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.
China manoeuvres to protect its interests while keeping its hands clean
The question is not if, but when the long-standing American defence umbrella in the Gulf, the world’s most militarised and volatile region, will be replaced by a multilateral security arrangement that would have to include China as well as Russia.
The United States’ perceived diminishing commitment to the Gulf and the broader Middle East and mounting doubts about the deterrence value of its defence umbrella leave the Gulf stuck between a rock and a hard place. The American umbrella is shrinking, but neither China nor Russia, despite their obvious interests, are capable or willing simply to shoulder the responsibility, political risk and cost of replacing it.
On balance, China’s interests seem self-evident. It needs to secure its mushrooming political and economic interests in the Gulf, which includes ensuring the flow of oil and gas and protecting its infrastructure investment and the expanding Chinese diaspora in the region. Nonetheless, China has so far refrained from putting its might where its money is, free-riding instead (in the words of US officials) on America’s regional military presence.
Indeed, for the longest time China has been able to outsource the protection of its interests to the United States at virtually no cost. For the US, guaranteeing security in the Gulf has been anchored in an American policy which accepted that maintaining security far beyond the borders of the United States was in America’s national interest, including the protection of Chinese assets. All China needed to do, therefore, was to make minimal gestures such as contributing to the multi-national effort in the Gulf and adjacent waters to counter Somali pirates.
In the meantime, China could pursue a long-term strategy to bolster its capabilities. This included infrastructure projects related to the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) with dual-purpose potential (such as the strategic ports of Gwadar in Pakistan and Duqm in Oman as well as commercial investment in Dubai’s Jebel Ali), the creation of China’s first overseas military facility in Djibouti, and significant expenditure on upgrading the Chinese armed forces.
All that potentially changed with the rise of US President Donald J. Trump, who advocated an America First policy that attributed little value to past US commitments or to maintaining existing alliances. Hence Trump embarked on a trade war with China – viewed as a strategic competitor – and appeared to fuel rather than resolve regional stability by uncritically aligning American policy with that of Saudi Arabia and Israel and targeted Iran as the source of all evil.
This change has yet to translate into specific Chinese policy statements or actions. Nonetheless, the anticipated shift from a unipolar to a multilateral security architecture in the Gulf has cast a new light on the first-ever joint naval exercise involving Chinese, Russian and Iranian naval forces, as well as China’s seemingly lukewarm support for a Russian proposal for a multilateral security approach in the Gulf.
China was careful to signal that neither the joint exercise nor its closer military ties with a host of other Middle Eastern nations meant it was aspiring to a greater role in regional security any time soon. If anything, both the exercise and China’s notional support for Russia’s proposed restructuring of regional security suggest that China envisions a continued US lead in Gulf security, despite the mounting rivalry between the world’s two largest economies.
The Russian proposal in many ways fits China’s bill. Its calls for a multilateral structure involving Russia, China, the United States, Europe and India that would evolve out of a regional security conference along the lines of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). While backing Russia’s proposal in general terms, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang stopped short of specifically endorsing it. Geng welcomed ‘all proposals and diplomatic efforts conducive to de-escalating the situation in the Gulf region’.
China’s reluctance to endorse the Russian proposal more wholeheartedly is rooted in differing approaches towards multilateralism in general and alliances in particular. China shies away from alliances, with their emphasis on geo-economics rather than geopolitics, while Russia still operates in terms of alliances. Despite favouring a continued American lead, China sees a broadening of security arrangements that would embed rather than replace the US defence umbrella in the Gulf as a way to reduce regional tensions.
China also believes that a multilateral arrangement would allow it to continue to steer clear of being sucked into conflicts and disputes in the Middle East, particularly the Saudi-Iranian rivalry. A multilateral arrangement in which the US remained the key military player would further fit the pattern of China’s gradual projection of its growing military power beyond its borders.
With the exception of the facility in Djibouti, China’s projection becomes less hardcore the further one gets from the borders of the People’s Republic. More fundamentally, China’s approach is grounded in the belief that economics rather than geopolitics is the key to solving disputes, which so far has allowed it to remain detached from the Middle East’s multiple conflicts. It remains to be seen how sustainable this approach is in the long term.
Such an approach is unlikely to shield China forever from the Middle East’s penchant for ensuring it is at the heart of the major external parties’ concerns. And as Jiang Xudong, a Middle East scholar at the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, puts it: ‘Economic investment will not solve all other problems when there are religious and ethnic conflicts at play’.
Author’s note: first published in Asian Dialogue
Indian DRDO: A Risk In Disguise
At International Aerospace and Defence Exhibition ADEX-2013 in South Korea, India displayed its tactical nuclear missile Pragati, which has been developed by the Defence Research and Development Organization (DRDO). The DRDO authorities on their way back to India, did not load the missile on ship. Instead they left it unguarded and vulnerable at the Incheon port, South Korea, for an entire month. Afterwards, the missile was transported to India in a commercial cargo ship without the safeguards it needed as sensitive military hardware. This is no joke, this is real, an Indian battlefield tactical missile that has the capability to carry a low yield nuclear warhead at a short range was laying unguarded and dangerously exposed.
DRDO authorities did not display a dummy missile intentionally, instead an actual prototype was exhibited to be used for a live firing. Besides, DRDO did not take the responsibility of the logistical handling of the missile, instead it was outsourced to a local shipping company. Now the question is whether it was a major security lapse and breach of international laws, or DRDO intentionally did this to proliferate weapons technology. What happened during that period? Who so ever got access to the missile on that port was kept confidential! The possibility of official involvement in this incident cannot be ignored.
