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The Year of Return of Military Parades and its Six Dimensions on International Affairs

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The year 2019 witnessed impressive military parades of the US and other regional powers. US President Donald Trump had floated the idea of having a parade in the USA in 2018 (10 November) to honour the veterans. He had been impressed by the July 2017 Bastille Day Military Parade in Paris which he witnessed during his visit to France at the invitation of the French President Emmanuel Macron. Eventually, the “Salute to America” event was held on 4 July 2019 at the National Mall in Washington DC with accompanying presentations of US military vehicles, flyovers by military aircraft and a fireworks display. Donald Trump became the first POTUS to address a crowd at the National Mall on Independence Day in 68 years. In his speech, he stressed the uniqueness of the United States calling it “a truly extraordinary heritage…one of the greatest stories ever told…” He referred to the American “…spirit of daring and defiance, excellence and adventure, courage and confidence, loyalty and love…” and stressed “…our nation is stronger today than it ever was before. It is its strongest now.” Expectedly, he spoke about USA’s military prowess and its victories at the various battlefields across the world; about the American heroes through the centuries; and the resilience of the American society. Another remarkable feature of the speech was that he was sure of his country’s unity and bullish about her future.   

Chinese President Xi Jinping led the Communist Party leadership at the military parade marking 70 years of CPC rule in October 2019. His speech was remarkable for its sense of confidence about China’s rise and the steely determination to fight each and every challenge to Party rule. The international media (as did the Chinese media) gave prominent coverage to his statement that there “…is no force that can shake the foundation of this great nation.” This was consistent with his concepts of China Dream and National Rejuvenation. The review of the military parade comprising about 15,000 personnel, 160 aircraft and 580 pieces of military equipment, including drones and missiles was the other major highlight of the event. The world also saw, for the first time, the Dongfeng 41, a nuclear-capable missile that could reportedly reach the United States in 30 minutes. This year’s military parade was the second after Xi Jinping assumed power. The earlier one was held in 2015 and captioned as the “70th Anniversary of the Victory of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and the World Anti-Fascist War“. Whilst in the case of India, the annual January Republic Day parade is notable for its showcasing of the country’s military might, in 2019, the Indian Air Force Day parade held on 8 October was quite significant for a number of reasons. It may be recalled that a MiG 21 Bison in February 2019 was shot down by Pakistan forces. The same day, in France, Indian Defence Minister Rajnath Singh received the first of the 36 Rafale aircraft. He used the occasion to tell the media that the first Rafale squadron would be ready by February 2021 to deal with the threats from Pakistan.

Interestingly, DPRK [North Korea] did not hold a military parade in February this year on the occasion of the anniversary of the founding of its army. Foreign media observed that the then impending US-DPRK leaders’ summit was the reason for the development. By contrast, in September 2018, the hermit kingdom celebrated its 70th anniversary with a large military parade. To round up the broad-brush coverage, it would be pertinent to mention the annual French Bastille Day Military Parade that was held in July this year when the focus was on European cooperation besides the announcement of the creation of a new French national military space force command. In another continent, during the month of September, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro used the Independence Day celebrations to try and recover from the poor public relations of the previous months connected with his right-wing economic decision making as well as the response to the Amazon fires. This year’s Moscow Victory Day parade was a primer for the 75th Diamond Jubilee celebrations of the Allied victory in Eastern Europe over the Axis powers in May 2020.

Quite apart from the usual stated objectives of display of national might and determination, these military parades have certain unstated objectives. A combination of these two sets of objectives require careful study in each case. For example, were domestic politics alone responsible for the criticism within the US that President Trump’s push for a parade received. The Chinese parades of 2015 and 2019 taken together sends carefully choreographed signals to its geopolitical competitors, and friends and foes alike. The calling off of the 2019 military parade of the DPRK due to political considerations is now well acknowledged. Suffice it to state, some of these factors have been around for a while, and the next section will attempt to assess the likely impact of military parades on contemporary international relations.

