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Arctic Security and Dialogue: Assurance through Defence Diplomacy

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Authors: Troy J. Bouffard, Elizabeth Buchanan & Michael Young*

For over two decades, key stakeholders have been confident that the Arctic Council was the appropriate forum for discussing most non-military Arctic issues. At the same time, UNCLOS, IMO and various international legal agreements, along with numerous forums, helped to manage a significant portion of the remaining challenges. Today, security concerns are heightening with new Arctic players and the days of a stable Arctic region, free from intervening security concerns, may be facing headwinds as military activity and rhetoric have increased over the past few years. Strategic competition in the Arctic has reemerged and is bolstered by recent rhetoric and increased investment from Washington in its national security agenda in the Arctic as well as associated NATO military activity.

Russia uses these developments as further justification to securitize the state’s largest open frontier. It is unsurprising Moscow views this behavior as foreign strategy to undermine Russia’s legitimate interests in the Arctic. In effect, the Arctic may be host to a new security dilemma which is driving militarization and strategic competition in the region. The problem is: there is no effective forum for Arctic defence authorities to discuss the potentially emerging security dilemma or the spectrum of associated and relevant issues involving Arctic non-/State interests.

Recognizing this apparent strategic forum gap, there have been recommendations from Arctic security scholars and strategists to consider the establishment of a designated Arctic security forum to lead collective and inclusive military-security dialogue. These calls are now echoed in some Arctic state policy circles, indicating the appetite for a security forum is growing. Tellingly,   Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, during a high-level Arctic international conference with Putin in April 2019, suggested that annual meetings of the Chiefs of General Staff of the Arctic Council’s member-states should reoccur. For Lavrov, such meetings could become an effective mechanism of maintaining regional security, stating, “unfortunately, since 2014 these meetings have been suspended. For the purposes of resuming joint work we suggest as a first step to establish contact at the level of military experts of Arctic states.” In theory, such a proposal could effectively manage a growing security dilemma, in order to confront concerns of militarization and sharpened strategic competition in the Arctic. However, implementation of high-level security discussions between Arctic Council member states would not be easy in the contemporary political environment. Moreover, there must be an absolute separation between the purpose of the Arctic Council and any Arctic defence issues and forum. Such a requirement is not only based on the Council’s charter mandate, but also from a practical standpoint to avoid undermining or overlapping well-established practices.

Some current security forums capable of hosting dialogue on Arctic military-security affairs do exist, but these are inadequate for any real strategic discourse due to the fact that the Arctic’s largest stakeholder is not considered an ‘equal member’ in these fora. To date, limited study has been conducted into the feasibility of a circumpolar Arctic security forum, of which all Arctic-rim powers are considered equal. The authors explore the concept of establishing an Arctic military-security forum to navigate the resurgence of strategic competition in the region. To do so, the article examines challenges and opportunities associated with the establishment of an effective Arctic security forum through diplomatic aspects, including 1) establishing acceptable protocols, 2) the role of military diplomacy and 3) sustaining meaningful diplomatic commitments and outcomes.

Establishing Acceptable Protocols

The central goal of establishing formal protocols through a forum to discuss Arctic security issues is to prevent security related actions by one state from escalating to higher level military conflict due to misunderstandings among other Arctic states. There are already several agreements that include the United States and Russian Federation which govern the behavior of military forces when operating in close proximity to each other or in international waters, such as the Incidents at Sea Agreement (INCSEA, 1972), the Dangerous Military Activities Agreement (DMA, 1989), and the Code for Unplanned Encounters at Sea (CUES, 2014).

Given that these agreements have no geographical limitations, they would also apply to military actions in the Arctic. What is not covered by these agreements, and what is missing in the Arctic currently, is a formal dialogue between Russia and the other Arctic states regarding issues of national security in the Arctic. Such dialogue is important so that all sides understand each other’s actions and the motives behind them, or at least provide a forum to discuss misunderstandings. There have been fora in the recent past which attempted to accomplish this in the Arctic, such as the Arctic Coast Guard Forum (ACGF), the Arctic Security Forces Roundtable, and the Arctic / Northern Chiefs of Defence meetings. These ended in 2014 after the Russian annexation of Crimea when mil-to-mil engagements with Russia were suspended. However, an exception was later made for the ACGF. The ACGF now regularly meets and rotates chairmanships every two years according to the same schedule as the Arctic Council. The ACGF is an excellent forum for the Arctic states to “foster safe, secure and environmentally responsible maritime activity in the Arctic,” but it does not specifically address military or national security issues. This is precisely why it was able to obtain an exemption from the ban on mil-to-mil activity. This is to Arctic security’s detriment.

Clearly, after six years it is apparent that the ban on mil-to-mil engagement with Russia is adversely affecting all Arctic states. There is an obvious need for crafting a defence forum for the Arctic states. As such, it would be useful to establish a mechanism for all Arctic states’ senior military leaders to engage annually for the purpose of discussing Arctic security issues. And this is in the US national interest. The question now becomes what the format, protocols and limitations should be so that such a forum could prove successful for all participants. It should also be considered apart from other mil-to-mil engagements with Russia, and therefore mostly exempt from sanctions. The following proposed components should be considered with regard to development of an Arctic security forum:

-Heads of delegation from each Arctic state would be their senior commander who has responsibility for their country’s Arctic defence.  For example, the US would send the Commander, US Northern Command (4-star), Russia would send the Commander, Northern Fleet Military District (3-star Joint Arctic Command) and the Deputy Defence Minister of the Russian Federation – Chief of Main Directorate for Political-Military Affairs of the Russian Armed Forces (3-star). Normally equivalent rank and position is a basic protocol requirement. However, Russia does not maintain nearly the same amount of 4-star generals as does the United States. As a result, the disparity would not be considered inappropriate or detrimental to the process. Each commander could designate a subordinate as the working representative during the year in the lead up to the conference, but each defence principal would be expected to attend the actual conference in person.

