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Defense Day: ‘Moral Force’ of the Pakistan Armed Forces

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The 6th of September is celebrated every year as the Defense Day by every Pakistani, as on this very day, Pakistan’s courageous Armed Forces and the entire nation stood united in 1965 for the defense of the homeland in thwarting the nefarious designs of the enemy which had threatened the territorial integrity of our beloved country through an all-out war. This time, Defense Day has come at a time when Pakistan Pakistan’s Armed Forces are successfully facing all external and internal challenges which are worrying all the citizens. Military thinkers agree that although the physical force will determine the type and scale of war, yet it is the ‘will to fight’ or ‘moral force’ which determines the outcome of war. Clausewitz puts it this way, “One might say that the physical force seems little more than the wooden hilt, while moral factors are the precious metal, the real weapon.”In his book, “Fighting Power: German and U.S. Army Performance, 1939-1945”, Creveld identifies the elements of ‘moral force’, whom he calls “fighting power, the willingness to fight and the readiness, if necessary, to die”. The greater these elements, the less vulnerable an armed force will be to demoralization. ‘Moral force’, then, is the crucial factor in determining the combat power of any belligerent.

During the 1965 war ‘moral force’ was more found in the personnel of Pakistan’s Armed Forces then those of India. When, on September 6, 1965, India started the war, and its forces crossed the international border, on the western front in Lahore, Pakistan’s Armed Forces quickly responded. Indian Regiment had also crossed the BRB canal and captured the town of Batapore (Jallo Mur). The same day, a counter offensive by Pakistanis soldiers, consisting of an armored division and infantry division forced the Indian 15th Division to withdraw to its starting point. In this regard, the huge credit goes to the all men of Pak Army, who were deployed in the Lahore areas of Wahgah, Burki etc. Without bothering for their lives, they fought bravely. Among them, Major Raja Aziz Bhatti played a vital role in the outcome of the Lahore battles and was martyred (Shaheed).Similarly, in case of Sialkot, several soldiers of the Pak Army sacrificed their lives to stop advancement of Indian tanks. The 1965 war witnessed some of the largest tank battles since World War II, and was fought at Chawinda in Sialkot sector—The Battle of Chawinda resulted into victory of Pakistan whose armored forces destroyed 120 tanks of India. As regards aerial warfare between Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and Indian Air Force (IAF), the latter emerged as victorious in the I965 war because, at the cost of their personal safety, the personnel of Pakistan Air Force defeated India. During that war, PAF had destroyed 100 Indian aircraft on ground and in the air, while damaged more than 10—not counting the undermined losses inflicted by PAF’s night bombing. In this respect, Squadron Leader M. M. Alam set new records in history of air warfare on 7th September by defending Pakistan’s airspace, and shot down five Indian aircraft in less than sixty seconds at Sargodha.

In relation to the sacrificing spirit, let us take the example of Flight Lieutenant YunusHussain who fought in air battles fearlessly. During one such engagement, he fought singly against 6 enemy aircraft and shot down 2 Hunters. On 6 September, while attacking Halwara airfield, his small formation was intercepted by a large number of enemy, and although his aircraft was hit, he refused to break off the engagement by disregarding his personal safety, and was martyred. The role of Pakistan Navy in the Indo-Pak war of 1965 is also appreciable. Securing Pakistan’s coasts, it played a vital role in defeating India. The Operation Dawarka marked was launched by Pakistan on September 7. Indian town of Dwarka was chosen to be a target of the attack. The Pakistani operation was successful and its warships harboured in Bombay, making the Indian Navy unable to sortie. In this context, Ghazi, the only submarine successfully attacked heavy ships of the Indian Navy, aiding Operation Dwarka. However, there were many national heroes like Brigadier Ahsan Rashid, Major Raja Aziz Bhatti, SQN LDR M. M. Alam, SQN LDR Sarfaraz Ahmed Rafiqui etc. who fought courageously with the Indian forces.

