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President Trump, NATO and the trade war with China

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The last Summit of the Atlantic Alliance saw, at least initially, a clear divergence between the United States and NATO’s European allies.

For President Trump, who is above all a businessman, budgets and investments count, rather than strategic doctrines, about which there was very little talk.

The US President, who arrived at the Summit with premeditated and carefully-considered delay, polemicized especially with Germany, saying that its low spending for defence makes it “prisoner” of Russia.

President Trump cannot get over and deal with the NORDSTREAM pipeline, headed by Mathias Warnig, former director of STASI in Dresden where,at the time, Vladimir Putin worked for the KGB, the intelligence service that was the “master” of STASI.

He wants Europeans to buy the North American shale gas and oil – but it is a very difficult goal to reach.

Europe is disputed by two energy oligopolists.

Furthermore, President Trump ignored the long and irrelevant discussions about Afghanistan and Georgia, where the EU counts less than nothing, and warned   NATO’s European members that if they did not increase their defence budget up to 2% of the GDP as from January 1, 2019, the USA would do on its own, by actually walking out of the Atlantic Alliance.

After some initial disconcertment, the NATO Secretary General organized a confidential meeting between the European members of the Atlantic Alliance, which made no concessions to the US requests.

Let us analyse, however, the data on defence spending within NATO.

As to the USA, by far the largest contributor to the Atlantic Alliance, the 2017 defence budget was equal to 686 billion US dollars, equivalent to 3.6% of GDP.

Again in 2017 the total defence spending of all the other NATO members amounted to 271 billion US dollars.

Only nine members of the Atlantic Alliance, except for the United States, spend over 10 billion US dollars per year, namely Great Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Canada, Turkey, Spain, Poland and the Netherlands.

Moreover, the United States must control other regions, such as the Pacific and South America, which are of no interest to NATO’s European members.

Currently three European countries already exceed the 2% target, namely Great Britain, Greece and Estonia.

Romania, Lithuania and Latvia are very close to this 2% target and miss it by just 0.3%.

Hence if all the Atlantic Alliance’s members spent 2% of their GDP in defence, we would have additional 114 billion US dollars available.

However, how much would be needed to make the European Armed Forces really efficient?

As to Germany, the very recent Bartels report informs us that – after years of budget cuts and total neglect on the part of politicians -the German soldiers have no sufficient protective devices, winter clothes, tents, etc.

In late 2017 for the German Armed Forces there were no submarines available for operations and none of the 14 large transport aircraft was ready for flight, considering that the entire sea and air fleet was under repair.

Lack of spare parts and technological backwardness are widespread in the German Army, both for jets and ships, as well as for tanks.

21,000 posts of German officers are vacant – with obvious effects and repercussions on soldiers.

In fact, in 2017 Germany spent just 1.2% of GDP in defence and the results and consequences are before us to be seen.

There is still the complex of the defeated country. If all goes well, it will take decades to go back to the situation when the German General and military theorist, Erwin Rommel, wanted to engrave on a basalt plate in the Tunisian desert the following sentence: “The German soldier amazed the world, the Italian soldier amazed the German soldier”.

The German Armed Forces (but this holds true also for the Italian ones) were designed for the first clash with the Warsaw Pact, so as to later give way to the nuclear attack, and still bear the brunt of the old strategy not permitting any defence of the now global German international interest.

As to France, its military system is much more efficient than the German one.

But the recent vote in favour of Article 14, which enables the Minister for Economy and Finance to veto the spending proposed by the Minister for Defence, as well as to impose a ceiling on all State spending for the current year (106 billion euros),undermines the necessary renewal of the French military system.

The veto permitted under Article 14 comes just when France has become a member of the Permanent Structured Cooperation, i.e. the group of 25 European countries that is organizing an integrated and autonomous EU defence.

To replace NATO? To have an autonomous foreign policy from the USA? And what would be the current European foreign policy?

Italy, the third European Armed Force, has an almost perfect system of projection outside borders, not only in terms of empty peacekeeping, but a military system that is probably inadequate to defend the whole Italian territory from external attacks. And this applies to all European countries’ Armed Forces.

