Authors: Meena Singh Roy &Rajorshi Roy*
“As the political landscape of the region changed at the turn of this century, India restored its historical ties of natural affinity with the Central Asian countries….. Our membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation is a natural extension of these relationships and mirrors the region’s place in India’s future. Together with other countries present here, SCO could be a springboard for an integrated and connected Eurasia to become one of the most dynamic regions in the world” — statement by Prime Minister Modi at the 2015 SCO Ufa Summit that highlights the scope and importance of SCO in India’s Eurasian geostrategic calculus.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) has emerged as a key regional organisation in the Eurasian space. Accounting for over 60 per cent of Eurasia’s territory and more than 40 per cent of the world’s population, the Eurasian members produce almost a quarter of the world’s GDP. The introduction of new states, both as permanent and observer members, has not only expanded the frontiers of the organisation but also helped unshackle the image of an organisation limited in its scope and effectiveness. The renewed momentum at building regional synergies is reflected in addressing common security challenges and building long-term economic and energy linkages. While still a work in progress, there inherently appears to be a strong desire among SCO stakeholders to strengthen the bonds of regional cooperation. This is, arguably, reflected in co-opting Afghanistan as an Observer State with a view to transform a potential arc of Eurasian instability into an oasis of regional stability.
India’s interests, against this backdrop, align with that of the SCO. New Delhi, which acquired the Observer status of the organisation in 2005, has constructively participated in all SCO summit meetings. This culminated in it being accorded the full member status in 2017. More than a decade’s participation in the organisation highlights India’s willingness to play a more meaningful role in this regional grouping. This stems from India’s strategy of rebuilding Eurasian partnerships that once made the confluence of South and Central Asia the magnetic centre of the known world. The SCO, thus, provides India with a platform to strengthen its outreach to Inner Asia.
The present paper seeks to examine India’s growing interest and role in this Eurasian organisation. More importantly, it aims to answer two key questions – what it means for India to be a full member of the SCO? And what are the likely opportunities for cooperation and challenges that New Delhi can encounter in the future?
It is argued that given India’s benign strategic image, growing economic potential, and vast experience and expertise in building institutional capabilities, it can add greater value to SCO’s ongoing projects and share best practices in newer areas to forge a common vision for the region. India’s foundational pillars in the SCO appear at expanding synergies of cooperation in connectivity, counter-terrorism, energy and economic arenas.
However, the key challenge for India will be to adapt to Eurasia’s emerging geopolitical reality. Shifting great power rivalries, inherent tides of dominance, undercurrents of both geostrategic and geo-economic cooperation and competition, and desire of Central Asian states for greater strategic manoeuvre highlight the Eurasian churnings that New Delhi will need to navigate. This is, arguably, reflected in the geopolitics of the multiple ambitious integration projects being pursued by China, Russia, U.S. and even India. While integration is viewed as an antidote to Central Asia’s underdevelopment, which in turn contributes to the region’s political volatility and instability, yet their underlying agendas can have far-reaching strategic implications.
This paper is divided into four sections – the first deals with the evolution of SCO and the emerging regional dynamics, the second highlights the importance of SCO for India, the third delves into the opportunities for expanding New Delhi’s engagement with the organisation, and the final section crystal grazes into the future relevance of SCO and the challenges that India is likely to encounter.
I. Evolution of the SCO: An Expanded Regional Agenda
The profile of SCO, right from its nomenclature to its scope, has grown since its inception in 1996. Established as Shanghai Five by Russia, China and the newly independent Central Asian Republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, the organisation aimed to resolve longstanding Eurasian border disputes. With its foundation being based on the Treaty of Deepening Military Trust in Border Regions, the institution was looked through the prism of “promoting and deepening good neighbour relations, mutual confidence and friendship among the member-states”.
The organisation in its current avatar emerged in 2001 when the Shanghai Five was elevated to SCO by broadening its limited scope of resolving border issues to inculcating cooperation in the security, economic and cultural domains. Uzbekistan now joined the five founding members of Shanghai Five. The Founding Declaration of SCO outlined its defining goal as:
“strengthening mutual confidence, friendship and good neighbourly relations between the participating states; encouraging effective cooperation between them in the political, trade-economic, scientific-technical, cultural, educational, energy, transportation, ecological and other areas; joint efforts to maintain and ensure peace, security and stability in the region; and to build a new democratic, just and rational political and economic international order.”
The SCO also imbued elements of the 1996 Shanghai Spirit, with the organisation’s founding declaration aiming to “pursue its internal policy based on the principles of mutual trust, mutual benefit, equality, mutual consultations, respect for cultural diversity, and a desire for common development, while its external policy is conducted in accordance with the principles of non-alignment, non-targeting any third country, and openness.”
With almost two decades behind it, the SCO, through an expanded agenda, has now evolved into a key pillar of Eurasian political and security architecture. It has morphed to focus on both traditional and non-traditional security threats, set up a fully functional Regional Anti-terrorist Structure (RATS) to tackle the three ‘evils’ of terrorism, separatism and extremism, conducted anti-terror exercises, prioritised Afghanistan’s reconstruction and stability, dwelt on building long-term economic, connectivity and energy linkages, and articulated the need for strengthening cultural foundations and people to people contacts.
The inclusion of India and Pakistan as full members in 2017, co-opting Afghanistan, Belarus, Iran and Mongolia as the Observer States, and Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Turkey as Dialogue Partners have not only added a new vibrancy to the organisation but also reflected its pan-Asian geographical spread – straddling Central, South, South-East and West Asian regions. It’s guest attendees include ASEAN, UN, CIS and Turkmenistan. SCO, arguably, has emerged as a key platform for regional cooperation and engagement.
Nevertheless, given the inherent strategic importance of Eurasia, the organisation is not immune to great power rivalries, inherent tides of dominance, the balance of power politics, and undercurrents of geostrategic and geo-economic competition.
Evolving Regional Dynamics
The SCO remains rooted in Eurasian geopolitics. The organisation’s scope and importance have, therefore, evolved in sync with the regional geopolitical churnings. This stems primarily from the SCO being a vital instrument of China’s and Russia’s foreign policy towards Central Asian Republics (CARs), as well as a reflection of CARs strategy of balancing their relations with two big neighbours — Russia and China and maintaining their scope for strategic manoeuvre. In between, the U.S. has continued to remain a key tangent, oscillating between being a partner to becoming a rival and an adversary based on regional strategic calculations.
This trend continues, with Russia’s ongoing standoff with the West being the key driver shaping Eurasia’s strategic landscape. Moscow has sought to push-back the ‘Western’ attempts to isolate it by reasserting its influence in Central Asia — an area which has traditionally been the Kremlin’s sphere of influence or it’s near abroad’. Apart from being the predominant security provider of the region, Russia retains civilizational, cultural and ethnic linkages with CARs.
Meanwhile, China has emerged as Eurasia’s dominant trade and investment partner. Its modus operandi in SCO has been to utilise the organisation as a platform to cultivate stronger bilateral synergies with CARs. It has now increasingly sought to leverage its formidable economic prowess by making Central Asia the fulcrum of its Silk Road Economic Belt (SREB). This route, expected to connect Beijing with Europe via CARs, can fundamentally realign Eurasian geopolitics, with China edging out Russia at its forefront.
This undercurrent of clash of interests between Russia and China seemingly highlight their inherent shades of competition in Eurasia — with Moscow trying to reassert its fading influence while Beijing was attempting to expand its footprint. However, given Russia’s vulnerable position in its evolving confrontation with the West, Moscow has been compelled to build an entente with China to tap Beijing’s potential to be a bulwark against the Western geopolitical pressure. This Sino-Russian rapprochement has seen the Kremlin accommodate China even in Central Asia. Russian concessions involve acquiescing to a quantitative and qualitative improvement in Chinese military exchanges with regional countries and aligning the Moscow led Eurasian Economic Union’s (EEU) policies with SREB.
Russia and China also have a shared Eurasian interest — to counterbalance America’s Eurasian policy, which has been disruptive to their interests in the past — the ostensible regime changes through colour revolutions, in particular, and the U.S role and influence in global politics in general. Notably, they both face Western geopolitical pressure in their peripheries. As such, a Sino-Russian common vision for the region aims to ring-fence Eurasia from Western influence and project the image of an emerging geopolitical construct which is not only non-West but also bigger than the West. This convergence of interests is further highlighted in their need to insulate CARs from an Arab-Spring like situation, given the evolving politico-economic faultlines in Central Asia.
Nevertheless, hidden behind the Russian accommodative stand exists a more nuanced strategy aimed at subtly balancing Beijing in an attempt to maintain an equilibrium in their ties whose symmetry, otherwise, appears to be tilting towards Beijing. This is reflected in the Kremlin’s efforts to revive the EEU which inherently pulls Central Asian members into Moscow’s strategic embrace by offering exclusive preferential duties, a single currency and free movement of labour for the Eurasian economies. Needless to say, China is not a member of the EEU.
In the meantime, the U.S. too appears to be recalibrating its Eurasian strategy. While its 2015 C5+1 diplomatic platform had enabled Washington to establish a framework of high-level engagement with CARs, yet, if President Trump’s track record of being fixated on ‘America First’ policy is an indication, U.S. influence in Eurasia is likely to diminish, particularly at a time when Washington appears imminently poised to withdraw all troops from Afghanistan. A 36 per cent reduction in the U.S. aid to Central Asia in 2018 is an indication that wheels of U.S. disengagement have already been set in motion. Viewed through the lens of Russia and China, while an American withdrawal from Kabul is likely to exacerbate the worsening security situation in the country with a potential spillover of violence into Eurasia, U.S. disengagement will also leave Eurasia to regional powers to carve out a regional cooperative mechanism. These developments are in marked contrast to the 2017 testimony of Daniel Rosenblum, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs, who stated that the America’s Central Asia policy aimed to improve the ‘ability of the Central Asian states to resist economic and political pressures from the powerful countries that border the region’, and that the engagement sought to ‘promote greater cooperation and connectivity in a region that has one of the lowest levels of intra-regional trade in the world’.
At a regional level, new developments in the Af-Pak region, renewed American sanctions on Iran and Turkey’s fissures with the West have created a situation of strategic alignments and realignments. In this emerging situation, regional actors like India, Iran, Turkey and Pakistan have been re-engaging CARs by developing ties, both at bilateral and regional levels. Notably, all these regional powers are partners of SCO, highlighting the centrality of the organisation in the regional integration process.
In this Eurasian geopolitical chessboard, the Central Asian countries have sought to strike a balance in maximising their political and economic gains from each actor while trying to preserve their strategic autonomy. Notably, CARs remain inherently suspicious of Beijing’s overall economic motives and apprehensive of a greater strategic embrace by Moscow. Broadening their regional relationships, thereby, provides them with a platform to increase their scope for strategic manoeuvre. Arguably, the political dynamics among CARs now appear inclined towards intra-regional cooperation. This is reflected in the new Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev’s conciliatory outreach to other Central Asian countries to resolve contentious regional issues, including those on the delimitation of borders and sharing river waters.
Consequently, while the spectre of great power rivalries and competition continue to cast its shadow on Eurasia, yet the ongoing regional dynamics highlight a shift towards the greater regional cooperative approach.
II. India and the SCO: From an Observer State to a Full Member
From an Observer State in 2005 to a full member in 2017, the evolution of India’s more than a decade long exposure and engagement with SCO highlight the growing relevance of the organisation in India’s Eurasian strategic calculus. As a full member of the SCO, India is now not just an observer, where it would earlier be compelled to react and recalibrate its position based on its Eurasian observations, but a key stakeholder in shaping the dynamics of Central Asia. Given the geopolitical realignments, the stakes are high, responsibilities higher and immense opportunities to expand its engagement.
