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Not-so-Nuclear War

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On February 4, 2020, the U.S. Department of Defense officially announced the first combat patrol mission of a nuclear-powered submarine carrying low-yield nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles. Some details were reported several days before that: the platform was USS Tennessee, which had went on combat patrol in the Atlantic in late 2019.

The low-yield combat payload in question represent the all-new W76-2 thermonuclear warhead for the Trident II D5 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). It is a derivative of the standard “light” W76-1 warhead, with the original secondary stage removed. As a result, the original yield of 100 kt has been reduced to between 5 and 7 kt.

According to official explanations, up to and including those contained in the new nuclear doctrine [1], the United States intends to use the weapon to give additional stability and flexibility to its regional (not strategic!) nuclear deterrence. The idea is that the number of such missiles will be limited, because they are intended for fairly specific purposes.

The U.S. military had long sought permission for low-yield nuclear weapons from the White House, arguing that the president was only limited to high-yield weapons as a last resort and that “interim” response options would come handy in certain scenarios. These were eventually termed “tailored” nuclear scenarios in the new doctrine.

These statements become more specific when looked at through the prism of expert chatter, stories run by specialized publications and private statements. Such as: What if the Russians attack an Eastern European country and, quite inevitably, receive a devastating response from NATO, but then they cunningly use their tactical nuclear weapons (TNW) to raise the stakes? How would the free world respond to that?

Their requests are quite simple and clear. The only question here is, why use a strategic SLBM in a purely tactical mission?

Something is Lacking

The U.S. has two types of nuclear weapons in its arsenals that would perfectly fit the purpose in terms of their yield. There are AGM-86B (ALCM) long-range air-launched cruise missiles, the backbone of the strategic triad’s air component. These are tipped with W80-1 warheads with dialable yield from 5 to 150 kt. There are also B61-family tactical nuclear gravity bombs that come in four different variants, some of them with 300 t and 1.5 kt yield in TNT equivalent.

Why another low-yield warhead?

The problem is not in the warhead itself, but in the delivery method. Russia, and the USSR before it, have historically been inferior to NATO in terms of airpower. For this reason, Russia has always relied on air defence (and electronic warfare) and is perhaps still the best when it comes to building reliable multi-layered air defence. It is, therefore, extremely difficult to penetrate a single air-launched nuclear weapon through that detection and multiple engagements system. The ALCM has been around for a long time, it is a well-known missile. Its more advanced derivative, the AGM-129, was decommissioned because it proved to be inferior. The combat aircraft with B61 were similarly ill-suited for such a hostile environment [2]. Starting a nuclear mission and stupidly losing the delivery vehicle to a Pantsyr or an S-400 would have been a much harder blow than refraining from participation in the escalating conflict.

Single nuclear strikes (as opposed to the massive use of nuclear force) on the theatre become a challenge. Theoretically, at some point, the United States will have nuclear systems that would be up to the task due to their stealth capabilities (LRSO cruise missiles, F-35 combat aircraft plus B61-12 guided bombs) or short flight time combined with the ability to break through air or missile defence (land, sea or air-launched hypersonic boost-glide systems). However, the problem articulated by the United States has to be addressed right now.

This leads to a palliative solution that implies removing the secondary stage from the W76-1 and using the resulting mini-Trident as a guaranteed delivery vehicle. Strange as it may seem, high accuracy is not required here. Not only will the strike be directed against a “soft” target (tactical formations, emplaced positions, or above-ground structures), but it does not even have to hit that target since it is the very fact of the use of nuclear force that matters during the early stages of escalation and not the actual damage.

It may seem clear, but how real is this image of “deterring” Russia? Is it even possible to have such a conflict as the one described in the American strategic papers?

On Reading and Comprehension Skills

Descriptions of a possible conflict along the lines of “Russia suddenly invaded the Baltic states, pre-emptively used its TNW to confuse NATO and force the alliance into a retreat” do not even merit earnest critical consideration. It is quite sad that such ideas are widespread among western political scientists and security experts [3]. However, even an expert with the greatest bias against Russia is likely to acknowledge that no matter what one thinks of Russian dignitaries, no matter what malicious intents one ascribes to them, believing these people to be infantile or irrational is a crucial research fallacy. Over the last couple of decades, the Russian elites have demonstrated a reserved, mistrustful and utterly rational (to the point of cynicism) approach to foreign and domestic policies, an approach that is utterly incompatible with the reckless idea of “let’s occupy the Baltic states, detonate a bomb and threaten a total nuclear war, because we’re bound to lose any other way.”

But what is this idea based on? It is based on Russia’s actual nuclear strategy, the general understanding of which is almost completely the opposite to its intended meaning. Russia has constructed a defence plan against a stronger enemy on the basis of the concept of the limited use of nuclear weapons in special cases.

