Donald Trump has already invested a lot of personal political capital by agreeing to meet with Vladimir Putin despite the warnings of many of his advisers, associates and allies. Trump will have at least two opportunities to achieve an impressive historically significant victory. First, he could secure a promise from Vladimir Putin that Russia will not interfere in the midterm Congressional elections later this year, set to take place just five short months from now. Second, the sides could draw up some kind of framework document on Syria. This is particularly relevant as Trump is not especially interested in Syria and has been threatening to wrap up the U.S. operation in the country for a while now.
The agreement with North Korea is being spun as a personal achievement of Trump, rather than the fruit of U.S. policy that has been implemented over the course of several years. According to Trump’s version, it was he who managed to “solve” the problem that his predecessors had been unable to deal with for decades. Every possible “deal” with Moscow will be considered separately. If Russia’s friend Donald has the opportunity to press his friend Vladimir on the global arms market, then he will do so to the fullest extent.
The final declaration, if there is one, will inevitably be an extremely general, concise, and at the same time vague document. Trying to get something more concrete from Trump at this stage is a hopeless affair and a waste of time and energy.
The existing balance of power within the administration, and within the U.S. political establishment as a whole, does not yet favour a departure from the course of tough confrontation with Russia. And Trump’s mood, as the experience of North Korea demonstrates, tends to fluctuate wildly.
Nevertheless, the summit in Helsinki presents the most realistic opportunity for Russia to open a meaningful conversation with the United States on issues that are of great importance to both countries. It will likely be a long time before another chance like this presents itself.
Helsinki has little in common with Singapore. And Russia is vastly different from North Korea. On the international stage, Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-un play in different leagues and by different rules. Nevertheless, the recent U.S.–North Korea summit in Singapore is of some interest in the context of preparations for the meeting between U.S. and Russian leaders on July 16. The impressive political show that took place on the island of Sentosa allows us to make some assumptions about the diplomatic style of Donald Trump in dealing with “difficult” partners who are not inclined to easily succumb to overt pressure and are not prepared to unconditionally accept American superiority.
“What I need is to win. Nothing else! ”
It is well known that Donald Trump has a soft spot for strong leaders, even those who cannot be considered friends or allies of the United States. America’s traditional partners rarely receive the kind of attention from the President that Kim Jong-un was afforded in Singapore on June 12. This is precisely why Trump desperately needs a win, or at least something that looks like one. Getting into yet another squabble with Justin Trudeau or sending Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron home empty-handed – this is all par for the course for the current President of the United States. Failure, however, was simply out of the question during the summit in Singapore. This is why the strictly preliminary and extremely vague agreement on nuclear disarmament on the Korean Peninsula has been declared an unqualified “historical triumph” of U.S. foreign policy.
What could happen in Helsinki that would put the meeting on a par with this win for Trump? It would seem that Trump will have at least two opportunities to achieve an impressive historically significant victory. First, he could secure a promise from Vladimir Putin that Russia will not interfere in the midterm Congressional elections later this year, set to take place just five short months from now. As Moscow refuses to acknowledge that any interference took place in the presidential elections and has no intention of signing up to any unilateral commitments, such an accord will have to come in the form of a bilateral agreement on non-interference. This is not a simple task, but it is possible. Second, the sides could draw up some kind of framework document on Syria. This is particularly relevant as Trump is not especially interested in Syria and has been threatening to wrap up the U.S. operation in the country for a while now. Of course, it would be better to pull out of the reasonably inhospitable Syria in the form of a deal with Moscow, and if necessary, Moscow could be accused of violating the terms of any agreement signed.
“I’m not Obama, I’m different…”
In his diplomacy, Trump tries to distance himself as much as possible from his predecessors, particularly Barack Obama. Never was the desire to do this more evident than during the summit in Singapore. We could spend hours arguing whose approach to cooperation with Pyongyang was closest to that of the man currently residing in the White House – Barack Obama’s? George W. Bush’s? Or even Bill Clinton’s and Madeleine Albright’s? – but Donald Trump has no intention of sharing his successes with anyone. The agreement with North Korea is being spun as a personal achievement of Trump, rather than the fruit of U.S. policy that has been implemented over the course of several years. According to Trump’s version, it was he who managed to “solve” the problem that his predecessors had been unable to deal with for decades.
