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The Role Of Pakistan’s Naval Strategy In Balancing The Strategic Paradigm Of The Region

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The recent turn of events regarding Pakistan’s maritime ambitions and development programmes, can be seen as an attempt to maximize power. This power politics is quite obvious, as China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project sets new horizons for regional connectivity and trade for Pakistan, which concerns India to the very core. The theory of Offensive Realism provides an in-depth theoretical framework to explain these state affairs. According to realism, the international political structure is anarchic, which is why no state can fully trust the intentions of another state, however, interest-based cooperation is possible (Pak-China economic cooperation), but survival of the state is the top priority of every state. The most efficient way to secure state survival is to maximize their relative power, which implies that there will be a constant security competition in the world, which divides the state’s power into two components; Latent (economy and population) and actual power (military). This determines Pakistan’s ambitions to acquire modern technology and increase its naval power in the Arabian Sea, however, the theory fails to explain the importance of economy and the power maximization in the economic sense. The reason being addressed is the transition of politics in the post-cold war era, which is heavily centred on economy, rather than the previous model, which suggested a central focus on building conventional military strength only.  Therefore, economy holds the actual power in the contemporary era, which means Pakistan would not only ensure safe navigation of commerce that China would attract, but also enhance its naval capabilities and technologies to maximise power through a Blue Economy.

This paper provides a qualitative analytical research of the subject matter, based on data collected through mostly secondary sources and a primary source. The paper is descriptive and provides a thematic qualitative analysis to interpret the subject matter under discussion.

Introduction

The recent years have marked a steady shift in national and international level, towards maritime development and security of Pakistan. On 23rd March, 2015, the president of Pakistan deliberately announced the extension of Pakistan’s continental shelf from 200 nautical miles to 350 nautical miles, however, the Exclusive Economic Zone or EEZ remained 200 nautical miles. This announcement was made after the approval of United Nations Commission on Limits of Continental Shelf (CLCS) for extension, based on scientific data which was collected through a number of surveys, conducted by the National Institute of Oceanography in collaboration with Naval Hydrographic Department, under the supervision of the Ministry of Science and Technology. This meant that the Pakistani naval fleet can ensure maritime security from further deep into the sea. To do so, Pakistan has yet to acquire the required technologies and equipment, which it claims to be operational by the fiscal year of 2030. With the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor project, the demand for maritime security has increased, as CPEC is a sub-project of China’s Belt and Road Initiative, it holds tremendous significance in the entire mega-economic project. The reason being addressed, is the geo-strategic location of CPEC and future Gwadar Port city, which would attract a number of threats such as piracy, terrorism, illicit trafficking and other potential proxy skirmishes. Furthermore, the exploration of natural resources in EEZ would require more stability in the region to proceed with and large-scale investments to build and renovate Pakistan’s Blue Economy. This paper provides an analytical overview of the maritime development plans, Pakistan’s naval strategy, potential maritime opportunities and addresses research questions, such as What does Pakistan need to acquire for a blue water navy? What are the challenges that stunt our potential opportunities? And most importantly, what does Pakistan need to ensure credible deterrence and stability in the region? The paper also provides possible immediate implications of all the factors on the region and ends with a brief conclusion.

Blue Water Navy

The term implies a navy having the capability to operate in the deep seas far from its base, however, it lacks a proper definition, as it is varied according to different countries. ‘Blue-water navy’ was first used by United Kingdom Royal Navy, to address their naval expeditionary fleets. An Indian analyst defines it as “A Blue Water Navy is one that has the capacity to project itself over a much bigger maritime area than its maritime borders. Simply put, it is a Navy that can go into the vast, deep oceans of the world. However, while most navies have the capacity to send ships into the deep oceans, a Blue Water Force is able to carry out operations far from its borders, without being required to return to its home port to refuel or re-stock”.

Presently, United States Navy, Royal Navy, French Navy, Republic of Korea Navy, Russian Navy, Indian Navy, Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force and People’s Liberation Army Navy are the navies which are considered to have blue-water fleets. Pakistan would be the ninth country of the world to acquire a blue-water navy. To achieve this purpose, Pakistan requires a lot of equipment and advanced technology to take its first step in the high seas by the year 2030. The assets being acquired or developed are as follows;

Type-54A/P Frigate

Frigates are anti-submarine warships and Pakistan has made an agreement to acquire four of these frigates from China, to replace their outdated Amazon Class Frigates. These Frigates incorporate cutting-edge technology, with a 32x cell vertical launch system armed with HQ-16 surface to air missiles. It has a displacement of more than 4000 tons. It is also equipped with anti-ship cruise missiles, advanced radars and remarkable self-protection system, which is why it holds crucial significance for the Chinese naval fleet. Also, Pakistan’s frigate fleet of f-22P will undergo a mid-life upgrade program to extend its life and capabilities. These frigates are expected to join service by 2025.

Hangor Class Submarine

These are of Chinese origins and their specifications are known to be classified, however, they are considered to be a variant of Chinese Diesel-electric submarines of unspecified class. Pakistan was the first to operate a submarine in the South Asian region and its French made Agosta class 70’s submarines are highly outdated according to the modern-day technological advancements. Pakistan has not only ordered eight of these Hangor class submarines from China, but also aims to modernize its Agosta 90-B submarines to the fullest. These are expected to be delivered and operationalised by 2028.

