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NATO’s “space strategy”: What is it all about?

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In a Twitter post released in June 2019, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the North Atlantic Alliance planned to develop its own “space strategy.” According to Deutsche Welle, NATO experts are certain that future military conflicts will inevitably affect near-Earth space, “for example, through an attack on satellites of strategic importance or through the use of a weapon in space.”

NATO explains the need to “declare space a separate territory for military operations” by the emergence of new threats posed by technological progress. The argumentation is of a standard military-bureaucratic nature: as new technologies keep coming along, “exploring” their potential military application becomes imperative. Moreover, NATO’s core members – the United States, France and Britain – clearly go beyond purely theoretical “research” in the field of weaponization of outer space. In December 2019, President Donald Trump issued an order to create the US Space Command with an eye to turning space into a domain of warfare.

Judging by the information available in open sources, it could be safe to assume that in its space warfare plans, the North Atlantic Alliance could move along a path similar to its policy in the field of cyberspace operations. Indeed, in 2016, NATO outlined a common view whereby a cyberattack can, under certain circumstances, be considered a reason for implementing Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty, thus activating the principle of collective defense, which is at the very heart of NATO’s founding treaty. Computer networks, infrastructure and software were designated as a separate area for developing the tactics and strategy of combat operations on land, on high seas and in the air. A unified coordination center for cyber operations was set up in Mons, Belgium, in October 2018.

However, NATO has not yet been able to agree a cyber security doctrine that would suit all of its members. According to The Economist, plans are apace to do this within the next “year or two.” So far, there has been no mention of any joint offensive operations in cyberspace, which are within the exclusive competence of the NATO member states. The Allied Command Transformation, responsible for the development of promising concepts of warfare, will work out a doctrine of cyber operations already within the next few years, although this work has just begun. NATO is thus moving on to the next task even before it has solved any one from the list of “new challenges.” According to German media reports, once the planned “space strategy” has been duly implemented, NATO will move on to the allocation of “additional resources,” and view “possible space attacks” as “attacks on the ground, in the air, at sea and in cyberspace.”

Here NATO may hit several serious snags, the first being President Trump’s open distrust of the alliance. Trump has on several occasions expressed his doubts about NATO’s value for the United States. During his election campaign he described NATO as “obsolete,” and already in office he has repeatedly put in question his commitment to the organization’s fundamental collective defense principle. Reports about Trump’s desire to pull the United States out of the North Atlantic Alliance started leaking into the media from the very start of his presidency. He openly hinted about his readiness to dramatically downsize US military support for Europe, and even warned that Washington could go it alone” if its European allies failed to “cooperate.” In April, Washington did not invite the heads of government of NATO member states to celebrations marking the 70th anniversary of the North Atlantic Alliance in what many Western media outlets described as a sign of the diminished status of NATO.

The past experience of overcoming a similar period of “cooling” in Washington’s relations with Europe under President George W. Bush, is prodding the leaders of some European NATO member states to fall into Washington’s line. In the field of defense, one of the Trump Administration’s priorities was to undermine strategic stability, including by reviving the concept of achieving “decisive superiority” in the militarization of space. Unhappy about the European NATO members’ “inadequate” defense spending, President Trump demanded and obtained in 2014 their promise to increase their defense outlays to 2 percent of GDP.

However, only a handful of them have managed to meet this target to date.

Meanwhile, more and more European experts now fear that Washington’s desire to decrease its commitment to the existing system of Western alliances could stay on even after Donald Trump has left the White House.  Moreover, the political and diplomatic steps taken by the Trump Administration indicate a desire to use NATO to advance US, rather than Western-shared geopolitical interests in Europe. Many Europeans also suspect that Trump’s verbal attacks are meant to disguise Washington’s true desire to undermine EU unity and geopolitical prospects. As if to justify these suspicions, Washington started openly calling the EU a “weak” and “incapable” union and pitching the idea of a US-adjusted North Atlantic Alliance to replace the new “unifier of Europe.” During the 2018 NATO summit, these disagreements boiled over to an extent that in the fall of that same year the French and German leaders called for creating an independent European army.

