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Gray Zone Conflicts in Asia Pacific



The Asia Pacific region holds front row seat in geo-political, economic, and strategic issues in international relations. The pivot to Asia policy of the west following shift of economic and technological base from the Atlantic to the Pacific region which tends to challenge and shift the global balance of power, western led international democratic system, following the economic rise of China. Thus, the emerging challenge put west in a precarious situation in which they felt to defend their hegemony and control over the region. For this purpose the west mainly US called upon using is diplomatic, economic and military elements of national power to contain the rise of China and maintain its hegemony over the region. Thus, the emerging tug of war for power domination in the region have given rise to gray zone conflict in which both sides are engaged in disrupting activities in between the threshold of diplomatic norms and total war. Either it be ongoing trade war, diplomatic and political or military coercion to a level which is short off any direct engagement leading to war and carried out to acquire veiled national interests. Thus, to analyze the gray zone conflicts in the Asia Pacific we can analyze and unfolding increasing hostility in South China Sea region. The ongoing US-China Tariff wars, increase in military diplomacy by the US in Asia Pacific under containment of China policy, use of coercive diplomacy and sanctions by the actors involved. Thus, analyzing and taking these dimensions into consideration we can categorize the contemporary events and policies adopted by the major powers along the sidelines of gray zone tactics.

Gray Zone Conflict

The changing nature of warfare strategies are based on engaging the enemy with an indirect approach which is above the line of normal diplomatic practices and below the threshold of an all-out war. This scenario has been described by various scholars as a Gray Zone Conflict in the strategic studies lexicon which is  broad manner means the activities which are conducted beyond the steady state deterrence in an attempt to obtain security objectives without resorting to direct use of sizeable force in conventional manner. The actors involved use various tools ranging from political coercion, disinformation campaigns, political and economic coercion, cyber and space based operations and most importantly use of proxy and state controlled elements are used to carryout the gray zone tactics. The use of these tactics could also be accessed by the analyzing the following toolkits:

Information and Disinformation Information Operations:

Use of print, electronic and cyber media domains to manipulate and distort the information or spread disinformation to create confusion and perish the enemy’s will to resist by spreading propaganda and sowing doubt. US and China both have engaged in a constant disinformation campaign against each other in contemporary era where US is continuously propagating China as a revisionist and oppressive state which is engaged in oppressing Uyghur Muslims in Xingang region, shifting the regional population into re-education camps. US being wary of China’s economic rise and game changing project of BRI is persistent to sabotage China’s growing economic rise and for this purpose has excessively propagative that China’s BRI projects have hidden objectives based on their vague deals, debt trap policy which would exploit weak economic countries giving China exclusive access and control over the resources of the poor states. China on the other hand has recently revived its foreign policy approach and is actively engaged in countering allegations waged upon it in international media which Chinese used to avoid previously. Trump administration has continuously blamed China of involving of corrupt practices blaming it to cover up spread of Coronavirus Covid-19 as early as November 2019, while, the world came to know about it in January 2020 with help of bribing WHO which didn’t carried out its job and helped China in covering the issue, thus, Trump administration tried to hide its own incomitances by articulating this narrative.

Political Coercion:

The use of coercive instruments which can illicit or licit tools to affect and manipulate the decision making and political composition process within a state to reach for a desired outcome. China has over the years tried to assert its control over the Hong Kong which is currently being run under one state two systemspolicy. China recently changed its security and internal prosecution and extradition policies following which riots and civil unrest erupted in Hong Kong. According to Beijing the increase in civil unrest had been fueled by foreign elements mainly UK which is trying to instigate the current situation to increase political instability in the region. China has also openly criticized the role of US intelligence agencies mainly CIA in order to disrupt the political situation in Hong Kong. John Bolton in his memoirs have also accused Trump administration of colluding with Chinese CCP under Xi Jinping to assist Trump government in reelection in 2020 presidential campaign, a claim which is denied by both states. But this highlights the level of political coercion and manipulation among the major powers to acquire control and power.

