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The Global Hypersonic Race

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Prominent Western politicians have launched a global discussion about the risks associated with Russia developing hypersonic weapons. Arms control experts are attempting to estimate the potential of these new weapons, but attempts at this stage are hindered by the absence of important technical data and the lack of specialized terminology in this field.

The discussion of the threats posed by hypersonic weapons was triggered by President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, who in his address to the Federal Assembly on March 1, 2018, described the impressive capabilities of Russia’s new Avangard and Kinzhal strategic missile systems as follows: “The glide vehicle strikes its target like a meteorite, like a fireball, with its surface temperature reaching between 1600 and 2000 degrees Celsius, while remaining completely controllable at the same time.”

Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs of Germany Heiko Maas attempted to take the lead in discussing the destabilizing new technology. In March 2019, he hastily organized the “2019. Capturing Technology. Rethinking Arms Control” international conference in Berlin. In his opening speech, Maas said: “Manoeuvrable missiles travelling at many times the speed of sound barely leave time for considered human responses. The fact that we are not just talking about science fiction here is demonstrated by Russia’s announcement that the first Avangard systems will be entering service this year. I would therefore also like to seize this conference as an opportunity to establish an international missiles dialogue that takes into account both the challenges posed by new technologies and the dangers of their proliferation. The experts gathered here today could form the backbone of this kind of global Missile Dialogue Initiative.”

However, the subsequent discussion at the conference demonstrated that many of the participants were unfamiliar with the topic of hypersonic weapons. Recognized experts on missile control proved unprepared to hold a substantive conversation about hypersonic technology. As a result, the dialogue was reduced to discussing the INF Treaty.

At the end of the conference, the ministers of foreign affairs of Germany, the Netherlands and Sweden signed a political declaration stressing the “need to build a shared understanding of how technologically enhanced military capabilities may change the character of warfare and how this will influence global security.”

In the United States, where hypersonic technology has already been developing at a rapid pace, including as part of the Prompt Global Strike programme, Putin’s announcement was used as a pretext for investing more in the Pentagon’s projects. “We have lost our technical advantage in hypersonics [but] we have not lost the hypersonics fight,” said Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Paul Selva. Meanwhile, Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Mike Griffin, for his part, has identified hypersonics as his top priority and called for an industrial base to be established that could support the development and production of thousands of deterrence hypersonic vehicles.

Mike White, the Pentagon’s assistant director for hypersonics, announced that the department had a three-step plan for the development of hypersonic weapons that involves investing generously in offensive capabilities, then in defensive systems, and finally, at least ten years from now, in reusable airborne hypersonic vehicles. The Pentagon’s spending on hypersonic projects has increased from $201 million in 2018 to $278 million in 2019, and the overall cost of the program is estimated at $2 billion.

China has been no stranger to this “war of words,” with several fantastic reports emanating from the country about “successful tests of hypersonic flight vehicles,” the creation of a material capable of withstanding temperatures of up to 3000 degrees Celsius, and even the development of a universal engine that can accelerate a vehicle from zero to hypersonic flight. Japan has stated its intent to create a High-Speed Gliding Missile, an equivalent of Russia’s Avangard.

Minister of the Armed Forces of France Florence Parly has announced the country’s plans to use the ASN4G supersonic air-to-surface cruise missile as the baseline for the V-MaX supersonic glider that could travel at a speed of over 6000 km/h. The project is being led by ArianeGroup, a joint venture between Airbus and Safran, and the first test flight could take place in late 2021.

In the meantime, the global expert community has yet to come up with a clear scientific definition for the term “hypersonic vehicle.” Hypersonic flight is conventionally understood to mean atmospheric flight at speeds higher than Mach 5, that is, five times the speed of sound. The second important feature of a hypersonic aircraft is its ability to maneuver with the use of aerodynamic forces, rather than merely adjusting the target accuracy. This entails longer atmospheric flight times and greater susceptibility to the destructive factors associated with atmospheric flight.

At present, only a handful of countries are close to creating effective hypersonic weapons. Hypersonic weapons engineers are faced with some very unique technical challenges. To begin with, there is the problem of ensuring controlled and sustained flight in a rarefied atmosphere whose density varies with altitude. Among other things, this creates difficulties for propulsion systems that consume oxygen.

