In late October 2018, following the announcement by the President of the United States announce that the country was pulling out of the INF Treaty, the Russian International Affairs Council published a collection of articles on the collapse of the Treaty and the future of global arms control.
This article offers an overview of the statements made by the two parties in late November and early December, to provide fresher context. During the briefing held on November 26, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation Sergei Ryabkov provided the most detailed explanation of Moscow’s stance on the INF Treaty throughout the history of the current crisis. In fact, it is a pity that such an explanation was not offered earlier. Ryabkov revealed certain details with regard to Washington’s accusations against Russia, and also shed some light on the 9M729 missile:
- The missile stands out for its warhead (which presumably differs from the 9M728/R-500, the standard cruise missile used in conjunction with the Iskander-M system).
- The missile’s range is within the INF requirements. On September 18, 2017, a 9M729 missile was launched to a distance of “under 480 kilometres” as part of the WEST 2017 exercises.
- Russia has supplied the United States with all the technical specifications for the missile, including information about its fuel system (to counter the assumptions of the American side that the missile’s range depends on how much fuel it carries).
- The test dates for the allegedly offending missiles provided by the United States do not correspond to the 9M729 test dates, which were announced five days before President Donald Trump’s announcement that the United States was pulling out of the INF Treaty.
All this leads us to the interesting conclusion that in the first half of the 2010s, the United States employed technical intelligence to observe parallel bench tests  of Kalibr-family long-range sea-launched cruise missiles and ground-launched Iskander-M cruise missiles, or of the Club-M coastal missile system, and arrived at the conclusion that these missiles were all part of the same programme. The information leaked about the alleged evidence held by the United States fits this theory nicely: originally, Washington asserted that Russia “initially test-launched a missile to a long range from an immobile bench, followed by a short-launch test from a mobile platform.”
Given the high technical similarity of these missiles, it may well have been the case that the Americans really did believe that the Russian side was in breach of the Treaty, whereas the Russians believed that their tests were completely legitimate. The 9M729 index was first announced by the United States in connection with the “offending” SSC-8 missile in December 2017, far later than the very first accusations levelled at Russia. In fact, Russian experts had long presumed that the United States was suspicious of this particular index (a number of sources hinted at the existence of such a missile and implied that it was developed by the Novator Design Bureau that did produce a cruise missile for the Iskander-M system). It is, therefore, possible that the Americans, in their search for “an upgraded Iskander missile,” stumbled upon it in this way or even extrapolated its existence by analysing discussions within the expert community. The rather comical situation cannot be ruled out that a missile differing in the warhead it can carry was taken to have a longer range simply due to cognitive aberrations and the United States’ urge to find a fault with Russia.
Russia also clarified its criticisms of the United States. As for target missiles, Ryabkov noted that not all test launches are followed by attempted intercepts, and that the mock-up warheads of these missiles are sometimes allowed to travel all the way towards their intended targets. As for UAVs, Russia is far from nit-picking: the United States is about to create a whole new class of weapons that are similar in nature to ground-launched cruise missiles. Regarding Russia’s efforts to develop such missiles, Ryabkov recalled a statement made by Washington that had gained popularity during the 2017 approval of the budget to create a new U.S. ground-launched cruise missile that the “development of such weapons is not prohibited.” As for the Aegis Ashore anti-missile systems and the associated Mk 41 launchers, Russia expressed its concern with Washington’s plans, as set forth in the latest Nuclear Posture Review, to develop a new nuclear-tipped sea-launched cruise missile that would be either a nuclear version of the Tomahawk missile or compatible with the Tomahawk launchers.
Subsequent developments demonstrated that Ryabkov’s statement came too late. The meeting between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump on the side-lines of the G20 summit, at which the sides were expected to discuss the fate of the INF Treaty, never took place. Whether this was the result of the worsening Russia–Ukraine relations or Trump’s problems on the home front with regard to the so-called “Russian Case” (it was during the G20 meeting that Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen announced he would cooperate with investigators) is beside the point. What is important is that the last possible chance to save the INF Treaty (if there ever was one) slipped away just like that. Instead, the United States intensified talks with its European allies, whose position was probably the main thing stopping Washington from abandoning the treaty.
