It is almost a month now since two of the former Soviet countries pitting against each other, The orthodox Christian Armenia and Muslim majority Azerbaijan. So far many casualties have been reported from both the side, however, what drew the attention and need to address soon is the involvement of the mercenaries in the conflict.
Historically mercenaries were used by many historic kingdoms to fight on their behalf or protect themselves from outside attacks for example the group called The Ten thousand a mercenary unit mostly consisted of Greeks who were hired by Cyrus the young to fight against his brother.
Then in the 14th Century came the famous John wood’s “The White Company“. An English Mercenary group consists of people of English, German, Hungarian origins. This group was famous for its expedition in Italy
Similarly, during the infamous raids by the Ottoman king Mahmud the II on the Byzantine Empire, the defence of the walls was handover to a famous Italian Mercenary Giovanni Guistiniani, who was given the task of defending the walls of the Kingdom with his army of Mercenaries. Throughout the raid, he and his mercenary army were able to hold up the post until he was shot and wounded during the last raid.
In the modern era, the mercenary fight was seen during the world war when few American volunteer pilots who called themselves The American Volunteer Group later were known as the infamous The Flying Tigers. Fought along with the Chinese against the Japanese forces in Burma (Myanmar).
Due to changes in the War and international Scenario, countries started hiring people for their conflicts so that anonymity can be kept. From Afghanistan to Syria the concept of mercenaries can be seen. But due to the complex international structure, the use of Mercenaries has become a debating topic for many reasons.
Destabilizing and international issues related to the hiring
Any military has to follow the basic rules of engagement that protects those combatants who were injured during the conflict and civilians who had to face the wrath of the conflict so for better understanding the International Humanitarian law had categorized the conflict into two areas a) International armed conflict b) No international armed conflict.
As per the Geneva Convention 1949 Article 2, the international armed conflict is when two ‘High contracting parties’ are involved. So technically it means in an international Armed conflict only military combatants of the states will be used however the situation with mercenaries is very different. The definition provided in the Additional protocol I suggested six-point that makes a party or individual a mercenary and as per IHL Database Customary IHL, the group had to meet all the six points provided in the definition to be claimed as a mercenary.
However, the problem arises when foreign Mercenaries started to enter into the war as many countries like Italy, France, and even Additional Protocol I does not acknowledge the mercenaries as a combatant or POWs that means any involvement of mercenaries will not just destabilize the situation more but it will cause great human rights violation
The legal Status of Mercenary is again something that causes a major issue in the international arena for example Under International Humanitarian Law being a mercenary is not seen as a crime and they had to be treated properly according to the fundamental guarantees under Article 75 whereas under two International conventions one is International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing, and Training of Mercenaries adopted in 1989 and second is African Union, the Convention for the Elimination of Mercenaries in Africa both deem the use of mercenary as a crime.
Another important aspect brought into the light was the fact that these groups function anonymously and secretly and because of their secret nature it becomes hard to trace their origins as we have seen in the case of 2014 “The little Green man” incident was Russian involvement was alleged however the government denies any involvement with the incident, similarly the recent news of Turkey sending ex Syrian fighters to fight along with Azerbaijan was also denied by Turkey despite recent Reuters report of two Syrian fighters agreeing to the fact that they were sent by Turkey. Due to the clear deniability of the host nation, it became tougher to implement international law on them which lead to more human rights violations.
Human rights Violation
As the conflicts are becoming more private with the hiring of mercenaries the chances of human rights violations are also increasing and to address such issues Resolution 7/21 by Human Rights Council suggested the creation of The Working Group on the use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination. But it was the Nisour Square Massacre 2007 by the employees of “The Blackwater” PMCs that forced the international community for having a strong global regulation for mercenaries or PMCs.
Mercenaries in Nagorno-Karabakh has a greater impact not only on the disability of the region but also might cause human rights issues, as mercenaries are notorious for committing heinous crimes like Drug trafficking, rape, murders, etc there are high chances that the hiring of Syrian mercenaries will lead to a humanitarian issue as the majority of the Syrian fighters who previously belonged to the Anti-government rebel faction called the Free Syrian Army is being used in the conflict, though Turkey denied their involvement in hiring however many reports suggests that at least twenty of the soldiers belong to the Syrian rebels were killed in action who were hired by Turkey. As per the Guardian article written by Bethan Mckernan suggest that Turkey was paying the soldiers of the Murad division with almost 10,000 Turkish liras to protect the Azerbaijani Oil refineries.
