In the early morning of Saturday, September 14 last, at 3.31 and 3.42 a.m., the Yemeni Houthi Shiite rebels supported by the Iranian “Revolutionary Guards” – the right eye of Imam Qomeini, as they are called in Iran – launched about ten drones against the largest Saudi oil extraction area owned by ARAMCO.
Allegedly the operation was launched from Iraq. Both Abqaiq, the largest stabilization facility in the world, as well as the Buqaiq facility in the extraction field, and finally Kurais, about 60 kilometres from Abqaiq, were hit with drones.
It is the largest oil disruption ever, considering all those caused by wars or other reasons.
The Shiite attacks have immediately reduced Saudi production by about five million barrels per day, i.e. about half of the Saudi Kingdom’s daily output.
With the drone attacks, the world has lost 6% of its oil output.
The Saudi authorities have said that, as early as September 17, everything has been under control.
The first geopolitical deduction that can be made is that the current attacks, much more virulent than those already occurred last May, open a second front of Arabia’s war against Iraq, which, in any case, would severely strain the Saudi armed forces, already absorbed by the war in Yemen- albeit with meagre results.
Moreover this could open a new strategic area, in which the USA could be forced to help Saudi Arabia and Israel could be forced to later project its power not only onto its northern and southern borders, but also onto eastern Syria and Iraq – and permanently so, unlike what currently happens.
Certainly, all this regards above all Iran that, however, could not afford a hybrid and conventional war with Saudi Arabia and its traditional regional allies.
Moreover, the Shiite Houthi’s attack on the Saudi oil facilities was conceived and probably planned by the Head of the Pasdaran, Qassem Soleimani.
Hence the Houthi operation has run parallel with the action directly organized by the Pasdaran on September 15 last, i.e. the seizure of a ship – the name of which is still unknown -carrying a fuel cargo of over 250,000 litres.
All this happened in the Strait of Hormuz, near the island of Tunb, in Iranian waters.
A full option strategy to show Iran’s new regional strategic status.
According to Iranian sources, the rationale underlying the naval operation of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards concerns the substantial oil smuggling to and fro the United Arab Emirates.
Tout se tient.
Iran, on the one hand, while assessing the war burden for Saudi Arabia in Yemen, wants to open other fronts of the conflict, thus also extending Israel’s defence chain. Hence Iran pursues the overstretch of its traditional opponents.
Another possible assessment of the drone operation carried out by the Houthis and Iran is that it could be an Iranian response to the actions undertaken by French President Macron who has recently tried to organize a side meeting, at the UN General Assembly, between US President Trump and Iranian President Rouhani.
Ali Khamenei, the Rahbar and, hence, Iran’s Supreme Leader, was, however, clearly opposed to a new Iran-US diplomatic relationship, and his Revolutionary Guards have immediately understood the issue.
Moreover, the very recent drone attacks on the two Saudi facilities are not even the first and only ones. As mentioned above, on May 15 last, two Saudi pumping stations – placed on the East-West pipeline that reaches up to the Yanbu oil terminal were attacked with two drones probably launched from Iraq.
Hence Iran has an efficient and stable network in Iraq to launch attacks on the Saudi territory and its surrounding areas, not necessarily with drones only.
With its satellite photos, Israel has shown that the Al Quds Force, the elite of the Pasdaran, is building an Iranian military station in Albukamal, on the Syrian-Iraqi border-and probably these operations indicate that the base is already finished.
It is supposedly a base for at least 3,500 soldiers, with means that should be used above all for the “hybrid war”, but not only for it.
Once again Israel has become a target for Iran, from the new bases in Northern Iraq. The United States, however, does not want to be entangled and bogged down into a new “long war” in the Middle East, even though it will help Saudi Arabia (and, obviously, Israel) from afar, while Saudi Arabia has explicitly stated that the Iranian drones are very hard to track.
At economic level, however, the Saudi oil crisis has the same magnitude as the oil crisis following the Yom Kippur war.
This crisis, however, is really such only because Saudi Arabia has proved to be fragile, not only in terms of mere oil quantity, which has been immediately reintroduced into the daily balance, using the Saudi huge reserves.
Nevertheless they will run short and nobody really knows what the reserves of the Saudi wells are, which are reportedly still very large. However, there are those who have doubts in this regard, since it is the best kept Saudi State secret.
This has been the worst attack ever on the “oil bank”, as analysts call the Saudi Kingdom.
Hence the attack is a real game change rand it is currently hard to predict all its effects, even for technical experts and strategic analysts.
It much depends on Mohammed bin Salman’s moves, as well as on the US real engagement in the region, and finally on Israel’s future military policy.
According to some organizations that study oil markets, the Iranian and Houthi operation is at least as severe as the invasion of Kuwait – which also “sucked” Iraqi oil- or as the 1979 Iranian Shiite revolution itself.
President Trump has already authorized the release of US strategic reserves (SPR), where necessary, “to keep the markets well supplied”.
As early as September 16, however, Saudi ARAMCO has been expected to recover at least a third of its production, with a maximum of two or three million barrels of Saudi oil that will go back to the markets within two-five days, while additional 2.7 million barrels will arrive on the market later, considering the nature and specificity of the Abqaiq facility.
It is a huge facility located in a Saudi area where the presence of Shiite Islam is far from negligible, i.e. about 15-20%, mainly in the eastern zones and among the workers operating in the wells and facilities.
This is another political sign-halfway between religion and class struggle – not to be neglected.
When the markets opened, on the Monday following the attacks, the oil barrel price increased by 20%, with a peak of 71.6 USD per barrel.
However, what are the Iranian assets in the current war launched against the great Wahhabi and Sunni power, namely Saudi Arabia – a war which is a proxy one only from a formal viewpoint?
They are manifold and remarkable.
There are over 45 Iranian military airports. The maritime positions currently held by the Revolutionary Guards are over 16, all located on the coasts and islands of the Persian Gulf.
The missile stations in Iran and Iraq have several carriers capable of reaching a range of 2,500 kilometres.
Iran’s area denial and access denial capabilities are much greater than those of any country in the region.
Iran has a significant submarine fleet, both in the Persian Gulf and in the Indian Ocean, as well as a large fleet of very fast motorboats and patrol boats.
At military level, Iran is not afraid of its obvious tactical superiority nor of the first or second-level reactions of its opponents.
Cyberattacks are another Iranian “excellence” while, only recently, Saudi ARAMCO has been updated in terms of protection from cyberattacks- albeit we are still at less relevant levels than Iran’s.
It is no by mere coincidence that the Saudi oil company has already suffered cyberattacks, with the Shamoon virus in 2018. Moreover, due to their geographical location, also the Saudi ports and infrastructure are scarcely protected from missile or air attacks.