Economic Coercion:

The use of coercive economic and financial tools, use of sanctions, illicit financing, effect the exchange rate, balance of trade of an adversary to achieve desired objective. US-China world leading military and economic powers were engaged in trade war during July 2018 when US imposed tariffs and restrictions upon imports from China as it felt threatened that its economy was engaged into unfair and unequal trade with China which also violated the intellectual property codes and conducted corporate espionage harming US industrial sector. US was suffering from over $ 336 billion trade deficit and over $566 billion net trade deficit. Thus, President Trump placed tariffs over Chinese imports and China retaliated in kind. In July 2018 Trump administration imposed 25% tariffs on $50-300 billion worth of imports from China and China as a result imposed 25% of US goods comprising $34-60 billion.

The emerging trade wars between US and China is not isolated only to the trade wars but has its implications infringed into complex global economic system which is interdependent and proportionally linked with the policies and economic decisions made by one state impact others directly. China’s economy during 2000 was barely at par with US until China became part of World Trade Organization WTO in 2001. This gave China exponential growth opportunities for building its export relations ships with other states resulting in 10-40% turn over ultimately making its GDP over $14.2 trillion second to US only which had a GDP of over $21.44 trillion. China accounts for 50% of global growth and 30% of global prospects. The economic tensions resulting from US-China trade wars amid the pandemic had negative impact on global economy.

The trade wars among major economic giants have impacted the global economic integration with impact on businesses not only in US and China but have placed the global economic fabric in a flux and tension. US initiated trade wars against China to destabilize its economy, bring back the industries and factories back to US mainland from China. But according to wall street journal in January 2019 reported that China’s trade surplus amounted to $ 323.32 billion following US tariffs implementations despite Trumps efforts to restrict imports from China. This highlights that the enormous amount of imports and control of global trade market by China has over shadowed the US attempts to impact it. But it had adverse impact on global economic growth as according to IMF world economic outlook report the global economic growth had decreased from 3.6% in 2018 to 3.3% in 2019 following US China trade wars.

 Due to the impositions of tariffs US economy faced a drop of 0.3% of its GDP while its real consumption decreased by 0.3% and private investment by 1.3%. The economic rift between US and China also caused the stock exchange market of US to lose investment and over 1000 points in foreign exchange in August 2019. In contrast China was able to withstand the impact following the economic battle with US due to its control over the world economic supply chain. Thus, giving an insight that the US was much more vulnerable and dependent upon Chinese economy for its normal economic growth and consistency in supply chain. Following this, the US retracted from its economic war and lower the tariffs on imports from China by reducing over 15% of its tariff from over $120 billion imports while maintaining a tariff ban of over 25% on $ 250 billion worth of goods import. In response China reduced tariffs over $75 billion import trade from US. Following the peace trade agreement both states will work on enhancing their economic cooperation, improve and carry out legislative trade reforms. Thus, analyzing this situation the complex economic interdependence had forced both major powers to retract from their aggressive economic posture and negotiate their way out as the survival for their economies depend upon relative gains approach.

Cyber Operations:

Use of cyber domain to wage attacks in cyber domain by hacking, using viruses, trojan attacks, attack critical infrastructure, carry out disruption in communication, distortion of information and manipulation of political processes using malicious malware in cyber domain. US and China have both engaged in organized cyber operations against each other. While US had blamed China for carrying out industrial and corporate espionage, intellectual property theft using cyber domain.  US has banned various Chinese electronic gadgets and devices, telecom giants and revamped its own technological coordination from China based upon allegations of espionage and intellectual property theft conducted by China. The recent ban on Chinese tech giant Huawei from US and arrest of its CEO from Toronto Canada has been made under this context.

Space Operation:

Outer Space has become a competing zone for major power actors and they are in constant friction to maintain their dominance and hegemony by disrupting the competitors position of advantage  by interfering in space-enabled services, equipment, communication and satellites data uplink procedures. Both China and US are actively engaged in claiming the cosmos for themselves. Space is considered the battlefield of the future, with major states including the USA, China, and Russia maintains a constellation of 1327, 263 and 192 respectively out of over 2666 satellites in space. The majority of satellites used by these states act as important ISR platforms, communication relay bases, with scientific and environmental applications. The USA is the first state which has inaugurated its space force as a separate armed force on 21 December 2019 with a hefty budget of over $1.4 trillion. These space forces are designated to perform three major functions in strategic military roles which are to collect ISR, enhance protected communication and protected data link within the command hierarchy and also to protect own space assets while destroying and targeting enemy space-based assets by using kinetic kill vehicles such as Anti-Satellite Weapons ASAT or directed energy weapons. Both China and US have developed orbital and space missions to outer space in which China has gained subsequent advancement which was marked by landing its spacecraft Chang’e 4 on dark side of the moon for the first time in history. China recently also launched its orbital and rover mission to Mars naming Tianwen-1 consisting of a lander, rover and an orbiter in a single space flight which is also a remarkable feat in itself.