Also, the friction created by the hypersonic airflow around the vehicle’s surface generates a sheath of ionized plasma, with the nose fairing temperature reaching up to 3000 degrees Celsius. Even vehicles made of ultra-heat-resistant alloys or composites lose their shape and original aerodynamic characteristics due to the heating and ablation. For example, the U.S. Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird high-altitude supersonic reconnaissance aircraft would become 10cm longer in flight owing to thermal expansion, and fuel would seep from its seams on landing.

Controlling a hypersonic vehicle from launch to target impact is a separate problem, as the plasma sheath blocks radio signals. Solving this problem requires complex and expensive research. Even US engineers have not yet found a solution to this problem.

Another challenge is linked to the fact that the plasma sheath significantly complicates navigation, which for a strike vehicle must be autonomous, prompt and very accurate. Plasma makes electro-optical and radio-frequency homing impossible. Inertial navigation systems cannot provide the required accuracy at long distances. A solution to this problem has yet to be found.

The traditional types of aviation fuel (jet fuel and methane) are unsuitable at hypersonic speeds. A hypersonic vehicle needs a special kind of fuel. Also, a universal propulsion engine capable of accelerating a vehicle from zero to hypersonic speeds has not yet been created. At present, militaries have to make do with rocket boosters or supersonic aircraft to accelerate vehicles to speeds at which their supersonic combustion ramjet engines can be engaged.

When it comes to the flight mode, there are three different types of hypersonic vehicles. The first type is an unpowered glide vehicle, which rides a ballistic missile to an altitude of approximately 100km, separates, and performs a maneuverable flight in the upper atmospheric layer at speeds between Mach 8 and Mach 28. By skip-gliding along the atmosphere like a skipping stone along the water surface, such a vehicle can increase its flight range by several times. The second type is a scramjet-powered vehicle, which can only fly in the atmosphere because its engine needs oxygen. The third type is a quasi-ballistic or semi-ballistic missile that mainly follows a shallow ballistic trajectory but can also maneuver to evade enemy missile defenses. One example here is the Russian Iskander-M missile, which flies at hypersonic speeds of between 2100 and 2600 m/sec (Mach 6 to Mach 7) at an altitude of 50km.

Experts sometimes use the term “aeroballistic.” However, this definition is not applied to the speed of flight, but rather to the mode of travel: namely, it implies a combined mode of partially traveling along a ballistic trajectory and partially employing aerodynamic control surfaces and jet vanes for steering. An aeroballistic vehicle does not necessarily have to be hypersonic, as the term can also be applied to slower vehicles, although it is now widely used in the context of the hypersonic Kinzhal and Iskander-M missiles.

Hypersonic vehicles have one distinct feature which traditional exo-atmospheric ballistic missiles do not. While most ballistic missiles develop speeds of dozens of Machs (i.e., they also travel at hypersonic speeds), they are not described as hypersonic unless they or their warheads are capable of aerodynamic maneuvering in the atmosphere.

Some ballistic missile warheads are capable of terminal trajectory corrections. They are not classed as hypersonic vehicles, since the purpose of their maneuvering is not to increase the flight range or evade an anti-missile attack, but merely to reduce the circular error probable (CEP).

All hypersonic vehicles can be subdivided into five categories depending on their mission:

  1. Manned aircraft (the first and so far only example here is the U.S. North American X-15, which set the world airspeed record of Mach 6.72 in 1967)
  2. Unmanned vehicles (mainly experimental projects such as the Boeing X-43, which reached Mach 9.6 in 2004)
  3. Scramjet-powered hypersonic missiles (such as the Russian 3M22 Zircon)
  4. Hypersonic glide vehicles (the Russian Avangard or the U.S. Advanced Hypersonic Weapon)
  5. Air- or ground-launched spaceplanes (the Soviet Buran and U.S. Space Shuttle vehicles, which reach speeds of Mach 25 upon re-entry).

Military hypersonic vehicles fall into the following three categories:

1. Reconnaissance vehicles

At present, only one purely reconnaissance hypersonic vehicle is known to be under development: the Lockheed Martin SR-72, which can theoretically travel at speeds of up to 7400 km/h. This vehicle is expected to be better at monitoring mobile missile systems than reconnaissance satellites. It could also eventually be equipped to carry a charge for a pinpoint strike.