But also from sea bombings, especially on the ports of Ras Tanura and Ras Juaymah, located in the Persian Gulf, and of Yanbu, in the Red Sea, which are hard to protect.
So far, however, the Saudi critical infrastructure has been defended only from Qaedist attacks, not from a real military operation, possibly with the Houthi conventional or hybrid war protection.
Not to mention the desalination plants, which process 70% of all the drinking water distributed in Saudi homes, in addition to electricity grids, which are based on the production of energy using over two thirds of the abundant oil supplies. They are surely targets of the drone attacks, as well as cyberattacks or conventional operations.
Another factor not to be neglected regards one of the mainstays of Mohammed bin Salman’ strategy, namely the sale of Saudi ARAMCO.
Clearly the attacks significantly reduce the stock market value of the company, and it just so happened that, in the last days before the attack of last Saturday, the sale procedure had recorded a strong acceleration.
Mohammed bin Salman has set the cost of the ARAMCO operation at 2 trillion dollars.
Hence, considering the infrastructure weakness shown by Saudi Arabia, it will be very unlikely for investors to run to buy the company and carry out transactions on the Stock Exchange.
It is also easy to understand that Iran’s and its proxies’ operation against Saudi Arabia is such as to place Iran in a vantage position in a future new negotiation on the nuclear issue.
It should be recalled that the war in Yemen started in 2015 when Saudi Arabia entered that country to free some areas, including the capital Sana’a, from the insurgents.
Later Saudi Arabia established a friendly government, led by Abu Mansur Hadi.
Saudi Arabia, however, was not able to hold its positions and reach its strategic objectives.
In fact, holding Yemen means to completely control the Persian Gulf and the areas pertaining to it.
Saudi Arabia has kept only Aden and Al Mokha, as well as few other areas, while the border between Arabia and Yemen is still a land of conflict and clashes, in a tribal zone, on the Saudi side of the border line, which has always been scarcely favourable to the Al Saud family and to the Wahabi tradition of Islam.
Nevertheless, not the whole Ansar Allah, the Houthi Shiite movement, is strictly dependent on Iran.
Hence the war in Yemen is a huge cost for Saudi Arabia, while it is negligible for Iran.
We should also consider the support provided to the rebels in the South by Abu Dhabi, the other Emirates and Oman, a country that has always had its own specific policy vis-à-vis Iran.
It should also be recalled that Saudi Arabia was directly hit by drones on December 4, 2017.
However, only a part of the Yemeni tribes are currently loyal to Hadi’s central government and they have often had to enter the Saudi territory, while the other tribes, including the Sunni ones, have supported the tribal-national autonomy proposed by the Houthis.
As already mentioned above, however, ultimately not even Iran will be able to control Ansar Allah completely.
Other effects of the oil crisis will be seen in India, whose economic take-off relies solely on Middle East oil, with 18% of its annual consumption resulting from Saudi oil alone.
Other Asian countries shall change their main supplier, but also the United States – despite its shale oil production -has so far imported 400,000 barrels per day in 2019 alone.
The situation is not bad at all for Russia which, for years, has been setting oil prices similar to OPEC’s. The same holds true for Kuwait and the Emirates, but the possible expansion of production could currently reach a million barrels per day, which are not enough to cover the Saudi shortfall.
Reverting to Yemen, it should also be recalled that the local war is the result of the US-sponsored “Arab spring”.
Hence, it is however unlikely that the attacks on oil wells and facilities (and we should consider that they are not far from the Yemeni border) provide the opportunity for a combined Saudi, US and Israeli attack on Iranian military positions in Iraq or in the Persian Gulf.
From a disadvantaged position, Iran has managed to create its own strategic level playing field with regional and international players, which is the real new fact of the drone attack on the Saudi oil facilities that took place last Saturday.
CIA National Intelligence Estimates on the Cross-Strait and Sino-Russian Relations
In July 2011, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) published a declassified National Intelligence Estimate on “Russian-Chinese Relations: Perspectives and Implications” dating back to September 2000. The 45-page report highlights growing concerns in the American intelligence community about the future of Sino-Russian defense and trade cooperation, which could undermine Washington’s Smart Power in Central Asia and the South China Sea. However, the document also underlines the relationship between Russia and China “would not deepen much beyond its current state» and could even be «subject to occasional friction“.
The People’s Republic of China is perceived by the CIA as sceptical of US influence abroad at the moment of the publication of the National Intelligence Estimate (September 2000), the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade (May 7, 1999) becoming the symbol of animosity between the two countries.
Twenty years later, geopolitical tensions remain, as underlined by American support for the protests for greater autonomy in Hong Kong (2019), and Washington’s pressure on Beijing with the accusation of the military origins of Covid-19 (2020).
In 2020, all US attempts to implement Western Soft Power in China — with the exception of Hong Kong and Macao — have had mixed success. Washington’s struggle to establish mutual trust with Beijing is similar to that of Western European countries, and the tormented past and Chinese colonisation by the West is still a contentious issue.
In Western institutions, Chinese recovery of sovereignty goes back to December 20, 1999, with the transfer of Macao from Portugal to the People’s Republic of China. To the Chinese leadership, the inference by Western power is still going on with the US support to Taiwan (sales of US arms) and the Japanese presence around the Diaoyu Dao and its affiliated islands (Japanese Senkaku Islands) backed up by Washington.
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, statement by Yang Jiechi in July 2019:
“Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory. The sale of US arms to Taiwan seriously violates the One China Principle and the three joint China-U.S. communiqués, undermines China’s sovereignty and security interests, and seriously undermines peace and stability across the Strait.”
Ultimately, Beijing’s desire to overtake the United-States (eg. Chinese space program) would be motivated by the post-colonial trauma, the desire to regain control of Taiwan and attempts to gain the respect of former European colonial powers and Washington.
Sino-Russian relations may prove to be better than Sino-American relations. Nevertheless, and as the declassified CIA document of 2000 points out, bilateral cooperations between Moscow and Beijing remain difficult because of the Soviet Union’s Changing Policies on China’s Nuclear Weapons Program (Zhihua Shen and Yafeng Xia. Between Aid and Restriction: The Soviet Union’s Changing Policies on China’s Nuclear Weapons Program, 1954-1960. Asian Perspectives, 2012).
As of today, Beijing is ready to support Moscow because the two countries share the same views on multilateralism. However, Beijing has not shown any support to Russia’s diplomacy in the Black Sea (Crimea, Abkhazia and South-Ossetia) and the Middle East (Syria). To date, China does not recognize the Crimea as part of the Russian Federation, and has rejected offers to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent countries.