On December 4, following a meeting of the NATO Ministers of Foreign Affairs in Brussels, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo presented an ultimatum to Russia, saying that the United States would pull out from the Treaty unless Moscow began complying with its provisions within the next 60 days. The United States specified later that Russia would be served with an official letter if the United States decided to withdraw from the Treaty. Washington’s allies pledged their support in the final joint statement and at Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg’s news conference. Although Pompeo did not specify whether the United States was going to comply with the INF Treaty during the mandatory six months following the possible pull-out  or stick with the proposal put forward by Congress to disregard the document completely, we may assume that Washington will not make a move until next August. But what will happen after that?
Super-Long-Range Cannon, Gunboats and Hypersonic Gliders
After that we are in for a feast of militarism and military engineering technology. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Director Steven Walker has assured the media that there would be “many flight tests” in 2019. So what kind of military technology is the United States busy developing?
The easiest technology to develop would be a mobile platform for ground-launched long-range cruise missiles. This possibility was first mentioned in the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2018 and was subsequently reaffirmed in the document for 2019. An existing cruise missile should have already been selected for the new system (the main bidders being the sea-based Tomahawk and the air-launched AGM-158 JASSM, but no information has been revealed about the development effort over the past year. Tomahawk has a greater range, whereas the JASSM offers better survivability thanks to its lower visibility. The United States has also announced plans to create a new, longer-range JASSM missile, codenamed JASSM XR, which will likely be closer to the Tomahawk in terms of its range, at about 1600 to 1700 kilometres. The JASSM could win this contest because the new system is being developed for the United States Air Force, owing to the division of functions between the different branches of the country’s armed forces. It was the Air Force that operated the ground-launched nuclear-tipped Tomahawk, known as the BGM 109G Gryphon, which took part in the Euromissile crisis in the 1980s.
Ground-based conventional cruise-missile systems are often criticized for being of little use given the existence of naval platforms for such munitions, which are particularly ubiquitous in the United States. This argument disregards a number of advantages presented by overland launchers, including the lower cost of ground platforms, lower operating expenses per launcher, the possibility of replenishing the stock of missiles in the field (ships can only reload their vertical launchers at home base), and also their greater viability in combat, with the dispersed and camouflaged launch and command vehicles being impossible to take out with a single anti-ship missile.
There is, however, more to come, as announced by Pentagon in 2018. The mainstream media were particularly intrigued by the programme to develop the Strategic Strike Artillery Cannon with a range of 1000 miles. Of course, we are not talking about the kind of cannon that Jules Verne wrote about in his novel From the Earth to the Moon, nor are we referring to the kind of “superguns” envisioned under Saddam Hussein’s Project Babylon. Rather, the U.S. programme is about creating a launcher for ultralight precision missiles. Such a system would provide the United States Army with an opportunity to instantly destroy small-sized targets in any operational theatre. It is, however, important for the programme’s success to keep the operational costs within reasonable limits.
More important, though less attractive, is the Strategic Fires Missile programme. Although touted as a “fundamentally new” type of weapon, it is in fact another Pershing missile: a conventional missile with a range of 2000–2250 kilometres and a precision hypersonic glider warhead. This would certainly be classed as a medium-range ballistic missile, and it is this programme that DARPA is focusing on. The United States Army has long been working in this sphere as part of the notorious Prompt Global Strike initiative. Back in 2011, a prototype glider was successfully tested under the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon (AHW) programme.
Hypersonic research in the United States is not limited to army projects. There are several parallel programmes to create air-launched aeroballistic missiles with gliding warheads that are to be added to the Air Force’s inventory in the early 2020s. One of these is known as the AGM-183A AARW. It will most likely be carried by B-52H bombers, whose underwing hardpoints will be upgraded to accommodate an increased payload of 9 tonnes. The United States Navy is developing its own medium-range ballistic missile with a glider warhead, primarily for Ohio- and Virginia-class submarines. Lighter missiles could be developed for Zumwalt-class destroyers, whose original role as gunboats seems to have failed to materialize due to problems with the onboard cannon (to be more precise, each of their guided projectiles comes at half the price tag of a cruise missile). On the other hand, the Zumwalts could use reinforced vertical Mk 57 launchers. The three branches of the armed forces are expected to share their developments: it is known that the Air Force and possibly the Navy will be using the Army’s lighter and more advanced glider, whereas the heavier naval glider will eventually be added to the Army’s inventory.