Another experimental orbital hypersonic vehicle is the Boeing X-37B. Although little is known about its intended mission, it could also serve as a reconnaissance platform.

2. Hypersonic kill vehicles

Scramjet-powered hypersonic cruise missiles that can be launched by an aircraft, a sea-surface ship or a submarine (the Russian 3M22 Zircon or the U.S. X-51A Waverider, which is currently under development) can be used to destroy enemy missile early warning systems, anti-aircraft and anti-missile defenses, airfields, hardened command posts and critical facilities.

Glide vehicles (the Russian Avangard; the U.S. Lockheed Martin Falcon, HIFiRE and HSSW/TBG [High-Speed Strike Weapon/Tactical Boost Glide]; and the Chinese WU-14/DF-ZF) are primarily intended as nuclear strike weapons.

Quasi-ballistic missiles (the Russian Kinzhal and Iskander-M; the Indian Shaurya tactical missile; and the Chinese DF-21D anti-ship ballistic missile) are relatively difficult to detect by radar thanks to their shallow trajectory. Their warheads can change trajectory, so enemy missile defenses cannot calculate the exact target, and the warhead’s maneuverability considerably complicates interception.

3. Hypersonic interceptors

These are surface-to-air missiles designed to intercept ballistic missile warheads, normally in their terminal, atmospheric phase of trajectory. The most advanced interceptors can engage ballistic missiles at exo-atmospheric altitudes and even shoot down low-orbit satellites.

To stand a chance of intercepting a ballistic target, an interceptor must not only develop a high speed, but also launch promptly and maneuver actively. U.S. RIM-161 SM-3 Block IIA missiles of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System can travel at speeds of up to Mach 15.25; the Russian S-400 48N6DM missiles have a speed of Mach 7.5, and the future S500 77N6-N1 missiles will be able to reach speeds of up to Mach 21.

Advantages of Hypersonic Missiles

Hypersonic missiles have several obvious advantages over ballistic missiles. First, they follow significantly shallower trajectories, so ground-based radars detect them later into the flight. Second, thanks to their maneuvering, high speed and unpredictable trajectory, the enemy cannot be certain of the hypersonic vehicle’s target, whereas the trajectory of a ballistic missile is currently fairly easy to calculate. Third, ballistic missile interception experiments have been conducted since the 1960s, and there are plenty of reports on successful trial intercepts. However, intercepting a high-speed maneuvering atmospheric target is extremely difficult and is believed to be impossible at present. Also, the mass production of hypersonic vehicles is expected to be cheaper than that of ballistic missiles. Despite the challenges associated with developing scram engines, such jets have virtually no moving parts and their cross-sections represent special configuration tubing. According to analysts at the U.S. company Capital Alpha Partners, “If hypersonic weapons can be produced with unit costs of $2 million, or less, they will impact some of the outyear weapons plans. A weapon that travels at Mach 5, or faster, and that can maneuver will see strong U.S. demand in the later part of this decade.” Finally, the kinetic energy of a hypersonic missile is so high that its release will be enough to destroy certain types of targets even without using a charge. This gives experts reason to state that hypersonic missiles might become an alternative to nuclear weapons in certain situations.

Shortcomings of Hypersonic Missiles

As for the shortcomings of hypersonic missiles, experts point out that they cannot offer high target accuracy because it is almost impossible to fit such a missile with a homing head, and its high speed will result in an increase in targeting error. A hypersonic vehicle is believed to have a CER of between 30 and 50 meters. Furthermore, high-speed missiles will have a large infrared signature due to frictional skin heating, making them easily detectable by IR sensors. Designers will need to find a compromise between the high impact speed and the high probability of standoff detection. Also, a scramjet-powered missile must be initially accelerated to a speed of about Mach 3. This complicates the use of such weapons, which require a rocket booster or a high-speed air-launch platform. Experts believe that, due to a plethora of technological problems, hypersonic weapons currently have a relatively limited effective range (some 1000km for scramjet-powered missiles). However, the veil of secrecy surrounding this type of weaponry provokes rumors and excessive fears, and this destabilizing factor could prompt the enemy to resort to a pre-emptive strike.