The logic of “de-escalating” a military conflict by raising the stakes in the form of limited (including demonstrative) use of nuclear weapons has been repeatedly expounded both in general terms and in military details. Asymmetric scenarios are no exception. In such cases, a country responds to a massive attack of conventional forces with a first (limited) nuclear strike. Since, following the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and the lengthy socioeconomic crisis of the 1990s, Russia had significantly fewer conventional weapons than NATO, it was a rational strategic deterrence plan that implied balancing out conventional weapons with nuclear forces [4].

This was duly reflected in strategic planning documents. The foundation for such planning was laid back in 1993, when Russia officially disengaged itself from the 1982 Soviet obligation not to deliver the first nuclear strike, even though this use of nuclear weapons still applied to a global war only [5]. Subsequently, Russia developed a full-fledged military doctrine in 2000 that allowed the use of nuclear weapons “in situations that were critical for the national security of the Russian Federation,” including “in response to a large-scale aggression using conventional weapons.”

In 2010, the new version of the military doctrine showed the direction of Russia’s military development. The wording became more specific: now nuclear weapons could only be used in a conflict that “threatened the very existence of the state.” The current 2014 doctrine retains this strict wording and additionally bolsters it by introducing the notion of “strategic non-nuclear deterrence” that had previously been absent.

Let us note that this latter step was taken at the peak of the military and political crisis between Russia and the West, in the second half of 2014. If Russia had indeed relied on the irrationally incommensurate nuclear deterrence of the West and, in accordance with the classical “madman theory,” had wished to convince the West of this, there would have been no obstacles in the way of Russia enshrining such deterrence officially. Instead, Russia demonstratively enacted a “doctrinal détente.”

They Offered War and Nobody Came

Taken together, these developments reflected Russia’s efforts to rebuild and modernize its armed forces setting a course for raising the threshold for the use of nuclear weapons and for gradually filling up all those potential rungs on the escalation ladder that previously had to be “secured” using nuclear means with non-nuclear precision-guided weapons.

A number of motives driving this evolution can be identified. First, it is a flexible and comprehensive approach to deterrence that was not entirely typical for the USSR in the last years of its existence [6]. Second, there is a clear unwillingness to endow nuclear weapons with any significance greater than that inevitably required by the military strategic balance. Third, the logic of this development directly contradicts the very idea of “nuclear coercion” in regional conflicts with NATO. To coin a phrase, Russia has been gradually “clearing the mines” from a dangerous destabilizing situation that had emerged on the continent following the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and significant curtailing of the potential of Russia’s armed forces. The temporary lowering of the threshold for using nuclear weapons reflected precisely the transitory nature of the current factors.

Thus, at the moment, we can presume that Russia cannot simply deliver a first nuclear strike when things start going wrong in a military conflict with a near-peer adversary. The circumstances have to be more severe than this, in which is clearly and presently suffering a large-scale military defeat that threatens a national disaster. Regardless of who started it.

Let us, however, go back to “mini-Tridents” and see what their place in this scenario is. Everything appears to be just the same, but there is one flaw that cannot be eliminated. Such weapons systems will hardly be an effective deterrent if Russia has been cornered so badly that it used nuclear weapons to de-escalate a catastrophically developing conflict with NATO (and it does not matter whether we are talking about the very fact of their existence, as the United States sometimes claims, or about the outcome of a retaliatory strike). The problem of an impending defeat has not been eliminated and, consequently, neither was the stimulus for the further use of nuclear weapons. In this case, the initiating state will simply move to the next rung of the escalation ladder, delivering a multiple strike on the battle ground or selecting a more valuable and sensitive target for a single strike (for instance, within the continental United States). Psychologically, this transition will be much easier (not to say more thoughtless) than the decision to deliver an initial strike.

The crucial thing is that this is precisely the scenario where the apparent military and technical advantages of the “mini-Trident” we mentioned above will lose their importance. Facing an imminent large-scale military defeat, Russia’s integrated air and missile defence system will have been largely “dismantled” through the intensive and successful use of NATO’s precision-guided weapons, and resistance to air and missile strikes will have taken on fragmented nature. In such circumstances, a “mini-Trident” is excessive as a delivery vehicle for a single strike. These tasks can be handled by usual means, such as cruise missiles or combat aircraft. Moreover, “mini-Tridents” will even be harmful in such a situation: an SLBM launched and detected by the early warning systems (which would be left intact in such a conflict), may be misconstrued by Russia given the acute stage of the crisis and thus prompt a launch-on-warning [7]. NATO most certainly does not need this, since it would actually be winning such a war “on points.”