It should be noted that all the aforementioned programmes are conventional, at least officially. U.S. officials dismiss accusations that they are attempting to launch a new nuclear arms race; in fact, there are many open critics of this scenario among the country’s legislators (the Democrats, who have seen their positions in Congress consolidated, are even threatening to thwart Trump’s more conservative proposals on nuclear weapons). It should, however, be remembered that it is far easier to turn a conventional missile into a nuclear missile than vice-versa (a quality nuclear charge is lighter and smaller than the average conventional warhead, and does not have to be as accurate). Should the United States continue with its course towards confrontation with Russia or China, this conventional-to-nuclear transition would be easy to make. Besides, there is nothing optimistic about the creation of conventional strategic-range missiles, because they are psychologically easier to resort to in a conflict, and such an escalation could be very dangerous.
It is clear that, for reasons of geography, the United States only needs missile systems that breach the INF Treaty for purposes of advanced deployment. Such missiles could be deployed primarily in Southeast Asia to counter China. It may be uncomfortable for Russia to admit, but Washington is using Moscow’s alleged breaches of the Treaty chiefly as a pretext for opposing Beijing, which is something the U.S. authorities have been openly talking about for the past several months . It would also come in handy to have some missiles in the Middle East: there is no reason to believe that the region will become peaceful in the foreseeable future, so ground-launched missiles would help relieve some of the burden currently carried by the local naval and aerial forces. The Arab monarchies, which are anxious about the Iranian threat, would be happy to receive such missiles.
The key issue for Russia would be the possible deployment of U.S. missile systems in Eastern Europe. Subsonic cruise missiles are not likely to change the current state of affairs in any significant way (the United States and its allies are already capable of deploying significant numbers of such munitions on naval and aerial platforms if needed), but precision medium-range ballistic missiles capable of reaching any target in European Russia would be unwelcome near the country’s borders. Both Russia and the United States are currently assuring each other that they have no intention of starting another European missile crisis, and Washington stresses that it has no plans to deploy its missiles in Europe. However, as Ryabkov noted at the briefing, these plans may change at any moment so cannot be taken for granted. It would, of course, be nice to agree on an area, “from Lisbon to the Urals,” that would be free of new missile systems. This would not prevent the sides from promptly deploying such systems near the adversary’s borders within a couple of days, but such deployment would come as a consequence of a crisis and not as its cause.
However, the two countries have yet to come up with the new political rules of the changed game, and we are left to hope that they will do so quickly. It would be useful for Russia to assume a more active position compared to the one it demonstrated during the INF Treaty crisis, as well as to step up work, primarily with European countries, which are concerned about the possibility of a new missile crisis on the continent.
Russia’s possible R&D response to Washington’s withdrawal from the INF Treaty merits a separate detailed article.
- 1. For the sake of practical convenience, the signatories to the INF Treaty permitted each other to bench-test their ground-launched cruise missiles at one testing centre per country.
- 2. On the evening of December 4, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation tweeted that the U.S. Ambassador had submitted a note stating that the United States would stop observing the INF Treaty within 60 days. This circumstance further complicates the situation, though it is insignificant.
- 3. Trump also mentioned China as one of the reasons why the United States was going to withdraw from the Treaty, whereas John Bolton stated in no uncertain terms during an interview in Moscow that even if Russia stopped breaching the treaty (which, according to him, was impossible because Moscow was in denial), then the United States would still have to pull out unless China joined the Treaty and destroyed most of its nuclear missile potential, which would certainly never happen.