The Mercenaries are always convicted of committing human rights violations like Murder, Drug Trafficking, Rape, etc. So far it is not exactly clear which group is being used in the Nagorno-Karabakh region but as per the news reports, the fighters mostly belong to the Turkish-backed Murad division and Free Syrian Army. Interestingly the members of the groups were involved in the recent Syrian crisis were as per the United Nations the same rebels were involved in many human rights violations like execution, torture, etc. that mostly went unnoticed in the similar lines an article in Business insider suggests how the Free Syrian Faction started involving in crimes like smuggling, Kidnapping, etc even Amnesty International on War Crimes in Syrian Conflict reported the human rights violation committed by the members of the Free Syrian Army.
Similarly, Murad Division has a history of attacking and torturing the members of the People’s Protection Unit (YPG). The division was also accused of committing violence in the parts of Afrin a Human Rights Digests published by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human rights pointed the violence like theft, harassments, murder and other abuses were committed by this group in the Northern Syrian region.
As there are no reports of hiring procedure there is a high chance that some criminals might have been hired in the conflict and might commit the same level of crimes they had committed during their days in Syria.
Paving way for terrorism and more conflict
Mercenaries have a history of committing crimes especially Transnational in nature and that is something even Antonio Guterres the current Secretary-General of United Nations had mentioned during his meeting summoned by Equatorial Guinea.
The usage of Syrian mercenaries will not only create a way for terrorism in the region but might lead to more sectarian and proxy conflict. As historically in many conflicts world has seen ex-terrorist being hired as a mercenary force in different battles for example Chechen rebels have been fighting alongside the Taliban in Afghanistan similarly many Yemeni mujahedeen fighters went to Afghanistan during the Afghan-Soviet fight who later became the reason for the creation of Al-Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula. Similarly, recent reports on ex ISIS fighters are being hired and sent to Nagorno-Karabakh is not only alarming information but this might also lead to the rise of the declining Islamic State of Levant- the Caucasus.
The historically Caucasian region was never free from insurgency and extremism the North Caucasian region was always infested with terrorism from groups like Al Qaeda, Jaish al-Muhajireen Wal- Ansar, Islamic Djamaat of Dagestan, and most importantly the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant – who involves a large number of foreign fighters for their fights. During the First and Second Chechen War, the region had seen a huge influx of Arab fighters participating in war similarly the group Jaish al-Muhajireen Wal and the Islamic States also believes in hiring foreign fighters for their cause and this is what makes them more troublesome in the region and involvement of Ex Islamic State fighter in the battle will open the Pandora box.
With Azerbaijan having their band of mercenaries fighting for them, reports also suggest that Armenia is also hiring Kurds especially Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and The People’s Protection Unit (YPG) to train the Armenian Militias to fight the war against the Azerbaijani forces and also the infamous Armenian Secret Army for the liberation of Armenia, fighters allegedly being hired to fight on their behalf. Kurds had a history of fighting on the behalf of Armenia as this is not the first time that Armenia had hired Kurds as their mercenaries, in 1923 – 1929 Armenia supported the Kurds group to form what previously was known as Kurdistansky Uyezd. This is the same group that is being designated as a terror outfit by Turkey, United States and even by the European Union, however, Armenia does not deem them as terror outfit this will create an issue for the international community to decide who is a terrorist and who is not and whom to put under trial as International Humanitarian law suggests that these mercenaries can only be prosecuted under the national laws, so if Armenia denies their involvement they might escape the trial and continue their fight and with such complexity in the international law famous dilemma of one man’s Terrorist Another Man’s freedom fighter will again arise and make this situation more tricky.
As Kurds, Free Syrian Army, Turkey getting involved in the fight this will surely push the parties into a different sectarian war as Kurds had an old rivalry with the Turks and Syrian rebels, similarly, the fighters of the Armenian Secret Army for the liberation of Armenia had a history of attacking the Turkish interest in the 1980s. With Pro – Armenian groups arriving to fight against the Turkish backed Azerbaijan, and countries like Russia coming into play this will increase the insecurity of Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan which might push Erdoğan towards recruiting more no-state actors to achieve its dream of spreading its power and with insecurity more international state and non-state actors in the conflict might arrive which will make the issue more violent and complicated.
As the world becoming more privatized, countries are trying hard to make the war privatized as well by hiring mercenaries to protect their interest. Due to the lack of a proper international framework for mercenaries identifying the crimes committed by mercenaries is becoming hard and with such complexity bringing Mercenaries by both parties not only pave way for more insecurity in the region but also opens the door for more human rights violation.
