NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that “NATO countries have invested additional funds in the purchase of air defense systems and fighters to contain Russia,” RBC reported. Meanwhile, almost all members of the Western defense alliance are facing a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. Against the background of new threats, the agenda of the North Atlantic Alliance looks less and less adequate and increasingly outdated.
As of the end of October, six NATO countries make the top ten world nations with the largest number of confirmed cases of coronavirus infection. The pandemic poses an immediate threat to the life and wellbeing of the people living in the countries – members of the organization, which for the past seven decades has called itself a key element of Western security. At the same time, in June, Jens Stoltenberg called the preparation of an operational plan of action in the event of a second wave of the epidemic “a litmus test of the alliance’s reliability.”
Signs of a growing crisis within NATO began to emerge already 30 years ago, in the wake of the collapse of the Warsaw Pact. All of a sudden, the Alliance lost both key elements that had long justified its existence – the enemy and mission. Indeed, by the close of the 1990s, the very cornerstone of “collective defense” had actually become history. The degree of degradation of NATO’s military component was particularly evident after September 11, 2001. Launching its anti-terrorist campaign in Afghanistan, the United States almost demonstrably made do without using much of NATO’s military potential. Germany and France then spoke out against the invasion of Iraq.
Apart from enlargement – its only formal success – NATO has demonstrated either the ineptness or inability of its numerous structures to respond to the challenges of our time, primarily posed by organized crime and international terrorism. Officially touted as a “protector of Europe,” the alliance has been of little help to Europeans when an influx of hundreds of thousands of refugees left the European Union teetering precariously on the verge of a split, if not total collapse.
The financial crisis of 2007-2009 showed the West once again that the main threats to its stability are of a non-military nature. The scope of negative socio-economic consequences made Washington increasingly doubtful about the need to maintain the current level of America’s military obligations to Europe. Donald Trump’s arrival in the White House reflected the growing public concern in the United States about the critical overextension of the country’s resources. Even though Trump has since ramped up Washington’s military presence in Europe to the maximum level since the end of the Cold War, in practice, the issue of America’s participation in NATO’s affairs has become the main threat to the existence not only of this organization, but of the entire current model of the “West” as a whole.
Just a few days ago, President Trump’s former national security adviser, John Bolton, suggested that if the current occupant of the White House is re-elected for a new term, the United States may exit NATO. He added that this would bring about the collapse of the alliance – an assumption that doesn’t look very surprising, given the following factors.
First, the pandemic has thrown in doubt NATO’s capability as a military organization. The Defender 2020 wargames, slated for March, were the main “victim” of the coronavirus pandemic. The exercises – one of NATO’s biggest since 1991 – were supposed to test the United States’ ability to speedily move to the European theater a whole division of 20,000 men and deploy them in close vicinity of the Russian border. Much to the Western observers’ disappointment, however, the epidemic easily nixed those plans, just like most of other such drills.
Simultaneously, the Europeans started downsizing their participation in NATO’s overseas missions, explaining this by the need to concentrate all resources on battling COVID-19. And also out of fear that troops stationed in regions with poor sanitary conditions could spread the disease elsewhere. The pandemic necessitates a large-scale readjustment of government spending in NATO member countries, including within their defense budgets. The released funds were channeled to the implementation of quarantine measures, mobilization of military doctors, internal security measures and strengthening border protection.
Second, amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis, the futility of allied expectations regarding Washington’s readiness and ability to assume its leadership role has become “painfully obvious.” Rather than spearheading the fight against the pandemic, at least in the West, the United States imposed a unilateral ban on the entry of people from Europe, its “closest allies.” Moreover, Washington “shamelessly” tried to acquire for itself and itself only a potentially effective vaccine against the coronavirus, being developed in Germany.
And finally, for NATO, the current crisis differs from all previous ones in that the dynamics of the pandemic are “unpredictable.” In addition, the bloc’s European flank has already been severely weakened by the crises of the past decade. In the United States, the ongoing presidential election is putting to the hard test what Henry Kissinger described as “public confidence in the Americans’ ability to govern themselves.”