In fact, it was due to the ‘moral force’ that despite Indian surprise invasion in 1965 and the qualitative and numerical superiority over Pakistan, while showing courage, and by sacrificing their lives, the Pakistani forces not only recaptured the territories from India, but also took Khem Karan from Indian forces including various regions of Rajastan, Sindh, and Chumb in Kashmir. Indian defeat was owing to demoralization of its soldiers. By imbibing the same spirit of the 1965 war, Pakistan’s Armed Forces, during the successful military operations, Zarb-e-Azb, Radd-ul-Fasaad and Operation Khyber 4 have killed many terrorists through ground offensive and many of them surrendered before the Army. And during street to street fighting, without bothering for their lives, and by air-dropping commandos at the risky places, our forces made a great headway in disrupting the Taliban supply routes and links.

During these operations, Pak Army and country’s premier intelligence agency ISIalso recovered a huge cache of arms and ammunition from the possession of the terrorists. Undoubtedly, the Pakistan’s Armed Forces have successfully broken the backbone of the foreign-backed terrorists by the military operations Zarb-e-Azb and Radd-ul-Fasaad which have also been extended to other parts of the country, including Balochistan province and Karachi. Army and ISI have broken the network of these terrorist groups by capturing several militants, while thwarting a number of terror attempts. These operations are obtaining their objectives effectively and rapidly.

It is due to the capabilities of the Pak Army that many insurgents of Balochistan and their leaders have surrendered their arms and decided to work for the development of Pakistan. However, owing to the successful operations of Pak Army and the Rangers, peace has been restored in Balochistan and Karachi, including other vulnerable regions, especially the tribal areas.But, in the recent past, terrorism related events in Balochistan and other regions of the country show that the US-led India, Afghanistan and Israel have again started acts of sabotage to destabilize Pakistan and to damage the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).In this respect, in the recent past, new wave of terrorism in Pakistan, killed several innocent people, while various terrorist outfits, particularly the Islamic State group (Also known as Daesh, ISIS, ISIL), and the affiliated faction of the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan Jamaat-ur-Ahrar (TTP-JA also known as JuA) claimed responsibility for these brutal acts. TTP based in Afghanistan has its connections with ISIL and other terrorist organizations and affiliated terror groups, including Baloch separatist elements, and all these outfits are promoting the anti-Pakistan agenda of the foreign entities against Pakistan. As part of the double game, CIA, RAW, Mossad and Afghan intelligence agency, National Directorate of Security (NDS) which are in collaboration, are using these terror outfits in weakening Pakistan and especially Balochistan in order to fulfill the covert strategic aims of the US-led India and Israel against Pakistan, China, Russia and Iran.

These external secret agencies are especially supporting the TTP which is hiding in Nuristan and Kunar provinces of Afghanistan and is behind many terror activities inside Pakistan, as the latter has also become center of the Great Game due to the ideal location of Balochistan. Nevertheless, Pakistan’s Armed Forces have been facing a different war, while enemy is also different, which employs subversive activities of various kinds which also include internal and external challenges. In these terms, Pakistan is in the state of new war, being waged by the Armed Forces and intelligence agencies against terrorists. Externally, from time to time, Pak Army has, boldly, been responding to India’s unprovoked firing at the Line of Control(LoC) in Kashmir. While, the fundamentalist party BJP led by the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is implementing anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan agenda.