Jinnah Class Corvette

Corvettes are relatively small warships than frigates, they displace approximately 2000-2500 tons and are used in Stealth missions. Pakistan aims to acquire four of these corvettes, two of them are being built in Pakistan, in collaboration with Turkey and two of these Ada Class corvettes are being built in Turkey itself. These Ada Class corvettes, once operationalised, will be named as Jinnah Class corvettes, in the honour of our nation’s founding father. Pakistan plans to arm these corvettes with a locally-built Harba anti-ship cruise missile system, as Pakistan is known for its ingenious missile deployment tactics on air and water crafts.

Maritime Air Wing

The maritime air wing is needed to support the surface vessels in a rapidly escalated situation and the wing can also serve as a quick reaction force. Advanced aircrafts are being employed in the wing such as JF-17, having anti-ship capabilities to take out enemy’s surface fleets and ensure coastal and territorial security. The naval air units are meaning to replace their outdated aircrafts with the modern alternatives and some of them are meant to be upgraded. Minhas air squadron is upgrading its equipment and technology and the wing has also planned for other squadrons with the same abilities along the coast line. Furthermore, other unmanned aircrafts with similar anti-ship capabilities are also being employed in service.

Offshore Patrol Vessel

An offshore patrol vessel is a highly multi-purpose watercraft used to perform managerial operations in the state’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). It can carry out anti-surface and anti-air operations, maritime security operations, 24-hour helicopter operations, combat search and rescue, surveillance and intelligence gathering operations. In addition to mechanical and technological virtues, the vessel will also provide disaster relief and ensure coastal area security as well. Pakistan has ordered two of these patrol vessels from Netherland based Malaysian company Damen. One of them is under construction at Romania and both are expected to be delivered by the fiscal year of 2022.

Coastal Defence System

Including secondary support military support at hold, such as offshore multi-purpose patrol vessels and a marine air wing with anti-ship missile system, Pakistan has set up a Chinese C-602 anti-ship cruise missile system based, Zarb Defence System. Some analysts say that these up-gradations are being made in order to tackle the new aircraft carriers that India tends to acquire.

Second-Strike Capability

After employing a Naval Strategic Forces Command, which became a part of three major unified Pakistan Armed Forces commands, Pakistan Navy conducted the launch of Babur-III cruise missile from a submarine and ever since that launch, naval strategists are working on a second-strike capability through nuclear armed, nuclear propelled submarines to ensure the maximum ultimate security. Although there’s no news on this, but with a second-strike capability, Pakistan would again have the advantage of India’s self-deterrence and can most probably accomplish major national interests in that manner.

Intelligence Assets

The current era holds a bad reputation of international politics, things have become extremely complex and alongside the psychological and Cyber Warfare, information warfare has also been contributing to military strategies for a long period now. Therefore, Pakistan is haggardly acquiring up-to-date modern technologies and other intelligence gathering assets, such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) and tactical air and water drones.

Logistical Assets

 Pakistan Navy has recently commissioned a 17000-ton Fleet Tanker which was built in Karachi with help from Turkey, which consists of a state-of-the-art medical facility to provide disaster relief to combat and auxiliary units. Other than that, the navy requires more and advanced logistical assets to ensure better execution and a quick response to threats.

Gawadar Base

With growing advancements, replacements, up-gradations and employments, Pakistan navy is building Pakistan’s largest naval base, named after the country’s founding father Muhammad Ali Jinnah. The Jinnah Naval Base will incorporate all the capabilities at a safe location, way outside the reach of the Indian military.

Naval Strategy

Every naval strategy is broken down into two sub-strategies; (a) a developmental strategy and (b) an executional strategy. Before looking in to a country’s naval strategy, one must be aware of all the aspects of the sub-strategies to gather a complete perspective of the whole, grand strategy. Among the sub-strategies, an executional strategy, is highly covert and confidential, even the naval leaders irrelevant to the project are unaware of the executional strategy, which is necessary to avoid leaking or outsourcing the confidential information to the enemy state and eventually, an inevitable failure. Executional strategy on one hand, provides practical operation information, short manoeuvring strategies and the actual date and time for every move. Developmental strategy on the other hand, lists out most of the tools needed in the executional strategy, for example, induction of offshore patrol vessels like OPV-1800, is a part of the developmental strategy. However, the outlined developmental strategy can indicate the thematic interpretation and presentation of the executional strategy, for example the OPVs are sought to be inducted in response to the Indian acquisition of new aircraft carriers. Similarly, with such new developments and advancements, the overall naval strategy of Pakistan seems to be much more of a power-oriented strategy, developed to assure efficient credible deterrence against the rival state and sustain a prosperous ‘Blue Economy’.