Proxy Support:

Use of non-state, quasi state elements to wage or obtain military objective or control a certain territory to influence or achieve specific political outcomes.    

Provocation by State Controlled Proxies:

The use of paramilitary elements in conjunction with private entities while aiding and financing them to achieve certain interests through informal use of force. This also includes sabotage activities, clandestine intelligence operations and use of private military contractors which operate outside the realm of normal state control and authority. 

SCS is one of the major focal point of friction between  China and the West. The region is estimated to be a rich source of energy and natural resources, a major sea lane of communication with geo-strategic implications. China has been asserting its control over the region under its revisionist policies claiming on  historic suzerainty claims and 1948 nine-dash line. China has actively gained its control over the region by creating military bases on  artificial islands in Spratly and Paracel islands, carried out extensive geo-logical surveys for extracting resources in the region while rejecting the concerns of regional states by deploying Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2AD) strategy. While US has been actively engaged in enhancing its  diplomatic and military  cooperation with regional states to coerce China under the premise of Freedom of Navigation (FoN), increasing its military cooperation and carrying out routine naval and aerial patrols in the region. During May 270July 2020, US had carried out various air sorties of its strategic air command over the South China Sea and near Taiwan Strait in a blatant and blunt act of aggression and assertion against the Chinese A2AD and claims over SCS. China also had carried out month long naval exercises in the SCS region in response. US had also deployed strategic weapons in Okinawa, Japan and in South Korea by deploying Terminal High Altitude Area Defense THAAD, and Patroit Air Defense Systems (PAC) to keep China in check.  US has also enhanced its ambit of operations in the region by creating Indo-Pacific Command on May 30, 2018 which is under the area of responsibility of US 7th Fleet. Thus, the SCS have the potential to be a major flash point of confrontation between the major powers in the future if the brinkmanship has not been maintained by the either side if balance of power in the region is shifted. US also has engaged in Quadrilateral military partnership which include US, Australia, Japan and India. US had recently arrested and convicted a Chinese female PLA officer on charges of espionage and VISA fraud as she was working on cancer research in US on false identity along with three other people on similar charges.


In contemporary era various geo-strategic and political events are unfolding in Asia Pacific region. While, the major powers are trying to reinstate and assert their control, hegemony while the revisionist state is upon the verge of consolidating its own strength over the region to further counter and challenge the status quo. While the Thucydides trap is a prevailing phenomenon when we talk about the competition in Asia Pacific region. Thus, by observing the situation in the context of above mentioned toolkit that helps in analyzing the role of gray zone techniques, we can say that US and China is engaged in gray zone conflict in Asia Pacific region, where both actors are trying to avoid crossing the threshold of a conventional and total war and deterrence and perusing their veiled interests by engaging political, economic, cyber and space operations and proxies. The region is also engaged in a complex economic interdependence situation which tends to effect and impact the global economy in an adverse manner. The outcome for a major power competition as defined by Thucydides is based on a zero sum game / absolute gains, while such a scenario can emerge if both states are unable to maintain the brinkmanship and cross the threshold of total war based upon misconception and wrong interpretation of each others actions.

I am a keen reader of international relations and political studies with specific interest in low intensity conflicts.


Weaponizing Intelligence: How AI is Revolutionizing Warfare, Ethics, and Global Defense

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Is artificial intelligence the future of global warfare?” If you find that question compelling, consider this startling fact: The U.S. Army, by leveraging AI in its logistics services, has saved approximately $100 million from analyzing a mere 10% of its shipping orders. In an era defined by rapid technological advances, the marriage of artificial intelligence (AI) with military applications is shaping a new frontier. From AI-equipped anti-submarine warfare ships to predictive maintenance algorithms for aircraft, the confluence of AI and defense technologies is not only creating unprecedented capabilities but also opening a Pandora’s box of complex ethical and strategic questions.