The Europeans’ intention to expand NATO’s “zone of responsibility” to space might look like an attempt to meet Washington’s demands, though in its own way – to increase spending under the 2% NATO quota not by buying more US-made arms, but by expanding national and continent-wide space programs. After all, many space R&D and technologies have a “dual” potential and can be used for military and civilian purposes alike.

Technology-wise, NATO’s space plans face another hurdle, since when it comes to “military” space, the United States is way ahead of all of its allies combined. The US military space budget for this year exceeds $12 billion, with $14 billion requested by the Pentagon for 2020.  By contrast, the similar budget of France, which is second among NATO countries in terms of “military” space spending, is a mere 3.6 billion euros for the next five years. By the end of Trump’s first year in office, Washington’s missile defense policy was “radically revised” with significant spikes in related spending added to the country’s defense appropriations list. The US Space Command is in the process of being set up.

On January 17, the United States released the National Missile Defense Review, which prioritizes, among other things, the deployment in the near-Earth orbit of combat lasers capable of shooting down ICBMs. It outlines an essentially global task of covering the entire territories of the United States and its allies that comes in place of the previous goal of ensuring protection against a “limited ballistic missile strike.”

The Pentagon is mulling a constellation of small and cheap satellites placed in a low-Earth orbit to track ICBMs at every stage of their flight, as well as “non-kinetic means of influencing space vehicles,” speeding up the development and launchings of dual-purpose satellites, and influencing foreign spacecraft under the pretext of dealing with space junk. According to Western and Russian experts, the United States plans to study the possibility of placing in orbit missile or laser interceptors, along with “cluster groups” and anti-missile weapons.

For comparison, France, which is NATO’s second biggest space power, doesn’t come even close to this. In order to finally keep up with America, Paris recently unveiled a “Space Defense Strategy” with an eye to developing new orbital weapons, creating a “single command” and establishing the armed forces’ “direct control over military satellites.” When unveiling the Strategy in July, President Emmanuel Macron said: “We will better protect our satellites, including in an active way”. Still, the French military’s growing interest in space “exploration” does not necessarily mean that it is ready to follow in America’s wake. A well-known pragmatist, President Macron has recently been emphasizing the objective need for Europe to offset US influence. In June, Macron spoke in favor of mending fences with Russia.

“Europe, that I believe in… must build new rules of trust and security with Russia, and should not only agree with NATO. It needs to build only between Europe and Russia,” Macron stressed.

Finally, NATO has once again been pointing to Moscow’s alleged “aggressiveness” to justify its military preparations of the past few years.  However, it is Russia – one of the world’s leading space powers that has consistently been opposing attempts to militarize outer space. Russia and China have spent many years promoting a draft treaty that would ban the deployment of weapons in space, and the use of force or the threat of force against space objects. The Russian-Chinese initiative is based on a political commitment not to be the first to place weapons in outer space. As for the United States, it is the main opponent of any international legal initiatives aimed at preventing an arms race in space. On April 1, 2019, it became known that Washington had blocked the final report by a team of UN experts on measures to prevent the deployment of weapons in outer space. Most recently, during a July 26 meeting of the BRICS Foreign Ministers Council, Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, once again warned Washington not to bring “weapons into outer space, which would lead to a new qualitative turn in the global arms race” .

With the demise of the Cold War, NATO lost the two key elements that had justified its existence, namely “the enemy” and “the mission.” During the past thirty years, however, the North Atlantic Alliance has been desperately searching for those past priorities for which its members would have to keep sacrificing a considerable portion of their own interests. Will the new “space” plans be able to keep the alliance alive, or will they become a new confirmation of NATO’s chronic problem – the inability to identify the right challenges, priorities and tasks of this day and age?

 From our partner International Affairs

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United States Donates $9 million in Weapons, Equipment to Support Somalia National Army

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Photo: U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Zoe Russell.

