Escalating to De-Escalate: From Balakot to Ain al-Asad
With tensions between the United States and Iran dramatically escalating just days into the new year, the risks of a new and even more damaging war erupting in the Middle East have once again reached worrying levels. This was sparked by the brazen US drone strike which targeted General Qassem Soliemani – the commanding General of Iran’s Elite Quds forces- just outside Baghdad airport earlier this month. As a result, US-Iran tensions had seemingly skyrocketed overnight in what senior Iranian officials termed as an act of war against their country by the US. These fears were further realized by the Iranian response, which comprised of a late-night fusillade of ballistic missiles launched at two US military bases in Iraq just three days later.
However, with no casualties reported as a result of the Iranian missile strikes and President Trump’s de-escalatory statement following the Iranian response, those same tensions seem to have subsided over the last two weeks at least for the time being. This de-escalation has largely been ascribed to the fact that Iran had deliberately chosen to avoid US casualties by choosing to balance an overt display of its intent and resolve, against its unwillingness to engage further in a protracted and costly conflict with the US. The argument follows that hence, while on the one hand widespread public sentiment and anger in Iran had demanded a punitive response in the form of clear retaliation against the US, the proportionality of such a response had required careful calibration with regards to its potential for further escalation.Thus, representing one of the most recent examples of how the importance of optics and crafting a domestic narrative remain key within the battle for escalation dominance in this century’s limited wars.
This emphasis on optics and narrative was also evident last year in the South Asian context, where following the Pulwama incident, both India and Pakistan had engaged in a dangerous yet limited exchange to gain escalation dominance over one another. For instance, the Indian cross-border air strikes at Balakot had also been domestically framed as being a punitive response to an attack which – like the strike against General Suleimani – had resulted in an unacceptable loss of military personnel. Hence, the retaliatory airstrikes which targeted a suspected militant haven inside Pakistan were also accompanied by growing national outrage and calls for revenge from India that was further amplified by its domestic media.
However, just like Iran’s retaliatory strikes against US bases in Iraq, the Indian strikes at Balakot did not result in any casualties despite official claims to the contrary. This was evident in the considerable extent to which the Indian media then and Iranian media earlier this month, had bragged of scores of enemy causalities including damage to key infrastructure. Hence, constructing palatable narratives that remained acceptable enough for domestic consumption while also helping quell the same national outrage these governments had themselves helped amplify. Consequently, questions following the Balakot strikes that were then raised by Pakistan over whether the absence of casualties was intentional or purely accidental stand as similar to the ones being debated currently within the US with regards to Iran. These further boil down to questions over whether it was a lack of capability or instead a deliberate display of precision and intent by these strikes’ perpetrators.
In order to assess this, it is important to note that while both the Indian and Irani strikes bear some similarities in terms of the preceding context within which they were conducted, their differing scopes and execution plans led to two very different outcomes. For one Iran launched over a dozen ballistic missiles targeting key locations and structures at US military bases, which drawing on the recent damage assessment reports appear to have been deliberately chosen as targets. While there were a couple of missiles that seemed to have fallen off target and remained unexploded, the vast majority seemed to have hit specific structures according to satellite photographs. In comparison, the air strikes launched by the Indian Air force while representing a clear show of intent, instead failed to offer a credible display of their strike capabilities. Specifically, if the objective was to display the reach and precision of their strike abilities in the form of a forced near miss, the ambiguity surrounding their choice of targets seems to have spectacularly back-fired, if that in fact was the objective. Even worse, if it was simply an accidental miss, then instead of communicating military prowess, the strike simply presented a display of sheer ineptitude in which the battle for escalation dominance was already lost, no matter the media spin.
This for instance is further evident in the different responses generated by both the Indian and Iranian strikes. Whereas the US has chosen quite visibly and publicly to not escalate the situation any further; Pakistan last year felt compelled to not only respond in kind, but to reassert its ability to conventionally deter any provocative incursions into its air-space. Following Pakistan’s own display of a forced near miss via air launched stand-off weapons, the highly publicized downing of an Indian fighter jet, and the unconditional release of its captured pilot; eventually presented a very real and irrefutable advantage in terms of escalation dominance
It is important to understand here that while the above incidents may offer a tantalizing vindication of the very concept of escalation dominance, expected outcomes only appear as clear cut in hindsight. Especially considering the inherent temptation of favoring escalation itself as a means of de-escalation, there exist a whole of host of uncertain variables that not only amplify the inherent risks, but may dramatically alter the situation for the worse. In the recent standoff between the US and Iran, the US drawing on its already established military supremacy did not have todisplay any capability to Iran or anyone else, hence making to de-escalate a lot easier. Especially after already having achieved its objective of taking out General Soleimani. In contrast and as evident in the events following Balakot, Pakistan being on the receiving end of a much larger and better funded adversary would be in any similar situation hard-pressed not to escalate and restore deterrence. This holds a highly dangerous truth considering that the escalation ladder in South Asia is essentially built around the threat of nuclear war. Even more so with competing and vague indications of where the nuclear option lies on said ladder, this alone should technically deter any misplaced sense of adventurism if simple common sense is to prevail in the region. Yet as both incidents have shown, nothing with regard to limited war remains predictable in today’s day age.