The Six dimensions

It is possible to identify six dimensions of the impact of military parades. But a caveat has to be entered at the outset: given the episodic nature of parades, a direct cause effect impact relationship cannot be conclusively established in each and every case. What follows are broad brush trends, most of which would require further study and analysis.

First, the rise of muscular nationalism is a clearly visible manifestation. Addressing the protests that were taking place in Hong Kong, Xi Jinping said during his speech at the military parade in 2019 that his government would “maintain long-term prosperity and stability of Hong Kong and Macao.” The 2019 Chinese Defense White Paper titled China’s National Defense in the New Era articulates explicit references to Naval Parades in the South China Sea. One should not forget the CCPs ongoing generation long narrative reminding its population of the Century of Humiliation.

Indian media reported that the Air Force Day celebrations were used, amongst other things, to call Pakistan’s bluff on certain specific details about the true extent of casualties in the aftermath of Balakot. How such positioning would impact on already frayed or fraying equations with other foreign countries is an important dimension here. On the flip side, as was seen during the medium-range ballistic missile and armed drone attacks by the Houthi group on a military parade in Aden (Yemen) in August this year, the risk of exposure during a parade remains.

Secondly, with each passing year such parades are testimony to the enhanced willingness of nation states to use coercive means of statecraft. Between 2015 and 2019, the PR China took a clear stand against the order of the Permanent Court of Arbitration on the South China Sea case with The Philippines (The Republic of the Philippines v. The People’s Republic of China) and even accelerated its activities in those islands and waters. Under President Trump the emphasis on national security has been quite exceptional even by American standards. The re-ordering of the Middle East power equations has given a boost of confidence for the Russian Federation and one can safely speculate that this would get reflected in the Diamond Jubilee Moscow Victory Day parade next year. On the other hand, the 2018 DPRK military parade was noticed for the fact that it did not include any intercontinental ballistic missiles which were a staple in almost all previous editions.

Third, and quite interestingly, there appears to be no clear pattern of linkage between economic growth rates and military parades. Even as its economic growth rate was being downgraded by the IMF, the Islamic Republic of Iran was holding an impressive series of military parades during their sacred defense week in September 2019. At the same time, the US parade in July this year took place at a time when the American economy was growing at a healthy rate. Having said this, it would be worthwhile for analysts to study these linkages in deeper detail. Military parades have shone the spotlight on the flourishing military industrial complexes in these countries. This has been most pronounced in the case of China. The connection between the Huawei company and the Chinese PLA has come under the spotlight in the context of the on-going 5G related differences between China on the one hand and the US, Japan and a few Western countries on the other. The other country that merits mention in this context is Pakistan where the armed forces runs around 50 commercial entities and receives over 20 percent of the annual budget.

Fifthly, the increased salience of the military parades is occurring at a time when there is flux in the post-World War II alliance systems and multilateral institutions. The most obvious manifestation is the recent public disagreement between the French and German leaders on the issue of the NATO. On the other hand, China and Russia which were close to a nuclear war in the 1960s have built up a strong strategic partnership. Another aspect worth mentioning is that parades reflect new structures created during the process of military reforms with their attendant repercussions for military diplomacy.

Sixth and finally, the jury is still out on the relationship between military parades on disarmament and arms control. As the Newsweek rightly pointed out in an article, China’s arsenal of medium and intermediate-range weapons, including the so-called “Guam killer” DF-26 gives it a distinct advantage over Washington and Moscow, which in 1987 signed the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty banning such weapons. One perspective is that these parades provide an opportunity to signal the deterrent effect of such weapons. Another perspective is that each such display of deadly systems is a dramatic snapshot of spiraling arms races.

Dr. Sunod Jacob The Peninsula Foundation Former Legal Advisor, ICRC Former Associate Professor of Law, GD Goenka University The author can be reached at sunod.jacob[at]thepeninsula.org.in

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CSTO anniversary summit: New challenges and threats

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lithuanian MOD admits Armed Forces capability deficit

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According to the last public opinion poll, the trust of Lithuanian residents of the National Armed Forces is continuously growing, and NATO membership is viewed in a highly positive light. The more so, it states that 88% of respondents support allied presence on the territory of Lithuania.

