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Libyan conflict puts NATO to the test

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Domestic and external actors never tire of calling for a ceasefire in Libya, but the situation continues to escalate nonetheless, both in and outside the war-torn North African country.

Turkey’s military activity in Libya is already having a knock-on effect with Egypt now threatening to enter the war. Small wonder, because the Egyptian President Abdul Fattah al-Sisi came to power by ousting the regime of the Muslim Brotherhood (now banned in the Russian Federation), which the Libyan Government of National Accord (GNA) is chummy with. Since the «Brothers” currently play a prominent role in Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria, Cairo would hate to see them gaining strength also in neighboring Libya. Here Egypt enjoys the support of the monarchs in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi who are wary of the Muslim Brotherhood’s support for the idea whereby people are free to elect their political leaders.

After proclaiming his internationally-backed “Cairo initiative” to resolve the Libyan conflict, al-Sisi followed this up with a stern warning: “Any direct intervention from the Egyptian State in the Libyan crisis is now having international legitimacy… restoring security and stability in Libya is part and parcel of Egyptian security and stability…Sirte and al-Jufra (a major air base – A.I.) are the “red line” that we will not allow to cross.”

According to the Abu Dhabi-based Al-Arabiya television channel, the Egyptian government is consulting with representatives of EU countries on measures to prevent the GNA forces’ seizure of Sirte. And Ankara has allegedly been “advised” to refrain from any military action in Libya’s oil-bearing regions. The Speaker of the House of Representatives (the parliament in Tobruk) Aguila Saleh has confirmed that the authorities of eastern Libya have asked Egypt for military assistance in the “war on terrorism and in countering foreign invasion.”

Presently, Libya is the place where the interests of at least four NATO members – Turkey, France, Italy and Greece intertwine. 

Ankara openly supports the GNA and makes future peace negotiations in Libya conditional on the seizure of Sirte and al-Jufra. However, while rejecting the “Cairo initiative” and refusing to recognize the legitimate status of the Libyan National Army (LNA) commander Khalifa Haftar, Turkey simultaneously makes clear its readiness to communicate with Aguila Saleh.

Turkish delegations are frequent guests in Tripoli, just as the head of the Government of National Accord, Fayez Sarraj, is in Ankara. By providing across-the-board assistance to the authorities in Tripoli, Turkey expects to set up its military bases in Libya, secure a share of the production and sale of Libyan oil, and make sure that Turkish construction firms are invited to assist in Libya’s post-war restoration. And again, Ankara and Tripoli share a great deal of ideological affinity for the political and religious beliefs of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Italy also supports the GNA, though not as zealously as Turkey, with Rome already cooperating with Tripoli in the oil and gas sector and counting on its assistance in curbing illegal emigration to its territory.

France, meanwhile, is staking on Khalifa Haftar, who it believes is someone capable of stabilizing the situation in the country, which borders Chad and Niger, both of which are part of Paris’ zone of interests in Africa.

As for Greece, it feels uneasy about the agreements between Ankara and Tripoli, none of which recognize Athens’ right to the continental shelf between Rhodes and Crete.

In the meantime, contradictions between NATO Allies begin to “materialize”: on June 10, a Turkish navy frigate used its fire control radars to “illuminate” a French warship that was to inspect, as part of NATO’s Operation Sea Guardian, the cargo on board a Turkish ship headed for Libya’s Misrata. France slammed the accident as “extremely aggressive” and demanded that the matter be investigated under the NATO format. The Turkish news agency Anadolu then reported, citing the Turkish naval command, that the frigate had not used its radars to target the French ship, but was only monitoring its “dangerous maneuvers.”

In response, the French President Emmanuel Macron stated that the incident confirmed his earlier view about the “brain-dead” North Atlantic Alliance, and his Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said that the EU needed to discuss the prospects of its relationship with Turkey as soon as possible.