It is high time that international parties especially Armenia and Azerbaijan should pledge to remove all the mercenaries form the current conflict so that proper international mechanism can be used to create peace among the parties
Indian Conventional and Strategic Arms Buildup: Implications for Pakistan
South Asia’s regional dynamic is both flamboyant and intricate. Various empires have formed, prospered, and perished over the millennia, as innumerable conflicts and struggles for control of resources spread over the globe. However, 2021 was a year of fierce weapons competition between South Asia’s nuclear neighbors, India and Pakistan, who carried out 26 missile tests. India launched 16 ballistic and cruise missiles while Pakistan tested 10 missiles with nearly identical capabilities.
As a response to the perceived inability of the Indian Armed Forces (IAF) to adequately respond to the Pakistani insurgencies, and after the failure of the Indian forces to quickly react and mobilize their forces in 2001, the Indian Army and the defense policymakers realized the lack of modernized and consistent army doctrine. This resulted in the announcement by the Indian Army in 2004 of a new limited war doctrine known as the Cold Start Doctrine (CSD).
Importance of Air Base
The importance of air superiority can be witnessed by looking at the six days of the Arab-Israeli War, in which the Israeli forces pre-empted an attack from the bases of Jordan, Syria, Egypt, and Iraq, and struck the air force before the fight even began. The outcome of the war was determined during its first hours. By destroying the opposing air fleet, Israeli forces gained air superiority, and thus the Arab forces were helpless in their efforts, which eventually resulted in a humiliating defeat for the Arabs.
Indian Air-Bases: A Strategic Threat
In the contemporary era, military forces are going for weapon systems that require absolutely no time at all when it comes to striking a target. In that regard, the air force comes first for the obvious reason that its threshold is low as compared to a ballistic missile strike. Indian force deployment and employment are very close to Pakistan’s borders, from Siachen to the Rann of Kutch. In India’s most recent attack on Balakot, which took place in 2019, the air force was utilized. This clearly shows the Indian resolve to use the air force in any future blatant aggression like the one in February 2019.
The Indian air force deployment is tailor-made for Pakistan. If one analyzes the airbases/airstrips positioning and range from the Pakistani-Indo international border, the Line of Control (LOC), and the working boundary, it is quite obvious that the positioning shows the aggressive posture of the Indian Air Force. When deployed at those bases, the aircraft are the finest in the Indian military, both in terms of their quality and serviceability. When it comes to the up-gradation of the base’s facilities, this is the top priority list that is visible to everyone. In May 2021, the bases in Pakistan got priority.
The bases are positioned in such a strategy to cover every city in Pakistan, as it has no strategic depth. Pakistan’s major cities, like Karachi, Lahore, Multan, Faisalabad, Hyderabad, Bahawalpur, Rahim Yar Khan, Sialkot, and even the capital, Islamabad, are within the Indian Air Force’s reach. The same goes for the areas in Kashmir and Gilgit Baltistan.
Future Threat Scenario
Now the question arises what will happen in the future in light of past historical data? The answer to this is both simple and complex. It is simple in the context that the IAF will target Pakistan with its pre-defined strategy of naked aggression against peaceful neighbors, while the Indian Army is following a pro-active offense posture; the complex part is where, when, and how.
The IAF will utilize the war scenario created by the Indian government and Indian media after a staged terrorist attack on a civilian or military target, for which they will put full blame on the Pakistani state and security apparatus. They will try to raise the temperature to the point where the Indian civil establishment shows the world community that now enough is enough and our people are demanding a counter-strike. At that time, the Indian establishment will use its media to put blame on Pakistan and create a war-like scenario while raising tensions.
In light of that, the IAF, under the orders of the Indian government, along with the Indian army, will start attacking the Pakistani bases in the early moments of the war because if the IAF does not target PAF bases, then there will be grave consequences for the Indian army, and the Pakistani army also has additional fire support bases. The above-mentioned rationale will be the main cause of the IAF attacking the PAF infrastructure, thus undermining the national security of Pakistan. The Indian army, with the IAF, will aspire to rapid, shallow penetration of Pakistani territory, without crossing the nuclear threshold of Pakistan. The Indian military will go for a quick and short battle that will surprise Pakistan because that is the only possible strategy in their minds when talking about limited war scenarios or showing off war.
