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CIA National Intelligence Estimates on the Cross-Strait and Sino-Russian Relations

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In July 2011, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) published a declassified National Intelligence Estimate on “Russian-Chinese Relations: Perspectives and Implications” dating back to September 2000. The 45-page report highlights growing concerns in the American intelligence community about the future of Sino-Russian defense and trade cooperation, which could undermine Washington’s Smart Power in Central Asia and the South China Sea. However, the document also underlines the relationship between Russia and China “would not deepen much beyond its current state» and could even be «subject to occasional friction“.

The People’s Republic of China is perceived by the CIA as sceptical of US influence abroad at the moment of the publication of the National Intelligence Estimate (September 2000), the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade (May 7, 1999) becoming the symbol of animosity between the two countries.

Twenty years later, geopolitical tensions remain, as underlined by American support for the protests for greater autonomy in Hong Kong (2019), and Washington’s pressure on Beijing with the accusation of the military origins of Covid-19 (2020).

In 2020, all US attempts to implement Western Soft Power in China — with the exception of Hong Kong and Macao — have had mixed success. Washington’s struggle to establish mutual trust with Beijing is similar to that of Western European countries, and the tormented past and Chinese colonisation by the West is still a contentious issue.

In Western institutions, Chinese recovery of sovereignty goes back to December 20, 1999, with the transfer of Macao from Portugal to the People’s Republic of China. To the Chinese leadership, the inference by Western power is still going on with the US support to Taiwan (sales of US arms) and the Japanese presence around the Diaoyu Dao and its affiliated islands (Japanese Senkaku Islands) backed up by Washington.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, statement by Yang Jiechi in July 2019:

“Taiwan is an inalienable part of Chinese territory. The sale of US arms to Taiwan seriously violates the One China Principle and the three joint China-U.S. communiqués, undermines China’s sovereignty and security interests, and seriously undermines peace and stability across the Strait.”

Ultimately, Beijing’s desire to overtake the United-States (eg. Chinese space program) would be motivated by the post-colonial trauma, the desire to regain control of Taiwan and attempts to gain the respect of former European colonial powers and Washington.

Sino-Russian relations may prove to be better than Sino-American relations. Nevertheless, and as the declassified CIA document of 2000 points out, bilateral cooperations between Moscow and Beijing remain difficult because of the Soviet Union’s Changing Policies on China’s Nuclear Weapons Program (Zhihua Shen and Yafeng Xia. Between Aid and Restriction: The Soviet Union’s Changing Policies on China’s Nuclear Weapons Program, 1954-1960. Asian Perspectives, 2012).

As of today, Beijing is ready to support Moscow because the two countries share the same views on multilateralism. However, Beijing has not shown any support to Russia’s diplomacy in the Black Sea (Crimea, Abkhazia and South-Ossetia) and the Middle East (Syria). To date, China does not recognize the Crimea as part of the Russian Federation, and has rejected offers to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent countries.

This research paper will focus on two reports — CIA National Intelligence Estimate (1999) “China-Taiwan: Prospects for Cross-Strait Relations” and CIA National Intelligence Estimate (2000) “Russian-Chinese Relations : Prospects and Implications” — to explain how the CIA views Beijing-Taiwan and Beijing-Moscow relations in the late 1990s, after the return of Hong Kong (United Kingdom until 1997) and Macao (Portugal until 1999) to the People’s Republic of China.

The analysis will also highlight how the Balkans and the Black Sea conflicts have a direct impact on Chinese diplomacy according to the two declassified intelligence estimates of the CIA.

The CIA National Intelligence Estimate on “China-Taiwan: Prospects for Cross-Strait Relations” (NIE 99-13 – September 1999)

After the return of Hong Kong and Macao to the People’s Republic of China, the United States is the only Western power capable of hindering Chinese territorial ambitions in the South China Sea (Taiwan). CIA reports in the 1990s, unlike those produced earlier by the CIA during the Cold War, attempted to determine whether Taiwan should remain an independent country backed up by Washington or follow the British and Portuguese examples of Hong Kong and Macao.

The CIA’s National Intelligence Estimate “China — Taiwan: Prospects for Cross-Strait Relations” published in September 1999, supposed to cover the evolution in the upcoming 3 years (2000–2003), and declassified in July 2011, answers this question and highlights the scenarii in which China could decide to regain control of Taiwan by military means.

The report has been produced at a critical moment in Sino-American relations because the return of Hong Kong and Macao under Chinese tutelage leaves the United States as the only military power capable of counterbalancing China’s regional ambitions, as Japan and South Korea do not have a nuclear strike force, unlike Great Britain.

Mention should be made of China’s rise to power, which is implied in the report. With the incorporation of Hong Kong and Macao, China has increased its GDP by attaching two bastions of capitalism, thereby weakening the British and Portuguese economy on the one hand and increasing the financial performance of Beijing on the other.

The CIA report also comes at a time when tensions between Washington and Beijing are increasing due to the NATO bombing of the People’s Republic of China embassy in Belgrade (May 7, 1999). The Balkans (Serbia) and the Caucasus (Chechnya) are recurring themes in the NIE on Taiwan, but also in the analysis on Russian-Chinese relations (CIA National Intelligence Estimate “Russian-Chinese Relations: Perspectives and Implications“).

