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How India hoodwinks the world about its real military budget

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India’s Union Budget for the financial year 2020-21 envisages a total outlay of Rs. 30,42,230 crore. Out of this, Rest. 3, 37,553 crore has been allocated for military (excluding military pension). For military pensions, an amount of Rs. 1, 33,825 crore has been provided in Budget Estimates 2020-21. There is an increase of Rs. 40,367.21 crore in the total military allocations (Rs. 4, 71,378 crore) including military over the financial year 2019-20. Total military budget accounts for 15.49 per cent of the total central government expenditure for the year 2020-21.

The allocation of Rs. 4, 71,378 crore represents a growth of 9.37 per cent over Budget Estimates (Rs. 4, 31,010.79 crore) for the financial year 2019-20. Out of Rs. 3, 37,553 crore allocated for the financial year 2020-21, Rs. 2, 18,998 crore is for the Revenue (Net) expenditure and Rs. 1, 18,555 crore is for capital expenditure for the Defence Services and the Organisations/Departments under Ministry of Defence. The amount of Rs. 1, 18,555 crore allocated for capital expenditure includes modernisation related expenditure.  A think-tank published the key indicators as shown in following table which slightly differ from some media reports.

India’s Military Budget: Key Indicators

Indicator        2019-202020-21
Military Budget (Rs. in Crore)3,05,2963,23,053
Growth of military Budget (%)     9.35.8
Revenue Expenditure  (Rs. in Crore)                     2,01,9022,09,319
Revenue Expenditure (Rs. in Crore)                     2,01,9022,09,319
Growth of Revenue Expenditure (%)         8.93.7
Growth of Revenue Expenditure (%)         8.93.7
Growth of Revenue Expenditure (%)8.93.7
Share of Revenue Expenditure in Military Budget (%)6665
Capital Expenditure (Rs. in Crore) 1,03,3941,13,734
Growth of Capital Expenditure (%)         10.010.0
Share of Capital Expenditure in military Budget (%)3435
Share of Capital Expenditure in Central Government Capital3128
Capital Acquisition (Rs. in Crore)80,95990,649^
Growth of Capital Acquisition (%)          9.212.0
Share of military Budget in GDP (%)1.491.44
Share of military Budget in Central Government Expenditure (%)         11.010.6
Defence Pension (Rs. in Crore) 1,12,0801,33,825
Growth of military Pension (%)3.019.4
MoD (Civil) (Rs. in Crore)           13,63514,500
Growth in MoD (Civil) (%)-15.96.3
MoD’s Budget (Rs. in Crore) 4,31,0114,71,378
Growth in MoD’s Budget (%)     6.6       9.4 
Share of MoD Budget in GDP (%)2.12.1
Share of MoD Budget in Central Government Expenditure (%)         15.515.5

Deceptive figures: India showcases its ‘transparent’ military expenditures on websites.  But the real expenditure in past years has been much greater than that exhibited on websites. In the past, India unnoticeably increased its military outlays in revised and then actual estimates.  Thus the actual military expenditure is much higher than the initial estimates, quoted in international media under a hypnotic spell.

To hoodwink general reader, India deflates its military expenditure through clever stratagems. It publishes its `demands for grants for “defence” services’ separately from demands for grants of civil ministries that includes its defence ministry (MoD).

It clubs military pensions in civil estimates. There are several other quasi-military provisions that are similarly shoved in civil estimates. Such concealed defence provisions include public-sector undertakings under MoD like dockyards, machine tool industries (Mishra Dhatu Nigham), and Bharat Heavy Electrical Limited, besides space-and-nuke/chemical/biological-research projects, border and strategic roads and a host of paramilitary forces (Border Security Force, Industrial Reserve Force, etc.).

Why India does so? It does so to `lower’ its military budget as proportion of Gross National Product. Through such ploys, India, as compared with its neighbours, gets a favourable image in The Military Balance, Jane’s Defense, and other international magazines.

The analyses of India’s military spending suffer from an inherent shortcoming. They have to rely on figures showcased by India on official websites. As such, the true quantum of military budget is deflated. The deflated figures are used to make inter-country, inter-region or endogenous comparisons like military budget as proportion of total civil and military outlay.

Without a hard copy of Explanatory Memorandum to Demands for Grants, it is difficult to analyse the budget. The approved outlays are further increased via revised outlays and upward readjustments of actual-expenditures.

The memorandum could throw light on India’s mega purchases. They include carbine rifles for army, Advanced Jet Trainers, Airborne Warning and Control system, additional Mi-17 Helicopters, MiG-29 upgrade, Low-Level Transportable Radar, Integrated Air Command and Control System and Surveillance Radar Element in respect for the air force. Weapon Locating Radar and T- 72 upgrade in respect of the Army, Rafaels, so on.

During his visit to India, president Trump of the United States It offered to sell India US$ 3 billion (per one unit) Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC-3) missile defence systems as an alternative to the Russian S-400 system. India ditched Russia from whom it had decided to purchase five S-400s Russian S-400s air defence systems at cost of US$5.4 billion. With US tacit support, India is getting tougher with China. There was a 73-day standoff on the Doklam 

(Donglang in Chinese) plateau near the Nathula Pass on Sikkim border last year. Being at a disadvantage vis-a-vis India, China was compelled to resolve the stand-off through negotiations.  In the later period, China developed high-altitude “electromagnetic catapult” rockets for its artillery units to liquidate Indian advantage there, as also in Tibet Autonomous Region. China intends to mount a magnetically-propelled high-velocity rail-gun on its 10,000-ton-class missile destroyer 055 being  built.

India took up the development of the Sittwe Port in Myanmar as part of the Kaladan multi-modal transit transport project for building a multi-modal sea, river and road transport corridor for shipment of cargo from the eastern ports of India to Myanmar through Sittwe. India upgraded its existing listening post in northern Madagascar. India has obtained access to the US naval base in Diego Garcia, and to the French naval bases in Mayotte and Reunion islands, besides Australian naval base in Cocos (Keeling. Robert Kaplan, in his book, Monsoon: The Indian Ocean and Future of American Power, argues that the geopolitics of the twenty-first century will hinge on the Indian Ocean. Waters of the Indian Ocean reach 28 countries which together account for 35 per cent of the world’s population and 19 per cent of the world’s Gross Domestic Product. Sixty per cent of the world’s oil shipments from the Gulf countries to China, Japan and other Asian countries pass through these waters which host 23 of the world’s busiest ports.

China is currently exploring an area of 10000 Square kilometres in the South-West Indian Ocean Ridge through its state-controlled China Ocean Mineral Resources Research and Development Association It is  also exploring Clarion- Clipperton Fracture Zone in the Pacific. Simultaneously, it is modernising and upgrading its naval fleet on a massive scale. Besides, China is technologically augmenting its  indigenous manufacturing capability by empowering its two largest state-owned shipbuilders, China State Shipbuilding Corporation and Shipbuilding Industry Corporation.Conspicuously, India is set for big purchases in the new budget to master the skies and the Indian Ocean. It reflects her desire’to establish her hegemony in the region.

