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Trilateral Arms Control Initiative between US, Russia and China

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Since the Cold War and disintegration of Soviet Union, various nuclear arms control agreements have remained an important component of the bilateral relationship between the United States (US) and Russia. In fact, these have been a major stabilizing factor between the two traditional rival states. The Trump administration and its shift from globalism towards nationalism, resultantly dissolved a number of bilateral agreements like the Iran JCPOA deal and stepped back from a number of multilateral accords such as the climate change Paris Agreement. Consequently, the US lost its credibility for any future cooperative engagements under its present leadership. After its withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty in 2019,the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty(New START) -the only major bilateral nuclear agreement is now breathing its last. As the expiry date of the Treaty approaches i.e. February 2021, the US wants the decades-long framework of bilateral arms control to be reframed in a trilateral structure with the inclusion of China as a third tier via extension and modification of the New START.

Recently, the Trump administration showed flexibility in its demand of Chinese participation in the trilateral nuclear arms control talks with Russia. The US is now seeking a politically binding framework with Russia that covers all nuclear warheads, establishes a verification regime, and could include China in the future. Yet, there is divergence on key issues where Russia is demanding an unconditional extension of the Treaty, while the US administration opposes it with calling for limiting all types of nuclear warheads possessed by Russia as a condition for prolonging the Treaty.

The new arms control arrangement proposed by the US will be difficult for China to accept due to the existing asymmetry between their nuclear arsenals.US-China relations are proceeding in a downward spiral with accelerating trade war and failing bilateral engagements. Given the escalating level of mistrust, China would remain reluctant to join any bilateral or trilateral engagements with the US in near future or at least until the current leadership dissolves. Moreover, given the difference in the size of its nuclear arsenal vis-à-vis two of the biggest nuclear weapon states, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian called the US‘ neither serious nor sincere’ in the proposed negotiations and instead emphasized extension of the existing New START treaty limiting the number of nuclear warheads bilaterally.

There are several major reasons behind Chinese reluctance to join a trilateral arrangement of nuclear arms control. Firstly, the asymmetric nature of nuclear arsenals between the three states -where the US and Russia hold 20 times more nuclear warheads and more efficient delivery systems than China. The Chinese government also wants the US to cut down the number of its nuclear warheads from around 5 to 6 thousands to a few hundred and reach the level of China, which is rather unrealistic given the status of foremost nuclear weapon states, matured doctrines and evolving postures of both leading nuclear weapon states. Lastly, the current US administration and its policies aimed at containing China, is another major cause for concern at least till the presidential elections and formation of a new administration in the US.

Here, two predictive perspectives arise. Firstly, China is likely to remain reluctant towards the idea of its inclusion in any future arms control arrangement. Contrarily, the new administration -possibly Democrat – with strong advocacy of nuclear arms reduction, could convince China with its negotiable conditions in formulating a completely new framework of future nuclear arms control. The scope and dimension of such an arrangement will strengthen the general ambitions of arms control and disarmament globally. This is due to the fact that inclusion of a third-tier in such a strategic arms control accord may bring greater consensus and pave way towards future multilateral arrangements. Such arrangements would be able to attract other nuclear weapon states to demonstrate their credibility via increased responsible approach towards non-proliferation and arms control ambitions. Where it remains necessary to extend New START between the existing two party states, China’s inclusion maybe decisive in evaluating whether a major bilateral arms control would be equally successful once upgraded to three-tiered or multi-tiered structure or not.

Despite the current circumstances, a trilateral arms control model holds some individual gains for China and Russia. While accepting the proposition, along with the status of a strong contemporary economic power, China would step into the status of strategically significant power with the two foremost nuclear weapon states. Thus, providing China another reason to strengthen its regional hegemonic status. Russia supported Chinese stance of staying away from arms control accord because Russia finds it logical due to greater asymmetry in nuclear arsenal of Beijing vis-à-vis Moscow or Washington. Inclusion of third-tier in strategic arms control that has similar bitter and competitive relations with the US, would likely strengthen Sino-Russian joint position within the framework later.

The nature of an initial trilateral model could be one that has China as the arbitrator for cutting down the warhead numbers where future negotiations could be possible under equal criteria.  The emerging cooperative nature of Russo-Chinese relations regionally, is another aspect that may convince China to join such arrangement that would directly put pressure on the US in any contradictory scenario or treaty formed under the trilateral model of nuclear arms control. Russia and China are moving closer to each other in the Asia-Pacific region, in terms of political and military competition with the US. This politico-military cooperation and mutual regional interests could later impel Russia to back the Chinese stance of bringing the ‘majority-rule criterion’ within the trilateral arms control agreements.

However, keeping in view the current stance of all three relevant parties, any progress in preserving the only major strategic arms control treaty between the US and Russia is now likely to occur post-US presidential elections.

Hananah Zarrar is a Researcher at Centre for Aerospace and Security Studies (CASS), Islamabad. She holds an MPhil degree with major area of interest in Strategic and Nuclear Affairs.

