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The end of START – global consequences

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Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has made it clear that «the future of START-3 Treaty is foregone». During an online session of the Primakov Readings the minister pointed out that «it looks like the United States has already taken a decision not to prolong the treaty». What is meant is, in the first place, the US persistent attempts to turn two-party talks into three-party ones, with the participation of China. How dangerous is Washington’s reluctance to remain committed to strategic nuclear reduction?

Since the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty ceased to exist at Trump’s initiative in August last year,  START-3 has been the only bilateral agreement between Russia and the USA which puts restrictions on the two countries’ nuclear missile potentials. START-3, signed in 2010, expires in February 2021. Under the conditions of the Treaty, it can be extended for another five years without resorting to the procedure of obtaining the approval of the two countries’ parliaments. This is particularly essential given the current confrontation between the Democrats and Republicans in the US Congress.

At present, the Russian Federation and the United States have three options to deal with strategic nuclear weapons: to prolong START-3, work out a new agreement, or suspend, for some time, any negotiations on strategic weapons restrictions. Both parties understand that the current state of bilateral relations leaves little hope of coming to agreement over a short period of time and without preparation. Meanwhile, prolongation of START-3 for five years would give Moscow and Washington extra time, a “strategic lull” of sorts, during which both countries would be able to maintain the high level, if not trust, then of awareness of each other’s policies on such an important issue as strategic stability.

In June, Russia and the US held talks in Vienna on the possibility of control and extension of START-3. The two sides agreed to continue consultations I the Austrian capital at the end of July – at the beginning of August. However, the course towards the destruction of the existing system of weapons control, which took upper hand in the US policy long before the arrival of Trump, leaves little hope of seeing the Treaty extended in the future. 

According to Russia’s former Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov, after the disintegration of the USSR, the US «felt the winner and openly proclaimed a departure from international agreements which, in the opinion of several US administrations, could tie US hands on the international scene, or in other  words, stand in the way of US attempts to establish its domineering position all over the world». In the area of strategic stability, the United States first initiated the elimination of START, then – of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. Washington «did its utmost to stop NATO countries from ratifying the modified version of the Conventional Armed Forces in Europe Treaty». The United States «evaded a constructive dialogue on other areas of weapons control». Given this, START-3 became «more of an exception».

The US administration insists that negotiations on the reduction of nuclear weapons should be necessarily joined by China. Only in this case, Washington says, it would make sense to assume “restrictions and commitments” yet again.  The United States is thereby trying to put forward its own conditions: either a three-party nuclear agreement between Moscow, Washington and Beijing, or a complete rejection of any commitments in the sphere of nuclear weapons. «Beijing rejects the idea». Moscow is interested in the prolongation of START-3 “without preliminary conditions”, Vladimir Putin pointed out repeatedly. 

Throughout his presidency, Donald Trump has pursued a policy which is aimed, he says, at “ridding” America of “unwanted” commitments. Nevertheless,  in the case of START-3, the true motives of the Trump administration cause disputes among observers. The Treaty enjoys wide-ranging support amidst the US expert community, while the White House’s intention to necessarily involve China is seen by many American observers as «unrealistic».

In all likelihood, what is meant is a tactical intention to first please the voters, many of which share Trump’s opinion that America “has taken too many commitments” over the past decades. And then, in case of reelection of the incumbent president, the next move will be to clinch “the best deal of all possible”. Some optimists still hope that a consistent refusal of the current administration to sign weapons control and strategic weapons reduction treaties, first of all, the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty and the Treaty on Open Skies, is all but collecting “the best cards” “for bargaining” over new agreements.

As it seems, the Trump administration expects to get geopolitical dividends irrespective of what scenario talks on strategic offensive weapons will follow. 

Clearly visible are Washington’s attempts to provoke Moscow into taking radical steps in response, which it could then use as a new justification of “consolidation” for NATO and the West as a whole.

Also visible is the economic reasons behind measures to destroy the system of strategic stability: unavoidable, though forced, retaliatory steps by Russia will be described as “aggressive plans” and the reaction to these plans will have to involve an increase of military spending on the part of Washington’s allies. In the first place, it will spill into purchasing costly US-made systems which are designed to “offset” the non-existent “threat from Moscow”.

Apparently, Washington plans to benefit from the situation even if Europe refuses to be dependent on the US interests and chooses to move in the direction of a more resolute and independent policy concerning the buildup of military potential. If that is the case, the US may attempt to worsen the EU split by making countries that are ready to partake in Washington’s strategic arms race hostile towards those that understood the danger and futility of such a policy back in the days of the Cold War.