We can expect the same approach during the meeting in Helsinki. For example, the START III agreement between Russia and the United States is now seen as a bad thing because it was negotiated by the Obama administration, and extending it cannot feasibly be spun as a personal victory for Trump. Similarly, we are unlikely to see a return to some of the elements of the agreement reached between Sergey Lavrov and John Kerry on Syria, primarily because it was signed by a Secretary of State from the Democratic Party that Trump hates so much. Consequently, we need to move away from continuity, emphasizing the novelty and revolutionary nature of any possible agreements. Even if, de facto, we are talking about a return to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty or to START III, it is very important to integrate this conversation into the context of the search for new foundations of strategic stability in the 21st century world.
“Details? Throw ‘em on the furnace! ”
Many observers believe, incorrectly, that the American side did not properly prepare for the meeting in Singapore, and this is the reason why a more substantive and detailed agreement on the North Korean nuclear issue was not reached. In actual fact, the U.S. experts, whose professionalism we have no reason to doubt, worked conscientiously on the issue. What happened was that the President once again revealed his traditional dislike for detail, and the two leaders confined themselves to a general – and in places ambiguous – final document. As far as we can judge, Trump had no desire whatsoever to trade back and forth endlessly on what the wording of the document would actually be. This tactic is, to some extent, justified, as a joint document creates fewer obligations and is less vulnerable to criticism from political opponents at home.
This is probably what will happen in Helsinki too. The final declaration, if there is one, will inevitably be an extremely general, concise, and at the same time vague document. Trying to get something more concrete from Trump at this stage is a hopeless affair and a waste of time and energy. And it does not even matter whether the attempts come from the Russian side or Trump’s own team. Any kind of concrete agreement will create a pretext for the opposition to accuse the President of pursuing a policy of appeasement, while there will be no shortage of members of Congress willing to somehow block the practical implementation of such an agreement. A very general declaration, however, would be a great achievement in the current climate, opening the way for further elaboration and more concrete and practical agreements.
“The show must go on.”
Any somewhat significant political movement by Trump is in no small part an effective and colourful show designed to attract as much attention as possible, primarily within the United States but also around the world. This public side of Trump’s diplomacy was demonstrated in all its glory in Singapore, starting with the choice of exotic venue for the meeting, the threat that it would not go ahead and the subsequent confirmation, followed by the numerous presidential tweets, showy photo shoots, flashy press conferences, etc. The attention of the whole world was riveted once again on the President of the United States, which, as far as he was concerned, was an important foreign policy achievement in itself.
It is clear that Helsinki promises even greater opportunities than Trump was offered in Singapore. The first meeting between the U.S. and Russian leaders is an ideal opportunity for the Donald Trump brand to be promoted on a global scale. It should be furnished in the correct manner, like the Tilsit meeting between Napoleon and Alexander I on a raft in the middle of the Neman River in June 1807. The excellent stage direction of the show could more than make up for any modest practical results that may come out of the summit. At the end of the day, Donald Trump has already invested a lot of personal political capital by agreeing to meet with Vladimir Putin despite the warnings of many of his advisers, associates and allies. Surely he has the right to count on the appropriate political dividends. It would probably be wise for the Russian side to play up to Trump, especially because the meeting has particular symbolic significance for Russia too, given the current circumstances.
“Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
The summit in Singapore, as well as the many other high-level meetings held by Donald Trump, allow us to make the following conclusion: “friendly” personal relations with foreign leaders, handshakes, hugs, pats on the shoulder, and mutual compliments – none of this means that the President of the United States is willing to make compromises on issues that he sees as being truly important for himself. Not a word has been said about easing international sanctions against Pyongyang since that romantic meeting on the island of Sentosa. In a similar vein, the demonstrably friendly personal relations Trump enjoys with Prime Minister of Japan Shinzō Abe and President of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping did not prevent him from increasing economic pressure on Tokyo and declaring an economic war on China.