As countries around the globe accelerate their investment in the militarization of AI, we find ourselves at a watershed moment that could redefine the very paradigms of global security, warfare ethics, and strategic operations. This article aims to dissect this intricate and evolving landscape, offering a thorough analysis of how AI’s ever-deepening integration with military applications is transforming the contours of future conflict and defense—across land, cyberspace, and even the far reaches of outer space.

AI on Land, Sea, and Air – A Force Multiplier

The evolution of AI in military applications is reshaping the traditional paradigms of land, sea, and air warfare. In the maritime realm, take DARPA’s Sea Hunter as an illustrative example—an unmanned anti-submarine warfare vessel that can autonomously patrol open waters for up to three consecutive months. This autonomous behemoth promises to revolutionize the cost metrics of naval operations, operating at a daily cost of less than $20,000 compared to $700,000 for a conventional manned destroyer. On land, the U.S. Army’s Advanced Targeting and Lethality Automated System (ATLAS) represents another significant leap. By incorporating AI into an automated ground vehicle, the military aims to accelerate target acquisition, reduce engagement time, and significantly lower the logistical and human costs associated with ground operations. The ATLAS program follows earlier attempts like the remotely controlled Military Utility Tactical Truck, essentially taking the next logical step toward full autonomy.

While the United States is making significant advancements in this arena, it is not alone. China’s autonomous Type 055 destroyers and Russia’s Uran-9 robotic combat ground vehicle are testaments to a global acceleration in AI-based military technologies. The international competition makes the ethical and strategic implications even more intricate

In the aerial domain, the fusion of AI with drones and combat aircraft is reaching new heights—quite literally. The Kratos UTAP-22 Mako Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV), powered by the Skyborg Autonomy Core System, recently underwent a 130-minute test flight where it demonstrated capabilities ranging from basic flight patterns to intricate combat tasks. This experiment lays the groundwork for the “Loyal Wingman” project—a system that allows a single human pilot to command multiple AI-powered drones, thus expanding the operational reach and impact of aerial units exponentially. Beyond singular platforms, AI is leading to the development of ‘swarm intelligence,’ where multiple autonomous units, whether they are drones, boats, or land vehicles, can work in concert, amplifying their capabilities beyond the sum of their individual parts.

As these AI applications manifest across different operational theaters, they serve as ‘force multipliers,’ amplifying the effectiveness of military assets without proportionately increasing the resources invested. They provide higher operational tempo, improve decision-making, and most critically, enhance the speed and accuracy of threat neutralization. However, the enhancement in operational effectiveness comes at the price of navigating complex ethical waters. Decisions that were once the sole purview of trained human operators are increasingly being delegated to algorithms, raising fundamental questions about accountability, the rules of engagement, and even the very nature of conflict.

Cyber Warfare and Information Operations – The Invisible Front

In the evolving landscape of military strategy, cyber warfare has transitioned from a futuristic concept to an immediate reality. The testimonies and actions of top military brass, including Admiral Michael Rogers, former commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, underscore a pressing need for integrating artificial intelligence (AI) into our cyber defensive and offensive operations. According to Rogers, the lack of machine-assisted predictive capabilities essentially puts us “behind the power curve.” This is not just a conceptual shift but a strategic imperative. The reactive cybersecurity paradigms of the past, characterized by a so-called “fortress mentality” of building digital walls, have faltered in the face of increasingly sophisticated attacks. It’s here that AI steps in as a force multiplier. By enabling a predictive form of cybersecurity that analyzes potential threats in real-time, AI shifts the balance from a defensive posture to proactive engagement. The DARPA Cyber Grand Challenge, which encouraged the creation of AI algorithms for real-time vulnerability assessment and patching, signaled an official acknowledgment of AI’s critical role in cyber defense. More to the point, The United States isn’t the only player focusing on AI in cyber warfare. Countries like Israel, China, and Russia are investing heavily in AI-based cybersecurity solutions. Russia’s focus on information warfare, in particular, presents an evolving challenge that AI aims to mitigate.

