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Big power rivalry in the Gulf requires a US strategy rethink

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As French, Pakistani and other leaders seek to engineer a meeting between the US and Iranian presidents on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, big power rivalry could rack up tension in the waters of the Gulf and the Indian Ocean.

With prospects for a face-to-face encounter between presidents Donald J. Trump and Hassan Rouhani slim at best, attention is likely to focus on beefing up the security of key Saudi oil facilities after drone and missile attacks, blamed by the kingdom and the United States on Iran, and identifying an appropriate response that minimizes the risk of a full-fledged military confrontation.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, days after the attacks severely damaged oil installations, joined a US-led coalition to secure the Middle East’s waterways. Earlier, Britain, Bahrain and Australia pledged to participate in the coalition.

Japan declined to join but said it was considering sending its Maritime Self-Defense Force (SDF) on information-gathering missions in the region. It said it would coordinate with the US-led coalition and would include the Strait of Hormuz in its operations if Iran agreed. Japan has unsuccessfully sought to mediate between the United States and Iran.

The US Defense Department, meanwhile, in response to a request from Saudi Arabia and the UAE and in an effort to reassure Gulf allies said last week that it was sending an unspecified number of troops and equipment to the two countries to bolster their defences.

Iranian Brigadier General Ghadir Nezami, head of international and diplomatic affairs of his country’s armed forces, raised the stakes by saying that the Iranian navy would be holding joint exercises with Russia and China in the Indian Ocean and the Sea of Oman.

General Nezami, who is believed to have recently accompanied chairman of the Iranian Joint Chiefs of Staff Major General Mohammad Baqeri on a visit to China, gave no date for the exercises. Chinese and Russian media have yet to report the planned exercise while spokesmen in the two countries declined to confirm or deny the Iranian announcement.

Iranian Navy Commander Rear Admiral Hossein Khanzadi said in July that the Russian and Iranian navies would be conducting a joint exercise within a matter of months to boost military cooperation.

Russian and Chinese hesitancy to confirm the exercise may be designed to avoid hiking tensions as efforts at the United Nations to mediate between the United States and Iran proceed.

Moreover, Russian president Vladimir Putin is likely to want to avoid a shadow being cast over his planned visit to Saudi Arabia in October. Mr. Putin has urged the kingdom to proceed with the acquisition of Russia’s S-400 anti-missile system that was agreed in principle two years ago.

Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov met this week with his Saudi counterpart Ibrahim Assaf at the United Nations to discuss the visit.

Russia and China may also not want to undermine a Chinese-backed Russian proposal for a collective security agreement in the Gulf that would replace the US defence umbrella at a time that Saudi Arabia, uncertain about American reliability, may reach out to other countries for support in protecting its oil assets.

South Korea’s Yonhap news agency last week reported that Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had requested South Korean assistance in the strengthening of the kingdom’s air defense system.

Gulf concern about US reliability, dating back to US president Barak Obama’s negotiation of an international nuclear agreement with Iran and reinforced by Mr. Trump’s transactional response to the recent attacks on Saudi oil fields, leaves the Saudis and the Americans with no good choices.

Middle East scholar and former advisor to the US Defence Department Bilal Y. Saab argues, against the backdrop of a widespread feeling in Gulf states that the United States is gradually reducing its commitment to their defense as Washington focuses on Asia and the Indo-Pacific, that the United States in particular is caught in a Catch-22.

Its options of reducing commitment without surrendering its umbilical defense cord and making way for America’s rivals are limited.

Mr. Saab believes that the United States should focus its security cooperation less single-mindedly on arms sales and more on building the Gulf states’ institutional national defense infrastructure. Failure to do so, would risk regional tensions repeatedly spiralling out of control and ultimately prevent a gradual US drawdown.

The problem is, in Mr. Saab’s words, that what the United States should be doing to “responsibly reduce its security burden and footprint in the region” while safeguarding opportunities for lucrative arms sales would likely reinforce perceptions of America as unreliable and willing to sacrifice its friends – a perception that dates from the 2011 popular Arab revolts when Washington ultimately backed the toppling of Egyptian president and US ally Hosni Mubarak.

Mr. Saad is the first person to admit that his proposition may be pie in the sky.

“It would mean building and empowering institutions that have the guns, and thus the ability, to conduct coups. Only a foolish Arab autocrat would be interested in that. It would also mean liberalizing or professionalizing national-security ministries and intelligence agencies. Few Arab leaders would voluntarily undermine the favourable clientelistic networks that are run by their governments. In short, defense reform requires political reform,” he says.

Moreover, institution building would bring the different threat perceptions of the Gulf states and the US into sharp relief and force Gulf states to rethink their arms acquisition policies and grant the United States access to their jealousy guarded most secret data and programs.

Said Mr. Saab: “There is no shortage of problems on the US end or on its partners’ end when it comes to security cooperation. But it will be impossible to address any of those without making a total switch on how the United States thinks about security cooperation.”

