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United States Presence in Indian Ocean: Counter Strategy For China

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In 1890, Alfred Mahan affirmed, that “whoever controls the Indian Ocean will dominate Asia, the destiny of the world will be decided on its waters” .In 1968, after United Kingdom withdrawal from Indian Ocean region the United States (US) presumed the responsibility of sustaining the order in the Indian Ocean. In earlier era, its overwhelming power-projection capacity, the US endorsed the moderate policy thwarting by outer hegemony and the rise of other intimidations to the Indian Ocean region. Indian Ocean appears as the essential battlefield of struggle in global political views. Strategic position of the Indian Ocean region in terms authority and significance of its Sea Lanes of Communication (SLOCs) makes it important for the littoral and external hegemons. The geostrategic competition among major power like the US, China and India, in the contemporary era this region has determined its regional states to boost their military forces in the Indian Ocean.

Formerly, the Indian Ocean considered as a deserted ocean and today it has turn out to be a center of political and intentional activities. Moreover, The US has established its military naval base Diego Garcia on the isolated land mass of Chagos archipelago in the Indian Ocean region due to its interests in this region.Due to strategic importance of Indian Ocean and the competition among major regional powers the US always supports India, to counter Chinese hegemony in this region.

Keeping in view Indian geo-strategic position, the US developed strategic partnership with India to contain China. The Indo- US partnership presumes to efficaciously hedge against Chinese designs in the Indian Ocean. The present study aims to discuss the US security strategy for the Indian Ocean and its implications for China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

The Indo-US partnership in Indian Ocean has unsurprisingly made cautious Pakistan and China regarding the strategic stability in this region. Pakistan is conscious of its instant and extensive neighborhood in the Indian Ocean. Pakistan has to appraise its alternatives and ready to handle any challenge that Indian Ocean can tender in the future. China has already exceeded the America as the largest energy consumer and now it has turned into more reliant on overseas oil and gas.

This era is most dynamic and emerging era with all respects.  It brought lot of changes in international map and as well as in technology and all walks of life.  This era is marked as Global era and globalization is its key importance.   The 20th century was dominated by most of mega events of history which redefined the shapes of mankind on surface of world.  Events like World War I and World War II, Nuclear power exploration and its control, chauvinism and decolonization, establishment of UN, massive improvements in science and technology, awareness of environmental degradation, digital revolution, and massive advancement in information technology shaped life in new patterns. This also affected the Indian Ocean with multiple ways like politics, technology, emerging of powers, trade, communication and navigation and changing boundaries of territories.

With increase in trade and discovery of fusel fuels, industrial revolution exaggerated.  Oil, Gas and other petroleum products became strategic commodities.  This also caused to ship petroleum from its origins to Europe and other industrial countries.  The world has been affected tremendously by petroleum and its byproducts particularly in 20th century.   These petroleum products have become central to our lives.  Crude oil found in inside earth and in rocks is processed to form different petroleum products. From lighting and cooking inside homes to running of gigantic machinery of heavy industrial complexes all are mostly based on petroleum.  The Indian Ocean region is very important in this regard as five of world’s largest oil producers are located in this region.  Out of world total trade of oil and petroleum 40% petroleum products are traded from Indian Ocean and its shipping lanes are backbones of most of international economies.

The strait of Bab al Mandab known as “Gate of Lamentation” is a narrow strait only twenty miles wide that allows ships to pass from the Red Sea to Gulf of Aden and to Arabian Sea. This strait is divided into Eastern Channel, Alexander’s Strait’ two miles wide and western channel “Dact al Mayun’ 16 miles wide by an island “Perim” in the center of Bab al Mandab.  The oil came from Middle East must have to pass through this strait to their way to Suez Canal and it save extra time and money of ships that carry oil from Middle East to Europe and America. Thus Bab al Mandab became very strategic connection among Indian Ocean and Mediterranean Sea and similar for rest of the world. Further this era comprises on the emergence of regional and extra regional power in Indian Ocean region such as US, China, India and Pakistan. China is meticulously emerging and constructing up its naval occurrence in Indian Ocean, which is being sighted as rising threats for the wellbeing of India and US as well.

The US armada was initially founded as the Continental Navy times ago, in 1775 during the American innovative war. Initially the US fleet was operated in Pacific and Atlantic but later due to the trade awareness and Indian Ocean’s growing importance tilted the United States towards it. In the 19th century and first half of the 20th century, the Indian Ocean considered as a British lake, the British not only acquired  India but also  got control the various choke points of Indian Ocean to protected the trade routes of their favor. At that time the American presence in this part of world was minimal.

American concern in the Indian Ocean region rose extensively during and after the II World War. Ultimately, the US happen to be the main sponsor of protection on the high seas in the Indian Ocean region, on the other hand, after the British draw down from east of Suez canal in 1970s. Additionally, for the future of this region the American President “Franklin Delano Roosevelt” congested in the Suez Canal while he returns from the Yalta Conference in 1940s. So in particular he met the founder of Saudi Arabia, King Abdulaziz ibn Saud on a ship voyage. The king had brought a number of sheep on slat, butchered and roasted for the American bunch.At the same time, the protection of oil assurances was converse by the pertinent parties.

Nowadays, it is stiff to envisage the Indian Ocean region, particularly the Arabian Sea region without the US maritime attendance, but the US occurrence in the Indian Ocean is not as mature or as profound, as it has presence in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The US naval presence in the Indian Ocean is consequently reliant on the benevolence of its associates. However, there is no distrust this goodwill would continue in near future. The Indian Ocean and the land of its surroundings have been developed its significance and it is expected to become imperative to the US navy.

Economic concerns always played most important task in the formulation of US overseas strategies and foretelling its supremacy in abroad. US economic concerns in the Indian Ocean region are the main cause of the main possessions like oil, decisive supplies and raw materials and the sea lanes of communication are worth mentioning. Though, for the US the Indian Ocean has turned out to be a vital tip of foreign its and financial strategies and it has grown impact on its defense. Thus, for the economic survival of US allies of US the unhindered shipping of raw materials, oil and other products through the Sea Lanes of Communication was mandatory.  According to the President Nixon report on foreign policy to congress in May 1973, the US and other industrial nation’s demands of energy are rising in world so in this case the need of Persian Gulf oil would increase in the near future. Consequently, the assertion of the ongoing flow of Middle East energy resources are increasing its importance for the US, Western Europe and Japan. In today’s world the significance of constant supply of oil and other Mineral Resources to the US and its allies have happened as the milestone for the American foreign and defense policies. In the post Second World War the main concerns of US were to deter the expansion of communism in Europe and other parts of the World. In post II World War Era Indian Ocean region lost its strategic significance due to the rising tensions between superpowers, in Europe. Moreover, France and England had colonies in Indian Ocean’s littoral States, the Britain thus, provided a sagacity of safety to the US interests in Indian Ocean.