Rising Powers in the Asia-Pacific: Implications for Global Stability
For a long time, the Asia-Pacific region has been the epicentre of rising economic growth and strategic influence, gradually changing the dynamics of world power. Because of the rapid rise of China and India, the increasing influence of ASEAN, and the steady comebacks of Japan and South Korea, its significance has only increased in the twenty-first century. Given the ongoing challenges to the traditional dominance of Western powers, this shifting environment raises intriguing questions about the future of global stability.
The rise of China stands out as the most significant factor in this dynamic. China’s phenomenal economic growth, along with its more assertive foreign policy and military modernization, have propelled it to the forefront of the global stage since the economic reform policies of the late 1970s. The Belt and Road Initiative, companies like Alibaba, and military actions in the South China Sea are just a few of the ways it is increasingly challenging the US-led international order. Due to its second-largest economy, China’s actions and policies have a significant impact on the stability of the world.
Despite lagging behind China, India is another growing Asian power that has started on a path of significant economic expansion. It has the potential to play a significant role in the region due to its distinct demographic dividend, IT industry, and geostrategic location. However, it problems a insufficiency in infrastructure, social inequality, and enduring poverty hinder its potential and raise the level of complexity in the power dynamics of the area.
In the midst of this power shift, Japan and South Korea, two countries that are already major global players, have been rearranging their positions. The balance of power in the region is greatly influenced by their advanced economies, sizable military capabilities, and strategic alliances with the US. A crucial role in the region is also played by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). A seat at the table for shaping the future of the region has been secured for ASEAN despite its diversity and disparities thanks to its prominence in regional diplomatic structures like the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum.
Additionally crucial to this shifting dynamic are the Pacific powers, particularly the US and Australia. While the US remains the most powerful country on the planet, it must deal with these new regional forces, necessitating a reevaluation of its Asia-Pacific strategy. Australia’s position has changed as well as a result of its efforts to strike a balance between its regional economic interests and its long-standing alliances. The effects of these changing power dynamics on world stability are significant. First, there is a chance that a power vacuum in the area could cause unrest and possible conflict. This is amply demonstrated by the South China Sea dispute, in which numerous nations are asserting territorial claims and frequently supporting them with military showdowns.
Second, the spread of power might also create more significant opportunities for cooperation and multilateralism. However, much of this depends on these countries’ ability to manage disagreements and rivalries as well as build inclusive and effective regional institutions. Thirdly, these changes might result in new economic structures that reshape international economic relationships and structures. The Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), a free trade agreement involving 15 countries in the Asia-Pacific, is a good illustration of this. Last but not least, the changes in power may significantly affect international institutions and norms. As Asia-Pacific nations gain power, they may try to change international institutions so that they better represent their interests.
The main worry, however, is that these changes could result in more tensions and conflicts as countries with various political ideologies and systems compete for influence. For instance, the rivalry between the US and China goes beyond merely a contest of political and economic power. Several things are essential to preserving global stability in the midst of these shifting power dynamics. First and foremost, it is essential to promote a cooperative regional order based on mutual respect and gain. Second, preventing the escalation of regional disputes into conflict requires ensuring that they are settled peacefully in accordance with international law. Third, safeguarding and bolstering regional and international institutions will be essential for preserving stability and offering forums for communication and cooperation.
In conclusion, it is undeniable that the power dynamics in the Asia-Pacific are shifting. For the stability of the world, this evolution poses both danger and promise. How well we navigate this shifting landscape, handle potential conflicts, and seize opportunities for cooperation will determine whether the world can continue to be peaceful and stable.
Beyond the Battlefield
Since the beginning of time, wars and conflicts have been an inextricable part of human history. As such, they have developed in lockstep with the complex interactions between social, political, and technological changes that have shaped our world. Warfare’s methods and goals have undergone a significant metamorphosis, moving from crude and simple engagements to ones that are sophisticated and complex. Armed conflicts have expanded to take on global proportions with the advent of destructive world wars, and are no longer restricted to simple tribal or regional skirmishes. In addition to transcending their religious roots, these conflicts are now driven by nationalistic imperatives, giving rise to wars with geopolitical goals.
However, in the fierce race to reach the pinnacle of technological achievement with the introduction of a revolutionary artificial intelligence-powered search engine, issues of veracity and the widespread dissemination of false information are the most crucial issues of our time. These worries are well-founded because the consequences of a poorly functioning search engine could distort reality, worsen the already virulent spread of false information, and cause irreparable harm to the fabric of truth.