The Italian Armed Forces, however, are better trained and equipped than those of many other NATO’s European allies/competitors.

The Carabinieri Special Forces known as GIS  trained the Navy Seals, the Sayeret 13 of the Israeli Army and the Japanese SAT.

Hence President Trump’s requests are made against the background of a largely obsolete European military system that is the primary victim of the various government’s “budget cuts”. Certainly the US President has got a point there.

Nevertheless without good defence, there is no political and strategic credibility and probably not even commercial credibility.

Moreover, in private meetings, President Trump asked the European allies to rise not only to 2%, but even to 4% as a new ceiling.

In this case, the US defence spending would amount to  762 billion dollars and all the other NATO European countries should spend 735 billion dollars.

For President Trump, however, it all hangs and fits together from the fiscal and economic viewpoints: while travelling back from Brussels, he said that the European allies spend too little – hence, in his mind, there is an obvious connection with the issue of EU’s trade surplus. Europeans spend too little because they behave like pirates in international trade.

The core of the issue is mainly the German surplus which, coincidentally, is combined with an almost ridiculous military spending.

Meanwhile, China has decided to increase its military spending by 8.1% in 2019, which is – in volume – slightly lower than the US one.

It amounted to 151 billion US dollars in 2017. Nevertheless the Chinese budget must be studied carefully.

Many resources of Ministries such as the Transport, Education and Communications Ministries are closely connected with the People’s Liberation Army.

Moreover President Xi Jinping has recently established a new “Central Commission for Integrated Military and Civilian Development” – a clear sign of the strong permeation and interpenetration between these two sectors.

This will probably be the policy line that will enable  NATO’s European countries to spend what is needed for defence, even with a significant impact on “civilian” spending.

The Russian Federation is spending 1.35 billion US dollars for the current year, with an 8% increase compared to the previous forecasts for the same year.

The 2% target of desirable military spending by NATO’s European countries dates back to long time ago. It was first discussed at the NATO Summit held in Prague in 2002, but it was only a gentleman’s agreement.

At the meeting of NATO’s Defence Ministers held in 2006, mention was still made of the “willingness” to spend “at least” 2% of the State’s yearly budget. But it was only lip service. Just hollow words, as usual.

At the NATO Summit held in Wales in 2014 the Heads of State and Government raised again the issue of spending at least 2% of public budgets for defence.

As already noted, only four Western countries spend 2%, namely USA, Greece, Great Britain and Estonia. Greece, however, spends most of its military budget on salaries and pensions.

Ukraine is the only country exceeding 2% and reaching a “US-style” rate of 3.57%, while Georgia and Poland are just below the 2% level.

With specific reference to equipment, NATO’s “policy line” requires at least 20% of defence budget spending. Currently we are at a much lower level.

Within the Atlantic Alliance, only 3.11 of the 28 NATO members do spend 20% on equipment. Germany, the country that in 2019 should lead the Very High Readiness Joint Task Force, invests only 14% of its defence budget in materials and equipment.

Conversely, three nations of the former Warsaw Pact spend according to the target set by NATO’s policy line, namely Romania, Lithuania and Bulgaria.

Slovenia and Belgium are at the bottom of the list, with only 4-5% of spending on equipment.

Russia, however, has already increased its defence budget for  2018 by 95 trillion roubles, equivalent to 51.53 billion US dollars, while its military spending, as share of Russian GDP,is slowly decreasing, according to the plans adopted by President Putin in 2015. If the GDP increases, everything will work well.

Obviously the problem raised by President Trump is only quantitative and not qualitative.

In fact, so far NATO has carried out many peacekeeping operations – a sort of strategic refrigerator that preserves  regional tensions for  long time – or has supported the weak and fragile democracies resulting from Eastern Europe and the former Warsaw Pact.

Moreover Europeans cannot afford to arm and train the Rapid Reaction Force led by the EU – initially by France and Great Britain with 60,000 soldiers – which will be hard to put together, but always for peacekeeping and peace enforcement purposes and for humanitarian missions.

