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.
Revitalising the Quad
With a high-level informal meeting of the Foreign Ministers of US, India, Japan and Australia on the side lines of the last month UN General Assembly meeting, the much needed impetus has gained to the quadrilateral security dialogue (quad) concerning the security of the Indo-Pacific. The genesis of the quad grouping can be traced back to the 2007 Malabar naval exercise, but proclaimed it as an idea for security of the Indo-Pacific by Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe in 2013 with his ‘Security Diamond’ concept and revived it in 2017 with a new security dialogue mechanism. Since then the four member countries have had official level meetings largely on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit. Indeed, quad is a grouping of regional heavyweights in their backyard, Japan in the western Pacific, India in the Indian Ocean and Australia in the southern Pacific along with the most powerful military in the world, the US. However, China perceived it as a mechanism to counter its rise. Undoubtedly, the looming China “threat” is the rallying point of the quad formation.
China views quad as a grouping as well as individual countries differently. Beijing sees quad is a potential military alliance under US leadership against China. At the same time it doesn’t see individual regional countries as a threat and presumably view with varied perspectives: it opposes Japan being a ‘normal’ military power but is satisfied with an ally of the US; it objects to a strong India-US defence cooperation because US technical support would help India become a regional hegemon in the Indian Ocean theatre; while remain neutral to Australia.
In a similar fashion the member countries also view China “threat” separately- for US, it’s a peer competitor in spite of the economic interdependence andonly US can afford the magnitude of current trade war, while India and Japan are its neighboring countries and major trade partners so ill-afford to face security challenges or economic misery, and China is Australia’s largest trade partner but no qualms over security. And, India is more reticent in strengthening the quad because of its fear of “ally-entrapment”. Conversely, China continues its expansionism in the maritime domain, now reached upto India’s backyard. However, no single country can independently challenge China’s might and that China wants this situation continues in future.
Asia requires a regional balancing mechanism
As realism explains, peace and stability across the regions is ensured through balance of power. If one country emerged as a regional hegemon then it would seek to exploit others and start exercising its will over lesser states. Eminent realist Kenneth Waltzargued “unbalanced power, whoever wields it, is a potential danger to others.” So far, the old cold war centric balancing and US preponderance have been the main pillars of stability in Asia. But with the rise of China that balance is diminishing and Asia seems to be moving in the direction of unipolarity. However, a unipolar Asia with China at the centre would harm the interest of other heavyweights so structure demands a balancing mechanism to contain one-country dominance. The quad formation can be seen as a structurally driven balancing of secondary powers to prevent the region from unipolarity
At the same time, quad faces perspective and structural problems. No country in the region is willing to formally join in anycounter-mechanism that is being touted as ant-China. And China is vehemently opposing any sort of coming together of these four countries. For instance, when 2007 edition of bilateral India- US Malabar naval exercise was converted into a quadrilateral, China sent demarche to the participants asking the rationale behind such grouping and since then the four countries havenever joined together for a naval exercise.
Another perspective problem is how the quad is acceptable for other regional countries. Southeast Asian states fear that the regional politics will be dominated by great power game and Southeast Asia would be a theatre for jostling by these powers. So it upholds its time-tested inclusive approach in all regional formations, and nothing short of inclusivity.
On the contrary, quad must be seen as another regional organisations along with APEC, ARF, EAS and ADMM plus. All these organisations have different objectives, some of it are security oriented, and deliberations are in a consensus manner. However, none of it is able to address hard security issues that if a military clash took place between China and others then it is hardly to manage under such organizations. Though quad is not a region-wide organization but has the potential military capability to contain the threat both individually and collectively, if it is necessary. At some level the region requires a power balancing mechanism to maintain peace and stability.
Structurally, it is not a formal alliance so does no clear agenda and an action plan, except the idea of the need for preserving rule-based order in the Indo-Pacific. Japan and Australia are close allies of the US while India wants to keep its ‘strategic autonomy’ and doesn’t want to give any commitment to larger regional issues unless it directly confronts New Delhi. As a result, there has been no coherent agenda as to how this mechanism can be brought up. Threat perceptions and the counter mechanisms are varied for the quad members.
Under these circumstances, Quad needs to be kept under the soft balancing tactics as of now. A hard balancing by forming a military alliance would bring a cold war structure that will destabilize the region. The soft balancing can be converted into a hard balancing according to circumstances that if China ever sought to become a revisionist state. At the same time, instead of as a leader US should be a facilitator of the quad and the regional countries of India Japan and Australia should be allowed to drive the quad. Today trilateral mechanism blossoms within the quad: US- India-Japan and US-Japan- Australia, but there is no India-Japan- Australia trilateral mechanism. An India-Japan- Australia regional mechanism under the umbrella of quad can bring more energy to the quad. Also, it necessarily requires an action plan which could convince other regional countries of the importance of the quad in Asian security scenario.