First published in our partner RIAC
Effectiveness of Nuclear Deterrence of India and Pakistan in Pulwama incident
The recent ‘Pulwama crisis were triggered by a suicide attack byAdil Ahmed Dar a 19 years old young Kashmiri from the Indian Occupied Kashmir (IoK). He was highly distraught from the brutalities committed on him and on other Kashmiris of IoK by the Indian security forces. On 14 Feb 2019, a convoy of vehicles transporting Indian security forces from Jammu to Srinagar was attacked by a suicide bomber driving a vehicle rigged with explosives, killing at least 40 Central Reserve Police Force Reserve (CRPF) personnel. Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM) claimed responsibility. It is generally believed that it is not possible to bring such a massive amount of explosives by infiltrating the borders. India alleged that Intelligences agencies of Pakistan had control over the perpetrators of the attack but Pakistan had strongly denied these accusations, reiterating that JeM is banned in Pakistan. Moreover, Pakistan is itself sufferer of terrorism how can it support this heinous crime elsewhere.
United States and Western countries offered support to India by condemning the Pulwama attack and asking Pakistan to deny safe havens to terrorists. However, US president called on both sides to exercise restraint. In the opinion of the author there is no sufficient evidence to interpret that US was in favor of military action by India. Moreover, Indian elections were scheduled from 11 April to 19 May 2019, therefore it was not in the favor of India to go for a major conflict. There were no other indicators that India has started deploying its military might on our eastern borders and activated important forward air bases and moved her naval units from her Eastern and Southern fleets to Western fleet. India in 2001 subsequent to terrorist attack on the Indian parliament on 13 December, in which 14 people were killed including terrorists, deployed her armed forces on war footing on our borders. In response Pakistan did the same. The armed forces of both the countries remained deployed ready for war for about one year (2001-2) but hostiles did not break out mainly because of possession of weapons of mass destruction by both states.
In another incident, on 18 September 2016, a terrorist attack at an Indian army camp near Uri by militants left 19 Indian soldiers dead. Government of Narendra Modi promised retaliation at a time and place of its choosing. On 29 September, Indian government announced that it had undertaken ‘surgical strikes’ across the Line of Control (LoC) and destroyed a number of terrorist launch pads and also killed a number of militants who were present and intended to be infiltrated into India. Details about casualties and targets remained sketchy. Pakistan strongly denied that any ‘surgical strike’ had taken place. It is considered that Indian government had shifted from a policy of ‘strategic restraint’ which she exercised after the 26 November 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai to militarily response in the form of surgical strike in 2016.
After 14 Feb Pulwama incident the tension between the two countries started intensifying. India used this opportunity to malign Pakistan as a supporter of terrorist activities which was vehemently denied by Pakistan at every forum.
This occurrence provided an opportunity to BJP government to prove, her ‘nationalist’ credentials at the political level to please Hindu community and denounce Pakistan as a supporter of terrorist outfits. Politically, there was extraordinary support among India’s influential strategic community for exercising a military option that could test deterrence stability and escalation dominance between the two nuclear weapons states.
Indian Air Force carried air strike at Balakot (Khaibar Pakhtoon Khawa)in side Pakistan territory on 26 Feb19 under the garb of destroying terrorist camp. However there was no physical damage to any building nor any human casualty. Beyond visual range precision weapons were used. The intruder managed to escape unhurt. This was first air strike by Indian Air Force across the international borders of Pakistan after 1971 war. Pakistan decided to respond at the time and place of its choosing. The next morning( 27 Feb 19), Pakistan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that Pakistan Air Force has conducted six airstrikes at non-military targets in IoK. The aircraft were able to lock onto the target with great accuracy but they were ordered to drop their bombs in open field in order to avoid any human loss and collateral damages. Two Indian aircraft were also shot down in the dog fight. One pilot fell in the territory of Azad Jammu and Kashmir who was apprehended and later handed over to Indians after two days. This gesture of Pakistan of handing over of pilot was widely appreciated by the world and acted as a source of de- escalation of tension.