For Russia, this means that any possible agreement signed in Helsinki concerning strategic stability or the Syrian settlement, for example, will not lead to Trump easing pressure on Moscow in areas where he believes applying pressure is in the interests of the United States. In this sense, Trump, as far as we can tell, is not prepared to follow the tactic of positive alignment of certain aspects of U.S.–Russia relations with others, a tactic pursued by many U.S. presidents before him. Every possible “deal” with Moscow will be considered separately. If Russia’s friend Donald has the opportunity to press his friend Vladimir on the global arms market, then he will do so to the fullest extent. If he gets the chance to twist the arms of the United States’ allies in Europe and force them to buy expensive American gas instead of the cheaper Russian gas, not a single summit will help change his mind. If some kind of agreement on Syria comes from the meeting in Helsinki, this will do little to facilitate a deal on Ukraine. As the saying goes, “It’s just business, nothing personal.”
“A promise means nothing.”
The weeks following the meeting in Singapore demonstrated that Trump is selective when it comes to keeping his promises – especially if they are formulated in general terms and can be interpreted in many ways. In all honesty, we already knew this. Let us recall, for example, the infamous story of the plans discussed by the Russian and American leaders on the sidelines of the G7 meeting in Hamburg in July 2017 to set up a U.S.–Russia working group on cybersecurity, plans for which have yet to materialize. In response to his many critics back home who accuse him of making “unilateral concessions” to Kim Jong-un in Singapore, Trump fires back confidently that the United States can easily renege on any of these “concessions” (including the moratorium on joint U.S.–South Korea military exercises) if it is not satisfied with Pyongyang’s actions moving forward. It’s not that the President of the United States deliberately and cynically went against his word, but that unpredictability is an organic part of his diplomatic style.
This means that any agreement reached in Helsinki cannot be regarded as final and irreversible until it has acquired the form of a concrete and detailed treaty, a roadmap detailing the responsible officials, timeframes, enforcement mechanisms, etc. The White House will always find a pretence for going back on preliminary obligations it has agreed upon with Moscow. This is why we should probably not attach any kind of sacred meaning to formulations, terms, and figures of speech that might make their way into any joint U.S.–Russia agreements signed in Helsinki. Nor does it make any sense to cling to anything the President of the United States says during the summit. It is far more important to try and change the general atmosphere in the bilateral relations and instil a positive “spirit of Helsinki” that would allow the two countries to move forward in specific directions at lower levels of interaction.
“Let a hundred flowers bloom.”
As far as we can tell, theUS agreements with North Korea in Singapore did not stop the fierce conflict within the United States regarding possible options for resolving the Korean nuclear problem. The struggle continues as bitterly as ever. This conflict is not only between Trump and his opponents on Capitol Hill; the administration itself does not seem to have a coherent plan in this regard. Rumour has it that there are at least two groups vying for Trump’s ear on the Korean issue. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s doves oppose National Security Advisor John Bolton’s hawks. It is difficult to say whether this bureaucratic tug-of-war is a manifestation of the President’s managerial style or the result of the confusion and uncertainty that have been the hallmarks of the current administration from the very beginning.
In any case, we have to be prepared for the fact that the meeting in the Finnish capital will not be a turning point, but simply the start of a complex process to restore relations between Moscow and Washington. The political and bureaucratic struggle in Washington for the implementation of the Helsinki Accords, whatever they may be, will be complicated and time-consuming. Attempts at bureaucratic sabotage and obstruction of progress on various pretexts cannot be ruled out. Nor can the desire to load the agreements reached in Helsinki with all kinds of additional terms and requirements. The existing balance of power within the administration, and within the U.S. political establishment as a whole, does not yet favour a departure from the course of tough confrontation with Russia. And Trump’s mood, as the experience of North Korea demonstrates, tends to fluctuate wildly.
Nevertheless, the summit in Helsinki presents the most realistic opportunity for Russia to open a meaningful conversation with the United States on issues that are of great importance to both countries. It will likely be a long time before another chance like this presents itself.
First published in our partner RIAC
Dynamics of the Sikh Vote Cloud Canada’s Diplomatic Relations with India
Operating across British Columbia (BC), Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario, gangs made up of Indo-Canadian Punjabis – Brothers Keepers, Dhak-Duhre, Dhaliwal, Sanghera, Malli-Buttar, and several such, are involved in arms trafficking, racketeering, extortion, narco trafficking, money laundering, and not the least, assassinations. Formed in 2004 and mandated to disrupt and suppress organised crime in B.C. the Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU-BC), has warned the public of the nexus of Punjabi-Canadians to violence.