The Game-changing Fallibility of BMD Systems: Lessons from the Middle East and South Asia
As the Middle East’s major powers recalculate their defence and foreign policies following last month’s missile strikes on Saudi oilfields, there have emerged some telling lessons with regard to the changing nature of modern warfare. While these lessons are perhaps painfully obvious to the likes of Saudi Arabia who have directly been on the receiving end of these attacks, they are also evident in the near deafening introspection being undertaken by the region’s other power brokers, the United States and Israel as well. This has been made clear by the fact that even after a month since the attacks took place, there remains a definite and near ironic aspect of shock and awe to what was otherwise a quick, covert and precision strike on a highly valuable target.
What’s more, the fact that the strike took place despite the presence of one of the world’s most sophisticated missile defense systems, presents a telling example of how the technological balance in cruise missile development has shifted more in favor of offensive strikes at the expense of a once reliable defensive capability. As such, the ease and precision with which one of the world’s most closely guarded facilities were struck, shows that based on the widespread availability of current technologies, it is perhaps more reliable to count on a missile system’s offensive strike capabilities. Consequently, the opportunity cost of investing in and developing expensive missile defense shields based on this scenario becomes tremendously higher.
These lessons provide valuable strategic import to another nearby region which is also brimming with tensions amongst two extremely well equipped and militarily capable states. This refers to the South Asian region, where both India and Pakistan also seem headed towards a dangerous escalation of hostilities. As a result, both countries would do well to consider the lessons emanating from the above-mentioned Saudi experience. For instance, like Saudi Arabia, India has also been on a military spending spree over the last decade, importing some of the world’s most advanced weapons systems from across the world. Its massive economic growth has given it license to pursue a robust military modernization program that is keenly focused on enhancing its power projection capabilities. However, again like Saudi Arabia, India’s military also remains untested and risks being termed another ‘glitter force’ that is more concerned with procuring arms as a matter of prestige as opposed to operational efficacy. This for instance was clear during India’s aerial engagement with Pakistani Air Force jets in March, during which a sophisticated Israeli origin missile fired by India’s air defenses downed one of India’s own Russian made Mi-17 helicopters. Such lack of operational readiness and blind faith in untested systems is evident in both the Saudi and Indian experience highlighted above.
Specifically, regarding the US made Patriot batteries used by the Saudis and the Israeli made Spyder missiles used by India, the above incidents have shown that the efficacy and reliability of these systems in the real-time conflicts of today is quite patchy at best. If anything, any form of over-reliance on these systems runs the risk of a grave miscalculation which in effect is multiplied by the regional complexities of both their respective security environments. These miscalculations are already on display in the increasingly volatile Middle East, as the Western backed and Saudi led military alliance is just realizing. With the vulnerability of such missile defense systems now increasingly evident, there has also arguably been an element of deterrence that has been further reinforced. Consequently, the path to de-escalation appears a lot more rational than one which may escalate towards all-out war. The case of South Asia too was similar where the aerial engagement between nuclear weapons capable India and Pakistan, also ultimately reinforced the latter’s conventional deterrent while exposing gaps in the former’s much touted aerial defenses.
Yet, considering that the case of South Asia remains infinitely more precarious due to the presence of two adversarial nuclear weapons states, the above described developments pose additional yet considerably more important implications when applied to the region’s nuclear deterrence framework. In effect, they erode the belief that ballistic missile defense systems can serve as the backbone to what many a state would consider a winnable nuclear war. These primarily comprise of Nuclear Weapons States such as the US and India which in the recent past have increasingly relied on concepts such as counterforce, pre-emption and precision as key themes within their official military thinking. All under the premise that Missile defense shields offer a reliable and credible defense against an adversary’s pre-emptive or secondary nuclear strikes as part of their strategic calculus. India’s much vaunted purchase of the Russian made S-400 system presents a clear example of such a strategy.
In contrast however, the fallibility and faltering reliability of such air defence systems shows the immense dangers of adopting such an approach within scenarios that have the potential of irreversibly altering life on earth as we know it. Considering how peace and stability in the South Asian region is precariously balanced between Pakistan and India’s nuclear deterrence framework, the unreliability and increasing fallibility of missile defense systems thus warrant a serious re-evaluation of the strategic calculus of both nuclear weapons capable India and Pakistan.
Protracted Asymmetric Geopolitical Conflict
Each of us has his own definition of “geo-history”, and mine is the interface of the “geopolitical” and the “world-historical.”