Washington’s reasons for demanding that “Beijing join the agreements between Washington and Moscow on weapons control” appear questionable. On the one hand, in terms of military might, the United States expresses concern over China’s nuclear potential. Speaking at the Hudson Institute in May last year the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency Robert Ashley pointed out that in 2018 China carried out more ballistic missile tests than the rest of the world taken together. According to General Ashley, China is likely to double its nuclear arsenal over the next ten years. But this is only «highly likely».

On the other hand, everyone knows that “the key priority of the Donald Trump administration in foreign policy is to contain China, both as an economic and a military superpower». There are grounds to assume that having reasonable doubts about its ability to subdue China in global competition, Trump opted for dragging China into the costly nuclear missile race. Particularly since in the  conditions of the global corona crisis, the economic instruments of pressure that the US has at its disposal are rapidly  losing their power. The top priority is to impose on Beijing a zugzwang, in which it will be forced to make a choice between the logic of economic development and «the logic of geopolitical confrontation», between reforms and «security and control priorities». Washington expects to put China in such a position where it will have to react to the rate and scope of an arms race imposed by a rich opponent.

Finally, the intention to destroy the global strategic stability framework bears the cynical expectations to sow seeds of distrust between Beijing and Moscow. US political and expert circles believe that Moscow, like Washington, is concerned about the fact that China, having signed none of the existing agreements on weapons reduction, is building up its missile arsenals without any restrictions. Thus, by provoking China into boosting its missile arsenals, it will be possible to “sell” Moscow a threat to global strategic stability on the basis of the assumption that none of the  three nuclear powers can maintain parity with the combined potentials of the other two.

But Beijing has already given it to understand that it is fully aware of Washington’s intentions. At the beginning of July Director of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Arms Control Department Fu Cong said that «China is ready to enter three-party weapons control talks with the US and Russia if the United States agrees to cut its nuclear arsenals to the level of  China». The Chinese Foreign Ministry also urged the United States to give a positive answer to Russia’s proposal to prolong START-3. This would create «conditions for the participation of other nuclear states in nuclear disarmament talks».

In addition, any attempts at “rationally” calculating hypothetical layouts and new configurations of forces among nuclear powers become useless because it is impossible to foresee the scope of destabilizing consequences of the  collapse of START-3 for international security as a whole. According to Alexey Arbatov of the Russian Academy of Sciences, elimination of START-3 will jeopardize the entire system of international treaties on nuclear weapons, including the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty and the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons. As recently as at the end of last year the United States made an attempt to question the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty. And since one of the main principles of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons is contained in Article 6, which deals with nuclear disarmament, «in the event the treaty flops, even if a chain reaction of pulling out of the treaty does not start, the treaty will lose its value. No one will attend these conferences, no one will observe IAEA guarantees, so the system risks falling to pieces very quickly».

In Asia, in case of China entering a strategic arms race with America, such leading powers as Japan, South Korea and Australia, may choose to take independent decisions in the area of strategic security. The strengthening of China’s strategic potential, particularly amid the new deterioration of bilateral relations, is bound to cause response action from India. This, in turn, will lead to a change of Pakistan’s nuclear policy. The most dramatic scenario in this case would be a nuclear arms race in Asia Pacific Region. 

Thus, the multiplying hints by the United States at its desire to pull out of START-3 signals Washington’s readiness to blatantly abandon a nuclear dialogue as such. The looming threat of non-prolongation of START-3 creates conditions for the destruction of the established global strategic stability regime. Considering the present state of Chinese-American relations, in case of a new arms race, this time between the United States and China, the prospects of the two countries entering a meaningful dialogue in military and strategic sphere appear vague, to say the least.

At last, the cessation, or suspension of START-3, would mean disappearance of a unique legally binding mechanism of mutual control. Without such a mechanism the dialogue on nuclear disarmament will suffer a dramatic setback. This means that not only Russia and the United States, but any other countries willing to hold talks on the restriction or reduction of nuclear weapons will have to start the whole process from scratch.

