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Gulf security: China envisions continued US military lead

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A first-ever joint Chinese-Russian-Iranian naval exercise signals that closer Chinese military ties with a host of Middle Eastern nations does not translate into Chinese aspirations for a greater role in regional security any time soon.

If anything, the exercise, coupled with notional Chinese support for proposals for a multilateral security approach in the Gulf, suggests that China envisions a continued US lead in Gulf security despite mounting rivalry between the world’s two largest economies.

That is the message China is sending by playing down the significance of the exercise and hinting that it would only contribute non-combat forces.

China’s participation is expected to involve its anti-piracy fleet that is already in Somali waters to protect commercial vessels as well as peacekeeping and humanitarian relief personnel rather than specially dispatched units of the People’s Liberation Army.

China’s preference for a continued US lead in maintaining Gulf security, even if it favours a more multilateral approach, was evident earlier this year in its willingness to consider participating in the US-led maritime alliance that escorts commercial vessels in the Gulf and seeks to secure shipping lanes and was created in response to several attacks on tankers in the Gulf of Oman.

So far, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Britain and Australia have joined the alliance that started operations last month.

Despite favouring a continued US lead, China sees a broadening of security arrangements that would embed rather than replace the US defense umbrella in the Gulf as a way to reduce regional tensions.

China also believes that a multilateral arrangement would allow it to continue steering clear of being sucked into conflicts and disputes in the Middle East, particularly the Saudi-Iranian rivalry.

A multilateral arrangement in which the US would remain the key military player would fit the pattern of China’s gradual projection beyond its borders of its growing military power.

With the exception of a military facility in Djibouti, China’s projection becomes less hard core the further away one gets from the People’s Republic borders.

Proposals for a multilateral security architecture could also cater to US President Donald J. Trump’s transactionalism as well as his insistence on burden sharing.

Getting from A to B is however easier said than done.

If the US security umbrella was geared towards defense again Iran, a multi-lateral approach would have to involve Iran.

Such involvement could be based on some kind of agreement on non-aggression, a proposal put forward by Iran and implicit in Russia’s call for a regional security conference along the lines of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE.

To get there however the United States and Saudi Arabia would have to reduce tensions with Iran, credibly signal that they have no intention of toppling or destabilizing the Iranian regime, and resolve the crisis stemming from the US withdrawal from the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program.

That would seem a tall order even if Saudi Arabia and Iran have not closed the door on stalled contacts aimed at dialling down tensions.

Chinese support has, moreover, so far lacked enthusiasm for a Russian proposal that calls the United States, Russia, China and India to be involved in a multilateral approach.

While backing Russia’s proposal in general terms, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang stopped short of specifically endorsing it. Mr. Geng welcomed “all proposals and diplomatic efforts conducive to de-escalating the situation in the Gulf region.”

China’s refraining to more wholeheartedly endorse the Russian proposal is rooted in differing approaches towards multilateralism in general and alliances in particular. China shies away from alliances emphasizing geo-economics rather than geopolitics while Russia still operates in terms of alliances.

Looming in the background is the fact that in the ultimate analysis China is likely to view security in South and Central Asia as interlinked with security in the Gulf, which in turn raises questions about the sustainability of the Chinese security approach.

The geographic layering of China’s approach is evident not only in China’s robust posture in the South China Sea, but also in countries like Tajikistan and Afghanistan.

China has recently made progress on the construction of a road through Afghanistan’s Wakhan Corridor. The road serves multiple geo-political goals.

It will facilitate the movement of troops, together with a military base in Tajikistan and Chinese cross border operations in the corridor.

The question is whether the Chinese moves will jeopardize the presumed division of labour between Russia and China under which Russia shoulders responsibility for security in Central Asia while China concentrates on economic development and if it does what impact that would have on Chinese reliance on a potential Russian role in the Gulf.