This research paper will focus on two reports — CIA National Intelligence Estimate (1999) “China-Taiwan: Prospects for Cross-Strait Relations” and CIA National Intelligence Estimate (2000) “Russian-Chinese Relations : Prospects and Implications” — to explain how the CIA views Beijing-Taiwan and Beijing-Moscow relations in the late 1990s, after the return of Hong Kong (United Kingdom until 1997) and Macao (Portugal until 1999) to the People’s Republic of China.
The analysis will also highlight how the Balkans and the Black Sea conflicts have a direct impact on Chinese diplomacy according to the two declassified intelligence estimates of the CIA.
The CIA National Intelligence Estimate on “China-Taiwan: Prospects for Cross-Strait Relations” (NIE 99-13 – September 1999)
After the return of Hong Kong and Macao to the People’s Republic of China, the United States is the only Western power capable of hindering Chinese territorial ambitions in the South China Sea (Taiwan). CIA reports in the 1990s, unlike those produced earlier by the CIA during the Cold War, attempted to determine whether Taiwan should remain an independent country backed up by Washington or follow the British and Portuguese examples of Hong Kong and Macao.
The CIA’s National Intelligence Estimate “China — Taiwan: Prospects for Cross-Strait Relations” published in September 1999, supposed to cover the evolution in the upcoming 3 years (2000–2003), and declassified in July 2011, answers this question and highlights the scenarii in which China could decide to regain control of Taiwan by military means.
The report has been produced at a critical moment in Sino-American relations because the return of Hong Kong and Macao under Chinese tutelage leaves the United States as the only military power capable of counterbalancing China’s regional ambitions, as Japan and South Korea do not have a nuclear strike force, unlike Great Britain.
Mention should be made of China’s rise to power, which is implied in the report. With the incorporation of Hong Kong and Macao, China has increased its GDP by attaching two bastions of capitalism, thereby weakening the British and Portuguese economy on the one hand and increasing the financial performance of Beijing on the other.
The CIA report also comes at a time when tensions between Washington and Beijing are increasing due to the NATO bombing of the People’s Republic of China embassy in Belgrade (May 7, 1999). The Balkans (Serbia) and the Caucasus (Chechnya) are recurring themes in the NIE on Taiwan, but also in the analysis on Russian-Chinese relations (CIA National Intelligence Estimate “Russian-Chinese Relations: Perspectives and Implications“).
The NIE is relying on complementary analysis conducted by several US institutions, including the following ones mentioned in the beginning:
- NIE 98-05, “China’s Conventional Military Forces: Current Status and Future Capabilities (1998-2008)”, released in June 1998
- “China’s Strategic Priorities and Behaviour“ supposed to be published later in 1999
The number of specialized reports on Cross-Strait relations underlines the priority for the CIA to increase its expertise on the People’s Republic of China for military and diplomatic reasons in the late 1990s. These reports, which cover a period of three years, also highlight the rapid evolution of Chinese diplomacy and military power after the Cold War.
Beijing’s approach regarding partially recognized states in Asia (Taiwan)
The bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Serbia is considered a key moment in relations between Beijing and Washington, and the CIA National Intelligence Estimate does not mention the voluntary or involuntary nature of the bombing.
CIA director George Tenet testified before a congressional committee that the bombing was the only one in the campaign organized and directed by his agency. According to George Tenet, the CIA had identified the wrong coordinates for a Yugoslav military target on the same street (Tenet George (1999). DCI Statement on the Belgrade Chinese Embassy Bombing House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Open Hearing. Central Intelligence Agency). It is therefore interesting that the NIE does not mention the nature of the bombing. However, a report mentioning the voluntary nature of such an action would probably not have been declassified.
Following the bombing, China’s position vis-à-vis the United States presence in Asia will become even more sceptical and, unlike the United-Kingdom and Portugal, the possibility of negotiating with Washington regarding Taiwan’s future tainted by the bombing in Serbia.
The CIA considers that Beijing has a comfortable position in Asia since the Europeans left Hong Kong and Macao, and believes that “China is convinced that Taiwan will not gain more influence” and that “greater economic interdependence between China and Taiwan will bring the two entities closer together.”
Unlike other de facto states such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Europe, which live on economic and military aid from Moscow because Georgia and the West do not want to increase their economic relations with the two territories, Beijing seems to have adopted an innovative strategy regarding Taiwan (also considered to be a de facto states according to the People’s Republic of China’s law). China is thus developing its commercial relations with the Island, hoping to see the two entities move closer together.
Beijing wishes to develop its relations with Taiwan in order to bind a prosperous territory when the time comes (like Hong-Kong and Macao) and to user Soft Power and economic ties instead of Hard Power. That is why Beijing wants to put more pressure on the United States to reduce the sale of arms to Taiwan and focus on economic cooperation.
Moreover, the NIE mentions that Beijing wants to make Hong Kong an instrument of Chinese “One country, two systems” propaganda. In this way, Chinese leadership wants to present the future of Taiwan as similar to the future of Hong Kong, with a commitment to economic prosperity and more freedom compared to Mainland China.
The Chinese approach is presented as slow and gradual. According to the report, China has no deadline for reunification and the certainty Taiwan “will not gain influence in the coming years”. In addition, the CIA claims that China will not engage in a military confrontation with Taiwan as this would be detrimental to its economy and international trade. China’s wish is therefore to impress and frighten Taiwan and the United States.
China’s Smart Power and the United Nations
In order to recover control over Taiwan, Beijing is ready to use a combination of Smart Power and international pressures in international institutions such as the United Nations (UN).
According to the NIE, Beijing suspects that Japan and Taiwan have a secret military agreement. In addition, China is trying to weaken the United States and all states — such as Panama — that have good relations with Taiwan, using all available means to ensure Taiwan will be internationally isolated.
Moreover, the CIA believes the more tension there is between China and the United States, the more Washington will be willing to support the island. In this sense, there is an interest for Taiwan to push for more confrontation between the two superpowers in order to improve the bilateral relationship between Taiwan and Washington.
According to the analysis, if the United States does not show firmness towards Beijing, the possibility of a domino effect is to be feared, and recovering control over Taiwan will then lead to increased pressures from Beijing on Japan and South Korea. In that sense, Taiwan needs to be defended by the United-States in order to contain China’s influence in the whole South-East Asia. Following this reasoning, and according to the CIA analysis, the reunion of Taiwan and China will mark the beginning of the United States’ withdrawal from the Asian continent and further changes for Japan and South-Korea.