In the murders of Punjabi singer Sidhu Moose Wala and Ripudaman Singh Malik, acquitted in the tragic 1985 Air India Kanishka terror-bombing case, the conspicuous involvement of these Indo-Canadian gangs with notorious criminals Goldy Brar and Lawrence Bishnoi at the helm, manifested itself.
On June 18 Sikh Hardeep Singh Nijjar, was gunned down as he left his gurdwara in Surrey, B.C., which has the highest proportions of Punjabi Canadians. Nijjar had entered Canada in 1995 on a fake passport and claimed asylum on arrest at Toronto. In B.C. he married a local who sponsored his immigration and he was subsequently awarded Canadian citizenship. Brazenly propounding anti-India separatist sentiments, Nijjar was even placed on Canada’s no-fly list and Interpol’s red corner notice. Alongwith gangsters Arshdeep Singh Dala, Maninder Singh Bual, and Mandeep Singh Dhaliwal his outfit Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF) was involved in contract killings in Punjab. Gang-related killings account for a third of all homicides in Canada’s British Columbia.
Despite this disconcerting background of Nijjar’s ties to organised crime gangs in Canada, on September 18, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alleged the involvement of “agents of the Indian government” in the killing of Nijjar. A claim outrightly rejected by New Delhi as “absurd” and “motivated.” If Trudeau was looking to further impair an increasingly forbidding bilateral relationship, he succeeded. Canada and India have expelled a senior diplomat each and negotiations for a free trade agreement stand suspended.
There is a palpable perversity to Canada’s position on the Khalistan issue. In 1982, Trudeau’s father and then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau
had rejected Late PM Indira Gandhi’s demands for extradition of Khalistani terrorist Talwinder Singh Parmar, who went on to execute the bombing of Air India Flight Kanishka, killing 329 people in 1985.
Alarmed by the presence of Sikh secessionists among the diaspora, former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh during his 2010 trip to attend the G20 summit in Toronto, asked Canada “to stop people from using religious places to promote extremism.” Canadian MP Sukh Dhaliwal, had introduced a motion in the Canadian parliament to declare the 1984 riots a “genocide”. Fast forward to 2023, G20 under PM Modi there was no attempt at all to put even a vaguely positive spin on the India-Canada equation.
The timing of Trudeau’s accusation just days after the G20 summit in New Delhi where he says he brought Khalistani extremism and “foreign interference” “directly to PM Modi in no uncertain terms” smacks of umbrage at being at the receiving end of a very hard-hitting message that the ‘extremist elements in Canada are “promoting secessionism and inciting violence against Indian.’
The Khalistan issue has got a fresh lease of life after the advent of the Justine Trudeau government. With just 32.2 percent of the popular vote, Liberal leader Trudeau has the least electoral support in Canadian history, and was backed by Jagmeet Singh’s New Democratic Party (NDP) which openly supports the Khalistan Referendum on Canadian soil.
Canada’s Conservative opposition leader, Pierre Poilievre, has urged Trudeau to show the evidence that the government has in hand. Notwithstanding this current posture the Conservative Party (CP) too, has in the past caved in to the Sikh vote bank. In 2018 when its condemnation of ‘glorification of terrorism’ was objected to by the World Sikh Organisation, the CP dropped its ‘anti-Khalistan’ motion in the House of Commons.
There is beyond sufficient evidence, to India’s contention that Canada, and other western nations including US, UK, and Australia have allowed cadres of separatist violent Khalistani groups to thrive. The UK recently set up a £95,000 fund to enhance its understanding of the threat posed by Khalistan extremism. While the amount set aside to tackle pro-Khalistan elements is not substantial, it acknowledges that a Sikh radicalisation problem exists in the west.
Sikh temples and organisations abroad orchestrate Remembrance Days for ‘Operation Blue Star’ on June 6 and ‘Sikh Massacre’ on November 5, that serve as cultural repertoires and focal points of advocating Khalistani extremism. This year at the remembrance day parade, Khalistan supporters in Ontario exhibited a female figure in a blood-stained white saree with turbaned men pointing guns at her, to celebrate the assassination of late PM Indira Gandhi. The poster behind the scene read “Revenge for the attack on Darbar Sahib.”