It is of particular attention that Chief of Army Staff (COAS), General Qamar Javed Bajwa said on August 17, 2017 that Pakistan Army was capable to meet all internal and external challenges. In this context, the statement of the DG of Inter Services Publication Directorate (ISPR) Maj. Gen. Asif Ghafoor pointed out that during a visit to the office of ISPR “where he addressed and interacted with youth, undergoing annual internship programme…Pakistan Army has achieved great successes to rid country of violence and terrorism. However, for enduring peace, the COAS said, each Pakistani had to contribute in respective bit. Every Pakistani is soldier of Operation Rudd-ul-Fasaad”.In response to a question that how did he maintain his morale amid so much of challenges and pressures, “the COAS replied that selfless motivation of his outfit (Pak Army) and hope he sees in future of Pakistan (the youth) keeps him motivated and committed to the cause.” He also assured the students that Pakistan Army was committed to providing them a safe, secure and stable Pakistan.” The COAS advised the students “to remain mindful and vigilant of hostile narratives through social media, as “educated youth is prime target of ISIS and affiliates, be extra cautious.”Earlier, the corps commanders’ conference was held in Rawalpindi on August 7, 2017. According to the press release of the ISPR, “The conference was presided over by General Qamar Javed Bajwa, chief of Army staff (COAS)—undertook a comprehensive review of internal and external security environment—Forum was also briefed about situation along the Line of Control. The Forum acknowledged positive long term effects being achieved through Operation Radd-ul-Fasaad. COAS especially appreciated successful conduct of Operation Khyber 4[Which has been completed now] in a most inhospitable terrain of Rajgal with minimal own casualties which is made possible through high standards of professionalism. Expressing full satisfaction on Army’s commitment to national defence and security, COAS directed that efforts must continue, in concert with other elements of national power to defeat terrorism/militancy in order to establish Rule of Law and uphold supremacy of constitution.”

Evidently on July 6, this year, National Accountability Bureau (NAB) awarded 10 year rigorous imprisonment (RI) along with 8 million pounds fine to former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in the Avenfield graft reference. The court awarded 7 year imprisonment to his daughter Maryam Nawaz along with two million pound fine. The court also sentenced Maryam to one year in prison for submitting false documents in court. It awarded one year RI to her husband Captain (retd) Safdar. Afterwards, they were arrested and sent to Adiala Jail.

Following the verdict, Maryam and Safdar stood disqualified from contesting the July 25 general elections 2018.In this respect, on July 28, 2017, five-member larger bench of the Supreme Court of Pakistan had announced its verdict in connection with the Panama Papers case and disqualified the Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif in relation to the charges of corruption. It said that Nawaz Sharif is not honest as he failed to disclose un-withdrawn salary as chairman of Capital FZE Jebel Ali, the UAE, London flats etc., while filing nomination papers in the 2013 general elections. Supreme Court had also issued directives to the NAB to file references against the Sharif family on the basis of material collected and referred to by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) in its report and other such material as may be available with the Federal Investigation Agency.

On the other side, deposed Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif and head of the Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) who started a procession from Rawalpindi to Lahore via GT road on August 9, last year, said that the huge rally had proved that the people of Pakistan have rejected his disqualification. Nawaz Sharif, while forgetting Supreme Court’s various decisions of the past, which went in their favour, declared the verdict of the apex court—conspiracy against his family and government. While, leaders of the mainstream political parties such as Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) and Jamaat-e-Islami had emphasized the former Prime Minister Sharif to accept the verdict of the Supreme Court. The then PTI Chairman Imran Khan had remarked that by criticizing the decision of the apex court and Pakistan Army in this respect and through rallies of the PML-N, the disqualified P.M. Nawaz Sharif wanted to create rift between his party workers and the key institutes of the country. Some other political leaders, renowned persons and analysts have also expressed similar thought by opining that Nawaz Sharif seems determined to create anarchy in the country. Referring to the meeting of corps commanders held at the GHQ in Rawalpindi on August 7, 2017, ISPR DG stated that Army Chief Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa has said that Pakistan Army will uphold “supremacy of Constitution and rule of law.”