-Hosts for each annual meeting would rotate every year on a prescribed schedule among each of the eight Arctic states.

-The agenda for the annual meeting would have set, required topics each year, which at a minimum would include: 1) Arctic defence philosophy, 2) most important defence challenges in the Arctic, and 3) greatest threats to Arctic security, as perceived by each state. An additional mandatory topic would be ways to improve Arctic security cooperation and reduce tensions.

-The deliverable from the conference would be a report to all member states from the host country summarizing the discussions and outcomes. A joint statement would be optional.

-The conference would be nominally scheduled for one full working day, unless an extension is agreed to by all parties in advance.

However, this forum must stand completely apart from other forums, such as the Arctic Council, even though its membership would still consist of the eight Arctic states that hold sovereign territory in the Arctic. The Arctic Council functions well as an intergovernmental forum on Arctic issues, but its founding documents specifically exclude any discussions on defence or security.  Trying to bring security issues into the Arctic Council runs the risk of damaging a well-functioning mechanism.

It should also not involve NATO specifically, even though five of the Arctic states are also NATO members. Since the purpose of the forum is to engage in Arctic-specific security issues, the involvement of NATO could detract from the Arctic nature and openness of any discussions. Any NATO role in an Arctic security forum must be defined and accepted by Russia, if at all. First and foremost, the forum must be able to function from a setting of sovereign equals, of which any alliance would certainly complicate to say the least – a notion that diplomatically parallels the exact difficulties presented by consideration of the EU as an official Arctic Council observer. In the Arctic security forum, membership would only consist of the eight Arctic states – no observers.

While an Arctic defence forum described above is important, it should not exist as the only engagement between the Arctic states in understanding each other’s defence postures.  Ongoing traditional diplomacy and military diplomacy would continue to play important roles, as will existing bilateral security agreements. However, as mentioned previously, a new Arctic security forum must be able to function unilaterally with defined authority and jurisdiction.

The Role of Military Diplomacy

The role of military power in today’s world exemplifies a much different meaning from the past. Use of military might by developed nations to resolve or influence global issues increasingly represents options to be employed only as a last resort, if at all. The ever-growing economic interdependence and strong institutional architectures that help facilitate global relationships provide just an initial understanding concerning such world order, and such forces likely apply throughout the Arctic region also. One of the ways in which military organizations could integrate into constructive circumpolar affairs is through use of defence diplomacy. The Oxford Handbook provides a definition as ‘the employment, without duress, in time of peace of the resources of Defence to achieve specific national goals, primarily through relationships with others” as seen by “the shift from ‘club’ to ‘network’ diplomacy” reflective of advanced civilization. The Arctic Eight all have significant military resources and capabilities as well as experience around the world managing tensions. Certainly, the degree to which Russia participates in such endeavors remains difficult to ascertain meaningfully, but it does occur, and moreover, the Arctic region is somewhat of an exceptional case.

Defence diplomacy involves a desire to use military channels, and/or those of experts on defence issues, to help create a climate of trust and a convergence of interests. Those familiar with the Arctic region and its many issues might already be thinking of how the military could contribute within these definitional understandings. The most concerning defence-related issue still centers on continued Russian military buildup in their north, including significant bastion defence, several dedicated brigades, and an advanced coastal and offshore air-defence network. Such developments outpace the rest of the Arctic Eight combined by an order of magnitude, although not necessarily representative of individual or cumulative national capability. The lack of post-Crimea Western mil-to-mil contact with Russia as well as a collective Arctic security forum continues to suppress opportunities to build trust and confidence with purpose. Eventually, the United States and NATO will increase military capabilities and presence in the Arctic, and without dialogue, misunderstanding of intent and perceptions, among other things, will likely worsen.

Defence organizations often track sensitive, conflict-laden issues within categories often known as elevated, escalated, and the most dangerous, zones of miscalculation. Other issues involve tensions regarding international maritime law and increased control over disputed Arctic waters Russia considers internal. Such an ‘excessive maritime claim’, per the United States, would likely benefit from defence discussions and subsequent counsel amongst individual national authorities. Most recently, the United States and United Kingdom conducted a naval exercise in the Barents Sea from 03 – 08 May 2020. Although advanced notification was provided to Russia and the media largely conflated the event and meaning, Russian authorities were able to conduct observations and consequently reported findings (figure 1). While characterizing the exercise as provocative, Russian authorities noted that Northern Fleet capabilities effectively deployed to track NATO weapons and thereby avoid any incidents. When conducting the official briefing, Colonel-General Rudskoy stated that “the Ministry of Defence of the Russian Federation has always adhered to a course aimed at building a constructive dialogue with NATO” and furthermore, emphasized European concerns that “all our proposals to reduce military tension and prevent incidents were set forth in a letter from Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg. In fact, our suggestions were ignored.” Although possibly a demonstration of aggrandized rhetoric, such messages could be much different through use of military diplomacy and dialogue. National interests are often conveyed through strategic communications and military activities, and as a component of foreign-policy objectives already, the addition of deliberate discourse can leverage the influence of military capability and experience toward purposeful defence diplomacy.