In this context, India’s ongoing engagement with SCO can be seen through the prism of reconnecting and re-energising ties with a region with which India has shared civilizational linkages, and is considered the country’s extended neighbourhood. Significantly, India views the SCO as an Asian body and not a military bloc. From New Delhi’s perspective, SCO as a forum provides a unique opportunity to discuss and expand new areas of cooperation in the economic, energy, developmental, connectivity, and traditional and non-traditional security arenas. It is also an alternative regional platform to delve into the rapidly changing situation in Afghanistan and the centrifugal forces arising from religious extremism and terrorism in the region which threaten India’s security and development. These nuances were aptly reflected in Prime Minister Modi’s statement at the 2017 Astana SCO Summit, wherein he articulated the ‘many dimensions of India’s involvement with SCO countries, with energy, education, agriculture, security, minerals, capacity building, development partnership, trade and investment as its major drivers.’ The forum also provides India greater visibility in the affairs of the Eurasian region and enables it to renew bilateral ties with regional countries on an annual basis.
Similarly, from SCO’s perspective, India’s growing global economic and political heft adds weight and credence to the organisation’s own profile, and, perhaps, dispels the Western notion of its existence being solely limited to counter-balance American influence in the region and it being an exclusive anti-U.S. talk shop. In this context, New Delhi’s calibration of a new regional cooperation approach which prioritises connectivity and development projects, its achievements in nation-building, and positive economic outlook in an era of slowing global growth carries a significant resonance in the region.
More importantly, India retains the inherent potential to balance competing strategic interests. Its benign image, positive historical connections and expertise in developmental partnerships place India as a credible partner for CARs in their calculus to strengthen their strategic autonomy vis-à-vis Russia and China. Similarly, given the existing Russian vulnerability in the face of the balance of Sino-Russian ties tilting towards Beijing, a more prominent Indian presence in Central Asia, leveraged by the traditional Indo-Russian partnership, fits well within Moscow’s strategic calculus of subtly balancing Beijing. From New Delhi’s perspective, Moscow can facilitate an enduring Indian-Eurasian partnership, given the substantial linkages the Kremlin retains with CARs. A calibrated Indian-Russian coordination in Central Asia can also help overcome the latent dissonance that has lately crept in their strategic outlook.
Meanwhile, given the Wuhan Spirit-led ongoing positive momentum in India-China ties, the SCO can be a platform for India to reset ties with China. Beijing’s ongoing and unpredictable standoff with the U.S. can be leveraged to build greater Chinese sensitivity to India’ core concerns since a confrontation with New Delhi can further muddy China’s external strategic environment. In this context, it is in Beijing’s interest to prevent India from aligning its strategic priorities with that of the U.S., particularly in India being an inherent partner of the American policy to balance China. Therefore, the recent India-China joint programme to train Afghan diplomats is a reflection of not only their convergence of interests to stabilise the region but also the benefits of a détente in their strategic outlook towards each other. China’s Ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui has stated, “India and China shared similar views on the war-torn country, including the need to support an Afghan-led and owned peace and reconciliation process and fight terrorism.” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was also quoted as saying, “the launch of this programme marks an important step forward. It reflects the closer coordination and cooperation between our two countries on regional affairs and represents a positive development in China-India relations.” While it is likely that India’s cooperation and contestation with China will go hand in hand, it is, nevertheless, in both their interest to comprehensively engage each other. With India seeking sustained high growth, and China transforming its economy to avoid the middle-income trap, both will gain by preserving strategic peace and forging increased mutual dependence between them. It is imperative that India and China set up a modus vivendi for the 21st century to be viewed through the lens of an Asia century. This sentiment was aptly reflected in Prime Minister Modi’s statement at the 2018 Shangri La Dialogue wherein he stated: “Asia of rivalry will hold us all back. Asia of cooperation will shape this century.”
In the same vein, SCO provides New Delhi with an opportunity to constructively engage Pakistan regionally while at the same time neutralise Islamabad’s negative moves in the region. A major impediment in India’s expanded engagement with Eurasia remains the strategic denial of direct land connectivity between India and Afghanistan and beyond by Islamabad. SCO’s emphasis on promoting economic cooperation, trade, energy and regional connectivity can, perhaps, unblock India’s access to Eurasia, and provide a fillip to projects like TAPI and CASAREM which seek to bridge the gap between an energy-rich and energy deficit region. Notably, India imports close to 80 per cent of its hydrocarbon requirements, the majority of it from the volatile West Asian region. This has led India to seek energy security in the resource-rich Central Asian region, and build its trade and transport linkages through bilateral and regional mechanisms. With Afghanistan’s membership of SAARC and an Observer State in SCO, it is theoretically possible to envision an arc of advantage — a new Silk Route of energy and economic stakes connecting the Ferghana Valley to the Mekong Delta — should peace and stability return to the region.
In this context, India has expressed its commitment to connectivity projects that are open, transparent, economically sustainable and fiscally responsible. It has also articulated the view that developmental finance for connectivity projects must respect the sovereignty, territorial integrity as well as the environment. And, connectivity projects should highlight the priorities of the host nations. India’s participation in the International North-South Transport Corridor and Ashgabat Agreement, and development of Chabahar Port appear to be guided by these principles.
Overall, India’s presence in SCO can provide better triangular relations between India, Russia and China to address new security challenges meaningfully, enhance infrastructural development projects, and create a network of regional oil and gas pipelines for the larger benefit of Central and South Asian region. This also blends in with PM Modi’s agenda of sustainable development of the region. Notably, at the 2018 SCO summit, the Indian Prime Minister had articulated the foundational dimension of Eurasia being ‘SECURE’. The letters in the word SECURE are:
S for Security of our citizens,
E for Economic development for all,
C for Connecting the region,
U for Unite our people,
R for Respect for Sovereignty and Integrity, and
E for Environment protection.
III. Opportunities for Expanding India’s Engagement with SCO: Forging a Common Vision
As a new full-time member, the onus is on New Delhi to carve out a meaningful role for itself and contribute constructively to the SCO’s expanded agenda. In its attempt to forge a common vision for the future, India does have a head start in the form of a benign and friendly image, growing economic profile, vast experience and expertise in building institutional capabilities, and more importantly, the desire to qualitatively and quantitatively increase its engagement with the region. However, it will still need to adapt and adopt innovative ways of interaction in sync with the ongoing regional strategic realignments. In this context, a critique of India’s Central Asian outreach in the past has been the episodic nature of its engagement. Prime Minister Modi’s visit to the region in 2015 and the robust political, strategic and economic interaction thereafter, however, do indicate a quantum shift in India’s commitment to play a bigger role in building regional synergies.
The Indian Prime Minister did lay out the scope of India’s contribution to SCO at the 2015 Ufa summit – “we will work together with SCO for sustainable development and combating climate change……. combat terrorism and extremism that is a rising threat to the entire region….. support efforts to create an environment that eases barriers and facilitates trade and investments in the region….. and would lend our support to improving transportation and communication networks in the region.” India’s focus, therefore, appears to be on expanding synergies of cooperation in connectivity, counter-terrorism, energy and economic arenas.
In this context, India is uniquely positioned to contribute towards these mutually beneficial projects — a fact acknowledged by the majority of SCO states. Notably, India is expected to maintain an annual growth rate over 6 per cent for the foreseeable future, and a recent Pricewaterhouse Coopers report projects India to be the 3rd largest global economy in PPP terms by 2030. These economic indicators increase the attractiveness of India being a stable economic partner for SCO countries to fast-track Eurasia’s regional economic development.
A. Combining Strengths to Tackle Emerging Regional Security Threats
Today, terrorism is not limited to one particular area, having spread its tentacles to South, Central and the West Asian region. It has also morphed — new actors and forces connect more easily through terror networks, and use social media to recruit, train and finance their extremist activities.
In this context, the drawdown of Western forces from Afghanistan and the rise of Islamic State (IS) with its stated intention to create ‘Khorasan’ have added a new explosive dimension to the region’s security landscape. In many ways, security and stability of Eurasia are linked to peace in Afghanistan. The Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU) has shown signs of revival while the Taliban and IS have expanded their presence in northern parts of the country bordering CARs.  Similarly, the Al-Qaeda linked Turkestan Islamic Party (TIP), comprising largely of Uighur jihadist members, has indicated its willingness to join the Afghan Taliban, apart from being active in Syria. This raises the prospect of spillover of violence into the Eurasian heartland, given the regional terror groups linkages. Central Asia also remains vulnerable due to the many drug trafficking routes that traverse through the region. This assumes even greater significance given the ties between drug trafficking, terrorism and organised crime. Notably, the largely secular CARs have witnessed a growing shift towards Political Islam. Several fault lines, ranging from weakened socio-economic state structures to inter-ethnic discords, have led to increased radicalisation, particularly among the regional youth. This is has seen more than 2,000 Central Asians joining the IS. The Ferghana Valley remains a hotbed of religious extremism.
Similarly, the potential base of Khorasan in the Af-Pak area can be the pivot to spread IS influence in Kashmir. IS has already threatened to attack India, kidnapped Indians in the Middle East and indoctrinated a few. As such, the prospect of IMU, IS, Taliban, TIP and other extremist outfits coordinating their militant activities in Eurasia raise the spectre of an arc of regional instability. It is, therefore, in India and SCO’s interest that Afghanistan does not regress into a hub of terrorism.
India, as a victim of terrorism, has been developing its skills at the national and state level and cooperating with other countries at the regional and international level to fight this menace. It has articulated the belief that no country can fight terrorism alone, and that only a well-coordinated, multilateral and integrated effort can tackle this problem. To counter these threats and challenges, India can share its experience with the region. In the post 26/11 phase, India’s counter-terrorism infrastructure has been strengthened. India can offer expertise on policy aspects, train people and provide technological solutions. India has niche capabilities in satellite, bio and information technologies which can help in collecting and analysing intelligence that can, in turn, be employed for counter-terrorism and human development. Thus, India can offer customised solutions if required.
India’s desire to strengthen its security cooperation with SCO was noted by its External Affairs Minister during the 2014 SC summit meeting, where she said, “we are keen to deepen our security-related cooperation with the SCO in general and with the Regional Counter-Terrorism Structure, in particular.” In this context, India has actively supported the SCO Qingdao Summit Leaders’ ‘Appeal to Youth’ against radicalisation of youth, participated in the SCO Peace Mission 2018 counter-terrorism exercises and attempted to strengthen its coordination with RATS. It is also likely to co-host the next meeting of the SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group along with Afghanistan.
B. Strengthen Connectivity, Trade, Economic and Energy Linkages
The foundation of India’s economic outreach to Inner Asia is based on its 2012 Connect Central Asia Policy with its focus on the 4 C’s – Commerce, Connectivity, Consular and Community. These are aimed at building long-term partnerships, both bilaterally and collectively. India’s willingness to share its unique experience in banking, finance, Information Technology (IT), education, telecommunications, health and agriculture with CARs can be leveraged to build mutually beneficial development partnerships. Given the regional economic slowdown, brought on by the devaluation of the rouble, India, with its long-term positive economic outlook, can help stabilise the region. India has implemented several projects involving IT excellence, entrepreneurship development and industrial training centres in Central Asia. Some of India’s core strengths that can be leveraged to expand India’s engagement with SCO involve:
Pharmaceutical and Health Care: One of India’s biggest strength is its niche capabilities in the pharma, health care and hospitality sectors. It’s pharmaceutical companies have much to offer to the Eurasian region, including affordable medicines. Other areas of collaboration can include telemedicine and medical tourism. Notably, India has emerged as an attractive destination for medical tourism for regional countries.
