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Soleimani’s death opens a door to alternative security arrangements in the Gulf

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The US killing of Iranian general Qassim Soleimani has further opened the door to a potential restructuring of the Gulf’s security architecture.

In line with an Iranian plan launched at last year’s United Nations General Assembly by president Hassan Rouhani that calls for a security architecture that would exclude external forces, cooler heads in Tehran argue that an expulsion of all US troops from the Middle East would constitute revenge for Mr. Soleimani’s assassination.

While it likely would be a drawn-out process, Iraq’s parliament took a first step by unanimously asking the government in the absence of Kurdish and Sunni Muslim deputies to expel US forces from the country.

Ultimately, Iran may at best get only part of its wants.

Iraqi prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has dialled back his initial support of parliament’s demand, saying that any withdrawal would involve only US combat forces and not training and logistical support for the Iraqi military.

Similarly, Gulf states like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Qatar are unlikely to expel US forces and bases.

That does not mean that the foundation for the Gulf’s security architecture, grounded in a US defense umbrella primarily to shield the region’s energy-rich monarchies from potential Iranian aggression, is not shifting.

In fact, it was already shifting prior to the killing of Mr. Soleimani.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE that long supported US President Donald J. Trump’s maximum pressure campaign against Iran, involving the US withdrawal from the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program and the imposition of harsh economic sanctions, began hedging their bets in the second half of last year.

The Gulf may have on an emotive level privately celebrated the death of Mr. Soleimani, an architect of Iran’s use of proxies across the Middle East, but in a more rational analysis fear that his killing may have opened a Pandora’s box that could lead the region to all-out war.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE called for de-escalation in the wake of the killing as Khalid bin Salman, the kingdom’s deputy defense minister and brother of crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, travelled to Washington and London to urge restraint.

Ironically, the killing of Mr. Soleimani rather than strategically pleasing Gulf leaders may have reinforced concerns that they no longer can fully rely on the United States as their sole security guarantor.

If the United States’ refusal last year to respond forcefully to a string of Iranian provocations sparked Gulf doubts, Mr. Soleimani’s killing raises the spectre of US overreach when it does.

Mr. Trump’s threat to attack Iranian cultural sites, despite animosity towards Iran and anti-Shiite sentiment in some Gulf quarters, is likely to have reinforced that concern.

The Gulf states’ hedging of their bets will not make Mr. Rouhani’s proposal any more attractive but it has already led to direct and indirect diplomacy by the UAE and Saudi Arabia to reduce tension with Iran.

Mr. Soleimani was killed on the morning that he reportedly was to deliver to Mr. Abdul Mahdi, the Iraqi prime minister, a Iranian response to a Saudi initiative to defuse tension.

While Mr. Rouhani’s proposal is a non-starter, it contains one element that could prove to have legs: some form of non-aggression agreement or understanding between the Gulf states and Iran.

The notion of an understanding on non-aggression would stroke with a Russian proposal for an alternative multilateral arrangement that calls for a regional security conference along the lines of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the OSCE.

Unlike Mr. Rouhani’s proposition, the Russian proposal would involve multiple external powers, including Russia, China and India, but, in the knowledge that no country can as of now replace the United States militarily, be centred on US military muscle.

The proposal, endorsed by China, potentially could cater to Mr. Trump’s demand for burden-sharing and financial compensation for a continued US role in security across the globe.

Russian officials and surrogates for the Kremlin stress that the proposal seeks to capitalize on the United States’ mushrooming predicament in the Middle East but does not mean that Russia was willing to make the kind of commitment that would position it as an alternative to the US.

Similarly, the nature of China’s participation in last month’s first-ever joint Chinese-Russian-Iranian naval exercise signalled that closer Chinese military ties with a host of Middle Eastern nations did not translate into Chinese aspirations for a greater role in regional security any time soon.

China contributed elements of its anti-piracy fleet that were already in Somali waters to protect commercial vessels as well as peacekeeping and humanitarian relief personnel rather than combat troops.

As they hedge their bets, Gulf states may want to take their time in thinking about a more multilateral security arrangement that includes but goes beyond the United States.

The Gulf states’ problem is that fast-moving and to some degree unpredictable developments in the Middle East could change their calculus.

That is also true for Russia and particularly China that has long maintained that its security interests in the region, based on the ability to freeride on the US defense umbrella, were best served by mutually beneficial economic and trade relations.

Increasingly that approach could prove unsustainable.

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.”

Mr. Xudong could just as well have included power struggles and regional rivalries in his analysis.

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

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Defense

India’s Sprouting Counterforce Posture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A pig in a poke of Lithuanian Armed Forces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Defense

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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