The US war with Korea in 1950s had deep effects on the US economic concerns, which was extended to comprise a great part of the Asia. Therefore, the alliances were established with the littoral countries of Indian Ocean I-e India, Pakistan, Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Further, US entreated the South East Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO) the aim of this treaty was to check the South–West extension of China, which was measured to be a Soviet ally. Washington also created another accord among Australia, New Zealand, and the United States (ANZUS) for the assure protection of European nations. Likewise, US encouraged the configuration of Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) in 1979, to take initiative as an observer. In all these provisions, US sought and protected major participation of Great Britain, and it kept its presence in the area which limited to flag -showing profile at Bahrain based Mideast force. The Suez crises in 1956 and the Colonial rule in Subcontinent brought home the fact that the British cannot continue its presence in the region for an indefinite period, nevertheless later on the announcement of British withdrawal came as a surprise for the whole world. The inspiring Soviet entry into the region in the wake of the British decision to withdraw from the area was seen as a part of intended Russian move to fill the vacuum created by the withdrawal of British. These historic events led US to believe that in an area as important as the India Ocean, it is dangerous to let the Soviet Union attain a potential that would be significantly greater than its own .

The Nixon doctrine, “for the security concerns the arrangements were modified to make available a more secure US role in Indian Ocean Region, the burdens and responsibilities were shared within the allies for their own protection and security and for more bitterly sharing of materials and manpower”. This doctrine highlighted that, in some cases and area US would be militarily involved, and in some cases the involvement would be much lesser. The US key objective was to maintain a balance role in Indian Ocean Region that would continue to represent US interests in the area. It also encouraged littoral states to contribute for their own security issues, further the US would help to provide the Naval and Air presence as a possible prevention and the allies would help to supply their own ground troops.

The naval units of the US which were desired by maintained a viable presence due to its elasticity and comparative autonomy in the global waters. For the preservation of necessary deterrence, it was essential that they can approach to any part of the Indian Ocean in the undeviating time.  In the perspective of the Nixon doctrines, the “Island strategy” naval base Diego Garcia considered a vital to US naval wellbeing in Indian Ocean. In gulf war era, the US persists to set up the coalitions in Indian Ocean region for security concerns.

On the other hand, the post 9/11 era has marked a rising involvement of the US Administration in this Region. In the light of 9/11 attack on US, President Bush highlighted two superseding security concerns in his speech, Bush provided policy guidelines for the US involvement in the Indian Ocean. According to Bush two major features of the US involvement includes first, to countering china and second, securing oil trade routes. The most significant key factor for extensive involvement of the US can be measured as that the US said that the war in Afghanistan is a war for justice. But the War in Gulf, it is the underlying motivation for the US involvement. George W. Bush said that the Taliban defeat is the most repressive regime in the history of the world. According to a journalist, in the past, it was the US who expectant the Saudi Arabia and Pakistan to help the Taliban regime. So when the Taliban took the power, the US considered nothing obnoxious in the Taliban’s rule and campaign to compel the stringent Islamic laws.

The premeditated concerns of Washington in the Indian Ocean can be measured by a comprehensive foreign policy stance. Further, that viewpoint is prejudiced by the essential regional interests and also comprised on state’s explicit purposes. On the other hand the Washington’s key objective is to curtail and eliminate those threats which are alarming for the US interests in this region.

Due to the vital strategic location, rich resources, important trade ways, the just beginning Sino-US and Sino-Indian contentions, programmed of uncertain purpose, and Islamist extremists. Because of these scenarios the Indian Ocean region seems successful to get the consideration of the US representatives and strategists.

The United States foreign policy, specifically regarding the Indian Ocean and, particularly related to China, India and Pakistan, it can be recapitulating in a hierarchical way to describe the core objectives of the US policy. So in this regard there are two notable points to explain. First of all, in the US as like other States, the national and global concerns are extremely linked up with external strategy statements. Secondly, the US contemporary economic conditions would have consequences for the foreign and defense policies.

There are diverse strategic schools of thoughts I-e the renowned American strategist Alfred Thayer Mahan, Lord Horatio Nelson, J.C Wylie and John talkie when that derives to ponder about the prominence of the strategic purposes of the US in this region.

One School of thought argues that Indian Ocean region will turn out to be more imperative for the US, due to its ongoing dependency on oil imports from the Middle East. Further, the US allied need is to preserve the strategic supremacy to counter Chinese activity in this region, it also wants to curtail the influence of Iran. In the case of a competition with China, the Indian Ocean would have a great implication in trade, mainly related to the supply lines.

There is another school of thought which suggests a fascinating amalgamation of the above school of thought. It is about that this Indian Ocean region will always have been attractive for the policymakers of United States. Despite the fact, the focus of United States is growing day by day in this region.  .

To put aside the above considerations, it comes into view that there would be an intensive practice of multifaceted measures by the US to look closely the issues of this region with its particular partners. This is also source to increase the awareness about all the issue on local level, which is not in the favor of The US interests. Likewise, for the sake of sustainability the US can confront with other powers for the security of its interests. Furthermore, the Washington’s nature of assets and capabilities are likely to change in Indo-Pacific region. US also may get force to step back from its presence in Indian Ocean Region after the fulfillment of its interests, and then it will definitely consider the other partners of this region like India, Indonesia, and Australia to pursue its interests.

There are different key factors of ongoing rapid transformation in Indian Ocean Region. China is emerging as the second leading economy globally and its transnational mammoth project and Silk Road Economic Belt project with Pakistan and other Asian States. Secondly the US counter strategy towards china’s rise and pivot strategy to Asia, furthermore, the US also concerned to ascent several emerging economies of the littoral states in this region like India, Indonesia, Pakistan and others. In near future, it seems there will be rise of intensive economic activities within and through the Indian Ocean and there would be high possibility of militarization among littoral and external powers.  In this context the CPEC presumes a vital importance in this region. India have fear that, this mega venture by China and Pakistan can encircle the India’s boundaries of both land and maritime. Further that the Indian Ocean is desirable for India to endure its limited naval front both economically and militarily. Moreover, with the influence of US, the other key regional countries such as India, China, United Kingdom, Australia, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Indonesia, Malaysia, France, South and the United Kingdom will play a vital part in the Indian Ocean region on different levels. There are some major features of United States objectives in the Indian Ocean are seeing moderately clear. Similarly the United States conceives the alarming threats to its interests in Indian Ocean Region from the regional countries like China and Iran.

The following analysis briefly explains the aspects of US involvement on Indian Ocean Regional key countries.

China’s naval projection can be traced back to the heyday of Qing dynasty; the China’s naval legacy was not prolonged far beyond the Cape of Good Hope. As long as Chinese objects in Indian Ocean, China has already obtained the shore operational capabilities. China seeks to build blue water navy to maintain its presence and fulfillment of its long term objectives in Indian Ocean Region. Concurrently, China is also eagerly increasing its participation in multilateral institutions like wise, its participation in the UN peacekeeping missions, international disaster relief campaigns such as counter-terrorism and counter-piracy mission..