The NIE is relying on complementary analysis conducted by several US institutions, including the following ones mentioned in the beginning:

  • NIE 98-05, “China’s Conventional Military Forces: Current Status and Future Capabilities (1998-2008)”, released in June 1998
  • China’s Strategic Priorities and Behaviour“ supposed to be published later in 1999

The number of specialized reports on Cross-Strait relations underlines the priority for the CIA to increase its expertise on the People’s Republic of China for military and diplomatic reasons in the late 1990s. These reports, which cover a period of three years, also highlight the rapid evolution of Chinese diplomacy and military power after the Cold War.

Beijing’s approach regarding partially recognized states in Asia (Taiwan)

The bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Serbia is considered a key moment in relations between Beijing and Washington, and the CIA National Intelligence Estimate does not mention the voluntary or involuntary nature of the bombing.

CIA director George Tenet testified before a congressional committee that the bombing was the only one in the campaign organized and directed by his agency. According to George Tenet, the CIA had identified the wrong coordinates for a Yugoslav military target on the same street (Tenet George (1999). DCI Statement on the Belgrade Chinese Embassy Bombing House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Open Hearing. Central Intelligence Agency). It is therefore interesting that the NIE does not mention the nature of the bombing. However, a report mentioning the voluntary nature of such an action would probably not have been declassified.

Following the bombing, China’s position vis-à-vis the United States presence in Asia will become even more sceptical and, unlike the United-Kingdom and Portugal, the possibility of negotiating with Washington regarding Taiwan’s future tainted by the bombing in Serbia.

The CIA considers that Beijing has a comfortable position in Asia since the Europeans left Hong Kong and Macao, and believes that “China is convinced that Taiwan will not gain more influence” and that “greater economic interdependence between China and Taiwan will bring the two entities closer together.”

Unlike other de facto states such as Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Europe, which live on economic and military aid from Moscow because Georgia and the West do not want to increase their economic relations with the two territories, Beijing seems to have adopted an innovative strategy regarding Taiwan (also considered to be a de facto states according to the People’s Republic of China’s law). China is thus developing its commercial relations with the Island, hoping to see the two entities move closer together.

Beijing wishes to develop its relations with Taiwan in order to bind a prosperous territory when the time comes (like Hong-Kong and Macao) and to user Soft Power and economic ties instead of Hard Power. That is why Beijing wants to put more pressure on the United States to reduce the sale of arms to Taiwan and focus on economic cooperation.

Moreover, the NIE mentions that Beijing wants to make Hong Kong an instrument of Chinese “One country, two systems” propaganda. In this way, Chinese leadership wants to present the future of Taiwan as similar to the future of Hong Kong, with a commitment to economic prosperity and more freedom compared to Mainland China.

The Chinese approach is presented as slow and gradual. According to the report, China has no deadline for reunification and the certainty Taiwan “will not gain influence in the coming years”. In addition, the CIA claims that China will not engage in a military confrontation with Taiwan as this would be detrimental to its economy and international trade. China’s wish is therefore to impress and frighten Taiwan and the United States.

China’s Smart Power and the United Nations

In order to recover control over Taiwan, Beijing is ready to use a combination of Smart Power and international pressures in international institutions such as the United Nations (UN).

According to the NIE, Beijing suspects that Japan and Taiwan have a secret military agreement. In addition, China is trying to weaken the United States and all states — such as Panama — that have good relations with Taiwan, using all available means to ensure Taiwan will be internationally isolated.

Moreover, the CIA believes the more tension there is between China and the United States, the more Washington will be willing to support the island. In this sense, there is an interest for Taiwan to push for more confrontation between the two superpowers in order to improve the bilateral relationship between Taiwan and Washington.

According to the analysis, if the United States does not show firmness towards Beijing, the possibility of a domino effect is to be feared, and recovering control over Taiwan will then lead to increased pressures from Beijing on Japan and South Korea. In that sense, Taiwan needs to be defended by the United-States in order to contain China’s influence in the whole South-East Asia. Following this reasoning, and according to the CIA analysis, the reunion of Taiwan and China will mark the beginning of the United States’ withdrawal from the Asian continent and further changes for Japan and South-Korea.

Finally, the most singular point of the CIA report on Cross-Strait Relations is that it takes us back to the Balkans several times. Beijing is said to have put pressure on Northern Macedonia (Macedonia before 2019) because of its diplomatic relation with Taiwan. China is said to have vetoed the presence of peacekeepers in North Macedonia at the UN to show Beijing’s power on the European continent, a strong signal sent to several countries that might require UN assistance in the future.

Beijing could thus use the UN and other international institutions to influence the entire Balkans and the Black Sea by recognizing new countries or refusing to recognize them (eg. Abkhazia) and destabilize the European continent.

The CIA analysis thus lays the foundations for the Chinese strategy regarding the non-recognition of Kosovo (de jure a part of Serbia before partial recognition in 2008) to weaken the West, and at the same time the non-recognition of Abkhazia, Transnistria, South Ossetia to weaken Russian, and the non-recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh to weaken Armenia.

Beijing’s policy in Europe regarding de facto and partially recognized states will have consequences for the recognition of Taiwan and vice versa. In this sense, the CIA underlines how international institutions can be used by Beijing to achieve its objectives and how its policy in Europe is related to Taiwan.

The CIA’s Red Lines

These are the scenarii that could prompt Beijing to conduct a direct military attack on Taiwan:

  • Taiwan new referendum on Independence
  • Foreign support for pro-independence forces in Taiwan
  • Taiwan development of nuclear weapons
  • Political instability on the island

Despite this, the CIA believes that China will follow its plan to develop Soft Power in the coming decades, as relations with Russia will bring economic prosperity and military cooperation in order to counterbalance American influence in Asia.