Turkey has long been an internal irritant within NATO. Late last year, Ankara blocked a NATO defense plan for Poland and the Baltic countries unless Brussels adopted a similar plan to defend Turkey against the terrorist threat from the Kurdish “People’s Self-Defense Units” in Syria. In fact, this would be tantamount to the organization that acted as the Western coalition’s ally in the war against Islamic radicals being branded as a terrorist one. They eventually reached a compromise, but Reuters recently reported about the French defense ministry complaining about Turkey’s opportunistic position: “While Ankara has approved the plan, known as Eagle Defender, it has not allowed NATO military chiefs to put it into action.”  The NATO headquarters declined to comment on this information.

During a joint videoconference of NATO countries’ foreign ministers in April, the Turkish and Greek top diplomats bickered over the issue of migrants. When denied by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg a chance to make yet another statement, the Turkish foreign minister simply “signed off.”

However, looking at the situation from the standpoint of Ankara it would seem that recently it has had ample reasons for resentment.

In 2016, in the wake of the botched military coup, many Turkish military officers, fearing reprisals, requested asylum, of all places, in Turkey’s fellow NATO countries. A year later, during NATO exercises in Norway, someone posted the photographs of Ataturk and Erdogan on the stand listing the “accomplices of NATO’s enemies.” The trickster was eventually found and fired, but the Turkish president even refused to accept an apology from his allies.

Finally, after a Syrian airstrike in Idlib left dozens of Turkish servicemen dead earlier this year, Erdogan convened an emergency NATO summit. All he got from his allies, though, was just an expression of moral support.   Luxembourg’s Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said that because Turkey had not coordinated its military operation in Idlib with NATO, the pertinent article in the NATO Charter on collective defense against an outside aggression was not applicable in this case. Exactly the same thing happed five years ago when a Russian warplane was shot down by a Turkish missile and Ankara requested NATO assistance in the event of a possible conflict with Moscow.

Therefore, the results of a February poll by the Pew Research Center, which showed that only one in five Turkish citizens were satisfied with NATO’s policies (compared with the 53-percent average in 16 member-countries) look fairly logical. As for the Turks, more than 55 percent of them showed the thumbs down to Brussels.

In recent years, Turkey has pursued an increasingly independent policy, which is more and more at variance with the interests of some of its NATO allies, and refuses to put the bloc’s interests ahead of its own.  Moreover, Ankara primarily uses its membership in the Alliance to increase its political clout in relations with third countries. Bruno Tertre, deputy director of the Strategic Research Fund, hit the nail right on the head when he told the Paris-based weekly business magazine Challenges that “the Alliance must be based on shared values and interests. However, in the case of Turkey, Erdogan, we do not share either one.”

This reality is only highlighted by the conflict in Libya.

However, Turkey’s “intra-bloc destructiveness” is a far cry from what is being done by the administration of the current US president. Donald Trump, who regularly complains about America’s European allies spending too little on defense, has even threatened to pull the United States out of NATO. Dissatisfaction with German “stinginess” was one of the reasons behind Trump’s decision to move part of the US military from Germany to Poland. Angela Merkel aptly commented to this by saying that the European countries should wake up to a new reality where the United States will no longer strive for the role of world leader. Yuri Wendik from the BBC’s Russian Service even complained that Trump views NATO as just a “commercial joint venture.”

Meanwhile, it looks like relations between the two “rabble-rousers” start warming up again: the FBI has opened a preliminary probe of Fethullah Gulen, a Muslim preacher, who currently lives in Pennsylvania, hiding from the Turkish authorities; Trump keeps delaying the introduction of long-promised sanctions for Ankara’s purchase of Russian S-400 air defense systems. Erdogan, for his part, has all but stopped mentioning Washington’s support for Kurdish forces in Syria; Ankara and Washington seem to have clinched some agreement on Libya. Overall, the Turkish-American agenda is less and less correlated with NATO’s.

Make no mistake, NATO is still far from being a “lame duck,” but it still seems that the process is already gaining traction, and that the Libyan test can spur it on.

Last November, George Friedman, the founder and chairman of Stratfor, a private company that publishes geopolitical analyses and forecasting of international affairs, wrote that the biggest problem today, is America inability to be constantly at war as it has been fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq for 18 years now. He adds that the US no longer wants to be in the region and expects countries like Turkey to take responsibility for the region.”  