Since China is investing heavily in Pakistan, on CPEC in particular, it affects the political profile of Pakistan as a ‘heresy’ to the American ‘inquisition’. In all fairness, Pakistan may have its own set of national interests, but that does not matter, because China follows its ancient ‘Tianxia’, an “all under heaven” doctrine that sees the world as a shared community, while the United States follows a more rigid “Hobbesian state of nature” doctrine, that sees the world as a battleground of anarchy. Therefore, Pakistan being an under-developed country, could be submissive to China on a minute level and that being said, implies that Pakistan may support China’s national interests as well (which are in total opposition to the US’ national interests) and that’s how Pakistan has become a ‘heresy’ to its hegemonic ‘inquisition’.

Now is the time for India to maximize its naval capabilities and the work has already begun. In particular, acquiring aircraft carriers and making advancements to their practical weaponry execution systems, the Indian naval transition from being a ‘buyer’s navy’ to a ‘builder’s navy’, since “all 41 of the new vessels are being constructed in India”, whereas Pakistan has only a few vessels under construction. This maps out the difference between Pakistan and India’s magnitude of the state economy and to put a cherry on top, India is most likely be submissive to US national interests, meaning that Pakistan definitely needs to worry. Still, Pakistan could be able to circumvent Indian naval strategies with the acquisition of a nuclear-powered submarine.

India already has two nuclear submarines in service and with the Indian “plan to build six advanced attack submarines — to be nuclear powered but armed with conventional missiles and torpedoes — is being monitored closely and the first of the boats could roll out in a decade if things go as per plan”, there would be a constant threat to the maritime national security of Pakistan. Although Pakistan’s submarines have never been detected, during both; wartime and peace, even still these submarines are not capable of staying under the surface for longer periods of time, a few months top, in comparison to the thirty-year span of a nuclear-powered submarine. Therefore, if Pakistan is able to build a nuclear-powered submarine than it would acquire a second-strike capability and a reputably untouchable navy in the ‘Indian Ocean Region’ (IOR). A former naval expert, Ex-Director General Naval Intelligence, Rear Admiral (Retired) Abdul Hameed Meer stressed on the significance of a nuclear-powered submarine that “Pakistan must acquire nuclear propelled submarines in order to outgrow India’s numbers and mark a flag of dominance in the Indian Ocean Region”. Henceforth, acquisition of nuclear-powered submarines would be considered as a milestone in all of the Pakistan Armed Forces achievements combined.

Potential Opportunities

With projects under construction and developments being made, a lot of opportunities come to light, both tapped an untapped. The state’s heavy naval build-up is not the aftermath of power maximization entirely, but a necessary antecedent to assure a prosperous ‘Blue Economy’. This term has a proper background to it and reviewing so, it was analysed that the particular term was used decades ago, but none paid heed to the matter at all. Earlier than that, its descendant, ‘Green Economy’ was used to promote environment-friendly economic solutions to boost economies through a greener environment and less pollution. However, that failed, as exploitation of the finite land resources had devastating effects on the overall earth’s climatic behaviour, up to this day. Hence the gradual transition towards naval build-ups and expansion of EEZs, portrays a steady locomotive in the global community. Economists suggest “Blue Growth is usually determined on three main factors; first the value addition into global economy, second the potential of sector with respect to the future economic trends, and thirdly the categorisation of sector in terms of being sustainable”, implying that the state’s fisheries and aquaculture sector demands severe strategic up-gradations and expansions in order to contribute a lion’s share of revenue to the net GDP of the state, through ‘Blue Growth’.

Fisheries experts have stressed on the required developments in the fisheries and aquaculture sector, “Capacity-building programmes and improvement of infrastructure of landing fish and shrimp, as well as production facilities to enhance exports to new destinations for better returns”, implying that deep structural problems are one of the major internal issues stunting the growth of economy. Although, sea trade contributes about 95% of the world GDP, Pakistan’s fisheries and aquaculture sector only contributes a mere 0.41% in the state’s GDP, which is drastically low, as seen by economists. EEZ of Pakistan holds enough natural resources that, if they are tapped through proper domestic channels and techniques, through skilled human resources and attracting foreign investments (from countries like Turkey, Norway, Japan and other EU countries expand the area of expertise of the fisheries sector), then the state’s economy would no longer need to thrive on the hook of an internal collapse. The expert also said, “We have the renewable natural resources, technology and human resources which can be put to gainful employment with net benefits to exchequer in the shape of foreign exchange”, implying that the current rate of the Pakistani Rupee can finally regain its worth after a long time. Therefore, Ministry of Commerce, and Ministry of Food Security and Research should take a proper notice on the cruciality of the matter at hand.