The relationship between Moscow and Washington is not present in the NIE on “China-Taiwan: Prospects for Cross-Strait Relations” and we have to focus on the National Intelligence Estimate on “Russian-Chinese Relations: Perspectives and Implications” to understand how Sino-Russian relations are done in order to diminish the US influence in Taiwan.

A section entitled “What if we were wrong” also shows that the CIA is unsure of future developments, although it does present possible scenarii. Moreover, Washington does not seem to be ready for military intervention (no details in the report) and military support to Taiwan will probably take the form of military equipment only.

Conclusions on the National Intelligence Estimate “China-Taiwan: Prospects for Cross-Strait Relations

In May 2020, the US State Department authorized a possible sale of eighteen MK-48 Mod6 Advanced Technology Heavy Weight Torpedoes and related equipment for an estimated cost of $180 million to Taiwan.

In response to the announcement Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said on May 21, 2020, that:

“China is firmly opposed to the US arms sales to Taiwan and has made solemn representations to the US. We urge the US side to strictly abide by the one-China principle and the provisions of the three Sino-US joint communiques, and stop arms sales to Taiwan and military links between the United States and Taiwan to avoid further damage to Sino-US relations and peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait.”

Some 20 years after the publication of the CIA National Intelligence Estimate report “China-Taiwan: Prospects for Cross-Strait Relations,” the approach between the United-States and China seems to show no significant change. Beijing opposes any US military presence and equipment sales to Taiwan, while the United States is not ready to abandon the island for fear of losing influence in South Korea and Japan.

Another element that emerges from this report is the CIA’s anticipation of China’s diplomacy regarding de facto and partially recognized states in Europe and the influence they have on contemporary Chinese diplomacy at the UN, bilateral relations with Moscow (Crimea, Transnistria, Abkhazia and South-Ossetia), Armenia (Nagorno-Karabakh), and the West (Kosovo).

The report also bears witness to the upcoming ambivalence of relations with Russia, which wants China to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia (de jure independent according to Russia and de jure part of Georgia according to the West).

On reading the CIA report, it is clear that Beijing will not vote in favour of diplomatic recognition of any de facto states in Europe in the late 2000s, forcing it to reopen the debate on the recognition of Taiwan and the application of the Montevideo Convention.

As the CIA shows, relations between China and Taiwan will lead to a debate on the recognition of Kosovo, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and possibly Transnistria and Nagorno-Karabakh. Although apparently focusing on Taiwan-China relations, the report provides multiple references that link Taiwan and Chinese diplomacy to the Balkans and the Caucasus, as evidenced by the reference to the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade and the lack of support for UN Peacekeepers in North Macedonia.

The CIA National Intelligence Estimate on “Russian-Chinese Relations: Perspectives and Implications” (NIE 2000-10C–September 2000)

Alongside reports on Beijing’s growing influence in Asia, the CIA conducted a study on relations between Russia and the Republic of China during the same period (1999-2000). The NIE on “Russian-Chinese Relations: Perspectives and Implications” is partially declassified, and a considerable part of this study remains “top secret” (pages 27-36) to this day.

The early release raises the question of whether it is worthwhile for CIA archivists to provide access to the document in question, especially in view of the classification, which usually includes results that must not be accessible to the public before several decades:

  • The elements of the report that are now accessible are no longer of strategic interest (which is the case for the majority of declassified archives).
  • The CIA report shows that relations between Russia and China are ambiguous, and could lead to a form of discord between the two superpowers.
  • Technological developments (Russian S-400; Chinese J-20) are showing the report no longer covers contemporary military threats.

It seems important to mention that at the time of disclosure (2011), Russia has not yet returned to the international arena and is in the process of losing ground in Central Asia and the Black Sea area. Russia’s comeback goes back the Crisis in Crimea (2014 — nowadays) and the launch of the Eurasian Economic Union (2015).

The CIA could therefore have downgraded a document, like those on the USSR, without envisaging that the latter might have a deeper strategic relevance a decade later in 2020 and that Russia would experience a significant resurgence of influence.

Political Coordination and the fight against American unilateralism

From the very beginning, the NIE on Russia-China relations mentions the next 5 years ‘would not develop in a manner that is threatening to the US and might even stabilize Asia.’ The report adds that the 2000s will see an increase in arms sales between the two countries, particularly of SA-10 and SA-20 (S-300PMU-1/2 (SA-20)) from Russia to China.

Sino-Russian relations, in line with the CIA’s vision, should stagnate and focus on economic cooperation without any further political and military integration. The CIA also claims that the new Russian president, Vladimir Putin, will continue to sell military equipment because the Russian economy would struggle to without China. Beijing should also agree on buying more Russian military equipment because the People’s Liberation Army wants to scare Taiwan with military technology that can compete with that of the United States. According to the report, the Russian approach would be to sell military equipment in the hope that this would lead to the sales of other non-military products to China in the future.

As the NIE shows, Sino-Russian relations should not lead to supranational cooperation:

  • The Kremlin is afraid China could become more powerful economically and militarily and thus threaten Washington’s influence in Asia and Moscow’s influence in Central Asia.
  • China is skeptical regarding Russian policy since the 1950s because of the lack of support from Moscow for the development of an independent Chinese military nuclear programme (Chinese CHIC projects).

However, both countries wish to witness the emergence of a multipolar world and the attitude of American diplomacy in the 1990s has exacerbated tensions because neither Russia nor China seems capable of opposing Washington’s military ambitions. Indeed, Washington’s military power in the 1990s is such that the United States are able to bypass international bodies such as the United Nations.