Green Technology and Bio-Fuels: Green technology is an area where India is investing heavily, particularly in solar, bio and wind energy. India is a founding member of the International Solar Alliance with its secretariat based in the outskirts of New Delhi. India can contribute, collaborate and share its experience with the regional countries on adopting clean, renewable energy. These capabilities can gain traction on account of environmental issues being a serious cause of concern for the entire region. Given the successful India-Russia cooperation on ash damps, it has been suggested that this project could become one of the pilot projects for India to cooperate with SCO.
Education: India has a robust education and training curriculum that can be offered to the SCO member states. Its technology institutes, business schools, and banking and financial institutions can be of relevance for the region. In this context, India’s successful tele-education and telemedicine initiatives in Africa can be a model for the Eurasian region as well. Similarly, New Delhi’s Indian Technical and Economic Cooperation Programme (ITEC) programme with the Central Asian countries, which seeks to build capacity in the region, can be further expanded.
Culture: Given India’s historical and civilizational linkages with the Eurasian countries, culture can be a vital area where India can contribute to the SCO processes. Old regional links can be revived in order to frame confidence-building measures. Cultural exchange programmes, in the mould of ‘SCO Our Common Home’, ‘Days of Open Doors’, SCO Film Festival and SCO World Heritage Exhibition, that foster greeter people to people contacts and exchange of ideas can be expanded. Indian art, music, dance and movies continue to be popular in the region. India’s proposal to host the SCO exhibition on ‘Shared Buddhist Heritage’ in 2019 is a step in the right direction. Notably, Buddhism had spread from India to Central Asia with Buddhist stupas being discovered at Dalvarzintepe near Bukhara and Tashkent being named after a local Buddha altar.
Infrastructure and Energy: India and SCO members share a similar objective of developing multi-modal transport and transit routes, effectively linking markets of Central Asia to South Asia, South East Asia and Europe, to boost intra and inter-regional trade and investment. The need of the hour, therefore, is to build pan-Asian cooperation. India is already working to enhance its connectivity with the region through the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC). The present government has recently outlined its vision for unified connectivity among the South Asian countries. In this context, cooperation between SARCC and SCO to enhance connectivity and build energy pipelines will go a long way in bridging distances. The first meeting of the Heads of Railways of the SCO Member States held in September 2018 highlights the endless possibilities of shortening the prevailing distances. Indian companies have, meanwhile, built considerable expertise in building refineries. Indian infrastructure and oil companies can cooperate with CARs, China, Russia, Iran, Mongolia and other member states to boost ties in the regional framework. The SCO’s deliberations on forming an Energy Club, in order to bring together the regional producers and consumers, hold strategic relevance for an energy deficit India.
Disaster Management: Given the multiple disasters, both natural and man-made, that India has faced, the country has developed robust disaster management practices covering a broad spectrum of worst-case scenarios. These are being further augmented by niche Indian advancements in space with satellite mapping and weather forecasting helping prevent and mitigate disasters. India’s skills can be of relevance for SCO members who have had to tackle critical environmental challenges in the past.
IV. Future of SCO
In less than two decades, SCO has emerged as an eminent Eurasian construct. Its geostrategic pillar, which prioritises tackling security threats, remains the most enduring fulcrum of its membership. While the organisation’s focus has expanded to build economic, connectivity and energy synergies, yet the results have been mixed. An evolving objective of SCO now appears to increase not just its regional but also its global strategic and economic profile. The inclusion of new members reflects a growing pan-Asian acceptance of the organisation beyond Eurasia. Against the backdrop of shifting sands of global economic and political heft from the West to the East, the SCO has morphed into a relevant pillar of this change. However, for the 21st century to be truly recognised as an Asian century, an effective regional cooperative mechanism would need to be one of its key pivots, and, arguably, the SCO can be a key organisation by the Asians, of the Asians and for the Asians.
The key challenge for SCO will be to navigate the evolving regional and global strategic landscape, marked by unpredictability and turbulence, in order to unlock its true regional potential. Recalibration of traditional alliances, the formation of new partnerships, and undermining 21st century’s foundational pillars, including globalisation which has acquired a pejorative connotation, are being played out at multiple spaces, including in Eurasia.
Given their dominant position in the SCO, their existential stakes in the region and ongoing rapprochement, it is likely that Russia and China will seek to consolidate continental Eurasia. However, the organisation’s inter and intra-regional contradictions, including the evolving asymmetric Moscow-China ties, can inherently limit the Sino-Russian calculus. A key vector of SCO’s future will, therefore, depend upon the equilibrium in Russia-China ties. Notably, this equilibrium or asymmetry, competition or cooperation, and being a partner or rival is linked to a large extent on the triangular Russia-China-U.S. relationship. For both Moscow and Beijing, their ongoing standoff with Washington has compelled them to seek greater synergies not just among themselves but also with others to navigate the Western pressure. This may lead to a more Sino-Russian accommodative approach towards regional players.
In this context, the manner in which the SCO will accommodate the concerns and interests of smaller CARs will be vital in shaping the organisation’s future. The Central Asian Republics remain fearful of a closer strategic embrace by Russia and apprehensive of China’s growing economic pre-eminence which has cast a shadow on their local economies. Their focus on intra-regional cooperation and exploration of new partnerships to increase their space for strategic manoeuvre highlight the centrifugal dynamics in play. Similarly, SCO members have, in the past, expressed fears of the organisation being held hostage to India’s and Pakistan’s adversarial relationship, and their fears would likely have worsened in recent times.
In the meantime, the organisation’s goals to create a web of trade, economic, connectivity and energy arteries may hit a brick wall in the face of the region’s evolving economic dynamics which is being increasingly dominated by and dependent on a singular power with all roads leading to and from Beijing. This raises long term questions on whether these linkages are transparent, economically sustainable, and fiscally responsible, and reflect the priorities of the host nations. In the 18th Qingdao SCO meeting, India did not endorse the grouping’s declaration on the Belt and the Road Initiative (BRI) since the BRI is centred on the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) which goes through areas of Gilgit and Baltistan in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir (PoK). In order to build a cooperative spirit, the SCO would need to accommodate the concerns of all members who interest may not always converge although, in principle, ‘better connectivity can help nations overcome political differences by conceiving of their borders as bridges, not barriers, by better leveraging their geographic proximity for mutual benefit, by optimally utilising the vast resources of the region, and enhancing their capacities and competitiveness to more effectively engage with the international system’. The key challenge for SCO, given the enormous stakes, therefore, will be to find the proverbial sweet spot of regional cooperation.
It is likely that the immediate priority for cooperation will be in areas where the majority of SCO member states interests converge, and they can pool their strengths. These involve fighting terrorism, extremism and drug trafficking. Even then, the vital question is will SCO, which is not a military organisation, find common ground to intervene militarily in Afghanistan if the country is on the verge of collapse?
Consequently, while the jury on SCO is still out yet its potential remains immense. The organisation will likely continue to remain a principal vector of Eurasia strategic architecture.
Meanwhile, India, as a new member, will need to formulate an appropriate Eurasian strategy. India’s regional interests stem from its goals to partner the CARs in sustainable nation-building through development partnerships, maintaining their sovereignty, preventing the region from being a hub of terrorism and extremism, and retaining Central Asia’s vector of being a bridge between Asia and Europe for building trade, transport, connectivity, and economic linkages. At the same time, it is also in India’s interest that this region does not evolve into a geopolitical chessboard of great game rivalries.
In this context, several of SCO’s initiatives have the potential to address these issues. Given the fact that decisions in SCO are made on the basis of consensus, India is now in a better position to advance its interests in its extended neighbourhood which, as an observer, it was unable to do so.
Today, India is also in a unique position to leverage the contradictions in great power rivalry. It is the only country within the Russia-India-China triangle which has a fairly positive relationship with the U.S. While this could be a challenge for New Delhi in SCO, particularly if the organisation morphs into an anti-U.S. grouping, yet the opportunity could be to leverage better ties with each big power to improve ties with others in this illustrative quadrilateral. Notably, India has improved its links will all SCO members, with the exception of Pakistan, in the last two years. This highlights the potential to reset great power relations with both Russia and China, with cooperation and not confrontation being the pivot of regional strategic orientation. Notably, the Wuhan spirit of cooperative engagement has seen even China adopt a fairly neutral position on India’s retaliation against Pakistan in response to Pulwama terror attacks.
Therefore, within the framework of SCO, India will have to make every possible effort to not only strengthen regional cooperation but also utilise SCO summit meetings to cement bilateral engagements with SCO member states.
Nevertheless, the challenges that need to be navigated, including the new equation of growing Russia-China-Pakistan triangular convergence of interests, remain on the horizon. This has seen even Russia — India’s traditional partner — adopt a more nuanced position on New Delhi’s key strategic concerns.
With the stakes being high, deft diplomacy in an increasingly uncertain and unpredictable yet opportunistic world would be called upon to preserve and promote India’s vital interests. Looking North is now more imperative than ever before.
*Rajorshi Roy Research Fellow, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses
From our partner RIAC
Discussion of the authors on this theme with Amb Jayant Prasad, former Director-General, IDSA.
The two energy projects – the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline, and the Central Asia South Asia Electricity Transmission and Trade Project (CASA-1000) which is expected to bring Tajik and Kyrgyz hydropower to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and evolve into the Central Asia-South Asia Regional Energy Market (CASAREM), once the planned Central Asian hydro potential comes on stream, can facilitate a region-wide energy exchange.
 Ibid (14)
 Meena Singh Roy and Rajorshi Roy, “Managing Threats and Challenges of Terrorism in the Eurasian Region”, in Asian Strategic Review 2016 – Terrorism: Emerging Trends, (ed) S.D. Muni and Vivek Chadha, Pentagon Press, New Delhi, 2016.
This quote, attributed to Amb Jayant Prasad, Director General of IDSA, was made during his interaction with the authors.
United States- Iran Nuclear Crises: Portents for Israel
ABSTRACT: In response to former US President Donald J. Trump’s unilateral American withdrawal from the July 2015 Iran Pact (JCPOA), the Islamic Republic of Iran accelerated and reinvigorated its military nuclear program. More recently, nuclear talks between the two countries were re-started by President Joseph Biden, but are expected to be placed on hold until after Iran’s new hardline president, Ebrahem Raisi, is sworn into office. Also plausible is that negotiations could break down altogether and that a precipitating event, either foreseen or unforeseen, would spark an Iran-US nuclear crisis. Such a crisis could quickly involve Israel.
“Deterrence is concerned with influencing the choices that another party will make, and doing it by influencing his expectations of how we will behave.”-Thomas C. Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (1960)
Background of the problem
For many years, Israel’s military and intelligence chiefs had hoped for an American strike against Iran; ideally, a comprehensive preemptive attack on Iran’s pertinent nuclear infrastructures. Nonetheless, any plausible US-Iran nuclear crisis could have become more costly than gainful for Israel. Any such crisis could have caused Jerusalem to recall too late the succinct maxim: “Be careful what you wish for.”
