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New U.S. Cybersecurity Strategies

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The United States was one of the first countries to treat cybersecurity as a matter of strategic importance. The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, as well as the growing threat to the economy, which was becoming increasingly dependent on ICT, forced the George W. Bush administration to reassess the task of securing critical infrastructure facilities. The required an integrated approach, which duly emerged with the publication of the National Strategy to Secure Cyberspace.

President Barack Obama announced cybersecurity as one of the most important tasks facing the U.S. government. Another task was to develop the new opportunities afforded by cyberspace and harness them for the purposes of serving national interests. The Cyber Space Policy Review was developed and presented in 2009. It contains an analysis of the existing cybersecurity system, as well as a plan for its transformation with a view to providing better cyber defence of the United States. In 2011, the United States published its International Strategy for Cyberspace, the goal of which is to create a unified platform for international cooperation in cyberspace on the basis of U.S. approaches to cybersecurity. The position of Senior Coordinator for Cyber Issues was created at the U.S. Department of State to promote the country’s cybersecurity policy. An interesting feature of the International Strategy for Cyberspace was the emphasis on so-called “capacity-building,” specifically on rendering assistance to developing countries through the provision of the necessary resources, knowledge and experts, including with a view to these countries developing their own national cybersecurity strategies.

In contrast to the George W. Bush era, U.S. representatives played an active role in preparing the report of the United Nations Groups of Governmental Experts in 2010. In 2011–2013, a number of summit-level bilateral negotiations on cybersecurity issues were held, primarily between Russia and China, during which there was an attempt to develop the “rules of the game” for leading powers in this new sphere of international relations. The high point in U.S.–Russia relations was the singing of the Joint Statement by the Presidents of the United States of America and the Russian Federation on a New Field of Cooperation in Confidence Building in 2013. The document also outlined cooperation measures in the protection of critical information systems and mechanisms for reducing cyberthreats. Unfortunately, all agreements were frozen following the outbreak of the Ukrainian crisis. And they cannot be considered tenable under current conditions, as all attempts to bring them back to life have failed.

Donald Trump: America First

The new Strategy is a logical continuation of the policy of recent years and is now enshrined at the doctrinal level. As we have already mentioned, it resembles the policy of George W. Bush more than that of Barack Obama, although it does borrow from and refine some points of the latter’s strategy to meet current needs. The first thing that catches the eye about the new Cyber Strategy is that is forms an image of an external threat to freedom and democracy and focuses on ensuring peace through strength. The Strategy repeatedly mentions the main opponents – Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and international terrorism.

The policy outlined in the document is based on four pillars: protecting the American people, the homeland and the American way of life; promoting American prosperity; preserving peace through strength; and advancing American influence. In some areas, you can find specific examples of recent events that formed the basis of a new policy that could affect both U.S. policy and international relations in ICT security in general.

The main objective of the first pillar of the new Strategy is to manage cybersecurity risks in order to improve the reliability and sustainability of information systems, including critical facilities. One of the new elements of domestic policy is the development of a risk management system in the Federal supply chain that would include, among other things, determining clear authority to exclude (in individual cases) supposedly risky vendors, products and services. These actions will be combined with efforts to manage risks in supply chains connected with the country’s infrastructure. The level of risk associated with using a specific vendor’s product should be determined on a case-by-case basis. At the same time, examples of similar policies allow us to state with confidence that, as far as the United States is concerned, the main unreliable vendors are located in Russia and China. Given the growing trade and economic standoff between the United States and China, the next logical step could be a ban on the use of Chinese components in government agency servers, just like what happened with Kaspersky Lab. This may very well be followed by an embargo of Chinese components by major companies and at critical infrastructure facilities. At the same time, the United States will promote the development of the internet and an open, compatible, reliable and secure communications infrastructure that will increase the competitiveness of American companies and help them counter the economic interference of other countries in areas of strategic competition.

The new Strategy focuses on improving cybersecurity in the transport and maritime infrastructure, as well as in space. The modernization of these sectors makes them more vulnerable to cyberattacks. The safety of maritime transport is particular concern, as transport delays or cancellations could disrupt the economy at strategic and lower dependent levels. The NotPetya malware attack that cost the logistics company Maersk a total of $300 million in 2017 as a result of a violation of its operating activities drew attention to the problems in this area. In response, the United States plans to establish the necessary roles and areas of responsibility, promote improved mechanisms of international cooperation and information exchange and help create a next-generation maritime infrastructure that is resistant to cyberthreats. It is possible that the maritime infrastructure of other states that participate in international maritime trade may, under the pretext of noncompliance with American standards, be deemed “unsafe” (for example, liquified natural gas terminals or ports along the Northern Sea Route).

Another important element of the policy outlined in the new Strategy is the modernization of legislation in electronic surveillance and computer crime. The United States is expected to update its legislation in these areas in order to expand the power of law enforcement agencies to legally collect evidence relating criminal activity and carry out further operational, investigative and judicial activities. Evidence may be collected outside the United States. In the past, these activities were carried out under so-called mutual legal assistance treaties, including the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime. However, the CLOUD Act adopted this year gives law enforcement agencies considerable powers to obtain information stored in the servers of U.S. companies operating outside the country. As a result, countries are no longer required to enter into mutual legal assistance treaties and inform other states that they are carrying out investigative activities in their territory. Interestingly, while the new Cyber Strategy contains statements about rejecting censorship on the internet and adhering to a free and open cyberspace, it also instructs law enforcement agencies to work with the private sector to overcome technological barriers, for example anonymization and encryption technologies, that are used to ensure this much-touted “freedom of the internet.”