But the invisible front of cyber warfare is not just about repelling hacks or malware attacks; it’s also about the war on perception and truth. The emergence of AI-assisted deep fake technologies presents a profound challenge, morphing the battleground from just code and firewalls to the manipulation of reality itself. The incident involving U.S. Army Stryker vehicles in Lithuania in 2018 is a case in point, where deep fake technologies were deployed to manipulate public sentiment. While DARPA’s Media Forensics program aims to counterbalance this threat by advancing deep fake detection algorithms, the real concern is the adaptive nature of this technology. As AI-based deep fake creation techniques evolve, so must our detection capabilities, creating an endless loop of technological one-upmanship. This arms race in information warfare adds an entirely new dimension of complexity to military strategy.

The amalgamation of AI in cyber warfare and information operations isn’t merely an enhancement of existing systems but a radical transformation that augments and, in some cases, replaces human decision-making. This transition mandates not just technological adaptation but an ethical reevaluation of the principles governing warfare and security. In summary, AI isn’t an adjunct to the new age of cyber warfare and information operations; it’s a sine qua non—a necessity we can neither ignore nor underestimate.

Space and Beyond – The New Frontier in Defense and Security

The Space Force’s establishment by the United States in 2019 didn’t just signify the birth of a new military branch; it was a formal recognition of space as a contested theater where AI-driven technologies have serious geopolitical implications. In this evolving landscape, AI serves as both a facilitator and a disruptor. While it offers unparalleled capabilities in satellite management, from collision avoidance with floating space debris to optimizing the end-of-life of satellites, it also introduces a new set of vulnerabilities. China’s AI-driven simulation of space battles targeting high-value assets, such as SpaceX’s Starlink constellation, signals a worrisome development. This isn’t merely a rehearsal of theoretical combat scenarios; it’s an overt strategic move aimed at nullifying communication advantages facilitated by these satellite constellations.

Yet, the AI-driven militarization of space isn’t simply an extension of earthly geopolitics; it fundamentally alters the dynamics of warfare at an orbital level. China and Russia’s aggressive tests against high-value American satellites underscore the indispensable role of AI in developing real-time, autonomous countermeasures. With space assets becoming intrinsic to everything from communications to Earth observation, the AI capability to make split-second, data-driven decisions becomes invaluable. For instance, AI can not only preemptively analyze mechanical failures in satellites but also execute automated defensive counteractions against adversarial moves, potentially limiting or preventing damage. In essence, AI isn’t merely supplementing our existing capabilities in space; it’s rewriting the playbook on how we strategize, implement, and protect space-based assets. As such, the urgency for international norms to regulate this new battleground has never been greater. Without some form of oversight or control, the risk of a disproportionate escalation—a ‘space race’ in the most dangerous sense—becomes a looming possibility with wide-reaching consequences.

Can We Trust AI on the Battlefield? Ethical Fixes for Tomorrow’s Robo-Soldiers

Ethical Frameworks and Human-Centric Decision-Making

One of the most compelling ethical questions surrounding AI in military applications is the notion of decision-making, particularly where lethal force is involved. The debate here often oscillates between a “human-in-the-loop” versus fully autonomous systems. The assumption underpinning the human-in-the-loop model is that humans, endowed with higher-level ethical reasoning, should be the final arbiters in consequential decisions. It provides for diverse human perspectives and enables the AI to serve in an advisory capacity. However, relying solely on human judgment comes with its own set of ethical pitfalls. Humans possess inherent biases and cognitive flaws that can lead to suboptimal or even dangerous decisions, especially in high-stress military situations.

Testing, Transparency, and Explanation Facilities

Robust testing frameworks are another vital component for mitigating ethical issues. Given the complexity of AI software, especially machine-learning models, exhaustive testing is essential to minimize harmful mistakes or unintended lethal actions. However, conventional testing techniques like “fuzzing” are often inadequate for the dynamically learning nature of AI. Approaches like “cross-validation” offer a more robust testing environment for these evolving systems. This takes us to the realm of “explanation facilities,” tools designed to illuminate the reasoning pathways of AI algorithms. Explanations can help bridge the ethical chasm by providing transparency and legal justification. Yet, they remain challenging in the context of complex numerical calculations, like those made by artificial neural networks. Furthermore, sensitive or classified data may restrict the transparency of military algorithms, requiring a nuanced approach that respects both ethical and security imperatives.

