The outbreak of COVID-19 has demonstrated the destructive potential of virus as a weapon of mass destruction. It has added a new dimension to alter the global strategic balance and triggered another chain of events for global strategic dominance, besides unprecedented human sufferings. During First and Second World Wars era, use of military forces and declaration of war was considered as basic essentiality to call it a World War. War is defined to be a state in which a nation prosecutes its right by force. Similarly as per Collins English Dictionary; a world war is a war that involves countries all over the world. The meaning of ‘Force’ in the modern era has grown beyond hard power, with many instruments and dimensions of application. During earlier world wars, the strategic aims were capture of key territories or surrender of political leadership/will of adversaries. In the current era the strategic aim revolves around economic collapse of adversary, with economy and people becoming the centre of gravity of the enemy, which need to be targeted.
Were We already in Third World War prior to COVID-19?
Considering the destructive capability of major world power, due to mutually assured destruction (MAD) in a full scale war, the declared World War like First or Second World Wars between combat forces may not occur, as it will be devastating for all. The ‘Force’ for application potential will be measured in terms of Comprehensive National Power (CNP) of the world powers. It includes economy, military strength (including nuclear capability), strategic posturing, foreign policy/diplomacy, governance, Human Development Index (HDI), technological capability, knowledge information, geography, natural resources, national will and leadership. Out of all the components of CNP mentioned above, economic power is the over-riding component dictating the rest. The dimensions of war have grown globally from erstwhile conventional wars under nuclear hangover (barring nuclear strike on Japan) to aggressive trade war, military posturing, arms race (including Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear arsenal), with political bouts interspersed with few offensive actions involving conventional forces.
The application of economic power had resulted in intense Trade/Tariff War between the two largest economies (US and China) spiralling upwards at a rapid rate last year. In Indo-Pacific the conventional and nuclear armed combat forces of US and China are continuing strategic posturing, deterrence and messaging to all stakeholders. China used combat forces to occupy and develop features in South China Sea, also claimed by others in an attempt to convert international water into Chinese lake along shipping lanes that carry USD 5 trillion worth of global trade per year. The recent US-Iran confrontation after killing of Major General Sulemani, saw active use of conventional force and brought both countries close to war. If all cases of use of conventional forces are linked, then two opposing alliances covering worldwide conflicts appear on the scene, the first one being US-Israel-Saudi Arabia-South Korea-Japan and the other one being China-Russia-North Korea-Iran-Syria, with other countries seem to be doing strategic balancing.
The space warfare has taken a dangerous turn with each side taking preparatory actions to destroy each other’s space assets. The use of all elements of information war, to include misinformation campaign, election meddling, cyber war, hacking of economic and crucial military network, perception management and use of media including social media are already in progress. Diplomatic pressures, economic and technological threats, nuclear blackmailing, use of multinational forces (even without UN sanction), proxy wars by nations using irregulars, terrorism, amount to use of force/CNP to achieve strategic objectives, involving/impacting almost of the entire world. The number of casualties suffered in ongoing conflicts surpasses the total casualties and refugees of both the earlier World Wars put together. The global strategic situation has graduated to conflicts, capture of territory like South China Sea, innumerable deaths and economic destruction; hence calling it cold war will be understatement. The global situation even before COVID-19 had every element of a World War, except that the dimension, instruments and modalities had changed, and the war has not been ‘Formally Declared’; hence it may not be wrong to call it an ‘Undeclared Third World War’.
COVID-19 gives new Dimension and Trajectory to Ongoing Third world war
The outbreak of Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19), has put humanity to one of the biggest risks of this century. It exposed the vulnerability of strongest nations to unprecedented human tragedy triggered by a possible biological weapon (accidently or otherwise), while the global powers were busy strengthening other elements of CNP. It exposed the dangerousness of any possible biological weapon to the world adding a new dimension in ongoing undeclared third world war. Wuhan being the initial epicentre, the trends in early 2020 suggested a sheer drop in CNP of China with combined effect of US-China trade war, failing BRI and COVID-19. The last week of March 2020 onwards saw the epicenters of COVID-19 shifting westwards with US, Europe and UK emerging to be worst affected. China having declared victory over the pandemic, was quick to put back its manufacturing in place, trying to boost a ‘COVID-19 Economy’ by creating a ‘Health Silk Road’ and re-activating most needed supply chain of medical equipment and medicines, as an attempt to earn maximum profit out of the pandemic, besides attempting to repair its global image.