In another incident Pakistan Navy surveillance aircraft detected an Indian German built Scorpion submarine in the international waters about 98 nautical miles south of Gwadar on 5 March. She was tracked till left the area. It was a conventional submarine equipped with medium range cruise missiles (750 Km) which can be used against ships and land targets. With this background it is evident that both nuclear powers avoided any major military action. Some intellectual view this episode as a punch in nuclear deterrence which occurred on 26 Feb and was plugged the next day by Pakistan. The critical analysis reveal that nuclear deterrence prevailed because the tension did not escalate to meaningful and major military action.
The Indian action of 26 Feb maybe termed as “New Normal” which was first conceived and then employed by the US and Israel in their foreign policy or geopolitics, especially after 9/11. Under the garb of fighting terrorism, Americans and Israelis justified the breach of sovereignty of other states, such as Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine and Syria. Using their superior military and technological power, Washington and Tel Aviv turned the abnormal act of breaching the sovereignty of these states into their New Normal. However Indian New Normal has not been successful because of swift, timely, accurate and befitting response given by Pakistan the next day. Response of Pakistan Air force on 27 Feb and detection of Indian submarine on 5 March by Pakistan Navy has abundantly highlighted the importance of modern conventional war machines equipped with state of the art weapons, equipment and professional training. Principal outcome of this event is that Pakistan needs to emphasize on quality rather quantity of its conventional weapons and equipment. Keeping in view prevalent unhealthy economic conditions of the country arms race with India may be avoided. It is pertinent to mention that at the time of Cuban missile crisis of 1962 former USSR had 300 nuclear warheads as compared to USA which had 3000. Even then because of huge destruction envisaged, the war between the two nuclear states did not break out.
A new world without “old” rules?
On May 30, President Vladimir Putin submitted to parliament a bill on suspending the Treaty on the Elimination of Intermediate and Shorter-Range Missiles (INF). With Washington having failed to respond to Moscow’s proposals to resolve existing differences concerning the treaty, Russia has been forced to respond to President Donald Trump’s February 1 announcement about the start of the US exit from the 1987 accord. How dangerous is Washington’s irresponsible behavior to global strategic stability?
Over the course of the past three decades, the INF treaty has faced a great deal of pressure from changing realities of a political, military and technological nature, earning the unofficial status of the “most vulnerable” agreement in the field of nuclear arms control. For example, the treaty is pretty vague about the status of the US combat drones, whose characteristics mirror those of the ground-based cruise missiles it bans. And also about the ballistic target launch vehicles used in the development and testing of missile defense systems, and which are similar to short- and medium-range missiles. And, finally, about launchers of the US missile defense system being deployed in Europe since 2015, which are also capable of firing medium-range Tomahawk cruise missiles. The INF treaty thus effectively constrains Washington’s attempts to maintain military-strategic, “escalation” supremacy in a number of key regions around the globe.
Therefore, the Trump administration apparently thought that it was the right time for it to walk away from the INF treaty, which is fraught with a serious strategic destabilization and increased uncertainty for America’s main rivals (which, according to Trump’s National Security Strategy, are Russia and China), without posing any immediate strategic threat to the US itself.
Scrapping the INF accord is also fraught with unraveling the existing system of global strategic stability, with the START-3 treaty (also known as New START, and set to expire in 2021) remaining the only bilateral agreement limiting the two countries’ nuclear missile arsenals. The START-3 treaty is particularly important in that it is open to extension without the need to obtain parliamentary consent in both Russia and the United States, which is especially important in view of the current standoff between Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress. Besides, this could throw in doubt the future of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT) and the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty (CTBT).
With the US and Russia already differing on the size of their nuclear armories, a formal exit from the INF treaty is a clear demonstration of Washington’s refusal to engage in a dialogue about a specific nuclear issue. However, all nuclear-related issues are closely intertwined, so if the US withdrawal from the INF treaty results in the termination, or even just a suspension of the START-3 treaty, this would be the end of the legally binding mechanism of mutual checks agreed upon by the parties. This would throw the dialogue on nuclear disarmament back decades and force the parties to get back to square one and start negotiations on the limitation and reduction of nuclear arms virtually from scratch.
