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NATO–Russia Council: What Are the Outcomes?

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The principal outcome of the NATO–Russia Council (NRC) held on May 31, 2018 is that it actually took place. The Council had been planned for the eve of the next NATO summit scheduled for July 11–12, 2018. Therefore, both parties have clear reasons and motives to get together and discuss mutual interests and concerns within this specific context.

In terms of practical outcomes, the Council offered few. The agenda generally repeats the limited range of issues from the six previous meetings at the ambassadorial level. Agreeing to meet with NATO, Russia sends the alliance a positive signal that the country is ready to maintain political and diplomatic contacts within the Council and discuss mutual concerns even in the current “reduced” regime, and that it is also ready to pursue the dialogue, search for opportunities to return to a dialogue on particular issues and carry out work in the areas of mutual interest.

Unlike the previous sessions of the Council, the results of these recent meetings were not made public. The websites of official agencies ran only short communiques. Today, Russia has taken a serious and well-thought-out step by not abandoning the dialogue proposed by NATO. At the same time, however, we expect the Council meeting to contribute to practical progress, to help achieve a productive dialogue and to restore a practical agenda.

The principal outcome of the NATO–Russia Council held on May 31, 2018 is that it actually took place. While it was NATO that proposed holding the consultations, it was unclear what the real agenda would be and what practical outcomes were to be expected. And these are the key issues. Russia continues to emphasize the need for tangible results, particularly in the current political crisis. On the other hand, it is also noteworthy that the Council was planned for the eve of the next NATO summit, which is scheduled for July 11–12, 2018. Therefore, both parties have clear reasons and motives to get together and discuss mutual interests and concerns within this specific context. Despite the apparent stalemate in the NRC, the opportunity to compare notes in the run-up to the most important event on the NATO calendar, which will be attended by heads of state and government, should not be squandered. The Russian side largely took these very circumstances into account.

In terms of practical outcomes, the Council offered few. The agenda generally repeats the limited range of issues from the six previous meetings at the ambassadorial level. Although the participants of the NRC round table did not plan to discuss anything new, they naturally took the new realities and the military and political situation into account. The emphasis at the previous NATO–Russia Council was on the WEST 2017 joint strategic military exercise between the armed forces of the Russian Federation and Belarus. This time, in discussing transparency, reducing risks and tensions and preventing military incidents, Russia was primarily interested in the upcoming large-scale Trident Juncture 2018 exercise.

Clearly, this will be a major exercise with the participation of up to 45,000 people, including representatives of partner countries. And Russia is understandably interested in the relation of the military activity to the declared functions of containing Russia. At the time, it is apparent that a sufficiently substantive discussion of the issues of reducing military threats and risks and developing joint steps in that direction cannot be considered without stepping up the inter-military dialogue, and that dialogue still does not work in the NATO–Russia Council format. Contacts have been established between NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe and Russia’s Chief of the General Staff, but that is not enough. It is obvious that discussing Risk Reduction – the problems of cutting risks, preventing and neutralizing military threats – requires a systemic dialogue, not only between military leaders, but also between specialized military experts. NATO does not agree to this: since April 1, 2014, all practical contacts have been cut, and practical cooperation and interaction have been blocked.

Agreeing to meet with NATO, Russia sends the alliance a positive signal that the country is ready to maintain political and diplomatic contacts within the NRC and discuss mutual concerns even in the current “reduced” regime, and that it is also ready to pursue the dialogue, search for opportunities to return to a dialogue on particular issues and carry out work in the areas of mutual interest.

It is not easy to confirm such sentiments in current conditions, particularly since seven diplomats from the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to NATO were stripped of their accreditation in March 2018. Russia does not merely view this as an unhelpful step; it sees it as narrowing the options for dialogue. But Moscow nevertheless agreed to the Council meeting, thus putting the ball in NATO’s court. Moving away from diplomatic parlance, this is a gift from the Russian side, since NATO will need to report on the second track of its relations with Russia at the July summit: balancing “effective containment” with “successful dialogue.” This task had become all the more pressing for the Alliance in the run-up to the summit. Its headquarters would like to demonstrate that the adopted formula had been productive, and Moscow did not want to exacerbate relations and give grounds for more anti-Russia rhetoric. Jens Stoltenberg can now quite responsibly report at the July summit that the dialogue is developing, without focusing attention on the difficulties and its practical ineffectiveness. Yet, if Russia sends such a signal and “gives a gift” to NATO before the summit, then NATO should consider the issue of how to pragmatically develop the dialogue with Russia in the future. Of course, it is also a very important test for Russia. NATO’s future policy will be clearer after the summit: whether the alliance will use the very fact that the NATO–Russia Council took place as a propaganda tool for reporting on the successes of its policy regarding Russia, since the latter is prepared to maintain a dialogue. Conversely, Russia’s signal could be interpreted differently, and NATO may consider and discuss the prospects and contents of its future dialogue with Russia in a pragmatic and consistent manner.