Challenges for International Security and Stability

The U.S. expert community has carefully studied the potential of Russian hypersonic weapons in terms of how they could affect the balance of forces and concluded that, in general, they do not pose an existential threat to major nuclear powers. Thus, fitting Avangard missiles with glide vehicles will not increase the size of the Russian nuclear arsenal, nor will it extend the effective range of the missiles, their range of action or their strike speed. The United States and other nuclear powers will still be able to respond to a Russian nuclear attack.

U.S. experts admit that maneuvering hypersonic vehicles are almost impossible to intercept. However, given that the U.S. missile defense system has very limited intercept capabilities when it comes even to Russian ballistic missiles, the introduction of Avangard hypersonic missiles changes little in the nuclear war scenario. For the United States, this is more of a technological challenge, with which both the Pentagon and the White House are fairly unhappy. Dominance in military technology has remained a priority for the United States for decades, ever since the launch of the first Soviet satellite. Therefore, the news of Russia’s hypersonic achievements does not sit well with Washington. At the same time, it has provided the United States with an opportunity to study the possibility of extending missile defense to near space. Megawatt laser weapons are believed to be capable of destroying both ballistic and hypersonic missiles. The current level of U.S. technology already allows for equipping different types of ground transport with lasers generating in excess of 50kW of power, while sea-based lasers can generate over 150kW. Under the current trend, laser power increases tenfold every three years. In this sense, within five years, we can expect U.S. laser technology to reach a level that where the Pentagon may be confident in the possibility of building lasers that are capable of shooting down hypersonic devices. The next step will then be to deploy laser weapons in the Earth’s orbit.

In light of the above, the emergence of hypersonic weapons will introduce a number of destabilizing factors for international security. First, countries possessing such weapons will have an asymmetric advantage over other developing countries. Second, it will trigger the deployment of the space-based laser component of the missile defense system. Third, it will provoke a new global arms race, including with regard to laser weapons, hypersonic anti-missile systems, cyber-weapons, railguns and unmanned delivery platforms for strike weapons. Moreover, for non-nuclear powers, hypersonic missiles may become a serious instrument of deterrence or power projection. It should also be noted that hypersonic missiles could be used in a pre-emptive strike against an enemy whose main weapons are situated within their effective reach (at present, within a radius of up to 1000km). That is, the deployment of hypersonic weapons can be considered as a critical threat to the country’s immediate neighbors. Finally, there are global risks to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR). The secret hunt for missile components such as fuel, alloys, electronics and airframe blueprints has never stopped. In the new environment, even those countries that are signatories to the MTCR are interested in obtaining prompt global strike technologies.

The current leaders of hypersonic weapons research are, in addition to Russia, the United States and China.

China

Despite its ambitious statements, China has not yet rolled out a reliable prototype of a hypersonic vehicle. Chinese engineers have developed the YJ-12 supersonic anti-ship cruise missile, but the country’s military currently only has subsonic ground-based cruise missiles in service. It may be the case that Beijing hopes to leap from subsonic straight to hypersonic, skipping supersonics altogether.

China is believed to be working on at least two hypersonic programs. Since 2014, it has been testing the DF-ZF (dubbed Wu-14 in the United States) hypersonic glide vehicle complete with the DF-17 medium-range ballistic missile for the launch vehicle (eventually to be replaced by the DF-31 missile). The second project, the air-launched CH-AS-X-13 missile, is primarily intended against aircraft carriers. According to a representative of the Chinese Academy of Engineering, the Institute of Mechanics has created a turbine-based combined-cycle engine capable of accelerating a vehicle to Mach 6.

United States

As part of the High Speed Strike Weapon (HSSW) program, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the United States Air Force are working on three hypersonic concepts. The Tactical Boost Glide (TBG) combat vehicle riding a solid-fuel rocket booster, under development by Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, is planned as an equivalent to Russia’s Avangard. The Boeing Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC) will have a combined-cycle engine (the turbine will accelerate the vehicle to Mach 2, after which the scramjet will further propel it to hypersonic speeds). According to some reports, the vehicle may be reusable. Northrop Grumman Corporation is working to design the combined-cycle Advanced Full Range Engine (AFRE) for HAWC under a contract with DARPA. Finally, the reusable unmanned craft under development as part of the HyRAX project and the XS-1 Experimental Spaceplane program will be used as an inexpensive launch vehicle to insert dual-use satellites into low-Earth orbits.