World’s third largest military spender: Earlier Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (Sipri) has observed India’s military spending grew 6.8 % to touch $71.1 billion outpacing Japan ($47.6 billion) and South Korea ($43.9 billion). The US, China and India were the world’s three biggest military spenders in 2019, followed by Russia and Saudi Arabia. Now, the two Asian countries have become top three for the first time. The three countries were ahead of Russia ($65 billion) and Saudi Arabia ($61.8 billion) who together were world’s top military spenders. They accounted for 62% of the global military spend including salaries, benefits, operational expenses, arms and equipment purchases, military construction, research and development, central administration, command and support.

India’s spending rose by 6.8 % and touching $71.1 billion outpacing Japan’s ($47.6 billion) and South Korea’s ($43.9 billion).

Misconception:  Indian policy of increasing her military outlays is based on strategic misconceptions. India thinks it would be suicidal for Pakistan to increase her military budget pari passu with India’s.  In any case, Pakistan could not afford to spend more than half the increase in India’s military budget. A higher allocation would sap Pakistan’s resource potential for growth in future.

India thinks Pakistan has to choose between Scylla and Charybdis, that is economic collapse or military preparation. India’s perceptions historically have proved to be wrong. Pakistan neutralised the impact of this differential economic performance by, going nuclear, and developing tactical nuclear weapons like Nasr short-range missile.

Comparison with binary Pakistan: Pakistan conventionally mentions ‘a one-line cumulative military outlay’ in its defence budget. This gives the negative impression that defence establishment compels lawmakers to thumb-impress military demands for grants. Ayesha Siddiqa, author of Military Inc.: Inside Pakistan’s Military Economy says, “Pakistan’s Auditor General has expressed reservations in the past at the Public Accounts Committee meeting at the National Assembly about the lack of auditing of the military budget.”  Her view is based on fact that, in 2016, the Auditor General of Pakistan, a constitutional body empowered to examine all government expenditures made from public money, told the Pakistani parliament that the funds given to military institutions were exempt from audit.

The truth however remain that Pakistan’s military authorities, including its defence ministry, publicly announced that they would provide whatever information the people’s representatives need. The reps have never been curious notwithstanding.

Pakistan’s defence demands undergo a rigorous scrutiny by relevant parliamentary committees and audit bodies.  Legislators and MoD babus are properly briefed about need for provisions.  Whenever demanded, the details of the defence budget for the current, as well as for the coming, financial year were placed before the parliament.  Even the expenditure on Zarb-e-Azb appeared more than once in media.

Most legislators lack acumen to analyse numerical rigmarole.  So they themselves do not wish to be bothered with the job being done by competent professionals in various ministries and parliamentary committees.

Pakistan should separate expenditure of forces to defend China Pakistan Economic Corridor and key installations including parliament from normal demands for defence grants.

Historically, a common feature of all strong states was that they had strong military and civil institutions, dejure capability to defend their territory and policies that favoured the citizenry rather than the dominant classes. Historically, a common feature of all strong states was that they had strong military and civil institutions, dejure capability to defend their territory and policies that favoured the citizenry rather than the dominant classes.

Let us see how our vociferous opposition strikes a balance between constraints of security and welfare. In case our lawmakers feel handicapped in understanding the intricacies of defence budgeting in the context of internal and external security situation, GHQ may arrange a briefing for them

Let us see how our vociferous opposition strikes a balance between constraints of security and welfare. In case our lawmakers feel handicapped in understanding the intricacies of defence budgeting in the context of internal and external security situation, GHQ may arrange a briefing for them.

Back in 1996-97, British Labour Party Defence Study Group tried to highlight defence burden on public exchequer. In that report, they drew comparisons between the defence and social costs. For instance, £ 7,000 million cost of Tornado multi-role combat aircraft project was more than the total cost of Britain’s health and personal social services projects for 1976-77. £ 16 million price of the Frigate Ambuscade could provide a new 50S-bed hospital in Bangor. The submarine Superb was more expensive than building 4,000 new homes.

 Lt Gen Attiqur Rehman in my defence course says: “In a democracy, the defence services belong to the people through their representatives in parliament. Thus, the people have the right to know what is going on, how their money is being spent, and how the defence services are being managed and administered. In fact, they have a right to know everything, except details of the actual war plans.”

Some concealed aspects

Nuclear research: Indian Air Force chiefs keep Indian Air Force ( IAF)  is capable of detecting nuclear targets in Pakistan and is ready to strike them out.  But, the decision has to be taken by the government. India’s another swaggering braggart, ex-army chief now CDS chairman is never tired of claiming India’s capability to fight a two front war with China and Pakistan, and win it. Any war could flare up into nuclear Armageddon. India conceals its real nuclear bomb-making capacity under civil ministries’ provisions.

Nuclear/Chemical capability: It  is pertinent to mention that: (1) Robert S. McNamara, in his address to the World Bank Annual Conference on Development Economics at Washington, DC, as far back as on April 25, 1991 inter alia classified India among the’ Countries reported by the Western governments as seeking a CW capability or suspected to be possessing chemical weapons’. The explanatory footnote to the Table 111-2: Distribution of Chemical Weapons, 1990, states that the classified countries denied possession of chemical weapons, or intentions to acquire such weapons (Source: The Post-Cold War World and its Implications for Military Expenditures in the. Developing Countries, by Robert McNamara).

Methyl isocyanates were being produced at the Union Carbide India when it exploded killing thousands of people. There were 27 factories producing products including Carbaryl through cyanates supplied by UCIL. Where does provision for CBW research appears in India’s military budgets.

The Washington Post reported in 2013 that the police in occupied Kashmir published a notice in the Greater Kashmir (now under black out), advising people about nuclear-war survival tips. The tips included constructing well-stocked bunkers in basements or front yards, and having a stock of food and batteries or candles to last at least two weeks.

Colossal expenditure on conventional weapons by a nuclear power is not understood. Nuclear deterrence does not mean matching bomb for bomb.

A US proxy: India is emerging as the US proxy against rising China, which is determined to surpass the USA in GDP by 2027. India is opposed to China’s Belt and Road Initiative. Besides, it uses its aid, trade and border contiguity to obstruct Chinese influence in Bhutan, Nepal, and Bangladesh.

At India’s bidding, those countries toe the Indian line in SAARC and other international forums like G-20. In 2005, Washington expressed its intention to help India become a major world power in the 21st century (according to K. Alan Kronsstadt, Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, 13 February 2007). It was later re-affirmed by Ambassador David Mulford in a US Embassy press in 2005. The USA’s resolve later translated into modification of domestic laws to facilitate export of sensitive military technology to India. The Nuclear Supplier Group also relaxed its controls to begin exports to India’s civilian nuclear reactor (enabling India to divert resources to military use).

Raj Mohan, Shyam Saran and several others point out that India follows Kautliya’s mandala (concentric, asymptotic and intersecting circles, inter-relationships) doctrine in foreign policy. It is akin to Henry Kissinger’s `spheres of influence’. According to this doctrine ‘all neighbouring countries are actual or potential enemies’. However, short-run policy should be based on common volatile, dynamic, mercurial interests, like the intersection of two sets.

Former Indian foreign secretary, Shyam Saran in his book How India Sees the World says, ‘Kautliyan [Chanakyan] template would say the options for India are sandhi, conciliation; asana, neutrality; and yana, victory through war. One could add dana, buying allegiance through gifts; and bheda, sowing discord. The option of yana, of course would be the last in today’s world’ (p. 64, ibid.). It appears that Kautliya’s and Saran’s last-advised option is India’s first option, with regard to China and Pakistan, nowadays.