Strategically, taking advantage of pandemic, China launched aggressive offensive posturing by sending aircraft carrier near Taiwan, knocked off fishing boat of Vietnam and Malaysia to strengthen its claim in South China Sea up to Nine Dash Line. The reports of a nuclear test by Chinese in Lop Nor coupled with Chinese aggressiveness was responded by US has by Elephant Walk in show of strength to caution the adversaries. China also decided to use this opportunity to unilaterally set up administration in Paracel and Spratly Islands and features claimed by other countries by approving establishment of the Xisha and Nansha districts under Sansha city in islandof Hainan,to tighten its grip on South China Sea. This political offensive was immediately responded through strong military posturing by US and Australian Navies, sailing mighty aircraft carrier and combat ships of Seventh Fleet, as show of force in freedom of navigation operations in South China Sea.
Contours of Undeclared Third World War post COVID-19 Pandemic
COVID-19 has been a wild card entry in ongoing undeclared third world war.It has exposed some vulnerabilities of US and created huge trust deficit for China globally; hence the idea of everyone accepting one/two countries as superpowers or global leader may be outdated in future. The new paradigm will be that unlike earlier World Wars, all countries will not be at war, because all of them may not agree to common narratives of key players, hence some countries would be at hot war,some in military posturing stage, and some using other dimensions and instruments of war, simultaneously.A new global order will emerge post COVID-19, which need not be US/China centric.The world may see a shift in manufacturing hubs and tendencies to be self-reliant in critical manufacturing. The eastern hemisphere seems to be having an edge in war against COVID-19. Next few decades will see the pivot shifting towards East, which has fastest growing economies and population centres. It can, therefore be argued that the battleground for ‘Undeclared Third World War’ could be Indo-Pacific, and the world has already entered in preparatory phase of it, without recognising/declaring it to be so.
The impact of the China-India border tensions on Pakistan’s regional security
The border tensions between China and India have been a long-standing issue, with both countries claiming ownership over a region known as the Galwan Valley. The tensions between the two countries have been escalating over the past few years, with both sides engaging in military build-ups and clashes along the disputed border. The ongoing tensions have had a significant impact on regional security, particularly for Pakistan, which shares borders with both China and India. In this article, we will explore the impact of the China-India border tensions on Pakistan’s regional security.
Firstly, the China-India border tensions have created a strategic dilemma for Pakistan, which has traditionally maintained close ties with China but has also had a difficult relationship with India. As the tensions between China and India escalate, Pakistan finds itself in a difficult position, as it must balance its relationships with both countries while also safeguarding its own security interests. On the one hand, Pakistan’s close relationship with China provides it with a strategic advantage, particularly as China has become a major economic and military power in the region. However, Pakistan must also be careful not to become overly reliant on China, as this could undermine its relationship with India and other countries in the region.
Secondly, the China-India border tensions have led to increased military activity along Pakistan’s border with India, particularly in the disputed region of Kashmir. Pakistan has long been involved in a territorial dispute with India over the Kashmir region, which has led to frequent clashes and military build-ups along the border. The recent tensions between China and India have added another layer of complexity to the situation, as both countries have increased their military presence in the region. This has created a heightened sense of insecurity for Pakistan, as it must now contend with the potential for conflict with both China and India along its borders.
Thirdly, the China-India border tensions have had economic implications for Pakistan, particularly in relation to its relationship with China. China is Pakistan’s largest trading partner and has invested heavily in the country’s infrastructure, particularly through its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). The ongoing tensions between China and India have created uncertainty for Pakistan’s economy, as it remains unclear how the tensions will impact China’s investments and trade relationships in the region. Additionally, India’s efforts to boycott Chinese goods have created opportunities for Pakistani businesses, but this has also led to concerns about the impact of the tensions on regional trade and economic cooperation.