The IAF is a major threat to the national security of Pakistan in the wake of its alignment with the Indian military’s CSD. The operational exercises conducted in the past and the recent strikes at Balakot exhibit the growing role of the IAF in the Indian military offensive strategy against Pakistan. Vast parts of Pakistan are within the combat radius of the IAF’s operational fighters because of Pakistan’s lack of strategic depth.
The IAF will try to use this as an advantage to support the pro-active and offensive strategy of the Indian Armed Forces to harm Pakistan, as that would be their prime objective because of their hegemonic designs. In order to protect itself from India’s flagrant military aggression, Pakistan should take some protective measures.
In the wake of the growing IAF threat, the PAF and Pakistani government should take the following measures on an urgent basis:
- Build some new airstrips along the border with India, to balance the threat by not allowing an IAF advantage in any sector. Moreover, the building of airstrips requires less money; thus this step will not put a strain on Pakistan’s economy;
- Buy more advanced surveillance radars to detect early IAF movement.
- Purchase advanced surface-to-air missiles to create a defensive barrier;
- Go for indigenizing the modern, state-of-the-art 5th generation fighter aircraft, as buying from foreign suppliers is very expensive.
- Ask the international community to put pressure on both sides to sign confidence-building measures that will lead to peace and stability.
The audacious AUKUS submarine deal and Asia’s changing security landscape
In this exhaustive analysis, I try to spell out the impact and potential consequences of the recently-brokered submarine deal between the U.S., the U.K., and Australia on Asia’s changing security landscape.
All advanced navies of the world possess lethal submarines, powered by either diesel-electric or nuclear propulsion. These underwater warships are the most potent asset at the disposal of a naval force for maritime power projection, sea denial and sea control. Lying silently under water, they are capable of sinking surface ships, including large aircraft carriers, with torpedoes or ballistic missiles. Ever since WW-II, submarines have made its name as one of the most crucial components of maritime strategy and naval warfare. Australia and the U.K. are two key maritime nations of the world, which happen to be security allies of the United States, a country that owns and operates the largest fleet of nuclear-powered submarines in the world. Being nuclear-powered not necessarily mean being armed with nuclear warheads.
The 2021-formed AUKUS (Australia, U.S., U.K.) “enhanced trilateral security partnership” has taken cooperation between the three Anglophone countries to the next level. U.S. President Joe Biden hosted the prime ministers of the United Kingdom and Australia – PM Rishi Sunak and PM Anthony Albanese – in the Californian port city of San Diego on 13 March 2023, where they jointly announced a detailed four-phased plan to equip Australia (a non-nuclear-weapon state) with “conventionally armed, nuclear-powered” submarines (codenamed SSN) at least by the next decade along with strengthening cooperation in other areas such as critical and emerging technologies.
The plan would cost Canberra’s exchequer up to a whopping A$ 368 bn. (US$ 245 bn.) in total by 2055, according to reports. The detailed plan, spanning a time frame of three decades, was announced after an eighteen-month-long consultation period following the creation of AUKUS in mid-September 2021. Australian PM Anthony Albanese called the deal “the single biggest leap” in Australia’s defence capabilities in the nation’s history. If the plan goes ahead smoothly as planned, Australia will become the seventh country in the world to add nuclear-powered submarines to its navy. As the deal turns out to be a race against time, the biggest challenge is to ensure deterrence capabilities for Australia at the present, as the full benefits of the deal would take years to materialise.
AUKUS leaders believe that the deal would “strengthen deterrence and bolster stability in the Indo-Pacific and beyond for decades to come”, apparently keeping in mind the exponential growth of China’s naval power in the recent past. China has built 12 nuclear-powered submarines in the last two decades, including ballistic missile submarines (codenamed SSBNs) and is continuing its ambitious ship-building spree in all fronts. As per the AUKUS plan, the first phase of the deal is set to begin as early as this year, with U.S. and British SSNs increasing their port visits in Australia along with joint embedded training of naval personnel, which will be followed by a rotational deployment of U.S. and British SSNs in the island continent.
In the remaining two phases of the deal, Washington will deliver a flotilla of three to five advanced Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines to Australia by the early 2030s, upon Congressional approval, and eventually a new “SSN-AUKUS class” of nuclear-powered submarines (SSN) will be developed in the decade that follows, for future commissioning in both British and Australian navies. With the use of nuclear energy involved, the Indo-Pacific region is abuzz with fears and concerns of an escalating arms race, even though AUKUS promises “the highest nuclear non-proliferation standard”.