The regional neighbors of China view the naval projection as a fearsome offensive force in Indian Ocean.  That’s the reason the US and its regional allies consider the naval modernization of China in Indo-Pacific as a potential threat to its interests. Likewise the dominant naval position of China is becoming the cause of clash of interests between the two major states China and the US.

The US considers China as a potential source of instability in Indo-Pacific region so in 2010 one of the US official warned China to cultivate its activities in this region. The US Pivot to Asia strategy with its allies to encircle China along the eastern and southern island chain periphery. Further for the containment of China, the US also built strategic rings and also expands its defense treaties with its South Asian regional allies to encircle China in this region. China on the other hand considers the US as a major threat to the security. Beijing is also making substantial efforts to counter the US in the Indian Ocean, for example in 2013, Beijing warned the US not to interfere in the region. Secondly, China imposed no-fly zone in the South China Sea area.

Likewise, the emergence of China as booming economy and also dominant superpower in Asia-Pacific regard as a major player in this region. The aggressive and strong emergence of China has changed the geopolitics of Asian region, as long as it also affects the international order. Now China has become the most significant partner of Asian countries due to its economic rise. The rapid rise of china also poses the major threats to its neighbors and other countries such as for the US. The general views of engagement of China’s in this region considered by many countries as a threat to its interests.

China is ever more signifying its assertiveness in various strategies to make best use of its interests in this region. The assertion of Chinese president Xi Jinping of China’s aims to start a “New 21st Century Maritime Silk Road,” another part of the “One Belt One Road” inventiveness which is related to the newest proposal of grander economic collaboration among the States. China invested with the assurance of US$40 billion in this mega venture, China intends to expand the structure along with the sea routes and road routes, through these exertions china wants to amalgamate its ongoing ventures. This offer not only unwraps better opportunities for China, but it will also contribute to enlarge its domain of encouragement.

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Hot air messaging: Iran floats reports of imminent Shanghai Cooperation Organization membership

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Eager to enhance its negotiating leverage with the United States and Europe, Iran is projecting imminent membership of the China-led Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in much the same way it pushed the signing of a much-touted 25-year cooperation agreement with the People’s Republic that has yet to have any real legs.

Converting Iran’s SCO observer status into full membership is likely to be a long shot but would also constitute an important geopolitical victory for the Islamic republic in terms of its positioning vis a vis Russia, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia.

It could further kickstart putting flesh on the skeleton of the Chinese-Iranian cooperation agreement. Iran and China signed the agreement in March after a year of Iranian assertions that the accord was finally happening after first being plugged in 2016, so far largely remains a piece of paper with no practical consequence.

Founded in 2001, the SCO counts China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, India, and Pakistan as its members. Besides Iran, observers include Turkey, Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, and Armenia.

Against the backdrop of improved relations with Iran, Tajikistan, the only non-Turkic state in Central Asia that four years ago opposed Iranian membership, has this time around taken up the Iranian cause as host of an upcoming SCO summit in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe in September.

“That Iran becomes a major member is among plans of the Shanghai Organization and if other countries are ready to accept Iran, Tajikistan will also be ready,” said Zohidi Nizomiddin, Tajikistan’s ambassador in Iran.

The SCO decides on membership by consensus rather than a majority vote.

Iran and Tajikistan agreed in April to establish a joint military defence and military committee that would further security cooperation between the two countries.

Tajik backing of the Iranian bid is driven in part by the fact that the landlocked country needs access to ports. Iranian ports, including sIndian-backed Chabahar at the top of the Arabian Sea, offer the cheapest and shortest transportation options.

That, in turn, enhances Iran’s potential attractiveness to the Belt and Road, China’s infrastructure, transportation, and energy-driven initiative to connect the Eurasian landmass to Beijing.

The SCO has long been able to sideline the Iranian bid for membership on the grounds that it does not qualify as long as it was sanctioned by the United Nations. The UN sanctions were lifted after the signing of a 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program.

Former US President Donald J. Trump withdrew from the accord in 2018 and Iran has since gradually moved away from compliance with its obligations under the agreement. The United States and the other signatories, including Iran, have been negotiating a US and Iranian return to the agreement since US President Joe Biden came to office in January.

Revival of the accord would involve lifting of US sanctions imposed since 2018 by the Trump administration. China, while frequently skirting US sanctions, has been careful not to run afoul of the United States with regards to Iran.

Sanctions likely were a convenient way of deferring the Iranian membership application. China and the SCO have multiple reasons to refrain from entertaining an Iranian bid.

Having learnt a lesson from allowing India and Pakistan to become members without some resolution of their differences, China and the SCO are unlikely to want an admission of Iran without at the same time inviting Saudi Arabia. Beijing and the group, moreover, would not want to give Iran a de facto veto over membership of its archrival.

The same may be true concerning Iran and Turkey. Turkey has exploited last year’s Azerbaijani victory in its Caucasus war against Armenia to expand relations with the four Turkic Central Asian republics, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan.

China has so far refrained from comment on reports that appear to be Iranian in origin about Iran being on the verge of SCO membership.

It is a pattern that fits the evolution of the 25-year Iranian Chinese cooperation agreement with one difference. Iran and China were able to sign an agreement without having to act on it. That formula will not work with the SCO. Iran is either a member or it isn’t.

China furthermore appears in contrast to the Iranian push for the cooperation agreement less interested in exploiting Iran’s SCO public diplomacy to send discreet messages to Washington and Riyadh.

Nonetheless, the experience of the cooperation agreement suggests that there is mileage for Iran in hot air messaging even if potential membership is not generating beyond Iranian media the kind of headlines that the 25-year accord did.

As a result, Iran wins irrespective of whether or not it becomes an SCO member in a matter of months.

For one, like with the cooperation agreement, it projects a greater tightening of relations with China than may be the case. It does so at a time that the United States and other Western nations are taking China to task for its aggressive policies and human rights abuses.

Reporting on potential membership of the SCO further counters the Western narrative that Iran is internationally isolated.

Analysts note that the cooperation agreement was signed just before the United States announced that it was about to enter into talks with Iran on a return to the nuclear agreement. Iran appears to be banking on a similar sequence of events before the SCO summit in September.

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Nuclear Black Market and India’s Expanding Weapons Program

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Terrorism

The threat around nuclear and radiological material has become acute in India with its expanding nuclear weapons program. There exist huge vulnerabilities at the storage, control and transport of nuclear weapons and materials in India. As India attempts to integrate with the international nuclear community, the rising and recurrent episodes of illicit uranium possession and sales in India is worrisome. This is the second such event happened within less than 30 days as on 7th May 2021 Indian authorities had seized 7.1kg of natural uranium and arrested two persons from Nagpur. Similar theft incidents have been reported in the past as well. Such events point out that there exists a poor control in India to regulate its such facilities which do not have even satisfactory security and safety mechanism. Given the context, it is equally important to unearth the black market for nuclear material inside India.