The HSSW program is aimed at designing and testing a hypersonic strike vehicle by 2020. The key specifications include speeds of Mach 6 to 10, an effective range of over 1000km, a CEP of under 5m and a variety of warhead types (penetrator, HE-fragmentation or cluster).

The U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory is looking into the possibility of creating a combined-cycle propulsion system for reusable vehicles, including by way of integrating scramjets with reheated bypass turbojets.

In addition to DARPA, hypersonic weapons are being developed by the United States Army Space and Missile Defense Command in conjunction with the Sandia National Laboratory under the Advanced Hypersonic Weapon project, which calls for the creation of a hypersonic glide vehicle with a precision terminal guidance system.

Russia’s breakthrough in the hypersonic weapons race may have shaken the global balance of forces, but it has not reshaped it. The United States is not far behind Russia technologically, and may even be ahead in certain aspects of hypersonic weapons, including when it comes to making combined-cycle or hybrid propulsion systems for hypersonic vehicles that would allow a reusable reconnaissance/strike vehicle to be created. Nevertheless, the Russian achievements came as an unpleasant surprise for all the leading world powers.

The situation appears different for those nations that do not command massive nuclear arsenals. The Russian example opens a window of opportunities for them. Hypersonic weapons may appear to be an excellent solution for ensuring a decisive military advantage over a technically lacking adversary. Those countries lagging behind in the arms race may perceive hypersonic weapons as a critical and potentially disarming threat to an unfriendly neighbor.

In the art of war, uncertainty often drives progress. As the leading analytical centers are working to collect relevant information and understand the scale of possible threats, politicians and militaries are approving investment in new defense programs. A new item on defense budgets around the world has appeared.

From our partner RIAC

Ph.D. in Political Science, Professor, Academy of Military Sciences, Director of the Emerging Technologies and Global Security Project at PIR-Center, RIAC expert

Defense

U.S.’ Unperturbed Response to Indian BrahMos Launch in Pakistan: Aberration or New Normal?

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As India’s nuclear-capable BrahMos cruise missile crashed into the territory of its nuclear-armed and ever-hostile adversary on the evening of March 9th almost pushing the two countries to the brink of catastrophic tit-for-tat exchange, the usually vociferous strategic experts and arms control enthusiasts in the USA maintained a cautionary conspicuous silence. Even it took the US State Department Spokesperson 06 days to issue a formal statement on the precarious issue and that too after being asked by a journalist during the daily press briefing. If one thinks for the USA – the self-proclaimed champion of nuclear safety and security – such a belated response to such a potentially hazardous “accident” constituted an anomaly, having a look at what the USA’s State Department’s spokesperson finally stated would be handy, which in essence uncritically endorsed the ambiguous and self-contradictory Indian viewpoint on the issue while refusing to make any further comments.

One does not need to wonder what would have been the reaction in the West had something of this character landed in India from Pakistan. Hell would have readily broken loose and the relevant academic, policy-advocacy, and policy-making circles in the West would have been up in the arms predicting a nuclear holocaust owing to irresponsible handling of sensitive weapon systems by Pakistan and making calls to fulfill their long-held desire of ‘securing’ Pakistan’s strategic arsenal. But given it was a breach on part of India, the belated and unperturbed response despite the profound precariousness associated with the fiasco makes complete sense. Anomaly! Not really, because the apparent aberration is all set to be the new normal: only those nuclear safety and security breaches would concern the Western (specifically the US) strategic community happening apropos countries considered on the other side of the geostrategic equation and India – given its geostrategic utility vis-à-vis China – is positioned on the same side as with the Western world so even the strategic blunders like the recent one would be conveniently brushed under the carpet. Reason: any criticism of Indian BrahMos blunder or even expression of concern about the safety and security of India’s cutting-edge weapons systems would have infuriated overly touchy souls in New Delhi, which Washington has been trying so desperately to woo. 