Geopolitically, Washington’s actions are changing the strategic landscape throughout the Eastern Hemisphere. If the United States decides to bring medium-range or short-range missiles back to Europe, this would inevitably lead to a new spike in tensions with Russia. Washington is bending enormous political, diplomatic, and media efforts to put the “blame for the breakdown of the INF treaty” at Russia’s doorstep, and is looking for a new source of cohesion for NATO, namely to force America’s European allies to adopt the new rules of the game proposed by Washington, which is explicitly insisting on a “monetization” of allied relations. What we see are attempts to dismantle the system of strategic stability by economic means, portraying Russia’s responsive measures to European allies as “aggressive plans,” which necessitate an increase in their defense outlays so that they can buy expensive US weapons designed to defend against an imaginary “Russian threat.”
Meanwhile, the US withdrawal from the INF treaty could further undermine trust between Washington and other NATO allies, bringing back memories of the political crisis over the deployment of Pershing-2 missiles in the late 1970s – early-1980s, when “bloc discipline” within NATO was still strong. Today, Europe will have to choose between ensuring continued US loyalty at the cost of resuming its role of a hostage to Washington’s short-term tactical intentions and pursuing a much more European-oriented defense policy. Some experts believe that the latter option could deepen the already existing split in the EU and even lead to its collapse. Above all due to the intractable contradictions between those who view the US not merely as a guarantor “against external threats,” but also as a counterbalance to a number of leading EU countries that are beginning to see the continuously diverging interests of the United States and continental Europe.
As for the impact the elimination of the INF treaty could have on European security, it would be of a truly comprehensive nature as NATO’s deterrence strategy hinges on a strategic nuclear potential that will not be directly affected by the termination of the treaty. Hiding behind the Trump administration’s openly negative view of the START-3 agreement is a much greater threat to Europe because, according to Western analysts, the negative developments around this treaty would seriously undermine NATO’s nuclear deterrence capability.
While admitting that the recent events have forced Europe to “wake up from hibernation,” the experts wonder exactly what the increasingly divided European Union will do “in a situation of increasing danger.”
The impact of all this on Asia will be even more destabilizing, as the White House often justifies pulling out of the INF treaty by imaginary threats from China and North Korea. However, most experts consider a complete elimination of Pyongyang’s nuclear missile potential as “unrealistic” in the foreseeable future for the simple reason that nuclear weapons are the most reliable, if not the only, guarantor of the preservation of the political system currently existing in North Korea. Therefore, sooner or later, “the United States will revert to a purely forceful policy towards North Korea,” including by deploying medium-range missiles in the region. However, this would pose a serious security threat to China, because these missiles would endanger “the political decision-making centers and the military administration of China, as well as many of the most important military installations of the People’s Republic.”
Apparently not so sure about its ability to defeat China in the emerging global rivalry, Washington now wants to draw Beijing into the costliest of all arms races – a race of nuclear missiles.
Moreover, scrapping the INF treaty would only exacerbate the problem of nuclear non-proliferation in Asia. Many US experts believe that in the event of a new arms race – now between the United States and China, Beijing could, at least within the next decade, “overtake” the United States in the number of deployed new land-based medium- and short-range missiles. Given the current tensions between the two countries, chances for them to engage in a meaningful dialogue on military-strategic matters look pretty slim. With the Trump administration trying to water down its commitments pertaining to regional security, a buildup of these two leading powers’ military might could force Washington’s Asian allies, including Japan, South Korea and Australia, to make independent decisions on strategic security. India, and probably Pakistan too, would have to respond to China’s growing strategic potential, and in the worst scenario, this could kick-start a nuclear arms race in Asia.
Russia has always been firmly and consistently opposed to attempts to “dismantle the instruments of strategic stability,” which would only stoke up mistrust between nuclear powers and “militarize their foreign policy thinking.” Therefore, Moscow has consistently reaffirmed its desire to continue “work to save the INF treaty, despite the US position.”
Hating to get involved in an all-stops-out arms race, Russia keeps reminding the United States and the whole world of its readiness to “engage in meaningful and across-the-board negotiations on all aspects of disarmament.” However, the US leaders, just like in the bad old times, are doing exactly the opposite, looking for ways “to dismantle the already established system of international security.”