Figure 1: Russian Ministry of Defence briefing on recent NATO activity in the Arctic

Source: Russian Ministry of Defence

Sustaining Meaningful Diplomatic Outcomes

The pace at which media attention and policy rhetoric is focusing on calls of a ‘new’ Cold War in the Arctic is representative of renewed global attention in the High North. Ultimately, in an age of social media, this attention creates strategic fog for northern stakeholders and indeed can cultivate strategic distrust further between Arctic neighbors. All the official dialogue in the world matters little unless it can be sustained and implemented meaningfully. Nor can a representative principal and staff conduct hasty preparations and expect to be effective during diplomatic maneuvering and negotiations. An established cycle of dialogue helps to develop and enable an active national program that requires substantial time, money and effort toward preparations that categorically culminate through the dialogue events. Such processes foster purposeful information development and sharing by Arctic defence staffs, both domestically and within the network, further elevating an understanding of each other’s’ policies, strategies and intent. Furthermore, regularly scheduled diplomatic events require continuous learning and processing, leading to more sustained and confident diplomatic outcomes as opposed to sporadic events.

Preparation involves more than studying different tier-level issues. A delegation must be effectively empowered to participate in a diplomatic setting, to include delivery and status of domestic positions on matters, extent and limits of compromise on issues, and introduction of propositions and interests, to name a few. Such preparations also require domestic prioritization of issues and executive agency synchronization as well as input in order to avoid inadvertent internal marginalization of national interests – again, not nearly as efficacious in an ad hoc fashion. At the same time, a major component of successful preparations – far more complex and difficult – requires an understanding of adversarial as well as competitive positions on agenda and relevant non-agenda items. Indeed, it can be a very bad day when a delegation is diplomatically outmaneuvered as a result of inadequate preparation on a reasonably expected issue. This circumstance might represent a best-case scenario when a competitor out-prepares another and scores a diplomatic win without the need to give up anything through a compromise on equal settings. Such an instance occurred on Day 10 of the Cuban Missile Crisis at a UN Security Council meeting, when US Ambassador Adlai Stevenson thoroughly ‘dressed down’ Soviet Ambassador Zorin through superior preparation in anticipation of the USSR position. Similarly with regard to the Arctic, having a forum ready to host this security discussion could be the difference in preventing Arctic conflict, especially when domestic and foreign goals tend to universally prefer that issues remain within the cooperative or competitive realm. The Arctic is naturally geared for sustaining diplomatic outcomes and ironically, all Arctic states hold a common strategic interest: stability.

Additionally, the value of multinational defence dialogue not only benefits from agreements, but  also in the development and implementation of national strategies. Domestic policies can significantly gain advantage from positive results of dialogue as well as clarification of issues involving tension, not to mention reference to the forum itself as a venue of reliable structured discussion. Furthermore, such fora often facilitate and promote inclusivity and coverage of issues through agenda setting. However, while agendas can be abused by more influential states, today’s advanced understanding and conduct of diplomacy and negotiation can help overcome inequalities through thoughtful charter establishment.

Conclusion

Many fora already exist to address most issues in the Arctic from a circumpolar perspective (see Figure 2). The Arctic Council provides an excellent forum to jointly tackle environmental issues and scientific research, and it also has provided an excellent platform to negotiate several joint agreements between the Arctic states, such as search and rescue, oil spill response, and scientific cooperation. The International Maritime Organization provided a framework to negotiate the Polar Code for shipping traffic in the Arctic. The Arctic Coast Guard Forum proves to be excellent at discussing and solving shared maritime law and regulatory challenges across the Arctic. The Arctic Economic Council facilitates sustainable Arctic economic and business development. A glaring gap in these fora is one that addresses Arctic security or defence issues. The need for an Arctic security forum is clear. Given the increasing re-militarization of the Arctic in recent years and unproductive rhetoric likely to continue, the time to establish an Arctic security forum has already passed. Dialogue between senior Arctic defence leaders and their staffs could complement other Arctic national efforts through the conduct of military diplomacy, leading to enhanced mutual understanding of defence challenges as well as the prevention of unintended conflict escalation.

Figure 2. Example of Current Arctic Organizations and Responsibilities

To move our proposal forward, we offer the following considerations as areas for further research. First, initiative could be seized by Moscow during its forthcoming Arctic Council Chairmanship (2021-2023) to officially propose and promote a forum – an enterprise opportunity completely separate from the work of the Arctic Council yet benefits from the overall Arctic emphasis during its leadership. Moreover, Russia could craft the forum and keep it void of mandated leadership, instead recommending an acceptable rotation schedule – similar or otherwise to the Arctic Council. Second, in terms of the security forum’s construct, we see three viable options. Option A: The forum is limited to the Arctic Eight defence authorities and their select delegations. This is the ideal approach as it affords the most lateral movement for military diplomacy in the Arctic. Option B: Implement Option A but also develop an observer mandate. Using similar criteria to that of the Arctic Council, this would allow for NATO to engage as a clear subordinate to Russia. This signal acknowledges Moscow’s concerns and perhaps also helps get around NATO’s ‘limited engagement with Russia’ policy still in effect. Most importantly, this option ensures that any potential NATO forum role develops under Russian required consensus. This option also easily extends toward further research consideration and potential roles of other interested participants, such as China. A final study option is Option C: the development of a security forum led by the Arctic ‘Western’ states with an offer extended to Russia to join. This may be the least viable option given Moscow would likely reject ‘junior partner’ overtures. Additionally, the current fragmented Arctic defence efforts somewhat demonstrate problems with this option.