Regional Implications

Keeping the ‘Blue Growth’ aside, there are a number of possible regional implications which are hard to enumerate. Matters of international stature, their internal politics and intangible threats such as the Covid-19 are some of the many fuelling components that make up the contemporary chaos around the globe. Anyhow, major regional implications include the following;

  • Diplomatic ties among the nations of Central Asia, Middle East and Pakistan would strengthen, resulting in new markets for trade, favourable terms of imports and a decent amount of recovery to the value of Pakistani Rupee.
  • Heavy naval build-up is expected in all of the countries that China has invested in, that is for the core reason of safeguarding the maritime security of their mega-economic Silk Road project.
  • On the other side of the fence, American Naval fleets have also indicated a certain interest in the South China Sea, East China Sea and the Indo-Pacific Ocean Region. Their plan to surround China from every possible corner is quite pessimistic and also away from the reality.
  • India, would obviously enjoy a warm support from its hegemonic friend, implying that the Indian Navy being far ahead in numbers and advancements, would also then submit to the US’ national interests.
  • Although, there are various ongoing ocean-friendly, sustainability programmes in the Indian Ocean, still there is a serious risk of increased water pollution in the region. With accidental oil spills, a massive quarter of marine life has suffered one of the most flaunting idiosyncrasies of mankind.
  • Rising tensions in any part of the international waters, directly effects the possibility of a low-intensity conflict in the IOR.
  • India would definitely seek to destabilize the region through chaotic aversions, a low-intensity conflict or perhaps another charade of brutality in Kashmir.

Conclusion

Conclusively, the emphasis on the importance of maritime security and coastal defence of the system, accentuates the well-being of a prosperous economy and a steady ‘Blue Growth’. Pakistan’s ambitious road to a blue-water navy may bring the state what it has longed for decades, ever since the independence; dominance. In the most uncertain of times, a highly complex nature of power politics limits the predictability of the distant future. Although there is much ambiguity in the matter, Pakistan has held on to the ‘slow and steady’ policy to build a sophisticated political profile, in order to progress as an influential power in the region. However, with such security advancements and complete surveillance, this security competition may lead to heightened tensions, not only in the Arabian Sea, but also far deep in the Indian Ocean Region. To avoid such skirmishes, cooperation and Confidence Building Measures should be taken in a proactive manner. By increasing cooperation, inter-dependence would most likely prevent countries from harsh political gestures and interpretations. Not to forget, the trade-war between the United States and China, and the rising tensions between the two states directly effects the very nature of the scenario. Therefore, if things go as per plan, the developments may take the state’s economy to new heights, alongside the improved political stature, Pakistan may be very close to becoming a ‘developed state’.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

John J. Mearsheimer, “Anarchy and the Struggle for Power,” in The Tragedy of Great Power Politics, 29-31. New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2001.

Kaushik, Krishn.” Explained: What is Blue Water Force?” Indian Express. Accessed on December 7, 2019. https://indianexpress.com/article/explained/explained-what-is-blue-waterforce-6153312/.

Raza, Shahid. “Pakistan Navy’s Blue Water Ambitions.” Global Village Space. Accessed on February 19, 2019. https://www.globalvillagespace.com/pakistan-navys-blue-water-ambitions/.

 Defense World.” Indian Navy Has 41 Ships, Submarines Under Construction: Navy Chief Dhowan.” January11,2015.https://www.defenseworld.net/news/11875/Indian_Navy_Has_41_Ships__Submarines_Under_Construction__Navy_Chief_Dhowan#.XyMAXlVKjIU.

Pubby, Manu.” India’s Rs 1.2 lakh crore nuclear submarine project closer to realisation.” Economic Times. Updated Feb 21, 2020. https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/defence/indias-rs-1-2-l-cr-n-submarine-project-closer-to-realisation/articleshow/74234776.cms.

Rear Admiral (Retired) Abdul Hameed Meer. Aiman Nawaz. July 25, 2020.Online Platform.

Bhatti, Naghmana.” Blue Growth: An Emerging Paradigm of National Power – A Case Study of Pakistan.” NIMA Policy Paper 1, no.004(May 2019): 5-8. https://bahria.edu.pk/nima/wp-content/uploads/2019/09/PolicyPaper004-Blue-Growth-and-National-Power-May19.pdf.

Hayat, Omar.” Expert calls for creating jobs in Fisheries sector.” Maritime News Digest 6, no. 12(September 2018): 3-4. https://www.bahria.edu.pk/ncmpr/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Final-MND-vol-6-issue-12-for-web.pdf.

Hayat, Omar.” Expert calls for creating jobs in Fisheries sector.” Maritime News Digest6, no. 12(September2018): 4-5. https://www.bahria.edu.pk/ncmpr/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Final-MND-vol-6-issue-12-for-web.pdf.

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Iran in the SCO: a Forced “Look East” Strategy and an Alternative World Order

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On September 17, a package of several dozen documents was signed in Dushanbe at the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). The highlight of the meeting was the decision taken by the Heads of State Council of the SCO on launching the procedure of granting SCO membership to the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Technically, this decision does not turn Tehran into a full-fledged SCO member, launching the accession process only. Granting full membership involves a number of agreements signed, which usually takes about two years. However, a proactive decision has de facto been made, and the Islamic Republic of Iran can already be considered a member of the Organization.

Moscow played a key role in granting SCO membership to Iran. It was after a telephone talk on August 11 with Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of Russia’s Security Council, that Ali Shamkhani, Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran, announced that the political obstacles to Iran’s membership in the SCO had been removed so that Iran’s SCO membership could be finalized. Besides, throughout this year, Russia has repeatedly urged to endorse Iran’s bid for SCO membership.