Currently Eurofor is composed of forces from France, Italy, Spain and Portugal. According to plans, there are  60,000 soldiers available, but readiness is to be verified.

So far it has carried out operations in Albania, Macedonia, Chad and the Central African Republic.

Eurofor has also an intelligence service provided only by the United States.

The EU battlegroups, military units that each EU country provides, are financed only with ATHENA funds – a pool of funds already allocated by European countries. Will they be enough?

What happens, however, if – with specific reference to the use and deployment of Eurofor and EU battlegroups – there are differences between EU countries on foreign policy?

Furthermore, President Trump’s request to European countries for more defence investment actually means only one thing.

According to the United States, currently European countries are too heavy a burden to bear. The EU -initially supported by the United States during the Cold War – has become a troublesome economic competitor and, with its Euro, a dangerous rival for the dollar.

If the United States reaches a sort of “cold peace” with  Putin’s Russia – which wants to rebalance power in  peripheral regions, but also in Europe – the EU will have no longer meaning for the USA.

Indeed, the European Union could become a competitor or even an enemy.

It would be possibly better to share it out with Russia and put an end to NATO as a collective security organization.

President Trump thinks that, if they wish so, Europeans can continue their wars of the buttons in the Balkans or in countries that apparently need the cosmetic exercise called peacekeeping.

In the future, however, without the NATO umbrella mostly paid by the United States.

If the agreement with the Russian Federation goes on, President Trump will claim for the United States not just a part of the EU, but a political stake in all EU countries, i.e. by buying a traditionally Atlantic political region which is currently vaguely and vocally pro-European.

President Putin will take possession and control of the so-called “anti-establishment” or “nationalist” parties, which will undermine the EU mechanisms. The United States will enjoy the spoils, without having to bear any longer the huge cost for NATO defence to the benefit of economic competitors, as well as for very harsh European tariffs and duties, and finally for the Euro.

Advisory Board Co-chair Honoris Causa Professor Giancarlo Elia Valori is an eminent Italian economist and businessman. He holds prestigious academic distinctions and national orders. Mr. Valori has lectured on international affairs and economics at the world’s leading universities such as Peking University, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Yeshiva University in New York. He currently chairs “International World Group”, he is also the honorary president of Huawei Italy, economic adviser to the Chinese giant HNA Group. In 1992 he was appointed Officier de la Légion d’Honneur de la République Francaise, with this motivation: “A man who can see across borders to understand the world” and in 2002 he received the title “Honorable” of the Académie des Sciences de l’Institut de France. “

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Indian Conventional and Strategic Arms Buildup: Implications for Pakistan

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South Asia’s regional dynamic is both flamboyant and intricate. Various empires have formed, prospered, and perished over the millennia, as innumerable conflicts and struggles for control of resources spread over the globe. However, 2021 was a year of fierce weapons competition between South Asia’s nuclear neighbors, India and Pakistan, who carried out 26 missile tests. India launched 16 ballistic and cruise missiles while Pakistan tested 10 missiles with nearly identical capabilities.

As a response to the perceived inability of the Indian Armed Forces (IAF) to adequately respond to the Pakistani insurgencies, and after the failure of the Indian forces to quickly react and mobilize their forces in 2001, the Indian Army and the defense policymakers realized the lack of modernized and consistent army doctrine. This resulted in the announcement by the Indian Army in 2004 of a new limited war doctrine known as the Cold Start Doctrine (CSD).

Importance of Air Base

The importance of air superiority can be witnessed by looking at the six days of the Arab-Israeli War, in which the Israeli forces pre-empted an attack from the bases of Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and Iraq, and struck the air force before the fight even began. The outcome of the war was determined during its first hours. By destroying the opposing air fleet, Israeli forces gained air superiority, and thus the Arab forces were helpless in their efforts, which eventually resulted in a humiliating defeat for the Arabs.

