal at the Conference on Disarmament (CD) in Geneva is also part of its responsible nuclear diplomacy to urge the international community to take steps and develop consensus on arms control and disarmament. These factors show Pakistan’s commitment and adherence to achieve the goal of nuclear non-proliferation. 

As part of its non-proliferation efforts, in the past, Pakistan had also proposed various Confidence Building Measures (CBMs)at the regional level. For instance, in 1974 Pakistan had proposed to make South Asia a nuclear-weapon-free zone (NWFZ), in1978 proposal for the joint Indo-Pak declaration renouncing the manufacture and acquisition of nuclear weapons was presented. Similarly, in 1979 Pakistan had proposed the mutual inspection of each other’s nuclear facilities to build confidence and promote transparency. Moreover, being a responsible international player, in 1979 Pakistan had proposed to simultaneously sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT)along with India as non-nuclear-weapon states. In 1988 Pakistan had proposed a bilateral treaty to ban the nuclear tests to elude overt nuclearization and reduce the nuclear risk. With the high risk attached to the emerging technologies and delivery systems, in 1994 Pakistan had proposed the South Asia zero-missile zone. Hence over the period, Pakistan has continued its efforts towards nuclear CBMs by proposing various regional and bilateral non-proliferation initiatives. These were aimed at strengthening strategic stability and to reduce the risk of any nuclear conflict in the region. Unfortunately, India has always shown a negative attitude to all such proposals and disrupted various technical, political, and strategic level talks on nuclear CBMs. This historical evidence further validates Pakistan’s appropriate nuclear diplomacy and enhances its credibility as a responsible nuclear-weapon state.

In continuation of its responsible nuclear diplomacy, most recently at the plenary meeting of CD, being held in June 2020, Pakistan has put forth its concerns regarding the nuclear disarmament. While speaking at the conference, Pakistan’s permanent representative to CD Ambassador Khalil Hashmi deliberated upon that with the emerging global conflicts, the consensus on non-proliferation and disarmament has also abraded. The likelihood of a resumption of nuclear testing by countries like the USA, Russia, and India and increased prospects of nuclear use has made the global arms control regime dormant. The increasing trend of double standards and discrimination of the western countries was also highlighted. It was pointed out that the politics of granting waivers to certain states particularly India serves as one of the reasons that the confidence in the nuclear non-proliferation regime has eroded. India’s aspiration of regional hegemony and aggressive military posture against Pakistan are the main contributing factors towards instability and turbulence in South Asia. Moreover, India’s non- compliance with international law has emboldened it to intimidate its neighboring countries and to continue its brutalities in the Kashmir region. India’s irresponsible and incendiary rhetoric combined with its enhanced and aggressive nuclear capabilities is a huge threat to regional peace and security.

To address the above concerns, Pakistan has outlined eleven points roadmap to build the global consensus on non-proliferation. Some of the important steps include; the ‘right of equal security for all states’ in both conventional and non-conventional domains at the national and international levels. The SSOD-I (Special Session on disarmament) has unanimously agreed to this principle of equal security. This shows that Pakistan’s nuclear diplomacy and its non-proliferation efforts have been acknowledged at such an international forum. Another pragmatic step would be that through a non-discriminatory Fissile Material Treaty, all the states must eliminate the current fissile material stock and abandon future production. Likewise, all non-nuclear-weapon states must be provided with security assurances until nuclear disarmament is achieved. A non-discriminatory and universal agreement must be developed to address the concerns regarding the proliferation and development of ABM (Anti-Ballistic Missile) systems. Furthermore, there is a need to strengthen laws to prevent the militarization of outer space and development of LAWS (Lethal Autonomous Weapons System) to be brought under international regulation. Hence to deal with the existing and future challenges to nuclear non-proliferation, international efforts are needed to rethink and re-evaluate the foundations of the non-proliferation regime.

Hence, in this nuclear age, global strategic stability cannot be achieved through discriminatory non-proliferation measures. There is a need for an enabling environment at both the global and regional levels for successful nuclear non-proliferation engagements. In South Asia, India’s offensive doctrines of a limited war under a nuclear overhang, nuclear brinkmanship, and notions of a splendid first strike have posed a serious threat to regional security. In this regard, CBMs and crisis control along with nuclear risk reduction are direly needed to help reinstate a stable regional nuclear order. This would likely serve the key to enduring peace and stability. Despite India’s perilous and pessimist role in the non-proliferation realm, Pakistan should continue to act responsibly and maintain a constructive and responsible nuclear diplomacy.

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