When focusing upon security aspect, the safety of India’s nuclear and radiological materials and facilities, intensified weapons development program is also worrisome. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has produced wildly divergent estimates in its Annual Year Book-2020 while assessing the current state of armaments, disarmament and international security. The report appears to be generously misleading and politically motivated while ignoring the higher estimates of Indian nuclear stockpile, where, rapidly expanding Indian nuclear arsenal portends regional and global catastrophe.

In contrast, 5 years ago, the Institute for Science and International Security estimated that India’s stockpile of fissile material was only sufficient to make approximately 75-to-125 nuclear weapons. Whereas in 2016, a study published titled as “Indian Unsafeguarded Nuclear Program: An Assessment” specified that there existed sufficient material for New Delhi to produce between 356 and 492 plutonium-based nuclear weapons.

In May 2017, Dr. Mansoor Ahmed in his research “Indian Nuclear Exceptionalism” came up with the estimates that India has enough capacity to produce up to 2,686 nuclear weapons. Along with this, Dr. Mansoor, way back in 2013, estimated that New Delhi enjoys a huge advantage in existing stockpiles over Pakistan with a stockpile of 2.4 ± 0.9 tons of HEU (30-40 enriched=800 kg weapon-grade HEU); 750 kg of weapon-grade plutonium and 5.0 tons of weapon-usable reactor-grade plutonium produced by India’s Pressurized Heavy Water Reactors. This stockpile of reactor-grade plutonium has been designated as “strategic” and would therefore remain outside safeguards.

The 2018 arsenal of India is thought to contain 130 to 140 nuclear warheads, which may expand to 200 by 2025. Kristensen and Norris listed five locations in India where nuclear weapons may be stored, but they estimate that there are others whose physical locations have not been identified.

Interestingly, New Delhi’s expansion in fissile material production infrastructure, particularly its uranium enrichment program using gas-centrifuge technology, has been greatly facilitated with the availability of the country’s entire domestic uranium ore deposits and reserves for the nuclear weapons program. The expansion began with the signing of Indo-US nuclear deal which helped India to meet all nuclear fuel requirements. We all know that such favoritism has made South Asian region more prone to arms race and instability.

While assessing Indian nuclear motivations, the twin questions of nuclear weapons and nuclear energy have been masterfully engineered by India to further its weapons capability. Even with all this help at present and in the past, Indian Department of Atomic Energy’s (DAE) failures were stark and many. In the year 1962, Homi Bhabha the father of the Indian nuclear program predicted that by 1987 nuclear energy would constitute 20,000 to 25,000 megawatts (MW) of installed electricity generation capacity but failed in achieving these numbers. His successor as the head of DAE, like him, never came close to meeting any of these goals. Dr. M V Ramana a physicist who works at the Nuclear Futures Laboratory and the Program on Science and Global Security, both at Princeton University, explained that this history of failure explains the escalating demands from the DAE and other nuclear advocates used as a bogey to gain access to international nuclear markets.

India is expanding its uranium enrichment capacity keeping in mind the Rare Materials Plant (RMP) centrifuge facility in Rattehalli, Karnataka. This revelation in 2015 highlighted the lack of nuclear safeguards on India under new Prime Minister Narendra Modi. In this research it was suggested that Rare Metals Plant would boost India’s ability to produce weapons-grade uranium to twice the amount needed for its planned nuclear-powered submarine fleet. One potential use of this facility was for development of thermonuclear weapons. Similar reports came in later years that identified Indian buildup of secret nuclear enrichment complex in Challakere, which most likely will covertly triple the number of nuclear warheads in the coming years from what India possesses today.

Historically, India has the capability to utilize reactor grade plutonium to build nuclear weapons. Dr. M V Ramana in 2005 suggested that:

“Over the years, some 8,000 kg of reactor-grade plutonium may have been produced in the power reactors not under safeguards. Only about 8 kg of such plutonium are needed to make a simple nuclear weapon. Unless this spent fuel is not put under safeguards–i.e., declared to be off-limits for military purposes, as part of the deal–India would have enough plutonium from this source alone for an arsenal of about 1,000 weapons, larger than that of all the nuclear weapons states except the United States and Russia.”

 This is further evident from the study carried out by David Albright in 2015 of the Institute of Science and International Security where he stated that:

“Although generally India is not believed to use reactor-grade plutonium in nuclear weapons, Indian nuclear experts are reported to have evaluated this plutonium’s use in nuclear weapons and India may have decided to create a reserve stock of reactor-grade plutonium for possible use in nuclear weapons.” 

After careful assessment one can reasonably conclude that India in the last two decades through exceptional favoritism ingeniously proliferated its weapon program vertically. These massive increments in India’s capabilities to produce weapons at a large pace are intrinsically dangerous and pose an unparallel threat to the region keeping in mind the loose state control over its nuclear facilities.

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Will The US-Russia Arms Control Be Continued After The Biden-Putin Geneva Summit?

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Authors: Alexander G. Savelyev and Olga M. Naryshkina*

On February 3rd, 2021, Russia and the United States exchanged diplomatic notes of an agreement extending the New START Treaty (Russia calls it START-3) for the next five years. The Treaty was signed by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and US President Barack Obama in April 2010 and entered into force on February 5, 2011. The Treaty itself, in Article XIV, provides for the possibility of a one-time extension for a period “not exceeding five years” following joint consideration and agreement. It should be noted that until the end of the US presidential election and the Biden administration came to power, the prospects for extending the Treaty looked more than dubious. Throughout most of 2020, the Trump administration linked its consent to the extension on such terms that even optimists came to the sad conclusion that Russia and the United States would be left without the last agreement in the field of strategic nuclear arms control for an indefinite period of time in the future. Now, at least for the next five years, the parties will have a high degree of predictability in the development of their strategic nuclear arsenals, with a real opportunity to verify that their commitments under the current Treaty are being fulfilled.

The extension of the New START raised new questions for politicians and experts in the two countries. The main one is whether this achievement should be regarded as the beginning of a new period in Russia-US relations in the field of arms control, or whether it should be regarded as the end of the process and no new agreements in this area should be expected. There are opposing views on this issue. Without claiming to cover all the nuances of the problem, we will try to assess what approaches might underlie future nuclear arms control agreements and how acceptable they might be to each of the participants.

*   *   *

Arguments against the extension of the New START in the US

The extension of the New START has drawn a line under the debate about the extent to which the United States was interested in maintaining the agreement. However, the fact itself does not mean that the arguments of the New START opponents have completely lost their force and ceased to have an impact on US security policy. On the contrary, the Biden administration may have to take into account the sentiments of part of the political and military establishment in the near future when elaborating its position on further steps in the nuclear arms control area, taking into account that the new US administration made it clear from the very beginning that arms control would be among its priorities. Both President Biden and Secretary of State A. Blinken have stated this [Blinken 2021].