Explanations are required. If US President Joseph Biden should ever become embroiled in a major security crisis with Iran, all immediately relevant policy issues would center on strategy and tactics, not on considerations of law. These inherently complex policy issues could quickly become overlapping and interpenetrating. At times, therefore, whether witting or unwitting, Washington’s operational crisis decisions could sometimes prove jurisprudentially determinative.
Depending upon which country was to strike first in any belligerent US-Iran context, American military actions could become either law-violating or law-enforcing. Similar legal questions would follow from the particular types of weapons used and from the expressed regard or disregard shown for non-combatant (civilian) populations.
“Everything is simple in war,” says Carl von Clausewitz in On War, “but even the simplest thing is very difficult.” None of these legal questions are meant to suggest that a first use of force would be ipso facto illegal. This is the case because customary international law (defined at Article 38 of the UN’s Statute of the International Court of Justice) expressly allows for certain residual resort to “anticipatory self-defense.” Following The Caroline (1837), international law need never be taken to represent some form or other of “suicide pact.”
Intersecting jurisprudential and strategic considerations
There is more. International law is always a part of each individual state’s corpus of domestic or municipal law, an authoritative incorporation most immediately conspicuous for the United States at Article 6 of the US Constitution (the Supremacy Clause) and in various US Supreme Court decisions, especially the Paquete Habana (1900) and Tel Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic (1981).
Certain antecedent questions now also arise. What, precisely, does US President Joseph Biden have in mind in preparing suitably for a prospective nuclear crisis or armed conflict with Iran? What would this presumptive American expectation mean for the derivative safety of US ally Israel? What related benefits, if any, might be expected from the Trump-brokered Abraham Accords? And what are the precise definitional parameters of “nuclear crisis”?
This last question has an easy but still-complicating answer. Any US crisis with Iran must be considered per se “nuclear,” even if it takes place before that country becomes an operationally capable atomic power. Still, any crisis with Iran would become more demonstrably and dramatically nuclear where both states were “Members of the Nuclear Club.” This is the case even though a substantial and protracted nuclear force asymmetry would clearly obtain between Washington and Tehran.
Once a genuine conflict was plainly underway between Iran and the United States, full-scale military engagements could quickly or incrementally involve Israeli armed forces (IDF). In certain manifestly worst case scenarios, these clashes would involve unconventional weapons, and directly impact Israel’s vulnerable civilian populations. The most fearful narratives here would obviously be ones that involve nuclear ordnance.
In anticipation, capable strategic and jurisprudential thinking is required in both Washington and Jerusalem. Even during a potentially fleeting time in which Israel would remain the only regional nuclear power, an American war with Iran could elicit Israeli nuclear deterrence threats and/or Israeli nuclear reprisals. For Israel, such threats or reprisals could be entirely rationaland fully legal.
How might such dissembling circumstances emerge? As a “bolt-from-the-blue” spasm of violence, or in less blatant stages; that is, in variously difficult-to- fathom increments of harm? Most credibly, a “collateral war” would come to Israel as a catastrophic fait accompli, a multi-pronged belligerency wherein even the most comprehensive security preparations in Jerusalem/Tel-Aviv would quite suddenly prove inadequate. What then? What would likely happen next, operationally and legally?
The only meaningful answer to such inherently problematic queries must include aptly candid affirmations of strategic unpredictability. In science and mathematics, accurate statements of probability must always be drawn from the discernible frequency of relevant past events. In those increasingly dense strategic matters currently dangling before America, Iran and Israel, there are no relevant past events.
Matters here are made even more bewildering by already ongoing non-nuclear problems in the Middle East. Most urgent of these problems is the increasingly dramatic shortage of water and the growing uncertainty of electrical power. Though military strategists might not ordinarily factor in such “non-military” difficulties as primary to nuclear war avoidance, national security decision-making is ultimately carried out by flesh and blood human beings. Prima facie, such kindred creatures of biology will always be affected by the most elementary primal needs and expectations.
Strategically, there is more here to ponder. For the moment, at least, Joe Biden has identified no specific military doctrine for tangible application in this theatre. Once confronted with a “no doctrine” war launched against Iran by an American president, whether as defensive first-strike or as retaliation (both could conceivably be lawful), Israel’s senior strategists would need to fashion their own corresponding doctrines – more-or-less ex nihilo.
How exactly should Jerusalem/Tel Aviv accurately anticipate Iranian or Iranian-surrogate attacks on Israeli targets? As an antecedent question, how should these decision-makers and planners best identify which of these vulnerable targets would be presumptively “high value”? At some point, such an Intelligence Community/Ministry of Defense (MOD) operational challenge could include the small defending country’s Dimona nuclear reactor. In 1991 and 2014, the ultrasensitive facility at Dimona already came under rocket and missile attack from separate Iraqi and Hamas aggressions.
In any upcoming conflict with the United States, Tehran would likely regard direct attacks upon selected Israeli targets as proper “retaliations” for American strikes. This is the case whether these strikes were launched as an initial move of war against the Islamic Republic and its surrogates or a variously foreseeable response to Iranian first strikes. Potentially, Iranian forces could gain operational access to hypersonic rockets or missiles. Should such access be obtained, Israel’s critical capacity to shoot down hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs) and/or hypersonic cruise missiles (HCMs) might prove sorely inadequate.
What would happen next? In logical response, considerations of law and justice would likely prove anterior to visceral considerations of victory and survival. Among other things, could mean military escalations that are anything but gainful or “cost-effective.”
When pertinent options are examined dialectically, as they should, it could be to Tehran’s perceived advantage to drag Israel into any US or Iran-initiated war and to do this ostentatiously. Striking the US homeland would prove vastly more difficult for Iran, and also more likely elicit a range of intolerable reprisals. On its face, any US-initiated war against Iran would strengthen Saudi military power specifically and Sunni Arab military power in general. While such an expected strengthening might now seem less worrisome to Israel than expanding Iranian militarization, this delicate strategic calculus could reverse very quickly.
Israeli planners would need to investigate a number of previously disregarded military options against specific Sunni Arab adversaries, including legal questions of jus ad bellum and jus in bello.Simultaneously, these planners would need to calculate prospective Iranian activation of Hezbollah and Houthi militias against not only Israel directly, but also Saudi Arabia and/or the United Arab Emirates. Regarding direct Shiite militia attacks against Israel, the main threat would be to Israeli shipping in the Red Sea. At this point, the Houthis maintain a real but still-limited capacity to target Israel from Yemen with long-range missiles and drones. Earlier, Iran played a major role in enabling Gaza terror factions (mostly Hamas) to produce usable weapons; today, the Islamic Republic is exporting valuable technological know-how to expanding Houthi forces in Yemen.
A complex geopolitics
Iran is seeking to become a regional hegemon in a manifestly “opaque” theater of conflict. Over time, both the United States and Israel must do what is possible to curb further Iranian activation of Houthi and Hezbollah militias. Assuredly, once Iran is able to cross the nuclear military threshold, all such inhibiting tactics would become expansively dangerous. Unless the United States approaches these fragmenting sources of Middle East instability in a more suitably coherent fashion, Israel is likely to be left “holding the bag.” Now, of course, in the summer of 2021, American forces are rapidly abandoning Afghanistan to assorted and diverse Jihadi forces. A geo-strategic vacuum will emerge to the palpable detriment of Israel.
It’s a very delicate regional balance of power. For years, a Salafi/Deobandi (Sunni) Crescent has emerged to challenge the Shiite Crescent. The objective is an attempt by Al Qaeda and other Salafi/Deobandi Islamist groups to counter the Crescent created by Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
Unambiguously, Iraq, Syria and Lebanon are in a state of near-collapse – a result especially of severe water and electrical shortages coupled with pandemic disease. “Salafi Crescent” reflects Sunni ambition to establish a caliphate controlling much of the Middle East and forming the Islamic State “from Diyala (in eastern Iraq) to Beirut.” Al-Qaeda’s hatred of the Shiites was already expressed by its founder Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who called them “the insurmountable obstacle, the prowling serpent…the enemy lying in wait, and ordered his followers to ’fight them.’”
Should the Biden-led US military ever find itself in a two-front or multi-front war – a complex conflict wherein American forces are battling in Asia (North Korea) and the Middle East simultaneously – Israel could find itself fighting on its own. For such an exceptionally complicating scenario to be suitably appreciated, Israeli strategists would first need to bear in mind that any “whole” of tangible deteriorations caused by multi-front engagements could effectively exceed the sum of constituent “parts.”
This means, among other things, that Israeli strategists and planners will need to remain persistently sensitive to all credible synergies. It must go without saying that the former Trump administration (ushered into power at the 2016 Republican National Convention by Keynote “Speaker” Duck Dynasty) was unaccustomed to any such challenging intellectual calculations. For those now-discarded planners in Washington, complex strategic decisions could best be extrapolated from the commerce-driven worlds of real-estate manipulation and casino gambling.
If only the United States had earlier paid attention to Friedrich Nietzsche’s simple warning in Zarathustra: “Do not seek the Higher Man at the marketplace.”
Presently, there is still time for Washington and Jerusalem to recall certain timeless insights of Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz. For the author of On War, the determining standard of reasonableness in any military contest must always lie in presumed political outcomes. For a state to get caught up in war – any war – without adequately clear political expectations is always a mistake. Here, both Washington and Jerusalem must concern themselves not only with Iranian power projections and expansions, but also with the perilously uncertain prospects of the “Sunni Crescent,” an array of more-or-less organized Sunni forces intending to combat Shiite adventurism. If this were not complicated enough, planners in Washington and Jerusalem/Tel Aviv must also consider various believable intersections or synergies, consideration’s that will inevitably pose a staggering measure of intellectual challenge.
Recent regional histories
For more years than we may care to recollect, futile American wars remained underway in Iraq and Afghanistan. In short time, for Iraqis and Afghans, their once-hoped-for oases of regional stability will regress to what seventeenth-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes would have called a “war of all against all.” At best, what eventually unravels in these severely fractured countries will be no worse than if these wars had never even been fought. At worst, what unravels will be substantially more unstable.
Either way, what is now unraveling in Iraq and Afghan will never represent a welcome political outcome.
Shouldn’t we all now inquire, accordingly: Did Americans and others sacrifice so much blood and treasure to bring about, at best, status quo ante bellum?
Over the years, with the now obvious exception of North Korea, America’s principal doctrinal enemy has changed, dramatically, from “communism” to “Islamism” or “Jihadism.” This time, however, the ideological adversary is palpable, real and not merely presumptive. This time it is also a formidable and finely-textured foe, one that requires continuously serious analytic study, not just ad hoc responses or seat-of-the-pants US presidential eruptions. There are times, perhaps, when real or contrived bellicosity can serve American national security policy objectives (e.g., the possible deterrence benefit of pretended irrationality) and objectives of certain close allies (e.g., Israel), but not where it is detached from previously-constructed theoretical foundations.
There is more. The Jihadist enemy of America and Israel remains a foe that can never be fully defeated, at least not in any measurable final sense. This determined enemy will not be immobilized on any of the more usual or traditional military battlefields. Never.
If at some point a particular Jihadi adversary has seemingly been vanquished by US military forces in one country or another, it will likely re-group and reappear elsewhere. After Iraq, after Afghanistan, even after Syria (which now dissembles with Russian support of a genocidal regime that has always been hostile to Israel), America will face resurgent adversaries in hard-to-manage and geographically far-flung places. These locales include Sudan, Mali, Nigeria, Yemen, Somalia, Egypt, and perhaps even Bangladesh or (in the future) “Palestine.” In the end, the “final” resolution to various conflicts will largely be a matter of will.