There is little doubt that the Gulf is gradually moving from a unilateral security arrangement to a multilateral one driven by Gulf concerns following the September attacks on Saudi oil facilities and a US response that has reinforced nagging doubts about the reliability of US security guarantees.

The doubts are further fed by the direction of US policy starting with the Obama administration and now with the Trump administration that suggests a re-evaluation of US national security interests in the Middle East.

China’s belief that economics rather than geopolitics is the key to solving disputes has so far allowed it to remain above the breach but has yet to prove its sustainability.

China’s approach is unlikely to shield it from the Middle East’s penchant of ensuring that it is at the heart of concerns of major external parties.

Said Jiang Xudong, a Middle East scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences: “Economic investment will not solve all other problems when there are religious and ethnic conflicts.”

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

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Webinar: How will we minimize conflicts in the Eastern Mediterranean?

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One of the biggest online events for this year with the theme: “How will we minimize conflicts in the Eastern Mediterranean?was held by the Region of Western Greece and EuropeDirect Patra, on Thursday 25 February 25 2021, organized by the Deputy Governor of Entrepreneurship, Research and Innovation of Western Greece, Fokion Zaimis, with representatives at a very high level, from Greece and abroad. Specifically, the countries represented were Greece, Turkey, Sweden, the USA, Italy and Brussels through elected representatives, MEPs, MPs, lawyers, International Relations Specialists, political scientists, diplomats, senior officials, academics, journalists and representatives of European and international networks.

Opening the event the Deputy Governor of Entrepreneurship, Research and Innovation of Western GreeceFokion Zaimis said: “The Eastern Mediterranean, the cradle of ancient civilization and the crossroads of major economic and commercial routes has been and is the focus of many conflicts from antiquity to the present day. I warmly thank all the participants in today’s international event for conflict prevention in the Eastern Mediterranean in cooperation with Europe Direct and CPMR. Critical and serious issues emerged from completely different starting points and perspectives. Regional government has an important role to play in communication, trade and economic relations, tourism, environment and the consolidation of relations of mutual respect and trust between the communities of Mediterranean countries. The goal is the progress and prosperity of the citizens and what unites us is much more than what divides us”.

The Regional Governor of Western Greece Nektarios Farmakis highlighted: “It also proves in this way that regional government is able to organize and contribute to national or supranational issues and this is something very important, because it proves that it is not limited to the house and is not only trapped in its daily life but also looks at our world with a broader look. Knowing what is happening in the wider area ultimately concerns the regional government. I firmly believe in diplomacy and the possibility of international cooperation that can shape self-government strengthening the national diplomacy and strategy”.

The MEP (epp) Manolis Kefalogiannis, stated: “A very important initiative of the Region of Western Greece with many distinguished guests from Greece and abroad on an important issue concerning the conflict and the reduction of conflicts in the Eastern Mediterranean. It really concerns a dominant issue at this time because we have a neighbor Turkey and President Erdogan who are behaving like riots in the wider region violating every concept of law, every good neighborly relationship and creating tensions in the wider region. We must respect, in accordance with international law, the decisions of the United Nations, the decisions of the European Union, always guided by good neighborly relations, always with respect to the international law of the sea, resolve any disputes in a spirit of peace, cooperation and relations as befits a country such as Turkey, a country that is part of the European family “.

Particularly honorable was the representation of NATO through the speech of a senior official, Dr. Nicola De Santis, Head of NATO Public Diplomacy, presented by Theodosios Georgiou, President of the Greek Association for Atlantic and European Cooperation, who highlighted, among other things, the role that Regions can play in security and cooperation. Dr. Nicola De Santis spoke about the important role that NATO plays in the challenges and what security prospects in the Eastern Mediterranean, explained the principles of the Alliance, pointed out the important role played by citizens through their demands, security as a necessary condition for development, as well the consultations and cooperation proposals promoted by NATO.