Additionally, warfare has changed from being characterized by linear battles to being characterized by maneuver warfare, placing greater emphasis on flexibility, agility, and strategic maneuvering. Armed engagements have evolved from primitive first-generation manifestations to the complex dynamics of fourth-generation warfare. They now involve a variety of unconventional tactics such as asymmetric tactics, psychological operations, and information warfare. Thus, in order to successfully navigate the complexity of the modern battlefield, this evolution calls for both a thorough understanding of the many facets of modern warfare and the adoption of adaptive strategies.
Simultaneously, the concept of fifth-generation warfare, also known as hybrid warfare, denotes a paradigm shift in contemporary military tactics, where the importance of cultural warfare, information warfare, and unconventional methods surpasses the conventional use of brute force on the battlefield, as seen in third- and fourth-generation warfare. India is said to be using 5th-generation warfare strategies against Pakistan to sow seeds of enmity and spread false information in an effort to block Pakistan’s progress. Moreover, India is using all of its resources to undermine Pakistani society in a number of different domains. Pakistan to modernize its weaponry and armed forces given the strategic landscape of South Asia, which is becoming more complex and volatile, especially given India’s use of fifth-generation warfare against Pakistan.
Relatedly, information warfare has undeniably grown significantly important in the effort to effectively project Pakistan’s narrative both domestically and internationally. A well-calibrated national response reinforced by a clearly defined foreign policy is required in light of the double-edged nature of fifth-generation warfare. Modern times see a rapid spread of irregular wars across the spectrum of conflict, amid intensifying great power competition, as the nature of warfare changes continuously.
Modern warfare has undergone a sea change as a result of the advancement of information technology, which makes it easier for nontraditional actors like violent extremist groups to communicate. We find ourselves ensconced in a world permeated by high tension, accompanied by a flood of tweets, ranging from the tumultuous battlefields in Ukraine to a pernicious terrorist attack on mass transit inside the borders of the United States. Our insatiable appetite for knowledge is driven by a desire to protect our safety, show compassion for those who are suffering, or see wrongdoers brought to justice. Despite our desire for knowledge, we must maintain an appropriate level of skepticism toward the sources that provide it. After all, we are living in a time that is frequently referred to as the “golden age of fake news.”
Today’s conflicts are largely not fought between nation-states and their armies; instead, they are increasingly fought with the mighty arsenal of words rather than with traditional weapons. In recent years, policy discussions, popular discourse, and academic analyses have given priority to a particular breed of weaponry: “fake news” and viral disinformation. In reality, disinformation used in warfare in the digital age may not differ much from other forms of warfare; after all, wars are fought to establish power, with some reaping financial rewards while the most vulnerable suffer the most.
The problem of fake news has gotten worse since the Internet and social networks were invented. The conventional news model, which involved a small number of media outlets run by experienced journalists who interviewed reliable sources and meticulously verified the information before it was published, has been overturned by the current media environment. Today, there are numerous channels, a never-ending stream of messages, and an environment where contradictory information is frequently overlooked that all contribute to the relative ease with which conspiracy theories and rumors can spread. The temptation to cling to a simpler fiction rather than taking on the laborious task of dissecting a more complex reality grows as we are frequently presented with contradictory messages.
United States Donates $9 million in Weapons, Equipment to Support Somalia National Army
Official reports here said the United States through its diplomatic office in Mogadishu has presented $9 million in weapons, vehicles, medical supplies and other equipment to the Somali National Army (SNA). The ceremony was attended by Minister of Defense Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur Jama and U.S. Ambassador Larry André.
Aside from heavy weapons, equipment included support and construction vehicles, explosive ordinance disposal kits, medical supplies, and maintenance equipment for vehicles and weapons. Most of the supplies are already on their way to Hishabelle and Galmudug States to support SNA troops.
“We cheer the success achieved by Somali security forces in their historic fight to liberate Somali communities suffering under al-Shabaab,” said Ambassador André. “This is a Somali-led and Somali-fought campaign. The United States reaffirms commitment to support country’s efforts.”
Minister of Defense Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur Jama thanked the United States, saying, “Allow me to convey the appreciation of the Federal Government of Somalia to the Government of the United States of America for the continued support to Somalia’s peacebuilding process and the support for the fight against terrorism. This support comes at a critical time for our forces as we boost their capabilities to combat al-Shabaab.”
The Minister was joined by Chief of Defense Forces Brigadier General Odowaa Yusuf Rageh for the ceremony.
The weapons, including light and heavy machine guns were purchased with U.S. Department of Defense funding. They are marked and registered pursuant to the Federal Government of Somalia’s Weapons and Ammunition Management policy, designed to account for and control weapons within the Somali security forces and weapons captured on the battlefield.
Notification to the UN Security Council is conducted by the Federal Government of Somalia in close coordination with the Office of Security Cooperation of U.S. Embassy Mogadishu in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions.
The weapons will support SNA-Danab battalions, including battalions currently participating in operations in Hirshabelle and Galmudug. The weapons will provide a significant increase in the lethality and mobility of the SNA-Danab units participating in these operations. Somalia and its neighbouring States have come under frequent heightened militant attacks in the Horn of Africa.
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