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Defense

The Proxy War of Libya: Unravelling the Complexities

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The African continent has been infamous for its desolate conditions and impoverished lifestyle for years. The violence has not spared the region either since the extremely unstable Middle-East has set the vendetta throughout the region, verging Africa in the east. Whether it comes to the spreading influence of ISIS under the flag of Boko Haram; a terrorist organisation operating in Chad and North-eastern Nigeria, or the rampant corruption scandals and ream of military cops in Zimbabwe, the region rivals the instability of its eastern neighbour. However, one conflict stands out in Northern Africa, in terms of high-stake involvement of foreign powers and policies that have riven the country, not unlike Syria in the Middle-East. Libya is one instance in Africa that has faced the civil war for almost a decade yet involves not only local powers but is also a focal point that has caused the NATO powers to be at odds.

Libya, officially recognised as the ‘State of Libya’, is a war-torn country in the Northern periphery of the African continent. The country is bordered by the Mediterranean Sea in the North, Egypt lies to its East and Sudan and Tunisia border in the Southeast and Northwest respectively. Apparent from the topography, Libya stands as an epicentre to the countries ridden with conflicts, stands the ground that was the central root of the infamous Arab Spring uprisings taking a rebellious storm right off its borders in Tunisia back in 2011. While the NATO-led campaign garnered success in overthrowing the notorious dictator, Muammar Gaddafi, and thus bringing the draconian regime to an end, it failed to account for the brewing rebels and militias in pockets throughout the state of Libya.

Over the following years, weaponry and ammunition was widely pervaded across the region in spite of strict embargo placed. The pilling artillery and unregulated rebels cycled the instability in the country leading to the successive governments to fail and eventually split the country in two dominant positions: The UN-recognised Government National Accord (GNA), led by Tripoli-based leader and prime minister Fayez Al-Sarraj, and the Libyan National Army (LNA), led by the tailing ally and successor to Gaddafi, General Khalifa Haftar.

While both GNA and LNA vied for the control on Libya, foreign powers involved rather similar to the labyrinth of stakes in Syria, each state split over the side supporting their part of the story and ultimately serving their arching purpose of interference in the region. Despite of the ruling regime of Al-Sarraj since the controversial election win of GNA in 2016, Haftar-led LNA controls an expansive territory and has been launching offensive attacks against the GNA alliance. GNA enjoys the support of US, Turkey, Qatar and Italy; each serving either ideological support or military backing to secure the elected government of Libya. Meanwhile, LNA is backed by Russia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and France. While the western powers see GNA as an economically stabilising solution to the Libyan crisis, Russia and France eye Haftar as a key ally to expand influence in the African region and reap control of the oil-rich resources under control of Haftar’s troops in the oil-crescent territory.

The Turkish regime, on the other hand, eye Libya as a direct answer to the Russian influence in the Syrian war that has been pushing the Kurdish alliance stronger along and within the southern borders of Turkey. This has led to recent clashes and direct escalation in the proxy war waged in Syria. Turkey plans to incentivise the leveraging position against Russia in Libya by deploying military advisory to Tripoli to strengthen their position against the Russian-backed Haftar to ultimately deter the alliance from spreading far in the African region.

The power split in Libya was exacerbated in 2017 following the Gulf crisis that led to the boycott of Qatar by the Arab quartet led by Saudi Arabia. Libya stood as a battle ground for both strategic and military positions to one up the other alliance in external power games while the internal matters of Libya are long forgotten and population left clueless and desperate for welfare. Since then, the vested interests in Libya have side-lined yet the peace process has been encouraged by both UN and Merkel-led ‘Berlin process’ in support to the UN efforts to restore peace in Libya. However, the strained relations and foreign demarcation is still apparent even though no escalation has been in action for months.

Now the ceasefires have been in talks for a while and except for a few skirmishes, the powers have been curbed since June 2020. The silence could imply room for diplomatic efforts to push a much-awaited resolve to this complex proxy war. With the recent turn of events in the global political canvas, wheels of the betterment might turn in favour of Libya. Saudi Arabia has recently joined hands with Qatar, opening all borders to the estranged ally and resuming diplomatic relations. Turkey is eying the coveted spot in the European Union since the UK exit. The US in redefining its policies under the revitalising administration of Joseph Biden while Russia deals with the tensed relations with the Gulf since the oil price war shattered the mutual understanding shared for years. The core players of the Libyan Proxy war are dormant and may remain passive due to external complexities to handle. Yet, with regional powers like Egypt threatening invasions in Libya and both GNA and LNA showing no interest in negotiation, a conclusive end to the Libyan crisis is still farfetched.

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Defense

Pakistan Army’s Ranking improved

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According to data issued by the group on its official website, Pakistan Army has been ranked the 10th most powerful in the world out of 133 countries on the Global Firepower index 2021.Especially the Special Services Group (SSG) is among the best in the world.  Just behind; 1- United States PwrIndx: 0.0721,  2- Russia PwrIndx: 0.0796, 3- China PwrIndx: 0.0858, 4- India PwrIndx: 0.1214, 5- Japan PwrIndx: 0.1435, 6- South Korea PwrIndx: 0.1621, 7- France PwrIndx: 0.1691, 8- United Kingdom PwrIndx: 0.2008, 9- Brazil PwrIndx: 0.2037, 10- Pakistan PwrIndx: 0.2083.