The Arctic needs a productive forum for military dialogue – one already established, functioning well and possessing the institutional maturity ready to confront future strategic challenges. It is in the best interests of the Arctic region to have a credible body in place to navigate and preemptively negotiate military-security issues and threats involving mutual interests. Military tensions in the Arctic could severely marginalize years of stabilizing accomplishments, not the least of which includes critical natural resource and environmental activities. Compelled dialogue driven by negative incidents will only invoke frustrated hindsight from stakeholders and concerned advocates. The situation is clear, and prospects obvious. Defence authorities should pursue the opportunity to effectively steer military-related Arctic security issues before circumstances force preventable crisis management.

*Dr. Elizabeth Buchanan is Lecturer of Strategic Studies with Deakin University for the Defence and Strategic Studies Course (DSSC) at the Australian War College and a Fellow of the Modern War Institute at West Point. Dr. Buchanan holds a Ph.D. in Russian Arctic strategy from the Australian National University and was recently the Visiting Maritime Fellow at the NATO Defense College. Experiences also include a recent discussion she moderated with NATO Secretary General, Jens Stoltenberg, during an official visit to Australia.

Michael J. Young is a Fellow at the Payne Institute for Public Policy focusing on Arctic policy and security.  He is a retired Foreign Service Officer with the U.S. Department of State whose tours include working as the Arctic Affairs Officer in the Office of Ocean and Polar Affairs and the Foreign Policy Advisor to Special Operations Command North, where he also focused on Arctic issues.  He was the U.S. Head of Delegation to the Arctic Council’s Sustainable Development Working Group from 2013-15.  He previously served as a Surface Warfare Officer and nuclear engineer with the U.S. Navy for 15 years.

Troy is retired from the US Army and currently serves as faculty at the University of Alaska Fairbank. As a defense contractor, he is the co-principle investigator for the USNORTHCOM / ALCOM Arctic Defense and Security Orientation (ADSO) program started in 2014. Troy’s experience alsoincludes various roles involvingArctic Track I diplomacy.He is a research fellow with the Centre for Defence and Security Studies (CDSS) and member of the North American and Arctic Defence and Security Network (NAADSN).

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5th Generation Warfare: A reality or Controversy?

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In the truest sense, the constant repetition of phrase ‘the 5th generation warfare’ by our military leaders in every media conference has been true in the light of the exposition of the Indian sinister campaign against Pakistan in the ‘Indian Chronicles’. Those who were mocking the idea of 5th generation warfare in the context of Pakistan need to revisit their opinions, suggestions and warfare analysis.

Needless to say, Pakistan is facing enormous threats across its borders. The temperature has been red hot in the East and west borders of the country. Since the government of the Modi in its absolute fascistic endeavors took over the valley of Kashmir, the idea of the 5th generation warfare has become incredibly important to understand the volatile and emerging situations. While the India is accusing Pakistan regardless of its pathetic human rights violation in Kashmir, it seems that the war of demonization continues between these two arch-rivals.

Technically speaking, the dossier that Pakistan has recently published of its intelligence reports which clearly indicate the network of India that has been put in place to malign Pakistan and to come true in its ominous ambitions. In the light of the possible threats, Pakistan has to protect the CPEC projects from India and all the workings going on along the one belt and road project as we have undeniable evidence of the threats to the projects. Amid the rivalry of India and Pakistan, there is a play of world super powers as well as both America and China wants to expand their influence in the Asia, and Middle East.

If one belt and road initiatives stand tall in the face of the foreign funded attacks it would become the strength of the country in the near future. Along with protection of the OBOR projects Pakistan needs to understand the fact that it needs regional players to take part in OBOR extension to raise the stakes in it so that other regional actors will help making OBOR a successful economic venture. Since South Asia has been at the center of war from the last three decades only economic success is deemed to cut this root out. It will hopefully carry out people who have been radicalized because of the prolonged war on terror and the subsequent longest war of America in the Afghanistan territory.

The root cause of the Pakistani society of becoming violently rogue has been due to the pathetically designed strategic policies. Now, every effort on the part of the state must ensure economic progress. Wading into foreign wars, in the name of saving Islam has proved detrimental and counterproductive. The recent dossier that Pakistan has published largely identified this fact that the fallout of extremism and the wide network of India has exploited the regional issues, especially secessionists movements, in the country. It is time for our state to take responsible actions against these terror hideouts. Naming them or just publishing a dossier would not make difference until the whole infrastructure of the terror sites raze down to Earth.

The intelligence report that Pakistan has published certainly brought some results to the fore. One, India has been demonized subsequently more prominently in the Arnab Goswami case where it has been openly told to the world that India had fake surgical strikes inside Pakistan. This whole drama was just a political tactic by the BJP party to win in the general elections lately. This proved to the world that India has been maligning Pakistan and its interests in the world. But things are unsettling now. Time has come for India to take upon itself the weight of  its sinister plans against a neighboring country.

It is also theoretically important for the state of Pakistan to really see the emerging trends in the lens of 5th generation warfare as military cadre has been pointing repeatedly in every media conference. If one see the attacks on the infrastructure of the OBOR, insurgents activities along the Durand line, and through the case of Aranab Goswami case, it is vividly clear that the nefarious activities in the guise of 5th generation warfare are true.

There are many political commentators in the Dawn Newspaper who have downplayed the visible threats of 5th generation warfare calling it a facade because of their abnormal understanding of the emerging situation in south Asia. That is why to understand a situation like surgical strikes that too fake one, one is left with no choice but to look up to the themes like 5th Generation warfare.