The draft law on suspending the INF treaty submitted for parliamentary consideration reserves President Putin “the right to renew the treaty.” Commenting on the issue, Franz Klintsevich, a member of the Federation Council, the upper house of the Russian parliament, noted that Russia “leaves the door open.” Moscow is ready to “resume its commitments under the INF treaty any time,” and gives the United States “a chance to think again.” Moscow has also reaffirmed its strong commitment to upholding the principles of strategic stability, with presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov calling the START-3 treaty “the cornerstone of international security and disarmament architecture.” Russia’s unconditional interest in promoting a constructive and meaningful dialogue was thus emphasized again.
Meanwhile, the prospects of global strategic stability are getting increasingly vague. Optimists say that since formal agreements mainly fix the level of mutual trust, the existing model of strategic stability is becoming a thing of the past for objective reasons. To avoid “strategic chaos,” the leaders of the world’s three leading nuclear powers need to look for new formats of stability indirectly, independently, and even “unilaterally. Pessimists, for their part, believe that having signed treaties is always better for security than not having them at all. Treaties are indispensable as they stand in the way of escalations inherent in the realm of nuclear deterrence. A collapse of the INF treaty can easily dismantle “the entire system of nuclear arms control” and lead to chaos with disastrous consequences “for the security of … superpowers and the whole world“. Thus, consistent efforts to resume the dialogue between Russia and the United States would be the best way out in the current situation, because it would at least help find a new understanding of strategic stability shared not only by our two nations but, ideally, by all the other nuclear powers. Otherwise, at the end of the day, those who wish to “re-deal” the cards of strategic stability for their own benefit will have to realize the futility of their effort. Better sooner than later.
From our partner International Affairs
Grab your Coats: Can America succeed in the Arctic?
Authors: Mathieu Barron and Dr. Jahara Matisek*
It should not be a surprise that the Arctic is melting: climatic warming was identified by the scientific community in 1979.More alarming, though, is that 58% of Arctic sea ice has melted since 1980. Besides being troubling for environmental reasons, the melting of the Arctic opens a Pandora’s Box of geopolitical disputes over ownership of economic resources and newly navigable sea lanes. Chief among the dispute is the claiming of Economic Exclusion Zones (EEZs) as dictated by the United Nations (UN) Convention on the Law of Sea. Such EEZ areas grant a country 200 nautical miles of exclusive access and rights to resources, such as fishing, natural gas, oil, minerals, etc. In the Arctic, there are valuable mineral resources, to include, nickel, copper, coal, gold, iron, natural gas, oil, uranium, tungsten, and diamonds, and then there are vast biological resources (e.g. fish, etc.).
The treasure trove of resources would be incredibly useful to any state, whether it be Russia or Norway. More importantly, numerous sea lanes are soon to open, to include the Bering Strait and the Transpolar Sea Route, which cuts directly through the Arctic Circle. With the Arctic being a dynamic environment, how should the United States (US)act to promote American prosperity to advance influence in the region?
Before identifying “success,” it is imperative to get a grasp of the region as a whole – who the main actors are, what the primary issues are, what the history of the region is. In the Arctic’s case, the Arctic Council is a who’s who in the northernmost portion of the planet. The Arctic Council is an intergovernmental forum with eight members: Canada, Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Norway, Russia, Sweden, and the US. In addition, there are six permanent participants, each representing indigenous Arctic peoples. The Council was founded to promote cooperation, coordination, and interaction between its members. Generally, this means working together to respond to oil spills, management of fisheries, scientific research, and search and rescue operations.
When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, there were multilateral operations in icebreaking and search and rescue, to include founding of the Arctic Council in 1996. However, the current Arctic environment in the 21st century is framed by great power competition from Russia and China, who are deviating from norms of conduct regarding the region. Moreover, these two countries are contriving new ways of boxing the US and other Western allies out of the region by signing trade deals with one another and building up Arctic military capabilities that are outpacing the West.
A Russian Arctic?