Though the convergence of geopolitical interests forms the most consequential and undoubtedly the umbrella reason for the USA’s unperturbed response to India’s BrahMos launch into Pakistan, it is not only the only one. Currently, the Indian diaspora constitutes one of the most powerful lobbies in the USA domestic political and electoral landscape augmented by their deep ingress into academia, policy advocacy, and policy-making spheres, where they primarily act as the arm of Indian foreign policy and security establishments essentially safeguarding and qualifying all rights and wrongs by New Delhi and by default working to discredit its prime adversary Pakistan using a wide range of means and mediums. The relegation of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute from a self-determination demand of nearly 20 million people once backed by the USA at international forums to a mere Pakistan-sponsored insurgency in complete concurrence with the Indian standpoint and conspicuous apologetic attitude of the USA government and intelligentsia over India’s now almost undisputed plunge into the abyss of fascism under Modi are the most vivid case studies of the lobby’s influence in the USA, though backed by the umbrella of convergence of geostrategic interests.

Though the USA and Pakistan being long-time allies have their own baggage of alleged betrayals, sanctions, and double-games, the steep decline in the goodwill for Islamabad during the past few decades is attributable to years-old concerted efforts by the Indian lobby and the muted reaction to India’s BrahMos launch in Pakistan even by the strategic and focusing on South Asia intelligentsia within the USA was another manifestation of the reality that the lobby has gained considerable check over the academic and policy discourse in the USA.

Ironically, the trend of overlooking India’s shenanigans at home and aboard and potentially catastrophic breaches of safety and security of destructive weapons systems is all set to be the new normal as the aforementioned factors of geopolitical convergence and the lobby’s role in influencing academic and policy discourse responsible for the setting the trends are only likely to be reinforced in the coming years and decades. However, there is a big question mark whether unwaveringly covering up New Delhi’s abysmal domestic and regional track records undermines the USA’s international legitimacy as the principal sponsor of “rules-based international order”? An unequivocal yes! But it appears policymakers in Washington are willing to let their legitimacy tarnish in barter for India’s utility vis-à-vis China – a characteristic case of power politics triumphing idealistic charades.       

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Nuclear Weapons: How Safe Are We?

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Some sixty years ago, American psychologist Abraham Maslow formulated a five tier hierarchy of needs.  First, food and shelter followed by safety and so on, not that each need had to be satisfied fully to move to the next.   

It might explain why thousands marched in the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament in the 1950s when bellicose threats by leaders were not uncommon.  Among the more notorious was Khruschev’s, ‘We’ll bury you,’ in 1956 during the Suez adventure by Britain, France and Israel.  They seized the Canal after the Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser had nationalized the controlling Suez Canal Company.  Receiving no support from President Eisenhower, they somewhat shamefacedly retreated.  

If one presumes all of those tensions were over with detente, then political and economic rivalries compounded by spheres of influence and their expansion have been overlooked.  Thus to Ukraine with President Vladimir Putin unable to retreat further when NATO attempted to plant a dagger in the heart of Russia.

Well, some of the tensions have returned, and while an all-out nuclear war is still unthinkable, it can happen by miscalculation.  For example, when one side deploys tactical weapons that a commander in an asymmetric war is unable to resist using against a large grouping of elusive combatants.

If fewer nuclear weapons are more desirable, the question remains, how few?  Hence the START treaty signed by George Bush (Senior) and Mikhail Gorbachev although proposed originally by Ronald Reagan.  It removed 80 percent of their nuclear weapons.  So how many nuclear weapons are there in the world thirty years later, and how safe are we?

According to the latest count, Russia possesses 6,257 nuclear weapons of which 4587 are operational.  In numerous ICBM silos and 11 nuclear submarines that can patrol close to U.S. shores, it is a formidable arsenal.

Of course the world has changed and Russia has removed all of its nuclear weapons from Ukraine.  At the same time, it is developing new weapons and new delivery methods.  This includes the very serious threat of a nuclear-propelled cruise missile with unlimited range.  A very serious threat because cruise missiles can fly close to the ground under the radar.  There is also Sarmat, a new ballistic missile capable of carrying up to 15 nuclear warheads, each with its own target.  Thus a single missile could destroy just about all US major cities.

So what has the US been up to?  It has 5600 nuclear weapons of which 3700 are operational.  ICBMs based both in the US and the territory of its NATO allies place some of these next door to Russia.  The very limited warning time requires a hair trigger response and should give us pause.  Let’s hope Putin is not enjoying a sauna at the time and some general frightened with a use-it or lose-it scenario decides to let loose and save his motherland. 