Raj Mohan elucidates India’s ambition, in terms of Kauliya’s mandala (inter-relationships), to emerge as South Asian hegemon in following words:

‘India’s grand strategy divides the world into three concentric circles. In the first, which encompasses the immediate neighbourhood, India has sought primacy and a veto over actions of outside powers. In the second who encompasses the so-called extended neighourhood, stretching across Asia and Indian Ocean littoral, India has sought to balance of other powers and prevent them from undercutting its interests. In the third which includes the entire global stage, India has tried to take its place as one of the great power, a key player in international peace and security. (C. Raja Mohan, India and the Balance of Power, Foreign Affairs July-August 2006).

Henry Kissinger views Indian ambitions in the following words: ‘Just as the early American leaders developed in the Monroe Doctrine concept for America’s special role in the Western Hemisphere, so India has established in practice a special positioning the Indian Ocean region between East Indies and the horn of Africa. Like Britain with respect to Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, India strives to prevent the emergence of a dominant power in this vast portion of the globe. Just as early American leaders did not seek approval of the countries of the Western Hemisphere with respect to the Monroe Doctrine, so Indian in the region of its special strategic interests conducts its policy on the basis of its own definition of a South Asian order’ (World Order, New York, Penguin Press, 2014).

Zbigniew Brzeszinsky takes note of India’s ambition to rival China thus: ‘Indian strategies speak openly of greater India exercising a dominant position in an area ranging from Iran to Thailand. India is also position itself to control the Indian Ocean militarily, its naval and air power programs point clearly in that direction as do politically guided efforts to establish for Indi strong positions, with geostrategic implications in adjoining Bangladesh and Burma (Strategic Vision: America and the Crisis of Global Power).

To woo India firmly into its fold, the USA offered to sell India Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD, for $3 billion per unit) and Patriot Advance Capability (PAC-3) missile defence systems as an alternative to the Russian S-400 air defence system. India ditched Russia from whom it had earlier decided to purchase five S-400s at a cost of $5.4 billion.

With tacit US support, India is getting tougher with China. There was a 73-day standoff on the Doklam Plateau near the Nathula Pass on the Sikkim border last year. Being at a disadvantage vis-à-vis India, China was compelled to resolve the stand-off through negotiations. China later developed high-altitude “electromagnetic catapult” rockets for its artillery units to liquidate the Indian advantage there, as also in Tibet Autonomous Region. China intends to mount a magnetically-propelled high-velocity rail-gun on its 055-class under-construction missile destroyer 055.

India’s ambition to become the South Asian hegemon is reflected in its successive defence budgets. Aside from the showcased marginal increase in the defence budget, the three services have been asked to devise a five-year model plan for capital acquisitions. The Indian navy wants a 200-ship strong fleet by 2027. Navy Chief Admiral Karambir Singh had in December pointed out China added over 80 ships in the last five years. The Navy wants to procure six new conventional submarines and 111 Naval Utility Helicopters to replace the vintage fleet of Chetaks. The IAF wants to procure 114 new fighters besides the 36 Rafales ordered in 2015, still in process.

Quaid on Indo-Pak joint defence: Pakistan’s founder Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah cherished desire for lasting Indo-Pak peace even before creation of Pakistan. During his last days, The Quaid was perturbed at the Cold War rivalry emerging between the USA and the USSR.

The Quaid keenly desired that the subcontinent and all of South Asia should remain aloof from the rivalry. Therefore, he proposed a joint defence pact with India. Had India accepted his idea, the two countries would not have been at daggers drawn after independence.

Before his final flight (Aug 7, 1947) from Delhi to Pakistan, he sent a message to the Indian government, “the past must be buried and let us start as two independent sovereign states of Hindustan and Pakistan, I wish Hindustan prosperity and peace.” Vallabhbhai Patel replied from Delhi “the poison has been removed from the body of India. As for the Muslims, they have their roots, their sacred places and their centres here. I do not know what they can possibly do in Pakistan. It will not be long before they return to us.”

Even Nehru, an ostensibly liberal leader, regarded the creation of Pakistan as a blunder. His rancour against Pakistan reaches a crescendo in his remarks: “I shall not have that carbuncle on my back.” (D. H. Bhutani, The Future of Pakistan, page 14). Will India stop its worldwide defence purchases to open a new chapter in relations with Pakistan?

Let India lower her expenditure first! It should be a leader to compel Pakistan to follow suit.  It must shun hegemonic designs, at least for the time being, when Covid19 rages.

Inferences: Any analysis of India’s military budget should be based on actual Demands for Grants coupled with Explanatory memoranda. The allocations concealed under civil ministries outlays should be ferreted out and added to military allocations. The successive increases n revised and then actual budget estimates should be taken into account. As a result of India’s rising military expenditures, Pakistan also increases her defence expenditure. If Pakistan weakens its defence by slashing its defence expenditure, will India guarantee that it will not attack Pakistan or go for a quasi-attack (Operation Parakram costing Rs. 74 crore). The colossal increase in big brother’s military budget is untenable in light of its teeming millions living below the poverty line.

Each year India increases her defence budget.  The estimated outlays are further increased via revised outlays and upward re-adjustments of actual-expenditures.

Indian policy of increasing her defence outlays is based on strategic misconceptions. India visualised it would be suicidal for Pakistan to increase her defence budget pari passu with India’s budget.  In any case, Pakistan could not afford to spend more than half the increase in India’s defence budget. A higher allocation would sap Pakistan’s resource potential for sustained growth in future.

India thought Pakistan had to choose between Scylla and Charybdis that is economic collapse or defence preparations (same quandary as of former USSR). However, India’s perceptions proved to be wrong. Pakistan has neutralised the impact of this differential economic performance by, going nuclear.

India’s rising defence expenditures appear to have been actuated by a misconception of national security. The national security of a country depends upon many factors, variously interpreted and defined like soldiers’ morale, scientists’ ingenuity, military and political leaders’ character and skill, geographic position, and economic wherewithal. Indian planners are oblivious of the fact that, in general, the more resources the nation devotes to national security, the less it will have for social security and vice versa. Some economists conceive of a ‘social welfare function’ to be maximized by an appropriate allocation of the nation’s resources satisfying various objectives (including defence).

National security, from the point of view of an economist, depends on three factors: (a) The quantity of national resources available, now and in future, (b) The proportion of these resources allocated to national security purposes, and (c) The efficiency with which the resources so allocated are used.

Resources are always limited vis-à-vis unlimited wants. As such, the problem of defence allocations should, in effect, be a problem of constrained resource optimization, not blind allocation of resources. Let India lower her expenditure. 

Amna Javed is currently working with Islamabad Institute of Conflict Resolution (IICR) as a research fellow. She is also a visiting faculty at School of Politics and IR, Quaid-i-Azam University, Islamabad.