It should be noted that while in Russia the extension of the New START was generally received positively both in official and expert circles, in the United States doubts were expressed as to whether it was worth agreeing to its unconditional extension without any additional demands. On 3 February 2021, the US Department of State published a document in which the arguments of those opposed to the extension of the Treaty were referred to as “myths” [The New START…2021]. Among the list of such “myths” which were cited and “debunked” by the State Department, there are clearly far-fetched and incomprehensible opinions, such as that the New START is allegedly a Cold War relict and does not correspond to the current strategic situation. In addition, the State Department argues with the argument of the treaty’s opponents that the extension of the treaty allows China to continue building up its nuclear arsenal while allowing Russia to retain superiority in non-strategic nuclear weapons. It is not difficult to see that such “myths” have nothing to do with the New START Treaty itself or with the fact of its extension. It is therefore not difficult for the US diplomatic establishment to debunk them.

Nevertheless, a number of arguments of the Treaty opponents demanded from the State Department fairly reasonable objections and even a partial acknowledgement of their validity. One of these serious objections was the reproach to the American leadership for not making full use of the Russian Federation’s agreement to freeze all of the parties’ nuclear arsenals “in exchange” for a one-year extension of the New START. As it is known, such a consent was expressed in a Russian Foreign Ministry document published on October 20th 2020 [Foreign Ministry Statement…2020]. Russia made it quite clear that on its part it was a political commitment that should not be accompanied by any additional requirements. Despite Moscow’s position, the US side interpreted it as Russia’s willingness in principle to conclude a separate agreement to “freeze” the number of all nuclear warheads of the parties. This agreement, according to the United States, should have included the provision of the relevant exchange of information and the elaboration of the measures to verify the fulfillment of such an obligation. The refusal of the Biden administration to continue pressure on Russia in favor of such an agreement is now being blamed by its rivals.

The US State Department claimed that there was not enough time to work out such an agreement, as there were only a little more than two weeks between the inauguration of the new US president and the expiration of the New START. The State Department also said that Russia had refused to negotiate on the issue, arguing that a verification agreement was “an additional condition” for reaching an agreement on the New START extension, which was “unacceptable” to Russia. According to the State Department, the New START extension gives the United States the necessary time to address the concerns in this area.

Interestingly enough, the State Department makes no mentioning of the issues that may be (and are) of concern to the Russian side. All the “myths” it exposes are directly related to US security interests. The State Department does not even hint that the U.S. side would be willing to at least consider the Russian position on a number of issues that Moscow has repeatedly raised in official and unofficial contacts over the years. These concerns are reflected in a number of official Russian documents – the Military Doctrine, National Security Strategy, and others.

It is not yet clear how seriously the US leadership is prepared to engage in constructive negotiations on the whole range of strategic stability issues. Nevertheless, if any discussions on possible new nuclear arms control agreements do begin with the new U.S. administration, the sides will in any case have to not only discuss, but also take seriously mutual interests and concerns in order to find the necessary compromise in order to achieve practical results. Otherwise, there is no prospect for a successful continuation of the arms control policy.

Possible approaches to nuclear arms control by the Biden administration

According to initial statements by the representatives of the new US administration, it intends to focus its nuclear arms control policy on two main issues. The first one is to reach an agreement with the Russian Federation on the control of all nuclear arsenals of the parties, including tactical (or, more correctly, non-strategic) nuclear weapons. The second is to engage China in bilateral or multilateral nuclear arms control negotiations in order to establish control over China’s nuclear arsenal in some form ensuring full information about its status and prospects for development. [Renewing America’s … 2021].

It is symptomatic that neither the first, nor the second option yet have the objective of reducing nuclear arsenals. It is primarily a question of agreeing on a verification system and ensuring predictability of the development of Russia’s and China’s nuclear forces. In his seminal paper ‘Binarization of Foreign Policy Conduct’, although discussing the other world’s theater, prof. Anis H. Bajrektarevic gives an accurate diagnosis for this issue too: “Confrontation is what you get, and cooperation is what you are fighting for.“

US-Russia

Despite the apparent logic and even simplicity of the approach to controlling all Russian and US nuclear arsenals, success in reaching such an agreement is more than doubtful. Before entering into a formal dialogue with the Russian Federation, the United States will have to address a number of difficult issues directly related to the country’s initial position to be brought forward as the subject of discussions.

Putting aside the political context of the issue and assuming that Russia and the United States agreed in principle to establish control over all nuclear warheads in their arsenals, the parties will have to solve a number of extremely difficult problems. These problems are not only of a technical nature but also of a military-political and military-strategic nature. In particular, the authors believe that before the beginning of negotiations the sides should agree on whether tactical (or non-strategic) nuclear weapons should be “equated” to strategic ones in a new agreement and if not, by what criteria should these weapons be divided into the two categories? On the basis of the yield of the warhead, or on the characteristics of the vehicle on which this warhead can be deployed?

In all previous nuclear arms control treaties, including the New START, the reference was primarily made to delivery vehicles, which from a military strategic point of view is quite reasonable and accepted by both sides. But the question remains open; whether the same logic can be applied to non-strategic systems. In the field of strategic weapons, parties have identified intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) and heavy bombers (HB) as such carriers. These systems are mainly the ones to be controlled. In the case of NSNWs, the range of nuclear weapon delivery vehicles to be controlled will expand dramatically and may include many missiles (both ballistic and cruise missiles) and a significant list of aircraft which normally perform conventional missions, i.e., are “dual-use”. Until a certain period of time, heavy artillery could also perform “nuclear functions”. Thus, control of NSNWs should imply control over a wide spectrum of conventional arms of the parties capable of carrying nuclear weapons. From a practical point of view, the approach seems unrealistic.

Proceeding from the above, the authors of this article come to the logical conclusion that there is only one way for the parties to establish control of NSNWs – to control only nuclear warheads and to give up the control over delivery vehicles. In such a case it would be no longer a control of “nuclear weapons”, but the control of nuclear warheads. Hence, the whole system of “nuclear arms control” breaks down into at least two parts – strategic arms control and nuclear warheads control. Clearly, the transition from the control of nuclear weapon delivery vehicles to the control of nuclear warheads represents rather a complex task, which would require considerable time to generate and agree upon specific measures allowing the parties to be fully assured of compliance with their obligations.

Even with the strategic arms covered by the New START, issues are not straightforwardly sorted out. Thus, in accordance with the established practice of US-Russian arms control agreements, all of the parties’ nuclear weapons are divided into two major categories: deployed (i.e. ready to use) and non-deployed.[1] Separate limitations are imposed on each of these categories. For example, the New START Treaty sets 700-unit levels for deployed ICBMs, deployed SLBMs and deployed heavy bombers, as well as a separate 800-unit level for deployed and non-deployed delivery vehicles. There is also a level of 1,550 for warheads on deployed strategic launchers. However, the Treaty is silent about the permitted number of non-deployed warheads. This raises another question: which nuclear warheads are to be controlled: all, separately strategic and separately non-strategic, or separately deployed and separately non-deployed? Or is it necessary to introduce separate sub-levels for these categories of nuclear warheads? The Russian side proposes to focus on the “deployed part” of the nuclear arsenals of the sides [Introductory remarks … 2021]. The US position on this issue is still unclear.