It is not a hidden secret anymore that DRDO and other Indian nuclear organizations have history of illicit nuclear trade and proliferation of missiles technology to other countries, like Libya, North Korea, and Iraq and so on. There is a long list of Indian individuals and entities available in nuclear archives, which are involved in arms race and proliferation.
It is embarrassing that India is a country, which is so poor in security and safety of its strategic weapons along with nuclear program is trying so hard to get into Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG). Now the mainstreamed nuclear states must realize the Indian ambition behind not signing the NPT and still wanting to be recognized is simply that India will not act responsibly. Instead being a part of the solution, India wants to become a problem for not only the South Asian region but globe as well, by exerting hegemonic designs and military expansion.
India has already taken several actions with regional implications to bully its neighbors and threaten regional peace and stability. For instance, the major incidents of 2017 China-India border standoff and 2019 Balakot aerial combat with Pakistan. There is no point of having such huge military expansion, when one cannot handle it or use it for proliferation or mislead and malign other states to hide its own inabilities. Therefore, Indian DRDO is a risk in disguise, because it cannot assure the secure and safe handling of its own equipment as well as in frustration it is maligning commercial trade between Pakistan and China. This February 2020, DRDO and customs authorities at Deendayal Port, Kandla detained Hong Kong-registered commercial cargo ship Da Cui Yun, bound for Port Qasim in Karachi, Pakistan. They claimed that they obtained intelligence that the ship was carrying a suspicious equipment, which could be used for nuclear missiles.
Indian authorities compelled the ship staff to hand over the equipment stated as an ‘industrial dryer’ and took it in their custody. Eventually, to save the embarrassment India hid the truth from media. Interestingly, that equipment had nothing to do with military or weapons manufacturing. Instead it was a ‘heat treatment furnace’ used mainly in the manufacturing of rubber goods, such as, liquid rubber storage tanks and rubber pipes. Both Pakistani and Chinese Foreign Affairs have denied the Indian claims that the equipment was ‘Autoclave’, which India has alleged was ballistic missile stuff.
India is concerned that Pakistan has emerged as a more responsible nuclear country and India’s NSG membership bid is in lumber because of Chinese realistic stance of ratifying NPT condition. Frustrated, Indian authorities have fabricated this incident just to malign Pakistan and China. Indian authorities have made a miscalculated decision. They should realize that such maligning tactics won’t help India to divert international community’s attention from its illicit nuclear trade and proliferation record. The whole event appears to accuse Pakistan for the illegal trade and nuclear proliferation, while avoiding India’s own record on the proliferation of nuclear arms.
This deception shows that the hope of Indian NSG membership has been constantly refused by China and now the Indian frustration has turned to counter-blown false-flag operations in order to undermine growing China-Pakistan co-operation. The international community must stop its material support and technical assistance to India, which has exploited Indian behavior and now India is misleading international community by false flag operations. It will eventually dismantle the peace and stability.
Development of New-age Weapons Systems Becomes Key to Sustaining US Military Superiority
The technological superiority of the United States armed forces is being challenged by new and evolving threats constantly being developed by potential adversaries. To counteract these challenges, the country’s Department of Defense (DoD) is expected to spend an estimated $481 billion between 2018 and 2024 to identify and develop new technologies for advanced weapon systems, giving rise to numerous revenue opportunities in this space.
“According to the most recent Defense budget (FY2021), combined spending on research, development, testing, and evaluation (RDT&E) for over 1,100 programs by defense-wide organizations is estimated to reach $106.56 billion,” said John Hernandez, Senior Industry Analyst at Frost & Sullivan. “This wide variety of projects provides opportunities for a large number of commercial markets to collaborate with the DoD.”
Frost & Sullivan’s latest research, US Defense Science and Technology Research Market, Forecast to 2024, delivers an overview of the science and technology (S&T) research market catering to the United States armed forces and provides detailed insights into the related growth opportunities available for market participants.
The RDT&E sector is rife with market opportunities in an array of innovative technological concepts, such as artificial intelligence (AI), autonomous vehicles, robotics, cybersecurity, counter-drone technology, and hypersonics. Pursuing further developments in these areas will prove to be rewarding for companies that can successfully integrate these new capabilities into existing weapons systems.
“Most concepts being explored by the armed forces will have an impact in commercial market spaces as well,” noted Hernandez. “Companies working with the DoD on RDT&E development programs will have an advantage toward the development of parallel commercial solutions.”
Companies operating in this sector should explore the following opportunities to cultivate growth:
Commercial-off-the-shelf technologies and software are constantly being introduced into the defense S&T research market. RDT&E process stakeholders must be prepared to partner with the patent holders of those technologies and software.
Suppliers of legacy defense systems must continue to invest in their own research and development to keep those systems current and indispensable. This involves constant interaction and communication with defense clients to align development strategies.
Trending innovations such as directed energy weapons, robotics, artificial intelligence, and machine learning are in their growth stages with a substantial amount of development ongoing. Integration companies must envision how these new capabilities can be integrated into the battle management space and have solutions ready for implementation.
US Defense Science and Technology Research Market, Forecast to 2024 is a part of Frost & Sullivan’s Aerospace and Defense Growth Partnership Service program, which helps organizations identify a continuous flow of growth opportunities to succeed in an unpredictable future.
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