From our partner International Affairs

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Test of Agni Prime Missile and India’s Counterforce Temptations

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South Asia is widely regarded as one of the most hostile regions of the world primarily because of the troubled relations between the two nuclear arch-rivals India and Pakistan. The complex security dynamics have compelled both the countries to maintain nuclear deterrence vis-à-vis each other. India is pursuing an extensive and all-encompassing military modernization at the strategic and operational level. In this regard, India has been involved in the development of advanced missiles as delivery systems and improvement in the existing delivery systems as well. Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent and delivery systems are solely aimed at India; however, India aspires to fight a ‘two-front war’ against Pakistan and China. Therefore, the size and capability of its nuclear deterrent and delivery systems are aimed at countering both threats. However, most of the recent missile delivery systems made by India appear to be more Pakistan-centric. One recent example in this regard is the recently tested nuclear-capable cannisterized ballistic missile Agni Prime, which is insinuated as Pakistan-centric. These developments would likely further provoke an action-reaction spiral and would increase the pace of conflict in South Asia, which ultimately could result in the intensification of the missile arms race.

Just quite recently, on 28th June 2021, India has successfully tested an advanced variant of its Agni missile series, namely Agni Prime or Agni (P). The missile has a range between 1000-2000 kilometers. Agni Prime is a new missile in the Agni missiles series, with improved accuracy and less weight than Agni 1, 2, and 3 missiles. It has been said that the Agni-P weighs 50 % less than the Agni-3 missile. As per the various media reports, this missile would take the place of Agni 1 and 2 and Prithvi missiles, however officially no such information is available. This new missile and whole Agni series is developed as part of the missile modernization program under the Defence Research and Development Organization’s (DRDO) integrated guided missile development program. 

Agni-P is a short missile with less weight and ballistic trajectory, the missile has a rocket-propelled, self-guided strategic weapons system capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear warheads. Moreover, the missile is cannisterized with the ability to be launched from road and rail. The DRDO claimed that the test flight of the missile was monitored by the telemetry radar stations and its trajectory met all the objectives of the mission successfully with high level of accuracy. Agni-P missile because of its range of 1000 to 2000 km is considered a weapon against Pakistan because within this range it cannot target China. Although, India already has different missiles in its inventory with the same range as the newly developed and tested Agni-P missile, so the question arises what this missile would achieve. 

Since the last few years, it has been deliberated within the international security discourse that India’s force posture is actually more geared towards counterforce options rather than counter-value options. Although, India’s nuclear doctrine after its operationalization in 2003, claims  “massive retaliation” and “nfu” but in reality with developing cannisterized weapons like Agni-P, Agni 5, and testing of hypersonic demonstrative vehicles, India actually is building its capability of “counterforce targeting” or “splendid first strike”. This reflects that India’s nuclear doctrine is just a façade and has no real implication on India’s force modernization.

These developments by India where it is rapidly developing offensive technologies put the regional deterrence equation under stress by increasing ambiguity. In a region like South Asia, where both nuclear rivals are neighbors and distance between both capitals are few thousand kilometers and missile launch from one side would take only a few minutes in reaching its target, ambiguity would increase the fog of war and put other actors, in this case, Pakistan in “use it or lose it” situation, as its nuclear deterrent would be under threat.

In such a situation, where Pakistan maintains that nuclear weapons are its weapons of last resort and to counter threats emerging from India, its nuclear deterrence has to hold the burden of covering all spectrums of threat. It might be left with no choice but to go for the development of a new kind of missile delivery system, probably the cannisterized missile systems as an appropriate response option. However, as Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence is based on principle of “CMD” which allow Pakistan to seek deterrence in a cost-effective manner and also by not indulging in an arms race. Therefore, other than the threat of action-reaction dynamic developments like Agni P by India, would make weapons more accurate and lethal, subsequently conflict would be faster, ambiguous, and with less time to think. In such a scenario, as chances of miscalculation increase, the escalation dynamics would become more complex; thus, further undermining the deterrence stability in South Asia.

India’s counter-force temptations and development of offensive weapons are affecting the deterrence equilibrium in South Asia. The deterrence equation is not getting affected just because India is going ahead with the development of offensive technologies but because of its continuous attempts of negating the presence of mutual vulnerability between both countries. Acknowledgement of existence of mutual vulnerability would strengthen the deterrence equation in the region and help both countries to move forward from the action-reaction spiral and arms race. The notions such as the development of offensive or counterforce technology or exploiting the levels below the nuclear threshold to fight a war would not be fruitful in presence of nuclear weapons. As nuclear weapons are weapons to avert the war and not to fight the war.

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Unmanned Aircraft Systems & The Annihilistic Future

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The unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly known as drones were introduced as a useful means to military, commercial, civilian and humanitarian activities but yet it ends up in news for none of its original purposes. Drones have rather resulted as a means of mass destruction.