The CIA therefore openly mentions the reasons for the fears of China and Russia in the 1990s, as these two countries were not able to contain American Smart Power:

  • Russia and China are angry at the American decision to launch air strikes against Baghdad (December 1998). France, Russia and China opposed such military intervention at the UN without any results.
  • Suspicion of NATO’s revised strategic concept of April 1999, which expands the geographic scope and justifications for the use of force.
  • Outrage at the US approach to the Balkan crisis from March to June 1999 and the accidental bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade in May 1999.

Contrary to the CIA’s National Intelligence Estimate (1999) “China-Taiwan: Prospects for Cross-Strait Relations,” the bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade is mentioned as ‘accidental’ in the “Russian-Chinese Relations: Perspectives and Implications” NIE.

The CIA adds that cooperation between Japan and the United States could weaken both China and Russia, bringing Moscow and Beijing to adopt a shared policy in Asia. Moreover, to counterbalance American influence, Russia has decided not to support Taiwan, and China has decided to support Russian involvement in Chechnya. The CIA establishes a direct link between China’s diplomacy regarding Chechnya and Russia’s policy towards Taiwan.

The NIE does not fail to add that anti-American sentiment in both countries is also based on the fact that Moscow and Beijing are dealing with internal instability in the late 1990s.

The Balkan Crisis and the Sino-Russian Cooperation

Another part of the report which concerns the sale of arms from Moscow to Beijing requires attention. The CIA thus mentions that China will not hesitate to ‘shop around’ to find the best military equipments available on the international market. Although Beijing appreciates Russia for its quality and affordability, China seems to be interested in another supplier. The name of the country has been removed from the NIE and there is no evidence to identify it.

The National Intelligence Estimate states that the crisis in the Balkans is a key moment in Sino-Russian relations because it has brought Moscow and Beijing closer together in international institutions (UN) and in their anti-Americanism. However, the CIA believes Putin, contrary to Yeltsin, is “sceptical” when it comes to China. The NIE also mentions the new Russian president has a “mercenary” approach in his relations with Beijing (page 24).

What could undermine Sino-Russian relations?

The NIE tells a policy by Vladimir Putin aimed at redirecting arms sales to the West rather than to China could have a negative impact on bilateral relations. With regard to arms sales in the 2000s, it can therefore be said that the West, and in particular the United States, have chosen not to weaken relations between Beijing and Moscow. Indeed, the CIA could have encouraged partner countries to purchase Russian military equipment and thus counterbalance the economic weight of China in the Russian economy.

This option might have been considered at the beginning of the 2000s. However the successive crises — Kursk submarine disaster (2000), September 11 attacks (2001), Iraq War (2003), the financial crisis of 2007–08 — have made it difficult for a rapprochement between Russia and Western countries.

The report adds that Russia’s lack of support for China’s ‘One Country, Two Systems’ project could also have a negative influence on relations. In the 1990s, Russia supported a more autonomous policy in non-recognized states. The CIA speculates that Russia might consider recognizing Taiwan, Abkhazia, South Ossetia and Transnistria on the basis of the Montevideo Convention, which it will do for Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2008. The possibility of Russia recognizing Taiwan to justify its own recognition of Abkhazia and South-Ossetia is therefore a hypothesis suggested by the CIA in its report.

Finally, the analysis considers that China’s refusal to allow Russia to exert influence in Xinjiang and China’s western territories, as well as tensions in the Russian Far-East, could undermine bilateral cooperation.

In 2020, the context is rather similar and Beijing’s influence in Central Asia remains an issue as much as China’s influence in the Russian Far-East. Projects such as the Eurasian Economic Union (2015) are aimed at securing Russian control over Central Asia and halting the possibility of a political partnership between China and Central Asian countries. In fine, tensions between Moscow and Beijing remain, however both countries seem to have found a compromise with the coexistence of the Eurasian Economic Union supported by Russia and the One Belt One Road project sponsored by Beijing.

Sino-Russian Cooperation in Military Intelligence and/or Energy Cooperations (Classified)

The NIE remains partially classified to this day, and a considerable part (pages 27-36) has been deliberately omitted and its content is unknown. The US Department of Energy participated in the report (mentioned page 42) and the missing part might focus on Sino-Russian economic energy cooperations and pipelines.

However, the conclusion of the CIA report and the annex are mentioning a cooperation between Russia and China in the field of military intelligence (‘Russia-China Military Exchange’). It therefore seems inconsistent to see a conclusion on cooperation in this specific field when only one mention is made of it in the report (page 18). This first element leads us to believe the remaining part classified is linked to this issue. Moreover, the CIA had already made public a report on the subject “Soviet espionage schools” dating back to 1946. It therefore seems likely that the CIA will mention Sino-Russian intelligence cooperation in the National Intelligence Estimate on “Russian-Chinese Relations: Perspectives and Implications.”

On the basis of the report “Soviet Espionage Training Schools” (1946) report, one could put forward the idea that the NIE on Sino-Russian cooperation covers the following topics:

  • Suspicion of joint training between Russia and China in Tientsin and Beijing (mentioned in the 1946 report).
  • Joint training in Harbin at the National Defence Technology University. The CIA designates Harbin as the epicentre of Russia-China military relations, and to this day the National Defense Technology University remains an essential element in the training of China’s military elites.

In the NIE, the CIA also mentions that Russia is training Chinese troops in the handling of Su-27 (page 38) and Su-30 for a period of 6 months at the Krasnodar Foreign Pilot Training Centre.