Intrinsic Motivation

Endorsing Tehran’s bid for SCO membership was the first significant victory for the new ultra-conservative Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi’s foreign policy. One of the key tasks for the Islamic Republic’s new head of government is to demonstrate his own achievements as opposed to the failures of his predecessor, the reformist Hassan Rouhani. The latter has repeatedly advocated for expanding cooperation with the SCO; however, Tehran did not manage to join the Organization during his presidency.

One of the reasons for this was Rouhani’s team pursuing the Western vector of Iran’s foreign policy. The nuclear deal with the leading world powers, including the United States, as well as the subsequent prospects of large-scale investments from Europe, clearly exceeded what other international projects could offer. Therefore, other integration initiatives were temporarily set aside. While this looked rather reasonable at that point, the subsequent failure of this plan because of the inconsistencies in the U.S. foreign policy raised the burning issue of exploring the alternatives.

Yet, Hassan Rouhani never completely abandoned the non-Western vector. There have been at least two remarkable achievements here during his tenure. On May 17, 2018, the Eurasian Economic Union and Iran signed a provisional free trade zone agreement, which entered into force on October 27, 2019, for a period of three years. Then, late into Rouhani’s presidency, China and Iran signed a 25-year cooperation agreement on March 27, 2021, to comprehensively enhance the bilateral relations.

Ebrahim Raisi is largely trying to prove himself as polar opposite to Hassan Rouhani, whose recent years have been one of the most proving times for Iran’s economy. First and foremost, Ebrahim Raisi needs to live up to the confidence placed in him, while the new president’s decisive victory in June 2021 was overshadowed by the extreme political apathy demonstrated by large segments of the country’s population, resulting in a record low voter turnout in Iran’s history.

Domestically, the fight against COVID-19 is still serving this purpose. Lockdown restrictions are consistently lifted in Iran amid reports of high vaccination rates. This stands in sharp contrast with Rouhani’s administration, when the epidemic was only growing, with the authorities resorting to closures of businesses and public institutions as well as to movement restrictions, and with Tehran constantly having problems with vaccines import.

Iran’s accession into the SCO demonstrates another good start for Raisi—this time, in terms of foreign policy. This is especially important amid stalled negotiations on restoring the nuclear deal. Technically, reviving the JCPOA remains valuable for Tehran and Washington, which both sides confirm every now and then. However, trust between the parties is so low after Donald Trump’s demarche that the prospects for new agreements are increasingly elusive.

All the more so since Iran is demanding security guarantees from the U.S. so that the incident does not recur and that the new U.S. elections do not destroy any previous agreements. However, Washington cannot guarantee this due to the very nature of the American political system. At the same time, Joe Biden, in fearing domestic criticism, has not yet made any concessions that could give Tehran at least some confidence in the intentions of the U.S. president. Washington could well have announced its unilateral return to the JCPOA without the sanctions lifted. However, the White House did not do this, which means a U.S. delegation cannot sit at the negotiating table on the nuclear deal in Vienna, with the JCPOA dialogue with the U.S. held separately.

There are still chances for the JCPOA to be revived and the sanctions against Tehran to be lifted. Even if this is case, however, there is no quick positive outcome for Raisi—which is why the SCO membership has gained momentum for his image within the country. It is no coincidence that his participation in the SCO Summit in Dushanbe was the first international trip made by the Iranian president in the wake of the elections.

Looking East

At the turn of the 2010s, the demand for better relations with the West grew so strong in Iran that both the legislative and the executive were taken over by Westerners amid the struggle for power, with President Rouhani becoming the epitome of the process. This turn may seem paradoxical to the casual observer since the ideology of the Islamic Republic of Iran is anti-Western at its core. However, pro-Western forces were rather strong in Iran of the 1990s. President Hashemi Rafsanjani (1989–1997) was the first who cautiously spoke out for the normalization of relations with the United States and Europe to be then succeeded by Mohammad Khatami (1997–2005), an open advocate for dialogue.

Therefore, of the last four presidents in Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (2005–2013) was the only who proved a consistent opponent of the West. Hassan Rouhani seemed right for establishing the dialogue. The United States under Obama’s administration and the European countries seemed to have weighed all the possibilities in embarking on the path of normalizing the relations with Tehran. However, the Collective West found itself hostage to the twists and turns of the U.S. domestic policy.

Donald Trump’s hasty withdrawal from the JCPOA was carried out in spite of no violations of the deal’s terms on the Iranian side, the position of the UN Security Council, or the opinion of U.S. allies in Europe. This became a critical point for the Iran’s “pivot West.” The political elite of the Islamic Republic of Iran saw once again that treaties with the U.S. and assurances from the U.S. are not worth anything. However, this does not mean that the West has lost Iran forever. In theory, there might be a new chance in the long run—for the foreseeable future, this is out of the question, though.

For Iran, joining the SCO symbolizes a consolidation of its foreign policy’s Eastern dimension. Even a prospective return to the nuclear deal under Raisi will not change this trend. This may look like a victory for the “Look East” strategy promoted earlier on by Ahmadinejad as the basic tenet of his foreign policy. Moreover, it was right during his presidential term that Iran attained observer status with the SCO in 2005 and made two failed attempts to become a full member.