During the Trump Era in the Middle East, an American president and his National Security Advisor sounded alarm bells over Iran – and this after the United States, not Iran, withdrew from an international legal agreement that was less than perfect, but (reasonably) better than nothing at all.
Preemption and anticipatory self-defense
When all these intersecting factors are taken into suitable intellectual account, there remains a residual argument (one that might quickly be anticipated in Israel) that a US-generated war with Iran would de facto amount to an anti-nuclear preemption or to some similarly purposeful act of “anticipatory self-defense.” Here, and with little reasonable doubt, the American war would be regarded as “cost-effective” or “net gainful” in Jerusalem/Tel Aviv. This visceral assessment, however, could become a matter of what Sigmund Freud called “wish fulfillment” rather than of one of any serious strategic assessment (risks and benefits).
Realistically, there is only a tiny likelihood that American bombs and missiles would soon be adequately targeted on widely multiplied/hardened/dispersed Iranian nuclear infrastructures.
In reality, at least for the present, any US war against Iran would be contrary to Israel’s core national security interests and obligations. Glib reassurances to the contrary from Jerusalem/Tel Aviv or Washington (or both) could be prospectively lethal for Israel. Though assuredly genuine, the attack threat from Iran should never be taken as an opening for crudely simplifying political rhetoric. Instead, this threat should be assessed and calibrated dialectically, as reliably as possible according to all normally verifiable standards of enemy force posture estimations.
If, at any point during crisis bargaining between Iran, Hezbollah, Israel and the United States, one side or the other should place too great a value on achieving “escalation dominance” and too little value on parallel considerations of national safety, the expanding conflict could promptly turn “out of control.” Any such consequential deterioration would be especially or even uniquely worrisome if Israel threatened or launched some of its presumptive nuclear forces. This is the case irrespective of any promised strategic support for Israel from the United States.
The importance of doctrine
In sum, if Israel should look again to the United States for seamlessly capable geo-strategic leadership, it could be taking unprecedented national security risks. At a minimum, Israel has the incontestable right (and also the obligation – to its own citizens) to expect fully decipherable expressions of US military doctrine. Going forward, unless it should insist more firmly upon maintaining this critical right, Israel could then have to face starkly injurious security outcomes. The considered prospect of a fully-sovereign Palestinian state would need to be taken here as a significant “intervening variable.”
Every state’s first responsibility is to assure and maintain citizen protection; citizen allegiance is therefore contingent upon such valid assurances. Most famous in pertinent political theory is the classic statement of seventeenth-century Englishman Thomas Hobbes, expressed at Chapter XXI of his Leviathan: “The obligation of subjects to the sovereign is understood to last so long, and no longer, then the power lasteth, by which he is able to protect them.” Later, Thomas Jefferson, third president of the United States, described this obligation as binding upon all the nations. Writing his Opinion on the French Treaties (April 28, 1793), Jefferson opined: “The nation itself, bound necessarily to whatever it’s preservation and safety require, cannot enter into engagements contrary to its indispensable obligations.”
There is more. In law, every state has an enduring obligation to oppose and (if necessary) suitably punish aggression. Punishment of aggression is a longstanding peremptory expectation of international criminal law. The foundational principle of Nullum crimen sine poena, “No crime without a punishment,” has its origins in the Code of Hammurabi (c. 1728 – 1686 B.C.E.); the Laws of Eshnunna (c. 2000 B.C.E.); the even earlier Code of Ur-Nammu (c. 2100 B.C.E.) and the law of exact retaliation, or Lex Talionis, which ispresented in three separate passages of the Jewish Torah.
For Israel, a uniformly continuous concern with certain basic jurisprudential principles could advance its legal as well as strategic objectives, most plainly those that jurist William Blackstone had identified in his Commentaries on the Law of England (Book 4 “Of Public Wrongs”): “Each state is expected, perpetually,” noted Blackstone, “to aid and enforce the law of nations, as part of the common law, by inflicting an adequate punishment upon the offenses against that universal law.”
Such ideas did not arise in a theoretic or intellectual vacuum. Ultimately, Blackstone is indebted to Cicero’s description of natural law in The Republic: “True law is right reason, harmonious with nature, diffused among all, constant, eternal; a law which calls to duty by its commands and restrains from evil by its prohibitions….” Natural law is never an adornment. Always, it lies at the very heart of United States Constitutional law and of all that conceivably derives therefrom.
Just wars and cumulative complexities
As for “just wars” pertaining to both jus ad bellum and jus in bello criteria, Hugo Grotius wrote that they “arise from our love of the innocent.” Though it is most unlikely that such legal high-mindedness could ever factor into US President Joe Biden’s possible decision to encourage or initiate a war against Iran, it still remains a promising standard for Israel to bear continuously in mind. This will prove especially good advice if American military actions against Iran should sometime prod the Islamic Republic to “retaliate” against Israel.
More than ever before, the Middle East has become a complicated “neighborhood.” To wit, overlapping Arab-Israel and Iran-Israel hostilities are rapidly changing variants of Sunni-Shia rivalries, including an irremediably core geo-political struggle between “Shia Crescent” and Sunni-Crescent (Salafi/Deobandi) countries. While Israel and the United States continue to have overriding common strategic interests, it remains altogether likely that certain upcoming resorts to military force by Washington could “tie the hands” of relevant policy-makers in Jerusalem. Whether witting or unwitting, any such American “tying” could sometime place Israel in existential peril, This would become markedly true as soon as Iran had crossed the nuclear weapons threshold.
What is to be done? Above all, the United States must take care to keep Israel “in the loop” wherever possible and Israel must make a reciprocal effort to stay fully informed about America’s regional foreign policy orientations. In this connection, greater subtlety will have to be applied by Israeli assessments than was displayed during the Trump Era. As a still-inconspicuous example, the net effect of the Trump-brokered Abraham Accords could prove sorely negative for Israel. Though these agreements might first have seemed gainful to Israel prima facie, they actually have no tangible bearing on Israel’s core security problems. Simultaneously, the Abraham Accords antagonize and marginalize Iran, a destabilizing effect that can’t possibly prove helpful to Israel.
Going forward, the United States will inevitably find itself embroiled in various crisis relationships with Iran. To best protect itself from any unwanted collateral consequences, US ally Israel should continue to refine its intellect-based policies of deterrence, both conventional and nuclear. More precisely, to optimize its presumed nuclear deterrent, Jerusalem/Tel Aviv should finally confront the rapidly disappearing advantages of “nuclear ambiguity,” thereby acknowledging that the Jewish state is now able to calibrate a nuclear response to any particular level of military threat. Prima facie, such an acknowledgment would serve not only Israel’s strategic obligations, but its complementary jurisprudential ones as well.
For Israel, in all pertinent matters, strategy and law must go hand in hand. Yet, even under optimal conditions regarding stable nuclear deterrence, the United States could suddenly find itself in extremis atomicum. The very same steps needed to maximize a credible American deterrence posture could simultaneously enlarge the likelihood of inadvertent nuclear war. For Israel and the United States, one core imperative ought never be minimized or disregarded:
“Be careful what you wish for!”
 See https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/in-depth-research-reports/issue-brief/trumps-jcpoa-withdrawal-two-years-on-maximum-pressure-minimum-outcomes/
 On deterring a prospectively nuclear Iran, see Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Could Israel Safely deter a Nuclear Iran? The Atlantic, August 2012; Professor Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Israel; and Iran at the Eleventh Hour,” Oxford University Press (OUP Blog), February 23, 2012; and Beres/Chain: Israel: https://besacenter.org/living-iran-israels-strategic-imperative-2/ General Jack Chain (USAF) was Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC), from 1986 to 1991.
From the standpoint of international law, it is always necessary to distinguish preemptive attacks from “preventive ones.” Preemption is a military strategy of striking an enemy first in the expectation that the only alternative is to be struck first oneself. A preemptive attack is launched by a state that believes enemy forces are about to attack. A preventive attack is launched not out of genuine concern about “imminent” hostilities, but rather for fear of a longer-term deterioration in a pertinent military balance. Hence, in a preemptive attack, the length of time by which the enemy’s action is anticipated is very short, while in a preventive strike the interval is considerably longer. A problem for Israel, in this regard, is not only the practical difficulty of determining imminence, but also that delaying a defensive strike until appropriately ascertained imminence is acknowledged, could prove fatal.
 For early scholarly examinations of anticipatory self-defense, by this author, and with particular reference to Israel, see: Louis René Beres, “Preserving the Third Temple: Israel’s Right of Anticipatory Self-Defense Under International Law,” Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, Vol. 26, No. 1, April 1993, pp. 111- 148; Louis René Beres, “After the Gulf War: Israel, Preemption and Anticipatory Self-Defense,” Houston Journal of International Law, Vol. 13, No. 2, Spring 1991, pp. 259 – 280; and Louis René Beres, “Striking `First’: Israel’s Post-Gulf War Options Under International Law,” Loyola of Los Angeles International and Comparative Law Journal Vol. 14, Nov. 1991, pp. 1 – 24.
 The obvious Israeli precedents for any preemptive moves would be Operation Opera directed against the Osiraq (Iraqi) nuclear reactor on June 7, 1981, and, later (though lesser known) Operation Orchard, against Syria on September 6, 2007. In April 2011, the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) confirmed that the bombed Syrian site in the Deir ez-Zoe region of Syria had indeed been a developing nuclear reactor. Both preemptions were arguably lawful assertions of Israel’s “Begin Doctrine.”
 Regarding specific effects of US nuclear strategy on security matters in the Middle East, by this author, see: Louis René Beres: https://besacenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/07/162-MONOGRAPH-Beres-Israeli-Nuclear-Deterrence-CORRECTED-NEW.pdf
 See https://www.state.gov/the-abraham-accords/ Also to be considered as complementary to these agreements are the Israel-Sudan Normalization Agreement (October 23, 2020) and the Israel-Morocco Normalization Agreement (December 10, 2020).
 Under international law, the question of whether or not a condition of war actually exists between states is often left unclear. Traditionally, a “formal” war was said to exist only after a state had issued a formal declaration of war. The Hague Convention III codified this position in 1907. This Convention provided that hostilities must not commence without “previous and explicit warning” in the form of a declaration of war or an ultimatum. See Hague Convention III on the Opening of Hostilities, Oct. 18, 1907, art. 1, 36 Stat. 2277, 205 Consol. T.S. 263. Presently, a declaration of war could be tantamount to a declaration of criminality because international law prohibits “aggression.” See Treaty Providing for the Renunciation of War as an Instrument of National Policy, Aug. 27, 1948, art. 1, 46 Stat. 2343, 94 L.N.T.S. 57 (also called Pact of Paris or Kellogg-Briand Pact); Nuremberg Judgment, 1 I.M.T. Trial of the Major War Criminals 171 (1947), portions reprinted in Burns H. Weston, et. al., INTERNATIONAL LAW AND WORLD ORDER 148, 159 (1980); U.N. Charter, art. 2(4). A state may compromise its own legal position by announcing formal declarations of war. It follows that a state of belligerency may exist without formal declarations, but only if there exists an armed conflict between two or more states and/or at least one of these states considers itself “at war.”
 Israel’s anti-missile defense shield has four overlapping layers: The Iron Dome system for intercepting short-range rockets; David’s Sling for medium-range rockets; Arrow-2 against intermediate-range ballistic missiles; and Arrow-3 for deployment against ICBM’s and (potentially) satellites.
 On the probable consequences of nuclear war fighting by this author, see: Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Rowman & Littlefield, 2016; 2nd. ed., 2018); Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy (Lexington MA: Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: US Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington MA; Lexington Books, 1984); and Louis René Beres, ed., Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington MA: Lexington Books, 1986).