Finally, the most singular point of the CIA report on Cross-Strait Relations is that it takes us back to the Balkans several times. Beijing is said to have put pressure on Northern Macedonia (Macedonia before 2019) because of its diplomatic relation with Taiwan. China is said to have vetoed the presence of peacekeepers in North Macedonia at the UN to show Beijing’s power on the European continent, a strong signal sent to several countries that might require UN assistance in the future.
Beijing could thus use the UN and other international institutions to influence the entire Balkans and the Black Sea by recognizing new countries or refusing to recognize them (eg. Abkhazia) and destabilize the European continent.
The CIA analysis thus lays the foundations for the Chinese strategy regarding the non-recognition of Kosovo (de jure a part of Serbia before partial recognition in 2008) to weaken the West, and at the same time the non-recognition of Abkhazia, Transnistria, South Ossetia to weaken Russian, and the non-recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh to weaken Armenia.
Beijing’s policy in Europe regarding de facto and partially recognized states will have consequences for the recognition of Taiwan and vice versa. In this sense, the CIA underlines how international institutions can be used by Beijing to achieve its objectives and how its policy in Europe is related to Taiwan.
The CIA’s Red Lines
These are the scenarii that could prompt Beijing to conduct a direct military attack on Taiwan:
- Taiwan new referendum on Independence
- Foreign support for pro-independence forces in Taiwan
- Taiwan development of nuclear weapons
- Political instability on the island
Despite this, the CIA believes that China will follow its plan to develop Soft Power in the coming decades, as relations with Russia will bring economic prosperity and military cooperation in order to counterbalance American influence in Asia.
The relationship between Moscow and Washington is not present in the NIE on “China-Taiwan: Prospects for Cross-Strait Relations” and we have to focus on the National Intelligence Estimate on “Russian-Chinese Relations: Perspectives and Implications” to understand how Sino-Russian relations are done in order to diminish the US influence in Taiwan.
A section entitled “What if we were wrong” also shows that the CIA is unsure of future developments, although it does present possible scenarii. Moreover, Washington does not seem to be ready for military intervention (no details in the report) and military support to Taiwan will probably take the form of military equipment only.
Conclusions on the National Intelligence Estimate “China-Taiwan: Prospects for Cross-Strait Relations”
In May 2020, the US State Department authorized a possible sale of eighteen MK-48 Mod6 Advanced Technology Heavy Weight Torpedoes and related equipment for an estimated cost of $180 million to Taiwan.
In response to the announcement Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on May 21, 2020, that:
“China is firmly opposed to the US arms sales to Taiwan and has made solemn representations to the US. We urge the US side to strictly abide by the one-China principle and the provisions of the three Sino-US joint communiques, and stop arms sales to Taiwan and military links between the United States and Taiwan to avoid further damage to Sino-US relations and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”
Some 20 years after the publication of the CIA National Intelligence Estimate report “China-Taiwan: Prospects for Cross-Strait Relations,” the approach between the United-States and China seems to show no significant change. Beijing opposes any US military presence and equipment sales to Taiwan, while the United States is not ready to abandon the island for fear of losing influence in South Korea and Japan.
Another element that emerges from this report is the CIA’s anticipation of China’s diplomacy regarding de facto and partially recognized states in Europe and the influence they have on contemporary Chinese diplomacy at the UN, bilateral relations with Moscow (Crimea, Transnistria, Abkhazia and South-Ossetia), Armenia (Nagorno-Karabakh), and the West (Kosovo).
The report also bears witness to the upcoming ambivalence of relations with Russia, which wants China to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia (de jure independent according to Russia and de jure part of Georgia according to the West).
On reading the CIA report, it is clear that Beijing will not vote in favour of diplomatic recognition of any de facto states in Europe in the late 2000s, forcing it to reopen the debate on the recognition of Taiwan and the application of the Montevideo Convention.
As the CIA shows, relations between China and Taiwan will lead to a debate on the recognition of Kosovo, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and possibly Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh. Although apparently focusing on Taiwan-China relations, the report provides multiple references that link Taiwan and Chinese diplomacy to the Balkans and the Caucasus, as evidenced by the reference to the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade and the lack of support for UN Peacekeepers in North Macedonia.
The CIA National Intelligence Estimate on “Russian-Chinese Relations: Perspectives and Implications” (NIE 2000-10C–September 2000)
Alongside reports on Beijing’s growing influence in Asia, the CIA conducted a study on relations between Russia and the Republic of China during the same period (1999-2000). The NIE on “Russian-Chinese Relations: Perspectives and Implications” is partially declassified, and a considerable part of this study remains “top secret” (pages 27-36) to this day.
The early release raises the question of whether it is worthwhile for CIA archivists to provide access to the document in question, especially in view of the classification, which usually includes results that must not be accessible to the public before several decades:
- The elements of the report that are now accessible are no longer of strategic interest (which is the case for the majority of declassified archives).
- The CIA report shows that relations between Russia and China are ambiguous, and could lead to a form of discord between the two superpowers.
- Technological developments (Russian S-400; Chinese J-20) are showing the report no longer covers contemporary military threats.
It seems important to mention that at the time of disclosure (2011), Russia has not yet returned to the international arena and is in the process of losing ground in Central Asia and the Black Sea area. Russia’s comeback goes back the Crisis in Crimea (2014 — nowadays) and the launch of the Eurasian Economic Union (2015).
The CIA could therefore have downgraded a document, like those on the USSR, without envisaging that the latter might have a deeper strategic relevance a decade later in 2020 and that Russia would experience a significant resurgence of influence.
Political Coordination and the fight against American unilateralism
From the very beginning, the NIE on Russia-China relations mentions the next 5 years ‘would not develop in a manner that is threatening to the US and might even stabilize Asia.’ The report adds that the 2000s will see an increase in arms sales between the two countries, particularly of SA-10 and SA-20 (S-300PMU-1/2 (SA-20)) from Russia to China.
Sino-Russian relations, in line with the CIA’s vision, should stagnate and focus on economic cooperation without any further political and military integration. The CIA also claims that the new Russian president, Vladimir Putin, will continue to sell military equipment because the Russian economy would struggle to without China. Beijing should also agree on buying more Russian military equipment because the People’s Liberation Army wants to scare Taiwan with military technology that can compete with that of the United States. According to the report, the Russian approach would be to sell military equipment in the hope that this would lead to the sales of other non-military products to China in the future.
As the NIE shows, Sino-Russian relations should not lead to supranational cooperation:
- The Kremlin is afraid China could become more powerful economically and militarily and thus threaten Washington’s influence in Asia and Moscow’s influence in Central Asia.
- China is skeptical regarding Russian policy since the 1950s because of the lack of support from Moscow for the development of an independent Chinese military nuclear programme (Chinese CHIC projects).