The pandemic also demonstrated the unconditional priority of sovereign states, both in terms of legitimacy and of resources that can be used to tackle a catastrophic security threat. The EU has been trying to agree a package of recovery measures for several months now. In an effort to shore up the economy, spending on common foreign and security policies, including programs of wider military interaction between the EU countries has been cut. In such circumstances, NATO will find it extremely hard to secure the Europeans’ agreement to increase their defense spending by another notch.
Meanwhile, the uneven burden of military spending has become a major sticking point souring relations between the NATO member states. Trump is firmly on course to “monetize” America’s allies. However, the Europeans fear that bigger military outlays will necessitate an increase in public debt or higher taxes, which will hardly sit well with the populace. This is also undermining Europe’s economic competitiveness. Thus, Trump’s policies weaken the position of Europeans in the global competition. Washington, for its part, sees any delays in hiking defense outlays as a deliberate policy of the Europeans, who consider the United States as a reliable guarantor of their security.
In the broader geopolitical context, during its last year’s summit in London, NATO for the first time included China in the list of its strategic priorities. Now, the coronavirus epidemic has demonstrated a clear watershed between countries, including China, which have been able to quickly and effectively respond to the epidemic by mobilizing a well-trained military and civilian state apparatus to fight the coronavirus, “and the Western countries that were unprepared,” as the former French Secretary of State for European Affairs, Pierre Lellouche, pointed out in an interview with Le Figaro.
Right now, Beijing is clearly better at keeping the epidemic under control, than the West. In economic terms, Beijing is also on top of it, boasting the world’s largest reserves, significant liquid assets and industrial capacities, which not only can quickly make up for the losses of the recent months, but are also giving a new powerful boost to the expansion of Beijing’s geopolitical presence worldwide… As for Europe and the United States, while repeating as a mantra their resolve to “resist China,” they are becoming economically “weakened,” financially “debt-ladened” and teetering on the brink of a major crisis that a new shutdown of their economies could provoke. The West is facing a dilemma of which is more important, “guns” or “butter,” previously characteristic of the Third World countries.
For all its ambitions as one of the leading centers of global power, NATO’s European wing, “today has become a buffer zone for confrontation between China and the United States.” Weakened by the coronavirus crisis, Europe has already been forced to cut much of its foreign policy activity down to mere political rhetoric. Chances are that the Europeans may have to “withdraw into themselves” for the entire period of recovery from the humanitarian, financial and economic consequences of the epidemic.
Amid massive failures in healthcare and the economic damage that is simply impossible to assess today, European politicians may find it extremely hard to convince their voters of the need for increased defense spending any time soon. US politicians will find themselves in a similar fix, especially after this year’s election campaign, whose incredible political intensity, coupled with the COVID-19 epidemic, has only exacerbated the deep rift between Democrats and Republicans.
It will be even more difficult to justify maintaining NATO’s old political priorities. The changing nature and scale of threats are becoming increasingly evident even to ordinary people. The increased assertiveness of Russia and China has traditionally been presented by many in NATO as “a “challenge” and “growing pressure.” However, even in Europe, “threats from Moscow” are now “obvious” only to Poland and the Baltic states, while the rest of Europeans see the situation in a much more realistic light, and are calling for a change of priorities when it comes to ensuring security on NATO’s southern flank.
Meanwhile, Russia, which is allegedly “threatening” NATO, has consistently advocated preserving the INF treaty. On October 26, President Vladimir Putin reiterated his call on NATO to declare a joint “moratorium on the deployment of ground-based intermediate and shorter-range missiles in Europe.” The Russian leadership is also working hard coming up with new constructive proposals to preserve the START-3 accord. Finally, Russia has for many years been urging its European neighbors to consider the security of the continent in keeping with the principles of “indivisibility of security” and the equality of all participants.
Overall, the main efforts to tackle both the current coronacrisis and potential threats to the future have little to do with the concerns of a military organization, and even lie outside its realm altogether. In addition, America and Europe are increasingly at odds about the future of NATO. A number of Central and Eastern European countries are increasingly relying on closer military-strategic cooperation with the United States. At the same time, some in the American elite already view NATO as almost a possible replacement for the EU as a new “unifier” of the continent. Other experts, however, believe that “the best way to move forward is a reorganization of NATO, where greater burden will be shifted to Europe.”