 Israel’s presumptive nuclear deterrence posture depends upon several separate but still-intersecting factors. Most important are the country’s significant weapons, infrastructures and missile defense capabilities. Less conspicuously urgent, but still important, are the defining structures of world politics. These structures include the fundamentally anarchic system created after the 1648 Peace of Westphalia (“The State System”) and also (though plainly more transient or temporary) US-Russian superpower rivalry. The carefully detailed essay that follows focuses critically-needed attention on the latter set of explanatory factors, one associated with “Cold War II.” To plan ahead optimally, Israel’s designated strategists should pay increasing attention to this particular expression of geo-political “context.” These strategists will also have to look more closely than usual within pertinent decision-making structures of the United States. This is because (1) America is experiencing steadily expanding levels of intra-national cultural incoherence, epidemic and disorder, and (2) such levels will have major inter-national implications.
 The legal problem of reprisal as a permissible rationale for the use of force by states is identified and explained in the U.N. Declaration of Principles of International Law Concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States (1970) (https://cil.nus.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/formidable/18/1970-Declaration-on-Principles-of-International-Law-Concerning-Friendly-Relations.pdf) Additionally, a possible prohibition of reprisals is deducible from the broad regulation of force expressed in the UN Charter at Article 2(4); the obligation to settle disputes peacefully at Article 2(3); and the general limiting of permissible force (codified and customary) by states to necessary self-defense.
 In authoritative studies of world politics, rationality and irrationality have taken on very precise meanings. A state is presumed to be rational to the extent that its leadership always values national survival more highly than any other conceivable preference or combination of preferences. Conversely, an irrational state is one that would not always display such a markedly specific preference ordering. On expressly pragmatic or operational grounds, ascertaining whether a particular state adversary such as Iran would be rational or irrational could easily become an overwhelmingly daunting task.
 No state on earth, including Israel, is under any per se legal obligation to renounce access to nuclear weapons; in certain distinctly residual circumstances, moreover, even the actual resort to such weapons could be presumed lawful. See generally The Legality of the Threat or Use of Force of Nuclear Weapons, Advisory Opinion, 1997 I.C.J. (July 8). The final paragraph of this Opinion, concludes, inter alia: “The threat or use of nuclear weapons would generally be contrary to the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict, and in particular the principles and rules of humanitarian law. However, in view of the current state of international law, and of the elements of fact at its disposal, the Court cannot conclude definitively whether the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be lawful or unlawful in an extreme circumstance of self-defense, in which the very survival of a State would be at stake.”
 “Everything is very simple in war,” says Clausewitz, in his classical discussion of “friction” in On War, “but the simplest thing is difficult.” Herein, this concept refers to the unpredictable effects of errors in knowledge and information concerning intra-Israel (IDF/MOD) strategic uncertainties; on Israeli and Iranian under-estimations or over-estimations of relative power position; and on the unalterably vast and largely irremediable differences between theories of deterrence, and enemy intent “as it actually is.” See: Carl von Clausewitz, “Uber das Leben und den Charakter von Scharnhorst,” Historisch-politische Zeitschrift, 1 (1832); cited in Barry D. Watts, Clausewitzian Friction and Future War, McNair Paper No. 52, October, 1996, Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University Washington, D.C. p. 9.
 For the crime of aggression under international law, see: Resolution on the Definition of Aggression, adopted by the UN General Assembly, Dec. 14, 1974. U.N.G.A. Res. 3314 (XXIX), 29 UN GAOR, Supp (No. 31), 142, UN Doc A/9631 (1975) reprinted in 13 I.L.M., 710 (1974).
 In law, states must judge every use of force twice: once with regard to the underlying right to wage war (jus ad bellum) and once with regard to the means used in actually conducting war (jus in bello). Following the Kellogg-Briand Pact of 1928 and the United Nations Charter, there can be absolutely no right to aggressive war. However, the long-standing customary right of post-attack self-defense remains codified at Article 51 of the UN Charter. Similarly, subject to conformance, inter alia, with jus in bello criteria, certain instances of humanitarian intervention and collective security operations may also be consistent with jus ad bellum. The law of war, the rules of jus in bello, comprise: (1) laws on weapons; (2) laws on warfare; and (3) humanitarian rules. Codified primarily at The Hague and Geneva Conventions, these rules attempt to bring discrimination, proportionality and military necessity into all belligerent calculations.
 See, by this author: Louis René Beres: https://harvardnsj.org/2015/06/core-synergies-in-israels-strategic-planning-when-the-adversarial-whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts/
 Apropos of Hobbes’ argument that the state of nature is worse among individuals than among states, the philosopher Spinoza suggested that “…a commonwealth can guard itself against being subjugated by another, as a man in the state of nature cannot do.” See: A.G. Wernham, ed., The Political Works, Tractatus Politicus, iii, II; Clarendon Press, 1958, p. 295.
 Here it also ought to be recalled that North Korea once helped Syria build a nuclear reactor, the same facility that was later destroyed by Israel in its Operation Orchard, on September 6, 2007. Unlike earlier Operation Opera (June 7, 1981) this preemptive attack, in the Deir ez-Zor region, was presumptively a second expression of the so-called “Begin Doctrine.” It also illustrated, because of the North Korea-Syria connection, a wider globalthreat to Israel in particular.
 At the same time, we cannot be allowed to forget that theoretical fruitfulness must be achieved at some more-or-less tangible cost of “dehumanization.” As Goethe reminds us is Urfaust, the original Faust fragment: “All theory, dear friend, is grey, And the golden tree of life is green.” Translated here by the author, from the German: “Grau, theurer Freund, ist alle Theorie, Und grun des Lebens goldner Baum.”
 Under international law, terrorist movements (of which Jihadist groups are a current manifestation) are always Hostes humani generis, or “Common enemies of mankind.” See: Research in International Law: Draft Convention on Jurisdiction with Respect to Crime, 29 AM J. INT’L L. (Supp 1935) 435, 566 (quoting King marsh (1615), 3 Bulstr. 27, 81 Eng. Rep 23 (1615) (“a pirate est Hostes humani generis”)).
 See, by this author: Louis René Beres: https://www.jurist.org/commentary/2017/07/louis-beres-palestine-fiction/
For earlier and original writings by this author on the prospective impact of a Palestinian state on Israeli nuclear deterrence and Israeli nuclear strategy, see: Louis René Beres, “Security Threats and Effective Remedies: Israel’s Strategic, Tactical and Legal Options,” Ariel Center for Policy Research (Israel), ACPR Policy Paper No. 102, April 2000, 110 pp; Louis René Beres, “After the `Peace Process:’ Israel, Palestine, and Regional Nuclear War,” DICKINSON JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL LAW, Vol. 15, No. 2., Winter 1997, pp. 301-335; Louis René Beres, “Limits of Nuclear Deterrence: The Strategic Risks and Dangers to Israel of False Hope,” ARMED FORCES AND SOCIETY, Vol. 23., No. 4., Summer 1997, pp. 539-568; Louis René Beres, “Getting Beyond Nuclear Deterrence: Israel, Intelligence and False Hope,” INTERNATIONAL JOURNAL OF INTELLIGENCE AND COUNTERINTELLIGENCE, Vol. 10., No. 1., Spring 1997, pp. 75-90; Louis René Beres, “On Living in a Bad Neighborhood: The Informed Argument for Israeli Nuclear Weapons,” POLITICAL CROSSROADS, Vol. 5., Nos. 1/2, 1997, pp. 143-157; Louis René Beres, “Facing the Apocalypse: Israel and the `Peace Process,'” BTZEDEK: THE JOURNAL OF RESPONSIBLE JEWISH COMMENTARY (Israel), Vol. 1., No. 3., Fall/Winter 1997, pp. 32-35; Louis René Beres and (Ambassador) Zalman Shoval, “Why Golan Demilitarization Would Not Work,” STRATEGIC REVIEW, Vol. XXIV, No. 1., Winter 1996, pp. 75-76; Louis René Beres, “Implications of a Palestinian State for Israeli Security and Nuclear War: A Jurisprudential Assessment,” DICKINSON JOURNAL OF INTERNATIONAL LAW, Vol. 17., No. 2., 1999, pp. 229-286; Louis René Beres, “A Palestinian State and Israel’s Nuclear Strategy,” CROSSROADS: AN INTERNATIONAL SOCIO-POLITICAL JOURNAL, No. 31, 1991, pp. 97-104; Louis René Beres, “The Question of Palestine and Israel’s Nuclear Strategy,” THE POLITICAL QUARTERLY, Vol. 62, No. 4., October-December 1991, pp. 451-460; Louis René Beres, “Israel, Palestine and Regional Nuclear War,” BULLETIN OF PEACE PROPOSALS, Vol. 22., No. 2., June 1991, pp. 227-234; Louis René Beres, “A Palestinian State: Implications for Israel’s Security and the Possibility of Nuclear War,” BULLETIN OF THE JERUSALEM INSTITUTE FOR WESTERN DEFENCE (Israel), Vol. 4., Bulletin No, 3., October 1991, pp. 3-10; Louis René Beres, ISRAELI SECURITY AND NUCLEAR WEAPONS, PSIS Occasional Papers, No. 1/1990, Graduate Institute of International Studies, Geneva, Switzerland, 40 pp; and Louis René Beres, “After the Gulf War: Israel, Palestine and the Risk of Nuclear War in the Middle East,” STRATEGIC REVIEW, Vol. XIX, No. 4., Fall 1991, pp. 48-55.
 Modern philosophic origins of “will” are discoverable in the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer, especially The World as Will and Idea (1818). For his own inspiration, Schopenhauer drew freely upon Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. Later, Nietzsche drew just as freely and perhaps more importantly upon Schopenhauer. Goethe was also a core intellectual source for Spanish existentialist Jose Ortega y’Gasset, author of the singularly prophetic twentieth-century work, The Revolt of the Masses (Le Rebelion de las Masas;1930). See, accordingly, Ortega’s very grand essay, “In Search of Goethe from Within” (1932), written for Die Neue Rundschau of Berlin on the centenary of Goethe’s death. It is reprinted in Ortega’s anthology, The Dehumanization of Art (1948) and is available from Princeton University Press (1968).
 See Louis René Beres, “After the Vienna Agreement: Could Israel and a Nuclear
Iran Coexist?” IPS Publications, Institute for Policy and Strategy, IDC Herzliya,
Israel, September, 2015 See also: https://www.idc.ac.il/he/research/ips/Documents/iran/LouisReneBeres-Iran2014.pdf
 International law remains in essence a “vigilante” system, sometimes also called a “Westphalian” system. Such history-based reference is to the Peace of Westphalia (1648), which concluded the Thirty Years War and created the now still-existing self-help “state system.” See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119, Together, these two treaties comprise the Peace of Westphalia.