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Defense

Risks of a Nuclear War With North Korea: The Obligation of Intellect-Based Remedies

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“Is it an end that draws near, or a beginning?”-Karl Jaspers, Man in the Modern Age (1951)

Intellect and National Security

In the end, nothing could be gained by approaching the North Korean nuclear threat with Trump-era seat-of-the-pants remedies. Without more systematic and intellectually disciplined orientations, United States security could once again become contingent on narrowly ad hoc assessments of pertinent leadership personalities. First, President Joseph Biden will need to understand that the regime in Pyongyang would never accept any conceivable forms of denuclearization.

Ipso facto, basing US nuclear policy on contrary assumptions would prove strategically self-defeating.

               All core lessons here are clear and straightforward. Former US President Trump had little evident use for intellect or critical reasoning, in pandemic policy or foreign policy.[1] Accordingly, he emphasized certain presumed advantages of “attitude” over “preparation,” an expressly anti-science posture that essentially ignored the North Korean nuclear threat.

 Despite Trump’s oft-repeated assertion about Kim’s reciprocal affections – “we fell in love” – the North Korean dictator responded by accelerating his ballistic missile development and testing programs. During the while that Trump ranted incoherently with strategically meaningless bluster, Kim systematically readied his nation for an eventual “final battle.”[2] For the United States, this conspicuous asymmetry could never have been considered gainful, especially from the vital standpoint of credible deterrence.

               Today, President Biden’s overriding obligation on such matters is unmistakable.  Regarding North Korea’s continuously ongoing nuclear expansions, he must fashion an American security posture that is more analytic and history-based[3] than were Trump’s disjointed diatribes.[4] Above all, America’s current president should begin to think more realistically about creating long-term nuclear deterrence relationships with North Korea.

Strategic Obligations of Correct Reasoning

               In the best of all possible worlds, American (possibly also North Korean) interests would be best served by Pyongyang’s complete denuclearization. But this is not the best of all possible worlds, and North Korea will not willingly surrender its only tangible source of genuine global power. For now, at least, establishing stable nuclear deterrence relationships between these two adversarial states would represent a sufficiently worthy American achievement.

               There are also pertinent specifics. During any still-upcoming negotiations, Mr. Biden should take scrupulous care not to exaggerate or overstate America’s military risk-taking calculus. Such indispensable diplomatic caution would derive in part from the absence of any comparable nuclear crises. Because there has never been a nuclear war,[5] there could be no reliable way for this president (or anyone else) to meaningfully ascertain the mathematical probability of a US-North Korea nuclear conflict.[6]

               In world politics, as in any other subject of human interaction, probability judgments cannot be concocted ex nihilo, out of nothing. Always, such key judgments must be drawn from one quantifiable calculus only.  This calculus is the determinable frequency of relevant past events. When there are no such events, there can be no such needed extrapolation.

               Period.

               This does not mean that President Joe Biden’s senior strategists and counselors should ever steer away from clear-eyed assessments regarding potential nuclear costs and risks, but only that such assessments be drawn knowingly from constantly shifting and hard-to-decipher geopolitical trends. At this time, such trends should include variously complex considerations of generally expanding worldwide nuclearization.[7]  Though not yet there, Iran – now led by a more insistently hardline president – is far along the trajectory of national nuclear weapons development.[8] In time, in much the same fashion as with North Korea, the United States could unexpectedly find itself in extremis atomicum.

Intersections and Synergies

For American policy-planners focused on North Korea, there will be corresponding obligations to consider plausible intersections between Pyongyang threats and Tehran nuclearization. Inter alia, these obligations will take note of specifically synergistic intersections. Here, by definition, the “whole” of any worrisome outcome would be greater than the calculable sum of its component “parts.”

               For certain, among multiple and overlapping concerns, some attendant problems would emerge as more complicated and problematic than others. As relevant intellectual background, world security processes must always be approached in toto, as a totality, as a more-or-less coherent system. What is happening now, in such far-flung places as India-Kashmir, China, Russia, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Yemen, could have significant “spillover effects” in the northeast Asian theatre and beyond. This is true, moreover, even while Covid-19 continues to rage in some measure across these afflicted countries.

               Rather than ignore complex and seemingly distant effects altogether, US President Joe Biden will have to accord them a more appropriate position of foreign policy-making priority.

“My Button is Bigger Than Yours”

 Military threats from an already-nuclear North Korea remain genuine, substantive and determinedly “robust.” Former President Donald Trump’s ill-suited metaphors notwithstanding, the fact that Biden’s nuclear “button” is “bigger” than Kim’s is less than determinative. To wit, in all strategic deterrence relationships, a condition of relative nuclear weakness by one of the contending adversarial states need not imply any corollary diminution of power. Remembering the “bottom line,” even the presumptively weaker party in such asymmetrical dyads could deliver “unacceptable damage” to the stronger.

               Complexity will be defining. President Biden will need to bear in mind that many or all of northeast Asia’s continuously transforming developments could be impacted by “Cold War II,”[9] an oppositional stance with Russia and (somewhat comparably or derivatively) with China. Similarly, important will be this new US leader’s willingness to acknowledge and factor-in certain consequential limits of “expert” military advice. These widely unseen limits are not based upon any presumed intellectual inadequacies among America’s flag officers, but only on the irrefutable knowledge that no person has ever fought in a nuclear war.

               In scientific terms (theory of probability) this particular bit of knowledge ought never be underestimated.

               By definition – and going forward with all time-urgent considerations of US – North Korea policy formation – American strategic calculations will always be fraught with daunting uncertainties. Still, it will be necessary that Joe Biden and his designated counselors remain able to consistently offer the best available war-related estimations. Among prospectively causal factors – some of them overlapping, interdependent or (again) “synergistic”[10] – the plausible risks of a nuclear war between Washington and Pyongyang will ultimately depend upon whether such conflict would be intentional, unintentional or accidental.

                In principle, at least, this tripartite distinction could prove vitally important to hoped-for success in US nuclear war prediction and prevention processes.

                In facing any future North Korean negotiations, it will be necessary that competent US policy analysts capably examine and measure all foreseeableconfigurations of relevant nuclear war risk. Expressed in the useful game-theoretic parlance of formal military planning, shifting configurations in the “state of nations”[11] could present themselves singly, one-at-a-time (the expectedly best case for Washington) or suddenly, unexpectedly, with apparent “diffusiveness” or in multiple and overlapping “cascades” of strategic complexity.

Quo Vadis?

               What is to be done? To properly understand such bewildering cascades will require carefully-honed, well-developed and formidable analytic skills. This will not be a suitable task for the intellectually faint-hearted. It will require, instead, sharply refined combinations of historical acquaintance, traditional erudition and demonstrated capacity for advanced dialectical thinking. Elucidations of such especially disciplined thinking go back to dialogues of Plato and to the ancient but timeless awareness that reliable analysis insistently calls for the continuous asking and answering of interrelated questions.

               There is more. This challenging task could even require American strategic thinkers who are sometimes as comfortable with classical prescriptions of Plato and Descartes as with more narrowly technical elements of modern military theory and hardware. This will not be an easy requirement to fulfill.

Not all nuclear wars would have the same origin. It is conceivable that neither Washington nor Pyongyang is currently paying sufficient attention to certain residually specific risks of an unintentional nuclear war. To this point, each president would seem to assume the other’s decisional rationality.[12] After all, if there were no such mutual calculation, it would make no ascertainable sense for either side to negotiate further security accommodations with the other.

               None at all.