The W76-2 low-yield nuclear warhead:

-is officially aimed against the non-existent scenario of Russia using nuclear weapons in an act of provocation in the unrealistic event of a Russia—NATO conflict;

-is unable to deter Russia’s first use of nuclear weapons in an actual crisis situation as prescribed by its nuclear doctrine;

-harbours an additional destabilizing potential.

What is the point of this warhead then?

“I Don’t Know Who Needed it or What They Needed it For”

Note that in our story, the outlandish strategy of “escalate to de-escalate” has become intertwined with the notion of escalation control, or the idea that a conflict (including a nuclear conflict) can be proactively managed by keeping it low-intensity. This is not surprising at all because the two concepts are the same thing. Consequently, we have to go much further back in time, to the turn of the 1950s–1960s in the United States, to find the roots of this phenomenon. The single, yet crucial remark here is that escalation control is a scholastic and convoluted theory, an exercise for minds with a propensity for abstract thinking. Meanwhile, “escalate to de-escalate” strategy, as it is described today, is, in terms of both political motivation and means of implementation, a highly oversimplified form of the concept.

The United States is a pioneer in terms of introducing plans for limited use of nuclear weapons in practice. If we recall the entire history of the its “counterforce”— the 1974 Schlesinger Doctrine, Carter’s 1980 PD–59 plan and other contrivances of the heights of the Cold War, we will find it very hard to pretend that “mini-Tridents” appeared as an emergency response to Russia’s particularly malicious nuclear doctrine of the last few years. Back in 1962, Robert McNamara said that the United States could look for a way to stop a war on favourable terms, using its own forces as a bargaining chip, threatening further attacks. He further noted that, in any case, the highly secured large reserves of fire power could convince the enemy to abstain from attacking U.S cities and could stop the war [8].

We should not view these things as tales of a long gone bipolar past. A current 2019 American paper on planning nuclear operations states that, “Employment of nuclear weapons can radically alter or accelerate the course of a campaign. A nuclear weapon could be brought into the campaign as a result of perceived failure in a conventional campaign, potential loss of control or regime, or to escalate the conflict to sue for peace on more-favorable terms [9].”

It is sometimes hard not to think that the current nuclear strategy of the United States is subject to a kind of “projective” logic, something that should be familiar to practicing psychologists and means projecting one’s own aspirations and associations onto another person. In this ironic sense, mini-Tridents are very convenient as a nuclear weapons for “limited-scale” operations long since embraced by the U.S. military doctrine. Whether or not they are holding Russia back from an “escalate to de-escalate” strategy, or if Russia is somehow self-deterring, is beyond the point. What is important is the very fact that such a potential exists, as arms control experts put it, capabilities are always more important than intentions.

One feature of Trident II SLBM is its depressed trajectory, which makes it possible to use the missile where very short flight time and a relatively low apogee are needed. Thus, at a striking distance of 1900 km, the missile will reach the target in six to seven minutes, never going higher than 150 km, and it will cover a distance of 3000 km in nine to ten minutes with a maximum height of 185 km [10]. Taking into account the changes in precision, it is generally accepted that these SLBM possess significant counter-force capabilities, which puts them beyond the classical role of “city killers” in retaliation strikes that is usually assigned to sea-launched missiles.

This means that the choice of the delivery vehicle was not accidental, although it was influenced by the desire to save time and money. The platform is indeed resilient against air and missile defence, allows for very short flight time and is convenient for discriminate nuclear strikes with low “collateral damage.” Besides, with this payload, it does not pose any counterforce threat for the strategic nuclear force of a potential enemy (the same accuracy with 15–20 times less yield) and planning officers could therefore erroneously perceive it as a relatively “stabilizing” kind of weapon. It is not such a weapon, due to a reduced nuclear use threshold and functional ambiguity of delivery vehicle.

Yet, the danger of low-yield nuclear warheads being deployed is not so much in the lowering of the nuclear threshold as such. First of all, it is about the continuation of a much more encompassing dual process, which erodes two categories: the clear differences between nuclear weapons and non-nuclear weapons on the one hand, and between strategic and tactical weapons on the other. Mini-Tridents bear the prints of both, especially if you recall how much effort was spent only 10–15 years ago to equip them with non-nuclear precision-guided warheads (nothing came of it, but lightening, or in this case, the shell, most certainly did strike the same place twice).

The result of the changes taking place in the respective nuclear doctrines of the United States and Russia can hardly be considered positive. The United States (if freed from the burden of having to explain its actions) directly raised the question of “usable” nuclear weapons, that is, a battlefield capability, and not an instrument of strategic deterrence. Thus, the image of conflicts of the future implies a limited use of nuclear weapons, including, possibly, against non-nuclear states—the United States has already tried to include such provisions in its 2018 nuclear doctrine. Subjectivity is also important here. Donald Trump is a man of exceptional sincerity and consistency. Look at his campaign promises and compare them with actions in the White House. But even during the election campaign, Trump noted that he does not understand the meaning of weapons that cannot be used.