It must be admitted that the coronavirus crisis has dealt a powerful blow to the reputation of almost all supranational institutions, which may eventually push them into the background of world politics. NATO is no exception here, since its bloated bureaucracy, with its plans for accelerated and costly modernization of the existing weapons systems, clearly contrasts with the goal of strengthening national self-sufficiency and economic autonomy. Therefore, by the time the pandemic is over, the perception of the alliance by its members may have become even more uncertain than it is today.
From our partner International Affairs
The Nuclear future of East Asia
In the face of North Korea and China’s continuous expansion and advancement in their nuclear arsenal in the past decade, the nuclear question for East Asian countries is now more urgent than ever—especially when U.S.’s credibility of extended deterrence has been shrinking since the post-cold war era. Whether to acquire independent nuclear deterrent has long been a huge controversy, with opinions rather polarized. Yet it is noteworthy that there is indeed gray zone between zero and one—the degree of latency nuclear deterrence.
This paper suggests that developing nuclear weapons may not be the wise choice for East Asian countries at the moment, however, given the fact that regional and international security in the Asia-Pacific is deemed to curtail, regardless of their decision to go nuclear or not, East Asia nations should increase their latency nuclear deterrence. In other words, even if they do not proceed to the final stage of acquiring independent nuclear deterrent, a latent nuclear weapons capability should at least be guaranteed. Meanwhile, for those who have already possessed certain extent of nuclear latency—for instance, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan—to shorten their breakout time whilst minimize obstacles for a possible nuclearization in the future.
The threat is ever-present—The Nuclear North Korea
Viewing from a realist perspective, the geographical locations of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan have always been a valid argument for their nuclearization—being surrounded by nuclear-armed neighbors, namely China and North Korea—these countries have witnessed an escalation of threat on an unprecedented scale since the cold war.
Having its first nuclear weapon tested in 2006, the total inventory North Korea now possess is estimated to be 30-40. With the misstep of relieving certain sanction during the Trump era, North Korea was able to revive and eventually expand its nuclear arsenal, making future negotiation between the Biden administration and the Kim regime much harder and less effective. Not only has North Korea’s missile test on March 25—which is the first since Mr. Biden’s presidency—signaled a clear message to the U.S. and her allies of its nuclearization will and stance, Pyongyang’s advancement in nuclear technologies also indicates a surging extent of threat.
For instance, North Korea state media KCNA claimed that the latest missile launched was a “new-type tactical guided projectile” which is capable of performing “gliding and pull-up” manoeuvres with an “improved version of a solid fuel engine”. In addition to these suspected “new type of missiles” that travels in low-attitude, the diversity of launches Pyongyang currently possess—from short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) to submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), as well as the transporter erector launchers (TELs) and the cold launch system—increase the difficulty in intercepting them via Aegis destroyer or other ballistic missile defense system since it is onerous, if not impossible, to detect the exact time and venue of the possible launches. Indeed, the “new type of missile” could potentially render South Korea’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) useless by evading radar detection system through its manoeuvres, according to a study from 38 North at The Henry L. Stimson Center.
Moreover, the cold launch (perpendicular launch) system used by the North also indicates that multiple nuclear weapons could be fired from the same launch pad without severely damages caused to the infrastructure. Shigeru Ishiba, the former Defense Minister of Japan, has noted that not all incoming missiles would be able to be intercepted with the country’s missile defense system, and “even if that is possible, we cannot perfectly respond to saturation attacks”.