The issue of drawing the line between strategic and non-strategic nuclear warheads seems likely to be the most difficult. Probably it is impossible to do this at all. For example, the same nuclear bomb can be deployed on both heavy and other types of bombers that are not strategic. It should be added that low-yield nuclear warheads are already deployed on strategic nuclear weapon carriers, the Trident II SLBMs. In addition, the United States arsenal contains nuclear warheads with a variable yield. Hence, the criterion of yield to divide warheads into “strategic” and “non-strategic” is unacceptable. Therefore, dividing nuclear warheads into these two categories could only be done on the basis of other parameters.

In case the parties agree on controlling nuclear warheads on a deployed – non-deployed basis, they also would have to solve a number of important problems. One of them is how to count nuclear bombs and cruise missiles ready for deployment on the parties’ heavy bombers. In “real life”, these weapons are not deployed. Russian and US heavy bombers implements their missions on a regular basis in various regions of the world. According to public reports, they do not carry nuclear weapons on board. In other words, weapons that can be deployed on HBs should be included in the category “non-deployed nuclear warheads”. The same should apply to US NSNWs stored at bases in five European NATO countries (Belgium, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Turkey), although they are ready for immediate deployment on combat aircraft. The appropriate drills for transporting U.S. nuclear weapons from underground bunkers and placing them on aircraft are regularly conducted by NATO forces as part of the Steadfast Noon military exercise. [Samozhnev 2020].

On the other hand, under the New START, each heavy bomber is counted as one launcher and one warhead and is thus “partially” included into the “deployed” category in terms of the number of warheads allowed. This seemingly unimportant issue still needs to be resolved and could have an impact on the success of a future agreement. It is directly related to the issue of “upload capacity” – the ability to quickly build up the number of deployed nuclear warheads on strategic and other carriers through the availability of nuclear bombs and missile warheads in storage facilities ready to be mounted on carriers. Thus, if the “deployed – non-deployed” nuclear warheads approach is adopted for the purpose of an agreement, the parties will most probably have to introduce at least one more sub-level of warheads that are “in active reserve”, which would further complicate such negotiations.

In our view, there is no point in saying that an agreement can be reached on the overall level of nuclear warheads without dividing them into deployed and non-deployed ones. After all, according to the U.S. side, such an agreement must be “verifiable,” that is, accompanied by an appropriate control system. However, such a system will differ sharply in relation to the same deployed and non-deployed nuclear warheads, to the warheads that are in “active reserve” and to those that are in storage (in storage facilities) awaiting shipment to the troops or to the plant for dismantlement. Accordingly, parties will in any case have to introduce separate categories for “non-deployed” systems, both according to their individual types (warheads, bombs, etc.) and according to the stage of the life cycle they are in. In addition, it will be necessary to develop a system for controlling the movement and transportation of nuclear warheads to different destinations and by different modes of transport.

Again, we emphasize that the above reasoning refers to a scenario where both sides have reached a full understanding of the desirability of working out a “verifiable” agreement on the control of the nuclear warheads. It should also be noted that the authors have touched upon only a small part of the problems that the sides will face in trying to achieve this goal. Not to mention a host of technical issues, the sides will have to overcome many organizational hurdles related to the high level of secrecy in the nuclear sphere, as well as to achieve an unprecedented level of trust, which was not present even in the “best days” of U.S.-Russian relations.

Consequently, the enthusiasm of the previous US administration, who thought that such an agreement could be worked out in two or three months, is completely incomprehensible. In our estimation, two to three years would not be enough, given the fact that the basic control provisions have to be tested by experimentation and only then fixed “on paper”. All negotiations are likely to take even longer. Thus, statements by the new US administration regarding a five-year extension of the New START (which it believes gives enough time to prepare a new agreement) can also be considered overly optimistic. Under the current circumstances, the authors believe that parties could return to the idea of freezing their nuclear arsenals in the form of a “political commitment without additional conditions”, as Russia proposed in 2020. Such statements by the United States and Russia are the realistic maximum that the parties can count on in the foreseeable future in moving towards nuclear arms control.

US-China

The prospects for the second, the Chinese track of nuclear arms control policy announced by the new US administration, are not encouraging for a considerable part of the expert community. It should be noted that despite the best efforts of the previous US administration Russia refused to join the US in pressuring the Chinese leadership to engage the PRC in the nuclear arms negotiations. In his speech in February 2021, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reiterated this position: “We will never persuade China”. He also said that Russia could not imagine multilateral talks without the participation of Britain and France. [Speech by the Minister … 2021].

As for the United States, it remains to be seen what approach it might take to meet the challenge. The Trump administration mainly tried to use “forceful” methods in its attempts to “bring China to the negotiating table”. The U.S. accused China of seeking to dramatically increase its nuclear arsenal, to acquire the capability to wage a “controlled” nuclear war, to increase the counterforce capabilities of its nuclear forces, and to be reluctant to disclose information on the status and plans for development in this area. In the United States there existed (and still exists) a view that the creation of additional military threats to China, such as the threat of the deployment of US medium-range missiles in the region, may play a role in changing China’s position on the negotiations. The United States also put pressure on Russia, literally demanding that it “force” the PRC to enter into negotiations (Gertz 2020). Some experts suggested other “soft” ways to put pressure on China, including recognizing its “great power” status, opening up the prospects of improving strategic relations with the US while negotiating on nuclear arms, and making attempts to prove that China’s joining the nuclear arms control system could generate serious military and political benefits for the country.

As it is known, all the US attempts have yielded no success. China stubbornly refused not only to engage in nuclear arms control talks, but also to be transparent in that area, including in sharing data on the conditions of its nuclear arsenal and even in providing official information on the number of its nuclear forces. China’s leadership did not give reasons for its refusal, but it may be assumed that it has its roots in the decades-long nuclear policy of the country dating back to the time of Mao Zedong. In particular, there is the principle of no first use of nuclear weapons, which China would most probably have to abandon if it chooses to negotiate and to disclose full information about its nuclear forces, thus sharply increasing their vulnerability to a hypothetical nuclear strike [Savelyev 2020].

China’s condition for joining the talks has been repeatedly expressed by its officials – to further reduce the nuclear arsenals of Russia and the US to a level comparable to that of China[2]. It appears that China will continue to adhere to this position, and it is unlikely that the US could find serious tools to fundamentally change this situation. Therefore, one can conclude that the nuclear arms control priorities announced by the new US administration, both in the Russian and Chinese sectors, do not yet have serious prospects. This conclusion is supported by the fact that Russia has its own views on arms control priorities, which in many cases do not coincide with the American vision of the problem.