Given all the severe restrictions we emphasized above, Russia continues to think of itself as of a besieged fortress that is about to fall. This leads, among other things, to the desire to make its nuclear doctrine as opaque as possible, implementing a strategy of “deterrence through uncertainty,” the traditional refuge of the weakest side (take China, for example, which has been adhering to this approach for 50 years). Another national habit, namely making non-strategic strike systems dual-capable (which is both cheap and convenient, and, again, in certain scenarios increases the constraining uncertainty) creates further problems in this area.

Both attitudes do the same job, albeit from different sides and in different ways. They both blur the “red lines” of the first use of nuclear weapons. In the case of the United States, this line descends lower to the area of “clashes,” due to the development of delivery vehicles and the appearance of the illusion that such an employment can be controlled, is limited and implies supposedly low “collateral damage.” It feels like a nuclear strike, but not really. In the case of Russia, the intentional management of nuclear uncertainty lays down destabilizing factors for possible military and political crises, complicating their course and simplifying the transition (including erroneous) from the non-nuclear section of the escalation ladder to the nuclear one.

This might sound like a paradox, but both superpowers are escalating the strategic nuclear risks by solving situational problems caused by the lack of political trust. One problem deals with the imaginary lack of low-intensity deterrence against Russia’s aggressive behaviour, while the other continues to safeguard the risks of a no-less-imaginary NATO intrusion amid the continuing weakening of conventional forces.

All the conditions for a self-fulfilling prophecy are met.

[1] Nuclear Posture Review 2018. Washington, DC: Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2018, pp. 54–55.

[2] Davis P. K. et al. Exploring the Role Nuclear Weapons Could Play in Deterring Russian Threats to the Baltic States. Santa-Monica, CA: RAND Corporation, 2019, pp. 52–53.

[3] See, for instance: Kroenig M. A Strategy for Deterring Russian Nuclear De-Escalation Strikes. Washington, DC: Atlantic Council, 2018; Luik J., Jermalavičius T. A Plausible Scenario of Nuclear War in Europe, and How to Deter It: A Perspective from Estonia. // Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 2017. Vol. 73. No 4, pp. 233–239; Schneider M. B. Escalate to De-Escalate. // Proceedings. 2017. Vol. 143/2/1,368 (Feb. 2017), pp. 26–29.

[4] Note that this is essentially “mirroring” the situations of the 1960s–1970s, when NATO relied on America’s forward-based nuclear weapons in Europe to balance out NATO and Warsaw Pact’s conventional weapons.

[5] Principal provisions of Russia’s Military Doctrine. Presidential Executive Order 1833 of November 2, 1993.

[6] Studies by several western experts based on contacts with members of the Soviet military and political leadership indicate that, despite having done the relevant theoretical work, the USSR only planned on the concentrated use of nuclear weapons (both on the battle ground and against the enemy’s strategic targets behind the front lines). See, for instance: Hines J. G., Mishulovich E., Shull J. F. Soviet Strategic Intentions 1965–1985. Vol. I: An Analytical Comparison of U.S–Soviet Assessments During the Cold War; Vol. II: Soviet Post-Cold War Testimonial Evidence. McLean, VA: BDM Corporation, 1995.

[7] It is not very likely, but still probable, and this is precisely the strategic “black swan” that leads to the situation collapsing without any chance of recovery. Concerning the real influence highly unlikely events with a highly significant effect have on nuclear deterrence, see: Yarynich V. E. C3: Nuclear Command, Control, Cooperation. Washington, DC: Center for Defense Information, 2003.

[8] McNamara R. S. Speech before the Fellows of the American Bar Foundation, 17 Feb. 1962. Cited after: Ball D. Deja vu: The Return to Counterforce in the Nixon Administration. Santa-Monica, CA: California Seminar on Arms Control and Foreign Policy, 1974.

[9] Joint Publication 3–72, Nuclear Operations, 11 Jun. 2019, pp. V–3.

[10] Gronlund L., Wright D. Depressed Trajectory SLBMs: А Technical Evaluation and Arms Control Possibilities. // Science and Global Security. 1992. Vol. 3. No. 1. pp. 100–160.

Ph.D. in Technical Science, fellow at the Centre for International Security, IMEMO, Russian Academy of Sciences, RIAC expert

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Spotlight on the Russia-Ukraine situation

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The United States of America and Russia have recently been at loggerheads over the issue of Ukraine.

Weeks ago the leaders of the two superpowers behind the Ukrainian situation convened a meeting on the crisis. Although they both drew a clear line between them during the meeting, they made no political commitment, thus showing that the political chess game surrounding Ukraine has only just begun.