It should be said, that the last report published on kam.lt, the official site of Lithuanian Defence Ministry, was conducted on 16–29 December 2021 when the increasing military expenditures did not influence the national economy as much as they impact it today.

Despite positive reports, even last year the Defence Ministry admitted that the military’s requirement for modern armaments, vehicles, equipment and supplies remains high, given the former lack of funding, increased Lithuanian Armed Forces structure, obsolescence of armaments, equipment and vehicles, and modern technology introduction costs.

The rapid increase in the number of the Lithuanian Armed Forces personnel, the increased volumes of military training and the provision of support by the host country have highlighted the shortcomings of new armaments, equipment and machinery in the units and the existing infrastructure of the Lithuanian Armed Forces. The challenges currently facing armament and infrastructure development are due not only to the need for significant financial investment, but also to the legal and technical constraints that need to be addressed.

The Ministry of National Defence admits in its report that there are critical goals that should be achieved to meet national and Allied needs in a timely and high-quality manner:

the critical task is the smooth development of three new military towns (in Šilalė, Šiauliai and Vilnius),

the military training infrastructure must be further expanded by continuing the development of the main landfills of the Lithuanian Armed Forces and making decisions on the establishment of a new landfill;

therefore the focus must be on the development of viable infrastructure, gradually moving to complex development of military towns and abandoning non-viable infrastructure. Systemic solutions are needed for the rapid, high-quality and market-based development of National Defence infrastructure, such as better regulation, in order to accelerate the implementation of projects necessary for national security.

Another big problem for the National Armed Forces is lack of their attractiveness for the youth and the motivation of the soldiers.

Lithuanian military leadership admits either that the National Armed Forces lack sufficient capabilities as a host nation. Thus, Defence Minister Arvydas Anušauskas said capability deficit is a major obstacle for NATO battalion-brigade shift. He stated that the lack of capabilities may become an obstacle to turning battalions deployed in NATO’s eastern countries into brigades.

Lithuania, as well as the contributing countries that send troops to NATO’s forward battalions does not have sufficient capabilities itself. He made a conclusion that Lithuania needs to build them up and assured the allies in the willing to contribute to that as well.

“As if we have a brigade, we can also contribute our share of capabilities to that brigade, which is what the Estonians, for example, are doing”, the minister said.

Lithuania and NATO’s other eastern members are pushing for a decision at the Alliance’s upcoming Madrid summit in June to increase the size of the NATO multinational battalions deployed in the Baltic states and Poland to brigade-sized units. The battalions were deployed here in 2017, and increasing troops in this region is on the table amid regional security concerns.

Thus, the unsatisfactory provision of the Armed Forces and capabilities deficit prevent Lithuanian leadership from achieving its political goals and leaves nothing but ask for additional NATO help. The time is near when the Alliance gets tired of constant demands and will stop funding annoying countries. NATO’s authorities have repeatedly stressed that each country should make the most of its own resources and not rely only on collective defense capabilities.

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NATO’s Cheek by Russia’s Jowl

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Much has been said and written about the likely consequences of Finland and Sweden joining NATO. A legion of analysts have already assessed the changing balance of power in the Baltic Sea, the new situation on the long Finnish-Russian land border as well as the possible implications of such NATO’s expansion for the Arctic. Experts are actively discussing the modalities of Helsinki’s and Stockholm’s practical inclusion in the bloc’s current initiatives and upcoming plans, envisioning an anticipated set of political and military responses that Moscow could undertake in the current circumstances.

Without questioning the significance of all these issues, I would like to draw attention to another aspect of what is happening. The ninth enlargement of NATO is perhaps the most vivid illustration of the ongoing consolidation of the Collective West. A change in the political and military-strategic status of the two formerly neutral countries in Europe not only completely flips the geopolitical situation in Europe’s north upside down, but also brings NATO and the European Union even closer together, pushing the prospect of the EU’s “strategic autonomy” to an uncertain future.