However, both countries wish to witness the emergence of a multipolar world and the attitude of American diplomacy in the 1990s has exacerbated tensions because neither Russia nor China seems capable of opposing Washington’s military ambitions. Indeed, Washington’s military power in the 1990s is such that the United States are able to bypass international bodies such as the United Nations.
The CIA therefore openly mentions the reasons for the fears of China and Russia in the 1990s, as these two countries were not able to contain American Smart Power:
- Russia and China are angry at the American decision to launch air strikes against Baghdad (December 1998). France, Russia and China opposed such military intervention at the UN without any results.
- Suspicion of NATO’s revised strategic concept of April 1999, which expands the geographic scope and justifications for the use of force.
- Outrage at the US approach to the Balkan crisis from March to June 1999 and the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in May 1999.
Contrary to the CIA’s National Intelligence Estimate (1999) “China-Taiwan: Prospects for Cross-Strait Relations,” the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade is mentioned as ‘accidental’ in the “Russian-Chinese Relations: Perspectives and Implications” NIE.
The CIA adds that cooperation between Japan and the United States could weaken both China and Russia, bringing Moscow and Beijing to adopt a shared policy in Asia. Moreover, to counterbalance American influence, Russia has decided not to support Taiwan, and China has decided to support Russian involvement in Chechnya. The CIA establishes a direct link between China’s diplomacy regarding Chechnya and Russia’s policy towards Taiwan.
The NIE does not fail to add that anti-American sentiment in both countries is also based on the fact that Moscow and Beijing are dealing with internal instability in the late 1990s.
The Balkan Crisis and the Sino-Russian Cooperation
Another part of the report which concerns the sale of arms from Moscow to Beijing requires attention. The CIA thus mentions that China will not hesitate to ‘shop around’ to find the best military equipments available on the international market. Although Beijing appreciates Russia for its quality and affordability, China seems to be interested in another supplier. The name of the country has been removed from the NIE and there is no evidence to identify it.
The National Intelligence Estimate states that the crisis in the Balkans is a key moment in Sino-Russian relations because it has brought Moscow and Beijing closer together in international institutions (UN) and in their anti-Americanism. However, the CIA believes Putin, contrary to Yeltsin, is “sceptical” when it comes to China. The NIE also mentions the new Russian president has a “mercenary” approach in his relations with Beijing (page 24).
What could undermine Sino-Russian relations?
The NIE tells a policy by Vladimir Putin aimed at redirecting arms sales to the West rather than to China could have a negative impact on bilateral relations. With regard to arms sales in the 2000s, it can therefore be said that the West, and in particular the United States, have chosen not to weaken relations between Beijing and Moscow. Indeed, the CIA could have encouraged partner countries to purchase Russian military equipment and thus counterbalance the economic weight of China in the Russian economy.
This option might have been considered at the beginning of the 2000s. However the successive crises — Kursk submarine disaster (2000), September 11 attacks (2001), Iraq War (2003), the financial crisis of 2007–08 — have made it difficult for a rapprochement between Russia and Western countries.
The report adds that Russia’s lack of support for China’s ‘One Country, Two Systems’ project could also have a negative influence on relations. In the 1990s, Russia supported a more autonomous policy in non-recognized states. The CIA speculates that Russia might consider recognizing Taiwan, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria on the basis of the Montevideo Convention, which it will do for Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008. The possibility of Russia recognizing Taiwan to justify its own recognition of Abkhazia and South-Ossetia is therefore a hypothesis suggested by the CIA in its report.
Finally, the analysis considers that China’s refusal to allow Russia to exert influence in Xinjiang and China’s western territories, as well as tensions in the Russian Far-East, could undermine bilateral cooperation.
In 2020, the context is rather similar and Beijing’s influence in Central Asia remains an issue as much as China’s influence in the Russian Far-East. Projects such as the Eurasian Economic Union (2015) are aimed at securing Russian control over Central Asia and halting the possibility of a political partnership between China and Central Asian countries. In fine, tensions between Moscow and Beijing remain, however both countries seem to have found a compromise with the coexistence of the Eurasian Economic Union supported by Russia and the One Belt One Road project sponsored by Beijing.
Sino-Russian Cooperation in Military Intelligence and/or Energy Cooperations (Classified)
The NIE remains partially classified to this day, and a considerable part (pages 27-36) has been deliberately omitted and its content is unknown. The US Department of Energy participated in the report (mentioned page 42) and the missing part might focus on Sino-Russian economic energy cooperations and pipelines.
However, the conclusion of the CIA report and the annex are mentioning a cooperation between Russia and China in the field of military intelligence (‘Russia-China Military Exchange’). It therefore seems inconsistent to see a conclusion on cooperation in this specific field when only one mention is made of it in the report (page 18). This first element leads us to believe the remaining part classified is linked to this issue. Moreover, the CIA had already made public a report on the subject “Soviet espionage schools” dating back to 1946. It therefore seems likely that the CIA will mention Sino-Russian intelligence cooperation in the National Intelligence Estimate on “Russian-Chinese Relations: Perspectives and Implications.”
On the basis of the report “Soviet Espionage Training Schools” (1946) report, one could put forward the idea that the NIE on Sino-Russian cooperation covers the following topics:
- Suspicion of joint training between Russia and China in Tientsin and Beijing (mentioned in the 1946 report).
- Joint training in Harbin at the National Defence Technology University. The CIA designates Harbin as the epicentre of Russia-China military relations, and to this day the National Defense Technology University remains an essential element in the training of China’s military elites.
In the NIE, the CIA also mentions that Russia is training Chinese troops in the handling of Su-27 (page 38) and Su-30 for a period of 6 months at the Krasnodar Foreign Pilot Training Centre.
In March 2000, Chinese students at the Smolensk Army Air Defence University are studying the strategy and systems of the SA-10 and SA-20 (S-300PMU-1/2 (SA-20) known as S-300 (NATO’s report name SA-10 Grumble), a series of long-range ground-to-air missile systems, first Soviet and then Russian, produced by NPO Almaz, based on the initial version of the S-300P.
The CIA claims that Russian commanders of the Siberian and Far Eastern military districts meet regularly with their Chinese counterpart in the Shenyang military region. The Russian GRU leader Korabel’nikov would have visited the PLA’s head of intelligence, Xiong Guangkai in June 1999.
Conclusion on the National Intelligence Estimates
The publication of the two NIE a decade later shows the capabilities of the US intelligence community and is an essential part of the CIA’s Soft Power. In fact, few intelligence agencies in the world can afford to produce and release such documents on the People’s Republic of China and Russia, and to provide details about the military cooperations between the two superpowers.