Until we expose India and our many other enemies through precise and strategic actions with the help of our strategic think tanks, Pakistan will not grow up economically because for economic ease peace is the necessary condition. The core strategy of Indian so far has been deploying maximum pressure upon Pakistan. It is true that India has been successful in some way to malign Pakistan. Visibly, Pakistan has made a lot of investment in the building up of the infrastructure for OBOR projects but apparently our intra-regional trade has been dipped to 7.4 down from 12.2 percent in 2011. It means we have been massively slowed down by India with the help of rising up temperature at the borders and planning attacks inside the country.

All in all, 5th generation warfare has been true in the context of Pakistan. To understand this, we need to connect the dots. The connection of Pakistani intelligence dossier, to attacks inside the country, to Arab Goswami case  and to the Indian lab of disinformation proves the fact that 5th generation warfare is not lost on us. It is a time to rethink on these lines as we will have a tough time in balancing our economy through OBOR, opening intra-trade to maintain political instability in the country.

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China’s quad in the making: A non-conventional approach

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Politics of alliance can be traced to the ancient times of the East and the West. Since it affects the core interest and security of individual states, the leaders concerned seek for alliance partners in order to meet the threat they face and the gains they can expect from alliance. The U.S. has maintained its superiority in military and also created the largest alliance system in the world. Now seeing the rise of China as one strategic competitor in the 21st century, the U.S. has made all efforts to create a “quad” along with Japan, Australia and India in the Indo-Pacific. This leads to an inquiry into how China reacts to the containment led by the U.S.?

China has maintained the high-level of strategic partnership with Russia, Pakistan and now Iran. Yet they aim at strategic consensus, economic connectivity, mutual respect and equality in a challenge to any unilateral hegemony. Due to this, China’s version of the “quad” is more flexible and pragmatic in winning over states with different cultural, religious and ideological backgrounds. Yet the Biden administration has made it clear that it moves to establish a “quadruple” alliance along with Japan, Australia and India in order to insure the balance of power in the Indo-Pacific still to the U.S. favor. To that end, on March 12, the first summit among the four countries revealed their collective security talks on everything from vaccine distribution to fighting climate change, yet also including their viewing China’s efforts to modernize and professionalize its military as a strategic competition in Asia and the Pacific.

Only days after President Biden’s drive for a “Quad” in the Indo-pacific, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov made his visit to China during March 22at the invitation of his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi. This reveals the high-level quality of the relations between the two largest Eurasian powers and their agenda has deepened across nearly all dimensions of the comprehensive strategic partnership, such as from diplomacy and defense to economic and technology. The growing ties between China and Russia have aimed to establish a multipolar order that dethrones the US as the global hegemon. In light of the deteriorated relations between China and the U.S. alongside the EU, and between Russia and the Western bloc, the meeting is of strategic implications for China and Russia to consult regularly on the latest issues. Though not ready to forge a military alliance in a traditional way as indicated, China and Russia are actually confident in each other to meet any challenge of the world. The latest announcement that Russia and China would jointly construct a space station on the moon (ILRS) is another great leap forward in the establishment of what is described as the “Sino-Russian alliance in the making”. It clearly reveals that cooperation has become operationally more consequential than the frequently touted democratic partners between the U.S. and India.

During the 1990s,Joseph Nye warned the prospect of the “alliance of the aggrieved” coming from Russian and Chinese strong passion for national glory. Yet, it is very the awkward statecraft of the U.S. that has led China and Russia deftly to overcome conflicting national interests that should make them adversaries on the bilateral, regional and global issues. As Lavrov said prior to his visit, “the model of interaction between Russia and China is free from any ideological constraints. It is of an intrinsic nature, not subject to any opportunistic factors nor against any third countries.”

If the Sino-Russian strategic partnership is seen as the “strategic alliance”, the solidarity between China and Pakistan has been termed as “batie”, referring to “brothers in ironclad”. It is true that China’s normal relations with Pakistan started in 1951 and since1962, the bilateral relations have been transformed into a de facto alliance regardless of the differences in religions and ideologies. Cooperation has covered nearly all aspects from politics to economic and from military to foreign affairs over the past decades. Diplomatically, Pakistan has committed to one-China policy while China has made all endeavors to support its sovereignty, security and stability. Geopolitically, the two sides have worked closely on the joint projects like JF-17 aircrafts, civilian nuclear power plants and the peaceful settlement in Afghanistan since the U.S.-led NATO presence in the war-torn land is seen as a threat to common interest of the two countries and the stability in South Asia as well. Accordingly, Pakistan isseen as one of the key strategic partners of Beijing’s global links, along with Russia and North Korea.

Additionally, in China’s security and development agenda such as the BRI, Pakistanis sure to be a vital partner in light of the decades-long friendship and its location in South Asia near to Strait of Hormuz which links the Middle East. China has invested heavily in the region while it depends on oil, gas and many other energies. To that end, the project of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor has been expected to enhance the strategic connectivity between the two sides to a new high-level strategic convergence. It is in a broader term, alliance forms when states have common interests and strong consensus to pursue them. For example, China, Russia and Pakistan have shared compatible interests in a constructive and inclusive solution to end the civil war in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan through agreements on the formation of a coalition government with the participation of the Taliban movement.

Now an inquiry is whether China along with Russia and Pakistan would move toward a Eurasian bloc including Iran. On March 27, Chinese FM Wang Yi formally visited Iran, yet what China seeks for in the Middle East is not a traditional alliance like the NATO or the “Quad” in the Indo-Pacific as the U.S. has driven for. Rather, as Beijing reiterated, China acted to persuade the countries concerned to stay impervious to external pressure and interference, to independently secure its own interests in light of the regional peace and stability. Accordingly, China wants to project itself an image as a peaceful power unlike the U.S. and its allies which aim to pursue the exclusive privileges and unilateral interests in the Middle East and beyond.