In what was seen as a “frank and pragmatic” conversation by both sides, President Putin made it clear to President Biden that he was not satisfied with the implementation of the February 11, 2015 Minsk-2 Agreement (which, besides establishing ceasefire conditions, also reaffirmed arrangements for the future autonomy of pro-Russian separatists), as NATO continues to expand eastward. President Biden, in turn, noted that if Russia dared to invade Ukraine, the United States of America and its allies would impose strong “economic sanctions and other measures” to counterattack, although no US troop deployments to Ukraine were considered.

Although they both played their cards right and agreed that they would continue to negotiate in the future, the talks did not calm down the situation on the Ukrainian border and, after the two sides issued mutual civilian and military warnings, the future development on the Ukrainian border is still very uncertain.

Since November 2020 Russia has had thousands of soldiers stationed on Ukraine’s border. The size of the combat forces deployed has made the neighbouring State rather nervous.

The current crisis in Ukraine has deepened since the beginning of November 2021. Russia, however, has denied any speculation that it is about to invade Ukraine, stressing that the deployment of troops on the Russian-Ukrainian border is purely for defensive purposes and that no one should point the finger at such a deployment of forces on the territory of Russia itself.

It is obvious that such a statement cannot convince Ukraine: after the 2014 crisis, any problems on the border between the two sides attract attention and Ukraine still has sporadic conflicts with pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country.

Firstly, the fundamental reason why the US-Russian dispute over Ukraine is hard to resolve is that there is no reasonable position or room in the US-led European security architecture that matches Russian strength and status.

Over the past thirty-two years, the United States of America has forcibly excluded any reasonable proposal to establish broad and inclusive security in Europe and has built a post-Cold War European security framework that has crushed and expelled Russia, much as NATO did when it contained the Soviet Union in Europe in 1949-1990.

Moreover, Russia’s long cherished desire to integrate into the “European family” and even into the “Western community” through cooperation with the United States of America – which, in the days of the impotent Yeltsin, looked upon it not as an equal partner but as a semi-colony – has been overshadowed by the resolute actions of NATO, which has expanded eastward to further elevate its status as the sole superpower, at least in Europe, after its recent failure in Afghanistan.  

Maintaining a lasting peace after the great wars (including the Cold War) in the 20th century was based on treating the defeated side with tolerance and equality at the negotiating table. Facts have shown that this has not been taken on board by the policy of the United States of America and its Western fawners and sycophants. Treating Russia as the loser in the Cold War is tantamount to frustrating it severely and ruthlessly, thus depriving it of the most important constituent feature of the post-short century European security order.

Unless Russia reacts with stronger means, it will always be in a position of defence and never of equality. Russia will not accept any legitimacy for the persistence of a European security order that deprives it of vital security interests, wanting to make it a kind of protectorate surrounded by US-made nuclear bombs. The long-lasting Ukrainian crisis is the last barrier and the most crucial link in the confrontation between Russia, the United States of America and the West. It is a warning to those European countries that over the past decades have been deprived of a foreign policy of their own, not just obeying the White House’s orders.

Secondly, the Ukrainian issue is an important structural problem that affects the direction of European security construction and no one can afford to lose in this crisis.

While Europe can achieve unity, integrity and lasting peace, the key challenge is whether it can truly incorporate Russia. This depends crucially on whether NATO’s eastward expansion will stop and whether Ukraine will be able to resolve these two key factors on its own and permanently. NATO, which has continued to expand in history and reality, is the most lethal threat to security for Russia. NATO continues to weaken Russia and deprive it of its European statehood, and mocks its status as a great power. Preventing NATO from continuing its eastward expansion is probably the most important security interest not only of Russia, but also of European countries with no foreign policies of their own, but with peoples and public that do not certainly want to be dragged into a conventional war on the continent, on behalf of a country that has an ocean between Europe and itself as a safety belt.

The current feasible solution to ensure lasting security in Europe is for Ukraine not to join NATO, but to maintain a permanent status of neutrality, like Austria, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, etc. This is a prerequisite for Ukraine to preserve its territorial integrity and sovereignty to the fullest extent possible, and it is also the only reasonable solution for settling the deep conflict between Russia and the United States of America.

To this end, Russia signed the aforementioned Minsk-2 Agreement of 2015. Looking at the evolution of NATO over the past decades, however, we can see that it has absolutely no chance of changing a well-established “open door” membership policy.  

The United States of America and NATO will not accept the option of a neutral Ukraine, and the current level of political decision-making in the country is other-directed. For these reasons, Ukraine now appears morally dismembered, and bears a striking resemblance to the divided Berlin and the two pre-1989 Germanies. It can be said that the division of Ukraine is a sign of the new split in Europe after Cold War I, and the construction of the so-called European security – or rather  US hegemony – ends with the reality of a Cold War II between NATO and Russia. It must be said that this is a tragedy, as the devastating consequences of a war will be paid by the peoples of Europe, and certainly not by those from New England to California.