The Chinese nuclear arsenal
According to the SIPRI yearbook 2020, China’s total inventory of nuclear deterrent has reached 320, exceeding United Kingdom and France’s possession of nuclear warheads, of which London and Paris’s nuclear deterrent were considered as limited deterrence. In spite of the fact that China’s current nuclear stockpiles is still far less that what the Russians and Americans have, its nuclear technologies has been closely following the two military superpowers. For instance, the Chinese have successfully developed Multiple Independently Targetable Reentry Vehicle (MIRVs) and Maneuverable Reentry Vehicle (MARVs)—its intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) DF-41 is capable of equipping up to 10 MIRVs while its Medium-Range Ballistic Missile (MRBM) DF-21D could carry MARV warhead that poses challenges to the BMD systems—these advancement in nuclear technologies are the solid proof that the Chinese nukes are only steps away from Moscow and Washington. Yet China’s nuclear arsenal remains unchecked and is not confined by any major nuclear arms reduction treaty such as the New Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (New START), of which US and Russia has just reached a mutual consensus to extend the treaty through Feb 4, 2026.
In addition to China’s expansion of military capabilities and ambition in developing hypersonic glide vehicles (HGVs) and new MARVs, there is no lack of scepticism of its no-first use policy, especially with Beijing’s coercive diplomacy and provocative actions in the East and South China Sea, regarding “freedom of navigation” and other sovereignty rights issues. These all raise concerns and generate insecurity from neighboring countries and hence, East Asia states i.e. Japan, South Korea and Taiwan would inevitably have to reconsider their nuclear option.
In spite of having advanced BMD system, for instance, Aegis Destroyer (Japan), THAAD (South Korea), Sky Bow III (Taiwan), the existing and emerging nuclear arsenal in Pyongyang and Beijing still leave East Asian states vulnerable under a hypothetical attack as mentioned above. Future could be worse than it seems—merely having deterrence by denial is not sufficient to safeguard national security—particularly with a shrinking credibility of U.S.’s extended deterrence since the post-cold war era.
America’s nuclear umbrella and the Alliance Dilemma
Theoretically speaking, alliance relations with the U.S. assure a certain extent of deterrence by punishment against hostile adversaries. For example, U.S. is committed to defend Japan under the 1960 Mutual Defense Treaty. Yet in reality, security could never be guaranteed. In a realist lens, state could not rely on others to defend their national interests, especially when it puts America’s homeland security at risk. Is U.S. willing to sacrifice Washington for Tokyo? Or New York for Seoul?
Strong rhetoric or even defense pact would not be able to ensure collective security, let alone strategic ambiguity, which is a strategy adopted by Washington for Taipei that is neither a binding security commitment nor the stance is clear. Regardless of the prospect of a better future than mere war and chaos, state should always prepare for the worst.
Besides, with Trump’s American First policy continuously undermining alliance relations in the past four years, East Asian countries may find it hard to restore mutual trust since diplomatic tracks are irreversible, despite Biden’s administration intention and effort to repair alliance and U.S.’s integrity as the global leader.
Moreover, even if alliance relations and credibility of extended deterrence is robust at the moment, but the bigger question is—could and should East Asian countries shelter under America’s nuclear umbrella forever? If they choose not to go nuclear, these states would be constantly threatened by their nuclear-armed neighbors, without a credible direct (nuclear) deterrence to safeguard national security; and forced to negotiate, or worse, compromise in the face of a possible nuclear extortion.
Undeniably, horizontal nuclear proliferation is always risky. Not only is it likely to deteriorate diplomatic relations with neighboring countries, but also generates a (nuclear) regional arms race that eventually trap all nations into a vicious circle of security dilemma due to the lack of mutual trust in an anarchical system, which will consequently lead to a decrease in regional, as well as international security.
Yet with the expansion and advancement of Pyongyang and Beijing’s nuclear arsenal, regional and international security is deemed to curtail, regardless of East Asian countries’ decisions to go nuclear or not. As the official members of the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Japan’s and South Korea’s withdrawal may encourage other current non-nuclear weapon state to develop nukes. However, current existence of the NPT has already proven futile to prevent North Korea from acquiring its own nuclear weapons; or Israel, India and Pakistan, who are UN members but have never signed any of the treaties, to join the nuclear club.
The major concern about nuclear proliferation is never about the amount of warhead one possesses, but if they are in the wrong hands; for instance, a “rogue” state like North Korea. It is almost certain than none of the latent nuclear East Asia states would be considered “rogue” but just developed nations with rational calculation. In fact, the actual risk for these states joining the nuclear club in reality is not as high as most imagined. It may, indeed, help further bolster alliance relations between U.S., Japan and South Korea if they are able to come to some mutual consensuses in advance—developing independent nuclear deterrent is not an approach of alienating America’s presence as an effective ally but to strengthen security commitment with each other, and that US would support her allies in the Asia-Pacific in such attempt. The current existence of extended deterrence should not be a barrier for nuclearization. Rather, it should act as an extra protection for allied states.