               Viable nuclear deterrence (not denuclearization) must become the overriding US strategic goal vis-a-vis North Korea. But this complex objective is contingent upon certain basic assumptions concerning enemy rationality. Are such assumptions realistic in the particular case of a potential war between two already-nuclear powers? If President Biden should sometime fear enemy irrationalityin Pyongyang, issuing any threats of a US nuclear retaliation might make diminishing diplomatic sense. Instead, at that literally unprecedented stage, American national security could come to depend upon some presumptively optimal combinations of ballistic missile defense and defensive first strikes. But by definition, determining such complex combinations would lack any decisional input or counsel from concrete and quantifiable historical data.

               In an imaginably worst case scenario, the offensive military element could entail a situational or comprehensive preemption – a defensive first strike by the United States – but at that manifestly late stage, all previous hopes for bilateral reconciliation would already have become moot. There would then obtain no “ordinary” circumstances wherein a preemptive strike against a North Korean nuclear adversary could be considered “rational.”[13] What then?

               It’s an intellectual question, not a political one.

               None of these difficult strategic decisions should ever be reached casually or easily. With the steadily expanding development of “hypersonic” nuclear weapons, figuring out optimal US policy combinations from one North Korean crisis to another could very quickly become overwhelming. Though counterintuitive amid any such prominently intersecting complications, the fact that one “player” (the US) was recognizably “more powerful” than the other (North Korea) could quickly prove irrelevant.

Law and Nuclear Strategy

 In all foreseeable circumstances, there would obtain certain overlapping issues of law and strategy. Under international law,[14] which remains an integral part of US law,[15] the option of a selective or comprehensive defensive first-strike might sometime be correctly characterized as “anticipatory self-defense.” This could be the case only if the American side could also argue persuasively that the security “danger posed” by North Korea was recognizably “imminent in point of time.” Such discernible “imminence” is required by the authoritative standards of international law; that is, by the formal criteria established after an 1837 naval incident famously called “The Caroline.”[16]

               Presently, in the still-expanding nuclear age, offering aptly precise characterizations of “imminence” could prove sorely abstract and densely problematic. For example, in justifying his assassination of Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, former President Trump used the term “imminence” incorrectly (sometimes even confusing “imminence” with “eminence”) and without any convincing factual evidence.

               For the moment, especially in the continuing midst of a worldwide health crisis, it seems reasonable that Kim Jung Un would value his own personal life and that of his nation above every other imaginable preference or combination of preferences. In any conceivable scenario, Kim appears to be visibly and technically rational, and must therefore remain subject to US nuclear deterrence.[17]But going forward, it could still become important for a negotiating American President Biden to distinguish between authentic instances of enemy irrationality and instances of contrived or pretended irrationality.[18]

               This vague prospect adds yet another layer of complexity to the subject at hand, one that could sometime include certain force-multiplying biological synergies.

               In history, wars have too often been the result of leadership miscalculation. Although neither side here would likely ever seek a shooting war, either Kim or Biden could still commit errors in the course of rendering their respective strategic calculations. At times, such consequential errors could represent an unintended result of jointly competitive searches for “escalation dominance.”[19] These errors are plausibly more apt to occur in circumstances where one or both presidents had first chosen to reignite hyperbolic verbal rhetoric.

               Portentously, even in reassuringly calm periods of polite and congenial diplomatic discourse, major miscalculations, accidents or “cyber-confusions” could accumulate. And such ill-fated accumulation could sometime be hastened by unpredictable effects of widespread disease pandemic. What then?

               In plausibly worst case scenarios, negotiations gone wrong could result in a nuclear war.[20] This prospect ought never to be overlooked. In the words of Swiss playwright Friedrich Durrenmatt, “The worst does sometimes happen.”[21]

Origins of Inadvertent Nuclear War with North Korea

An inadvertent nuclear war between Washington and Pyongyang could take place not only as the result of misunderstanding or miscalculation between fully rational national leaders, but as the unintended consequence (singly or synergistically) of mechanical, electrical, computer malfunctions or of “hacking”-type interventions. Going forward, these interventions could include clandestine intrusions of “cyber-mercenaries.”

               There is more. While an accidental nuclear war would necessarily be inadvertent, certain forms of inadvertent nuclear war would not necessarily be caused by mechanical, electrical or computer accident. These difficult to anticipate but consequential forms of unintentional nuclear conflict would represent the unexpected result of specific misjudgment or miscalculation, whether created by singular decisional error by one or both sides to a two-party nuclear crisis escalation or by still-unforeseen “synergies” arising between singular miscalculations.

In any still-impending crisis between Washington and Pyongyang, each side will inevitably strive to maximize two critical goals simultaneously. These goals are (1) to dominate the dynamic and largely unpredictable process of nuclear crisis escalation; and (2) to achieve “escalation dominance” without sacrificing vital national security interests. In the final analysis, this second objective would mean preventing one’s own state and society from suffering any catastrophic or existential harms.

               This recalls a prior point concerning accurate assessments of relative military power. When former President Trump in an early verbal competition with Kim Jung Un stated that the North Korean president may have his nuclear “button,” but that the American president’s was “bigger,” Trump revealed a major conceptual misunderstanding. It was that in our still advancing nuclear age, atomic superiority is potentially per se insignificant and could lead the presumptively “stronger” nuclear adversary toward certain lethal expressions of overconfidence.

               In any such paradoxical circumstances, having had a “bigger button” would have become the dominant source not of strength, but of weakness. Here, size would actually matter, but only in an unexpected or counter-intuitive way. As Donald Trump should have understood, even an enemy with a smaller “nuclear button” could inflict “assuredly destructive” harms[22] upon “bigger button” United States and/or its allies in Japan, South Korea or elsewhere. It follows, inter alia, that to have taken earlier comfort from observing that North Korea had been testing “only” shorter-range ballistic missiles was to miss the point. To clarify further, and now for the benefit of President Biden, several of North Korea’s Trump-era nuclear test firings expressed a yield at least 16X larger than the Hiroshima bomb.

That 14KT WW II bomb produced almost 100,000 immediate fatalities.

               All such vital understandings about nuclear “button size” must continuously obtain as long as Kim Jung Un’s “inferior” nuclear arms remain seemingly invulnerable to any American preemptions and seemingly capable of penetrating ballistic missile defenses deployed in the United States, Japan or South Korea. Because of the extraordinary prospective harms generated by even “low-yield” nuclear weapons, a small percentage or tiny fraction of Kim’s “inferior” nuclear arsenal should still appear as unacceptably destructive in Washington, Tokyo or Seoul. Worth noting, too, is that in all of these critical dimensions of strategic judgment, the only reality that would figure tangibly in any ongoing adversarial calculations would be perceived reality.

Dealing with Staggering Complexity

               The bottom line of such informed assessments concerning a US – North Korea nuclear war is that underlying issues of contention and calculation are starkly complicated and potentially indecipherable. Faced with endlessly challenging measures of complexity, both operational and legal, each side must proceed warily and in a fashion that is aptly risk-averse. Though such prudent counsel may seem to run counter to variously inter-linking US obligations of “escalation dominance,” any still-expected Biden-Kim negotiations would involve very deep and uncharted “waters.”