Reacting to this macabre tableau, External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar said, “Frankly, we are at a loss to understand other than the requirements of vote bank politics why anybody would do this … I think there is a larger underlying issue about the space which is given to separatists, to extremists, to people who advocate violence. I think it is not good for relationships, not good for Canada.”
At multiple diplomatic and security talks, India has raised the issue of wanted terrorists and gangsters only to be defied by the Canadian government with non-committance and brazen support for extremist Sikhs. And yet Canada’s NATO allies and partners in the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence sharing agreement, the United States and Australia, have expressed “deep concerns” over the issue. Adrienne Watson, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said, “We are deeply concerned about the allegations referenced by Prime Minister Trudeau.” Foreign Secretary of the UK, James Cleverly, posted UK’s reaction on platform X “We are in regular contact with our Canadian partners about serious allegations raised in the Canadian Parliament.” One wonders if this allegation of targeted killing by India is in retaliation to New Delhi’s steady favour of Russia, and has been levelled after reports of a brokered American deal with Pakistan for weapons transfer to Ukraine in lieu of an IMF bailout emerged.
Admonishing Canada on X, former Foreign Secretary Nirupama Menon Rao said, “Canada has an extremely spotty and very, very poor record on the whole issue of Khalistanis in Canada. The support these lawless elements have received under the cover of what is called freedom of expression and democratic rights of citizens…it must control such elements with a firm hand and cannot allow them to run free to foster terrorism and violence in our country.”
Amid the hectic media coverage there was speculation that ‘Trudeau’s allegations have put the White House in an especially tight spot.’ But this were swifty checked by Adrienne Watson in her X post, “reports that we rebuffed Canada in any way on this are flatly false. We are coordinating and consulting with Canada closely on this issue.”
The manner in which copious evidence on Khalistan separatists handed over to the Canadian side have gone unaddressed and yet Trudeau’s allegation invoked strong reactions from other western nations, implies that this has moved beyond our bilaterals with Ottawa. It will have ramifications on how India deals with its strong G7 allies, especially the US.
For India the existence of Khalistani extremists and their alignment with organised crime in Canada poses security exigencies. India must at this juncture refrain from a broad generalisation of Sikh diaspora as secessionist, an incrimination that was implied during the Sikh-dominated farmers’ movement.
Political parties must rise above partisan politics over separatist movements that are a threat to nation security. Voices from Punjab attest that Khalistan supporters remain ‘fringe’ and ‘on the margins.’ Even among expatriate Sikh community leaders have challenged the anti-India narrative laid out by Khalistanis and their supporters, despite the fact that they, and the community there, regularly face harassment and threats of violence from expatriate Khalistanis. Former Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh states that Nijjar’s murder was the result of a factional feud within the management of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara situated at Surrey and that Trudeau had “walked into a trap owing to vote bank politics.”
New Delhi must ensure that overseas Sikh communities which have tried to counter pro-Khalistan disinformation shall not be left alone to defend themselves.
China and Venezuela Deepening Cooperation
In a significant development that underscores the changing dynamics of global politics and economics, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro recently signed several bilateral cooperation agreements in Beijing, highlighting the changing dynamics of world politics and economics. China’s determination to participate in partnerships that promote economic stability and prosperity demonstrates its unwavering commitment to global economic recovery.
The agreements signify a strengthening of their partnerships and span a variety of fields, including trade, the economy, and tourism. The cooperation has been upgraded to an “All-weather strategic partnership,” reflecting the continued dedication of both countries to the advancement and development of the other. The decision by China and Venezuela to strengthen their ties comes as the world is witnessing a transformation in international alliances and trade partnerships.
The economic collaboration between the two countries is one of the most significant aspects of this new era of partnership. The recent agreements are expected to further cement Venezuela’s ties with China, which has long been the country’s major trading partner.Investments in infrastructure development and oil and gas exploration and production are part of the cooperation in the energy industry.
During his visit to China, President Maduro expressed his optimism for the relationship’s future, stating it heralds the start of a “new era” for both nations. Venezuela, which has recently experienced economic difficulties, views China as a dependable ally that can aid in reviving its economy. China, on the other hand, sees Venezuela as a crucial friend in the region and a valuable supply of natural resources.