In March 2000, Chinese students at the Smolensk Army Air Defence University are studying the strategy and systems of the SA-10 and SA-20 (S-300PMU-1/2 (SA-20) known as S-300 (NATO’s report name SA-10 Grumble), a series of long-range ground-to-air missile systems, first Soviet and then Russian, produced by NPO Almaz, based on the initial version of the S-300P.

The CIA claims that Russian commanders of the Siberian and Far Eastern military districts meet regularly with their Chinese counterpart in the Shenyang military region. The Russian GRU leader Korabel’nikov would have visited the PLA’s head of intelligence, Xiong Guangkai in June 1999.

Conclusion on the National Intelligence Estimates

The publication of the two NIE a decade later shows the capabilities of the US intelligence community and is an essential part of the CIA’s Soft Power. In fact, few intelligence agencies in the world can afford to produce and release such documents on the People’s Republic of China and Russia, and to provide details about the military cooperations between the two superpowers.

The choice to publish the National Intelligence Estimates may be linked to the fact that the documents are no longer relevant to the United-States and US allies. In January 2011, China unveiled its Chengdu J-20 fighter jet, and Russia’s weight in the Chinese defense industry is not the same as in the late 1990s, making the report outdated. Consequently, the documents are providing some interesting historical elements but need to be updated, especially when it comes to Russian and Chinese diplomacy regarding de facto and partially recognized states.

In 2000, it was difficult to know whether Beijing would be ready to recognize Kosovo, Transnistria, Abkhazia, South Ossetia or even Nagorno-Karabakh. On decade later in 2011, it is clear that Chinese diplomacy will not recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia (recognized by Russia in 2008) and that Moscow will not venture to recognize Taiwan.

Finally, the report could shed light on the tensions between Russia and China in the 1990s, and its disclosure would therefore be aimed at creating tensions between the two countries.

It is also possible that the report’s analyses are irrelevant or even incorrect, and that its disclosure is intended to suggest that the CIA has shortcomings in Russian-Chinese relations, whereas the CIA would keep the best reports on the subject without disclosing them.

Both documents are based on previous CIA analysis on China and Russia. It can thus be seen that between 1946 and 2000, the CIA monitored relations between China and Russia and had at its disposal strategically knowledge such as the location of the joint training centre for Russian and Chinese officers in Harbin.

The most original aspect of these two NIEs remains the relationship between Europe (Balkans and the Black Sea area) and Chinese policy regarding Taiwan. The bombing of the Chinese embassy in Belgrade is perceived to be a key element in Sino-Russian relations, bringing the two countries closer together in their anti-Americanism. Moreover, the reports are establishing a connection between events in Europe and Asia, underlining both Moscow and Beijing have a global strategy regarding de facto states (Taiwan, Kosovo, Abkhazia, South-Ossetia, and Nagorno-Karabakh).

The CIA report therefore takes on an additional dimension. Whereas organisations such as the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) bring together de facto states in Europe to do a comparative analysis, the CIA has a worldwide approach and also includes Asian de facto states (Taiwan). Russia and China seem to have adopted the same approach and the Chinese policy in Chechnya is interconnected with the Russian diplomacy in Taiwan.

It can therefore be said that the US, Chinese and Russian strategies towards Taiwan, as well as towards partially and unrecognized states in Europe, are global and interconnected, raising questions about Washington’s interest in recognizing Kosovo in February 2008. The CIA was aware the diplomatic recognition of Kosovo would have an impact not only on the stability in the Balkans, but also on Russian and Chinese diplomacy in the Black Sea area (eg. recognition of Abkhazia and South-Ossetia by Moscow) and the South China Sea (more tensions between China and Taiwan).

From our partner RIAC

Ph.D. in History of Europe & International Relations, Sorbonne University - INSEAD Business School, (Geo)political scientist working on Sino-European/Russian relations and soft power in the 21st century

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Intelligence

Security of nuclear materials in India

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Terrorism

The author is of the view that nuclear security is lax in India. More so, because of the 123 Agreement and sprawling  nuclear installations in several states. The thieves and scrap dealers even dare to advertise online sale of radioactive uranium. India itself has reported several incidents of nuclear thefts to the international bodies. The author wonders why India’s security lapses remain out of international focus. Views expressed are personal.  

Amid raging pandemic in the southern Indian state of Maharashtra, the anti-terrorism squad arrested  (May 6, 20210) two persons (Jagar Jayesh Pandya and Abu Tahir Afzal hussain Choudhry) for attempting to sell seven kilograms  of highly-radioactive muranium for offered price of  about Rs. 21 crore. The “gentlemen” had uncannily advertised  the proposed sale online.. As such, the authorities initially dismissed the advertisement as just another hoax. They routinely detained the “sellers-to-be” and forwarded a sample of their ware to the Bhabha Atomic Research Centre.  They were shocked when the centre reported that “the material was natural uranium”.  As such the squad was compelled to book the duo under India’s Atomic Energy Act, 1962 at Nagpur police station (Explained: ATS seizes 7 kg uranium worth  Rs. 21 crore from a scrap dealer…Indian Express May 7, 2021).

Not a unique incident

The event, though shocking, is  is not  one of its kind. Earlier, in 2016 also, two persons were arrested by Thane (Maharashtra) police while they were trying to sell eight to nine kilograms of depleted uranium for Rs. 24 crore.  It is surmised that sale of uranium by scrap dealers in India is common. But, such events rarely come in limelight. According to Anil Kakodar, former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission, `Factories using uranium as a counterweight in their machines are mandated to contact the Atomic Energy agencies and return uranium to them. They however resort to short cuts and sell the entire machine with uranium in scrap’.