Russia’s priorities

After the New START was extended, there were almost no spheres of “congruent” interests left in the field of arms control in terms of their priorities between Russia and the US. However, this discrepancy does not appear to be an insurmountable obstacle for continuing nuclear arms control dialogue, or even negotiations, with the Biden administration. In any case, both Russian and American sides do not rule out this scenario.

The basic contours of a possible Russian position on nuclear arms control negotiations were outlined in the abovementioned statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry of October 20, 2020 and in a number of other documents published after the new US administration came to the White House [Opening address …2021; Statement by the Minister …2021]. These and other official documents talked about the possibility of “comprehensive bilateral negotiations on future nuclear missile arms control, with mandatory consideration of all factors affecting strategic stability” [Statement of the Russian Foreign Ministry …2020]. This wording cannot be said to give complete clarity about the possible negotiating position of Russia, especially since the statement was “linked” to the proposal to extend the New START for one year and the “freezing” of nuclear arsenals of the parties. Since the issue of “freezing” was virtually removed from the agenda of U.S.-Russian relations, and the New START was extended for five years without additional conditions, the said position of the RF, according to the authors, can be substantially adjusted in the future. Nevertheless, one can make a number of conclusions on the basis of the Foreign Ministry’s Statement, albeit tentatively.

First of all, we should note that in contrast to Russia’s position stated earlier that after the New START “further steps in nuclear disarmament should be comprehensive in nature and all nuclear-weapon states should be involved in the process…” [Vladimir Putin…2012], Russia now also allows for bilateral negotiations with the United States. However, the wording “talks on future control” is not quite clear. If to approach it “strictly”, we cannot talk about the negotiations themselves with the aim of working out a specific agreement, but about “negotiations about the future negotiations”. In our view, it would then be appropriate to speak of bilateral consultations or discussions on the parameters of such negotiations.

Nor does the wording “nuclear missile arms control” provide complete clarity. This category could include both strategic and non-strategic means of nuclear attack. However, it does not cover all nuclear weapons, e.g. nuclear torpedoes, bombs, nuclear-armed underwater drones, which the Russian President spoke about on March 1st, 2018. [Address…2018]. Consequently, one can conclude that the question of the Russian Federation agreeing to control all of the parties’ nuclear weapons remains open.

It is not quite clear what meaning is embedded in the notion of “comprehensive negotiations”, and in what exactly should this “comprehensiveness” manifest itself? The country’s official position on these issues is formulated only in very general terms. Still, examples of a comprehensive approach to security issues can be found in the history of Soviet-American negotiations. Thus, the very first strategic arms limitation treaty, SALT-1, was so comprehensive. From 1969 to 1972, the parties simultaneously worked out two agreements: the Anti-Ballistic Missile Defense Treaty (ABM Treaty) and the Interim Agreement on Certain Measures with Respect to the Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms. Both documents were signed at the same time, on 26 May 1972, and went down in history as SALT-1.

This is not the only example. Thus, in the second half of the 1980s, the USSR and the US were engaged in comprehensive negotiations in three areas – strategic offensive weapons (START), intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles (INF) and defense and space. The Soviets insisted that all three agreements must be signed simultaneously, establishing a clear link between the three “building blocks” and stressing the need to reach agreement on defense and space as a condition for signing the START-1 and the INF treaties. Initially, the US accepted this condition, on which the negotiations themselves were dependent. However, as we know, the INF Treaty was negotiated much earlier than the other documents. After serious consideration, the USSR leadership decided to withdraw this treaty from the general “package” and sign it earlier, in 1987. Then, a few years later (in 1991), the START-1 was negotiated, while the defense and space negotiations saw no progress. Given the lack of any prospect of an agreement on space-based missile defense systems and “space strike weapons”, and the fact that the ambitious SDI program by that time was virtually ceased to exist and had been replaced by the more modest Global Protection Against Limited Strikes (GPALS), the USSR once again removed the “linkage” of the remaining two parts of the negotiating “package”. At the same time, the Soviets made a statement regarding the need to retain the ABM Treaty as a condition for reductions under START I.

Thus, there do not appear to be any formal obstacles to holding “comprehensive bilateral negotiations”. All that remains is to determine what part this “complex” might consist of. In the aforementioned statement, the Russian Foreign Ministry puts forward a condition for future negotiations on “nuclear missiles”. They can only take place “with mandatory consideration of all factors affecting strategic stability”. As in previous cases, the above wording does not give complete clarity about how Russia believes the talks should be conducted. After all, any arms control negotiations have an explicit subject matter. In this case it is “nuclear missiles”. Strategic stability does not fit within the framework of such talks. The only thing that can be done is to agree on the wording that the concluded agreement promotes strategic stability and to fix it in the preamble of the future treaty. It seems unlikely that this approach would suit the Russian side.

Another option would be to insist on a comprehensive approach to negotiations that would cover the whole range of factors that, in Russia’s view, affect strategic stability. Once again we emphasize that what has been written above does not constitute a specific proposal by the authors on the formulation of Russia’s approaches and position on this issue. The authors’ reasoning is just an attempt to follow the logic of statements made by Russia’s top leadership on the issues of strengthening security and strategic stability, including those represented in official documents adopted at the highest level, including the Military Doctrine and the National Security Strategy of the RF (as mentioned above). It follows from these documents that the main factors affecting strategic stability, apart from nuclear weapons, include missile defense, strategic long range high-precision non-nuclear weapons (including non-nuclear prompt global strike weapons) and space weapons. Thus, an “integrated” approach to negotiations could be to conduct several negotiations in parallel – in each of these areas under a single title. For example, “Negotiations on (missile and) nuclear arms limitation and strengthening strategic stability”.

The likelihood of such negotiations is negligible, which refers primarily to the three “building blocks” of factors affecting strategic stability. Nevertheless, it seems to make sense to consider, at least in general terms, some aspects of imposing limitations on the named weapons systems in order to assess the possibility of such negotiations, if not at present, then in the future.

Strategic high-precision non-nuclear weapons

From the verification point of view, the most “promising” is the resolution of the issue of strategic high-precision non-nuclear weapons. With the extension of the New START, a number of such systems are directly subject to it. This is particularly true for the replacement of nuclear warheads with non-nuclear warheads in existing ICBMs and SLBMs. In other, less clear-cut cases (e.g., deployment of new types of intercontinental ballistic missiles in open positions, which has been suggested as one of the options for building a non-nuclear US prompt global strike system) [Myasnikov 2010], the issue may be addressed in the Bilateral Consultative Commission operating within The New START framework. In any case, according to the authors, the conclusion of a separate treaty on strategic non-nuclear weapons is not required, since many limitations of such weapons are already covered by the provisions of the acting New START Treaty.