 Such a “life-saving” preemption option could be entirely permissible under international law. Known jurisprudentially as anticipatory self-defense, this potentially lawful option can be found not in conventional law (art. 51 of the UN Charter supports only post-attack expressions of individual or collective self-defense), but in customary international law. The most precise origins of anticipatory self-defense in customary law lie in the Caroline, a case that concerned the unsuccessful rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada against British rule. Following this case, the serious threat of armed attack has generally justified certain militarily defensive actions. In an exchange of diplomatic notes between the governments of the United States and Great Britain, then U.S. Secretary of State Daniel Webster outlined a framework for self-defense that did not require an antecedent attack. Here, the jurisprudential framework permitted a military response to a threat so long as the danger posed was “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” See: Beth M. Polebaum, “National Self-defense in International Law: An Emerging Standard for a Nuclear Age,” 59 N.Y.U.L. Rev. 187, 190-91 (1984) (noting that the Caroline case had transformed the right of self-defense from an excuse for armed intervention into a legal doctrine). Still earlier, see: Hugo Grotius, Of the Causes of War, and First of Self-Defense, and Defense of Our Property, reprinted in 2 Classics of International Law, 168-75 (Carnegie Endowment Trust, 1925) (1625); and Emmerich de Vattel, The Right of Self-Protection and the Effects of the Sovereignty and Independence of Nations, reprinted in 3 Classics of International Law, 130 (Carnegie Endowment Trust, 1916) (1758). Also, Samuel Pufendorf, The Two Books on the Duty of Man and Citizen According to Natural Law, 32 (Frank Gardner Moore., tr., 1927 (1682).
 Professor Louis René Beres was Chair of Project Daniel (PM Sharon) in 2003-2004. The rationale of Project Daniel was to examine the developing Iranian nuclear threat and to make pertinent suggestions about minimizing this threat. See: http://www.acpr.org.il/ENGLISH-NATIV/03-ISSUE/daniel-3.htm
 Historically, preemption has figured importantly in Israeli strategic calculations. This was most glaringly apparent in the wars of 1956 and 1967 and in the destruction of the Iraqi nuclear reactor in 1981 and later the Syrian facility. It was essentially the failure to preempt in October 1973 that contributed to heavy Israeli losses on the Egyptian and Syrian fronts during the Yom Kippur war, and almost brought about an Israeli defeat. Back during January, May, and October 2013, Israel, understandably apprehensive about Damascus’ supply of military materials to Syria’s Hezbollah surrogates in Lebanon, preemptively struck selected hard targets within Syria. For an informed jurisprudential assessment of these undeclared but still-appropriate expressions of anticipatory self-defense, by this author, see: Louis René Beres, “Striking Hezbollah-Bound Weapons in Syria: Israel’s Actions Under International Law,” Harvard National Security Journal, Harvard Law School, posted August 26, 2013.
 The term “dialectic” originates from the Greek expression for the art of conversation. A common contemporary meaning is method of seeking truth by correct reasoning. From the standpoint of shaping Israel’s strategy vis-à-vis Iran, the following operations could be regarded as essential but nonexclusive components: (1) a method of refutation conducted by examining logical consequences; (2) a method of division or repeated logical analysis of genera into species; (3) logical reasoning using premises that are probable or generally accepted; (4) formal logic; and (5) the logical development of thought through thesis and antithesis to fruitful synthesis of these opposites.
 The de facto condition of Hobbesian anarchy within which Israel must make its pertinent assessments and calibrations stands in stark contrast to the legal assumption of solidarity between states. In essence, this idealized assumption concerns a presumptively common struggle against both aggression and terrorism. Such a “peremptory” expectation, known formally in law as a jus cogens assumption, was already mentioned in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis (533 CE); Hugo Grotius, 2 De Jure Belli ac Pacis Libri Tres, Ch. 20 (Francis W. Kesey., tr, Clarendon Press, 1925) (1690); and Emmerich de Vattel, 1 Le Droit Des Gens, Ch. 19 (1758).
 Some supporters of a Palestinian state argue that its prospective harms to Israel could be reduced or even eliminated by ensuring that new Arab state’s immediate “demilitarization.” For informed reasoning against this argument, see: Louis René Beres and (Ambassador) Zalman Shoval, “Why a Demilitarized Palestinian State Would Not Remain Demilitarized: A View Under International Law,” Temple International and Comparative Law Journal, Winter 1998, pp. 347-363; and Louis René Beres and Ambassador Shoval, “On Demilitarizing a Palestinian `Entity’ and the Golan Heights: An International Law Perspective,” Vanderbilt Journal of Transnational Law, Vo. 28., No.5., November 1995, pp. 959-972.
 See: Merrill D. Peterson, The Political Writings of Thomas Jefferson, Monticello Monograph Series, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Foundation, 1993, p. 115.
 See Hugo Grotius, The Law of War and Peace 70 (William Whewell, tr.), London: John W. Parker, 1853(1625).
 Much has been written concerning Israel’s irremediably limited strategic depth. This core security issue was addressed as early as June 29, 1967, when a US Joint Chiefs of Staff memorandum specified that returning Israel to pre-1967 boundaries would drastically increase its existential vulnerabilities. The JCS Chairman, General Earl Wheeler, then concluded that merely for minimal deterrence and defense, Israel should retain Sharm el-Sheikh and Wadi El Girali in the Sinai; the Gaza Strip (entire); the high ground and plateaus of the mountains in Judea and Samaria (West Bank); and the Golan Heights, east of Quneitra.
 Notes Guillaume Apollinaire, “It must not be forgotten that it is perhaps more dangerous for a nation to allow itself to be conquered intellectually than by arms.” See this poet’s The New Spirit and the Poets (1917). See also, Professor Beres with Ambassador Zalman Shoval: (Pentagon): https://mwi.usma.edu/creating-seamless-strategic-deterrent-israel-case-study/
 See, by Professor Beres, “Changing Direction: Updating Israel’s Nuclear Doctrine,” Strategic Assessment, INSS (Israel), Vol. 17, No.3., October 2014: http://www.inss.org.il/uploadImages/systemFiles/adkan17_3ENG%20(3)_Beres.pdf Earlier, by this author, see: Louis René Beres, “Changing Direction? Updating Israel’s Nuclear Doctrine,” INSS, Israel, Strategic Assessment, Vol. 17, No.3., October 2014, pp. 93-106. See also: Louis René Beres, Looking Ahead: Revising Israel’s Nuclear Ambiguity in the Middle East, Herzliya Conference Policy Paper, Herzliya Conference, March 11-14, 2013 (Herzliya, Israel); Louis René Beres and Leon “Bud” Edney, Admiral (USN/ret.) “Facing a Nuclear Iran, Israel Must Rethink its Nuclear Ambiguity,” U.S. News & World Report, February 11, 2013; 3pp; and Professor Louis René Beres and Admiral Leon “Bud” Edney, “Reconsidering Israel’s Nuclear Posture,” The Jerusalem Post, October 14, 2013. Admiral Edney served as NATO Supreme Allied Commander, Atlantic (SACLANT).
 Elements of essential doctrine could sometimes prove counter-intuitive. For example, the likelihood of any actual nuclear conflict between states could be inversely related to the plausibly expected magnitude of catastrophic harms
 The law of war, the rules of jus in bello, comprise: (1) laws on weapons; (2) laws on warfare; and (3) humanitarian rules. Codified primarily at The Hague and Geneva Conventions, these rules attempt to bring discrimination, proportionality and military necessity into all belligerent calculations. Evidence for the rule of proportionality can also be found in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (1966) at Art. 4. Similarly, the American Convention on Human Rights allows at Art. 27(1) such derogations “in time of war, public danger or other emergency which threaten the independence or security of a party” on “condition of proportionality.” In essence, the military principle of proportionality requires that the amount of destruction permitted must be proportionate to the importance of the objective. In contrast, the political principle of proportionality states “a war cannot be just unless the evil that can reasonably be expected to ensure from the war is less than the evil that can reasonably be expected to ensue if the war is not fought.” See Douglas P. Lackey, THE ETHICS OF WAR AND PEACE, 40 (1989). modified only by a subsequent norm of general international law having the same character.” See: Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, Done at Vienna, May 23, 1969. Entered into force, Jan. 27, 1980. U.N. Doc. A/CONF. 39/27 at 289 (1969), 1155 U.N.T.S. 331, reprinted in 8 I.L.M. 679 (1969).
 On 27 July 2921, US President Joseph Biden opined that the foreseeably greatest risk of a nuclear war would be as the result of cyber-terrorism or hacking. See: https://finance.yahoo.com/news/biden-warns-real-shooting-war-003405801.html
The Nuclear future of East Asia
In the face of North Korea and China’s continuous expansion and advancement in their nuclear arsenal in the past decade, the nuclear question for East Asian countries is now more urgent than ever—especially when U.S.’s credibility of extended deterrence has been shrinking since the post-cold war era. Whether to acquire independent nuclear deterrent has long been a huge controversy, with opinions rather polarized. Yet it is noteworthy that there is indeed gray zone between zero and one—the degree of latency nuclear deterrence.
This paper suggests that developing nuclear weapons may not be the wise choice for East Asian countries at the moment, however, given the fact that regional and international security in the Asia-Pacific is deemed to curtail, regardless of their decision to go nuclear or not, East Asia nations should increase their latency nuclear deterrence. In other words, even if they do not proceed to the final stage of acquiring independent nuclear deterrent, a latent nuclear weapons capability should at least be guaranteed. Meanwhile, for those who have already possessed certain extent of nuclear latency—for instance, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan—to shorten their breakout time whilst minimize obstacles for a possible nuclearization in the future.
The threat is ever-present—The Nuclear North Korea
Viewing from a realist perspective, the geographical locations of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have always been a valid argument for their nuclearization—being surrounded by nuclear-armed neighbors, namely China and North Korea—these countries have witnessed an escalation of threat on an unprecedented scale since the cold war.
Having its first nuclear weapon tested in 2006, the total inventory North Korea now possess is estimated to be 30-40. With the misstep of relieving certain sanction during the Trump era, North Korea was able to revive and eventually expand its nuclear arsenal, making future negotiation between the Biden administration and the Kim regime much harder and less effective. Not only has North Korea’s missile test on March 25—which is the first since Mr. Biden’s presidency—signaled a clear message to the U.S. and her allies of its nuclearization will and stance, Pyongyang’s advancement in nuclear technologies also indicates a surging extent of threat.
For instance, North Korea state media KCNA claimed that the latest missile launched was a “new-type tactical guided projectile” which is capable of performing “gliding and pull-up” manoeuvres with an “improved version of a solid fuel engine”. In addition to these suspected “new type of missiles” that travels in low-attitude, the diversity of launches Pyongyang currently possess—from short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) to submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), as well as the transporter erector launchers (TELs) and the cold launch system—increase the difficulty in intercepting them via Aegis destroyer or other ballistic missile defense system since it is onerous, if not impossible, to detect the exact time and venue of the possible launches. Indeed, the “new type of missile” could potentially render South Korea’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) useless by evading radar detection system through its manoeuvres, according to a study from 38 North at The Henry L. Stimson Center.
Moreover, the cold launch (perpendicular launch) system used by the North also indicates that multiple nuclear weapons could be fired from the same launch pad without severely damages caused to the infrastructure. Shigeru Ishiba, the former Defense Minister of Japan, has noted that not all incoming missiles would be able to be intercepted with the country’s missile defense system, and “even if that is possible, we cannot perfectly respond to saturation attacks”.
The Chinese nuclear arsenal
According to the SIPRI yearbook 2020, China’s total inventory of nuclear deterrent has reached 320, exceeding United Kingdom and France’s possession of nuclear warheads, of which London and Paris’s nuclear deterrent were considered as limited deterrence. In spite of the fact that China’s current nuclear stockpiles is still far less that what the Russians and Americans have, its nuclear technologies has been closely following the two military superpowers. For instance, the Chinese have successfully developed Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicle (MIRVs) and Maneuverable Reentry Vehicle (MARVs)—its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) DF-41 is capable of equipping up to 10 MIRVs while its Medium-Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM) DF-21D could carry MARV warhead that poses challenges to the BMD systems—these advancement in nuclear technologies are the solid proof that the Chinese nukes are only steps away from Moscow and Washington. Yet China’s nuclear arsenal remains unchecked and is not confined by any major nuclear arms reduction treaty such as the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), of which US and Russia has just reached a mutual consensus to extend the treaty through Feb 4, 2026.