India media scarcely report such incidents. However, Indian government sometimes reports such incidents to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to meet disclosure requirements. According to international media reports (February 25, 2004), India reported 25 cases of “missing” or “stolen” radio-active material from its labs to the IAEA.  Fifty-two per cent of the cases were attributed to “theft” and 48% to the “missing mystery”.  India claimed to have recovered lost material in twelve of total 25 cases.  It however admitted that 13 remaining cases remained mysterious.

India’s reports such incidents to the IAEA to portray itself as a “responsible state”.  It is hard to believe that radio-active material could be stolen from nuclear labs without operators’ connivance.

Nine computers, belonging to India’s Defence Research and Development Organisation establishment at Metcalfe House, New Delhi, were stolen. India communicated 25 cases of ‘stolen or missing’ uranium to the IAEA. In different incidents, uranium in varying forms and quantities continue to be recovered from scrap dealers and others by Indian authorities. The recoveries include fifty-seven pounds of uranium in rod form, eight kilograms in granular form, two hundred grams in semi-processed form, besides twenty-five kilograms in radioactive form, stolen from the Bibi Cancer Hospital.

Too, the ‘thieves’ stole three cobalt switches, worth Rs. 1.5 million, from Tata Steel Company laboratory at Jamshedpur (Jharkhand). A shipment of beryllium (worth $24 million), was caught in Vilnius, on its way to North Korea. Taiwanese authorities had intercepted a ship carrying dual-use aluminum oxide from India to North Korea. A New Jersey-based Indian engineer Sitaram Ravi Mahidevan was indicted for having bypassed US export procedures to send blue-prints of solenoid-operated valves to North Korea.

We know that the Taiwanese authorities had intercepted a ship, carrying dual-use aluminum oxide from India to North Korea.  The oxide is an essential ingredient of rocket casings and is, as such, prohibited for export to “rogue” countries.

Pakistan bashing

Despite recurrent incidents of theft of uranium or other sensitive material from indiandian nuclear labs, the IAEA never initiated a thorough probe into lax security environment in government and private nuclear labs in india. However, the international media has a penchant for creating furore over uncorroborated nuclear lapses in Pakistan. The Time magazine article ‘Merchant of Menace’, had reported that some uranium hexafluoride cylinders were missing from the Kahuta Research Laboratories.  Pakistan’ then information minister and foreign-office spokesman had both refuted the allegation.  Masood Khan (foreign office) told reporters, `The story is a rehash of several past stories’.

Similarly,  Professor Shaun Gregory in his report ‘The Security of Nuclear Weapons’ contends that those guarding about 120 nuclear-weapon sites, mostly in northern and western parts of Pakistan, have fragmented loyalties. As such, they are an easy prey to religious extremists.

Frederick W. Kagan and Michael O’Hanlon, also draw a gloomy portrait of the situation in Pakistan. In their article, published in The New York Times, dated November 18, 2007, they predicted that extremists would take over, if rule of law collapses in Pakistan. Those sympathetic with the Taliban and al-Qaeda may convert Pakistan into a state sponsor of terrorism. They pointed to Osama bin Laden’s meeting with Sultan Bashiruddin Mahmood and Chaudhry Abdul Majeed, former engineers of Pakistan’s Atomic Energy Commission (having no bomb-making acumen).

They claimed that U.S. military experts and intelligence officials had explored strategies for securing Pakistan’s nuclear assets. One option was to isolate the country’s nuclear bunkers. Doing so would require saturating the area, surrounding the bunkers, with tens of thousands of high-powered mines, dropped from air, packed with anti-tank and anti-personnel munitions. The panacea, suggested by them, was that Pakistan’s nuclear material should be seized and stashed in some “safe” place like New Mexico.

Rebuttal

The fact is that the pilloried Pakistani engineers had no knowledge of weaponisation (“When the safest is not safe enough,” The Defence Journal -Pakistan), pages 61-63). The critics mysteriously failed to mention that Pakistan is a party to the UN Convention on the Physical Protection of Nuclear Materials. The steps taken by Pakistan to protect its nuclear materials and installations conform to international standards. The National Command Authority, created on February 2, 2000, has made fail-safe arrangements to control development and deployment of strategic nuclear forces. Pakistan’s nuclear regulatory authority had taken necessary steps for safety, security, and accountability of Pakistan’s nuclear weapons, facilities, and materials even before 9/11 incident. These controls include functional equivalent of the two-man rule and permissive action links (PALs). The indigenously-developed PALs are bulwarks against inadvertent loss of control, or accidental use of weapons. So far, there has been no security lapse in any of Pakistan’s nuclear establishments.

Abdul Mannan, in his paper titled “Preventing Nuclear Terrorism in Pakistan: Sabotage of a Spent Fuel Cask or a Commercial Irradiation Source in Transport”, has analysed various ways in which acts of nuclear terrorism could occur in Pakistan (quoted in “Pakistan’s Nuclear Future: Worries beyond War”). He has fairly reviewed Pakistan’s vulnerability to nuclear terrorism through hypothetical case studies. He concludes that the threat of nuclear terrorism in Pakistan is a figment of imagination, rather than a real possibility.