Global Firepower (GFP) list relies on more than 50 factors to determine a nation’s Power Index (‘PwrIndx’) score with categories ranging from military might and financials to logistical capability and geography.

Our unique, in-house formula allows for smaller, more technologically-advanced, nations to compete with larger, lesser-developed ones. In the form of bonuses and penalties, special modifiers are applied to further refine the annual list. Color arrows indicate a year-over-year trend comparison.

The geopolitical environment, especially the regional security situation, is quite hostile. Pakistan is bordering India, a typical adversary and has not accepted Pakistan’s independence from the core of heart, and always trying to damage Pakistan. The Kashmir issue is a long standing issue between the two rivals. On the other hand, the Afghan situation is a permanent security threat for Pakistan. Bordering Iran means always facing a danger of aggression from the US or Israel on Iran, resulting in vulnerabilities in Pakistan. The Middle East is a hot burning region and posing instability in the region. The growing tension between China and the US is also a source of a major headache for Pakistan.

Under such a scenario, Pakistan has to be very conscious regarding its security and sovereignty. Although Pakistan’s ailing economy is not supporting its defense needs, it may not compromise strategic issues for its survival. Pakistan focuses on the quality of its forces instead of quantity. The tough training makes a real difference—the utilization of Science and Technology-enabled Pakistan to maintain its supremacy.

Pakistan is situated at a crucial location – the entrance point to the oil-rich Arabian Gulf is just on the major trading route for energy. Pakistan is at the conjunction of Africa, Europe, Eurasia, Central Asia, East Asia, South Asia, and China. Pakistan is a pivotal state and always focus of world powers.

During the cold war era, Pakistan sided with the US and protected the region’s American interests. The US military establishment knows well that as long as Pakistan stands with the US, it can achieve all its strategic goals in the region. However, It was the American choice to give more importance to India and ignore Pakistan.

Pakistan is a peace-loving nation and struggling for the promotion of peace globally. Pakistan always raises its voice at the UN and other international forums for oppressed ones and against any injustice. Pakistan. In the history of seven decades, Pakistan was never involved in any aggression against any country. Pakistan’s official stance is, “We are partner for peace with any country, any nation, or individuals.” Pakistan is a partner and supporter of any peace-initiative in any part of the world. 

However, Pakistan is always prepared to protect its territorial integrity and will not allow any aggressor to harm our sovereignty at any cost. Pakistan is determined for its independence and geographical integrity.

Pakistan is no threat to any country or nation. Neither have any intention of expansion. But always ready to give a tough time to any aggressor.

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Defense

Israel continues its air strikes against Syria after Biden’s inauguration: What’s next?

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A family of four, including two children, died as a result of an alleged Israeli air strike on Hama in northwestern Syria on Friday, January 22, Syrian media said. In addition, four people were injured and three civilian houses were destroyed.

According to a military source quoted by Syrian outlets, Israel launched an air strike at 4 a.m. on Friday from the direction of Lebanese city of Tripoli against some targets on the outskirts of Hama city.

“Syrian air defense systems confronted an Israeli air aggression and shot down most of the hostile missiles,” the source said.

The Israeli newspaper Jerusalem Post reported that there were loud sounds of explosions in the area.

In turn, the Israel Defense Forces declined to comment on alleged strikes resulted in the death of Syrian citizens.

Over the past time, Israel significantly stepped up its aerial bombardment. This incident was the fifth in a series of Israeli air attacks on targets in Syria in the past month and the first after the inauguration of the U.S. President Joe Biden. Foreign analysts and military experts said that Tel Aviv intensified air strikes on Syria, taking advantage of the vacuum of power in the United States on the eve of Biden taking office as president.

While the Donald Trump administration turned a blind eye on such aggression, a change of power in the United States could remarkably limit Israel in conducting of military operations against Syria and Iran-affiliated armed groups located there. As it was stated during his presidential campaign, Joe Biden intends to pursue a more conciliatory foreign policy towards Iran. In particular, he unequivocally advocated the resumption of the nuclear deal with the Islamic republic. In this regard, Tel Aviv’s unilateral actions against Iranian interests in Syria could harm Washington’s plans to reduce tensions with Tehran.

By continuing air strikes against Iranian targets in Syria, Israel obviously sent a massage to the United States that Tel Aviv will consistently run anti-Iran policy, even if it will be in conflict with the interests of the Joe Biden administration. On the other hand, such Israeli behavior threatens to worsen relations with the United States, its main ally.

In the nearest future, the US reaction on the Israeli belligerent approach toward Iran will likely determine whether the relations between Tehran, Tel Aviv and Washington will get better or the escalation will continue.

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