While this was a deliberate choice made by Iranian conservatives under President Ahmadinejad who sought to hinder relations with the West with their own hands, today’s Iran is taking such a step as a desperate measure. The West has closed off the path to normalization, doing so for no good reason, whose rationale would be shared by the majority of the players, but because one of them is in the grip of political instability domestically.

Reassessing the Image

The nuclear deal, coupled with the desire to cooperate with the outside world and the attempts to break the isolation, have borne some fruit for Iran. Iran’s image as a collective threat has consistently been blurred by Tehran’s efforts. The Islamic Republic is increasingly perceived as a rational actor on the international arena, if in pursuit of its specific goals.

Thus, Iran’s failed attempt to attain SCO membership was largely due to the fact that the Central Asian nations had been rather wary of Iranian Islamism and its proneness to ideological expansion. However, the following years have shown that Tehran is ready for constructive cooperation with secular forces. Realistic considerations increasingly prevail over Islamic motivation, while the expansionism is limited to certain regions in the Middle East. Moreover, Iran’s anti-terrorist aspirations tend to overlap with the vision of other countries. Iran’s fight against the Islamic State (ISIS, a terrorist group banned in Russia) and its meaningful interaction with Russia and Turkey in Syria are another important indicator.

Another obstacle to Iran’s membership in the SCO was its pronounced and unrelenting anti-Americanism, especially characteristic of Ahmadinejad’s years in power. China, remaining one of the key economic partners of the United States in the 2000s and 2010s, did not want the SCO to become a platform for anti-American rhetoric. Russia, too, had expectations to normalize relations with Washington at that time.

However, Tehran showed again that pragmatism, rather than ideology, is the highlight of its foreign policy, proving that Iran can even negotiate the nuclear deal with the “Great Satan”. The failure of the JCPOA framework should be attributed to the inconsistency of the United States rather than to the stance professed by Iran. Besides, anti-Americanism no longer seems to be an issue today. The relations between Moscow and Washington have progressively been degrading all this time, while China has turned from a stable partner of the U.S. into the main threat to it as a leading world power. In other words, Iranian anti-Americanism now looks much more acceptable to the founding members of the SCO than was the case 10 or 15 years ago.

Tehran’s general vector, pursuing an end to the isolation and aiming to legitimize the state around the world, has yielded certain results, and the SCO membership is one of them. At the same time, this was facilitated by the broader shifts in the international situation as much as by ideology having lesser sway in the foreign policy of the Islamic Republic.

An Alternative World Order

Iran’s accession into the SCO is taking place amidst the growing demand from the organization’s member states for new mechanisms of interaction. For a significant part of its history, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization looked like a showcase alternative to the Western order—today, in a number of dimensions, this “alternativeness” is not just an option but a need.

The most striking example is Afghanistan. In resolving security threats emanating from Afghanistan, including terrorism and drugs, the SCO member states have no one else to rely on, except for themselves, following the withdrawal of the U.S. forces. Against this background, Iran’s accession at this moment seems to be of significance, as an effective Afghan settlement seems hardly possible without Tehran.

Establishing alternative (to the Western) financial mechanisms and looking for new ways of handling economic activity is another challenge. And Iran’s example confirms the need for such an alternative. The U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear deal, all other participants being against it, threatened the very existence of the Agreement. First of all, this happened due to the dominant influence of Washington on the global economy. Despite all attempts, Europe, China and Russia have failed to neutralize the consequences of U.S. secondary sanctions against Tehran.

At the same time, the sanctions policy has become a very popular instrument in international relations. Restrictions imposed by Western governments are becoming less and less predictable each year, since the internal political situation is the key factor. In the future, China, Russia and other countries may face similar pressure measures that are now used against Iran.

In this regard, Tehran is in the “vanguard”, exploring new pilot approaches. So far, circumventing sanctions has proved difficult and time-consuming, although there has been some progress in this area.

Finally, the key prospect for the SCO is its transformation into a dialogue platform for politically diverse states in order to agree on new approaches. The Organization’s extremely broad mandate allows it to tackle a huge range of issues and unlock the potential to coordinate efforts of different international actors.

In this vein, Iran turns out to be a unique test case for the entire structure. A country with a completely different worldview and specific goals will be forced to talk and negotiate on a regular basis with the largest states of the macro-region. From now on, Tehran as a full member cannot simply observe the course of meetings, it will have to adopt a position on the SCO agenda issues.

As far as the interest of Iran goes, the Organization is quite in line with its political objectives in the short term. Promoting trade ties is mostly based on bilateral agreements between the countries, while the role of the SCO as an economic driver is still at its early stage. This institution will primarily contribute to Tehran’s cooperation in the field of security and political rapprochement; however, closer economic cooperation may come as a by-product of this.

In any case, Iran’s membership in the SCO can be called an important stage in the SCO’s maturing into a solid international institution. Until now, the Organization has focused on combating terrorism, separatism and extremism, although its mandate allows it to tackle a much broader range of issues. The expansion of the membership increases the legitimacy of the SCO—but, at the same time, expectations from the organization as a global powerbroker are growing. To justify them, the SCO must take on greater responsibility, looking beyond security issues.

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US military presence in the Middle East: The less the better

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It may not have been planned or coordinated but efforts by Middle Eastern states to dial down tensions serve as an example of what happens when big power interests coincide.