Automated Ethical Reasoning and Bias Detection

Arguably, the most radical avenue for ethical improvement lies in automated ethical reasoning within the AI systems themselves. The idea is to integrate ethical principles directly into the AI’s decision-making algorithms. This could manifest as separate neural networks dedicated to assessing the potential harm to civilians in a given military operation. While these systems would require complex, probabilistic assessments, they offer the promise of objective, data-driven ethical reasoning that is free from the emotional and cultural biases that can skew human judgment. Simultaneously, robust algorithms for detecting and correcting biases—whether based on height, nationality, or other factors—can help in building AI systems that are both effective and ethical.

The increasing integration of AI in military and defense strategies is irreversible, yet there remains a substantial gap in our ethical comprehension of this complex relationship. While no single approach provides a silver bullet, a blend of human-centric models, robust testing frameworks, and automated ethical reasoning can pave the way for a more ethically sound AI-powered defense landscape.


In sum, the fusion of artificial intelligence with military applications is a double-edged sword that enhances capabilities while simultaneously raising moral and strategic dilemmas that cannot be easily resolved. Whether it’s optimizing traditional warfare on land, sea, and air, fortifying the invisible fronts in cyber and information spaces, or pushing the envelope in the uncharted territories of outer space, AI is both an enabler and a disruptor. It accelerates operational effectiveness but leaves us navigating a labyrinth of ethical, legal, and strategic implications.

The real challenge lies not in harnessing the powers of AI for military advancement but in governing its usage to prevent strategic imbalances and ethical lapses. This need for governance becomes more critical as we stand at the brink of an AI-induced transformation that could redefine the very nature of conflict and security. With the accelerating pace of AI militarization, the window for establishing ethical norms and international regulations is rapidly closing. It’s not just about who has the most advanced AI but about how we manage this transformative technology responsibly.

As the global competition intensifies over the integration of artificial intelligence into military operations, the focus must extend beyond merely adopting this technology. The critical issue at hand is not just whether AI will define the future of warfare, but how we can navigate this future in an ethical and responsible manner. This pivotal moment calls for a collective approach to decision-making that transcends individual national agendas. The decisions taken today are set to sculpt the geopolitical realities of tomorrow. Therefore, it’s imperative for policymakers, ethicists, and military experts to come together now to address the complex ethical and strategic dimensions of AI in warfare, before we reach an irreversible tipping point.

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U.S. Sanctions and Russia’s Weapon Systems: A New Game in the Quest of High-Tech Microchip

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Modern warfare places a great deal of emphasis on semiconductors and microchips because they are the fundamental building blocks for a wide range of military technology, such as drones, radios, missiles, and armored vehicles. Russia has consistently used modern weapons in its military operations against Ukraine since the start of the war between Russia and Ukraine in 2022, thereby prolonging the ongoing war.

In the year 2022, Moscow initiated a comprehensive military intervention in Ukraine, while the nation of Russia saw an increase in the importation of semiconductor technology, with a value of $2.5 billion, compared to $1.8 billion in the preceding year of 2021.  Microprocessors originating from Western countries are used in smartphones and laptops, which are progressively being integrated into Russia’s military inventory. Moscow has been procuring a higher quantity of superior Western technology by using intermediate nations, such as China.

The Russian military incorporates a diverse range of foreign-manufactured components throughout its 27 advanced military systems. These systems include various technologies such as cruise missiles, communications systems, and electronic warfare complexes. A significant majority, exceeding two-thirds, of the foreign constituents detected in Russian military equipment may be traced back to corporations based in the United States. Additionally, a portion of these components are sourced from Ukraine, as well as other allied nations like Japan and Germany. Russia continues to successfully import the essential Western-manufactured components required for its military operations. Nevertheless, the influx of microchips into Russia continues via trade lines through China, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and other nations, contributing to the expansion of the country’s prewar inventories.