Speaking about the institutional-legal framework, the Ambassador (ad.hon.) and former Ambassador of Greece to Washington, Alexandros Mallias, pointed out: “It is exactly one year since the operation of violating the borders of Greece in Evros. The invasion and occupation of Cyprus, the aggressive moves against Greece and the constant official provocations, the strategic intervention of Turkey in Libya, Iraq, Syria and Nagorno-Karabakh are violations, incompatible with Article 1 of the NATO Statute. So this is an ally behavior that allows NATO rivals to question the consistency between declarations, principles and actions. The goal of Mr. Erdogan’s policy is not sound in the negotiations to ensure the terms of an honest peace that will ensure relations of cooperation and good neighborliness. On the contrary, its goal is the forced adaptation of Greece to the expectations and conditions of Turkey. Therefore, it does not have a short-term character. It is no coincidence that Mr Erdogan is systematically calling for a revision of the Lausanne Treaty. At the same time, Ankara aims to nullify the trust of Greek citizens in its political leadership”.

The business framework was set by former Minister of Culture & Tourism, Pavlos Geroulanos: “One can not ignore the provocation of Turkey and its willingness to create tension in the region. Obviously we can not discuss any cooperation as long as we have such a deployment of Turkish troops in the Aegean Sea. The basis of cooperation is with countries that have strong diplomacy, economy and army. Only when you can stand on yourfeet can you impose peace in an area.”

Dimitrios Kairidis,  Professor of International Relations and MP (North Sector of Athens, New Democracy), explained why Turkey, a country with special structural elements, is a particularly destabilizing factor for the wider Mediterranean region.

Suleyman Ozeren, Ph.D., Adjunct Professor, George Mason University talked about forced Migration, Refugee Crisis and the Abyss of Securitization in Turkey, which consist really concerning issues. He referred that Turkey is not only a country of entry for many refugees, such as Syrian people who were considered guest in the beginning, but also a country of exit for many Turkish people due to law and democracy issues. In this context he made some policies recommendations.

The representation of ELIAMEP (Hellenic Foundation for European & Foreign Policy) was also particularly honourable by Thanos Veremis, Vice President of the Boardand Emeritus Professor (Department of Political Science and Public Administration, University of Athens, History, International Relations) who expressed strong concerns about Greek-Turkish relations.

An important parameter in international relations regarding the value code that each country has, every citizen, put the Ottoman, Turkologist, Associate of the Laboratory of Turkish & Eurasian Studies and Lawyer at the Supreme Court, Dr. Dimitris Stathakopoulos stating: “We have common interests with Eastern Mediterranean, but we also have different quality characteristics which our value codes and the historical memories we have prevent us from resolving the existing issues in a sense of” associations “. Because we start from a different historical basis and it is by no means self-evident that we perceive International Law or conventions in exactly the same way. The Turks believed and believe, for example, that Greece liberated not Greek territories, but conspiracy theoristically conquered new countries. He sees Greece as an ungrateful part of the Ottoman Empire which made a “stop”, not a Greek revolution “, and added that” we can get along with Turkey, but the logic of Turkey does not allow us to agree, since it does not want cooperation with equals”.

Matthew Crosston, Ph.D., Professor, Director of Academic Transformation Office of the Provost, Bowie State University, Executive Vice Chairman and Author at  Modern Diplomacy.eu talked about the Hydrocarbon Hybrid War asan untangling conflict in the Eastern Med. He pointed the problem of missing information in western and eastern media regarding the real  situation, as well as the vision of Turkey to be an energy hub.

Through this event besides presenting the current situation in the wider Eastern Mediterranean region, the opportunity was given to identify those points that complicate the situation and views were expressed from different perspectives within a democratic, multicultural and pluralistic context that seeks to find cooperation solutions through dialogue, democracy, human rights and the peaceful coexistence of peoples.