Thirdly, the misleading and deceptive nature of US-Russian diplomacy and the short-sightedness of the EU, with no foreign policy of its own regarding the construction of its own security, are the main reasons for the current lack of mutual trust between the United States of America – which relies on the servility of the aforementioned EU – and Russia, terrified by the nuclear encirclement on its borders.

The United States took advantage of the deep problems of the Soviet Union and of Russia’s zeal and policies for the self-inflicted change in the 1990s – indeed, a turning point – at the expense of “verbal commitment” diplomacy.

In 1990, on behalf of President George H. W. Bush’s Administration, US Secretary of State Baker made a verbal promise to the then Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, that “upon reunification, after Germany remaining within NATO, the organisation would not expand eastward”. President Clinton’s Administration rejected that promise on the grounds that it was its predecessor’s decision and that verbal promises were not valid, but in the meantime George H. W. Bush had incorporated the Baltic States into NATO.

In the mid-1990s, President Clinton indirectly made a verbal commitment to Russia’s then leader, the faint-hearted Yeltsin, to respect the red line whereby NATO should not cross the eastern borders of the Baltic States. Nevertheless, as already stated above, President George H. W. Bush’s Administration had already broken that promise by crossing their Western borders. It stands to reason that, in the eyes of Russia, the “verbal commitment diplomacy” is rightly synonymous with fraud and hypocrisy that the United States of America is accustomed to implementing with Russia. This is exactly the reason why Russia is currently insisting that the United States and NATO must sign a treaty with it on Ukraine’s neutrality and a ban on the deployment of offensive (i.e. nuclear) weapons in Ukraine.

Equally important is the fact that after Cold War I, the United States of America, with its mentality of rushing to grab the fruits of victory, lured 14 small and medium-sized countries into the process of expansion, causing crises in Europe’s peripheral regions and artfully creating Russophobia in the Central, Balkan and Eastern European countries.

This complete disregard for the “concert of great powers” – a centuries-old principle fundamental to ensuring lasting security in Europe – and the practice of “being penny wise and pound foolish” have artificially led to a prolonged confrontation between Russia and the European countries, in the same way as between the United States of America and Russia. The age-old trend of emphasising the global primacy of the United States of America by creating crises and inventing enemies reaffirms the tragic reality of its own emergence as a danger to world peace.

All in all, the Ukraine crisis is a key issue for the direction of European security. The United States will not stop its eastward expansion. Russia, forced into a corner, has no other way but to react with all its might and strength. This heralds Cold War II in Europe, and lasting turmoil and the possible partition of Ukraine will be its immutable destiny.

The worst-case scenario will be a conventional war on the continent between NATO troops and Russian forces, causing millions and millions dead, as well as destroying cities. The war will be conventional because the United States would never use nuclear weapons – but not out of the goodness of its heart, but out of fear of a Russian response that would remove the US territory from the NBC security level.

To the point that that we will miss the good old days of Covid-19.

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Why shouldn’t Israel Undermine Iran’s Conventional Deterrence

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When Naftali Bennett took over as the prime minister of Israel, it was expected that he would take a different approach compared to Netanyahu. This could be a probable expectation, save for the issue of Iran, since Iran is considered a consistent strategic and existential threat in the eyes of Israeli political and military officials same way that Israel has always been considered an enemy in the strategic culture of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Therefore, with the resumption of the Iran nuclear talks in Vienna, Israel has intensified its campaign for an imminent military strike on Iran. On the other hand, Iran has tried to create a balance of missile threat against Israel based on valid deterrence during the past years.

However, the level and the nature of performance and deterrence of these two influential actors of the Middle East are fundamentally different. While Iran has defined its deterrence based on hybrid missile deterrence concepts—including direct and extended deterrence—, Israel’s deterrence is based on preemptive warfare, a.k.a. “immediate deterrence,” irrespective of its nuclear capabilities, policies of “strategic ambiguity” and “defensible borders strategy.”

From a direct deterrence perspective (i.e., the strength of a large missile fire from within Iranian territory) and given the extended and asymmetric dimensions (i.e., strengthening missile capabilities of the axis of resistance), the Islamic Republic of Iran believes that Israel will gradually become weaker and more fragile defensively, considering the importance of objective components in the area of ​​deterrence—such as geographical depth and population, and this will derive Israeli leaders to consider their fragile security and survival before any attempt to take on a direct military confrontation with Iran. For instance, when the tensions over Iran’s nuclear program escalated between 2010 and 2013 during the Obama administration, none of Iran’s nuclear facilities was attacked, despite Israel’s repeated expression of its willingness to do so. Former defense minister Ehud Barak justified this inaction with the pretext of Barack Obama’s opposition and lack of support.  In fact, the Netanyahu administration sought to instill this idea to the world that Israel has both the “determination” and the “ability” to attack Iran should this preemptive action not have been faced with Washington objection. The fact that Netanyahu still failed to implement the idea even during Trump administration—as John Bolton points out in the first chapter of his book—despite his overwhelming support for Israel, indicated the fact that Israel does not have independent military capabilities and determination to take such hostile action at no cost without the support of the US.