The choice to publish the National Intelligence Estimates may be linked to the fact that the documents are no longer relevant to the United-States and US allies. In January 2011, China unveiled its Chengdu J-20 fighter jet, and Russia’s weight in the Chinese defense industry is not the same as in the late 1990s, making the report outdated. Consequently, the documents are providing some interesting historical elements but need to be updated, especially when it comes to Russian and Chinese diplomacy regarding de facto and partially recognized states.
In 2000, it was difficult to know whether Beijing would be ready to recognize Kosovo, Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia or even Nagorno-Karabakh. On decade later in 2011, it is clear that Chinese diplomacy will not recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia (recognized by Russia in 2008) and that Moscow will not venture to recognize Taiwan.
Finally, the report could shed light on the tensions between Russia and China in the 1990s, and its disclosure would therefore be aimed at creating tensions between the two countries.
It is also possible that the report’s analyses are irrelevant or even incorrect, and that its disclosure is intended to suggest that the CIA has shortcomings in Russian-Chinese relations, whereas the CIA would keep the best reports on the subject without disclosing them.
Both documents are based on previous CIA analysis on China and Russia. It can thus be seen that between 1946 and 2000, the CIA monitored relations between China and Russia and had at its disposal strategically knowledge such as the location of the joint training centre for Russian and Chinese officers in Harbin.
The most original aspect of these two NIEs remains the relationship between Europe (Balkans and the Black Sea area) and Chinese policy regarding Taiwan. The bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade is perceived to be a key element in Sino-Russian relations, bringing the two countries closer together in their anti-Americanism. Moreover, the reports are establishing a connection between events in Europe and Asia, underlining both Moscow and Beijing have a global strategy regarding de facto states (Taiwan, Kosovo, Abkhazia, South-Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh).
The CIA report therefore takes on an additional dimension. Whereas organisations such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) bring together de facto states in Europe to do a comparative analysis, the CIA has a worldwide approach and also includes Asian de facto states (Taiwan). Russia and China seem to have adopted the same approach and the Chinese policy in Chechnya is interconnected with the Russian diplomacy in Taiwan.
It can therefore be said that the US, Chinese and Russian strategies towards Taiwan, as well as towards partially and unrecognized states in Europe, are global and interconnected, raising questions about Washington’s interest in recognizing Kosovo in February 2008. The CIA was aware the diplomatic recognition of Kosovo would have an impact not only on the stability in the Balkans, but also on Russian and Chinese diplomacy in the Black Sea area (eg. recognition of Abkhazia and South-Ossetia by Moscow) and the South China Sea (more tensions between China and Taiwan).
From our partner RIAC
Cyberwar between the United States and China
How is the new “Cold War 2.0”,which currently characterizes the ever less collaborative relations between the United States and China, developing?
Some data may be interesting in this regard. On March 3, 2020 the Chinese cybersecurity company Qihoo 360 accused CIA of having hacked many Chinese companies for over 11 years.
They are – almost obviously – aviation companies, large global commercial Internet networks, research institutions and certainly also Chinese government agencies.
Not to mention the cryptocurrency operations often organized by people and entities traceable to the North Korean government.
Both the Chinese and the US governments, in fact, use various and complex entities and mechanisms to operate in cyberwar. Firstly, the “front companies”. Just think of the Chinese group APT40, which even hires hackers – as everybody does, after all. Secondly, the intrusions to collect cyberdata in the large multinational companies, or even in State agencies, which often remain blocked for a few days and, in that phase, transfer vast masses of data to the “enemy”.
Thirdly, the theft of IP and trade secrets- another mechanism that everybody uses.
Obviously this is not the case of Italian Agencies, which, at most, can entrust a small, but good Milanese company to do some hacking, possibly in accordance with the law.
It now seems that the Italian ruling classes are composed above all of what in the 1920s Gaetano Salvemini called “the Paglietta of the Naples Court”.
On the military level, the United States believes that today the Chinese Joint Chiefs of Staff can hit well and quickly any opposing C3 system (Combat, Control, Communication) and that it can also carry out automated, but smart warfare operations, from the very first moments in which a significant regional military clash occurs.
Although many US experts in the sector also maintain that, still today, the United States hasa better base of action and, probably some advanced technologies that could enable the United States to have a better and wider cyber action. Nevertheless, this is not necessarily the case.
Certainly China is well aware that the Western and especially North American response to a harsh cyberattack would entail an even harsher, immediate and ruinous reaction against Chinese targets in the homeland and in the other regions.
Hence cyberwar’s parallel IT operations are mainly carried out by Russia: just think of the attack on French TV5Monde in 2015 or on Ukrainian energy companies in late December 2015, as well as on Sony in 2014. We can also mention the 2017 attack – through the use of a computer virus, WannaCry – which, however, was a cyberattack attributed by the United States to North Korea.
On the technical-legal level, the Chinese legislation that governs the Chinese cyberwar is mainly contained in the National Security Law of 2015 and finally in the Intelligence Law of 2017, in which it is laid down that cyber operations can be conducted both by the Ministry of National Security, the old guoan, and by the Office for Internal Security of the Public Security Ministry.
The operations abroad normally concern the Centre for the Evaluation of Intelligence and Technology (CINTSEC), which is an integral part of the Ministry for State Security.
The other autonomous cyber networks operating within the People’s Liberation Army(PLA) add to this official network.
At geopolitical level, China does not want to trigger any conflict with the United States. Neither a traditional conflict nor a cyber one. Quite the reverse.
China’s current real goal is to bridge the technological and operational gap between the two cyberwars, both on a strictly military level and, above all, on the economic and technological one.
China knows that – as Napoleon said – “wars cost money” and it is good not to make them if they can be avoided.
For the United States, China needs cyberwar to win “particularly informationalised local wars”.
Conversely, for Chinese theorists, cyberwar is the only real strategic war of the 21st century, as it was the case for nuclear war in the 20th century.
In other words, the technological and doctrinal area that allows to win a medium and large conflict and then sit at the peace negotiating table with of Phaedrus’s motto Quia sum Leo.
Also on a global and commercial level, China even plans to build a large private company that can compete on an equal footing with what in China is called “the eight Kongs”, namely Apple, Cisco, Google, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Oracle and Qualcomm.
Therefore, at military level, China wants first of all its full cyberspace security so as to ensure the security of critical intelligence, both of regions and economic activities.
Also on the American side, however, there is currently a tendency to reduce the Chinese cyber penetration power, both at military and commercial levels. Some analysts maintain that,in recent years, the Chinese cyber presence has been very exaggerated.