During Wang’s visit, “the plan for China-Iran comprehensive cooperation” was signed with a view to taping the potentials for enhancing economic and cultural cooperation in a long run. It is said that a 25-year agreement would be able to upend the prevailing geopolitical landscape in the West Asia which has for so long been subject to the United States. Moreover, Iran has forged a de facto alliance with Russia and a strategic cooperative partnership with China. Yet, this plan is essentially a large-scale economic development agenda for Iran which has been illegally sanctioned by the United States. To that end, China and Iran vowed to support mutually on the issues related to their core interest and major concerns, including general opposition to any hegemon dictating international affairs. In effect, China has urged that the United States should first take a step to lift unilateral sanctions against Iran, and return to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), instead of making unreasonable demands on Tehran.

Some people have argued that the interaction of China, Russia, Pakistan and Iran can everywhere outline new geopolitical vectors, which must be taken into account by the U.S. and its allies. It is also true that without the political involvement of Pakistan, China and Russia, the peaceful settlement of the crises in Afghanistan are quite unthinkable. First, China still follows its long-term principleof non-alliance in foreign affair. Second, though stronger economically, China is a new external power with limited knowledge of the region. Considering the prospect that a high-profile deal with Iran may have been met with some backlash from the Gulf states that traditionally see Iran as an adversary, a plan involving economic cooperation is more pragmatic and necessary. Politically it is wise and rational that China-Iran plan fits within its five-point initiative to achieve security and stability in the Middle East, such as mutual respect, equity and justice, non-proliferation of nuclear weapon, collective security and common welfare.

In sum, advancement of China’s quad requires even more focus and attention nowadays. In light of this, the best thing for China to do is to make sure a long-term stability and prosperity in the entire region. For sure, China has pursued its diplomatic goals in accordance with its ancient culture and contemporary grand mission.

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UK–Russia Security Dialogue. European Security

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Photo:Emily Wang/Unsplash

Authors: Andrey Kortunov and Malcolm Chalmers*

This conference report outlines the main findings of the workshop on ‘European Security’ organised by RUSI and the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC) in February 2021 as part of the UK–Russia Security Dialogue. The dialogue is a proven format that has provided an opportunity for RUSI and RIAC to bring together experts from the two countries to discuss key questions, including sensitive security issues, at a time when this kind of interaction is the exception rather than the rule.

UK–Russia relations have become increasingly strained over the past decade, notably from 2014 following Russia’s actions in Crimea and the war in eastern Ukraine, which together marked a turning point in the bilateral relationship. In the subsequent years, there have been a series of efforts by Western European leaders, including from the UK, to reset relations with Russia. Despite these efforts, relations have continued to deteriorate. Against this background, the prospect for a reset of the sort that was pursued between the US and Russia in 2009 seems, at present, dim.

Given this environment, the focus of the current dialogue workshop was on how to reduce the chances for open military confrontation between NATO and Russia, especially in Europe, and on maintaining mutual engagement in the spheres where it is absolutely crucial.

The UK’s position in Europe has undergone significant evolution in recent years, although European security remains a core focus in the ‘Global Britain’ agenda. Previously preoccupied with Brexit, the UK government has started to move beyond negotiations on the UK’s departure from the EU to fashion a revised foreign and security policy. Even though EU–UK relations might remain tense for some time, it is clear that the UK is committed to working closely with both the EU and major European powers on foreign and security policy. Equally, the transatlantic relationship will remain a core part of the UK approach to European security. As a result, UK approaches to Russia will be closely aligned with its European and North American allies.

Indeed, in contrast to the apprehension about the reliability of the US as a security partner under Donald Trump, cooperation with President Joe Biden’s administration is likely to give a new momentum to transatlantic ties. These ties are based on mutual interests and reflect largely similar approaches to Russia. Following Brexit, the UK has ensured that sanctions relating to Russia continue to operate effectively by replacing the existing EU legislation with national measures.

For Russia, it is of paramount importance which mode of interaction the Biden administration will opt for in relations with Moscow. President Biden might be a more difficult partner, but the Russian view is that opportunities for some positive moves by NATO should not be ruled out. The integration of military-to-military contact into the political discussions of the NATO–Russia Council could be an important initial step to help promote stability and manage relations. From a Russian perspective, such a move should not be seen by the Alliance as a step to appease Russia or as a departure from NATO’s established approach, but rather as a step that would lay the ground for more dialogue.

Moderate optimism can be expressed about the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) regarding measures to overcome its institutional crisis and Sweden’s chairmanship in 2021, which may bring new opportunities. Russia chairing the Arctic Council from 2021 to 2023 provides a further opportunity to open the space for cooperation in some areas that affect the security situation in the High North.

With UK–Russia relations likely to be difficult, it is imperative that efforts remain focused on the realistic goal of developing a ‘new normalcy’ to stabilise the situation. Moves from confrontation to cooperation are unlikely given that both sides have irreconcilable visions of the essence of the international system and cite the lack of trust as an underlying impediment to normalisation. In this situation, it is important that efforts to exchange information and views continue and that there is further work on confidence-building measures to manage confrontation to lower risks and costs.