We are marked by two anniversaries, that of the start of WW II in 1939 and its end in 1945. Fascism was a unique regime of terror, with a strategy of unbridled ‘exterminism’ and therefore constituted a unique political evil in world history. However, outside of its type of regime, strategy and tactics, was its ‘grand strategic’ goal also unique or was it not? Is there a resemblance or homology between, on the one hand, the doctrine of Ein Reich, the telos of world domination, a Thousand Year Reich, and the military moves of Germany and its Axis partners in the run-up to WWII, and on the other, that of a unipolar world order and global military expansionism; of open-ended unipolar global leadership? Is there a continuity or homology between on the one hand, the wartime US Grand Area planning for the postwar world (the documents of which were unearthed by Noam Chomsky), and the present Indo-Pacific strategy and on the other hand, the notorious earlier search for Lebensraum? Is the Indo-Pacific strategy an insistence on “maritime Lebensraum”?
If the answer is yes, and the two paradigms can be superimposed upon each other, then history provides only one answer: the united front and its extension, a global grand alliance. But a united front and grand alliance with whom, to what end?
Politics is combat. International politics is international combat. By the “suicide” of the Soviet Union (that post-mortem verdict was Fidel Castro’s), the Empire was unbound and it is now threatening world peace and the future of humanity itself. Every single arms control agreement (bar one) has been unilaterally renounced, but before that came the rollback of the Yalta and Potsdam agreements with the destruction of former Yugoslavia and the expansion of NATO. Now the empire seeks to dominate the entire global theatre in all possible spheres. This should not come as a shock or surprise. It is almost a law of physics (perhaps it should be called ‘geophysics’) that once unwisely unbound, the Empire would uncoil, spread, expand, and seek to dominate—in short, that the Empire would seek to behave as an empire.
The geohistorical question facing humanity today is how to constrain the Empire, but not return to the old delusions of how to do so. The Empire must be initially counterbalanced and then constrained– bound– permanently, until, as in the case of the Roman Empire, there is a benign change of beliefs (in this case, political) from within its own society, its own citizenry and not as before, a change in its external posture which proves in the long geo-historical term, to have been merely ephemeral, conjunctural, even tactical.
The Empire’s strategy as concerns Russia is quite simple to understand. It is a re-run of the strategy that enabled them to prevail in the Cold War. It is to provoke Russia into an arms race and exceed prudent spending limits, cause economic hardship and generate enough discontent that the citizenry, especially the young, will agitate, thereby causing psychological exhaustion and catalyzing peaceful democratic “regime change”, bringing into office a capitulationist/collaborationist administration sooner or later, in the wake of the end of President Putin’s term. Meanwhile, what is being played out in Hong Kong foreshadows the geohistorical endgame envisaged by the Empire for China and Eurasia as a whole.
By its global offensive, imperialism has potentially overstretched itself morally, ethically and politically. Not since Vietnam has imperialism had a potential target profile which is so large and so exposed. The targeting of Iran when that country has not violated the JCPOA can be turned into a massive indictment on the twin grounds of reason and logic as well as of natural justice. Similarly, the targeting of Venezuela can be exposed for the absurdity that someone who did not even run for Presidential office should be recognized as the legitimate President of a country. So also, the unilateral withdrawal from arms control agreements can be exposed for the danger this poses to humanity.
One of the most important principles of asymmetric political resistance is the identification of the most important strategic real estate as the moral high ground. The moral or moral-ethical high ground is the seizure and occupation of that terrain of argument which is recognized and recognizable as more rational, reasonable and of broader benefit to humanity, assuring “the greatest good of the greatest number” according to universal values and norms and not merely national or regional values and norms.
The main axial routes and themes of the political struggle should be Peace and Sovereignty. Firstly, these are themes that have a universal or near-universal resonance. Secondly, they allow the critic to fight for and occupy the moral high ground because the West has only a toehold on the moral high ground in all these cases. Thirdly, they are also the main achievements of humanity that are threatened by the Western offensive. Fourthly, they are themes that are likely to have resonance among peoples the world over, albeit with greater or lesser emphasis in different areas of the globe.
This great struggle cannot be waged with the guiding ideology solely of or governed solely by “State Interest” or “National Interest.” It can only be waged by the recovery of the spirit of “internationalism” that was present in the entire Soviet period. It is little appreciated that Stalin, the father of ‘Socialism in One Country,’ and political leader of the Great Patriotic War waged an international campaign against fascism. Even in periods of isolation and siege, Stalin’s perspectival approach was never one of a cultural or civilizational preoccupation. The struggle for Peace and Sovereignty, Against Interventionism and Global War, requires the building of global opinion and a global movement.