There is a psywar operation – this time, certainly, of North American origin, but recently present on the Web – which currently makes us add a further analytical factor on the intelligence cyberwar and, above all, on the implementation of cyber criteria in psywar.
Nowadays there is a sort of “Report of a Military Contractor” available on the Web- as it is officially entitled – which is supposed to reveal just what the United States would like to hear still today, i.e. that Covid-19 is just a “Chinese virus” that was designed and made in the now very famous Wuhan laboratory.
This report was drafted by a previously unknown Multi-Agency Collaboration Environment (MACE), a group of cyber and non-cyber experts, whose site is only part of the Sierra Nevada Corporation.
However, it is still a current relevant contractor of the US Department of Defence.
Hence the usual “external centre” that is used to say things that it would be unreasonable to say directly.
The report states it is based on evidence related to the posts of the intra-and extra social networks, both of the laboratory and its employees, as well as on the data provided by non-military satellites and finally on the positioning data of mobile phones.
All this in view of even saying that “something” happened – probably by chance and accidentally, but in any case extremely severe and uncontrolled – in the Wuhan laboratory, only with regard to the Covid-19 virus.
This is a further phase of the modern misinformation technique: at first, it was said that the virus deliberately came out of the Hebei laboratory, while now it is underlined that it probably “escaped” unintentionally from its microscopic cage.
It is easy to understand what they really want to communicate: even if the Chinese government were not responsible, international lawsuits for claiming damages would still be possible.
Nowadays, at least in the West, misinformation is carried out at first by hardly hitting the opponent and later possibly apologizing for saying something inaccurate or wrong. A psychological warfare technique that creates the “aura” of the case without later supporting and corroborating it. It is very dangerous.
A really dangerous tactic, especially in the presence of an increasingly evolved and advanced Network.
The document, however, does not report as many as seven locations of mobile and institutional phones within the Wuhan laboratory – too great a flaw to be accidental.
MACE also states that, allegedly, a whole conference inside the Hebei laboratory was “cancelled”, due to an unspecified disaster, while, again in the documents of the laboratory, there are pictures with a clear internal date concerning precisely that event, the conference of November 2019.
One of these pictures was also found in the social media of a Pakistani scientist who had participated.
Even the aerial photographs provided by the company Maxar Technologies are a sign of obvious and normal repairing of roads, certainly not specific roadblocks placed due to an unforeseen and very severe event.
A few days ago President Trump stated that the “virus came out of the lab because someone was stupid”. Too easy and, I believe, useless even for a legal and insurance case against the Chinese government itself.
Moreover, these is the more or less manipulated data which, however, has certainly been useful to develop and spread the theory of “Chinese fault” for the outbreak of the epidemic and then pandemic, just in the midst of the great “acquisition of intelligence data” to which Trump and Pompeo referred.
All this just to reaffirm, without any reasonable doubt, the wilful or culpable guilt of the Chinese government in the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, and hence to stop the development of China and make it retreat, – with huge legal costs – from a development rate that was already within reach.
Moreover, the aforementioned MACE report lacks some data that we would simply call cultural intelligence, i.e. not knowing that the first week of October is a “golden” week for China, e.g. the National Day which commemorates the foundation of the People’s Republic of China, announced by Mao Zedong in a very famous speech at the Square of Heavenly Peace Square, with an even more famous phrase: “the Chinese people have stood up!”
How can they not know this, even believing they are intelligence people?
The same happened with a US report on the coronavirus issue transmitted from US to Australian intelligence agencies and later immediately published in a Sydney newspaper. Obviously everyone also “manipulate” documents to defame the opponent, but there are many ways and means of doing so.
On a more strictly doctrinal level, however, the issue brings us back to the analysis developed in 1999 by the two famous PLA Colonels, Quiao Lang and Wang Xiangsui, entitled Unrestricted Warfare.
It was a manual on what we would today call asymmetrical warfare.
Today, however, Quiao Liang thinks that – even at this stage of the conflict -war is still linked to the manufacturing industry. This means you can have excellent scientific research and a good network of research centres, but if you do not turn all this into mass and important industrial products, as Quiao Liang says, “you have just won a medal, but nothing more”.
Liang also maintains that the United States is therefore using up its weapons and industrial equipment stocks.
Furthermore, the more the coronavirus crisis worsens -considering the scarcely effective reaction of the US economic and health system – the more the consumption of North American military and civilian stocks increases, although the ability to produce them decreases more than proportionally.
Hence has the United States still have a manufacturing and mass industry, as well as the ability to turn technological evolution into mass products, to wage an asymmetrical or conventional war but, above all, to continue it until the final victory?
The Chinese Air Force General seems to imply that this is not the case.
Hence, in his mind, currently the only reasonable solution for China is to expand its production system, but never underestimate the “traditional” medium-low technology manufacturing industry, which is the one that reproduces and expands production forces and enables it to last over time, which is the only real guarantee of victory.
You do not eat fintech products, but rather Californian tomatoes and Midwest meat.
Those who want to collect technological jewels can certainly do so and – as the General maintains – obviously also China must do so, but what is still and always needed is the great mass production and items that, coincidentally, have become scarce all over the world: masks, respirators, food, traditional infrastructure, as well as means of transport.
It is fine if you believe that war and the economy are a superhero scenario, but you have to win, i.e. “to last one minute more than your opponent” – hence you need to go back to a mass, industrial, stable and growing civilization for the “real” economy.
The myth of high technology as the key to everything, induced by the development of the current United States, has made everyone else in the world lose the true sense of modernization, the key concept of the Chinese political narrative, from Deng Xiaoping to present days and in the future.
You cannot think of a future civilization in which social verticalisation is such that a share of over-rich countries slightly higher than 1% follows the vertical impoverishment of all the others.
A mass impoverishment which also leads to a reduction of manufacturing production. The products are later sent to “Third World” countries to trigger a process of social pyramidalization that is almost unprecedented in human history. And what is it for? For uselessly spending the mad money produced by fintech?
Therefore, the Chinese General believes that a US decoupling from China – as all the economists close to the White House preach-is needed to prevent China from taking all the most important technological and defence patents. In his opinion, however, also China must not decouple from the USA at all. This is not useful for high technology, but if anything, to avoid doing the same as the United States on a mass level.
If there is decoupling – as the current US economists preach – the Chinese products will become more competitive compared to the US and US-related products. Hence the US monetary hegemony would soon disappear and the same would be true for the its double use of the dollar that made an old FED Governor say to his European colleagues: “the dollar is our currency,but it is your problem”.
Therefore, in the long run, it will also be impossible to let China – with its low-cost productions – be replaced by Vietnam, Myanmar and the other countries in the so-called “pearl necklace” of Southeast Asia.