Russia is America’s biggest competitor in the realm of the Arctic for good reason. About a half of the Arctic – its people, and coastline, and likely a half of its hidden resources – belong to Russia. Even more, the Arctic sea ice on the Russian end melts faster and fuller than the ice on the Canadian end, allowing for more access to resources and shipping lanes. Outside of their geographic advantage, Russia maintains a significant edge in military assets in the Arctic Circle, showing no intention of reducing this footprint.
A 2017reportshowed that Russia stationed 19 warships and 34 submarines in the Arctic, compared to one American warship and no submarines. From a 2018estimate, there are six Russian bases in the Arctic, each equipped with S-400 anti-aircraft weapons systems alongside forty icebreakers between the bases. More troubling, a Canadian report claims that Russian military investments are increasing in the Arctic, leading to the development of four brigade combat teams, 14 operational airfields, 16 deep-water ports, and11 icebreakers. Each of these investments are essentially a Russian proclamation of their own Monroe Doctrine in the Arctic.
Finally, more than ever, Russian bombers are flying over the Arctic, with NORAD reporting 20 sightings and 19 intercepts last year. These developments are in no way shocking – they are even partly expected – given their Cold War antecedent of behavior in the region. However, the Russian government believes it has a valid claim to the Arctic and its resources, and are signaling a strong intent to defend this claim with military force. After all, this is the same state which invaded and annexed Crimea in 2014. In shaping US plans for the Arctic, there is no bigger concern than Russian desires for increased influence and access to resources.
An American Response to Russian Arctic Hegemony?
So how should the US respond to this emerging threat in an oft-ignored theater? The first step lies in making the Arctic a policymaking priority. As of now, the Arctic is given almost no legislative or military attention, and exists mostly in the periphery of policy debates. The word ‘Arctic’ appears once in the National Security Strategy (NSS) and a whopping zero times in the National Defense Strategy (NDS).From a strategic standpoint, the last thing the US wants is a conventional war with a near-peer adversary in the Arctic Circle. This harsh environment has limited infrastructure, narrow logistical networks, and austere operating conditions for humans and machinery alike.
It is important to establish a geopolitical environment similar to NATO’s position on Russia in continental Europe: a careful balance with an enforceable red line. As preferable as it would be to maintain the Arctic Circle as a paragon of international cooperation, it is ignorant to assume that the region exists in a vacuum free of maneuvering for personalist gain. Additionally, making the Arctic a cooperative bubble may only encourage Russian aggression elsewhere if the fear of punitive actions in the Arctic is close to non-existent. Would we see another annexation, or other indirect actions by Russia to capture land and resources in the Arctic?
A careful US and allied militarization focused on flexibility in the Arctic theater is the key to showing signs of strength at the North Pole. By developing airstrips and forming infrastructure in the Arctic region to protect newly-melted sea lanes and land routes, allied forces will gain a logistical foothold in an undeveloped region. Even more, building new icebreakers to replace the two remaining US Coast Guard vessel will ensure continued capability in forward presence and sea control as well as signaling commitment in the form of personnel and appropriations. Finally, increasing multilateral arctic training exercises amongst northern NATO allies, forming a joint interagency task force – while also continuing cooperative efforts across the Arctic Council is needed to demonstrate US resolve to prevent China and Russia from asserting de facto control of the North Pole.
While not a panacea, actionable measures – besides words – by the US and her allies will breathe fresh air into Cold War-era Arctic policies. This will demonstrate that the West will not permit this dynamic and valuable region to fall prey to bellicose Russian behavior. Working with international partners through the Arctic Council and NATO and by revamping US efforts in the Arctic, it is possible not only to enforce the UN Convention on the Laws of the Sea, but to ensure American prosperity across the entire region. Guaranteeing the Commons of the Arctic, especially EEZs, will ensure American hegemony for the 21st century. If not, Arctic spoils will go to those, like Russia, that militarize it first.
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US Air Force, Department of the Air Force, Department of the Army, Department of Defense, or the US government.
Dr. Jahara Matisek (Major, U.S. Air Force) Assistant Professor, Department of Military & Strategic Studies, U.S. Air Force Academy. Non-Resident Fellow, Modern War Institute, West Point, U.S. Military Academy
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