Fourthly, the China-India border tensions have created a broader sense of instability in the region, which could have implications for regional security and stability. The tensions between China and India have led to increased militarization and competition in the region, which could escalate into conflict if tensions continue to rise. Additionally, the tensions could create opportunities for other countries to become involved in the region, which could further exacerbate tensions and destabilize the region.
Finally, the China-India border tensions have had implications for Pakistan’s relationship with other countries in the region, particularly with respect to its relationship with the United States. The United States has traditionally been a close ally of Pakistan, but its relationship with India has also been growing in recent years. The ongoing tensions between China and India have added another layer of complexity to the situation, as Pakistan must navigate its relationships with both countries while also maintaining its relationship with the United States.
The ongoing tensions between China and India have had significant implications for regional security, particularly for Pakistan. The tensions have created a strategic dilemma for Pakistan, which must balance its relationships with both countries while also safeguarding its own security interests. The tensions have also led to increased military activity and economic uncertainty for Pakistan, as well as a broader sense of instability in the region. Ultimately, it will be important for all countries in the region to work towards finding a peaceful resolution to the border tensions, in order to ensure continued regional security and stability. This will require a concerted effort from all parties involved, including China, India, and Pakistan, as well as other countries in the region and the international community.
One possible solution to the border tensions could be for all parties involved to engage in diplomatic negotiations and seek a peaceful resolution to the dispute. This could involve the use of third-party mediators or international organizations, such as the United Nations, to facilitate negotiations and find a mutually acceptable solution. Another option could be for all parties to work towards de-escalating tensions and reducing militarization along the border, in order to create a more stable and secure environment for all countries in the region.
It will also be important for Pakistan to continue to pursue a balanced and proactive foreign policy, which takes into account the changing dynamics in the region and seeks to promote regional security and stability. This could involve further strengthening Pakistan’s relationship with China, while also seeking to improve its relationship with India and other countries in the region. Additionally, Pakistan could work towards diversifying its economy and reducing its reliance on China, in order to mitigate the economic risks posed by the ongoing tensions.
In conclusion, the China-India border tensions have had a significant impact on regional security, particularly for Pakistan. The tensions have created a strategic dilemma for Pakistan, led to increased military activity and economic uncertainty, and created a broader sense of instability in the region. However, there are opportunities for all parties involved to work towards finding a peaceful resolution to the dispute and promoting regional security and stability. It will be important for Pakistan to continue to pursue a proactive and balanced foreign policy, which takes into account the changing dynamics in the region and seeks to promote cooperation and dialogue between all countries involved.
Furthermore, the ongoing border tensions between China and India have highlighted the need for a more comprehensive approach to regional security in South Asia. The region is already facing numerous challenges, including terrorism, cross-border violence, and geopolitical rivalries. The tensions between China and India only exacerbate these challenges and create new risks for regional stability.
Therefore, it is imperative for all countries in the region to work together towards a shared vision of regional security and stability. This will require a willingness to engage in dialogue and cooperation, as well as a commitment to respect each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Ultimately, the China-India border tensions serve as a reminder of the complex and interconnected nature of international relations in today’s world. No country can exist in isolation, and the actions of one country can have significant implications for others. It is only through cooperation and collaboration that we can hope to build a more peaceful and stable world.
In this regard, Pakistan has a crucial role to play in promoting regional security and stability. By pursuing a balanced and proactive foreign policy, engaging in dialogue and cooperation with all countries in the region, and promoting economic diversification and development, Pakistan can contribute to a more stable and prosperous South Asia.
Indian Conventional and Strategic Arms Buildup: Implications for Pakistan
South Asia’s regional dynamic is both flamboyant and intricate. Various empires have formed, prospered, and perished over the millennia, as innumerable conflicts and struggles for control of resources spread over the globe. However, 2021 was a year of fierce weapons competition between South Asia’s nuclear neighbors, India and Pakistan, who carried out 26 missile tests. India launched 16 ballistic and cruise missiles while Pakistan tested 10 missiles with nearly identical capabilities.
As a response to the perceived inability of the Indian Armed Forces (IAF) to adequately respond to the Pakistani insurgencies, and after the failure of the Indian forces to quickly react and mobilize their forces in 2001, the Indian Army and the defense policymakers realized the lack of modernized and consistent army doctrine. This resulted in the announcement by the Indian Army in 2004 of a new limited war doctrine known as the Cold Start Doctrine (CSD).