China is the primary supplier of microchips and other technological components used in critical military equipment to Russia. This represents a substantial increase compared to the same period in 2021 when Chinese sellers accounted for just 33% of the imports. Furthermore, Moscow has seen a notable rise in its imports from nations situated in the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Middle East. In 2022, there was a notable increase in exports to Russia from Georgia, Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan. This rise mostly consisted of automobiles, airplanes, and warships, which played a key role in driving the overall growth. Simultaneously, there was an increase in exports from the European Union and the United Kingdom to these nations, although their direct commerce with Russia saw a significant decline.

The increasing trade flows have led Western partners to advocate for expanding the number of countries participating in sanctions or imposing secondary restrictions on specific companies operating inside those countries to suppress Russia’s military capabilities.  In June 2023, the European Union implemented a fresh set of sanctions that include an anti-circumvention mechanism aimed at limiting the trade, provision, or export of specifically sanctioned commodities and technology to certain third nations serving as intermediaries for Russia. In addition, the aforementioned package expanded the roster of corporations that directly endorse Russia’s military by including 87 newly incorporated entities across several nations, including China, the United Arab Emirates, and Armenia. Furthermore, it imposed limitations on the sale of 15 specific technological goods that are often found in Russian military apparatus deployed in Ukraine.

The use of microchips originating from the United States is contributing to the enhancement of Russia’s military capabilities, even amidst the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, facilitated via clandestine channels including intermediate nations like China. American technological companies like Intel, Micron Technology, Texas Instruments, and others produce a portion of these microchips. The United States and other Western countries have put restrictions in place to make it more difficult for Russia to trade certain technologies.

While the Russia-Ukraine war is ongoing, Hong Kong ranked as the second-largest exporter of microchips to Russia in terms of monetary value and as the third-largest exporter in terms of transaction volume.  In 2022, Finland ranked as the fifth-largest supplier of microchips to Russia in terms of dollar value and Germany ranked as the third-most significant supplier of microchips to Russia in terms of dollar value and held the fifth position in terms of the number of transactions conducted. Germany is a significant supplier of semiconductor equipment to the Russian market. In 2022, the Netherlands and Estonia held the position of being the fourth-largest exporters of microchips to Russia in terms of dollar value. ASML Holding NV, a prominent Dutch company, is globally recognized as the foremost provider of lithography equipment, a critical component in the production of sophisticated microchips.

Subsequently, the United States has implemented sanctions on Russia, which include prohibiting the shipment of American semiconductors, as well as items manufactured using American equipment, software, and designs, to Russia. The United States has engaged in collaborative efforts with its allied nations, including the European Union, Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand, to effectively enforce such limitations. The United States Commerce Secretary has issued a warning over the potential termination of Chinese firm’s access to essential American technology required for chip manufacturing in the event of their non-compliance with the ban on chip supply to Russia. The United States has also called upon China to participate in international endeavors aimed at exerting pressure on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine. The United States employs diverse methodologies to oversee and trace the transportation of chip shipments that have the potential to reach Russia. 

The sanctions imposed on Russia have had a substantial and diverse effect on its military capability. To develop modern weapons, Russia is heavily dependent on purchasing a variety of high-tech goods from Western nations, such as microchips, engines, composite materials, and semiconductor machinery.  The implementation of Western sanctions has limited Russia’s ability to produce and maintain its modern military hardware, including aircraft, missiles, drones, tanks, and radar systems. Russia’s military-industrial complex, which includes more than 800 businesses engaged in defense and related industries, is largely responsible for the country’s defense capabilities. Western sanctions have been imposed on several companies, including Rostec, Mikron, Tactical Missiles Corporation, Sukhoi, MiG, and Kalashnikov Concern. The implementation of these sanctions has resulted in the cessation of their ability to get funding, access technological advancements, and engage in market activities, leading to a decline in their overall financial gains and profitability.

The Russian economy and energy industry exhibit a significant reliance on the exportation of oil and gas to Western countries. The industries have also been subject to Western sanctions, which have imposed limitations on their ability to access financial markets, technology, and services. This resulted in a decrease in their ability to produce new weapons. Additionally, this has led to a decline in the government’s foreign exchange reserves, both of which are essential for funding its military activities and defense expenditures. Also, these sanctions have resulted in the isolation of Russia from the international community since they have curtailed Russia’s ability to engage in diplomatic, political, and security collaborations with other nations. Russia’s influence and power in regional and international affairs have decreased, which has also made it more vulnerable to pressures and challenges from abroad. Furthermore, this has undermined Russia’s perceived credibility and standing as a dependable and trustworthy collaborator.