Agreeing to meet with NATO, Russia sends the alliance a positive signal.

Another nuance that is also a fairly important circumstance is the fact that the results of the Council’s meeting were not made public. Communiques on the websites of NATO and the Russian mission were very brief. They stated the agenda and briefly listed the issues under discussion. Moreover, the parties abstained from talking to journalists, and that makes the current Council different from its previous sessions, which were invariably followed by political commentary – including comments from the NATO Secretary General on the alliance’s website and answers to questions from the media. Now there is nothing of the sort, and this reticence means that the situation is unclear, and we should look at how NATO will react in the future and what discussions surrounding the Russian question at the summit will mean.

The topic of Russia at the upcoming summit is especially important against the background of events that may have an unfavourable impact on the general atmosphere of the summit. For example, the major complications in Euro-Atlantic relations, with Trump trying to stress the rather unpopular tenet of the “Old Europe” and showcase the successes of New Europe, which follows Washington’s politics and policies. Trump believes that “Old Europe,” primarily Germany, which has rather unsuccessfully laid claim to European leadership, is moving in the “wrong” direction.” This context is highly unfavourable for the summit itself, and possibly for Russia–Europe relations. A number of specific events, such as the attack perpetrated by the United States, the United Kingdom and France against military facilities in Syria, the publication of U.S. plans to deploy permanent military bases in Poland, etc., could also have a negative effect. This is all very serious and should be taken into account by both NATO and Russia. Today, Russia has made a serious, well-thought-out step by not abandoning the dialogue proposed by NATO. At the same time, however, we expect the Council meeting to contribute to tangible progress, help achieve a productive dialogue and restore a practical agenda.

First published in our partner RIAC

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India’s Test of Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicle and Implications for South Asia

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In September this year, India claimed to have successfully tested scramjet engine technology. This has been indigenously developed for its hypersonic technology demonstrator vehicle (HSTDV). As per the Indian estimates, this particular and sophisticated technology would be a key component for the development of the next generation of hypersonic cruise missiles. After attaining supersonic technology and developing supersonic cruise missiles with the help of Russia, India now also aspires to have hypersonic weapons in its inventory. India’s pursuit of hypersonic cruise missiles would bring new security challenges for Pakistan. This would have devastating implications for the strategic equation of the region since it would further enable India to a resort of the first strike against Pakistan. Likewise, this would ultimately destabilize the already volatile South Asian region.

It would be pertinent to mention here that hypersonic weapons are of two types: hypersonic glide vehicles (glide towards the target before dropping) and hypersonic cruise missiles (use scramjet engines). Furthermore, the hypersonic missiles are not just deadly because of their incredible speed (sustained speed of more than Mach 5); even ballistic missiles could reach up to Mach 25 in their re-entry phase. The major difference is the maneuverability and terrain hugging capability of the hypersonic missiles, which allows them to have more unpredictable flight paths. Consequently, they can easily penetrate the advanced air defence systems that are currently available in the world and might even in the near future as well. Furthermore, hypersonic missiles can carry both conventional and nuclear warheads. What makes them more lethal is their enhanced speed, with which even a conventional warhead hypersonic weapon can destroy unhardened or underground facilities. Moreover, because of their speed, range, precision, and lethality, they are also considered as ideal weapons against time-sensitive targets and missile defences.  Therefore, it can be said that hypersonic weapons are effective counter-force weapons because of their precision and capability to target and destroy high-value targets with incredible speed and accuracy.