China and Venezuela’s energy cooperation has broad implications. As the globe grapples with concerns about energy security and climate change, this alliance might have a big impact on the global energy landscape. China’s investments in Venezuela’s oil sector can stabilize oil prices and provide a more consistent supply of crude oil to the global market.
Aside from the energy industry, both countries have pledged to deepen their collaboration in a variety of other economic areas. Venezuela can benefit from China’s expertise in agricultural technologies and infrastructural development in one area. Venezuela may enhance food production and reduce its reliance on imports by modernizing its agricultural sector with Chinese assistance, thereby increasing food security for its citizens.
Additionally, both countries have enormous potential in the tourism sector. Venezuela has incredible landscapes such as the famous Angel Falls and virgin Caribbean beaches, which may appeal to Chinese tourists looking for new travel experiences. Similarly, China’s rich history and culture have always captured the interest of visitors from all over the world, including Venezuelans. The tourist accords aim to make travel between the two countries easier, to foster cultural interaction, and to develop tourism-related enterprises.
Furthermore, the strengthened relationship extends beyond economic interests to include political and strategic considerations. Both countries have reaffirmed their commitment to mutual support in international forums and to no interference in the other’s internal affairs. This strategic partnership is consistent with China’s aim of establishing a multipolar world and strengthening cooperation across developing nations.
The collaboration between China and Venezuela should be seen in the larger Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) initiative. The BRI seeks to establish a network of economic and infrastructure partnerships across Asia, Europe, Africa, and Latin America. A deeper integration of Venezuela into China’s global economic vision through its participation in the BRI could create new trade and investment opportunities.
The potential for economic development in Venezuela is one of the most notable benefits of the China-Venezuela cooperation. In recent years, the South American country has suffered severe economic issues, including high inflation, financial sanctions, and political unrest. China’s investments and assistance can help stabilize Venezuela’s economy, generate jobs, and raise inhabitants’ living standards.
The China-Venezuela connection is a key milestone in the shifting global political and economic landscape. In a changing world order, this partnership has the potential to provide Venezuela with economic prosperity, stability, as well as greater autonomy.
Confusion and uncertainty shape debate about U.S. Gulf policy
Debates about the US commitment to Gulf security are skewed by confusion, miscommunication, and contradictory policies.
The skewing has fuelled uncertainty about US policy as well as Gulf attitudes in an evolving multi-polar world and fuelled misconceptions and misunderstandings.
The confusion is all the more disconcerting given that the fundamentals of US Gulf relations are beyond doubt.
The United States retains a strategic interest in the region, even if its attention has pivoted to Asia. Moreover, neither China nor Russia is capable or willing to replace the US as the Gulf’s security guarantor.
“None of the Gulf states believe China can replace the United States as the Gulf’s security protector,” said Gulf International Forum Executive Director Dania Thafer.
The recent US military build-up in the Gulf to deter Iran with thousands of Marines backed by F-35 fighter jets and an aircraft carrier helped reassure Gulf states in the short term. So has the possibility of the US putting armed personnel on commercial ships traveling through the Strait of Hormuz.
The build-up followed the United Arab Emirates’ withdrawal from a US-led, 34-nation maritime coalition in May because the US had not taken decisive action against Iranian attacks on Gulf shipping, including a vessel traveling from Dubai to the Emirati port of Fujairah.
Even so, the United States has allowed confusion and uncertainty to persist. In addition, the US as well as the Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, appear to pursue contradictory goals.
“The US…did not formulate a very clear approach to how the US wants to work with the GCC as a whole” instead of cooperating with individual Gulf states, said analyst Nawaf bin Mubarak Al Thani, a former Qatari brigadier general and defense attaché in Qatar’s Washington embassy.
The Gulf Cooperation Council or GCC groups the six Gulf monarchies – Saudi Arabia, the UAE. Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, and Oman.
“Unless the US becomes clear in its intentions about how it wants to proceed with its future defense relationship with the GCC as a whole, I think we will be going in circles,” Mr. Al Thani added.
The United States has unsuccessfully tried to nudge the GCC to create an integrated air and missile defense system for several years.