The Strategy places considerable emphasis on actions aimed at expanding U.S. influence around the world. One of these areas is developing the capacities of partner countries to counter cybercrime. When U.S. law enforcement agencies issue a request for assistance, the country in question has to possess the appropriate technical capacity. Despite the fundamental problems of the Budapest Convention on Cybercrime (the lack of development and the threat of state sovereignty being violated), the U.S. Administration will work to increase the international consensus with regard to it. The UN draft resolution “On Cooperation in the Field of Countering Information Crime” put forward by Russia has not even been critically evaluated.

Peace through Strength

The United States is prepared to use all available tools of national power, including military force, to deter opponents from malicious acts in cyberspace that threaten its national interests, allies and partners.

The mechanism for determining the degree of “malicious intent” of actors in cyberspace will be based on the American interpretation of the provisions of international law and the voluntary non-binding norms of the responsible behaviour of states in cyberspace. These norms were developed by a UN Group of Governmental Experts in 2015 and were intended to define the limits of acceptable behaviour of all states and contribute to greater predictability and stability in cyberspace. The United States will encourage other countries to publicly adopt these principles and rules, which will form the basis for joint opposition to states that do not conform to them. In order to identify these states, the Executive Branch of the United States and the country’s key partners plan to share objective and relevant data obtained by their respective intelligence agencies. Obviously, in the context of the widespread use of public attribution, the unsubstantiated statements of a powerful state on the involvement of a given country in a cyber incident cannot lead to an escalation of tensions. There is no indication in any of the documents of the international legal mechanisms that may be created for the legitimate investigation and judicial examination of cyber incidents, including those that, in the opinion of the United States, may be considered an armed attack.

At the same time, work is under way on the establishment of possible consequences of irresponsible behaviour that causes damage to the United States and its partners. The United States expects to build strategic partner relations that will be crucial in terms of exerting influence on the “bad” actors in cyberspace. The Cyber Deterrence Initiative should be a key component of this: coordinating the general response of a broad coalition of likeminded states to serious malicious incidents in cyberspace, including through intelligence sharing, attribution, public statements of support and other joint actions. The United States Department of Defense will carry out similar work to consolidate and strengthen joint initiatives. In accordance with the Law on Budgetary Appropriations for National Defense, in 2018, the Department of Defense carried out a comprehensive review of military strategy in cyberspace and the possibilities for its implementation. The result was the publication of a new Department of Defense Cyber Strategy, many elements of which overlap with the National Cyber Strategy. In accordance with the provisions contained in the Department of Defense Cyber Strategy, the development of cyber capabilities intended for both military purposes and combatting malicious actors in cyberspace will be accelerated. The United States will be able to promote its interests through operations in cyberspace across the entire spectrum of conflict intensity, from daily operations to wartime, while cyber capabilities will be used proactively. This cannot but cause concern, especially considering the fact that Donald Trump has lifted many of the barriers to carrying out cyber operations and the Cyber Command has been given greater independence, becoming the Department of Defense’s 10th Unified Combatant Command

On the whole, the new cyber strategies are aimed at strengthening the power, increasing the influence and promoting the interests in the United States on the international stage. At the same time, Donald Trump’s pre-election campaign slogan of “America First” is being implemented on completely different levels – the promotion of American know-how and technologies and the rallying of allies and partners. Meanwhile, U.S. markets are closing themselves off under the pretext of national security to goods and services provided by companies from “unreliable” states. Similar steps by other states – for example, the requirement that personal information be stored on servers inside the country – are declared to be undermining the competitiveness of American companies.

As for the norms of behaviour in cyberspace developed by the UN Group of Governmental Experts, the United States will promote them and use them to its advantage. This will probably be done through public attribution without any serious evidence, which seems to be par for the course these days. This mechanism of marginalization will not lead to an increase in stability and security, given that it involves a coordinated response from the United States, not only by means of attribution, but also through (proactive) military action.

The Strategy does not outline plans for the creation of international legal mechanisms that could independently, objectively and with due competence carry out a legitimate investigation and make a court decision with regard to malicious acts in ICT. This means that the suspects are already known and there is no doubt as to their identity – Russia, China, Iran, North Korea and international terrorism. At the same time, the Strategy does not say anything about how we might overcome the current crisis situation. Instead, there is a clear signal that no mutually beneficial or mutually essential official contacts on information and cyber security have been planned for the near future. This means that the schism between the American and Russian–Chinese visions of the future ICT environment is only growing, which could lead to the eventual fragmentation of the ICT environment and the internet. Having said that, Russia and China do not want the situation to unfold in this way. This much is clear from the resolution submitted for consideration by the UN General Assembly entitled “Developments in the Field of Information and Telecommunications in the Context of International Security.” Traditionally, these resolutions serve to highlight current events in international information security and do not contain any significant declarations. However, this particular resolution calls on all states to follow the norms, rules and principles developed in 2015 and convene a meeting of the Group of Governmental Experts to address the issue of how to implement these norms.

Active work at the unofficial level (namely, track one and a half diplomacy) at various international forums and other platforms could also help overcome the current crisis. Restoring relations should start with steps to re-establish mutual trust, perhaps through participation in projects involving a number of international players. Moreover, given the political will, the sides could focus on solving problems in a manner that is in the interests of both states.

First published in our partner RIAC

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Revitalising the Quad

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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.

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The Game-changing Fallibility of BMD Systems: Lessons from the Middle East and South Asia

M Waqas Jan

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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.  

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Protracted Asymmetric Geopolitical Conflict

Dayan Jayatilleka

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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

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