Therefore, despite the constant claims of Israeli officials, this country’s general strategy so far has been to avoid direct military confrontation with Iran and to focus on less intense and covert warfare. This has changed since 2017 due to Israel’s objection to pro-Iranian forces regaining the control over Al-Bukamal Qa’im border crossing on the Iraqi-Syrian border, and the consequent lack of a proportionate and retaliatory response from Iran to Israel’s ongoing operations in Syria. In fact, inaction of Iran has allowed Israeli army to expand its campaign from northern borders and the Golan Heights (as the first ring) to the province of Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria, then to the depths of Iraq in cooperation with the US (as the second ring), and eventually, inside the Iranian territory (as the third ring). The expansion of Israel’s subversive actions deep inside Iran is an effort to discredit Iran’s deterrence as well as undermining Iran’s strategic stability, while also dismantling Iran’s military and nuclear capabilities.

In the meantime, Israel’s embark on the strategy of Third-Circle Directorate based on intensifying low-level but effective military actions on Iranian soil has played a greater role in undermining Iran’s conventional deterrent advantages. Israel’s repeated operation and its recklessness in accepting responsibility for such actions has taken Israel’s belief and determination that it can target Iran’s assets and strategic resources inside and outside of Iran with numerous intermittent actions to a new level. Therefore, it can be said that while the previous positions of Israeli officials regarding the bombing and cessation of Iran’s nuclear capabilities were mostly focused on the assassination of Iranian scientists, targeted cyberattacks, sabotages, and bombings of industrial, security, and military facilities, there is no guarantee that the Third-Circle Directorate would not extent to explicit and direct entry of Israeli fighters, bombers or ballistic missiles to bomb Iran’s nuclear and military facilities in cooperation with the United States or independently.

If Israel mistakes Iran’s inaction with inability to respond and decides to extend Mabam Campaign to air or missile strikes inside the Iranian borders, it should not be sure of the unpredictable consequences. Iran has not yet responded decisively to cyber-attacks, the assassination of its scientists, and the Israeli sabotages due to the fact that these actions have been designed and carried out in such a way that Iran has assessed the damage as compensable. That is, a long set of low-level attacks were conducted to change the state of the field without taking actions that justifies an extensive reaction. Iran’s failure to respond to the recent Israeli attack on the port of Latakia is a clear example of the success and effectiveness of Salami Slicing strategy. Such strategies are designed to engage Iran in a polygonal dilemma: that it cannot respond to every individual military actions and small-scale sabotage, while inaction against these multiple small and non-intensive attacks will gradually result in losing its strategic position and deterrent credibility.

This very, unique Israeli strategy in military confrontation with Iran has reinforced the assessment of the Bennett administration about the serious weakness of Iran’s conventional deterrence. As a clear case Foreign Minister Yair Lapid claimed that “Israel could attack Iran if necessary without informing the Biden administration, which is looking to rejoin the nuclear deal”. This problem became more apparent after the assassination of the commander of the Quds Force of the IRGC, especially in the last months of Donald Trump’s presidency. In other words, if Tehran decided to respond directly to various Israeli actions, such as the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh and attacks on its military and industrial centers, the risk of a war with Israel with the support of the US would increase. By the same token, this has in fact given Tehran an opportunity not to retaliate based on the concept of conventional strategic stability. That is, at this level of conflict, Iran’s confidence in its ability to retaliate makes it easier for this country to limit and delay the response. From Iranian perspective, therefore, conventional strategic stability means preventing armed conflict in the Middle East, especially a level of conflict that directly threatens its security and territory.

However, if Israel tries to discredit Iran’s conventional deterrence and strategic stability by launching a direct air strike into Iranian territory, Iran’s retaliatory response will not be as limited and symbolic as the attack on the US base of Ain al-Assad in Iraq, because Tehran would face the so-called “Sputnik moment” dilemma, which forces it to test its missile credibility. In such a situation, Iran will be forced to first, launch a decisive comprehensive missile response against Israel and then change its deterrent structure from conventional to nuclear by leaving the NPT in order to contain pressure of domestic public opinion, maintain its credibility with regional rivals such as Turkey, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and even the Republic of Azerbaijan, and to reassure its proxy forces in the axis of resistance.