After the successful test of the scramjet engine meant for powering the HSTDV, India has been aiming to become part of the elite group of states that possess this technology. Previously the US, Russia, and China have been part of the arms race to develop hypersonic weapons. Last year in June, India failed to successfully test scram-jet technology. However, the recently claimed success of the September 7th test of HSTDV has been celebrated by the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO), Prime Minister Modi, and the Defence Minister Rajnath Singh as a ‘landmark achievement’. According to the Press Release by the Indian Ministry of Defence, HSTDV was launched on top of a solid-fueled rocket; it carried to an altitude of 30 kilometers at the speed of Mach 5 for about 20 seconds.  Though Indian media considers this test as India’s entrance into the “elite league” of nations possessing hypersonic weapons, in reality, the test has been conducted at the speed of Mach 5 which is believed to be the lowest possible speed for hypersonic weapons. This reflects two things: firstly, India has improved its technology from the previous failure, and secondly, there is a long way ahead of India to develop and deploy hypersonic weapons. Moreover, this capability also reflects India’s inclinations towards the development of counter-force and pre-emptive nuclear capabilities, which are contradicting its long doubted policy of ‘no first use’. This situation has become more alarming since India has been acquiring advanced missile defense systems and also developing counter-force technologies like the hypersonic weapons simultaneously. This could result in a false sense of security and superiority within the Indian strategic elite. Inspired by this India could attempt to launch a first strike most probably against Pakistan.

Hence, the development and deployment of hypersonic weapons by India would likely eliminate the existing parity in South Asia primarily ensured by Pakistan’s nuclear capability. Today, deterrence stability exists between both countries because both possess the capability to inflict the damage and it becomes unappealing for them to initiate a nuclear attack. However, if the Indian pursuit of hypersonic weapons goes on with its belligerent policies, the deterrence stability might not hold for long. Therefore to maintain parity and deterrence stability in South Asia, Pakistan might need to think of the probability of developing its supersonic and hypersonic weapons or at least come up with an alternative and a plausible way-out. Moreover, Pakistan needs to further ensure the adaptability of the mutually assured destruction in South Asia and eliminate the chances of the first strike by India. Since hypersonic weapons would reduce the response-time and blur the line between conventional and strategic weapons; Pakistanneeds tofurther develop a mechanism to address this emergent threat to maintain the nuclear deterrence equilibrium in the region.

Summarizing it all, the emergence of hypersonic weapons in South Asia has posed a serious threat to regional security. It seems that India is quite eager to develop and ultimately deploy the hypersonic weapons. There is no doubt that at the moment South Asia is engulfed in an action-reaction spiral between India and Pakistan mainly triggered by Indian offensive strategies and threatening policies vis-à-vis Pakistan. Once becoming operational, India’s hypersonic weapons would likely add up to this chain of action and reaction. This might ultimately compel Pakistan to revisit its existing nuclear posture vis-à-vis India.    

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Evolution of Indian Nuclear Doctrine: From NFU to Preemption

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India’s obscure nuclear doctrine of ‘No First Use’ (NFU) had evolved over the years since it was first declared in 1999 by NSAB’s (Nuclear Security Advisory Board) in the ‘Draft Nuclear Doctrine’(DND) that forms the very basis of the official Indian nuclear doctrine. Subsequently, in 2003after a review by the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS) the DND had emerged as India’s official nuclear doctrine. However, the later developments are quite evident that India has shifted its nuclear posture from NFU to preemption. In August 2019, a statement made by Mr. Rajnath Singh (Indian Defence Minister) made headlines amid rising tensions between India and Pakistan, the two arch-rivals in South Asia. This was an assertion of India’s likely shift from its long doubted NFU policy. This has further exposed the pretense of India‘s NFU policy, to which Pakistan has never given any credence. This shift in Indian nuclear doctrine seems to be purely Pakistan centric.  Such an Indian shift is further evidence of India’s focus towards nuclear war-fighting rather than maintaining deterrence. In the wake of the evolved tensions in the region, India’s offensive nuclear posture of preemption would have dire implications for the strategic stability of South Asia.