Pave the way for future nuclearization
Admittedly, the road for any East Asia countries to go nuclear would be tough. Taipei’s attempt to develop nuclear weapons would imaginably trigger provocative response from Beijing, if not impossible, a pre-emptive strike that could lead to an escalation of war. Same situation goes for Seoul and Pyongyang even though the risk is relatively lower. As for Japan, although direct military confrontation is less likely comparing to Seoul and Taipei, the challenges Tokyo face for its nuclear option is no easier than any of them.
As the sole nation that has suffered from an atomic bomb explosion, Japan’s pacifism and anti-nuclear sentiment is embedded in its culture and society. According to a public opinion poll conducted by the Sankei News in 2017, 17.7% of the respondents agreed that “Japan should acquire its own nuclear weapons in the future” whilst 79.1% opposed to that idea. Despite having the imperative skills and technologies for an acquisition of independent nuclear deterrent (the breakout time for Japan is estimated to be about 6-12 months), Japan also lacks natural resources for producing nuclear warheads and has to rely heavily on uranium imports. Upholding the three non-nuclear principle since WWII, Japan’s bilateral nuclear agreements with the U.S., U.K, France and Australia specified that all imported nuclear-related equipment and materials “must be used only for the non-military purposes”. Violation of these agreements may result in sanctions that could cause devastated effect on Japan’s nuclear energy program, which supplies approximately 30% of the nation’s total electricity production. These issues, however, are not irresolvable.
Undeniably, it may take time and effort to negotiate new agreements and to change people’s pacifism into an “active pacifism”, yet these should not be the justifications to avoid the acquisition of independent nuclear deterrent as ensuring national security should always be the top priority. It is because in face of a nuclear extortion, the effectiveness of a direct nuclear deterrence guaranteed by your own country could not be replaced by any other measures such as deterrence by denial via BMD system or deterrence by punishment via extended deterrence and defense pact. Therefore, if there are too many obstacles ahead, then perhaps the wiser choice for Japan, South Korea and Taiwan at the moment is to increase their nuclear latency deterrence, shorten the breakout time and pave their way clear for future nuclearization. In other words, to keep their nuclear option open and be able to play offense and defense at its own will when the time comes.
Nevertheless, in addition to strengthening one’s latency nuclear deterrence, as well as obtaining a more equal relationship in the official and unofficial alliance with America, East Asian countries that have similar interest and common enemies should united to form a new military alliance which included security treaty regarding collective defense like the NATO; and focuses more on countering hybrid warfare like the QUAD. If Japan, South Korea and Taiwan ever choose to go nuclear, a common mechanism could be established to ensure that these states would pursue a minimum to limited deterrence capability that do not endanger each other’s security but rather to strengthen it, which would help minimizing the destabilization brought to regional security while constituting a more balanced situation with nuclear-armed rivalries.
After all, proliferation may not be the best solution, it is certainly not the worst either.
From our partner International Affairs
Test of Agni Prime Missile and India’s Counterforce Temptations
South Asia is widely regarded as one of the most hostile regions of the world primarily because of the troubled relations between the two nuclear arch-rivals India and Pakistan. The complex security dynamics have compelled both the countries to maintain nuclear deterrence vis-à-vis each other. India is pursuing an extensive and all-encompassing military modernization at the strategic and operational level. In this regard, India has been involved in the development of advanced missiles as delivery systems and improvement in the existing delivery systems as well. Pakistan’s nuclear deterrent and delivery systems are solely aimed at India; however, India aspires to fight a ‘two-front war’ against Pakistan and China. Therefore, the size and capability of its nuclear deterrent and delivery systems are aimed at countering both threats. However, most of the recent missile delivery systems made by India appear to be more Pakistan-centric. One recent example in this regard is the recently tested nuclear-capable cannisterized ballistic missile Agni Prime, which is insinuated as Pakistan-centric. These developments would likely further provoke an action-reaction spiral and would increase the pace of conflict in South Asia, which ultimately could result in the intensification of the missile arms race.