Summary of the Discussion

This UK–Russia dialogue workshop explored the various political and security issues affecting the contemporary European security landscape and provided an opportunity to share threat perceptions and consider the potential to mitigate security risks. The participants presented their countries’ strategic priorities and perspectives on the evolving nature of European security, including the prospects for arms control. The workshop also introduced the sub-regional perspective by focusing on the security complex in the Baltic Sea, Northern Europe and the Arctic.

The discussion focused on: the challenges that the European regional security order faces; the dangers stemming from its fragmentation; the erosion of much of the post-Cold War arms control regime; and the ebbing of the credibility of the OSCE, which faced a deep institutional crisis in 2020.

UK–Russia Relations

UK contributors noted that there have been a number of factors that have strained the UK–Russia relationship, such as the Russian annexation of Crimea and the military incursion into eastern Ukraine in 2014, Russian interference during the 2016 Brexit referendum, the assassination of Alexander Litvinenko on UK soil in 2006, the 2018 Salisbury chemical weapons attack and the attempted murder of Alexei Navalny in 2020. Some of these actions have led to the introduction of UK sanctions against Russia. Against this backdrop, the resumption of cooperative ties between the governments does not look feasible and the restoration of direct military cooperation is unlikely.

Citing this environment, the overarching idea of the discussion shared by most participants was that the status quo in relations between Russia and the UK – a ‘new normalcy’ – is not desirable but sustainable, is ‘not acceptable but bearable’. This perception about the potential for relations is likely to continue to inform the policy responses by both sides in the foreseeable future. Participants noted that the current state of affairs appears to be characterised by a situation in which both parties have reciprocal expectations that the steps towards normalisation need to come from the other side.

At the same time, participants underlined the importance of measures to reduce the chances of open confrontation. A key theme to emerge from the discussion was, thus, the need to maintain engagement in the spheres where it is most crucial.

A Russian participant expressed his concern that the decision taken by NATO in April 2014 to sever ties with Russia had grave repercussions in terms of increasing the risks of unintended military escalation. In the absence of an appropriate venue for discussions, many in the Russian expert community would like to see the governments of Russia and NATO countries start to discuss imminent threats in order to anticipate areas of tension and to set in place the means to de-escalate confrontations.

It was recognised that, at present, communication tends to start only when the risks become unacceptable, like in Syria. With important, but narrow, mechanisms for preventing dangerous military incidents already in place, there is no incentive to conduct political talks on the factors that could lead to confrontation.

It was noted that a key role for expert discussions such as the UK–Russia dialogue should be to alert governments to the possibility that ‘acceptable risks today can become unacceptable tomorrow’. The prevention of tensions or even resolution of some areas of dispute is thus crucial to managing the current difficult relations and avoiding a further dangerous deterioration. A Russian participant noted, however, that the West seems not to be ready for a selective approach to Russia which would allow for the compartmentalisation of the bilateral agenda into independent areas.

UK participants observed that while relations with Russia are difficult, the current status quo is viewed as sustainable and there are many other issues on the international security agenda for the UK to focus on beyond relations with Russia. At the same time, it was noted that if Russia does not shift its approach in the coming years, which was deemed unlikely, the transatlantic community will increasingly focus on deterrence and risk management in their relations with Russia.

It was noted that following a series of unsuccessful outreaches to Russia by NATO members, the Allies do not feel they should be the demandeurs in terms of the reset with Russia or for arms control initiatives. A UK participant observed that recent efforts by Western European states to reach out to Russia, including President Emmanuel Macron’s initiative and the visit to Moscow by EU High Representative Josep Borrell, bore no fruit and did not generate a positive response from the Russian side.

Thus, for any reset to occur, it was suggested that Russia would have to take the first steps. This would need to involve addressing the issues that have strained relations between Russia and the West, notably the annexation of Crimea, military intervention in Ukraine and actions in the Middle East, as well as Russian activities in the cyber domain. At the same time, the widespread view in the UK is that the Russian government does not believe that it is currently in its interests to make substantial concessions in relation to eastern Ukraine, over the joint management of the Syrian issue or in regard to its cyber activities.

The Challenges Facing Arms Control in Europe

The significant risks for a new arms race emerging in Europe were discussed at length. Participants were sceptical about the prospects of another golden age for arms control emerging, comparable to the one in the 1960s after the Cuban and Berlin crises, or in the late 1980s when the Soviet Union sought a radical change in its policies towards NATO and the West. Conventional arms control in Europe – based on the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), the Vienna Document and the Open Skies Treaty – is in demise and the existing regimes are no longer considered adequate to address contemporary security threats.

There was consensus that the erosion of the nuclear arms control architecture between the US and Russia poses a serious threat to European security, even if the UK and other European states are not direct participants in US–Russia treaties. Following the demise of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, the extension at the beginning of 2021 of the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START) between Moscow and Washington was met with relief. This positive step to renew the last remaining arms control agreement was hailed by Russian and UK participants, albeit a deal reached in an emergency rather than as a result of a wide r détente.

The collapse in recent years of the last remaining confidence- and security-building measures in Europe was noted as emblematic of the rapid deterioration of Russia–West relations. The US under the Trump administration withdrew from the Open Skies Treaty in November 2020, accusing Russia of treaty violations that made continued US membership impossible. In January 2021, Moscow announced it would follow the US and withdraw from the Treaty, citing the failure of NATO signatories to agree to its demands not to share information from the Russian surveillance flights with the US.

Though the future of the agreement remains uncertain, a Russian expert welcomed the possibility of the Biden administration returning the US to the Treaty. It was opined that Russia actually launched the withdrawal procedure to send the signal to the US that renewing its participation should be considered an urgent matter.