Besides, it was due to the role of Army that free and fair elections became possible in 2018. In this regard, the Chief Observer, Michael Gahler of the European Union Election Observation Mission (EU EOM) to Pakistan expressed satisfaction on overall conduct of the general elections, saying “efforts of Election Commission of Pakistan (ECP) were impressive and appreciable…EU observers noted the presence of security personnel inside and outside the polling stations did not interfere in electoral process…voting was assessed as well-conducted and transparent.” Apart from many other countries, in a statement, the Spokesman for UN Secretary-General António Guterres, also congratulated the people of Pakistan for free and fair elections. At this critical moment, the Defense Day demands practical national unity, instead of verbal statements. This significant day emphasizes that our political leaders must pledge that they will not manipulate their regional and provincial differences at the cost of the national interests so as to grab political power. In this connection, a blind dedication to one’s own race, tribe and creed should not be allowed to create hatred in one group against the other. They must avoid exploiting present thorny issues in order to increase their vote-bank at the cost of the integration of the country. If any controversy arises, it can better be settled in consonance with the constitution, law, mutual understanding of the government and political parties. In this context, in order to castigate the conspiracy of the external enemies against the integrity of the country, our political leaders, media and human rights groups must also stop manipulating any crisis against Pak Army and ISI whose image are deliberately being tarnished by the external plotters.

True and selfless unity against the external enemies requires that our leaders of political parties must create national cohesion among various segments of society. Especially, our electronic media should give a matching response to malicious propaganda of the US-led some western countries including India and Israel which are distorting the image of Pakistan, its Army and ISI. Nonetheless, the Defense Day demands that by imbibing the spirit of 1965 war, the entire nation must stand with Pakistan’s Armed Forces which have been facing all external and internal challenges courageously and boldly for defense and integrity of the homeland by thwarting the nefarious designs of the country’s enemies.

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Defense

India’s Space Ambitions

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On March 27, 2019 India has tested its first ever Anti-Satellite (ASAT) missile code named as ‘Mission Shakti’. India shot down one of its own Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellite through a ballistic missile and became fourth country in the world after USA, Russia and China having the capability. ASAT weapons are the space weapons which allow a state to attack opponent space assets which disrupt communication channel. Indian ASAT test translates into New Delhi capability which can be used to destroy opponent satellites. The shooting down of its own low orbit satellite with a ground to space missile has made India a ‘space power’. This technology effects Intelligence, Reconnaissance and Surveillance (IRS) system of enemy state.

India has the ambitions to enhance its space capabilities as a part of its Defence Doctrine. This ASAT test by New Delhi touches a number of important issues which endanger the contemporary security environment of South Asia and the international security. At international level it generates a debate on space policy, politics and the weaponization. International community gave different reaction on Indian ASAT test. Indian missile test raised concerns in Pakistan as its security threats mainly coming from eastern border.

Pakistan responded that ‘ASAT test should have a matter of serious concern for global community, not only in terms generation of space debris but also because of its consequences for long term sustainability of peaceful space activities’. Bridenstine, administrator of NASA also condemned Indian ASAT test and said that 24 pieces out of 400 debris identified by NASA went above the apogee of International Space System (ISS) which could damage the ISS and other satellites. Russia and China also commended Indian ASAT test. Contrary, US reaction to Indian ASAT was quite supportive but they showed their reservation on debris. Pentagon’s statement in favor of Indian ASAT test shows clearly that US have biased attitude towards New Delhi’s developments. In general, such types of tests have negative impact on existing ISS. International rules and regulations about the space only stop a state from putting WMDs in the space. But it is a matter of concern that destruction of satellite creates debris which will ultimately affect the space system or other satellite. There should be a treaty which deals with the matter of debris.

South Asia security environment is marred with mutual hostility between two nuclear powers India and Pakistan. Owing to this enmity, both the states indulge in arms race. The action reaction spiral governs the arms race between India and Pakistan. This test will also start a new chapter of space race between two states.