A contemporary Realist would immediately grasp the opportunity which has opened up in post-Cold War history, namely of compensating at least partially for the loss of those territories and Russia’s Western buffer, the rollback of Yalta and Potsdam and the USSR’s wartime gains and the advance of the NATO borders up to Russia, by the geostrategic gains on the Eastern front through the renewal of partnership with China. Obviously, this has been recognized and acted upon but it has yet to be optimized by the kind of diverse yet solid strategic relationships that the USA has through NATO in the West, and Japan and many other states in other parts of the world. A Realist would recommend a re-visiting, retrieval and revision of Article 1 of the 30 Treaty signed by Stalin and Mao, which recognizes that the security of Russia and China are indivisible and that any aggression against one will be regarded as aggression against the other and responded to accordingly.
There is a contradiction between the Western project of the encirclement of Russia and the intellectual response to that encirclement. One of the reasons for that contradiction is the fact that academies and think tanks have been shaped and formed by and sometimes in the decades of ‘peaceful coexistence’ and later ‘détente’ with the West and are almost structurally unprepared for the change in the global geopolitical-geostrategic ‘ecology’ as it were. These institutions were formed or reshaped by party edict as adjuncts of the tasks of negotiation with the West and the competition (which became enmity for a period) with China. They are structurally oriented towards the West; their institutional faces are turned westwards. Their entire spirit and ethos are those of partnership with the West and suspicion of China stemming from the 1960s and 1970s.
Institutions need to reflect the tasks of the new times, those of facing the West as an adversary in a protracted Cold War encompassing a global hybrid war; facing encirclement by the West and the global offensive of the West. Perhaps new joint analytical and academic institutions should evolve as intellectual-scientific superstructures of the SCO, BRICS, the Astana process and most importantly the partnership with China. A Russo-Sino joint think-tank or ensemble of think-tanks of Advanced Studies, as an intellectual microcosm or advanced prototype of a strategic alliance (not merely a strategic partnership) seems an imperative need.
The threat to Russia is nothing less than deeply, profoundly existential. If Iran is disaggregated by military action two things will result simultaneously. In a small scale equivalent of the collapse of the USSR and the dawning of the unipolar moment after the Cold War ended, there will be a dramatic shift of the balance of forces within the global Islamic community or ummah, to the Wahhabi/Salafists, just as in return to pre-1979, Western power is projected right back into an arena dangerously proximate to Russia’s ‘soft underbelly’ as the western analysts have always seen it. The intermediate ‘buffer state’ may not always remain so. Any deep damaging of Iran will also have global grand strategic implications of tightening the encirclement of Eurasia and weakening China.
Iran’s capacity for deterrence and if deterrence fails, its capacity for prolonged resistance and the same of Venezuela, will decide the level of resistance far away from Russia’s frontlines. If Afghanistan ended the USSR by bleeding it white, then the most effective Western policy in that theatre was to equip the so-called mujahidin with shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles to neutralize Soviet air power. If the USSR had not been so enmeshed in détente as to hold back the SAM-6s from and provide only a minimum supply of SAM-7s to the Vietnamese, then the damage inflicted on the US may have been such that it could not have gone on the offensive in Afghanistan a mere three years after the withdrawal from Saigon. While the US had no compunction in providing shoulder-fired to the Afghan mujahidin, with whom they had nothing in common ideologically, knowing full well that they would cause Soviet casualties especially among pilots, the USSR did have compunctions in providing SAM-6 batteries and a far more generous quantity of SAM-7s to the Vietnamese who were ideological comrades. The Vietnamese used to wryly remark to those of us in the Vietnam solidarity movement in Asia, that had the USSR provided them with the quantity and quality of air defense missiles that it gave the Arab states in the same period, the early 1970s, the Vietnamese would certainly have used them more effectively and with less losses than did the Arab armies.
That is perhaps the best single piece of explanatory evidence as to why the US recovered so fast from the Vietnam defeat while the USSR unilaterally withdrew from the Cold War and collapsed. It was a matter of will, and the consistent clarity of the US that the USSR was the enemy, and the determination to prevail over it. Later, the successor state of the USSR, the Russian state, with the Russian armed forces as its core, was seen as the enemy—even when the Russian administration and leadership may have been seen as a useful quasi-ally, partner and even ‘friend.’ Thus, on the questions of Iran and Venezuela, a contemporary Russian ‘dialectical and historical Realist’ analysis would consider a ‘reverse Brzezinski.’