Importance of Air Base
The importance of air superiority can be witnessed by looking at the six days of the Arab-Israeli War, in which the Israeli forces pre-empted an attack from the bases of Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and Iraq, and struck the air force before the fight even began. The outcome of the war was determined during its first hours. By destroying the opposing air fleet, Israeli forces gained air superiority, and thus the Arab forces were helpless in their efforts, which eventually resulted in a humiliating defeat for the Arabs.
Indian Air-Bases: A Strategic Threat
In the contemporary era, military forces are going for weapon systems that require absolutely no time at all when it comes to striking a target. In that regard, the air force comes first for the obvious reason that its threshold is low as compared to a ballistic missile strike. Indian force deployment and employment are very close to Pakistan’s borders, from Siachen to the Rann of Kutch. In India’s most recent attack on Balakot, which took place in 2019, the air force was utilized. This clearly shows the Indian resolve to use the air force in any future blatant aggression like the one in February 2019.
The Indian air force deployment is tailor-made for Pakistan. If one analyzes the airbases/airstrips positioning and range from the Pakistani-Indo international border, the Line of Control (LOC), and the working boundary, it is quite obvious that the positioning shows the aggressive posture of the Indian Air Force. When deployed at those bases, the aircraft are the finest in the Indian military, both in terms of their quality and serviceability. When it comes to the up-gradation of the base’s facilities, this is the top priority list that is visible to everyone. In May 2021, the bases in Pakistan got priority.
The bases are positioned in such a strategy to cover every city in Pakistan, as it has no strategic depth. Pakistan’s major cities, like Karachi, Lahore, Multan, Faisalabad, Hyderabad, Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Sialkot, and even the capital, Islamabad, are within the Indian Air Force’s reach. The same goes for the areas in Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan.
Future Threat Scenario
Now the question arises what will happen in the future in light of past historical data? The answer to this is both simple and complex. It is simple in the context that the IAF will target Pakistan with its pre-defined strategy of naked aggression against peaceful neighbors, while the Indian Army is following a pro-active offense posture; the complex part is where, when, and how.
The IAF will utilize the war scenario created by the Indian government and Indian media after a staged terrorist attack on a civilian or military target, for which they will put full blame on the Pakistani state and security apparatus. They will try to raise the temperature to the point where the Indian civil establishment shows the world community that now enough is enough and our people are demanding a counter-strike. At that time, the Indian establishment will use its media to put blame on Pakistan and create a war-like scenario while raising tensions.
In light of that, the IAF, under the orders of the Indian government, along with the Indian army, will start attacking the Pakistani bases in the early moments of the war because if the IAF does not target PAF bases, then there will be grave consequences for the Indian army, and the Pakistani army also has additional fire support bases. The above-mentioned rationale will be the main cause of the IAF attacking the PAF infrastructure, thus undermining the national security of Pakistan. The Indian army, with the IAF, will aspire to rapid, shallow penetration of Pakistani territory, without crossing the nuclear threshold of Pakistan. The Indian military will go for a quick and short battle that will surprise Pakistan because that is the only possible strategy in their minds when talking about limited war scenarios or showing off war.
The IAF is a major threat to the national security of Pakistan in the wake of its alignment with the Indian military’s CSD. The operational exercises conducted in the past and the recent strikes at Balakot exhibit the growing role of the IAF in the Indian military offensive strategy against Pakistan. Vast parts of Pakistan are within the combat radius of the IAF’s operational fighters because of Pakistan’s lack of strategic depth.
The IAF will try to use this as an advantage to support the pro-active and offensive strategy of the Indian Armed Forces to harm Pakistan, as that would be their prime objective because of their hegemonic designs. In order to protect itself from India’s flagrant military aggression, Pakistan should take some protective measures.
In the wake of the growing IAF threat, the PAF and Pakistani government should take the following measures on an urgent basis:
- Build some new airstrips along the border with India, to balance the threat by not allowing an IAF advantage in any sector. Moreover, the building of airstrips requires less money; thus this step will not put a strain on Pakistan’s economy;
- Buy more advanced surveillance radars to detect early IAF movement.