Space weapons

With regard to the issue of space-related arms control, it is even more problematic, in our view, than for non-strategic nuclear weapons, to reach any comprehensive agreement in this area. What the authors have in mind here is not the difficulty of making a political decision to carry out such negotiations, but rather the definition of the subject matter of the negotiations themselves and the issues of verification. For example, whether such negotiations will deal with “space weapons” issues in general or go through three possible tracks: anti-satellite weapons, space-to-Earth weapons and the space element of advanced BMD systems.

If it comes to “space weapons,” the parties should understand that a complete ban on “space weapons” is unfortunate due to the fact that many existing weapons systems (for example, ICBMs and SLBMs) have the potential to engage satellites in orbit. But before that the parties must come to a joint vision of what they understand by the terms “space weapons,” “weapons in space” and a number of other concepts, including “weapons” as such. Without such an agreement, it is almost impossible to negotiate any restrictions or bans on an activity when the subject matter of the negotiations itself is not clearly outlined.

Here it should also be kept in mind that a number of possible “space weapons” systems, unlike NSNWs, do not currently exist, and such negotiations can only talk about preventing (prohibiting) their creation or development. But here the negotiators can expect another “technical trap”, which the Defense and Space Talks fell into in the second half of the 1980s. The parties spent quite a lot of time trying to draw a clear line between “creation” and “development”. The parties tried to became clear what is “experiment” versus “test”, “experimental device” versus “prototype”, what is a “laboratory” (a room with or without walls) and whether it could be in space, as well as a host of other technical issues. Solving a set of these questions is an extremely difficult task. In any case, many of these remained open after six years of concrete discussions in Geneva (1985-1991). As the practice of such negotiations shows, it is impossible to avoid discussing all these technical problems. Otherwise, lack of clarity on certain aspects of a future agreement leads to increased suspicions between the parties and, as a consequence, undermines the treaty itself.

The list of problems to be solved if an agreement to enter into “space negotiations” is reached could go on and on. Not all of them will be easy to solve, even if the parties have the political will to conclude such an agreement. Inevitably there will be the issue of “space weapons” of the third countries, in particular China and some NATO states, of “dual-use” assets such as “space debris collectors” and maintenance and repair satellites, and a whole range of others. It remains to be seen whether it is even possible to agree on all these issues from a purely technical point of view.

Missile defense

It is obvious that for Russia the problem of missile defense is the most pressing in terms of ensuring its national security. Almost immediately after the US withdrawal from the ABM Treaty, Russia made persistent attempts to return to at least some limitations on defensive means or to neutralize the effectiveness of US missile defense systems, increasing the potential for missile defense penetration during the development and modernization of strategic offensive systems. It appears that should the U.S.-Russian arms control dialogue resume, the Russian position will in some form require that defensive systems to be taken into account in the strategic balance of the parties. Such limitations are believed to contribute to strategic stability, and consequently to security at all the levels of confrontation – from regional to global.

The ABM Treaty was supposed to place restrictions on systems “to counter strategic ballistic missiles or their elements in flight paths”. All other missile defense systems were not subject to limitations. In 1997, the parties were able to agree on specific characteristics of BMD systems (the so-called “New York Protocols”) that would allow these systems to be classified as “strategic” and “non-strategic”. That had to be done in order to strengthen the ABM Treaty regime, which the Russian side viewed as a prerequisite for the entry into force of START II. And while both sides did not formally accept this “separation” of strategic and non-strategic BMD systems, it was nevertheless present in discussions of issues connected with the consequences of US deployment of BMD in Europe and Asia. In any case, US representatives have repeatedly stated that “theatre missile defense” in Europe “does not threaten” the deterrence potential of Russian strategic forces, is not capable to intercept ICBMs and SLBMs, and is intended exclusively to protect US allies from threats from such countries as Iran and North Korea.

However, the situation with the issue of this “separation” changed dramatically in November 2020 after the successful test of the US SM-3 Block IIA anti-ballistic missile, which for the first time shot down an intercontinental ballistic missile target from a ship equipped with the AEGIS anti-missile system [US Successfully….2020]. The anti-missiles are being built as a part of a joint US-Japanese project [Tosaki 2019]. They are designed to be fired from the Mk 41 all-purpose launchers that equip US cruisers and destroyers of certain classes and Aegis Ashore ground systems in Poland and Romania.

This test made it very difficult, if not impossible, for Russia and the U.S. to reach any kind of agreement on limiting their missile defense systems. Thus, Russia had every reason to demand that theater missile defense systems be taken into account in the overall balance of such armaments of the parties. Russia’s position could apply not only to missile systems directly tested as strategic missile defense, but also to missile launchers without regard to what kind of missile system they contain. In addition, the system of control of such weapons is dramatically complicated because they are deployed not only on US ships, but also on the territories of other countries. One can only speculate whether the U.S. conducted this test solely to test the technical capabilities of the new anti-missile system or whether it was a deliberate step aimed at eliminating any prospect of reaching an agreement in this field.

*   *   *

The above brief overview of the main arms control areas that can contribute to confidence-building, strategic stability and international security shows the dramatic complexity of the “technical side” of control, which may require enormous effort by the parties and a considerable period of time to agree on all provisions of the future agreements. The divergence of Russian and US interests regarding arms control priorities is quite obvious. Thus, for the US, the main focus is on establishing control of all nuclear arsenals of the parties (including China). For Russia, it is the control of strategic offensive and defensive weapons (both nuclear and non-nuclear), addressing the problem of “space weapons” and some others. In such a situation, it would seem possible to seek a compromise solution, including comprehensive and interrelated negotiations on a number of the above areas simultaneously. Consequently, both Russia and the United States would have to make mutual concessions, the nature of which could be determined both during the negotiations themselves and even before they began. However, in the current situation of strained relations between the two countries, one can hardly expect any progress in this area in the near foreseeable future.

We can conclude, that arms control can no longer play the role of a “driving force” to improve international relations. On the contrary, without such improvement, arms control negotiations are hardly feasible, since arms control steps require a very high level of trust between the parties. Hence, the focus should, in our view, be on the unconditional fulfillment of all the obligations undertaken by the parties under the extended New START, using this agreement as a “point of reference” in US-Russian relations and without waiting for its expiration date, trying to continue on the nuclear disarmament path.

* Olga M. Naryshkina – Senior Tutor, Department of International Security, Faculty of World Politics, Moscow State University.

(This text was originally published in Russian language in “SOCIAL SCIENCES AND CONTEMPORARY WORLD” magazine, 2021, № 2, pp. 7–20: A.G. SAVELYEV, O.M. NARYSHKINA. “The New START Extension: The End or the Beginning?”)


[1] Hereinafter the authors use the terminology adopted in international treaties. It differs slightly from the “military” terminology, which, for example, adopts the term “rapidly deployed” weapon systems.

[2] Another option is a dramatic buildup of China’s nuclear arsenal to the level of Russia and the US. Such an option is in principle not excluded if China implements a major program for the deployment of additional nuclear weapons, while Russia and the US continue to reduce their nuclear arsenals.

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