That would require a US president who thinks in strategic rather than transactional terms.

Dr. James M. Dorsey is a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, co-director of the University of Würzburg’s Institute for Fan Culture, and the author of The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer blog, a book with the same title, Comparative Political Transitions between Southeast Asia and the Middle East and North Africa, co-authored with Dr. Teresita Cruz-Del Rosario and three forthcoming books, Shifting Sands, Essays on Sports and Politics in the Middle East and North Africaas well as Creating Frankenstein: The Saudi Export of Ultra-conservatism and China and the Middle East: Venturing into the Maelstrom.

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Defense

India’s Sprouting Counterforce Posture

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In recent years, the technological advancements by India in the domain of counterforce military capabilities have increased the vulnerability of the South Asian region. While trying to disturb the strategic stability in South Asia, India through its adventuresome counterforce posture against Pakistan is on the verge of becoming a rogue state. Notwithstanding the repercussions, India is voyaging towards destabilization in the South Asian Region.

India’s enhanced strategic nuclear capabilities which includes-the development of Multiple Independent Reentry Vehicles (MIRVs), Ballistic Missile Defence System (BMD), Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), supersonic and hypersonic cruise missiles, and acquisition of nuclear-capable submarines- indicate that India is moving away from its declared policy of ‘No First Use’ (NFU) towards a more aggressive, counterforce posture against Pakistan. The BMD and MIRV technology along with the provision of an advanced navigation system under BECA would embolden India to go for the first strike against Pakistan. While having reliance on BMD, as to be sheltered in return. These technological advancements made by India are sprouting a new era of counterforce posture, which would further make the South Asian region volatile and vulnerable to conflicts.

India’s urge to acquire counterforce capability is strongly associated with its doctrinal shift. As the stated posture requires flexibility in the use of nuclear weapons, which fortifies the first strike capability, and thus a deviation in India’s declared policy of ‘No First Use’ (NFU) has become more significant, particularly concerning its impact on regional stability. India’s declared policy of NFU, set out in Draft Nuclear Doctrine in 1999, followed by its first amendment in January 2003 has since then been into hot debates. Pakistan has long doubted the Indian policy of NFU, as the actions and statements by the officials of the latter have always been aggressive and protruding towards the former. India, now, is drifting away from its policy of NFU with the acquisition of counterforce capabilities, particularly against Pakistan. This is further evident from the statement issued by India’s Defense Minister Mr. Rajnath Singh, back in August 2019. It stated “Till today, our nuclear policy is ‘no-first-use’ (NFU). What happens in the future depends on the circumstances.” A change at the doctrinal level is evident in the Indian strategic enclave. Notwithstanding the challenges and repercussions caused by the counterforce strategy and with an attempt to destabilize the nuclear deterrence in the region, India would go unjustifiably low to attain such measures.  

In the same vein, India has been enhancing its nuclear capabilities for strategic flexibility against its regional rivals. By the same token, it wants to attain nuclear dominance, which would ultimately result in chaos in the region. The counterforce capability by India would compel its adversaries to heed towards the preemptive strike, in case of a crisis, out of the fear of the use of Nuclear weapons first by the patent enemy.  Moreover, the counterforce capability pushes the enemy to put the nuclear weapons on hair-trigger mode, which is directly linked with the crisis escalation.  The acquisition of counterforce capability by India would likely provoke a new arms race in the region. This would further destabilize the already volatile South Asian region. The far-reaching destabilization which India is trying to create, just to have an edge on the nuclear adversary, would be back on India’s face, faster than she knew it.

On the contrary, Pakistan has been maintaining a posture of Credible Minimum Deterrence (CMD) and does not claim to have a No-First Use (NFU) policy. Moreover, Pakistan’s nuclear capability is defensive in principle and a tool for deterrence. Given the Indian evolved notions of counterforce preemption, even now Pakistan would be left with no choice but to leave room for carrying out a ‘first strike’ as a feasible deterrent against India. Nevertheless, with the advent of technological innovations, its countermeasure arrives soon, too. Presently, there are two aspects that Pakistan should take into consideration; the growing Indo-US nexus and India’s concealed innovations in the nuclear posture. Though India is far from achieving counterforce strikes against Pakistan’s nuclear targets, concrete steps are required for maintaining future deterrence stability. With that intention, Pakistan might need to look towards its allies for getting hands-on the modern capabilities which includes- advanced communication and navigation systems, sensors, and advancements in artificial intelligence and otherwise, is essential for strengthening its deterrent capability. Pakistan should heed towards the development of absolute second-strike capability; as, what is survivable today, could be vulnerable tomorrow. Therefore, advancements in technology should be made for preserving nuclear deterrence in the future as well.