Indian Air-Bases: A Strategic Threat

In the contemporary era, military forces are going for weapon systems that require absolutely no time at all when it comes to striking a target. In that regard, the air force comes first for the obvious reason that its threshold is low as compared to a ballistic missile strike. Indian force deployment and employment are very close to Pakistan’s borders, from Siachen to the Rann of Kutch. In India’s most recent attack on Balakot, which took place in 2019, the air force was utilized. This clearly shows the Indian resolve to use the air force in any future blatant aggression like the one in February 2019.

The Indian air force deployment is tailor-made for Pakistan. If one analyzes the airbases/airstrips positioning and range from the Pakistani-Indo international border, the Line of Control (LOC), and the working boundary, it is quite obvious that the positioning shows the aggressive posture of the Indian Air Force. When deployed at those bases, the aircraft are the finest in the Indian military, both in terms of their quality and serviceability. When it comes to the up-gradation of the base’s facilities, this is the top priority list that is visible to everyone. In May 2021, the bases in Pakistan got priority.

The bases are positioned in such a strategy to cover every city in Pakistan, as it has no strategic depth. Pakistan’s major cities, like Karachi, Lahore, Multan, Faisalabad, Hyderabad, Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Sialkot, and even the capital, Islamabad, are within the Indian Air Force’s reach. The same goes for the areas in Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan.

Future Threat Scenario

Now the question arises what will happen in the future in light of past historical data? The answer to this is both simple and complex. It is simple in the context that the IAF will target Pakistan with its pre-defined strategy of naked aggression against peaceful neighbors, while the Indian Army is following a pro-active offense posture; the complex part is where, when, and how.

The IAF will utilize the war scenario created by the Indian government and Indian media after a staged terrorist attack on a civilian or military target, for which they will put full blame on the Pakistani state and security apparatus. They will try to raise the temperature to the point where the Indian civil establishment shows the world community that now enough is enough and our people are demanding a counter-strike. At that time, the Indian establishment will use its media to put blame on Pakistan and create a war-like scenario while raising tensions.

In light of that, the IAF, under the orders of the Indian government, along with the Indian army, will start attacking the Pakistani bases in the early moments of the war because if the IAF does not target PAF bases, then there will be grave consequences for the Indian army, and the Pakistani army also has additional fire support bases. The above-mentioned rationale will be the main cause of the IAF attacking the PAF infrastructure, thus undermining the national security of Pakistan. The Indian army, with the IAF, will aspire to rapid, shallow penetration of Pakistani territory, without crossing the nuclear threshold of Pakistan. The Indian military will go for a quick and short battle that will surprise Pakistan because that is the only possible strategy in their minds when talking about limited war scenarios or showing off war.

Conclusion

The IAF is a major threat to the national security of Pakistan in the wake of its alignment with the Indian military’s CSD. The operational exercises conducted in the past and the recent strikes at Balakot exhibit the growing role of the IAF in the Indian military offensive strategy against Pakistan. Vast parts of Pakistan are within the combat radius of the IAF’s operational fighters because of Pakistan’s lack of strategic depth.

The IAF will try to use this as an advantage to support the pro-active and offensive strategy of the Indian Armed Forces to harm Pakistan, as that would be their prime objective because of their hegemonic designs. In order to protect itself from India’s flagrant military aggression, Pakistan should take some protective measures.

Recommendations

In the wake of the growing IAF threat, the PAF and Pakistani government should take the following measures on an urgent basis:

  • Build some new airstrips along the border with India, to balance the threat by not allowing an IAF advantage in any sector. Moreover, the building of airstrips requires less money; thus this step will not put a strain on Pakistan’s economy;
  • Buy more advanced surveillance radars to detect early IAF movement.
  • Purchase advanced surface-to-air missiles to create a defensive barrier;
  • Go for indigenizing the modern, state-of-the-art 5th generation fighter aircraft, as buying from foreign suppliers is very expensive.
  • Ask the international community to put pressure on both sides to sign confidence-building measures that will lead to peace and stability.
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The audacious AUKUS submarine deal and Asia’s changing security landscape

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image source: twitter @POTUS

In this exhaustive analysis, I try to spell out the impact and potential consequences of the recently-brokered submarine deal between the U.S., the U.K., and Australia on Asia’s changing security landscape.