The timing of the test i.e. 27th March was crucial in the context of existing tensions and aftermath of February 2019 military escalation between Pakistan and India. The crisis between two states started after 14 February Pulwama attacks in Indian occupied Kashmir (IOK) for which India blamed Pakistan. In this intense environment, the ASAT test opens up new avenue for intensification of existing clashes between the two nuclear armed neighbors. This test has strategic as well as political significance.  Politically it is significant because soon after two weeks of this test, Indian general elections were going to be held. It can be said that the test was a way to strengthen BJP popularity and to gain right wing support in the elections.

Strategically, this test will not only disturb the stability of the region but also increase vulnerability which will ultimately challenge the existing deterrence stability of South Asia. Pakistan considers Indian developments a direct threat to its sovereignty; consequently this test can start a new space arms race in South Asia. Pakistan always in favor of demilitarization of space and tried to controlled arms race in South Asia. Pakistan due to economic constraints faces difficulties to maintain existing strategic balance of South Asia after Indian ongoing conventional and unconventional developments. International community especially US and West has dual standards vis-à-vis India and Pakistan. In this regard, Pakistan should further enhance its collaborations with China which is a time tested friend and strategic partner to maintain strategic stability of South Asian region.

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Khalifa Haftar’s military advance

Giancarlo Elia Valori

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Khalifa Haftar’s military advance-started in Jufra on April 4 last –  passed from the South, namely Fezzan, and partly from  Central Libya, starting from the Westernmost point of the area of influence already gained by Haftar in the last military advances.

 The support for his actions against Tripolitania, which stems from very old tensions (the Senussi King Idris boasted he never set foot in Tripoli), materialized with the support of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and the Russian Federation, as well as France in particular. Other countries, however, are and will be the future friends of Haftar’s forces, if the General wins throughout the Libyan territory.

 Why so many allies? Firstly, Saudi Arabia regards Haftar as an opponent of Islamic terrorism, the first real danger of the Saudi Kingdom.

 Also the United Arab Emirates, however, start from this first consideration and assessment.

 Moreover, both the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia have largely funded Al-Sisi’s coup against the Muslim Brotherhood of the then President Mohammed Morsi in 2013.

 The Emirates also participated in the secret negotiations held last summer to have Libyan oil exported through external channels other than the one approved by the UN, namely the National Oil Corporation of Tripoli.

 Haftar’s forces have already redirected oil shipments from the ports they control -to the tune of several thousand oil barrels.

 Furthermore Saudi Arabia and the Emirates also funded the electoral campaigns of General Haftar’s  candidates. This is a problem close to us, because the upcoming elections announced by the UN envoy, Ghassam Salamè, at the Palermo Conference, scheduled for next spring, will anyway be decisive, whoever funds them.

 In any case, they will be blocked indefinitely due to the  now evident proxy civil war that is taking place in Libya.

 In addition, General Haftar started the April 4 offensive after informing Emirate’s Prince Mohammed bin Sayed al-Nayan on April 2 and Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz (but not the acting Prince) on March 27.

 The penetration into Tripolitania had already been militarily planned by General Haftar with both the Saudi and Emirate leaders, with whom he had very secret contacts.

 The political will of the two Arab States in the peninsula is to put al-Sarraj’s government in Tripoli under such strong pressure as to make al-Sarraj accept the agreement that had been defined in the Abu Dhabi meetings with General Haftar himself on February 28 last.

 In Abu Dhabi, the first issue to be discussed was the Sharara oil field, the most important one in Libya, held by General Haftar’s forces, as well as the gradual unification of the two State structures.

 The signing of that agreement, which reaffirmed – sine die- the bureaucratic union of the two parts of Libya was welcomed everywhere, but evidently that agreement had been written on the desert sand.

 For the Sharara oil field, Prime Minister al-Sarraj accepted the sale of 300,000 barrels/day, managed by the Libyan NOC, the Spanish Repsol, Total, the Austrian OMV and the Norwegian Equinor. However, no progress has been made so far.

 Nevertheless the “Libyan National Conference” that the previous Palermo Conference had scheduled for late January 2019 was never held, despite the passion and enthusiasm shown for it by the UN envoy for Libya, Ghassan Salamé.