Former Pentagon official and Middle East scholar Bilal Y. Saab suggests that the US has moved in the case of Saudi Arabia to enhance confidence by helping the kingdom turn its military into a capable fighting force and developing a first-ever national security vision but has failed to communicate that properly.
“Our geographical command in the region, also known as the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), has been conducting a very quiet…historic transformation from being a war-time command to something of being a security integrator…to activate partnerships to attain collective security objectives,” Mr. Saab said.
“This is not just about having confidence in the US role; it’s also about the United States having confidence in the willingness and ability of those Gulf states to buy into this new mission of doing things together,” Mr. Saab said.
“My biggest problem is that we’re not communicating this stuff well… There’s a lot of confusion in the Gulf about what we’re trying to do,” he added.
Analysts, including Mr. Saab, caution that the United States’ recent willingness to consider concluding defense pacts with Gulf states like Saudi Arabia and the UAE is at odds with its revamped security approach to the region.
Saudi Arabia has demanded a security pact alongside guaranteed access to the United States’ most sophisticated weaponry as part of a deal under which the kingdom would establish diplomatic relations with Israel.
The UAE initially made similar noises about a defense pact but has since seemingly opted to watch how the US talks with Saudi Arabia evolve.
A defence pact “is incredibly inconsistent with what we are trying to do with CENTCOM… The moment you provide a defence pact to the Saudis or, frankly, any other country in the region, this is where you go back to the old days of complacency, of dependency on the United States as the guardian and as doing very little on your own to promote and advance your own military capabilities,” Mr. Saab said.
His comments may be more applicable to Saudi Arabia than the UAE, which has long invested in its military capabilities beyond acquiring sophisticated weaponry.
The roots of confusion about the US commitment to the Gulf lie in evolving understandings of the US-Gulf security relationship based on the 1980 Carter Doctrine, the United States’ response to Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, and that year’s Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.
President Jimmy Carter laid out the doctrine in his 1989 State of the Union address. “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force,” Mr. Carter said.
Robert E. Hunter, then a National Security Council official and the author of Mr. Carter’s speech, insists that the doctrine was intended to deter external powers, notably the Soviet Union, rather than defend Gulf states against Iran or secure shipping in strategic regional waterways.
“The often-misquoted Carter Doctrine…did not refer to the ‘free flow of commerce.’ I wrote almost all of the speech… it was designed to deter Soviet aggression against Iran, following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which began a few weeks earlier,” Mr. Hunter said.
The Reagan Doctrine, enunciated five years later by Mr. Carter’s successor, Ronald Reagan, reinforced his predecessor’s position.
“The US must rebuild the credibility of its commitment to resist Soviet encroachment on US interests and those of its Allies and friends, and to support effectively those Third World states that are willing to resist Soviet pressures or oppose Soviet initiatives hostile to the United States, or are special targets of Soviet policy,” Mr. Reagan said.
President George W. Bush’s development of US doctrine after the 9/11 Al Qaeda attacks on New York and Washington proved more problematic for the Gulf states.
Mr. Bush defended the United States’ right to defend itself against countries that harbor or aid militant groups.
His doctrine justified the US invasions of Afghanistan and, Iraq. Gulf states saw the Iraq war as destabilizing and problematic, particularly with some on the American right calling for a US takeover of Saudi oil fields.
Nonetheless, Gulf states had plenty of reasons to reinterpret the Carter Doctrine to include a US commitment to defend Gulf states against regional as well as external threats.
The Gulf states’ reinterpretation resulted from a US lack of clarity and actions that seemingly confirmed their revised understanding.
These included the United States leading a 42-nation military alliance that in 1991 drove Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, establishing bases in the Gulf in the wake of the Iraqi invasion, US interventionism following the 9/11 assaults, and the ongoing protection of Gulf shipping against Iranian attacks.
As a result, a lack of clarity and confusion in Washington and the Gulf’s capitals continue to dominate the debate about the US-Gulf security relationship.
Said Mr. Saab: “I would like to understand from the Gulf states whether what we are selling, they are actually buying. What we are selling is…a very real partnership. No longer guardianship, but actual partnership. I don’t know where individual countries stand on these proposals… Until we get common ground on this, there is nothing in the Middle East that we do that is really going to work.”
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