***

All advanced navies of the world possess lethal submarines, powered by either diesel-electric or nuclear propulsion. These underwater warships are the most potent asset at the disposal of a naval force for maritime power projection, sea denial and sea control. Lying silently under water, they are capable of sinking surface ships, including large aircraft carriers, with torpedoes or ballistic missiles. Ever since WW-II, submarines have made its name as one of the most crucial components of maritime strategy and naval warfare. Australia and the U.K. are two key maritime nations of the world, which happen to be security allies of the United States, a country that owns and operates the largest fleet of nuclear-powered submarines in the world. Being nuclear-powered not necessarily mean being armed with nuclear warheads.

The 2021-formed AUKUS (Australia, U.S., U.K.) “enhanced trilateral security partnership” has taken cooperation between the three Anglophone countries to the next level. U.S. President Joe Biden hosted the prime ministers of the United Kingdom and Australia – PM Rishi Sunak and PM Anthony Albanese – in the Californian port city of San Diego on 13 March 2023, where they jointly announced a detailed four-phased plan to equip Australia (a non-nuclear-weapon state) with “conventionally armed, nuclear-powered” submarines (codenamed SSN) at least by the next decade along with strengthening cooperation in other areas such as critical and emerging technologies.

The plan would cost Canberra’s exchequer up to a whopping A$ 368 bn. (US$ 245 bn.) in total by 2055, according to reports. The detailed plan, spanning a time frame of three decades, was announced after an eighteen-month-long consultation period following the creation of AUKUS in mid-September 2021. Australian PM Anthony Albanese called the deal “the single biggest leap” in Australia’s defence capabilities in the nation’s history. If the plan goes ahead smoothly as planned, Australia will become the seventh country in the world to add nuclear-powered submarines to its navy. As the deal turns out to be a race against time, the biggest challenge is to ensure deterrence capabilities for Australia at the present, as the full benefits of the deal would take years to materialise.

AUKUS leaders believe that the deal would “strengthen deterrence and bolster stability in the Indo-Pacific and beyond for decades to come”, apparently keeping in mind the exponential growth of China’s naval power in the recent past. China has built 12 nuclear-powered submarines in the last two decades, including ballistic missile submarines (codenamed SSBNs) and is continuing its ambitious ship-building spree in all fronts. As per the AUKUS plan, the first phase of the deal is set to begin as early as this year, with U.S. and British SSNs increasing their port visits in Australia along with joint embedded training of naval personnel, which will be followed by a rotational deployment of U.S. and British SSNs in the island continent.

In the remaining two phases of the deal, Washington will deliver a flotilla of three to five advanced Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines to Australia by the early 2030s, upon Congressional approval, and eventually a new “SSN-AUKUS class” of nuclear-powered submarines (SSN) will be developed in the decade that follows, for future commissioning in both British and Australian navies. With the use of nuclear energy involved, the Indo-Pacific region is abuzz with fears and concerns of an escalating arms race, even though AUKUS promises “the highest nuclear non-proliferation standard”.

Current owners of nuclear-powered submarines

As of now, only the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (U.S., Russia, China, U.K., France) and India have active nuclear-powered attack-capable submarines in their naval fleet (see the image below). More than half of the 130 active nuclear-powered submarines in the world are operated by the U.S. Navy (67), followed by Russia (31), China (12), U.K. (10), France (9) and India (1). The rise of China’s offensive military capabilities and its naval power in particular, since the 1990s, is the single largest factor that has convinced Canberra to join hands with Washington and London to bolster its own capabilities, through AUKUS, by making use of “next-generation” British hull design and “cutting-edge” American technology.

Countries with active nuclear powered submarines (via Statista)

The AUKUS deal smartly gets away with a loophole in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968, which allows for the transfer of fissionable material and nuclear technology from a nuclear-weapon state (NWS) to a non-NWS if it is used for non-explosive military use like naval propulsion. Such a transfer is also exempted from inspections and monitoring by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an organisation that stands for the peaceful use of nuclear energy and the promotion of nuclear safety. The IAEA Director General said that he had received “separate communications” on the matter from the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Australia, as well as from the U.K. and the U.S.