There are millions of radioactive sources used worldwide in various applications. Only a few thousand sources, including Co-60, Cs-137, Ir-192, Sr-90, Am-241, Cf-252, Pu-238, and RA-226 are considered a security risk. The Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) has enforced a mechanism of strict measures for administrative and engineering control over radioactive sources from cradle to grave. It conducts periodic inspections and physical verifications to ensure security of the sources. The Authority has initiated a Five-Year National Nuclear-Safety-and-Security-Action Plan to establish a more robust nuclear-security regime. It has established a training centre and an emergency-coordination centre, besides deploying radiation-detection-equipment at each point of nuclear-material entry in Pakistan, supplemented by vehicle/pedestrian portal monitoring equipment where needed.

Fixed detectors have been installed at airports, besides carrying out random inspection of personnel luggage. All nuclear materials are under strict regulatory control right from import until their disposal.

Concluding remarks

Nuclear controls in India and the USA are not more stringent than Pakistan’s. It is not understood why the media does not deflect their attention to the fragile nuclear-security environment in India. It is unfortunate that the purblind critics fail to see the gnawing voids in India’s nuclear security.

The ‘research work’ by well-known scholars reflects visceral hatred against Pakistan. The findings in fresh ‘magnum opuses’ are a re-hash or amalgam of the presumptions and pretensions in earlier-published ‘studies’. It is time that the West deflected its attention to India where movements of nuclear materials, under the 123 expansion plan, are taking place between nuclear-power plants sprawling across different states.

Above all, will the international media and the IAEA look into open market uranium sales in India.

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Biological warfare: A global security threat

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Biological warfare is not a new concept in arena of international politics as it has been used as a tool to sabotage enemy in previous centuries. Biological weapons are a sub-category of Weapons of Mass destruction (WMDs) in which there is a deliberate use of micro-organisms like pathogens and toxins to cause disease or death in humans, livestock and yields.Form its usage in 14th century by Mongols to its usage by imperial Japan during 1930s-40s against Chinese, it has always been a threat to global security. The evolution of bio-weapons can be broadly categorized into four phases; first phase includes the post WWII developments with the evident use of chlorine and phosgene in Ypres.The second phase was marked by the use of nerve agents like tabun, cholinesterase inhibitor and anthrax and plague bombs. The initiation of third phase was marked by the use of biological weapons in Vietnam war during 1970s where deadly agents like Agent orange were used. 4th and last phase include the time of biological and technological revolution where genetic engineering techniques were at their peak. Traditionally they have been used in wartime in order to defeat enemy but with the emergence of violent non-state actors, bioterrorism is another potential threat to the security of states. There are certain goals that are associated with the use of biological weapons. Firstly, it is purposed to hit to economy of the targeted country, breaking down government authority and have a psychological effect on masses of the targeted population. It is also a kind of psychological warfare as it may hit a smaller number of people but leaves impact on wider audience through intimidation and spreading fear. It also creates natural circumstances under which a population is induced with disease without revealing the actual perpetrator.

With the advancement in genetic engineering techniques more lethal biological weapons are being produced everyday around the world. Countries which are economically deprived are more likely to pursue such goals as it is difficult for them to go for heavy military sophistication keeping into consideration their poor economic conditions. Biological weapons serve as inexpensive tool for developing countries to address their issues in prevailing international security environment. During the initial decades of cold war, united states of America (USA) and Soviet Union went for acquiring tons of biological weapons alongside nuclear proliferation.

 The quest for these weapons reduced during 1970s with the formation of Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention (BWC). This convention was presented in 1972 before countries and finally came into force in 1975 with 150 countries who signed this convention and 140 countries who fully joined this treaty. This convention prohibits any biological weaponization in order to promote peace and stability around the world. But this convention has obvious defects as it is unable to address many issues like it doesn’t prevents itself the use of biological weapons but just reinforces 1925 Geneva Protocol which forbids the use of bio-weapons. Convention allows ‘defensive research’ to which there are many objections that what is incorporated into this defensive research. It is non-binding to the signatory states and in case if countries are proliferating it lacks the effective oversight techniques to look after them either they are pursuing these biological weapons capabilities or not. Since the inception of this convention till now it has clearly failed in stopping the countries from acquisition as well as usage of these weapons. This is evident as there were many cases after 1975 where these weapons were used as in 1980s when Iraq used mustard gas, sarin and tabun against Iran and many other ethnic groups inside Iran. Another incident which was highlighted was Sarine nerve gas attack in Tokyo subway system leaving thousands injured and many got killed. In post-cold war era, however, the number of these attacks reduced as much attention was shifted to terrorism after 9/11 attacks with the change in global security architecture.

“Anthrax letters” in post 9/11 attacks revealed yet another dimension of bio-weapons which was the threat of bioterrorism from non-state actors. US became a victim of bio-terrorism when in 2001 a powder was transported through letters containing bacterium called anthrax infecting many people. One purpose which terrorists have is to make general masses feel as if they are unsafe in the hands of their government which can be best achieved through the use of these weapons. The fact that biological weapons are cheaper and more devastating than conventional weapons make it more likely for biological weapons to be used by terrorists. Also, the fact that they are easy to hide and transport and a smaller quantity can leave long-lasting impacts on larger population makes these weapons more appealing.  Now that we are facing a global pandemic in the form of COVID-19 which according to some conspiracy theories is a biological weapon pose even more serious challenge to the international security in coming decades. There is no such scientific research which proves Corona Virus as a biological weapon but the realization here is that whether or not it is a biological weapon but world was least prepared for it. Not only the developing countries but also developed states suffered more despite having enormous medical infrastructure. The fact that there has been decline in the incidents related to bioterrorism should never let us think that there is no possibility of such attacks. The fact that world failed to handle Covid-19 puts a question mark on the credibility of measures if we are faced with bio-terrorism. The medical community as well as general population needs to develop an understanding of how to respond if there is such attack. At the international level there is a dire need to develop some strong norms which discourage the development and use of such weapons in any capacity.    