In conclusion, the imposition of Western sanctions has effectively sent a resolute and unified message from Western nations in reaction to Russia’s aggressive actions against Ukraine. However, there is little proof that these sanctions have caused Putin to behave differently or withdraw from Ukraine.  Hence, the efficacy of the imposed restrictions in restraining Russia’s military aspirations remains uncertain.

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Three Sahelian Interim Military Leaders Sign Security Pact

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Photo: Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation of Mali)

Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger have taken an admirable strategic step by signing trilateral security pact in collective efforts to battle extremism and terrorism threats in the Sahel region. It is an opportunity, especially this critical moment, to work relentless for peace and tranquility, a necessary factor that could determine their sustainable development.

These three Sahel states are under the interim military administration. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the 15-member regional bloc, has put political pressure on them to return to constitutional democracy since after removing the elected civilian governments. The African Union (AU) and the ECOWAS have jointly suspended their membership, and further imposed stringent sanctions on them. 

Backed by the AU, ECOWAS has even gone as far as threatening the use of force to reinstate constitutional governance in Niger. In response, Mali and Burkina Faso have solemnly pledged to extend their support to Niger if it is eventually attacked by ECOWAS Standby Forces. Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger also have considerable strain on their relationships with neighboring states and international partners.

Nevertheless, in a significant development on September 16th, three West African Sahel states came together to ink a security pact. Currently grappling with formidable challenges of combating Islamic insurgents associated with groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS), this accord offers the possibility to tackle any rebellion or external aggression. 

The security pact, known as the Alliance of Sahel States (ASS), unequivocally indicated that an assault on the sovereignty or territorial integrity of any of its signatory nations would be deemed an aggression against all parties involved. The agreement outlined their unwavering commitment to provide assistance, either individually or collectively, and further categorically stipulated the deployment of armed forces.

The signed charter binds the signatories to assist one another – including militarily – in the event of an attack on any one of them. “Any attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of one or more contracting parties shall be considered as an aggression against the other parties and shall give rise to a duty of assistance… including the use of armed force to restore and ensure security,” it states.

Malian leader, Col. Assimi Goita, announced the establishment of the Alliance of Sahel States through his social media account. He emphasized their primary objectives of establishing a framework for collective defense and mutual assistance. Its aim is to “establish an architecture of collective defence and mutual assistance for the benefit of our populations”, he wrote.

The Liptako-Gourma region – where the Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger borders meet – has been ravaged by jihadism in recent years. A jihadist insurgency that erupted in northern Mali in 2012 spread to Niger and Burkina Faso in 2015.

“This alliance will be a combination of military and economic efforts between the three countries. Our priority is the fight against terrorism in the three countries,” Mali’s Defence Minister Abdoulaye Diop also said after the signing the document.

Mali and Burkina Faso have vowed to come to Niger’s aid if it is attacked. “Any attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of one or more contracted parties will be considered an aggression against the other parties,” according to the charter of the pact, known as the Alliance of Sahel States.

The three French-speaking West Africa states were previously members of the France-backed G5 Sahel alliance joint force, (with with Chad and Mauritania) initiated in 2017 to combat Islamist extremist groups in the region. However, Mali withdrew from this alliance following its own military coup, and relations between France and these three Sahel states have severely deteriorated. France has been compelled to withdraw its military presence from Mali and Burkina Faso, leading to a tense standoff with the junta that assumed power in Niger after requesting the withdrawal of French troops and its ambassador. France has firmly declined to recognize the authority of the interim military governments.

The situation in the Sahel region including Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger still remains extremely difficult with internal conflicts, extremism and militant attacks, economic development is undeniably at its lowest points in history. In fact, Sahelian states are consistently looking for strategic ways to effectively address the sustainable development in the region. These three French-speaking states and the entire Sahel region are the most volatile and have large impoverished population in Africa.

The African Union, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the European Union (EU), the United States and the United Nations (UN) are all asking for quick transition to civilian governments, and that efforts are taken to resolve outstanding issues relating to sustainable development and observing strictly principles of democracy in these French-speaking states in West Africa. 

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