Just quite recently, on 28th June 2021, India has successfully tested an advanced variant of its Agni missile series, namely Agni Prime or Agni (P). The missile has a range between 1000-2000 kilometers. Agni Prime is a new missile in the Agni missiles series, with improved accuracy and less weight than Agni 1, 2, and 3 missiles. It has been said that the Agni-P weighs 50 % less than the Agni-3 missile. As per the various media reports, this missile would take the place of Agni 1 and 2 and Prithvi missiles, however officially no such information is available. This new missile and whole Agni series is developed as part of the missile modernization program under the Defence Research and Development Organization’s (DRDO) integrated guided missile development program.
Agni-P is a short missile with less weight and ballistic trajectory, the missile has a rocket-propelled, self-guided strategic weapons system capable of carrying both conventional and nuclear warheads. Moreover, the missile is cannisterized with the ability to be launched from road and rail. The DRDO claimed that the test flight of the missile was monitored by the telemetry radar stations and its trajectory met all the objectives of the mission successfully with high level of accuracy. Agni-P missile because of its range of 1000 to 2000 km is considered a weapon against Pakistan because within this range it cannot target China. Although, India already has different missiles in its inventory with the same range as the newly developed and tested Agni-P missile, so the question arises what this missile would achieve.
Since the last few years, it has been deliberated within the international security discourse that India’s force posture is actually more geared towards counterforce options rather than counter-value options. Although, India’s nuclear doctrine after its operationalization in 2003, claims “massive retaliation” and “nfu” but in reality with developing cannisterized weapons like Agni-P, Agni 5, and testing of hypersonic demonstrative vehicles, India actually is building its capability of “counterforce targeting” or “splendid first strike”. This reflects that India’s nuclear doctrine is just a façade and has no real implication on India’s force modernization.
These developments by India where it is rapidly developing offensive technologies put the regional deterrence equation under stress by increasing ambiguity. In a region like South Asia, where both nuclear rivals are neighbors and distance between both capitals are few thousand kilometers and missile launch from one side would take only a few minutes in reaching its target, ambiguity would increase the fog of war and put other actors, in this case, Pakistan in “use it or lose it” situation, as its nuclear deterrent would be under threat.
In such a situation, where Pakistan maintains that nuclear weapons are its weapons of last resort and to counter threats emerging from India, its nuclear deterrence has to hold the burden of covering all spectrums of threat. It might be left with no choice but to go for the development of a new kind of missile delivery system, probably the cannisterized missile systems as an appropriate response option. However, as Pakistan’s nuclear deterrence is based on principle of “CMD” which allow Pakistan to seek deterrence in a cost-effective manner and also by not indulging in an arms race. Therefore, other than the threat of action-reaction dynamic developments like Agni P by India, would make weapons more accurate and lethal, subsequently conflict would be faster, ambiguous, and with less time to think. In such a scenario, as chances of miscalculation increase, the escalation dynamics would become more complex; thus, further undermining the deterrence stability in South Asia.
India’s counter-force temptations and development of offensive weapons are affecting the deterrence equilibrium in South Asia. The deterrence equation is not getting affected just because India is going ahead with the development of offensive technologies but because of its continuous attempts of negating the presence of mutual vulnerability between both countries. Acknowledgement of existence of mutual vulnerability would strengthen the deterrence equation in the region and help both countries to move forward from the action-reaction spiral and arms race. The notions such as the development of offensive or counterforce technology or exploiting the levels below the nuclear threshold to fight a war would not be fruitful in presence of nuclear weapons. As nuclear weapons are weapons to avert the war and not to fight the war.
Unmanned Aircraft Systems & The Annihilistic Future
The unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), commonly known as drones were introduced as a useful means to military, commercial, civilian and humanitarian activities but yet it ends up in news for none of its original purposes. Drones have rather resulted as a means of mass destruction.