The current wave of Western consolidation began far beyond yesterday, not only triggered by the latent conflict in Ukraine entering an acute phase. The change from centrifugal to centripetal vector in the Western world occurred at least a year and a half ago with the presidential victory of Joe Biden, a consistent advocate of transatlantic—and, broader, global—unity of liberal democracies. Moreover, long before the Russian military special operation began, political elites in the West had been pushed toward a rapprochement by their awareness of the growing existential challenge posed by China. The current expansion of the North Atlantic Alliance should be seen against the backdrop of such symbols of the new era as the last year’s establishment of the trilateral AUKUS, the U.S. insistence on institutionalizing the quadrilateral QUAD or the global Summit of Democracies, which was held a few months ago.

Nevertheless, the events of February 24 gave this consolidation a new—and powerful—impetus. The West was preparing for a similar scenario for a long time: Therefore, the reaction of its leaders, business and influence makers to Moscow’s actions in 2022 was more rapid, coordinated and effective than it was in a similar situation in 2014.

The most important decisions on restrictions against Russia were taken literally within a few days. Moreover, the list of countries that joined the U.S. sanctions was much broader than it was eight years ago. The amount of Western military aid to Ukraine is unprecedented in modern history, as is the level of Moscow’s political rejection and even domestic Russophobia, whose cases have been recorded in almost all Western nations. The unexpected for many and clearly hasty decisions taken by Helsinki and Stockholm to abandon their traditional neutrality in favor of joining NATO are on a par with other manifestations of the unfolding consolidation of the West.

Obviously, it is the United States that benefits most from this consolidation. In fact, we are witnessing not quite successful attempts to restore the unipolar world of the early 21st century. Naturally, the shrewd Joe Biden is not a straightforward and simple-minded George W. Bush, which means that the establishment of a new edition of the unipolar world is going on, if I may say so, with medical precision, complying with all the formalities of multilateralism and collective decision-making on central issues of concern. This does not change the point, though: it is about restoring U.S. leadership, albeit in a less explicit form and in a less provocative way.

Nevertheless, the long-term success of this vigorous effort to restore such a world order is far from assured. The United States—much as the West in general—is no longer as economically, politically, or militarily strong as was the case two decades ago. The balance of power in today’s world has appreciably shifted in favor of non-Western countries and regions, and this lasting trend continues to accelerate. The international community has long lost the unbridled piety for liberal economic and socio-political patterns pervasive at the dawn of this century, while no special operation launched by Russia can completely erase the inglorious fiasco of the United States and its allies in Afghanistan from the minds of our contemporaries.

Apparently, another change of the centripetal vector to centrifugal trends in the West will begin with China rather than with Russia. A harbinger of a possible split could be seen in the last year’s Lithuania-China diplomatic conflict, when most European countries chose to stay out of the row between Vilnius and Beijing, limiting themselves to declarative support of their Lithuanian partners. The determination of most European states to lend unconditional support to Washington in event of an escalation in the Taiwan Strait is highly questionable as well.

Sooner or later, divergences, including within the North Atlantic Alliance, will also emerge when it comes to the Russian dossier. Even today, France’s approaches to resolving the Ukrainian crisis markedly differ from those of the United Kingdom or the United States. Once the acute phase of the conflict is over, these discrepancies are likely to deepen, as European members of NATO are objectively more interested in restoring unity of the now divided continent than their overseas ally.

Any landmark event could be an agent of change. For instance, the victory of the new Trump in the U.S. elections in November 2024 or the coming to power in France of a politician like Marine Le Pen. Or, perhaps, a military clash between the U.S. and China in the South China Sea, which European countries will likely try to distance themselves from. Or a new conflict between the East and West Atlantic coasts over trade and economic issues of importance to both sides.

Still, Moscow should not expect a new transatlantic rift to come in the near future. The reality is that Russia will have to prepare for a protracted confrontation with a newly consolidated Collective West, and attempts to play on situational contradictions between the U.S. and Europe are likely to fail. Fortunately, the modern world is much larger than the Collective West, even if it is newly aware of its common historical destiny.

From our partner RIAC

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