Current owners of nuclear-powered submarines
As of now, only the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council (U.S., Russia, China, U.K., France) and India have active nuclear-powered attack-capable submarines in their naval fleet (see the image below). More than half of the 130 active nuclear-powered submarines in the world are operated by the U.S. Navy (67), followed by Russia (31), China (12), U.K. (10), France (9) and India (1). The rise of China’s offensive military capabilities and its naval power in particular, since the 1990s, is the single largest factor that has convinced Canberra to join hands with Washington and London to bolster its own capabilities, through AUKUS, by making use of “next-generation” British hull design and “cutting-edge” American technology.
Countries with active nuclear powered submarines (via Statista)
The AUKUS deal smartly gets away with a loophole in the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) of 1968, which allows for the transfer of fissionable material and nuclear technology from a nuclear-weapon state (NWS) to a non-NWS if it is used for non-explosive military use like naval propulsion. Such a transfer is also exempted from inspections and monitoring by the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), an organisation that stands for the peaceful use of nuclear energy and the promotion of nuclear safety. The IAEA Director General said that he had received “separate communications” on the matter from the Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of Australia, as well as from the U.K. and the U.S.
Of all the countries that have reacted to the highly ambitious AUKUS project, the responses of China and Russia stands out, as they are in direct strategic competition with the de facto leader of AUKUS – the United States. While the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson remarked that the U.S. and its AUKUS allies are “walking further and further down the path of error and danger for their own geopolitical self-interest”, Russian foreign minister commented, “the Anglo-Saxon world, with the creation of structures like AUKUS and with the advancement of NATO military infrastructures into Asia, is making a serious bet on many years of confrontation in Asia”.
While Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong cities Canberra’s bid for “strategic equilibrium” in the region as the underlying factor that led to the AUKUS pact, opinions on the submarine deal, which comes at a humongous cost, are not uniform across Australia’s political spectrum. Former Prime Minister Paul Keating thinks Canberra is compromising on a proper national defence strategy to help maintain U.S. “strategic hegemony” in Asia and has also stated that the submarine deal would be ineffective in the event of a war. Indonesia, Malaysia and New Zealand have also shared their concerns about the risk of nuclear proliferation in the region.
As per the Bangkok Treaty of 1995, Southeast Asia is a nuclear-weapon-free zone (NWFZ). Moreover, almost all of the ASEAN member-states have deep economic linkages with China, even though they rely on the U.S. for “security and stability” in Asia. Even though some of them have disputes with Beijing in the South China Sea, like the Philippines and Vietnam, they prefer to avoid unnecessary “provocations” and try to balance their ties with the U.S. and China, amid intensifying regional rivalry between the two big powers. Australian defence and foreign ministries are expected to embark on a diplomatic charm offensive to assuage all concerns of Southeast Asian countries lying in China’s periphery.
Eyeing for balance of power
AUKUS was announced just one year after a Pentagon report claimed that China has built the world’s largest naval fleet in sheer numerical terms, even though the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) relies mostly on smaller classes of ships, while the U.S. naval strength is further multiplied by its allied navies. One of the most-overlooked events of March 2023 was the annual session of China’s ceremonial national legislature, the National People’s Congress (NPC), which handed over China’s Presidency to the hyper-nationalistic and revanchist leader Xi Jinping for an unprecedented third time in a row.
The newly-appointed Chinese foreign minister Qin Gang, formerly China’s Ambassador to the United States, held a press conference on the sidelines of the NPC, during which he made a significant remark that throws light on the deteriorating state of U.S.-China relations. He accused the U.S. of harbouring a “Cold War mentality” and said, “… the United States claims that it seeks to out-compete China but does not seek conflict. Yet in reality, it’s so-called competition means to contain and suppress China in all respects and get the two countries locked in a zero-sum game … If the United States does not hit the brake but continues to speed down the wrong path, no amount of guardrails can prevent derailing, and there will surely be conflict and confrontation … Containment and suppression will not make America great, and it will not stop the rejuvenation of China …”
Washington’s shooting of a suspected Chinese “spy balloon” that flew over American airspace earlier this year is the latest example of this downward spiral in U.S.-China ties. The Indo-Pacific, as a geostrategic concept and a broader maritime region, came into being as China began to flex its military muscles throughout its immediate and extended neighbourhood, where U.S. and its allies have a robust military presence.
Being part of the U.S.-led alliance system, including the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing network and the recent AUKUS pact, Canberra has become a lynchpin of Washington’s evolving Indo-Pacific strategy to counter growing Chinese assertiveness and stated offensive intentions vis-à-vis Taiwan, the South and East China Seas, and also the Line of Actual Control (LAC) with India. Australia is also due to the host the third in-person Quad leaders’ summit later this year.