Official reports here said the United States through its diplomatic office in Mogadishu has presented $9 million in weapons, vehicles, medical supplies and other equipment to the Somali National Army (SNA). The ceremony was attended by Minister of Defense Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur Jama and U.S. Ambassador Larry André.

Aside from heavy weapons, equipment included support and construction vehicles, explosive ordinance disposal kits, medical supplies, and maintenance equipment for vehicles and weapons.  Most of the supplies are already on their way to Hishabelle and Galmudug States to support SNA troops.

“We cheer the success achieved by Somali security forces in their historic fight to liberate Somali communities suffering under al-Shabaab,” said Ambassador André.  “This is a Somali-led and Somali-fought campaign. The United States reaffirms commitment to support country’s efforts.”

Minister of Defense Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur Jama thanked the United States, saying, “Allow me to convey the appreciation of the Federal Government of Somalia to the Government of the United States of America for the continued support to Somalia’s peacebuilding process and the support for the fight against terrorism.  This support comes at a critical time for our forces as we boost their capabilities to combat al-Shabaab.”

The Minister was joined by Chief of Defense Forces Brigadier General Odowaa Yusuf Rageh for the ceremony.  

The weapons, including light and heavy machine guns were purchased with U.S. Department of Defense funding. They are marked and registered pursuant to the Federal Government of Somalia’s Weapons and Ammunition Management policy, designed to account for and control weapons within the Somali security forces and weapons captured on the battlefield.  

Notification to the UN Security Council is conducted by the Federal Government of Somalia in close coordination with the Office of Security Cooperation of U.S. Embassy Mogadishu in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions.

The weapons will support SNA-Danab battalions, including battalions currently participating in operations in Hirshabelle and Galmudug. The weapons will provide a significant increase in the lethality and mobility of the SNA-Danab units participating in these operations. Somalia and its neighbouring States have come under frequent heightened militant attacks in the Horn of Africa.

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From Strategic depth to Strategic Threat

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On 30th December, in broad daylight, the hub of Peshawar and administrative center was targeted by the militants with the explosion of a deadly bomb, leaving behind 59 dead. the attack was claimed by the TTP Mohmand faction, whose leadership is allegedly residing in Afghanistan.

The issue of Afghanistan has occupied a consequential part of the strategic culture of Pakistan. Following the partition, with the specter of Pashtun Nationalism looming large on the horizon, policymakers in Pakistan opted for a policy of Islamic Nationalism, which became a cornerstone of strategic thinking during the era of General Zia-ul-Haq in the wake of the Afghan Jihad War in 1979.

Islamic nationalism was seen as only the means through which Pashtun Nationalism could be confronted and subdued.

With the adoption of this policy, swiftly and generously, aid from US, UAE and KSA began to inundate the territory of Pakistan, carrying each their national interests with it.

Within a short period, thousands of new madrassas were established, cultivating youngsters by inculcating the concept of Jihadism.

This formation of an alliance with the US in the Afghan Jihad war was driven by two factors; first, to subdue the dominant Pashtun Nationalism with Islamic Nationalism, and second, to establish an Islamabad-friendly regime in Afghanistan so that any terrorist group could not use Afghan territory while keeping New Delhi at bay, by not letting her establish any foothills in Afghanistan.

Fast forward to 2023, the facts on the group are now telling a different story. Islamabad’s once “strategic depth” is now becoming a distant dream as Pakistan is now confronted by insurmountable problems from all sides

According to the data collected by the Pak Institute of Peace Studies, Islamabad, in the past two years, Pakistan has encountered 100 terrorist attacks, and yet, the recent surge of terrorist activities shows no signs of cooling down in the formidable future. This is clearly evident from the news coming from the casualties on the daily basis of the security forces of Pakistan, mostly on the border areas, and the havoc it caused to the infrastructure. Officially, it is estimated that in the last six months, around 350 military personnel have lost their lives, while the outlawed group has claimed even more than that. These occurrences elucidate the failure of the Pakistani state to effectively persuade the Taliban regime not to let the Afghan territory be used against Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty.