Then there are the other countries:  UK (200 nuclear weapons), France (300), China (350), India (160), Pakistan (165), Israel (90), and last but now least North Korea (45).  With all of this, how safe does one feel?  An exchange between any of them — India and Pakistan come to mind — would cause a nuclear winter and mass starvation. 

The real problem is that a small country with a large more powerful neighbor — again Pakistan and India — achieves a measure of equality or perhaps a stalemate through nuclear weapons, and thus security.  It would be very difficult to persuade Pakistan (or for that matter Israel) to relinquish its nuclear arsenal.  Perhaps the best safety lies in an inclusive non-threatening world. 

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CSTO anniversary summit: New challenges and threats

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The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) has marked its 30th year, at anniversary summit hosted by Moscow, with renewed multilateral documents strictly tasking its members forge a united security bloc to fight for territorial sovereignty and integrity, and against the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). At least, one of the landmarked achievements is, if anything at all, its establishment and existence in the political history of member states.

After the collapse of the Soviet era that consequently witnessed all the 16 Soviet republics attaining their political independence, only six of them by agreement became what is referred to as the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). It is a dreamed replica of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). 

During the meeting held on May 16, at the suggestion of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the CIS will receive observer status at the CSTO, according to various official reports. It implies that CSTO will undergo steadily, of not urgent expansion in numerical strength. Despite the sharp political differences, vast levels of economic development and all kinds of social difficulties, the CSTO currently is made of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan. 

Reports say the Collective Security Treaty Organization stands for solving international problems by political and diplomatic means, a statement by the CSTO Collective Security Council on the occasion of the 30th anniversary of the Collective Security Treaty and the 20th anniversary of the organization said.

“With the appropriate capacity to ensure the security and stability of member states, the organization firmly believes that there is no alternative to the solution of existing international problems by political and diplomatic means and gives priority to the development of coordinated approaches to the problems of improving the international situation, countering threats and challenges faced by Member States of the CSTO,” the statement published on the Kremlin’s website reads.

The statement notes that the peacekeeping operation in Kazakhstan in January “has confirmed the readiness of the collective forces (of the CSTO) to effectively solve the problems of ensuring the security of its member states,” and demonstrated to the international community the ability to quickly deploy and conduct missions, “thereby demonstrating the high status of the CSTO in the system of international and regional organizations.”

At the same time, according to the statement, during the period since the signing of the Collective Security Treaty, international relations in conditions of fragmentation of the world community “are increasingly characterized by the aggravation of tension.”

According to the materials prepared by the Kremlin, the member states aim at deeper military cooperation and more efficient interaction on an entire range of current and new challenges and threats, including those emanating from Afghanistan. The focus is also on the problem of biosecurity, as well as on enhancing their collective security system, peacekeeping potential, and mechanisms of rapid response to crises, heeding the experience the organization gained during its peacekeeping operation in Kazakhstan.

Besides the group summit, Putin held separate bilateral interaction in a working breakfast format which was reportedly focused on forging ways toward deeping and strengthening military cooperation, and further on the situation in Ukraine. The Collective Security Council is the supreme body of the CSTO. It includes the heads of the states that are members of the organization.

It follows therefore that Vladimir Putin held these separate bilateral meetings with Prime Minister of Armenia Nikol Pashinyan, President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko, President of Kazakhstan Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, President of Kyrgyzstan Sadyr Japarov and President of Tajikistan Emomali Rahmon.

Putin at the bilateral meeting with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan, noted that Moscow and Yerevan saw a good growth in bilateral trade in 2021, and both agreemed to maintain regular contact “on all issues on the bilateral agenda and on regional problems.” Russia and Armenia plan to continue their joint efforts to settle the Karabakh problem in the trilateral format, together with the partners from Azerbaijan.

Putin at the bilateral meeting with President of Kyrgyzstan Sadyr Japarov praised relations between the two countries, noting there are issues requiring further detailed discussion. “Now there is an opportunity to talk about our bilateral relations,” Putin said. “There are many questions, but I would like to note right away that, on the whole, our relations are developing positively.”

The president highlighted a “rather serious” increase in trade between the two countries last year, which climbed by more than 30%. “Russia confidently occupies the first position in trade by Kyrgyzstan. There are, of course, issues that require a separate discussion,” he said. “I am very glad that on the sidelines of our international event today we can talk about these issues.”

Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko strongly suggested, at the opening of the summit, the CSTO members step up political cooperation to resist foreign pressures and further warned that “opponents and foes” were systematically shaking loose the basis and relations of alliance. “In this respect we play into the hands of the West in a sense. I am certain that if we presented a common front, there would have never been what they call ‘sanctions from hell’,” he stressed.

“Stronger political cooperation and coordination by the CSTO member-states. The effectiveness of the mechanism of foreign policy and security consultations must be increased. We should speak out on behalf of the CSTO on international platforms more often to make the organization’s voice and stance well-heard and seen. There must be a common voice and a common stance, the way they are in the West,” he said.

Lukashenko noted that the West has been waging a full-fledged hybrid war against Belarus and Russia. “The unipolar world order is becoming a thing of the past, yet the collective West is waging an aggressive war to defend its positions. It is using all means, including in our organization’s zone of responsibility – from threatening the use of NATO weapons along our western borders to waging a full-fledged hybrid war, primarily against Russia and Belarus.”

He described NATO as “aggressively building up its muscles” with the aim of seeking to include neutral countries and acting under the you-are-either-with-us-or-against-us principle and “is hypocritically continuing to declare its defensive nature. The Collective Security Treaty Organization’s really defensive and peaceful position stands in contrast against this backdrop. It is evident that not a single country is a threat to the North Atlantic bloc.”

On the Russia-Belarus Union, he noted that Belarus’ participation ion the Union with Russia and in the CSTO has sobered up its potential opponents in the West. “Otherwise, I am afraid a hot war might have been unleashed in Belarus. By the way, they tried to do it back in 2020,” he added.

According to a joint statement by the leaders that was adopted, it noted to ensure the security of its borders amid an alarming situation in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region. “The situation in Afghanistan and on other external frontiers of the CSTO member-states is alarming,” the statement said. “In connection with this, we express readiness to maintain security at the borders within the CSTO’s zone of responsibility.”

Nezavisimaya Gazeta, local Russian newspaper, reported that the attendees noted the significant role of the CSTO and peacekeeping forces in quashing the January insurrection in Kazakhstan, and also assessed the global situation and the topic of NATO’s expansion. President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus noted that the members of the organization do not have unity. Some of them support the West’s actions against Moscow. He stated that “Russia should not fight alone against the expansion of NATO.”

Director of the East-West Strategy analytical center Dmitry Orlov told Nezavisimaya Gazeta that the CSTO is still not active enough. “In general, the CSTO still justified itself, but with some nuance. Not all members of the organization quickly and unconditionally decided to participate in peacekeeping missions. In particular, Kyrgyzstan argued for a long time whether to send their military to quell the protests that erupted over economic problems. The CSTO showed that the only guarantor of the security of the Central Asian region is Russia, because it had the largest contingent,” the expert said, adding that the post-Soviet security bloc did not become a serious alternative to NATO.

However, the organization may have a future, Belarusian Defense Minister Viktor Khrenin predicted the expansion of the association. According to him, the number of participants will increase to dozens of countries.

Chairman of the CSTO Parliamentary Assembly, Speaker of the State Duma (lower house of legislators) Vyacheslav Volodin congratulated the speakers of the parliaments of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan on the 30th anniversary of the signing of the Collective Security Treaty.

“The CSTO has proven its effectiveness as a guarantor of regional stability, protection of the independence and sovereignty of the member states. Today, the organization serves as a dependable deterrent to the challenges and threats posed by international terrorism and extremism. The CSTO contributes significantly to the battle against drug trafficking and weapons, organized transnational crime, illegal migration,” Volodin was quoted on the website of the State Duma.

Volodin stated that the CSTO peacekeepers’ efficiency in supporting Kazakhstan in stabilizing the situation in January of this year indicates the organization’s maturity.

The CSTO is an international security organization, which currently includes six member-states: Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Tajikistan. On May 15, 1992, in Tashkent, the leaders of Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan (which is no longer a member of the CSTO since 2012) signed the treaty establishing the organization. In 1993, Azerbaijan, Georgia (both countries left the CSTO in 1999) and Belarus joined the organization.

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