Mixed reactions

Of all the countries that have reacted to the highly ambitious AUKUS project, the responses of China and Russia stands out, as they are in direct strategic competition with the de facto leader of AUKUS – the United States. While the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson remarked that the U.S. and its AUKUS allies are “walking further and further down the path of error and danger for their own geopolitical self-interest”, Russian foreign minister commented, “the Anglo-Saxon world, with the creation of structures like AUKUS and with the advancement of NATO military infrastructures into Asia, is making a serious bet on many years of confrontation in Asia”.

While Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong cities Canberra’s bid for “strategic equilibrium” in the region as the underlying factor that led to the AUKUS pact, opinions on the submarine deal, which comes at a humongous cost, are not uniform across Australia’s political spectrum. Former Prime Minister Paul Keating thinks Canberra is compromising on a proper national defence strategy to help maintain U.S. “strategic hegemony” in Asia and has also stated that the submarine deal would be ineffective in the event of a war. Indonesia, Malaysia and New Zealand have also shared their concerns about the risk of nuclear proliferation in the region.

As per the Bangkok Treaty of 1995, Southeast Asia is a nuclear-weapon-free zone (NWFZ). Moreover, almost all of the ASEAN member-states have deep economic linkages with China, even though they rely on the U.S. for “security and stability” in Asia. Even though some of them have disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea, like the Philippines and Vietnam, they prefer to avoid unnecessary “provocations” and try to balance their ties with the U.S. and China, amid intensifying regional rivalry between the two big powers. Australian defence and foreign ministries are expected to embark on a diplomatic charm offensive to assuage all concerns of Southeast Asian countries lying in China’s periphery.

Eyeing for balance of power

AUKUS was announced just one year after a Pentagon report claimed that China has built the world’s largest naval fleet in sheer numerical terms, even though the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) relies mostly on smaller classes of ships, while the U.S. naval strength is further multiplied by its allied navies. One of the most-overlooked events of March 2023 was the annual session of China’s ceremonial national legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC), which handed over China’s Presidency to the hyper-nationalistic and revanchist leader Xi Jinping for an unprecedented third time in a row.

The newly-appointed Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang, formerly China’s Ambassador to the United States, held a press conference on the sidelines of the NPC, during which he made a significant remark that throws light on the deteriorating state of U.S.-China relations. He accused the U.S. of harbouring a “Cold War mentality” and said, “… the United States claims that it seeks to out-compete China but does not seek conflict. Yet in reality, it’s so-called competition means to contain and suppress China in all respects and get the two countries locked in a zero-sum game … If the United States does not hit the brake but continues to speed down the wrong path, no amount of guardrails can prevent derailing, and there will surely be conflict and confrontation … Containment and suppression will not make America great, and it will not stop the rejuvenation of China …”

Washington’s shooting of a suspected Chinese “spy balloon” that flew over American airspace earlier this year is the latest example of this downward spiral in U.S.-China ties. The Indo-Pacific, as a geostrategic concept and a broader maritime region, came into being as China began to flex its military muscles throughout its immediate and extended neighbourhood, where U.S. and its allies have a robust military presence.

Being part of the U.S.-led alliance system, including the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing network and the recent AUKUS pact, Canberra has become a lynchpin of Washington’s evolving Indo-Pacific strategy to counter growing Chinese assertiveness and stated offensive intentions vis-à-vis Taiwan, the South and East China Seas, and also the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India. Australia is also due to the host the third in-person Quad leaders’ summit later this year.

As the “threat perception” of China in the West continues to rise day by day, the extent to which an AUKUS-centered deterrence is possible in Asia remains to be seen in the years to come.