- Purchase advanced surface-to-air missiles to create a defensive barrier;
- Go for indigenizing the modern, state-of-the-art 5th generation fighter aircraft, as buying from foreign suppliers is very expensive.
- Ask the international community to put pressure on both sides to sign confidence-building measures that will lead to peace and stability.
The audacious AUKUS submarine deal and Asia’s changing security landscape
In this exhaustive analysis, I try to spell out the impact and potential consequences of the recently-brokered submarine deal between the U.S., the U.K., and Australia on Asia’s changing security landscape.
All advanced navies of the world possess lethal submarines, powered by either diesel-electric or nuclear propulsion. These underwater warships are the most potent asset at the disposal of a naval force for maritime power projection, sea denial and sea control. Lying silently under water, they are capable of sinking surface ships, including large aircraft carriers, with torpedoes or ballistic missiles. Ever since WW-II, submarines have made its name as one of the most crucial components of maritime strategy and naval warfare. Australia and the U.K. are two key maritime nations of the world, which happen to be security allies of the United States, a country that owns and operates the largest fleet of nuclear-powered submarines in the world. Being nuclear-powered not necessarily mean being armed with nuclear warheads.
The 2021-formed AUKUS (Australia, U.S., U.K.) “enhanced trilateral security partnership” has taken cooperation between the three Anglophone countries to the next level. U.S. President Joe Biden hosted the prime ministers of the United Kingdom and Australia – PM Rishi Sunak and PM Anthony Albanese – in the Californian port city of San Diego on 13 March 2023, where they jointly announced a detailed four-phased plan to equip Australia (a non-nuclear-weapon state) with “conventionally armed, nuclear-powered” submarines (codenamed SSN) at least by the next decade along with strengthening cooperation in other areas such as critical and emerging technologies.
The plan would cost Canberra’s exchequer up to a whopping A$ 368 bn. (US$ 245 bn.) in total by 2055, according to reports. The detailed plan, spanning a time frame of three decades, was announced after an eighteen-month-long consultation period following the creation of AUKUS in mid-September 2021. Australian PM Anthony Albanese called the deal “the single biggest leap” in Australia’s defence capabilities in the nation’s history. If the plan goes ahead smoothly as planned, Australia will become the seventh country in the world to add nuclear-powered submarines to its navy. As the deal turns out to be a race against time, the biggest challenge is to ensure deterrence capabilities for Australia at the present, as the full benefits of the deal would take years to materialise.
AUKUS leaders believe that the deal would “strengthen deterrence and bolster stability in the Indo-Pacific and beyond for decades to come”, apparently keeping in mind the exponential growth of China’s naval power in the recent past. China has built 12 nuclear-powered submarines in the last two decades, including ballistic missile submarines (codenamed SSBNs) and is continuing its ambitious ship-building spree in all fronts. As per the AUKUS plan, the first phase of the deal is set to begin as early as this year, with U.S. and British SSNs increasing their port visits in Australia along with joint embedded training of naval personnel, which will be followed by a rotational deployment of U.S. and British SSNs in the island continent.
In the remaining two phases of the deal, Washington will deliver a flotilla of three to five advanced Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines to Australia by the early 2030s, upon Congressional approval, and eventually a new “SSN-AUKUS class” of nuclear-powered submarines (SSN) will be developed in the decade that follows, for future commissioning in both British and Australian navies. With the use of nuclear energy involved, the Indo-Pacific region is abuzz with fears and concerns of an escalating arms race, even though AUKUS promises “the highest nuclear non-proliferation standard”.
Current owners of nuclear-powered submarines
As of now, only the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (U.S., Russia, China, U.K., France) and India have active nuclear-powered attack-capable submarines in their naval fleet (see the image below). More than half of the 130 active nuclear-powered submarines in the world are operated by the U.S. Navy (67), followed by Russia (31), China (12), U.K. (10), France (9) and India (1). The rise of China’s offensive military capabilities and its naval power in particular, since the 1990s, is the single largest factor that has convinced Canberra to join hands with Washington and London to bolster its own capabilities, through AUKUS, by making use of “next-generation” British hull design and “cutting-edge” American technology.