The recent attacks on the technical area of the Jammu Air Force Station highlights the same. This was a first-of-its-kind terror attack on IAF station rather the Indian defence forces that shook the National Investigation Agency to National Security Guard. The initial probe into the attacks directs to involvement of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a terrorist group based out of Pakistan, in the drone attacks as the aerial distance from the point of attack was just 14 kilometers. The attacks took place via an Electric multi-rotor type drone between 11:30 P.M to 1:30 A.M on 27th June, 2021.

The above incident clearly points out the security issues that lie ahead of India in face to the asymmetrical warfare as a result of drones. The Indian Government after looking at the misuse of drones during the first wave of the pandemic realised that its drone regulations were nowhere sufficient and accountable and hence passed the Unmmaned Aircraft Rules, 2021. These rules imposed stricter requirement for obtaining license and authorisations by remote pilots, operators, manufacturers or importers, training organisations and R&D organisations, thereby placing a significantly high burden on the applicants but at the same time they also permit UAS operations beyond visual sight of line and allowing student remote pilots to operate UAS.

But these rules still don’t have any control on the deadly use of drones because multi-rotor drones are very cheap and readily available and what makes them lethal is their ability to be easily detected, additionally the night time makes it even worse. Their small size grants them weak radar, thermal, and aural signatures, albeit varying based on the materials used in their construction.

The pertinent issue to be understood here is that these rules can never ensure safety and security as they cannot control the purpose for which these drones maybe used. There are certain factors that are to be accounted to actually be receptive to such imminent and dangerous threats. Firstly, significantly increasing urban encroachments  in areas around defence establishments, particularly air bases, has proved to be fatal. If frontline bases like Jammu or be it any other base when surrounded by unbuffered civilization poses two pronged problems, first it acts as high chances of being a vantage point for possible attackers and second, it also hampering the defence mechanism to come to an action. It is not limited to drone concerns but there have been cases of increased bird activity that has once resulted in engine failure of an IAF Jaguar and has caused similar problems all along.

Another important factor is that of intelligence. The Anti-drone systems will take their time to be in place and it is still a distant call to ascertain how effective will these systems be, so in the time being it is pertinent to focus on intelligence which may include sales and transfers of commercial drone, or the hardware that is required to build a basic multi-rotor drone. These are not something extraordinary because it is even in news when Pakistani drones were being used to supply weapons and ammunition to terror networks on Indian soil. Also, the past experience in handling ISIS have shown the weightage of intelligence over defensive nets.

Intelligence is no doubt a crucial factor in anticipation of drone attacks but what cannot be done away with is the defense mechanism. Efficient counter-drone technology is the need of the hour. DRDO has developed such technology that could provide the armed forces with the capability to swiftly detect, intercept and destroy small drones that pose a security threat. It is claimed that solution consists of a radar system that offers 360-degree coverage with detection of micro drones when they are 4km away, electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors for detection of micro drones up to 2 km and a radio frequency (RF) detector to detect RF communication up to 3 km and is equipped for both soft kills as well as hard kills.

Hence, the above analysis brings out the need of the application of an international instrument because the technology used in such drone attacks is at an evolving stage and the natural barriers still have an upper hand over be it either flying a pre-programmed path aided by satellite navigation and inertial measurement units (IMUs), or hand controlled to the point of release or impact, both methods have significant limitations as satellite and IMU navigation is prone to errors even when it comes to moderate flight ranges while manual control is subject to the human limitations such as line of sight, visibility as well as technical limitations such as distance estimation of the target, and weak radio links. An example of this could be the Turkish-made Kargu-2 model of killer drone can allegedly autonomously track and kill specific targets on the basis of facial recognition and Artificial Intelligence (AI). As the AI becomes better and better, these drone attacks become more and more terminal.

The recent COVID-19 pandemic is an eye opener for India as well as the world as none of the countries considered the possibility of bio-defenses or made a heavy investment in it even when there was awareness about lethal effects of genetic engineering. Hence, it should be the priority of the government to invest heavily in research and make the development of defensive technologies a national priority else the result of artificially intelligent killer drones would be much more catastrophic.

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Russia’s National Security Strategy: A Manifesto for a New Era

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The central feature of the new strategy is its focus on Russia itself. The Russian leadership has every reason right now to turn homeward to address the glaring weaknesses, imbalances, and inequalities of the country’s internal situation.