Moreover, if after the coronavirus crisis, there will be further robotization of the workforce, how will it be possible to maintain many and sufficiently high wages which, after the pandemic, will obviously be distributed to a smaller number of available workers?
Low wages – and hence also scarce tax revenues – as well as crisis of State spending and decrease in social and military spending, especially in the high tech sector, which always has a very high unit cost.
Therefore, just to recap, the Empire is facing severe danger.
As the Chinese General maintains, “we must not dance with wolves”, i.e. we must not follow the pace of US dance to reap only the technological fruits, but rather maintain and expand the great manufacturing production and, above all, even avoid taking up the cultural, industrial and scientific traits of the United States, which the Chinese General deems to be at the end of its civilization cycle.
According to Chinese analysts, the United States is a “country that has gone directly from dawn to decadence”, just to put it in the words of a French ambassador.
Hence China needs to solve the Taiwan issue autonomously, as well as also harshly oppose the actions against Huawei, by reacting blow-for-blow with the U.S. companies in China, such as IBM, Cisco, etc., and stopping their activities in China, where necessary. Anything but hybrid warfare.
Here we are at a commercial and quasi-conventional war between two powers, i.e. an old Western power,on the one side, and an Asian power on the other which, however, does not want at all to be relegated and closed in the Pacific, as implied and assumed by the new US military projects for closing the Ocean, from California to Japan, or for trying to block the expansion of the Silk Road or still trying to block the expansion line to the South and East of China, as President Xi Jinping has recently advocated.
Certainly China is currently not lagging behind on the cyberwar issue. Nevertheless it does not want to use it as a substitute for conventional war or psywar for dual-use technologies, nor to play the game of the total defeat of a hypothetical “enemy”.
China can now avail itself of the Third Department of the People’s Army, the network dedicated to cyberwar within the PLA, but also of the Strategic Support Force.
This will be the new “Cold War 2.0”, i.e. a series of IT, economic and industrial guerrilla warfare actions, and of actions of defamation – specifically at military level – of confidential information to be stolen from the enemy in a tenth of a second, as well as of cultural manipulation and-eventually, but only in the end-of fake news.
Reconciling Public Safety and National Security Via A Renewed Focus on Biosecurity
As the broad ranging consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic wreak havoc across the global political economy, there have also simultaneously come up several issues pertaining to policy and governance particularly related to International Security. These include for instance the growing emphasis now being laid on biosecurity which under the current context of an unprecedented global pandemic has greatly exposed the failings and lack of preparedness of even some of the world’s most developed countries.
One has to merely glance at the fast-rising death tolls in the US, UK, Italy and Spain to gauge how some of the world’s foremost economies and health services have been left devastated owing to a severe lack of preparedness. Countries which boast some of the world’s most robust military industrial and technological complexes, have been unable to otherwise safeguard not only the health and safety of their own populations, but also to preserve what can be only described as their entire way of life. Something for which they have been more than ready to go to war in the past.
Its hence no surprise that the US for instance, in its incessant need to scapegoat (or to just simply bomb) and divert mounting public outrage has been consistently directing blame towards China. This has ranged from alleging China to have deliberately engineered the virus, to holding the Chinese government accountable for having initially covered up the severity of the outbreak in a bid to safeguard its own economic and diplomatic standing. While it is unlikely that the US would go to war with China solely over this, the dramatic deterioration in relations that has been witnessed in the kind of rhetoric and proposals that have been coming out from both countries stands as cause for grave concern for the world at large.
Yet, what’s lost amidst this blame game that has dominated headlines for over a month, has been perhaps the more important and timely discussion that had arisen on the importance of incorporating more robust bio-security measures. This is understandable considering how the term biosecurity has itself over the last two decades come to be associated more in relation to enacting safeguards against bio-terrorism and bio-chemical weapons. Aspects that were directly based for instance on the anthrax and smallpox scares that had dominated US policy discourse shortly after the September 11 attacks. Or for instance from the more recent threats issued by ISIS regarding the use of such weapons against Western targets. The above linked report from the Hudson institute for instance evaluates the US’s need to enact such biodefense (or biosecurity) measures within exactly such contexts.
However, it is this very context related to terrorism and homeland/national security which in dominating US policymaking circles is more attuned towards focusing on the perpetrators of such threats; be they state or non-state actors. Consequently, the whole aim of the US – and also arguably its closest allies -has been to justify its more interventionist and hands-on approach to mitigating such threats before they reach US shores. Hence, the emphasis being more on preventing such biological ‘attacks’ from occurring in the first place as opposed to dealing with them once they’ve ‘hit’.
While justifiable in its own right, what this approach however misses in its overarching focus on national security, is perhaps the more pressing need to address public health and safety domestically. Which in essence is what national security is premised on defending in the first place – an effective Civil Defense of sorts.
For instance, a widely cited comparison of the ‘Western’ response to the Coronavirus with that of certain East Asian countries such as Taiwan, Singapore, South Korea and Japan shows how these latter countries’ more recent experiences in dealing with the SARS and MERS outbreaks had contributed immensely to their relatively better responses to this pandemic. By already having in place certain contingency and policy directives grounded more in a domestic public health and safety perspective – as opposed to an outward looking national security one –each of these states was able to mount a more coordinated, timely and socially aware response to this crisis. Most importantly their responses had public support and sympathy directly built in to their policies which saw the overall public perception of their governments’ measures as wholly necessary and compulsory; as opposed to being forced and reactionary. This latter aspect for instance is manifest in how several countries have witnessed severe public and political backlash towards the social distancing and lockdown policies that were enacted the world over. This includes backlash witnessed in countries ranging from the US to Pakistan, where the economic costs of such policies – which once again are tied directly to externally inspired national security concerns – were given unassailing primacy over domestic public health and safety.
Talking specifically of Pakistan and its long history of being portrayed as a security state, such threats to national security from a potential biochem attack, are already prioritized along the lines of a potential WMD attack considering the primacy such threats hold for a Nuclear Weapon State. However, even within such military dominated approaches to bio-security, there is a still a public safety and awareness component from a Civil Defense perspective, that even in the case of any WMD attack remains already lacking.Thus, belying the prioritization afforded to deterring external threats, rather than on eliminating such shortcomings within, just like the US.
The current global pandemic has provided a rare chance to have this conversation regarding the very premises and priority this concept of Bio-security has been accorded within government policy circles.It has afforded a previously unfound impetus and political capital to enact and fund such measures. Instead of being squandered however, such impetus should be used to mitigate such lapses that have now been brought to the forefront of governance and policy discourse the world over. Unless these realities are adapted to, life is likely to become even harder in a world that has changed dramatically in just the last few months.
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