Summarizing it all, the existence of Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence has created a stable environment in the region, by deterring full-scale wars on multiple occasions that might have resulted in a nuclear exchange. With the revolution in nuclear technology, the threat of nuclear war has emerged again. Instead of going towards the attainment of peace and stability in the region, India has been enhancing its counterforce capabilities. This would likely remain a significant threat to the deterrence stability in the region. Moreover, any kind of failure to maintain nuclear deterrence in South Asia could result in an all-out war, without any escalation control. India, in its lust for power and hegemonic designs, has been destabilizing the region. Both the nuclear states in South Asia need to engage in arms restraint and escalation control measures. This seems to be a concrete and more plausible way out; else the new era of destabilization could be more disastrous.  

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A pig in a poke of Lithuanian Armed Forces

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The proverb “a chain is only as strong as its weakest link” perfectly reflects the situation in the Lithuanian armed forces. It is it unclear how the army will carry out its tasks, if everything that happens there runs counter to common sense.

The conscription took place in Lithuania. The recruits once again were revealed by an electronic lottery on January 7, 2021. 3,828 recruits were selected from the list of 38 thousand conscripts aged 18 to 23.

The idea of using electronic lottery in such a serious procedure arises a lot of questions among Lithuanians. Young people are suspicious of this method and fully admit the possibility of corruption. Nobody could check the results and so nobody could be blamed for random selection. The more so, the armed forces could get weaker recruits than in case of using usual ways of choosing among candidates. So, the army buys a pig in a poke.

This approach to recruitment in Lithuania results in presence of those with criminal intents and inclinations. Сases of crimes committed by Lithuanian military personnel have increased. Incidents with the involvement of military regularly occurred in Lithuania in 2020.

Thus, a soldier of the Lithuanian army was detained in Jurbarkas in October. He was driving under the influence of alcohol. A Lithuanian soldier suspected of drunk driving was detained also in Siauliai in December. Panevėžys County Chief Police Commissariat was looking for a soldier who deserted from the Lithuanian Armed Forces and so forth.

Such behaviour poses serious risks to public safety and leads to loss of confidence in the Lithuanian army in society.

Lithuanian military officials have chosen a new way to discourage young people from serving in the army, which is already not popular.

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” The ministry of defence decided to run a photo contest that would reflect service in the country’s armed forces. It is doubtful that such pictures will attract to the army, but the real situation is provided.

Usually, popularization is the act of making something attractive to the general public. This contest served the opposite goal. Look at the pictures and make conclusions.

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Defense

Fatah-1: A New Security and Technological Development About Pakistan’s Indigenous GMLRS

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Islamabad: It seems like 2021 has been a good start for Pakistan specifically with regard to stepping up its missile testing. On the 7th of January, the Pakistan military has successfully conducted a purely indigenously developed missile test flight known to be Fatah-1. As stated by various reports, Fatah-1 is an extended-range Guided Multi-Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) which itself is a developed variant of the guided MLRS family.

According to the recent statement given by the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) about the newly developed rocket, it was stated: “The weapon system will give Pakistan Army capability of a precision target deep in the enemy territory.” Director-General of Pakistan Army, Media Wing, major general Babar Iftikhar on 7th January tweeted: “Pakistan today conducted a successful; test flight of indigenously developed Fatah-1, Guided Multi Launch Rocket System, capable of delivering a conventional Warhead up to a range of 140 km.”

Defense analyst Mr. Syed Muhammad Ali also stated in his capacity: “the new system was very fast, accurate, survivable, and difficult to intercept”. A video was also shared by ISPR on their official website, in which the missile launch can be seen while being fired from the launcher however, the details on when and where the test flight has taken place, along with the specification of the rocket system are yet to be announced.

Currently, Pakistan Army owns a wide range of Short-Range Ballistic Missiles (SRBM), Medium-Range Ballistic Missiles (MRBM), Battlefield Ballistic Missiles (BBM), Rocket Artillery, and Surface to Surface Cruise Missile (SSCM). In the previous year, Pakistan had also maintained prime success in conducting the Ra’ad-II cruise missile and Ghaznavi surface-to-surface ballistic missile (SSBM). Besides, Pakistan Air Force (PAF) on 30thDecember made apt progress when it comes to the national air defense arsenal as it was announced that PAF is beginning the production of the State-of-the-art JF-17 Thunder Block 3 fighter jets, at the same time acquiring the 14 dual-seat Jf-17 aircraft.

According to various reports, the JF-17 Thunder Block 3 will be said to have a new radar operational capability which will be far better in the practical domain as compared to the Raphael aircraft acquired by India. Whereas, the exchange of 14 dual-seat aircraft, manufactured with Pak-China cooperation were also given to the PAF which will be used for extensive training.

The recent successful testing of Fatah-1 has been considered to be another milestone for Pakistan as it tends to be a fitting response to the recent developments in the conventional capabilities carried out by India and also to India’s Cold Start Doctrine.

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