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Defense

Indo-Pacific strategy and the new China-IDF relationship

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The signing of the United States of America (the new Aukus defense agreement and the Quad Quartet agreement with Japan, India and Australia), had significant future repercussions on the Middle East region and the balances of power and influence within it, given its great geopolitical importance, according to these new American agreements in the “Indo-Pacific region”, China will have to (face a new strong defense alliance in the Indo-Pacific region, then transfer this entire Chinese conflict to the Middle East and the Iranian nuclear file and increase Chinese influence in the sea straits and waterways in the Middle East), an alliance welcomed by regional partners such as  Japan. The three countries in the new US regional alliances and polarizations of “Japan, India, and Australia” also make it clear that such agreements with the United States of America are a (historic opportunity for them and their allies to protect common values ​​and enhance security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region). On the other hand, we find that those American agreements and alliances in the “Indo-Pacific” region surrounding China will be reflected in one way or another and may increase in the Middle East, for China will have to transfer conflict and competition with Washington to the region, Israel and Iran, and this will have future consequences and repercussions.  The countries of the region in the Middle East and the Arabian Gulf, as follows:

The equation of competition between the United States and China in the Middle East has increased since the Biden administration took office, and here (placing the neutral countries in the middle became more difficult). One of the areas that may witness an escalation in the intensity of competition between the two sides is the Middle East.

To understand the vision of regional countries for their interests with the two powers, it is necessary to look at the initial indicators issued by the Biden’s administration towards the region. It has become clear that the US administration has a desire to reformulate its approach towards the region, but (it is not yet clear how deep this American step and its impact on the regional security structure sponsored by the United States, especially in the Arab Gulf region).

The US Defense Secretary “Lloyd Austin” announced a comprehensive strategic review of the status of US forces around the world, including the Middle East. It seems that officials in the US Department of Defense “Pentagon” are tending to reconsider the status of US forces in the Middle East, which may be understood (not a condition of reducing them), in favor of increasing the size of the forces in the “Indo-Pacific” region.

At the present time, the Biden administration’s focus was on (ending the war in Yemen, reviving the negotiation track over the Iranian nuclear file), and it did not show much interest in other pivotal files.

In parallel with the previous US approach, the US National Security Adviser “Jake Sullivan”, reduced the number of Middle East experts in the US National Security Council, and significantly increased the number and hierarchy of Indo-Pacific experts.

Defense Minister “Lloyd Austin” also appointed three advisers to him, all of them are Asian experts, and none of them specialize in Middle Eastern issues, in contrast to the approach of all previous US administrations, due to the danger of China, according to the current US security strategy.

These American steps toward China reflect the Biden administration’s vision of the world from the perspective of “the theory of the great power conflict”, which prevailed during the Cold War, and the decline of the Middle East on its list of priorities.

On the Israeli-Chinese side, Beijing will try to play an increasing role inside Israel in order to bring about rapprochement with Tel Aviv at the expense of Washington.  Here, we note the (extent and seriousness of Chinese companies sought to obtain contracts to operate the main Israeli ports, as Washington was particularly concerned about a Chinese company winning a tender to manage a port in Haifa, where the US Navy’s Sixth Fleet is anchored).

Perhaps the future analysis will come in (China’s attempt to play a challenge to American interests inside Israel, and China’s future planning in order to manage all Israeli ports, and thus control the shipping lanes in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea). Which is what Washington fears the most.

In addition to China’s desire to invest and be present in vital infrastructure projects in Israel, (China is trying to obtain this advanced Israeli technology, and trying to obtain any monopoly information that can be harvested in China by Israeli companies to benefit from it in the aspects of Chinese progress and innovation), thus, he challenged American technological progress from the Israeli gate.

The most important and most dangerous for me, analytically, is the attempts of the People’s Republic of China to obtain all Israeli trade secrets related to the United States of America, and even more dangerous in the future is (the rapprochement of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army with the Israel Defense Forces, which relies heavily on advanced American equipment such as  Fighter “F-35”).

From my analytical point of view, the expectation remains that (if China succeeds in increasing its ability to exist, monitor and infiltrate the Israeli army), this may allow Beijing to obtain all American military technological secrets from Israel directly, and here is the danger for the United States of America being  Israel is a conduit through which the (People’s Liberation Army of China) “PLA” achieves greater parity with the US armed forces. This is what Washington is trying to confront from Tel Aviv to counter Chinese influence there, as the United States of America cannot in any way allow its military technology to fall into the hands of its main opponent, China.

   Perhaps the final analysis here, is explaining that (the absence of American thinking of a clear strategy until now to confront the growing Chinese influence in the region and the world), and perhaps it is a continuation of the same approach of the “Trump’s administration”, as the United States shows interest in what it does not want, without presenting a clear vision of the results that you want access to this conflict.

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