As the “threat perception” of China in the West continues to rise day by day, the extent to which an AUKUS-centered deterrence is possible in Asia remains to be seen in the years to come.
Anti-Satellite Weapons: Risks and Regulations
Today, outer space is characterised as an increasingly congested, contested, and competitive domain. This is because of an unprecedented increase in satellites and actors operating them. 13 countries now possess the capability to launch satellites compared to only two in the late 50s. In 1959, there were only two man-made objects in outer space but as of 30th April, 2022, Union of Concerned Scientists’ database included 5,465 active satellites. The number stood at 3,372 on 31 December 2020 – indicating an increase of 62%.
The growing dependence over space-based assets for day-to-day activities, like communication, navigation, and weather forecasts etc. indicates that the numbers are likely to grow exponentially. The environment that these satellites face is not benign by any standard. The biggest threat emerges in the form of space debris which are any human-made objects in orbit around the Earth that no longer serve any useful purpose. 60 years of human activities in outer space have generated over 29,000 human-made objects of larger than 10cm, while even a 1cm object can collide with a satellite to cause damage comparable to a hand grenade. While some of the debris generation is inevitable, Destructive Anti Satellite Weapons (DA-ASATs) testing has been a leading source of debris creation – something that can be prevented.
DA-ASATs, part of the counterspace capabilities which help a state in establishing space superiority while denying the same to its adversary, are essentially missiles which either directly hit a satellite in outer space or destroy it through proximity detonations. Use of this capability generates debris in outer space and threatens sustainable utilisation of outer space for peaceful endeavours. Other non-kinetic counterspace capabilities include physical non-kinetic capabilities like lasers and High Power Microwaves (HPMs) that damage on board circuitry of satellites, electronic counterspace capabilities which affect the satellites’ communications channels and cyber capabilities which target the data.
In November 2022, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) passed a non-binding resolution banning testing of DA-ASATs. The resolution was supported by an overwhelming majority of 154 states. The resolution was tabled by the United States (US) that had already announced a unilateral moratorium on such testing in April of that year. While the earliest demonstrations of such a capability date back to early Cold War, only four states have demonstrated this capability so far – the US, Russia, China, and India. While Russia and China voted against the resolution, India abstained from voting but expressed its preference for a legally binding treaty over self-declared moratoriums. Russia and China, on the other hand, objected to the resolution’s shortcomings over development of such a capability and lack of disarmament when it comes to states that already possess this capability. The two have also pointed out how the issue of non-kinetic ASATs was left out.
While the effort to mitigate debris-generation through banning the testing of DA-ASATs is praiseworthy, leaving out the continued possession, production, and development of DA-ASATs and more advanced non-kinetic capabilities is worrisome. In a way, the emerging trend of unilateral moratoriums and UNGA resolution is akin to establishing DA-ASAT ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ as was the case of nuclear non-proliferation regime. A taboo on testing of these technologies is likely to emerge, making it difficult for other states to enter this club. Such an outcome would be desirable if the intent was to avoid an arms race in outer space and move towards disarmament of existing capabilities. However, that does not seem to be the case.
France, for instance, joined the US in announcing a moratorium on testing of DA-ASATs – in a way surrendering its option to demonstrate this capability. However, in 2019, French Defence Minister had publicised a French plan to develop anti-satellite laser weapons stating that, ‘If our [French] satellites are threatened, we intend to blind those of our adversaries.’ Lasers and other non-kinetic means present a different set of challenges for space security. Possession of such capabilities is difficult to verify, it is difficult to establish attribution once such weapons have been employed, and their non-destructive nature lowers the threshold of use. In case of electronic and counterspace capabilities, the barriers to entry are lower and the risks of proliferation are higher. If other states with significant stakes in outer space emulate the French approach, it is only going to increase the likelihood of warfighting in outer space.
The emerging taboo on non-testing of DA-ASATs is not shared by three of the four states which have demonstrated this capability so far. Notwithstanding the American divergences with Russia and China, there is merit in the position that the latter have taken. The next step, therefore, needs to be disarmament of existing DA-ASAT capabilities and a ban on their development. Alongside, the issue of non-kinetic counterspace capabilities also needs to be addressed. Without a comprehensive approach towards space security and addressing the concerns of all stakeholders, there is no way to ensure that contestation in outer space will not escalate to undesirable levels.
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