Ankara apparently agrees and Washington would hate to disappoint its Turkish partners.

From our partner International Affairs

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SCO: Potential and Challenges to Regional Integration

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The modern system of the world is facing the state of imbalance as it passes through the phase of change and evolutionary development. Globalization has emerged as a main trend in international relations and deepens the interdependency between countries of the world. The rapid increasing interdependency contributes for countries to get close one another and to protect their interests. The desire of extending economic and trade activities, access to capital market and the contracts for investment are encouraging countries to work together and to cooperate. The cooperation for economic activities, trade, transportation, information, communication and transmission are making the countries and regions unite.

Regionalization has emerged as a new form and process of interaction among the countries of the world. Many countries are striving to establish a system of cooperation with their neighbors to enhance their potential and also to facilitate each other for solution regional issues. Thereby, the regionalization has taken diverse form of regional integration including the establishment of multinational regulatory system and flexible model of cooperation and partnership in different areas and at different levels. The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)is an outstanding example of regionalization and hybrid and new mixed model of interstate multifaceted cooperation.

SCO established in 2001 to meet the objectives of regional security and stability. Since the establishment the organization continued evolutionary path of multifaceted and multilateral cooperation. It does not desire to achieve a specific target level of collaboration, but it move systematically along the path of finding the common attribute in resolving the regional issues. The SCO also has potential of unique perimeters, new opportunities and directions of further development in the areas of security, economics and other mutual interests. The organization comprises of 43 percent of world population and 25 percent of global GDP. Similarly, it covers 80 percent area of Eurasia. Although the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is a young organization than the other international associations but it has the ability to achieve mutually beneficial solution of political, economic and security issues and it also leads to accumulation of unresolved issues of the region. However, the size never conflates with influence and effectiveness. In fact, the SCO is also facing hamstring by major regional economies and powers with their own interests in the region and mistrust between member states.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization is often stated as a club of autocrat powers. The members follow the principle of noninterference in the internal affairs of other states. However, China and Russia adhere this principle rhetorical basis but not in reality. Both the countries have history of interference and violence of neighboring countries. The member states rely on the principle to push back at Western and local civil society effort to promote responsible governance, human rights and democratic norms in the region. Since the formation, the organization holds a broad goal of fighting against terrorism, extremism and separation. Furthermore, the convention of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization invokes the principle of United Nation charter to help clock the organization’s founding document with international legitimacy identifying all three equal threats to state security, public order and the safety of citizen. The member states also have commitment to share information about terrorist activities and threats and to make request to act against individuals or organization. Subsequent declaration of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and agreements of the member states have simply added to the list of principles and their responsibilities. Since the surveillance of new technology the member states moved beyond the simple method of information exchange to best practice of monitoring and tackling.

On the other hand, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization has had very little achievements to strength domestic security despite the convergence of member states. The RATS (Regional Anti-Terrorism Structure) based in Tashkent Uzbekistan has been coordinating to combat these three evils Terrorism, Extremism, Separation). The RATS provides a platform and services to member states particularly Central Asian States of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan for sharing intelligence but it made very little progress. Furthermore the RATS shares intelligence with member states but the terrorist threats are increasing.

Since the SCO framed, the high hopes of diplomatic relations, effective economic and security cooperation were made by the founding members. It was also expected that the organization may bring regional cohesion to Central Asia and it would create great opportunities for the regional states of mutual trade and economic activities, and it will lead towards security promotion of the region. The founding partners of the SCO had ambitious plan for the transforming the organization in to a cohesive bloc with political and economic integration. There was also a hope that the organization may counter influence of EAEU and CSTO and will maintain its own influence in the region. But Russia wanted to dilute Chinese influence within the organization by advocating its expansion in to south Asia and other neighboring states.The SCO has organized many joint military exercises and efforts but could get any significant level of achievements because they were symbolic and political moves. To encounter any kind of security crisis and military operation in the region, there is a need of political logistical and operational system. For example during the unrest in Kyrgyzstan in 2010, the organization delivered an anodyne statement for peace; security and stability, additionally, China and Russia were hesitating to get involved. While, the other states and powers tried to play their role to tackle the crisis.