Countries with active nuclear powered submarines (via Statista)
The AUKUS deal smartly gets away with a loophole in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968, which allows for the transfer of fissionable material and nuclear technology from a nuclear-weapon state (NWS) to a non-NWS if it is used for non-explosive military use like naval propulsion. Such a transfer is also exempted from inspections and monitoring by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an organisation that stands for the peaceful use of nuclear energy and the promotion of nuclear safety. The IAEA Director General said that he had received “separate communications” on the matter from the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Australia, as well as from the U.K. and the U.S.
Of all the countries that have reacted to the highly ambitious AUKUS project, the responses of China and Russia stands out, as they are in direct strategic competition with the de facto leader of AUKUS – the United States. While the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson remarked that the U.S. and its AUKUS allies are “walking further and further down the path of error and danger for their own geopolitical self-interest”, Russian foreign minister commented, “the Anglo-Saxon world, with the creation of structures like AUKUS and with the advancement of NATO military infrastructures into Asia, is making a serious bet on many years of confrontation in Asia”.
While Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong cities Canberra’s bid for “strategic equilibrium” in the region as the underlying factor that led to the AUKUS pact, opinions on the submarine deal, which comes at a humongous cost, are not uniform across Australia’s political spectrum. Former Prime Minister Paul Keating thinks Canberra is compromising on a proper national defence strategy to help maintain U.S. “strategic hegemony” in Asia and has also stated that the submarine deal would be ineffective in the event of a war. Indonesia, Malaysia and New Zealand have also shared their concerns about the risk of nuclear proliferation in the region.
As per the Bangkok Treaty of 1995, Southeast Asia is a nuclear-weapon-free zone (NWFZ). Moreover, almost all of the ASEAN member-states have deep economic linkages with China, even though they rely on the U.S. for “security and stability” in Asia. Even though some of them have disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea, like the Philippines and Vietnam, they prefer to avoid unnecessary “provocations” and try to balance their ties with the U.S. and China, amid intensifying regional rivalry between the two big powers. Australian defence and foreign ministries are expected to embark on a diplomatic charm offensive to assuage all concerns of Southeast Asian countries lying in China’s periphery.
Eyeing for balance of power
AUKUS was announced just one year after a Pentagon report claimed that China has built the world’s largest naval fleet in sheer numerical terms, even though the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) relies mostly on smaller classes of ships, while the U.S. naval strength is further multiplied by its allied navies. One of the most-overlooked events of March 2023 was the annual session of China’s ceremonial national legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC), which handed over China’s Presidency to the hyper-nationalistic and revanchist leader Xi Jinping for an unprecedented third time in a row.
The newly-appointed Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang, formerly China’s Ambassador to the United States, held a press conference on the sidelines of the NPC, during which he made a significant remark that throws light on the deteriorating state of U.S.-China relations. He accused the U.S. of harbouring a “Cold War mentality” and said, “… the United States claims that it seeks to out-compete China but does not seek conflict. Yet in reality, it’s so-called competition means to contain and suppress China in all respects and get the two countries locked in a zero-sum game … If the United States does not hit the brake but continues to speed down the wrong path, no amount of guardrails can prevent derailing, and there will surely be conflict and confrontation … Containment and suppression will not make America great, and it will not stop the rejuvenation of China …”
Washington’s shooting of a suspected Chinese “spy balloon” that flew over American airspace earlier this year is the latest example of this downward spiral in U.S.-China ties. The Indo-Pacific, as a geostrategic concept and a broader maritime region, came into being as China began to flex its military muscles throughout its immediate and extended neighbourhood, where U.S. and its allies have a robust military presence.
Being part of the U.S.-led alliance system, including the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing network and the recent AUKUS pact, Canberra has become a lynchpin of Washington’s evolving Indo-Pacific strategy to counter growing Chinese assertiveness and stated offensive intentions vis-à-vis Taiwan, the South and East China Seas, and also the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India. Australia is also due to the host the third in-person Quad leaders’ summit later this year.
As the “threat perception” of China in the West continues to rise day by day, the extent to which an AUKUS-centered deterrence is possible in Asia remains to be seen in the years to come.
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