The event was also attended by the honorable speakers:

  • Mitat ÇELİKPALA, Vice Rector, Professor, Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences, Department of International Relations, Kadir Has University
  • Emmanouil Karagiannis, Associate Professor, Department of Defense Studies, King’s College London
  • Ioannis Mitsios, Political Scientist, International Relations Specialist, M.A. Northeastern University, Boston
  • Giorgos Alexakis, Vice Governor on European and International Affairs at Region of Crete, Vice-President of CPMR & EUROMONTANA
  • Theodoros Louloudis, Publisher of “Peloponnisos” Newspaper, Member of the Organizing Committee of the Regional Growth Conference,
  • Annika AnnerbyJansson, President of Region Skåne, Chair of the CPMR’s Task Force on Migration Mamangement
  • Dimitrios Triantafyllou, Professor, Department of International Relations, Kadir Has University
  • Dimitrios Rizoulis, Journalist, Director of the newspaper “Dimokratia”.

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India – The US Promote National Defense – Security Cooperation

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US and Indian foreign ministers and defense ministers at a press conference after 2+2 Dialogue on 27/10 (Source: IANS)

In recent years, the India-US bilateral relationship has been more closely bonded, especially defense-security cooperation in various fields including nuclear technology, maritime defense and security, anti-terrorism in the region and in the world … has been continuously promoted, contributing to the development of an intensive bilateral relationship. This results from the demand for security strategy, economic, security and political interests of the two parties. The United States wants India to become its ally in the Indo-Pacific region, counterbalancing China’s growing influence, ensuring U.S. maritime security interests and a huge commercial arm market for the US. To India: a good relationship with the US will help India highten its position in the region; India also wants to rely on US power to increase its military strength, to watch out China and create pressure on Pakistan. In addition, India’s comprehensive diplomacy and the US’s regional strategy carried out simultaneously without overlapping, is conducive to strengthening the bilateral security cooperation for both countries.

It is evitable that in recent years, defense-security cooperation between India and the US has made remarkable progresses. After removing the Sanctions on India for nuclear testing in May 2018, the US and India announced the Joint Declaration on Civil Energy Cooperation between the two countries. Accordingly, the US will provide nuclear fuel and technology support for India to develop civil nuclear energy. This has opened the door for India to develop their nuclear weapons and improve military strength. The two countries also cooperate in many defense activities including ballistic missile defense, joint military training, expanding arms sales, strengthening military staff exchanges and intelligence, as well as loosening two-way technology exports.

To be specific: In January 1995, the two countries signed the “US-India Defense Relations Agreement”, stipulating that in addition to conducting cooperation on research and production of military weapons, the two countries also conduct exchanges between military and non-military personnel. In May 2001, the Indian government announced its support for the US to develop a ballistic missile defense system, and proposed to purchase the “Patriot 1 (PAC-3)” air defense missile system. In March 2005, during the Conference on Cooperation in Ballistic Missile Defense, the US, India and Japan agreed to set up a joint working group, to implement close cooperation on ballistic missile defense. In June 2005, the United States and India signed a 10-year military cooperation agreement, which not only required increased exchanges between the two countries’ armies, but also proposed to strengthen military cooperation regarding weapons production, and trading as well as ballistic missile defense. In July 2009, the two countries signed a “Comprehensive customer surveillance treaty” on defense, the US sold advanced defense technology to India. This treaty allowed India to obtain a “permission card” to buy the US’s advanced weaponry. In addition, the two countries also cooperate in counter-terrorism in the region and around the world, maritime security, and joint military exercises …