 France sent its DGSE operatives to  Haftar’s area in late  2015, encamped near the Benghazi airbase.

 What does France want from General Haftar? It wants to close the Maghreb region to other countries’ influence – especially Italy’s – so as to create a large Françafrique area from Central Africa to all Mediterranean African coasts except for Egypt, which is too big for the forces (of France and Great Britain) that even had to stop – for lack of ammunition – during the first phase of Gaddafi’s Libya “conquest” and asked the United States to intervene.

 Certainly France also wants all the Libyan oil, which is currently in General Haftar’s hands.

What about the Russian Federation? It supports Haftar, although with a sui generis approach. In fact, while I am writing this article, Haftar is holding a talk with Vladimir Putin for two reasons: he wants to sell weapons to the Libyan National Army, but also to avoid competition from Saudi Arabia, which is also a major oil producer and could add the Libyan oil and gas to its own, thus quickly becoming the unparalleled top exporter of crude oil in the world.

 Here – regardless of OPEC or not – the situation does not change: the price of the oil barrel would be set by Saudi Arabia.

 Russia’s allies on the field are not homogeneous in their alliances. Turkey and Algeria support al-Sarraj while – as already noted – the others support General Khalifa Haftar.

 There is also the possibility of a Russian military base on  Cyrenaica’s coast, when General Haftar fully wins the game.

 Nevertheless, rumours are already rife that the Russians of the Wagner Group, the main private military group used by Russia, are present in the Benghazi forces’ area.

 In late 2018, the Russian newspaper RBC reported that there were “Russian troops in Libya”.

 General Khalifa Haftar’s forces, the Libyan National Army, moved from Fezzan – through the territories of the various local tribes – in two ways: with the good – and not only recent – good relations they had with that tribe world or with large cash payments.

 The first military advance line of the Benghazi Free Army was between Bani Walid and Sabratha, towards Gharyan, the crossing point to Tripoli from the South.

 In late March, many local, tribal and non-tribal brigades had changed sides, in favour of General Haftar, mainly thanks to the example of the Seventh Al Khaniat Brigade from Tarhouna, which started fighting with the Benghazi National Army that, in fact, advanced through the Southern districts of Tripoli.

 The Seventh Brigade’s attack  probably had the opposite effect, thus making some Tripoli’s brigades remain loyal to al-Sarraj’s government, although no one knows for how long.

 Even the “moderates” of Misrata -led by the current Interior Minister of Tripoli, Fathi Bachaga – that until now have been open to future negotiations with General Haftar, have stiffened their stance in defence of Tripoli.

 The troops of Misrata, the Libyan “Sparta”, amount to  15,000 soldiers and would make the difference in any future confrontation.

 However, Misrata has already mobilized its military forces, but for the time being there is only a small Misrata force alongside the other forces in Tripoli.

 The Benghazi Defence Brigades, which also include some soldiers  from Misrata, and the Halbous militia have instead agreed to be part of Tripoli’s counteroffensive.

 (Others’) money counts.

 The Forces of Zintan, another major military centre of  Tripoli’s armed forces, are divided between the group still loyal to Tripoli’s GNA, led by Oussama al-Jouili and Emad al-Trabelsi, while all the others are now supporting General Haftar.

 The latter, can still rely on a large amount of ammunition.

  The Rada Militia, led by Abdelraouf Kara, has not yet made any choice.

 It is currently called “Unit for the Prevention of Organized Crime and Terrorism” and controls Tripoli’s nerve centres.

 Hence if Haftar wins, the old Rada Militia will be on his side.

 General Haftar has already had contacts with this organization, which is affiliated with the same Makhdalist Salafist movement that is already operating in favour of General Haftar in the East.

 The strength of the African Salafist sect, which aims at an African and Libyan jihad, must certainly not be underestimated.