China and Russia are the primary drivers of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization but have different visions for this organization. Although they share common interest of regional stability within the organization but at the same time their geopolitical interests pull them in different directions. These differences are a big question mark, how the organization would achieve their objective and would evolve?  Russia thinks of SCO as a security to prevent encroachment by outside powers NATO, UE and United States, and also a tool to maintain its geopolitical domination on the region and less than a partnership in Central Asia.

 Since the post-cold war, the economic imbalance has increased between China and Russia. China is increasing its economic influence in Central Asia while Russia is worrying about its security issues. Moscow hopes that the Pakistan and Indian including in Shanghai Cooperation Organization may bind Beijing to more work for the security and stability of the region than to enhance its own economic influence in the region. As the issues of uncertainty in Afghanistan, Pakistan-India confrontation and instability on China-India border are a clear threat to the interests of all member states. China is also suspected about the Russian ability to act as the security manager in an area where china has invested and is investing billions of dollars. On the other hand, Beijing may not be able rely on extra regional powers to secure and prevent Central Asia from the security deteriorated environment. However, SCO has not made any mechanism or approach to play a decisive security role in Afghanistan post withdrawal United States and NATO force.

China thinks that economic activities and investment can mitigate instability. Shanghai Cooperation Organization also a tool to promote Chinese soft power and economic influence in Central Asia. Therefore, Beijing has been continued its investment in the region and through OBOR and SCO. Although the Central Asian States are receptive to these Chinese overture but they are also keen to prevent SCO to become an anti-western bloc because the states feel the need of Western powers to counterbalance their powerful neighbors. Moscow already has upended its relationship with West over the Ukraine issue, thus, in these circumstances; Russia has no other choice to acquiesce Chinese increasing economic influence in the region. Moscow may pull itself from the Chinese efforts to multiply its security role in the region. The current clash on border between China-India put Russia in to awkward position. Russia does not like tension between China and India but it suggests dialogues and appears to have little interest mediating. Russia never wanted that China convert SCO in to an economic and trade bloc while China never wanted that Russia transform the organization into a military alliance. It is hard to imagine that Shanghai Cooperation Organization may be able to deliver its original goals eradicate extremism, terrorism and separation through mutual cooperation because it appears with the major focus on economic integration across the Eurasian region.

Now the Shanghai Cooperation Organization is coexisting with other regional initiatives like OBOR, AIIB, CSTO and EAEU. Both China and Russia have expressed their intentions to work within these institutions.     Since the formation, the SCO is facing many structural and organizational challenges. All members have their own interests and values of independence and sovereignty, which are difficult to reconcile with collective security particular Pakistan and India, China and India have mutual mistrust and all Central States also have territorial issues with one another.  

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Possibility of an alliance in Sino-Russian Relations

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The defense ministers’ meeting of NATO member states was held in video format a few days ago (17/2/2021). During the period, the discussion focused on the topic of “China-Russia threat” and believed that a “global approach” should be adopted to curb China-Russia expansion.” At the same time, this meeting also attracted widespread attention from outsiders.

Senior Russian researcher, Vasily Kashin published an article in which he emphasized that when there is a risk of military conflict with the United States, China and Russia should immediately form a military alliance. And share the missile early warning data collected by themselves.

According to the article, Sino-Russian military technology cooperation has always been quite secretive, and because Russian companies have participated in the development of China’s ballistic missile early warning system, China and Russia are fully able to establish data sharing on this basis and establish their own global Missile defense network. Russian media subsequently reported on it and said that Russia has repeatedly proposed the formation of a Sino-Russian military alliance, and even President Putin himself has conveyed the idea of ​​an alliance with China.