In addition to China’s expansion of military capabilities and ambition in developing hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs) and new MARVs, there is no lack of scepticism of its no-first use policy, especially with Beijing’s coercive diplomacy and provocative actions in the East and South China Sea, regarding “freedom of navigation” and other sovereignty rights issues. These all raise concerns and generate insecurity from neighboring countries and hence, East Asia states i.e. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan would inevitably have to reconsider their nuclear option.
In spite of having advanced BMD system, for instance, Aegis Destroyer (Japan), THAAD (South Korea), Sky Bow III (Taiwan), the existing and emerging nuclear arsenal in Pyongyang and Beijing still leave East Asian states vulnerable under a hypothetical attack as mentioned above. Future could be worse than it seems—merely having deterrence by denial is not sufficient to safeguard national security—particularly with a shrinking credibility of U.S.’s extended deterrence since the post-cold war era.
America’s nuclear umbrella and the Alliance Dilemma
Theoretically speaking, alliance relations with the U.S. assure a certain extent of deterrence by punishment against hostile adversaries. For example, U.S. is committed to defend Japan under the 1960 Mutual Defense Treaty. Yet in reality, security could never be guaranteed. In a realist lens, state could not rely on others to defend their national interests, especially when it puts America’s homeland security at risk. Is U.S. willing to sacrifice Washington for Tokyo? Or New York for Seoul?
Strong rhetoric or even defense pact would not be able to ensure collective security, let alone strategic ambiguity, which is a strategy adopted by Washington for Taipei that is neither a binding security commitment nor the stance is clear. Regardless of the prospect of a better future than mere war and chaos, state should always prepare for the worst.
Besides, with Trump’s American First policy continuously undermining alliance relations in the past four years, East Asian countries may find it hard to restore mutual trust since diplomatic tracks are irreversible, despite Biden’s administration intention and effort to repair alliance and U.S.’s integrity as the global leader.
Moreover, even if alliance relations and credibility of extended deterrence is robust at the moment, but the bigger question is—could and should East Asian countries shelter under America’s nuclear umbrella forever? If they choose not to go nuclear, these states would be constantly threatened by their nuclear-armed neighbors, without a credible direct (nuclear) deterrence to safeguard national security; and forced to negotiate, or worse, compromise in the face of a possible nuclear extortion.
Undeniably, horizontal nuclear proliferation is always risky. Not only is it likely to deteriorate diplomatic relations with neighboring countries, but also generates a (nuclear) regional arms race that eventually trap all nations into a vicious circle of security dilemma due to the lack of mutual trust in an anarchical system, which will consequently lead to a decrease in regional, as well as international security.
Yet with the expansion and advancement of Pyongyang and Beijing’s nuclear arsenal, regional and international security is deemed to curtail, regardless of East Asian countries’ decisions to go nuclear or not. As the official members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Japan’s and South Korea’s withdrawal may encourage other current non-nuclear weapon state to develop nukes. However, current existence of the NPT has already proven futile to prevent North Korea from acquiring its own nuclear weapons; or Israel, India and Pakistan, who are UN members but have never signed any of the treaties, to join the nuclear club.
The major concern about nuclear proliferation is never about the amount of warhead one possesses, but if they are in the wrong hands; for instance, a “rogue” state like North Korea. It is almost certain than none of the latent nuclear East Asia states would be considered “rogue” but just developed nations with rational calculation. In fact, the actual risk for these states joining the nuclear club in reality is not as high as most imagined. It may, indeed, help further bolster alliance relations between U.S., Japan and South Korea if they are able to come to some mutual consensuses in advance—developing independent nuclear deterrent is not an approach of alienating America’s presence as an effective ally but to strengthen security commitment with each other, and that US would support her allies in the Asia-Pacific in such attempt. The current existence of extended deterrence should not be a barrier for nuclearization. Rather, it should act as an extra protection for allied states.
Pave the way for future nuclearization
Admittedly, the road for any East Asia countries to go nuclear would be tough. Taipei’s attempt to develop nuclear weapons would imaginably trigger provocative response from Beijing, if not impossible, a pre-emptive strike that could lead to an escalation of war. Same situation goes for Seoul and Pyongyang even though the risk is relatively lower. As for Japan, although direct military confrontation is less likely comparing to Seoul and Taipei, the challenges Tokyo face for its nuclear option is no easier than any of them.
As the sole nation that has suffered from an atomic bomb explosion, Japan’s pacifism and anti-nuclear sentiment is embedded in its culture and society. According to a public opinion poll conducted by the Sankei News in 2017, 17.7% of the respondents agreed that “Japan should acquire its own nuclear weapons in the future” whilst 79.1% opposed to that idea. Despite having the imperative skills and technologies for an acquisition of independent nuclear deterrent (the breakout time for Japan is estimated to be about 6-12 months), Japan also lacks natural resources for producing nuclear warheads and has to rely heavily on uranium imports. Upholding the three non-nuclear principle since WWII, Japan’s bilateral nuclear agreements with the U.S., U.K, France and Australia specified that all imported nuclear-related equipment and materials “must be used only for the non-military purposes”. Violation of these agreements may result in sanctions that could cause devastated effect on Japan’s nuclear energy program, which supplies approximately 30% of the nation’s total electricity production. These issues, however, are not irresolvable.
Undeniably, it may take time and effort to negotiate new agreements and to change people’s pacifism into an “active pacifism”, yet these should not be the justifications to avoid the acquisition of independent nuclear deterrent as ensuring national security should always be the top priority. It is because in face of a nuclear extortion, the effectiveness of a direct nuclear deterrence guaranteed by your own country could not be replaced by any other measures such as deterrence by denial via BMD system or deterrence by punishment via extended deterrence and defense pact. Therefore, if there are too many obstacles ahead, then perhaps the wiser choice for Japan, South Korea and Taiwan at the moment is to increase their nuclear latency deterrence, shorten the breakout time and pave their way clear for future nuclearization. In other words, to keep their nuclear option open and be able to play offense and defense at its own will when the time comes.
Nevertheless, in addition to strengthening one’s latency nuclear deterrence, as well as obtaining a more equal relationship in the official and unofficial alliance with America, East Asian countries that have similar interest and common enemies should united to form a new military alliance which included security treaty regarding collective defense like the NATO; and focuses more on countering hybrid warfare like the QUAD. If Japan, South Korea and Taiwan ever choose to go nuclear, a common mechanism could be established to ensure that these states would pursue a minimum to limited deterrence capability that do not endanger each other’s security but rather to strengthen it, which would help minimizing the destabilization brought to regional security while constituting a more balanced situation with nuclear-armed rivalries.
After all, proliferation may not be the best solution, it is certainly not the worst either.
From our partner International Affairs
Test of Agni Prime Missile and India’s Counterforce Temptations
South Asia is widely regarded as one of the most hostile regions of the world primarily because of the troubled relations between the two nuclear arch-rivals India and Pakistan. The complex security dynamics have compelled both the countries to maintain nuclear deterrence vis-à-vis each other. India is pursuing an extensive and all-encompassing military modernization at the strategic and operational level. In this regard, India has been involved in the development of advanced missiles as delivery systems and improvement in the existing delivery systems as well. Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent and delivery systems are solely aimed at India; however, India aspires to fight a ‘two-front war’ against Pakistan and China. Therefore, the size and capability of its nuclear deterrent and delivery systems are aimed at countering both threats. However, most of the recent missile delivery systems made by India appear to be more Pakistan-centric. One recent example in this regard is the recently tested nuclear-capable cannisterized ballistic missile Agni Prime, which is insinuated as Pakistan-centric. These developments would likely further provoke an action-reaction spiral and would increase the pace of conflict in South Asia, which ultimately could result in the intensification of the missile arms race.
Just quite recently, on 28th June 2021, India has successfully tested an advanced variant of its Agni missile series, namely Agni Prime or Agni (P). The missile has a range between 1000-2000 kilometers. Agni Prime is a new missile in the Agni missiles series, with improved accuracy and less weight than Agni 1, 2, and 3 missiles. It has been said that the Agni-P weighs 50 % less than the Agni-3 missile. As per the various media reports, this missile would take the place of Agni 1 and 2 and Prithvi missiles, however officially no such information is available. This new missile and whole Agni series is developed as part of the missile modernization program under the Defence Research and Development Organization’s (DRDO) integrated guided missile development program.
Agni-P is a short missile with less weight and ballistic trajectory, the missile has a rocket-propelled, self-guided strategic weapons system capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear warheads. Moreover, the missile is cannisterized with the ability to be launched from road and rail. The DRDO claimed that the test flight of the missile was monitored by the telemetry radar stations and its trajectory met all the objectives of the mission successfully with high level of accuracy. Agni-P missile because of its range of 1000 to 2000 km is considered a weapon against Pakistan because within this range it cannot target China. Although, India already has different missiles in its inventory with the same range as the newly developed and tested Agni-P missile, so the question arises what this missile would achieve.
Since the last few years, it has been deliberated within the international security discourse that India’s force posture is actually more geared towards counterforce options rather than counter-value options. Although, India’s nuclear doctrine after its operationalization in 2003, claims “massive retaliation” and “nfu” but in reality with developing cannisterized weapons like Agni-P, Agni 5, and testing of hypersonic demonstrative vehicles, India actually is building its capability of “counterforce targeting” or “splendid first strike”. This reflects that India’s nuclear doctrine is just a façade and has no real implication on India’s force modernization.
These developments by India where it is rapidly developing offensive technologies put the regional deterrence equation under stress by increasing ambiguity. In a region like South Asia, where both nuclear rivals are neighbors and distance between both capitals are few thousand kilometers and missile launch from one side would take only a few minutes in reaching its target, ambiguity would increase the fog of war and put other actors, in this case, Pakistan in “use it or lose it” situation, as its nuclear deterrent would be under threat.
In such a situation, where Pakistan maintains that nuclear weapons are its weapons of last resort and to counter threats emerging from India, its nuclear deterrence has to hold the burden of covering all spectrums of threat. It might be left with no choice but to go for the development of a new kind of missile delivery system, probably the cannisterized missile systems as an appropriate response option. However, as Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence is based on principle of “CMD” which allow Pakistan to seek deterrence in a cost-effective manner and also by not indulging in an arms race. Therefore, other than the threat of action-reaction dynamic developments like Agni P by India, would make weapons more accurate and lethal, subsequently conflict would be faster, ambiguous, and with less time to think. In such a scenario, as chances of miscalculation increase, the escalation dynamics would become more complex; thus, further undermining the deterrence stability in South Asia.
India’s counter-force temptations and development of offensive weapons are affecting the deterrence equilibrium in South Asia. The deterrence equation is not getting affected just because India is going ahead with the development of offensive technologies but because of its continuous attempts of negating the presence of mutual vulnerability between both countries. Acknowledgement of existence of mutual vulnerability would strengthen the deterrence equation in the region and help both countries to move forward from the action-reaction spiral and arms race. The notions such as the development of offensive or counterforce technology or exploiting the levels below the nuclear threshold to fight a war would not be fruitful in presence of nuclear weapons. As nuclear weapons are weapons to avert the war and not to fight the war.
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