Russia’s new, forty-four-page National Security Strategy signed by President Vladimir Putin on July 2 is a remarkable document. It is much more than an update of the previous paper, adopted in 2015. Back then, relations with the West had already sharply deteriorated as a result of the Ukraine crisis, but were still considered salvageable; much of the liberal phraseology inherited from the 1990s was still in use; and the world still looked more or less unified. The current version of arguably the most important Kremlin strategy statement—covering not only national security issues, but a whole range of others, from the economy to the environment, and values to defense—is a manifesto for a different era: one defined by the increasingly intense confrontation with the United States and its allies; a return to traditional Russian values; and the critical importance for Russia’s future of such issues as technology and climate.

The strategy lays out a view of a world undergoing transformation and turmoil. The hegemony of the West, it concludes, is on the way out, but that is leading to more conflicts, and more serious ones at that. This combination of historical optimism (the imminent end of Western hegemony) and deep concern (as it is losing, the West will fight back with even more ferocity) is vaguely reminiscent of Stalin’s famous dictum of the sharpening of the class struggle along the road to socialism. Economically, Russia faces unfair competition in the form of various restrictions designed to damage it and hold it back; in terms of security, the use of force is a growing threat; in the realm of ethics, Russia’s traditional values and historical legacy are under attack; in domestic politics, Russia has to deal with foreign machinations aimed at provoking long-term instability in the country. This external environment fraught with mounting threats and insecurities is regarded as an epoch, rather than an episode.

Against this sobering background, the central feature of the strategy is its focus on Russia itself: its demographics, its political stability and sovereignty, national accord and harmony, economic development on the basis of new technologies, protection of the environment and adaptation to climate change, and—last but not least—the nation’s spiritual and moral climate. This inward focus is informed by history. Exactly thirty years ago, the Soviet Union collapsed just as its military power was at its peak, and not as a result of a foreign invasion. Having recently regained the country’s great power status and successfully reformed and rearmed its military, the Russian leadership has every reason now to turn homeward to address the glaring weaknesses, imbalances, and inequalities of the country’s internal situation.

The paper outlines a lengthy series of measures for dealing with a host of domestic issues, from rising poverty and continued critical dependence on imported technology to the advent of green energy and the loss of the Soviet-era technological and educational edge. This certainly makes sense. Indeed, the recent Kremlin discovery of climate change as a top-tier issue is a hopeful sign that Russia is overcoming its former denial of the problem, along with inordinately exuberant expectations of the promise of global warming for a predominantly cold country. After all, the Kremlin’s earlier embrace of digitalization has given a major push to the spread of digital services across Russia.

The strategy does not ignore the moral and ethical aspects of national security. It provides a list of traditional Russian values and discusses them at length. It sees these values as being under attack through Westernization, which threatens to rob the Russians of their cultural sovereignty, and through attempts to vilify Russia by rewriting history. In sum, the paper marks an important milestone in Russia’s official abandonment of the liberal phraseology of the 1990s and its replacement with a moral code rooted in the country’s own traditions. Yet here, the strategy misses a key point at the root of Russia’s many economic and social problems: the widespread absence of any values, other than purely materialistic ones, among much of the country’s ruling elite. The paper mentions in passing the need to root out corruption, but the real issue is bigger by an order of magnitude. As each of President Putin’s annual phone-in sessions with the Russian people demonstrates—including the most recent one on June 30—Russia is governed by a class of people who are, for the most part, self-serving, and do not care at all for ordinary people or the country, instead focusing single-mindedly on making themselves rich on the job. Money—or rather Big Money—has become that group’s top value, and the most corrosive element in today’s Russia. Therein lies perhaps the biggest vulnerability of modern Russia.

On foreign policy, the strategy is fairly elliptic, but it gives a hint of what the upcoming Foreign Policy Concept might include. The United States and some of its NATO allies are now officially branded unfriendly states. Relations with the West are de-prioritized and those countries ranked last in terms of closeness, behind former Soviet countries; the strategic partners China and India; non-Western institutions such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, BRICS, and the Russia-India-China trio; and other Asian, Latin American, and African countries. In addition to U.S. military deployments and its system of alliances, U.S.-based internet giants with their virtual monopoly in the information sphere, and the U.S. dollar that dominates global finances are also seen as instruments of containing Russia.

Overall, the 2021 Russian National Security Strategy seeks to adapt the country to a still interconnected world of fragmentation and sharpening divisions, in which the main battle lines are drawn not only—and not even mostly—between countries, but within them. Victories will be won and defeats suffered largely on domestic turf. Accordingly, it is the Home Front that presents the greatest challenges, and it is there that the main thrust of government policies must be directed.

From our partner RIAC

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