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The ‘Post-Covid-19 World’ Will Never Come

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On May 3rd, the New York Times bannered “Reaching ‘Herd Immunity’ Is Unlikely in the U.S., Experts Now Believe” and reported that “there is widespread consensus among scientists and public health experts that the herd immunity threshold is not attainable — at least not in the foreseeable future, and perhaps not ever.”

In other words: the ‘news’-sources that were opposing the governments’ taking action against Covid-19 — libertarian ’news’-sites that oppose governmental laws and regulations, regardless of the predominant view by the vast majority of the scientists who specialize in studying the given subject — are looking wronger all the time, as this “novel coronavirus” (which is what it was originally called) becomes less and less “novel,” and more and more understood scientifically.

The “herd immunity” advocates for anti-Covid-19 policies have been saying that governments should just let the virus spread until nature takes its course and such a large proportion of the population have survived the infection as to then greatly reduce the likelihood that an uninfected person will become infected. An uninfected person will increasingly be surrounded by people who have developed a natural immunity to the disease, and by people who don’t and never did become infected by it. The vulnerable people will have become eliminated (died) or else cured, and so they won’t be spreading the disease to others. That’s the libertarian ’solution’, the final solution to the Covid-19 problem, according to libertarians.

For example, on 9 April 2020, Forbes magazine headlined “After Rejecting A Coronavirus Lockdown, Sweden Sees Rise In Deaths” and reported that, “Sweden’s chief epidemiologist Anders Tegnell has continuously advocated for laid back measures, saying on Swedish TV Sunday that the pandemic could be defeated by herd immunity, or the indirect protection from a large portion of a population being immune to an infection, or a combination of immunity and vaccination. However, critics have argued that with a coronavirus vaccine could be more than a year away, and insufficient evidence that coronavirus patients that recover are immune from becoming infected again, the strategy of relying on herd immunity and vaccinations [is] ineffective.”

The libertarian proposal of relying upon “herd immunity” for producing policies against this disease has continued, nonetheless.

CNN headlined on 28 April 2020, “Sweden says its coronavirus approach has worked. The numbers suggest a different story”, and reported that 

On March 28, a petition signed by 2,000 Swedish researchers, including Carl-Henrik Heldin, chairman of the Nobel Foundation, called for the nation’s government to “immediately take steps to comply with the World Health Organization’s (WHO) recommendations.”

The scientists added: “The measures should aim to severely limit contact between people in society and to greatly increase the capacity to test people for Covid-19 infection.”

“These measures must be in place as soon as possible, as is currently the case in our European neighboring countries,” they wrote. “Our country should not be an exception to the work to curb the pandemic.”

The petition said that trying to “create a herd immunity, in the same way that occurs during an influenza epidemic, has low scientific support.”

Swedish authorities have denied having a strategy to create herd immunity, one the UK government was rumored to be working towards earlier on in the pandemic — leading to widespread criticism — before it enforced a strict lockdown.

FORTUNE magazine headlined on 30 July 2020, “How parts of India inadvertently achieved herd immunity”, and reported that, “Around 57% of people across parts of India’s financial hub of Mumbai have coronavirus antibodies, a July study found, indicating that the population may have inadvertently achieved the controversial ‘herd immunity’ protection from the coronavirus.” Furthermore:

Herd immunity is an approach to the coronavirus pandemic where, instead of instituting lockdowns and other restrictions to slow infections, authorities allow daily life to go on as normal, letting the disease spread. In theory, enough people will become infected, recover, and gain immunity that the spread will slow on its own and people who are not immune will be protected by the immunity of those who are. University of Chicago researchers estimated in a paper published in May that achieving herd immunity from COVID-19 would require 67% of people to be immune to the disease. Mayo Clinic estimates 70% of the U.S. population will need to be immune for the U.S. to achieve herd immunity, which can also be achieved by vaccinating that proportion of a population.

On 27 September 2020, Reuters bannered “In Brazil’s Amazon a COVID-19 resurgence dashes herd immunity hopes”, and reported that, “The largest city in Brazil’s Amazon has closed bars and river beaches to contain a fresh surge of coronavirus cases, a trend that may dash theories that Manaus was one of the world’s first places to reach collective, or herd, immunity.”

Right now, the global average of Covid-19 intensity (total cases of the disease thus far) is 19,693 persons per million population. For examples: Botswana is barely below that intensity, at 19,629, and Norway is barely above that intensity, at 20,795. Sweden is at 95,905, which is nearly five times the global average. Brazil is 69,006, which is around 3.5 times worse than average. India is 14,321, which is slightly better than average. USA is 99,754.  

However, the day prior, on May 2nd, America had 30,701 new cases. Brazil had 28,935. Norway had 210. India had 370,059. Sweden’s latest daily count (as-of May 3rd) was 5,937 on April 29th, 15 times Norway’s 385 on that date. Sweden’s population is 1.9 times that of Norway. India’s daily count is soaring. Their population is four times America’s, but the number of new daily cases in India is twelve times America’s. Whereas India has had only one-seventh as much Covid-19 intensity till now, India is soaring upwards to become ultimately, perhaps, even worse than America is on Covid-19 performance. And Brazil is already almost as bad as America, on Covid-19 performance, and will soon surpass America in Covid-19 failure.

There is no “herd immunity” against Covid-19, yet, anywhere. It’s just another libertarian myth. But libertarians still continue to believe it — they refuse to accept the data.

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