China appears caught in a contradiction within an irony. The contradiction is that having entered the world capitalist order dominated by the West and become a major player within it, it now finds itself vulnerable to both economic and military threats simply because it proved to be strong enough to be an economic competitor but not strong enough to prevent, deter or prevail over a military build-up triggered by the inherently hierarchical and hegemonistic character of the system it had bought into. The irony is that China had found itself caught in a contradiction because it had forgotten Mao’s theory of contradictions which draws a fundamental distinction between antagonistic and non-antagonistic contradictions. China regarded the competition between itself and the West as a purely economic and therefore non-antagonistic contradiction, but the world system being not only an economic system but one of power, China’s peaceful rise was perceived by the West not as a ‘friendly’ or non-antagonistic contradiction but precisely as an antagonistic one, to be responded to not merely by economic means but also by military means, namely the biggest build-up of an armada in recent history through the Indo-Pacific strategy.
The irony is a dual one, because it was China that first cautioned the USSR about the idealistic and utopian nature of the project of “peaceful economic competition” with the West, but later pursued it with greater zeal and success than the USSR ever did or could. In the 1960s and 1970s, China had established a methodology of identifying the contradictions in the world at any given period and went on to hierarchize those contradictions. The listing would naturally shift over time and became irrationally anti-Soviet at one point; an irrationality that lasted a long period. However, the methodology of discerning, identifying and ranking contradictions was a realistic one, because it alerted China or anyone who used the dialectical framework, to the reality of antagonism, of hostility, in the world arena.
If the world’s foremost military power which disposes of the greatest destructive force known by history, regards one or more countries as adversaries, indeed as The Other(s), and backs up this policy perspective with the actual offensive disposition and concentration of men and material over time, then basic survival instinct should dictate that the states designated and treated as adversaries should seek to combine their military and non-military strengths to countervail and deter such a power which regards them with hostility and as threats. There are several such countries but only two such great powers, and these are Russia and China, in whichever order. Those who opine that Russia can slip out of this siege by living down a perception of a special relationship with China and associating as closely or even more closely with other great or big powers, seem to forget that Western moves against Russia’s interests preceded its renewed hostility to China.
The bottom line is that in any objective, dialectical and historical Realist analysis of Russia’s core interests, no relationship with Europe can be a substitute or even on par with a partnership with China. Not all vectors are equal, and some are certainly more equal than others.
Since neither Russia nor China can countervail the US-led Western alliance on its own, a closer equation is needed between the two than between either Russia or China and any other big power or powers. No other big power, however friendly, is the target of unremitting and adversarial Western action, and therefore will not take the same risks for either Russia or China as each of them should logically do for each other, since they both stand threatened and targeted. A Concert of Big Powers cannot be a substitute for a defensive United Front or coalition of states, of which the Russia-China relationship will be the main alliance, consisting of those sovereign states actively threatened in a military-economic sense by the West.
These are the strictly personal views of the author.
From our partner RIAC
AMLO’s Failed State
Mexico’s challenges since transitioning from the hegemonic rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) 19 years ago have remained numerous...
New Target: Cut “Learning Poverty” by At Least Half by 2030
The World Bank introduced today an ambitious new Learning Target, which aims to cut by at least half the global...
African financial centres step up efforts on green and sustainable finance
When we talk about climate change and sustainable development, the continent that is often highlighted as facing the greatest socio-economic...
Modi’s India a flawed partner for post-Brexit Britain
With just two weeks to go until Britain is scheduled to exit the European Union, Boris Johnson and his ministers...
Post-UNGA: Kashmir is somewhere between abyss and fear
Hailed as a hero for calling out New Delhi’s draconian measures in occupied Kashmir, Imran Khan warned the world of a...
Achieving Broadband Access for All in Africa Comes With a $100 Billion Price Tag
Across Africa, where less than a third of the population has access to broadband connectivity, achieving universal, affordable, and good...
Best of the Net nominated essay: “Secrets”
So, mother, like Johannesburg, you cut me in deep, imaginative and raw ways. A cut from you was a project....
Urban Development3 days ago
Cities Around the World Want to Be Resilient and Sustainable. But What Does This Mean?
East Asia2 days ago
Semiconductor War between Japan and South Korea
Americas2 days ago
When Democracy Becomes the Problem: Why So Many Millions Still Support Donald Trump
Middle East3 days ago
Could Turkish aggression boost peace in Syria?
South Asia3 days ago
Kashmir Issue at the UNGA and the Nuclear Discourse
Africa2 days ago
The Impact of Xenophobic Attack on Nigerians
Southeast Asia2 days ago
China-Indonesia relations are expected to grow during Jokowi’s second term
East Asia2 days ago
China & Nepal working towards a genuine good-neighbour tie