               Looking ahead, any aggressive over-confidence (or what the ancient Greeks called “hubris” in tragic drama) by President Biden or President Kim will have to be avoided. While everything at some upcoming negotiation might first appear simple and calculable, history calls to mind Prussian strategist Carl von Clausewitz’s sobering observations about “friction.” This ubiquitous fly-in-the-ointment represents “differences between war on paper, and war as it actually is.” In certain altogether imaginable cases, these differences could suggest total war.

               To avoid intolerable outcomes between the United States and North Korea, a prudent, science-based[23] and informed nuclear posture must be fashioned, not with Trump-era clichés and empty witticisms, but with refined intellect and cultivated erudition. Much earlier, the ancient Greeks and Macedonians already understood that war planning must be treated as a continuously disciplined matter of “mind over mind,” not just one of “mind over matter.”[24] Today, in specific regard to US-North Korea nuclear rivalry, a similar understanding should hold sway in Washington.

Averting “Nightmare”

It would be best for the United States to plan carefully for all strategic eventualities and not to stumble into a nuclear war with North Korea – whether deliberate, unintentional or accidental. The fact that any such “stumble” could take place without adversarial ill will or base motive should provide little palpable consolation for prospective victims. For them, an ounce of diplomatic prevention will have been well worth avoiding an unstoppable strategic nightmare.

               Nightmare. According to the etymologists, the root is niht mare, or niht maere, the demon of the night. Dr. Johnson’s famous Dictionary claims this corresponds to Nordic mythology, which identifies all nightmare as some unholy product of demons. This would make it a play on the Greek ephialtes or the Latin incubus. In any event, in all of these fearful interpretations of nightmare, the idea of demonic origin is absolutely integral and indispensable.

               But our current worries are of a different and more secular sort. Now there are certain inherent complexities in problem solving that must always be accepted, understood and overcome. At a time when our planet is imperiled by the simultaneous and potentially intersecting threats of a nuclear war, there can be no suitable alternative to accepting proper analytic emphases.

               Recalling twentieth-century philosopher Karl Jasper’s Man in the Modern Age (1951), what “draws near” between North Korea and the United States should be assessed on intellectual foundations, not ones of “attitude.” By correctly acknowledging that North Korean denuclearization is a futile expectation and a diplomatic non-starter – Kim Jung Un would never accept such a condition of codified inferiority – President Biden could focus upon creating a viable system of mutual deterrence. Though such an “egalitarian” focus might appear unsatisfactory or demeaning for a “Great Power,” national security policy must be founded upon accurate theoretical assumptions.

               Always.

In these critical matters, science and intellect deserve absolute pride of place.


[1] “Intellect rots the brain,” said Third Reich Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels. “I love the poorly educated” said presidential candidate Donald J. Trump in 2016.

[2]See: https://www.businessinsider.com/kim-jong-un-tells-north-korea-officials-prepare-us-confrontation-2021-6

[3] This means, inter alia, an emphasis on dialectical thinking.  Such thinking likely originated in Fifth Century BCE Athens, as Zeno, author of the Paradoxes, had been acknowledged by Aristotle as its inventor. In the middle dialogues of Plato, dialectic emerges as the supreme form of philosophic/analytic method. The dialectician, says Plato, is the special one who knows how to ask and then answer vital questions. From the standpoint of necessary refinements in US strategic planning vis-à-vis North Korea, this knowledge should never be taken for granted.

[4] During his dissembling presidency, too little attention was directed toward Donald J. Trump’s open loathing of science and intellect and his prominent unwillingness to read. Ironically, the Founding Fathers of the United States were intellectuals. As explained by the distinguished American historian Richard Hofstadter: “The Founding Fathers were sages, scientists, men of broad cultivation, many of them apt in classical learning, who used their wide reading in history, politics and law to solve the exigent problems of their time.” See Hofstadter’s Anti-Intellectualism in American Life (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1964), p. 145.

[5] The atomic bombings of Japan in August 1945 do not properly constitute a nuclear war, but “only” the use of nuclear weapons to conclude an otherwise conventional conflict. Significantly, following Hiroshima and Nagasaki, there were no other atomic bombs still available anywhere on earth.

[6] See, by this author, Louis René Beres: https://mwi.usma.edu/theres-no-historical-guide-assessing-risks-us-north-korea-nuclear-war/

[7] See: https://sipri.org/media/press-release/2021/global-nuclear-arsenals-grow-states-continue-modernize-new-sipri-yearbook-out-now

[8] See, on deterring a prospectively nuclear Iran, Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Could Israel Safely deter a Nuclear Iran? The Atlantic, August 2012; and Professor Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Israel; and Iran at the Eleventh Hour,” Oxford University Press (OUP Blog), February 23, 2012. Though dealing with Israeli rather than American nuclear deterrence, these articles clarify common conceptual elements. General Chain was Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC).

[9] In essence, hypothesizing the emergence of “Cold War II” means expecting that the world system is becoming increasingly bipolar. For early writings by this author, on the global security implications of any such expanding bipolarity, see: Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Reliability of Alliance Commitments,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 25, No.4., December 1972, pp. 702-710; Louis René Beres, “Bipolarity, Multipolarity, and the Tragedy of the Commons,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 26, No.4., December 1973, pp, 649-658; and Louis René Beres, “Guerillas, Terrorists, and Polarity: New Structural Models of World Politics,” Western Political Quarterly, Vol. 27, No.4., December 1974, pp. 624-636.

[10] See, by this writer, at Harvard Law School:  Louis René Beres,  https://harvardnsj.org/2015/06/core-synergies-in-israels-strategic-planning-when-the-adversarial-whole-is-greater-than-the-sum-of-its-parts/  See also, by this writer, at West Point:  Louis René  Beres https://mwi.usma.edu/threat-convergence-adversarial-whole-greater-sum-parts/

[11] Seventeenth-century English philosopher Thomas Hobbes notes that although the “state of nations” is in the anarchic “state of nature,” it is still more tolerable than the condition of individuals in nature. With individual human beings, he instructs, “…the weakest has strength enough to kill the strongest.” But with the continuing advent of nuclear weapons, there is no persuasive reason to believe that the state of nations remains more tolerable. Now, nuclear weapons are bringing the state of nations closer to the true Hobbesian state of nature. See, in this connection, David P. Gauthier, The Logic of Leviathan: The Moral and Political Theory of Thomas Hobbes (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969), p. 207. As with Hobbes, philosopher Samuel Pufendorf argues that the state of nations is not quite as intolerable as the state of nature between individuals. The state of nations, reasons the German jurist, “lacks those inconveniences which are attendant upon a pure state of nature….” In a similar vein, Baruch Spinoza suggests “that a commonwealth can guard itself against being subjugated by another, as a man in the state of nature cannot do.” See, A.G. Wernham, ed., The Political Works, Tractatus Politicus, iii, II (Clarendon Press, 1958), p. 295.

[12] In world politics, rationality and irrationality have very specific meanings. More precisely, an “actor” (state or sub-state) is presumed to be rational to the extent that its leadership always values national survival more highly than any other preference or combination of preferences. An irrational actor would not always display such a determinable preference ordering.