It also provides evidence of the potentially positive fallout of a lower US profile in the region.

Afghanistan, the United States’ chaotic withdrawal notwithstanding, could emerge as another example of the positive impact when global interests coincide. That is if the Taliban prove willing and capable of policing militant groups to ensure that they don’t strike beyond the Central Asian nation’s borders or at embassies and other foreign targets in the country.

Analysts credit the coming to office of US President Joe Biden with a focus on Asia rather than the Middle East and growing uncertainty about his commitment to the security of the Gulf for efforts to reduce tensions by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirate and Egypt on the one hand and on the other, Turkey, Iran, and Qatar. Those efforts resulted in the lifting, early this year, of the Saudi-UAE-Egyptian-led economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar.

Doubts about the United States’ commitment also played an important role in efforts to shore up or formalise alliances like the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel by the UAE and Bahrain.

For its part, Saudi Arabia has de facto acknowledged its ties with the Jewish state even if Riyadh is not about to formally establish relations. In a sign of the times, that did not stop then Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu from last year visiting the kingdom.

To be sure, changes in Washington’s priorities impact regional defence strategies and postures given that the United States has a significant military presence in the Middle East and serves as its sole security guarantor.

Yet, what rings alarm bells in Gulf capitals also sparks concerns in Beijing, which depends to a significant degree on the flow of its trade and energy from and through Middle Eastern waters, and Moscow with its own security concerns and geopolitical aspirations.

Little surprise that Russia and China, each in their own way and independent of the United States, over the last year echoed the United States’ message that the Middle East needs to get its act together.

Eager to change rather than reform the world order, Russia proposed an all-new regional security architecture modelled on the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) adding not only Russia but also China, India, and Europe to the mix.

China, determined to secure its proper place in the new world order rather than fundamentally altering it, sent smoke signals through its academics and analysts that conveyed a double-barrelled message. On the one hand, China suggested that the Middle East did not rank high on its agenda. In other words, the Middle East would have to act to climb Beijing’s totem pole.

For China, the Middle East is always on the very distant back burner of China’s strategic global strategies,” Niu Xinchun, director of Middle East Studies at China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), China’s most prestigious think tank, told a webinar last year.

Prominent Chinese scholars Sun Degang and Wu Sike provided months later a carrot to accompany Mr. Niu’s stick. Taking the opposite tack, they argued that the Middle East was a “key region in big power diplomacy with Chinese characteristics in a new era.”

Chinese characteristics, they said, would involve “seeking common ground while reserving differences,” a formula that implies conflict management rather than conflict resolution.

On that basis, the two scholars suggest, Chinese engagement in Middle Eastern security would seek to build an inclusive and shared regional collective security mechanism based on fairness, justice, multilateralism, comprehensive governance, and the containment of differences.

In the final analysis, Chinese and Russian signalling that there was an unspoken big power consensus likely reinforced American messaging and gave Middle Eastern states a further nudge to change course and demonstrate a willingness to control tensions and differences.

Implicit in the unspoken big power consensus was not only the need to dial down tensions but also the projection of a reduced, not an eliminated, US presence in the Middle East.

While there has been little real on-the-ground reduction of US forces, just talking about it seemingly opened pathways. It altered the US’ weighting in the equation.

“The U.S. has a habit of seeing itself as indispensable to regional stability around the world, when in fact its intervention can be very destabilizing because it becomes part of the local equation rather than sitting above it,” noted Raad Alkadiri, an international risk consultant.

While important, the United States’ willingness to get out of the way is no guarantee that talks will do anything more than at best avert conflicts spinning out of control.

Saudi and Iranian leaders and officials have sought to put a positive spin on several rounds of direct and indirect talks between the two rivals.

Yet, more important than the talk of progress, expressions of willingness to bury hatchets, and toning down of rhetoric is Saudi King Salman’s insistence in remarks last month to the United Nations General Assembly on the need to build trust.

The monarch suggested that could be achieved by Iran ceasing “all types of support” for armed groups in the region, including the Houthis in Yemen, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and pro-Iranian militias in Iraq.

The potential monkey wrench is not just the improbability of Iran making meaningful concessions to improve relations but also the fact that the chances are fading for a revival of the 2015 international agreement that curbed Iran’s nuclear program.

“We have to prepare for a world where Iran doesn’t have constraints on its nuclear program and we have to consider options for dealing with that. This is what we are doing while we hope they do go back to the deal,” said US negotiator Rob Malley.

Already, Israeli politicians, unhappy with the original nuclear deal and the Biden administration’s effort to revive it, are taking a more alarmist view than may be prevalent in their intelligence services.

In Washington this week, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid told US National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan that Iran was “becoming a nuclear threshold state.” Back home Yossi Cohen, a close confidante of Mr. Netanyahu, who stepped down in June as head of the Mossad, asserted at the same time that Iran was “no closer than before” to obtaining a nuclear weapon.

There is no doubt, however that both men agree that Israel retains the option of a military strike against Iran. “Israel reserves the right to act at any moment in any way,” Mr. Lapid told his American interlocutors as they sought to resolve differences of how to deal with Iran if a revival of the agreement proves elusive.