 The strategy of forcedly re-proposing the Abu Dhabi agreement to al-Sarraj, who would obviously be weakened, is supported – on Haftar side – by Russia, which coincidentally voted a UN Security Council’s motion condemning General Haftar’s advance.

 Egypt itself has some fears for the current advance of the Benghazi forces. It is afraid that this may have repercussions both on the many Egyptian workers still present in Libya and on the country’s internal equilibria.

 France has supported General Haftar’s advance, also with its operatives – not only from the DGSE and its Service Action. France thinks that General Haftar’s advance is the only barrier against terrorism, but also the way to reconquer Libya after the disastrous operations following Gaddafi’s ousting in 2011.

  General Haftar is openly pro-Gaddafi, as he demonstrated by having the Rais image portrayed on his banknotes  printed in Russia.

 Moreover France has greatly favoured Haftar’s advance in  Fezzan by collecting and assigning to the Benghazi General the intelligence gathered by a spy-plane provided by CAE Aviation, a company belonging to DGSE and to its Service Action, in particular.

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New plans for “star wars” or bluff to wear out foes?

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On March 27, the Indian leadership announced a successful destruction by a missile launched from the ground of a space satellite positioned at an altitude of about 300 km. According to Western media reports, thus the number of countries that have successfully tested anti-satellite weapons technology has increased to four. Western analysts accounting for India’s moves say they have been prompted by fears about China’s military capabilities, which Beijing demonstrated back in 2007. Meanwhile, on January 17 this year, the United States released the first in nine years, review of the country’s Anti-Missile Defense strategy. One of the priority projects involves near-earth orbit combat lasers capable of shooting down intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). On April 1, it was announced that the United States had blocked the final report of a UN expert group which envisaged measures to prevent the deployment of weapons in outer space. Who is pushing a space arms race?

India’s recent project to test means of destruction of space objects indicate that  compared to nuclear weapons, anti-satellite weapons technology needed a much shorter time to spread beyond the “club” of leading players. Significantly, each time the initiative to develop these types of weapons came from Washington. The first tests of the US anti-satellite weapon system were carried out in October 1959. Now, US President Donald Trump’s ambitious plans to deploy combat systems in outer space bring back memories of the infamous ‘star wars’ initiative, which was launched by Ronald Reagan in the early 1980s.

The Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), proclaimed by President Reagan in March 1983, has been described by many American experts as “a big scam”. Nevertheless, many in the US believe that a new round of arms race, which was prompted by SDI, played a significant role in the economic collapse of the USSR. By the end of the 1990s, the United States claimed to have achieved unparalleled military might and as great political and economic influence in the world. That means that America can openly proclaim a de facto imperial strategy of conduct on the international scene. Washington has made an unequivocal bid for strategic dominance in all areas of human presence, including outer space. As a result, President George W. Bush withdrew from the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty.

The withdrawal from the ABM Treaty all but confirmed fears that the United States never stopped developing new space technologies for military purposes. In 2004, it put into operation the ground-based midcourse phase antimissile defense system (GMD),which is designed to combat ICBMs, while its main targets, until recently, were the missile potentials of Iran and North Korea. However, in 2008, the so-called ‘younger sister’ of the GMD interceptor – the SM-3 missile, which is part of the Aegis ship-based missile defense system, – successfully hit a satellite in a 240km orbit. Notably, the potential capabilities of a GMD missile (known as the Ground-Based Interceptor – GBI) are much more significant. Developing a speed of 7-8 kilometers per second, GBI is able to bring the striking combat unit to a height of 6 thousand kilometers. Thus, any satellites in low earth orbit and some spacecraft in high elliptical orbit are within its range.