It should be noted that the containment and suppression of China and Russia by Western countries do not stop there. To provoke the territorial sovereignty of China and Russia, US aircraft and warships have already on the doorstep of China and Russia, carrying out under the banner of freedom of navigation (FON).

Intensive reconnaissance activities, this behavior has seriously threatened the national security of China and Russia but also undermined global peace and stability. To build a global encirclement of China, the United States is also actively wooing other countries to join its anti-China front in an attempt to reorganize the eight-nation coalition forces to contain China.

It can be said that Western countries are pressing on with China and Russia step by step. As the US continues to escalate its suppression, the security situation around China and Russia will deteriorate again in the future, and the two sides may even break out head-on conflict.

Faced with the complex situation in the Indo-Pacific, China and Russia also need to strengthen cooperation in the field of national defense. After all, the two countries are originally a comprehensive strategic partnership of cooperation in the new era. In recent years, the strategic mutual trust between the two sides has been deepening and several rounds of military exercises have been jointly conducted.

Therefore, the opinions of Russian experts are in line with the future development trend of Sino-Russian relations. As a friendly country, Sino-Russian relations will only continue to develop for the better, and the possibility of China and Russia forming a military alliance in the future is not ruled out. The Chinese people also have extremely high expectations for the future direction of Sino-Russian relations. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi once stated that Sino-Russian cooperation “has no end, no restricted zone, and no upper limit” (2/1/2020).

Foreign media believe that this means China’s non-aligned position or non-alignment Applying the Sino-Russian relationship again means that Wang Yi recognized the possibility of China and Russia forming a military alliance. Both China and Russia are peace-loving world powers and have always been committed to maintaining the peace and stability of the regional situation.

Therefore, even if a military alliance is concluded in the future, they will never follow a hegemonic line. In the final analysis, how China and Russia cooperate depends on changes in the international situation. Instead of worrying about the “threat” brought by the rise of China and Russia, Western countries should stop deteriorating the regional situation and work with China and Russia to maintain world peace and stability. Otherwise, this “heart disease” will never be eliminated.

It is worth noting that the Western countries, led by the United States, have a very playful attitude towards Sino-Russian cooperation. They have been using various means to sow discord between China and Russia in an attempt to prevent the establishment of a Sino-Russian military alliance.

However, the continuous deepening of cooperation between China and Russia is a historical development. The inevitable result of this is that no matter how obstructed by Western countries, Sino-Russian relations will continue to develop for the better, without any interference from external forces.

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The world arms sales market

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New data from SIPRI’s Arms Industry Database, released last December, show that arms sales by the world’s twenty-five largest defence equipment and military services companies totalled 361 billion dollars in 2019. This is an 8.5% increase in real terms in arms sales compared to 2018. All this emerged from the studies by the Stockholm-based International Peace Research Institute founded in 1966.

In 2019 the top five arms companies were all based in the United States: Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon and General Dynamics. These five companies together recorded 166 billion dollars in annual sales. In total, twelve U.S. companies rank among the top 25 for 2019, accounting for 61% of total sales.

For the first time, a Middle East company appears in the top twenty-five. Edge, based in the United Arab Emirates, was established in 2019 from the merger of over twenty-five smaller companies. It ranks twenty-second and accounts for 1.3% of the total arms sales of the top twenty-five companies. This demonstrates that oil revenues in the Near and Middle East are also invested in businesses that produce jobs and money, and are not just accumulated for the personal expenses of the ruling elite. Edge is an example of how high domestic demand for military products and services, combined with the desire to become less dependent on foreign suppliers, is driving the growth of arms companies in the Near and Middle East.

Another newcomer to the top twenty-five list in 2019 was L3Harris Technologies (ranking tenth). It was created by the merger of two U.S. companies that were both in the top twenty-five in 2018, namely Harris Corporation and L3 Technologies.

The top twenty-five list also includes four Chinese companies. Three of them are in the top ten: Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC, ranking sixth), China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC, ranking eighth) and China North Industries Group Corporation (Norinco, ranking ninth).