Meanwhile, a foreplay of the fallout of a potential failure to put a nuclear deal in place is playing out on multiple fronts. Tension have been rising along the border between Iran and Azerbaijan.

Iran sees closer Azerbaijani-Israeli relations as part of an effort to encircle it and fears that the Caucasian state would be a staging ground for Israeli operations against the Islamic republic. Iran and Azerbaijan agreed this week to hold talks to reduce the friction.

At the same time, Iran, Turkey and Israel have been engaged in a shadow boxing match in predominantly Kurdish northern Iraq while a poll showed half of Israeli Jews believe that attacking Iran early on rather than negotiating a deal would have been a better approach.

Taken together, these factors cast a shadow over optimism that the Middle East is pulling back from the brink. They suggest that coordinated big power leadership is what could make the difference as the Middle East balances between forging a path towards stability and waging a continuous covert war and potentially an overt one.

A Johns Hopkins University Iran research program suggested that a US return to the nuclear deal may be the catalyst for cooperation with Europe, China, and Russia.

“Should the United States refuse to re-join the agreement following sufficient attempts by Iran to demonstrate flexibility in their negotiating posture, Russia and China will ramp up their economic and security cooperation with Iran in a manner fundamentally opposed to US interests,” the program warned.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh announced this week that Russia and Iran were finalizing a ‘Global Agreement for Cooperation between Iran and Russia’ along the lines of a  similar 25-year agreement between China and the Islamic republic last year that has yet to get legs.

Even so, Iran scored an important victory when the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in which China and Russia loom large last month agreed to process Iran’s application for membership.

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Defense

The U.S. may not involve military confrontation in the South China Sea

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The guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville during a replenishment-at-sea with the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan. Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class John Harris/U.S. Navy/Flickr

Although the US with its highest military budget, and maintaining the largest number of military bases around the globe, and the largest number of troops in foreign countries, and keeping the largest number of alliances, yet may avoid a direct military confrontation in the South China Sea. It does not mean that the US will give up, but, may exert political and diplomatic pressure, or opt for cold war strategies. The US is very well aware of the consequences and scared of spreading the conflict into other parts of the world, initiating the third world war (WWIII). It might be a nuclear war and disaster for the whole world.

Today, the piles of lethal weapons, especially nuclear weapons, are enough to destroy the whole world. If the escalation starts, it might not be limited to a small region, or continent, it might get out of control and spread to other parts of the world, and engulf the whole world. The highly hostile geopolitics are heading toward more volatility and entering dangerous limits.

As a part of the US cold war strategy, they are pushing the region toward war. On one hand creation of AUKUS, instigating Taiwan, and supporting India, pressurizing China, leaving no option except war, is extremely dangerous. The US may be once again miscalculating that, push the regional countries into war, while keeping the US away from the war zone will benefit Americans. In the recent past, all US dreams turn against their expectations, and such a dream to push China into war and enjoy the destruction of the region, keeping itself away, may not realize.

As a result of undue support to Taiwan, may instigate Taiwan for war. Chinese President Xi Jinping, also general secretary of the Communist Party of China Central Committee and chairman of the Central Military Commission, delivered an important speech at a commemorative meeting marking the 110th anniversary of the Revolution of 1911 at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, capital of China, Oct. 9, 2021. He said that the Taiwan question arose out of the weakness and chaos of the Chinese nation, and it will be resolved as national rejuvenation becomes a reality. “This is determined by the general trend of Chinese history, but more importantly, it is the common will of all Chinese people,” he noted.

National reunification by peaceful means best serves the interests of the Chinese nation as a whole, including compatriots in Taiwan, said Xi, while calling on compatriots on both sides of the Taiwan Strait to stand on the right side of history. Xi described secession aimed at “Taiwan independence” as the greatest obstacle to national reunification and a grave danger to national rejuvenation. “Those who forget their heritage, betray their motherland, and seek to split the country will come to no good end,” he said, adding that they will be disdained by the people and condemned by history. The Taiwan question is purely an internal matter for China, one which brooks no external interference, Xi noted. “The complete reunification of our country will be and can be realized,” he stressed.

By nature, the Chinese are peace-loving and never like aggression or wars. China has been observing patience for a long, and expects, that the people of Taiwan may opt for peaceful reunification. Although China has the capacity to take over Taiwan by force, yet, China preferred reunification through dialogue and negotiation peacefully. China understands the consequences too and will observe patience to the last moment. If the people of Taiwan are smart and wise they must take the right decision, and a timely decision will be in their interest. A unified China will make them proud too. They may also be beneficiaries of Chinese economic developments. Reunification, will definitely, raise the economy of Taiwanese and improve individuals’ standard of life. There are many incentives for Taiwan and unlimited opportunities.

However, in case of war, no foreign country will come to help Taiwan, especially the US will not rescue them. In fact, the role of the US is to instigate others and push them into war and keep themselves aside, watching only, they may join the winner side later on. The US is not sincere with Taiwan, but playing dirty politics only and selling expensive weapons to gain economic benefits to save its ailing economy. The US will not proactively involve in any war in the South China sea.

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