Workshop participants indicated that it is unlikely that there will be progress towards Europe-wide conventional arms control, along the lines of the adapted CFE treaty, in the foreseeable future. Russian participants expressed support for consultations to address the risks around sensitive areas where NATO and Russia border with each other – in the Baltic and the Black Sea regions. The aim should be to, at minimum, establish the sub-regional arrangements that could prevent unintended security escalations.

It was also noted that it should be a priority to extend confidence-building measures into the Barents and Norwegian Seas, which are the overlapping areas of operations by the Russian Northern Fleet and the recently re-established US Second Fleet. Participants recognised, however, that NATO did not accept the idea of concluding separate sub-regional agreements with Russia. One of the benefits of re-establishing NATO–Russia military-to-military dialogue was identified as providing a more credible notification arrangement on ground forces and, thus, a means to improve transparency and trust.

On the arms control regime in Europe, Russian participants indicated that Moscow would welcome European initiatives on arms control mechanisms but noted that Russia assessed that European capitals are wary of Washington’s reactions to such initiatives and oversensitive to potential criticism.

At the same time, the Russian perception of Europe as lacking strategic autonomy on security issues loomed in the discussions when a Russian discussant expressed the belief that for the Russian defence establishment, talking to Europeans about arms control when the US is not at the table has no practical sense.

The fate of the Chemical Weapons Convention was discussed. A UK participant raised the issue of the large-scale use of chemical weapons in Syria, where Russia is supporting the regime of Bashar Al-Assad. The use of banned chemical agents for attempted assassinations was also noted. These actions were identified as policies that seriously erode trust in Russia’s commitment to adhere to legally binding treaties.

Against the background of the chemical weapons attacks in Salisbury in 2018 and the attempted poisoning of the Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny in 2020 using a prohibited nerve agent, restoring the credibility of the Chemical Weapons Convention and Russia’s adherence to its provisions were seen as a cornerstone for improving relations with the West.

The deterioration of arms control arrangements was seen as reflective of the wider breakdown of the crisis management functions of the OSCE. Experts agreed that there were some improvements at the end of 2020 with agreement on the appointment of the organisation’s institutional heads and with the stable hand of the Swedish chairmanship guiding this process. But the continuous tensions around these institutions, which embody the comprehensive security concept at the core of the OSCE, and the lack of significant progress around the organisation’s regional conflict management activities, were raised. The limited levers available to the OSCE during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh war were also highlighted.

A Russian expert opined that Moscow does not see a bigger independent role for the OSCE in crisis management and arms control, since it views the organisation as an instrument that has been privatised by the West. The Russia–NATO relationship was identified as a better-placed format to discuss arms control issues.

Perspectives on the Security of Northern Europe

In the session devoted to discussing Northern Europe and the Arctic, the Baltic sub-region was identified as the most dangerous environment. At the same time, the Arctic can no longer be considered as a region insulated from tensions. The vision of the Arctic as a region of peace and cooperation may no longer hold true as the security mechanisms of the past are losing their relevance.

The discussion highlighted differences in perceptions between UK and Russian specialists on the military dynamics in the region. Russia sees Northern Europe and the Baltic Sea as two distinct regions, while the UK – together with the other states of Northern Europe – increasingly see these areas as a single security space.

A Russian participant contended that assessments that Moscow is militarising the region are exaggerated; there is force modernisation, rather than the creation of new offensive capabilities. These modernisation programmes, it was argued, do not violate the military balance or provoke an arms race in the region, and are aimed to make the Russian armed forces better prepared to deal with non-traditional security threats.

A British discussant noted, however, that Russia’s increased sense of security is creating a growing sense of insecurity among its neighbours. Russia has extended its capabilities in air defence and other areas beyond its borders in order to protect its strategic forces located in the north. With new capabilities, it is able to project power beyond the Arctic into the North Atlantic.

As a result of Russian activities in the region, the transatlantic community assesses that the security environment has changed substantively. NATO, including the UK, has developed a much keener interest in the region, and NATO Arctic states that were previously resistant to the Alliance having a regional role are shifting to accept that it can be an interlocutor on Arctic military questions. There is a perception that there needs to be an Alliance response to Russian activities with a growing focus on the Greenland–Iceland–UK gap.

With new actors, including China, coming into the region, Russia is on the defensive. Responding to a question about whether Russia is prepared to talk to NATO about the Arctic and managing military tensions, it was noted that Russia is opposed to seeing more NATO engagement in the region, and security dialogue should be conducted among the five littoral states directly.

Conclusions

The workshop highlighted the importance of maintaining a channel for candid talks between Russia and the UK’s expert communities. There were a number of areas of consensus, in the sense that both sides recognised the need to maintain a dialogue without illusions in order to, at minimum, better understand each other’s perspective and positions. Participants agreed that the UK and Russia should be aware of the real potential risks of any further deterioration in European security at the cost of an arms race, or even unwanted confrontation. Dialogue participants also highlighted that, despite the bilateral difficulties, there are ways that both parties can manage the risks of the ‘new normal’ situation. There is, thus, an urgent need to explore how this can be achieved effectively.

A realistic assessment of UK–Russia relations points to the need for both sides to recognise that the focus of bilateral ties should be on developing pragmatic and limited areas of cooperation. Discussion of a wholesale reset, which is not feasible at present, should be avoided. Some of those pragmatic areas could be talks about how to make progress on arms control, ways to strengthen military-to-military contacts, and maintaining the discussions on threat perceptions and regional security.

*Malcolm Chalmers, Deputy Director-General of the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI)

From our partner RIAC

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