However, the new “American nationalists” want more than this. By the end of the first year of Trump’s presidency, they managed to secure a “comprehensive revision of the US missile defense policy” and establish provisions for a significant increase in military spending. In place of protection from a “limited ballistic missile strike,” they declared the essentially global goal of covering the territory of the United States and its allies. Finally, in December 2018, Trump issued an order to set up a US Space Command with a view to carry out military operations in space. At present, Pentagon officials are contemplating an appropriate strategy for launching a variety of small and cheap satellites to the low-Earth orbit to track the flight of an ICBM at all its stages without exception. They are considering “non-kinetic means of impacting spacecraft”, a further development of and the launching of dual-purpose satellites, intercepting or disabling foreign spacecraft under the pretext of fighting space debris. According to Western and Russian experts, in the near future the United States plans to look into the possibility of deploying interceptor missiles or laser installations and “cluster groups” of anti-satellite and anti-missile weapons in space.

In addition to military, defense, organizational and bureaucratic measures in guaranteeing a new stage of militarization of space, Washington has been making a number of unambiguous diplomatic steps. In January this year, the United States suspended its participation in the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and is set on burying it for good in six months. Simultaneously, Washington has jeopardized the last of the existing strategic arms limitation agreements – the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-3), which, if not renewed, will no longer be valid by 2021. The United States is the main opponent to any international legal initiatives on the prevention of arms race in outer space. Among these initiatives, first of all, is the Russian-Chinese draft treaty on the prevention of the deployment of weapons in outer space, on measures to prevent the use of force against space objects. The treaty is based on a political pledge not to be the first to deploy weapons in space. Thus, the United States has persistently been pursuing the policy of “breaking the instruments of strategic stability” – something that causes the concern of the world’s top players.

Economic and technological competition is becoming the main area of rivalry between the leading powers. We can even say that it is replacing the military-political confrontation. However, everyone understands that even the “theoretical possibility of creating a reliable national missile defense system and the development of missile defense programs” jeopardizes the strategic deterrence potential of any of the nuclear powers. However, the political agenda chosen by the current US leadership is not seen just as another attempt to regain “world supremacy” or maintain unilateral military superiority. Trump has opted for a slow “strangulation” of competitors, a financial and economic “offensive”. He is trying to force unwelcome countries into making a choice between the logic of economic development and the “logic of geopolitical confrontation”, between modern reforms and “security and control priorities”. Apparently, according to Washington’s plan, space systems should become a new policy tool and an effective instrument of pressure to exert on countries that are lagging behind in space technology development.

Russia is well aware of the threats and challenges the new American strategy is fraught with. The US’ attempts to “unceremoniously crush strategic stability in their favor” do not go unanswered. Asymmetrical,  but extremely effective due to “advances in military technology”. Moscow’s composure and determination was demonstrated on March 1 last year by President Vladimir Putin, as he spoke of Russia’s brand new strategic weapons systems. At the same time, Russia is not looking for unilateral advantages and is steadily in favor of “thwarting an arms race in outer space.” Moscow is prepared for a parity dialogue “with all states in order to keep outer space free from weapons of any kind – one of the major conditions for ensuring international peace and security,” – the Russian Foreign Ministry said.

In general, as in the 1980s, the current US military space plans have triggered a fairly skeptical reaction from many American and international experts. Like before, the main driving force may not be so much to do with translating these plans into practice as tapping into the huge budgetary funds and an attempt to drag geopolitical competitors into a new technological race. Meanwhile, the dangerous nature of the current US space initiatives is associated with changes in the global parameters of strategic stability. Thus, India’s steps towards the development of space destruction weapons can hardly be directed against the United States. Nonetheless, Washington’s persistent attempts to draw Russia and China into a bilateral military-political confrontation of the type of the Cold War force them to take retaliatory steps.

At the same time, the United States is demonstrating blatant unwillingness to discuss not only a ban, but even measures to limit or establish international control   over military activities in space. Given the situation, more and more states that deem national sovereignty a lasting value are taking preventive measures based on the most dramatic scenario for changes in the international strategic environment.

 First published in our partner International Affairs

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