[13] See, by this author, Louis René Beres: https://thehill.com/blogs/pundits-blog/foreign-policy/344750-rationality-cant-be-assumed-in-potential-north-korea

[14] In essence, international law remains a “vigilante” or “Westphalian.” System. This historical referent is the Peace Of Westphalia (1648), a treaty which concluded the Thirty Years War and created the now still-existing decentralized or self-help “state system.” See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1., Consol. T.S. 119, Together, these two treaties comprise the Peace of Westphalia. For the authoritative sources of international law, see art. 38 of the Statute of the International Court of Justice: STATUTE OF THE INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE, Done at San Francisco, June 26, 1945. Entered into force, Oct. 24, 1945; for the United States, Oct. 24, 1945.  59 Stat. 1031, T.S. No. 993, 3 Bevans 1153, 1976 Y.B.U.N., 1052.

[15] See especially art. 6 of the US Constitution (“The Supremacy Clause”) and the Pacquete Habana (1900). In the words used by the U.S. Supreme Court in The Paquete Habana, “International law is part of our law, and must be ascertained by the courts of justice of appropriate jurisdiction, as often as questions of right depending upon it are duly presented for their determination.  For this purpose, where there is no treaty, and no controlling executive or legislative act or judicial decision, resort must be had to the customs and usages of civilized nations.”  See The Paquete Habana, 175 U.S. 677, 678-79 (1900).  See also:  The Lola, 175 U.S. 677 (1900); Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, 726 F. 2d 774, 781, 788 (D.C. Cir. 1984) (per curiam)(Edwards, J. concurring)(dismissing the action, but making several references to domestic jurisdiction over extraterritorial offenses), cert. denied,  470 U.S. 1003 (1985)(“concept of extraordinary judicial jurisdiction over acts in violation of significant international standards…embodied in the principle of `universal violations of international law.'”).

[16] See Beth Polebau, National Self-Defense in International Law:  An Emerging Standard for a Nuclear Age, 59 N.Y.U. L. REV. 187, 190-191 (noting that the Caroline case transformed the right to self-defense from an excuse for armed intervention into a customary legal doctrine).

[17] Even before the nuclear age, ancient Chinese military theorist, Sun-Tzu, counseled, inThe Art of War:“Subjugating the enemy’s army without fighting is the true pinnacle of excellence.” (See: Chapter 3, “Planning Offensives”).

[18] Expressions of decisional irrationality in US dealings with North Korea could take different or overlapping forms. These include a disorderly or inconsistent value system; computational errors in calculation; an incapacity to communicate efficiently; random or haphazard influences in the making or transmittal of particular decisions; and the internal dissonance generated by any structure of collective decision-making (i.e., assemblies of pertinent individuals who lack identical value systems and/or whose organizational arrangements impact their willing capacity to act as a single or unitary national decision maker).

[19] On this concept, see, by this author: Louis René Beres, at The War Room, US Army War College, Pentagon:  https://warroom.armywarcollege.edu/articles/nuclear-decision-making-and-nuclear-war-an-urgent-american-problem/

[20] There is now a substantial literature that deals with the expected consequences of a nuclear war.  For earlier works by this author, see, for example:  APOCALYPSE: NUCLEAR CATASTROPHE IN WORLD POLITICS (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1980); MIMICKING SISYPHUS:  AMERICA’S COUNTERVAILING NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Lexington Books, 1983); REASON AND REALPOLITIK: U.S. FOREIGN POLICY AND WORLD ORDER (Lexington, MA:  Lexington Books, 1984); and SECURITY OR ARMAGEDDON:  ISRAEL’S NUCLEAR STRATEGY (Lexington, MA:  Lexington Books, 1986).

[21] Often, in history, this ‘worst” has stemmed from a presumptively life-preserving identification of individual human beings with the fate of their respective countries. In his posthumously published lecture on Politics (1896), German historian Heinrich von Treitschke observed: “Individual man sees in his own country the realization of his earthly immortality.” Earlier, German philosopher Georg Friedrich Hegel opined, in his Philosophy of Right (1820), that the state represents “the march of God in the world.” The “deification” of Realpolitik, a transformation from mere principle of action to a sacred end in itself, drew its originating strength from the doctrine of “sovereignty” advanced in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Initially conceived as a principle of internal order, this doctrine underwent a specific metamorphosis, whence it became the formal or justifying rationale for international anarchy –  that is, for the global “state of nature.” First established by Jean Bodin as a juristic concept in De Republica (1576), sovereignty came to be regarded as a power absolute and above ordinary law. When it is understood in terms of modern international relations, this doctrine encouraged the corrosive notion that states lie above and beyond legal regulation in their various interactions with each other. Concerning “ordinary law,” however, it is always subordinate to “Natural Law.” This Natural Law is based upon the acceptance of certain principles of right and justice that prevail because of intrinsic merit.  Eternal and immutable, they are external to all acts of human will and interpenetrate all human reason.  The core idea and its attendant tradition of human civility runs continuously from Mosaic Law and the ancient Greeks and Romans to the present day.  For a comprehensive and far-reaching assessment of the Natural Law origins of international law by this author, see Louis René Beres, “Justice and Realpolitik:  International Law and the Prevention of Genocide,” The American Journal of Jurisprudence, Vol. 33, 1988, pp. 123-159. 

[22] Assured destruction references an ability to inflict “unacceptable damage” after absorbing an attacker’s first strike.  Mutual assured destruction (MAD) describes a condition in which an assured destruction capacity is possessed by both or all opposing sides.  Counterforce strategies are those which target an adversary’s strategic military facilities and supporting infrastructure.  Such strategies may be dangerous not only because of the “collateral damage” they might produce, but also because they could heighten the likelihood of first-strike attacks. Collateral damage refers to harms done to human and non-human resources as a consequence of strategic strikes directed at enemy forces or military facilities.  Even this “unintended” damage could involve large numbers of casualties/fatalities.

[23] “Science,” says philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset in Man and Crisis (1958) “by which I mean the entire body of knowledge about things, whether corporeal or spiritual, is as much a work of imagination as it is of observation…The latter is not possible without the former.”

[24] See: F.E. Adcock, The Greek and Macedonian Art of War(Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1962), p. 63.

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Defense

Afghanistan Will Test SCO’s Capacity

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The US is withdrawing from Afghanistan. Twenty years of the US-led foreign intervention has brought neither prosperity, nor stability, to the country. With hundreds of billions of dollars spent on the seemingly endless military operations and with thousands of Americans killed, the Biden Administration faces a harsh reality: A Western type political system is not likely to take roots in Kabul anytime soon. Washington has lost the war it waged for the last two decades. The main challenge for US President Joe Biden and his team is how to make the painful US defeat less humiliating and the ongoing retreat more graceful.

This is not to say that the US will play no role in and around Afghanistan after September 11, 2021. It might continue to support the government in Kabul for some time through economic and technical assistance, through intelligence data sharing, or even through limited US airstrikes against rebellious warlords in county’s provinces. Still, the place of Afghanistan in the US—and Western—strategic designs will go down dramatically. In the end of the day, only Afghans themselves can settle the conflict in their country through a political dialogue and an inclusive peace process.

On the other hand, from now on, the future of Afghanistan should be a matter of concern not for remote overseas powers, but for regional players around this country—such as Iran, Pakistan, China, Russia, India and Central Asia countries. The ability or inability of these players to come to a common denominator on their respective approaches to Afghanistan will become the critical external factor affecting the country’s future.