Now, who is to be blamed, if not our flawed policies, and the masters of shortsightedness. Lately, upon leaving his office, the ex-COAS scapegoated  Imran Khan who initiated the dialogue with the outlawed group, TTP. While Imran Khan, on the other hand, said that the army was on board when the negotiation decision with the TTP was taken. These inconspicuous but powerful statements  clearly reveal  the uncertainty of our policymakers while dealing with a sensitive topic. Besides that, it also shows how the wizards of policy making and governance are not on the same page while dealing with the Afghanistan issue.

Recently, a document was released by the National Counter Terrorism Authority and presented to the senate committee where discoveries pertaining to the ceasefire between the government of Pakistan and TTP were made. According to the report, the truce initiated by the PTI-led government last year had utterly emboldened the TTP.

With careful planning and shrewd utilization of resources, they were able to revive themselves both logistically and materially. Once the truce between the two parties was over, yet again, a surge in violent attacks was documented.

Beside the challenge of TTP, the Afghan Taliban shows no signs of a positive stance for the Durand line issue. In an interview, the information minister, Zabiullah  Mujahid, said, “The issue of the Durand line is still an unresolved one, while the construction of fencing itself creates rifts between a nation spread across both sides of the border. It amounts to dividing a nation”.

Another prominent concern is the time to time border shelling. On Dec 11, 2022, the Taliban forces heavily shelled a town on the outstrips of the Pakistani border leaving behind seven civilian casualties. A few days later, on Dec 15, another exchange of fire took place, claiming one more life. Although, not much heed has been given to such reports, it seems the genie is out of the bottle now.

Last but not least, the Taliban had even scapegoated Pakistan through which the US drone was flown that killed the top Al Qaeda leader, Ayman Al Zawahiri.

The cherry on top happens to be the readiness of the new system to exhibit the disposition of candour in their interactions with India.  The Taliban defense minister, Mullah Yahoob, has expressed his desire for the training of Afghan troops by Pakistan’s arch-rival India. If this goes according to the plan, the dependent policy of Afghanistan on Pakistan will diminish and create new challenges for Pakistan. India, by using Afghan soil, can embolden and logistically support the liberation movements in Balochistan and Sindh, thus exacerbating the already precarious situation.

It’s high time to call a spade a spade!

Our Policymakers must accept that the old strategic depth policy inside Afghanistan has begun to fail. Taliban 2.0 are entirely in contrast to its 1.0 version in terms of statecraft. They are more pluralistic in their policies, and economically, they are far more independent compared to the 90s. This time, they want to cut deals directly with the regional states. It may appear unilateral, but rather it’s a mutually desired engagement as other states have expressed interests in establishing relations with Afghanistan while   considering them a new and inevitable reality.

Meanwhile, China is feathering its own nest, and is more concerned about the East Turkmenistan Islamic Movement (ETIM). She does not want Afghanistan to be used as a pawn by an insurgent group in the great game against China.

Considering these dynamic global realities, Pakistan must abrogate its old policy towards Afghanistan and focus on a unanimous policy towards Afghanistan. For the success of a cohesive and effective anti-terrorism strategy it is contingent for policymakers to align their viewpoints against the new resurgent groups.  And last but not the least , a collective action by the military, politicians and society is necessary.

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Deciphering Quad’s expanding agenda in the Indo-Pacific

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Image source: twitter @POTUS

Here, I try to throw light on Quad’s expanding regional agenda and where it is headed to.

The third in-person Quad summit took place in Japan’s Hiroshima, the rendezvous of this year’s G7 summit. Following each annual summit, regional observers eagerly look forward to big announcements from the four-nation grouping, via its joint statements. The Hiroshima statement mentions, “Harnessing our collective strengths and resources, we are supporting the region’s development, stability, and prosperity through the Quad’s positive, practical agenda. Our work is guided by regional countries’ priorities and responds to the region’s needs.”

Every Quad summit since 2021 had seen new initiatives or collaborative ventures being announced that are further carried ahead in the subsequent years. At the same time, Quad has also supported the leadership role of regional institutions of the broader Indo-Pacific region such as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF), and the Indian Ocean Rim Association (IORA). The grouping also welcomed the Indo-Pacific vision statements of these organisations and also of extra-regional countries and organisations like the European Union (EU).