Over the period, various statements by the Indian government officials and prominent academicians have raised serious concerns over India’s adherence to the NFU policy. In 2010 Shivshankar Menon, the then National Security Advisor of India stated that according to Indian nuclear doctrine NFU policy is meant only for non-nuclear-weapon states. Hence, it implies that using a nuclear weapon could be a resort against nuclear-weapon states, particularly against Pakistan. Later on, in 2016 Manohar Prakar the then Indian Defence Minister questioned “Why do lots of people say that India is for no first use? Why should I blind myself?”  Moreover, in 2017 a prominent Indian scholar, Vipin Narang while speaking at the conference at Carnegie stated that India would not let Pakistan go first.  These assertions are quite evident that in a crisis, India might take a nuclear first strike against Pakistan. Such drifts in Indian policy have further enhanced Pakistan’s threat perception vis-à-vis India. Similarly, Pakistan would be further compelled to maintain a credible nuclear deterrence posture to overcome India’s offensive nuclear posturing.

India’s pursuit of offensive nuclear capabilities further reveals its aspirations of a pre-emptive nuclear strike against Pakistan. This, for instance, is further evident from the fact that India has been involved in developing ground-based and space-based surveillance, reconnaissance, and intelligence capabilities, and new precision weaponry for the last few years.  These would further embolden India to take any move toward pre-emption or first use. In the same vein, India’s adoption of Pakistan specific policy of first use would likely result in the lowering of the Indian nuclear threshold. This might bring serious implications for Pakistan’s existing nuclear deterrent posture which covers a broad spectrum of threats coming from India including its conventional advantage. It would further generate an unnecessary arms race in the region and might force Pakistan to further revisit its doctrinal and force posture vis-à-vis India’s notions of preemptions. The likelihood of India’s shift towards preemption would also mean that India’s nuclear weapons would be kept in the state of readiness. This would also increase the risk of unauthorized or accidental use of Indian nuclear weapons. Such a scenario would likely create a complex security dilemma for Pakistan, thus undermining the deterrence equilibrium in South Asia, primarily ensured by Pakistan’s nuclear capabilities.

In recent years, India’s massive naval buildup is also aimed at maintaining an offensive sea-based nuclear posture. In this regard, India’s acquisition of SSBNs (nuclear-powered submarines) is quite significant since along with the assurance of second-strike capability, they are also meant to be used to launch a multitude of nuclear weapons. Other than that, India has been maintaining an operational BMD (Ballistic Missile Defence) system; also, it would have the most advanced anti-missile systems like the Russian S-400 in its inventory very soon. Hence, having been assured that it would be protected against any counter-strike by Pakistan by its BMD systems; India might potentially launch a land, sea, or air-based pre-emptive strike against Pakistan. This would create a false sense of security among the Indian decision-makers and they might act aggressively in the time of crisis. Pakistan needs to keep a close eye on India’s shifting nuclear policy to counter the probability of a nuclear first strike initiated by India. Pakistan has already developed MIRV (Multiple Independent Re-entry Vehicle) capable short and medium-range ballistic missiles. Apart from that Pakistan has also developed a sea-based delivery system such as Babur-3, a Submarine Launched Cruise Missile (SLCM) which is aimed at ensuring a credible second-strike capability. These would serve as a reliable and credible deterrent against Indian notions of preemption.

Hence, at the present, the assertions of Indian officials to abandon the long doubted NFU policy and a move towards pre-emption is mere irresponsible and belligerent behavior. India in its pursuit to become a regional hegemon would destabilize the already conflict-prone South Asian region by further provoking an arms race. Pakistan needs to further increase international pressure by highlighting India’s aggressive and irresponsible nuclear posturing. The world needs to know that India’s shift from NFU is merely reckless and dangerous. On the other hand, Pakistan also needs to ensure its safety by further enhancing its assured second-strike capability and acquiring advanced BMDs while staying within its existing posture of minimum credible deterrence.

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Afghan Peace Talks And Prospects For Pakistan

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On 3 September 2020, the three brave sons of Pakistan, soldier Usman, Naek Imran and Lieutenant Nasir Khalid embraced shahadat during a patrolling in North Waziristan in a terrorist attack. Since US officials and representatives of the Taliban signed a peace agreement on 29 Feb 2020 in Doha to end the conflict, the various affiliated groups of TTP began launching attacks against the security forces of Pakistan. According to the report of the Pakistan Institute of Peace Studies in August 2020, 12 terrorist attacks were launched in Pakistan. In these terrorist attacks, 14 people lost their lives and 68 people were injured. The terrorist carried out 75 % terrorist attacks against the security forces. These terrorist attacks on the security forces of Pakistan are evident that TTP and its affiliated groups are confident after the peace deal of the Taliban and the USA. It illustrates the scenario of post-US withdrawal from Afghanistan. Following the deal, the US will withdraw from Afghanistan within 14 months. Even though the Taliban are negotiating with the USA and Afghan government but fighting is continued in Afghanistan from both sides.