Unfortunately, no consensus about Afghanistan exists between major regional players. Each of them has its own history of relations with the Afghan state and the Afghan people, sometimes quite controversial and sometimes even bitter. They have very different assessments of the current balance of powers inside the country, and often quite diverging threat perceptions. Their respective views on the military capabilities of the insurgent Taliban and on its long-term political goals are not the same. Each of the regional players has carefully developed its special lines of communication to the government in Kabul and, arguably, to various factions of the insurgent camp as well.

Still, the overall views within the neighboring countries on the desirable future of the country coincide or, at least, significantly overlap. Essentially, there are two fundamental issues at stake for all the Afghani neighbors. First, Afghanistan should not become an Islamic Emirate, which international terrorist groups like ISIS or Al-Qaeda could use to plan their malign subversive operations in the region. Second, Afghanistan should stop being the major producer and exporter of narcotics, which it has become under the Western occupation. Of course, regional players would also prefer to see Afghanistan as a politically stable, economically striving, socially inclusive, culturally diverse and religiously tolerant country. However, everybody understands that this is too high a bar to consider for in the immediate future.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) might well be an appropriate platform to try figuring out how to approach these two critical issues in a multilateral format. Afghanistan, as well as neighboring Iran, has an observer status within SCO; Turkmenistan coordinates its Afghan policies with SCO countries; all other regional players are full-fledged members to the organization. The SCO-Afghanistan Contact Group has existed since the fall of 2005 and it has already accumulated a lot of useful practical experience. Still, until recently, the contact group operated in the shadows of the Western intervention in the country. The time has come for SCO member states to bring this body out to the light and to rise up to a new, post-US Afghan challenge.

One of the SCO comparative advantages is that, given its very broad and even ambiguous mandate, it is in a position to address simultaneously security, economic and human development agendas of Afghanistan, combining support for political stability, implementation of large-scale economic projects and assistance for social capital building. It can also coordinate efforts of other international actors ranging from the specialized agencies of the United Nations to private foreign companies to small NGOs interested in specific avenues of collaboration with partners in and around Afghanistan.

Keeping in mind significant disagreements between SCO members (especially between India and Pakistan) on a number of important Afghanistan related matters, one could envisage a multilateralism a la carte approach to specific projects in this country. It implies that select SCO states could form project-based coalitions to engage in initiatives of their choice without necessarily trying to involve all of SCO member states. However, it is important to make sure that such projects would not jeopardize or question core national interests of other SCO members.

The role of Afghanistan itself should not be limited to that of an SCO economic or security assistance recipient. Without an active Afghan involvement, some of the SCO plans would be hard to implement in full. For instance, engaging Afghanistan in major railway and energy infrastructure projects is indispensable for strengthening regional connectivity between Central and South Asia and in the SCO space as a whole. The China proposed-Belt and Road Initiative would remain incomplete, if it has to bypass Afghanistan due to unaddressed security concerns. In sum, Afghanistan should become a subject, not an object of the regional multilateral cooperation.

No doubt, Afghanistan stands out as a formidable challenge for SCO, but it is also a unique opportunity for the alliance of Eurasian nations. If the organization manages to succeed whether the US and its Western allies failed in the most dramatic way, this success would be the best possible illustration of the changing nature of international relations. After having successfully tested its institutional capacity in Afghanistan, SCO could find it much easier to approach various regional crises, civil conflicts and failed states in Eurasia—and even beyond the Eurasian continent. Regretfully, there will be no shortage of such crises, conflicts and failed states in years to come.

From our partner RIAC

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Defense

Foreign Troops withdrawal at a faster pace from Afghanistan

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The US is withdrawing troops at a faster pace than expected. It has been reported that almost half of the remaining forces have already been evacuated. It might be a part of the US strategy. Only time will explain it well. The US is handing over some crucial posts to Afghan Government Forces like the essential Bagram Air Base. Afghan Army was created by Americans, trained by Americans, equipped by Americans, and considered loyal with American. Their task was to obey American orders, protect American interests, and counter the Taliban.

The Taliban’s offensive against the Afghan forces has witnessed a sharp increase in diverse parts of more than twenty provinces of Afghanistan. The Taliban even attacked Mihtarlam – the 16th largest city in the Laghman province – which has been a comparatively quiet and calm city in the last few years. As a result of the Taliban’s current encounters, innocent Afghans have become refugees in different parts of the country. Their next destination may be Kabul and they are capable of taking over Kabul conveniently.

As a matter of fact, the Afghan Governments of President Ashraf Ghani or Hamid Karzai were not legitimate Afghan-owned Governments; they were created by Americans and served Americans as puppet Governments. The natural pillars of the power were the Taliban. American took control from the Taliban in 2001, and they negotiated the troop’s withdrawal with the Taliban directly, without involving President Ashraf Ghani’s Government initially. American knows that Taliban are the real owners of Afghanistan and should rule their country in post withdrawl era. Americans acknowledged the potential and supremacy of the Taliban. President Ashraf Gahni or Hamid Karzai has no roots or public support in Afghanistan and will have no role in the future political setup in the post-withdrawal era.

Taliban are well-educated people, having good knowledge of Economics, Science & Technology, Industry, Agriculture, International relations and politics, and in-depth understanding of religions. They ruled the country in 1994-2001 successfully. Their era was one of the most peaceful eras in the recent history of Afghanistan.

Just like any defeating army, the US is trying to harm Afghanistan as much as possible, and destroying its weapons and war machinery at an estimated worth of US Dollars 80 Billion, and destroying ammunition depots, Infrastructures, and all-important places, before the surrender, creating a tough time for Taliban to reconstruct the war-torn country. Even the US is deliberately pushing Afghanistan towards chaos and civil war-like never-ending trobles.

Desperate, Afghan President Ashraf Ghani complained about American disloyalty in his interview with Der Spiegel on May 14, 2021.   Displaying a feeling of betrayal and helplessness, President ashraf Ghani is blaming Pakistan. However, Pakistan’s positive role in bringing the Taliban to negotiating table in Doha is widely admired by the US and International community.

Similarly, in his interview with Der Spiegel on May 22, 2021, former Afghan president Hamid Karzai has also taken a tough stance on Pakistan and blamed Islamabad for its alleged link with and support to the Taliban. However, he also indirectly gave the message that the United States would not want peace in Afghanistan. At the same time, he has expressed high hopes “for the so-called Troika Plus, a diplomatic initiative launched by Russia which also includes China and the United States.” In response to the very first question about the Taliban, Karzai says that “I realized early into my tenure as president that this war is not our conflict and we Afghans are just being used against each other” by external forces.

However, it was the people of Afghanistan who suffered the four decades of prolonged war. It seems their sufferings are reaching an end. All the neighboring countries also suffered due to the Afghan war, and it is time for all neighboring countries to support Afghan reconstruction. China is already willing to assist in reconstructing Afghanistan under its mega initiative BRI. Pakistan, Iran, Central Asia, and Russia may also outreach Afghanistan and play a positive role in rebuilding Afghanistan.

A stable and peaceful Afghanistan will be beneficial for all its neighbors and the whole region. Let’s hope for the best, with our best struggles.

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