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Anti-Satellite Weapons: Risks and Regulations

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Today, outer space is characterised as an increasingly congested, contested, and competitive domain. This is because of an unprecedented increase in satellites and actors operating them. 13 countries now possess the capability to launch satellites compared to only two in the late 50s. In 1959, there were only two man-made objects in outer space but as of 30th April, 2022, Union of Concerned Scientists’ database included 5,465 active satellites. The number stood at 3,372 on 31 December 2020 – indicating an increase of 62%.

The growing dependence over space-based assets for day-to-day activities, like communication, navigation, and weather forecasts etc. indicates that the numbers are likely to grow exponentially. The environment that these satellites face is not benign by any standard. The biggest threat emerges in the form of space debris which are any human-made objects in orbit around the Earth that no longer serve any useful purpose. 60 years of human activities in outer space have generated over 29,000 human-made objects of larger than 10cm, while even a 1cm object can collide with a satellite to cause damage comparable to a hand grenade. While some of the debris generation is inevitable, Destructive Anti Satellite Weapons (DA-ASATs) testing has been a leading source of debris creation – something that can be prevented.

DA-ASATs, part of the counterspace capabilities which help a state in establishing space superiority while denying the same to its adversary, are essentially missiles which either directly hit a satellite in outer space or destroy it through proximity detonations. Use of this capability generates debris in outer space and threatens sustainable utilisation of outer space for peaceful endeavours. Other non-kinetic counterspace capabilities include physical non-kinetic capabilities like lasers and High Power Microwaves (HPMs) that damage on board circuitry of satellites, electronic counterspace capabilities which affect the satellites’ communications channels and cyber capabilities which target the data.

In November 2022, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) passed a non-binding resolution banning testing of DA-ASATs. The resolution was supported by an overwhelming majority of 154 states. The resolution was tabled by the United States (US) that had already announced a unilateral moratorium on such testing in April of that year. While the earliest demonstrations of such a capability date back to early Cold War, only four states have demonstrated this capability so far – the US, Russia, China, and India. While Russia and China voted against the resolution, India abstained from voting but expressed its preference for a legally binding treaty over self-declared moratoriums. Russia and China, on the other hand, objected to the resolution’s shortcomings over development of such a capability and lack of disarmament when it comes to states that already possess this capability. The two have also pointed out how the issue of non-kinetic ASATs was left out.

While the effort to mitigate debris-generation through banning the testing of DA-ASATs is praiseworthy, leaving out the continued possession, production, and development of DA-ASATs and more advanced non-kinetic capabilities is worrisome. In a way, the emerging trend of unilateral moratoriums and UNGA resolution is akin to establishing DA-ASAT ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ as was the case of nuclear non-proliferation regime. A taboo on testing of these technologies is likely to emerge, making it difficult for other states to enter this club. Such an outcome would be desirable if the intent was to avoid an arms race in outer space and move towards disarmament of existing capabilities. However, that does not seem to be the case.

France, for instance, joined the US in announcing a moratorium on testing of DA-ASATs – in a way surrendering its option to demonstrate this capability. However, in 2019, French Defence Minister had publicised a French plan to develop anti-satellite laser weapons stating that, ‘If our [French] satellites are threatened, we intend to blind those of our adversaries.’ Lasers and other non-kinetic means present a different set of challenges for space security. Possession of such capabilities is difficult to verify, it is difficult to establish attribution once such weapons have been employed, and their non-destructive nature lowers the threshold of use. In case of electronic and counterspace capabilities, the barriers to entry are lower and the risks of proliferation are higher. If other states with significant stakes in outer space emulate the French approach, it is only going to increase the likelihood of warfighting in outer space.

The emerging taboo on non-testing of DA-ASATs is not shared by three of the four states which have demonstrated this capability so far. Notwithstanding the American divergences with Russia and China, there is merit in the position that the latter have taken. The next step, therefore, needs to be disarmament of existing DA-ASAT capabilities and a ban on their development. Alongside, the issue of non-kinetic counterspace capabilities also needs to be addressed. Without a comprehensive approach towards space security and addressing the concerns of all stakeholders, there is no way to ensure that contestation in outer space will not escalate to undesirable levels.

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