The US withdrawal will create a power vacuum not only in Afghanistan but also in the South Asian region that is likely to be filled by a stronger state or a group. The US withdrawal is creating the same challenges that are similar to the USSR withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1990. After the withdrawal of the USSR, civil war broke out in Afghanistan for the assumption of power. Taliban emerged as victorious after a deadly civil war. Afghanistan is the home of various terrorist groups and their presence is a threat to the South Asian Region once the USA leaves Afghanistan. The US withdrawal will also affect Pakistan.If the Taliban assumed power in Afghanistan then TTP will be strengthened in Pakistan. As soon as the USA making arrangements to leave Afghanistan, various militants groups of Pakistan are uniting. The two militant groups Hizb-ul-Ahrar (HuA) and Jamaat-ul-Ahrar have merged into one terrorist group on 17 August 2020. Both of the groups pledged its affiliation to Mufti Noor Wali as its chief. The leader of Punjabi Taliban Asmatullah Muawiya has joined the Taliban. Once the militant groups are on the same page, the impact will be disastrous for Pakistan as it did not chalk out a comprehensive policy following the US withdrawal from Afghanistan.

Over a decade Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) wants to establish Sharia in Pakistan and for that, it is in confrontation with Islamabad. Mullah Muhammad Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban is considered as the spiritual leader of TTP. Since its inception in 2007, TTP has proved to be the deadliest terrorist group in Pakistan. TTP was an ally of Al-Qaeda to operate from FATA. The group has its presence in Swat and Karachi. The TTP launched massive attacks in Pakistan like the terrorist attack on the General Headquarters of Army (2009) attack on PNS Mehran in Karachi (2011) and an attack on the Army Public School (20140in Peshawar. TTP also using different channels to radicalize youth like Sunnat-e-Khaula to radicalize and recruit females in Pakistan. The TTP and Afghan Taliban worked in partnership in the past and they are interconnected. In the past couple of months, TTP has increased its terrorist attacks against Pakistan.  The JuA took the responsibility of an improvised explosive device (IED) thatwas planted on a bike to hit a vehicle that has killed 7 members of the anti-narcotics force in Chamman, Baluchistan in August. 

The report of the Pak Institute of Peace Studies (PIPS) is evident that since 2019, TTP remained a major source of instability in Pakistan. It carried out 82 terrorist attacks in which 69 attacks were taken in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 13 from the province of Baluchistan. It seems that TTP is becoming stronger after living in the shadows for years. According to the UN report approximately 65000 militants of TTP are stationed in Afghanistan. With a merger, it will become a force that cannot be neglected. The merger of various factions of TTP is a threat to CPEC. China has begun the number of development projects like infrastructure and hydroelectric in remote areas of KP.

Currently, Chinese companies are working on Karakoram Highway Phase II,SukiKinari Hydropower Station and the Havelian Dry Port. TTP have kidnapped and killed Chinese from Baluchistan and KP. In 2013, Pakistan banned 3 militant groups that were affiliated to Al-Qaeda namely the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, the Islamic Jihad Union and East Turkestan Islamic Movement on the request of China. TTP targets China as a retaliation of mistreating the Uyghur Muslim minority in the province of Xinjiang. In 2014,the leading Al-Qaeda ideologue Mufti Abu Zar al Burmi in a video message that was titled as let’s disturb China stated that the withdrawal of the USA from Afghanistan is a victory for the Taliban. In the video message, he also urged the militant groups to carry out attacks on Chinese companies and embassies and kidnap Chinese nationals. Foreign CPEC is hope for Pakistan to bring investment and embark on the road of peace and prosperity. The reunification of militants can’t be ignored as once they are strengthened they will carry out massive attacks against Pakistan. Therefore, Pakistan needs to chalk out a comprehensive policy to root out terrorism. It’s up to the policymakers to shake hands with militants like the US or take coercive military operations.

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