An oft-repeated sentence in all Quad joint statements is “the promotion of free, open and inclusive Indo-Pacific with respect for a rules-based order and international law”, which hints that the grouping has a “balancing character” against coercive behaviour by any regional power. However, the tangible areas of cooperation of the grouping had kept hard security at bay, until recently.

Even though the Quad is not a collective security alliance, the meeting of military chiefs of the four Quad nations in California, United States, earlier this month, in a clear indication of enhanced security cooperation with apparently China in mind. Moreover, they have participated in the Malabar naval exercise four times – in 2007, 2020, 2021 and 2022. Later this year, Australia will host the 2023 edition of Malabar naval exercise. Meanwhile, Quad’s Maritime Security Working Group held its first meeting in Washington earlier this year.

Hiroshima 2023

The Hiroshima joint statement further goes on to mention, “We seek a region where no country dominates and no country is dominated – one where all countries are free from coercion, and can exercise their agency to determine their futures. Our four countries are united by this shared vision.” However, this vision has its limitations as long as Quad exists short of an alliance. At the same time, the grouping has charted for itself a wide-ranging area of mutual cooperation.

A new ‘Quad Partnership for Cable Connectivity and Resilience’ was launched in Hiroshima, recognising the urgent need to support quality undersea cable networks in the Indo-Pacific. The leaders, via the joint statement, also announced a ‘Clean Energy Supply Chains’ initiative and its allied set of principles for accelerating the region’s clean energy transition along with a fellowship scheme to boost infrastructure expertise across the region.

The Quad has agreed on a set of principles to augment cybersecurity in the Indo-Pacific along with a new Space Working Group to explore avenues to deliver Earth Observation data and other space-related applications to assist nations across the region to strengthen climate early warning systems and better manage the impacts of extreme weather events. The existing Vaccine Partnership has been elevated to a broader Health Security Partnership.

In a first in the Pacific, the Quad has agreed to join hands with the island nation of Palau to establish Open Radio Access Networks (Open RAN), with the aim of expanding and modernising telecommunications networks in the crucial subregion. A private sector-led Quad Investors Network (QUIN) is also launched to facilitate investments in strategic technologies such as clean energy, semiconductors, critical minerals, and quantum computing.

The first Quad summit

Two years ago, the White House became the venue for the first in-person Quad leaders’ summit. In fact, there was one more summit-level meeting that year, in March, but in virtual mode. The joint statement following the March 2021 virtual summit was titled “Spirit of the Quad”. It saw the initiation of three key working groups – on vaccine distribution, on climate change, and on critical & emerging technologies – the earliest areas of cooperation since the grouping was elevated to the apex level.

Other than the initiation of the aforementioned working groups, the leaders also pledged “to respond to the economic and health impacts of Covid-19 and address shared challenges in the cyber space, counterterrorism, quality infrastructure investment and HADR…” Moreover, the March 2021 summit specifically took cognizance of issues such as the role of international law in the maritime domain, challenges to rules-based order in the East and South China Seas, de-nuclearization of North Korea and the need for restoring democracy in junta-ruling Myanmar.

In September 2021, in their first in-person deliberations, Quad leaders extensively looked into how vaccine distribution progressed since their first virtual meeting six months ago and what more can be done in this regard by making use of each other’s comparative advantages and strengths. The leaders also launched the ‘Quad Principles on Technology Design, Development, Governance, and Use’ to guide responsible innovation, a fellowship scheme for science and technology students from Quad nations, and has enhanced partnership in the fields of infrastructure, cybersecurity, outer space and humanitarian support to Afghanistan.

Tokyo 2022

March 2022 saw an emergency virtual meeting by Quad leaders in the wake of the Ukraine crisis. Two months later, in May, they met in person in Tokyo and called for demonstrating that Quad is “a force for good, committed to bringing tangible benefits to the region”. In this regard, they launched a new partnership for maritime domain awareness in the Indo-Pacific (IPMDA) to work with regional partners in combating illegal fishing and responding to disasters by making use of information fusion centres in the Indo-Pacific sub-regions of the Indian Ocean, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands and by providing near-real-time, integrated and cost-effective data to maritime agencies in these sub-regions.