The recent attacks on the technical area of the Jammu Air Force Station highlights the same. This was a first-of-its-kind terror attack on IAF station rather the Indian defence forces that shook the National Investigation Agency to National Security Guard. The initial probe into the attacks directs to involvement of Lashkar-e-Taiba, a terrorist group based out of Pakistan, in the drone attacks as the aerial distance from the point of attack was just 14 kilometers. The attacks took place via an Electric multi-rotor type drone between 11:30 P.M to 1:30 A.M on 27th June, 2021.
The above incident clearly points out the security issues that lie ahead of India in face to the asymmetrical warfare as a result of drones. The Indian Government after looking at the misuse of drones during the first wave of the pandemic realised that its drone regulations were nowhere sufficient and accountable and hence passed the Unmmaned Aircraft Rules, 2021. These rules imposed stricter requirement for obtaining license and authorisations by remote pilots, operators, manufacturers or importers, training organisations and R&D organisations, thereby placing a significantly high burden on the applicants but at the same time they also permit UAS operations beyond visual sight of line and allowing student remote pilots to operate UAS.
But these rules still don’t have any control on the deadly use of drones because multi-rotor drones are very cheap and readily available and what makes them lethal is their ability to be easily detected, additionally the night time makes it even worse. Their small size grants them weak radar, thermal, and aural signatures, albeit varying based on the materials used in their construction.
The pertinent issue to be understood here is that these rules can never ensure safety and security as they cannot control the purpose for which these drones maybe used. There are certain factors that are to be accounted to actually be receptive to such imminent and dangerous threats. Firstly, significantly increasing urban encroachments in areas around defence establishments, particularly air bases, has proved to be fatal. If frontline bases like Jammu or be it any other base when surrounded by unbuffered civilization poses two pronged problems, first it acts as high chances of being a vantage point for possible attackers and second, it also hampering the defence mechanism to come to an action. It is not limited to drone concerns but there have been cases of increased bird activity that has once resulted in engine failure of an IAF Jaguar and has caused similar problems all along.
Another important factor is that of intelligence. The Anti-drone systems will take their time to be in place and it is still a distant call to ascertain how effective will these systems be, so in the time being it is pertinent to focus on intelligence which may include sales and transfers of commercial drone, or the hardware that is required to build a basic multi-rotor drone. These are not something extraordinary because it is even in news when Pakistani drones were being used to supply weapons and ammunition to terror networks on Indian soil. Also, the past experience in handling ISIS have shown the weightage of intelligence over defensive nets.
Intelligence is no doubt a crucial factor in anticipation of drone attacks but what cannot be done away with is the defense mechanism. Efficient counter-drone technology is the need of the hour. DRDO has developed such technology that could provide the armed forces with the capability to swiftly detect, intercept and destroy small drones that pose a security threat. It is claimed that solution consists of a radar system that offers 360-degree coverage with detection of micro drones when they are 4km away, electro-optical/infrared (EO/IR) sensors for detection of micro drones up to 2 km and a radio frequency (RF) detector to detect RF communication up to 3 km and is equipped for both soft kills as well as hard kills.
Hence, the above analysis brings out the need of the application of an international instrument because the technology used in such drone attacks is at an evolving stage and the natural barriers still have an upper hand over be it either flying a pre-programmed path aided by satellite navigation and inertial measurement units (IMUs), or hand controlled to the point of release or impact, both methods have significant limitations as satellite and IMU navigation is prone to errors even when it comes to moderate flight ranges while manual control is subject to the human limitations such as line of sight, visibility as well as technical limitations such as distance estimation of the target, and weak radio links. An example of this could be the Turkish-made Kargu-2 model of killer drone can allegedly autonomously track and kill specific targets on the basis of facial recognition and Artificial Intelligence (AI). As the AI becomes better and better, these drone attacks become more and more terminal.
The recent COVID-19 pandemic is an eye opener for India as well as the world as none of the countries considered the possibility of bio-defenses or made a heavy investment in it even when there was awareness about lethal effects of genetic engineering. Hence, it should be the priority of the government to invest heavily in research and make the development of defensive technologies a national priority else the result of artificially intelligent killer drones would be much more catastrophic.
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