One of the activities promoting bilateral relations between India and the US was the “2 + 2 Dialogue” taking place on October 27, 2020 in New Delhi. Within the framework of this dialogue, India and the United States had shared exchanges of a free and open Indo-Pacific vision, embracing peace and prosperity, a rules-based order with  the central role of ASEAN, resolving disputes, ensuring the economic and security interests of all related parties with legitimate interests in this region … The focus on defense-security cooperation in this “2+2 Dialogue” is the signing of the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA). The agreement allowed India to access accurate data, topographic images, maps, maritime and aviation data and satellite data on a real-time basis from US military satellites. Thereby, this will assist the provision of better accuracy for such weapons as cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and drones of India, and support the rescue operations during natural disasters and security strategy. The BECA is one of the four basic agreements a country needs to sign to become a major defense partner of the US. The other three agreements that India had previously signed with the United States are the General Security Of Military Information Agreement (GSOMIA),  the Logistics Exchange Memorandum of Agreement (LEMOA) and theCommunications Compatibility and Security Agreement (COMCASA) . These are “cornerstone” agreements allowing the armies of the two countries to fight together in the event of a conflict. Accelerating the signing of the BECA was just one of various ways India reacted to China threats, especially after the border clashes in Doklam (2017) and Ladakh (5/2020-now). India, the US, Japan and Australia were more active in the Quartet Meeting on October 6 in Tokyo. India also invited Australia to join the Malabar naval exercises with the US and Japan in November.

The signing of BECA was a further institutionalization of the Indo-US strategic relationship to promote the two countries’ intensive cooperate on strategy and military, without pressure to become an official ally yet have benefits. Washington received interests in selling weapons to New Delhi, especially when conflict starts. New Delhi has attached more importance to US military equipment because of its transparent pricing, simple operation and maintenance, thereby reducing reliance on Russia for weapons. Currently, the total value of Indian weapons purchased from the US is more than 15 billion USD and is expected to double in the coming time. The US-India military cooperation, therefore, will be closer in the future.

Also at this dialogue, the two countries agreed to cooperate in dealing with the Covid pandemic, considering this a priority for bilateral cooperation in this period. Accordingly, the US and India will cooperate in RDto produce a series of vaccines, to expand access to vaccines, and ensure high-quality, safe, effective and affordable medical treatment between the two countries and on a global scale.

Currently, India-US defense-security cooperation is at its heyday in the history and is likely to develop further. This relationship has profound effects on the regional security environment, especially direct effects on China. As military forces grow, India will probably implement their military strategy “taking the Indian Ocean in the South, expanding power to the East Sea in the East, attacking Pakistan in the West, watching out for China in the North”, plus nuclear deterrence. This will worsen the fierce arms race in such regions as the South Asia and the Indian Ocean, leading to an imbalance of forces and add up a number of unstability factors in these regions.

In short, India-US defense-security cooperation is making remarkable progresses and has created impact on regional security, especially China and other countries with common interests in this region, including Vietnam. Therefore, the China-American-Indian triangle relationship is currently in an unstable state. In this scenario, it is suggested that countries actively identify issues relating to the this three military powers relationship and devise appropriate diplomatic strategies, balancing bilateral relations with major powers with disagreements to ensure national security and stability in the region.

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India-Pakistan LOC peace

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India and Pakistan have both announced to “strictly observe” the truce along the Line of Control and all other sectors “in the interest of achieving mutually beneficial and sustainable peace along the borders”. Such an announcement could not have emerged without Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s imprimatur.  A hunch is that the move is an upshot of a nudge from the US president. This impression is fortified by several events that are accentuated by India-Pakistan entente (so called surgical strikes, 5000 ceasefire violations, hype about 2008 Mumbai attack and the one at Pathankot  airbase, so on). From Pakistan’s angle, India believed in might is right. And while it was open to compromises with China, it displayed a fist to Pakistan.

Need for a dialogue

In the past, peace at the LOC proved ephemeral as it was not backed up by sufficient follow-up. A dialogue is needed for the hour. It is a good omen that Pakistan is open to talks despite chagrin at abolition of the occupied state’s statehood.

Misconception about the sanctity of the India-Pakistan LOC vis-a-vis the Sino-Indian LAC

A common misperception is that the Line of Actual Control (LAC) is more sacrosanct than the LoC. For instance, India’s prestigious Indian Express explained: ‘The LoC emerged from the 1948 ceasefire line negotiated by the UN after the Kashmir war. It was designated as the LoC in 1972, following the Simla Agreement. It is delineated on a map signed by Director General Military Operations of both armies and has the international sanctity of a legal agreement. The LAC, in contrast, is only a concept –it is not agreed upon by the two countries, neither delineated on a map nor demarcated on the ground’.