Tokyo also saw the announcement of a new HADR partnership to further strengthen collaboration in effectively responding to disasters in the region. A new working group on counterterrorism was announced during the Quad foreign ministers’ meeting in March 2023 in New Delhi, India. The next summit was scheduled to be held in Sydney, Australia. But the U.S. President’s inability to attend the summit led to its cancellation and instead the four leaders met in Hiroshima on the sidelines of the G7 summit. Japan, thus, got to host two Quad summits in a row. In 2024, it will be India’s turn to host the leaders’ summit.

All Quad countries, along with several other regional countries, chose to participate in the U.S.-led Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF) launched in Tokyo, just ahead of the 2022 Quad summit. This gives Washington an expanded economic footprint in the region at a time when Chinese economic engagement with regional actors is increasing steadily and progressively. 2022 also saw the launch of the ‘Quad Climate Change Adaptation and Mitigation Package’ (Q-CHAMP) and the ‘Quad Clean Hydrogen Partnership’.

A partnership that predates its name itself

In fact, cooperation among the United States, India, Australia and Japan predates the idea of the Quad itself. Nearly two decades ago, when the Boxing Day tsunami of 2004 wreaked havoc in the Indian Ocean, the four nations came together to coordinate humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) operations by forming a ‘Tsunami Core Group’ and acted as first responders to the looming humanitarian crisis and their collective effort continued till mid-January 2005 before handing over the mission to the United Nations.

So, even before the idea of Quad as such took shape, the four-nation grouping had its first item in its agenda – HADR. The phrase “Quadrilateral Security Dialogue” (QSD), predecessor of the present-day Quad, and the maritime construct of “Indo-Pacific” made its entry into the politico-diplomatic lexicon only three years later, led by the persuasive leadership of former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe. The first QSD was held in May 2007 on the sidelines of the ASEAN Regional Forum in Manila, only to get disbanded the following year due to Australia’s withdrawal and differences on what the grouping’s aims and objectives should be in the years ahead.

Australia backed off primarily due to the diplomatic pressure and the prospect of a promising economic relationship with a rising China. Together with unfavourable regime changes in Canberra and Tokyo in the end of 2007, the Quad remained in a dormant state for about a decade from 2008 to 2017. The fact that China successfully managed to persuade Australia to come out of the Quad just a year after its formation says a lot about Beijing’s negative perceptions of the grouping, or to be precise the perception of it as a U.S.-led attempt to build an “Asian NATO” to contain its rise.

The grouping was given a new life in 2017 when the Donald Trump Administration in the United States (January 2017 to January 2021) took a special interest in reviving it by initiating a working group for ‘consultations on issues of common interest in the Indo-Pacific region’. From November 2017 to March 2021, senior officials from the four Quad nations met seven times and the foreign ministers met thrice, one each in 2019, 2020, and 2021 respectively.

The grouping was finally upgraded to the summit-level in 2021 and then it was followed by in-person summits in 2021, 2022 and 2023, while the foreign ministers continue to meet annually as a precursor to the summits. Today, there is a greater convergence of interests between the Quad partners, which is unlikely to shrink any time soon. The disruptive nature of China’s rise has been a constant factor that has influenced, and is influencing, agenda-setting within the grouping, particularly as a “balance of power” mechanism.

Today, the broad range of areas where the Quad countries cooperate on, as mentioned earlier, happen to be arenas of wider strategic competition with Beijing, even though they don’t wish to acknowledge it explicitly. Taking into account the current trajectory of conflictual nature of geopolitics in the Indo-Pacific, these areas of cooperation and arenas of competition are poised to expand further and further with time. However, what needs to be seen in the years to come is the extent to which Quad dares to tread when it comes to the realm of hard security outside of a formal alliance.

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