The combined revenue of the four Chinese companies in the top 25 list, which also includes China South Industries Group Corporation (CSGC, ranking twenty-fourth), grew by 4.8% between 2018 and 2019. Chinese arms companies are benefiting from the People’s Liberation Army’s military modernisation programmes.

Conversely, the revenues of the two Russian companies in the top twenty-five, namely Almaz-Antey and United Shipbuilding, declined between 2018 and 2019, for a combined total amount of 634 million dollars. A third Russian company, United Aircraft, lost 1.3 billion dollars in sales and dropped off the top 25 list in 2019. Domestic competition and reduced government spending on modernising the Russian Navy were two of the main challenges for United Shipbuilding in 2019.

After the United States, the People’s Republic of China recorded the second largest share of 2019 arms sales by the top twenty-five companies, accounting for 16%.

The six Western European companies together account for 18%. The two Russian companies in the ranking account for 3.9%. Nineteen of the top twenty-five arms companies increased arms sales in 2019 compared to 2018. The largest absolute increase in arms sales revenue was recorded by Lockheed Martin: 5.1 billion dollars (11% in real terms). The largest percentage increase in annual arms sales (105%) was reported by French manufacturer Dassault Aviation Group. A strong increase in export deliveries of Rafale fighter aircraft pushed Dassault Aviation into the top 25 arms companies for the first time.

The Sipri report also examines the international presence of the 15 largest arms companies in 2019. These companies are present in a total of 49 countries, through majority-owned subsidiaries, joint ventures and research facilities. With a global presence in 24 countries each, Thales and Airbus are the two most internationalised companies, followed closely by Boeing (21 countries), Leonardo (21 countries) and Lockheed Martin (19 countries).

The United Kingdom, Australia, the United States, Canada and Germany host the largest number of these companies.

Outside the North American and Western European arms industries, the largest number of foreign corporate entities is hosted by Australia (38), Saudi Arabia (24), India (13), Singapore (11), United Arab Emirates (11) and Brazil (10).

There are many reasons why arms companies might want to establish themselves abroad, including better access to growing markets, collaborative arms programmes or policies in host countries that link arms purchases to technology transfers.

Of the 49 countries hosting foreign industries in the top 15 arms companies, seventeen countries are low- and middle-income ones. Southern countries seeking to restart their arms production programmes have welcomed foreign arms companies as a means for benefiting from technology transfers.

Chinese and Russian arms companies in the top 15 list have only a limited international presence. Sanctions against Russian companies and government limits on takeovers by Chinese companies seem to have played a role in limiting their global presence.

All these data were collected by the Sipri Arms Industry Database founded in 1989. At that time, it excluded data for companies in Eastern European socialist countries, including the Soviet Union. The updated version contains 2015 data, including data for companies in the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation. An archive of the first one hundred data sets for the period 2002-2018 is available on the Sipri website (www.sipri.org), while for the first twenty-five ones it has been updated with the latest available information.

Arms sales are defined as sales of military goods and services to military customers at national and international levels. Unless otherwise stated, all changes are expressed in real terms. Comparisons (e.g. between 2018 and 2019 or between 2015 and 2019) are based on the groups of companies listed in the respective year (i.e. the comparison is between different groups of companies).

For 2020-2021, Sipri is releasing its dataset on arms sales of the world’s largest companies along with the results of a mapping on the internationalisation of this industry. For this reason, a new dataset was created, including 400 subsidiaries, joint ventures and research facilities linked to the top fifteen arms companies in 2019. Data sources included corporate investment documents, information on company websites, public records and newspaper and magazine articles.

To be included in the mapping, an arms industry must have been active for the majority of its fiscal year, as well as be located in a country other than that in which its parent company is headquartered and also (i) produce military goods or provide military services to military customers; (ii) produce or provide services for dual-use goods to military customers.

This is the first of the key data handovers in view of the publication of the next Sipri Yearbook in mid-2021. Before that, Sipri will release its data on international arms transfers (details of all major international arms transfers in 2020), as well as its data on global military expenditure (comprehensive information on global, regional and national trends in military expenditure). We will inform readers of all this in due course.

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