To understand Sino-Indian differences, one needs to peek into the Indian mind through books such as Shivshankar Menon’s Choices: Inside the Making of India’s Foreign Policy, Shyam Saran’s How India Sees the World, and A G Noorani’s India-China Boundary Problem 1846-1947.

The afore-quoted newspaper poses the question: “What was India’s response to China’s designation of the LAC?” It then explains India rejected the concept of LAC in both 1959 and 1962. Even during the war, Nehru was unequivocal: “There is no sense or meaning in the Chinese offer to withdraw twenty kilometres from what they call ‘line of actual control…” In July 1954, Nehru had issued a directive that “all our old maps dealing with this frontier should be carefully examined and, where necessary, withdrawn. New maps should be printed showing our Northern and North Eastern frontier without any reference to any ‘line’. The new maps should also be sent to our embassies abroad and should be introduced to the public generally and be used in our schools, colleges, etc”. It is this map that was officially used that formed the basis of dealings with China, eventually leading to the 1962 War’ (Indian Express, June 6, 2020, Line of Actual Control: Where it is located and where India and China differ).

India considers the LAC to be 3,488 km long, while the Chinese consider it to be only around 2,000km.

The LAC was discussed during Chinese Prime Minister Li Peng’s 1991 visit to India, where Indian PM P. V. Narasimha Rao and Premier Li reached an understanding to maintain peace and tranquility at the LAC. India formally accepted the concept of the LAC when Rao paid a return visit to Beijing in 1993.

The reference to the LAC was unqualified to make it clear that it was not referring to the LAC of 1959 or 1962 but to the LAC at the time when the agreement was signed.

India’s disdain of the LOC

India’s mindset on the LOC should change. The problem is Nehru never cared a fig for the disputed state’s constituent assembly, Indian parliament or the UN. This truth is interspersed in Avtar Singh Bhasin’s 10-volume documentary study (2012) of India-Pakistan Relations 1947-2007. It contains 3,649 official documents which gave new perspectives to Nehru’s state of mind.

In his 2018 book (published after six years of his earlier work), India, Pakistan: Neighbours at Odds (Bloomsbury India, New Delhi, 2018), Bhasin discusses Nehru’s perfidy on Kashmir.

LoC peace should lead to Kashmir solution

The tentative solutions include (a) status quo (division of Kashmir along the present Line of Control with or without some local adjustments to facilitate the local population, (b) complete or partial independence (creation of independent Muslim-majority tehsils of Rajauri, Poonch and Uri, with Hindu-majority areas merged in India), (c) a plebiscite to be held in five to 10 years after putting Kashmir under UN trusteeship (Trieste-like solution), (d) joint control, (e) an Indus-basin-related solution, (f) an Andorra island (g) Aland island-like solution and (h) permutations and combinations of the aforementioned options.

Another option is for Pakistan and India to grant independence to disputed areas under their control and let Kashmir emerge as a neutral country. An independent Kashmir, as a neutral country, was the favourite choice of Sheikh Abdullah. From the early 1950s “Sheikh Abdullah supported ‘safeguarding of autonomy’ to the fullest possible extent” (Report of the State Autonomy Committee, Jammu, p. 41).

Abdullah irked Nehru so much that he had to put him behind the bars. Bhabani Sen Gupta and Prem Shankar Jha assert that “if New Delhi sincerely wishes to break the deadlock in Kashmir, it has no other alternative except to accept and implement what is being termed as an ‘Autonomy Plus, Independence Minus’ formula, or to grant autonomy to the state to the point where it is indistinguishable from independence”. (Shri Prakash and Ghulam Mohammad Shah (ed.), Towards understanding the Kashmir crisis, p.226).

Sans sincerity and the will to implement, the only Kashmir solution is divine intervention or the unthinkable, nuclear Armageddon.

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