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Conquering the Emptiness: A New Stage in the Militarization of Outer Space

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In recent years, we have seen a spike in interest in space exploration: revolutionary developments in the space launch services market; new satellite services for various purposes; the introduction the first new manned spacecraft in some time; and the ambitious U.S. crewed moon programme. However, militaries all over the world are also suddenly becoming very interested in outer space.

Regardless of what we think about Donald Trump’s eccentric personality, he has left quite the legacy. One of the decisions pushed through due to his unwavering (although not always constructive) energy was establishing the United States Space Force as a separate branch of the military [1], which was officially announced on December 20, 2019, following a few of years of discussion. Protecting “U.S. and allied interests in space” was proclaimed to be the principal mission of the Space Force, while preparations for orbital warfare were openly declared to be its principal task. Orbital warfare is also one of the subjects to be taught to officers at the new training centre.

The U.S. initiative caused a domino effect among its allies. In September 2019, France established, as part of its air force, a Space Command with a higher status than before, and in October 2020, NATO announced the creation of a space centre at Allied Air Command in the Ramstein Air Base in Germany. Meanwhile, the United Kingdom is planning to establish its own Space Command in 2022, and even the “pacifist” Japan announced the launch of a new “Space Operations Squadron” to “protect Japanese satellites.”

Undoubtedly, this process is only gaining momentum, and in the near future, all the large military powers will grant their military space agencies a higher and more autonomous status.

Significantly, this is where Russia has been well ahead of the curve, as the country’s space forces have always enjoyed a relatively high degree of autonomy. It has reported directly to the General Staff of the Armed Forces since the 1980s, and in the 1990s and in the 2000s, it existed as a separate branch of the military. Currently, however, Russia is in the process of partly rolling back this process, with the space forces, the anti-aircraft defence force and even the military aviation being absorbed by the Air Force to form the Russian Aerospace Forces.

The new military branches will command unprecedented satellite constellations: as the satellite systems will not have any radically different tasks, they will keep in line with the general trend of establishing super-large constellations of small satellites instead of a few large ones. SpaceX’s massively advertised Starlink system immediately comes to mind, the first service to offer low-latency, high-speed broadband [2] internet access anywhere in the world via the satellites (initially, it will be available at limited latitudes). Deploying this system and transitioning fully to operational mode will certainly be one of the biggest events of the next few years, in many ways due to the brilliant advertising campaign.

In the meantime, it is not only sailors and farmers in the sticks who might find a use for the Starlink system, as the United States military has also expressed an interest: back in October 2019, the U.S. Air Force hastily organized its first military exercise using the rudiments of the constellation, with its aircraft being “hooked” up to the system. Later, the military, figuratively speaking, paid for a three-year “subscription” to the service in order to carry out assessments and exercises.

Starlink is only the tip of the iceberg. Excluding other commercial constellations that could be used for dual purposes (and already are: commercial Earth remote sensing services are still inferior to the military ERS services, but their large scale potentially makes for faster information delivery due to higher numbers of flyovers over the targets), the U.S. Space Force plans to build a multi-layered “national” constellation of more than one thousand satellites that will handle the tasks of communication, missile defence, missile attack warning [3], intelligence (with top speed information transfer directly on the battlefield) and navigation at a drastically new level. To give the reader an idea of the scale: there are currently fewer than 3000 “live” satellites in orbit in all countries and serving all purposes, and the U.S. Military and government agencies own less than 400 of them.

Russia calls the Sfera constellation of about 600 satellites its “main project in applied cosmonautics” for the next decade.

Despite the announced benign purposes such as, for instance, “monitoring the movements of animal groups,” similar environmental supervision, and internet access for passengers on vessels travelling the Northern Sea Route, the task of ensuring national security is obviously the crucial and only task that could prompt the government to finance this programme. Clearly, China will not remain on the side-lines, as it has been the leader in carrier rocket launches in recent years. It is also inevitable that we will see rapid development of military anti-satellite systems, as the huge interest that many states have “suddenly” developed in combating the “space debris” problem demonstrates.

The coming decade will see exponential growth of “live” orbital craft, and their services are likely to create a consumer services revolution comparable to first seeing your house on Google Maps or your phone offering a travel guide around a new city in a new country. Certainly, not all users of those services will use them solely for peaceful purposes.

Deployment of huge space constellations (the English term is particularly apt here) is ensured primarily by miniaturizing equipment and transitioning to the distributed work of complex systems. However, the revolution on the launch services market cannot be disregarded either. Economically, the changes that are currently taking place are the largest since Russia moved into the open market, while technologically, they are the largest since the Shuttle and Buran.

I have already talked about the revolution in the launch services market in an article published on the RIAC website, and I would not like to repeat myself here. In short, the essence of the revolution is that many new players entered the market with the support of their governments (and military agencies in particular), which thus increased competition due to new economic models and dumping policies, as well as to the development of new carrier rockets that provide a competitive edge thanks to the relatively low costs of manufacturing and operating them, and the trend towards lightweight satellites and partial reusability. The old leading players were, in turn, spurred on to step up the development of a new generation of carrier rockets. We can say with some certainty that we are witnessing a boom in launch vehicles, especially if we keep in mind the quantitative growth of China’s capabilities, where quantity is well on the way to transforming into quality, and the spread of lightweight launch vehicles throughout the world (even individual European states such as the United Kingdom and Germany have started their own programmes).

The Frontier

All this could paint a grim picture of the sky being transformed into a battlefield. However, a new worthy goal of manned space flights is shining brighter and brighter against the generally dark background: after half a century of sitting in low orbit, humanity is finally ready to go back to the Moon.

And humanity is now gearing up to go beyond “flag-sticking” mode. It wants to go there to stay, to make Tsiolkovsky’s, Korolyov’s and von Braun’s dreams of humanity expanding into the solar system a reality. At the very least, Donald Trump called for efforts to be stepped up in this area, as he restructured the space programme of the previous administration and suggested that the first moon landing of the 21st century to be pushed forward to 2024 (apparently, he was planning to go out with a bang at the end of his second term as president).

The new programme was named Artemis in honour of Apollo’s sister. Curiously, despite the misogyny label attached to the Trump administration, Trump’s slogan for Artemis was landing “the first woman and the next man” on the surface of the Moon. Although the President’s “roadmap” was more coherent than the Obama administration’s extremely vague “Flexible Path” [4], its ambitious timeframe immediately raised questions concerning its feasibility. Certainly, the Trump administration is not entirely to blame for this. The situation with the super heavy-lift expendable launch vehicle (SLS) in particular is absolutely horrendous in terms of delays and overspending – had there been no other issues, this problem alone would have likely buried any hopes for a 2024 landing, if only for the simple reason that its first trial launch was moved to late 2021 [5]. No one can be certain that there will be no more pushbacks and that the launch will go entirely smoothly.

There is, however, a host of other problems, too: in particular, as of late 2020, the lunar lander had not even been selected yet, and none of the options had been manufactured, never mind tested, although NASA had not officially abandoned the programme and its timeframe. Realizing the infeasibility of the timeframe and clearly not planning to finance rush and risks, the Senate had essentially buried the 2024 landing plans even before the presidential elections, earmarking only a fraction of the funding NASA had requested for developing the lunar lander.

Artemis would thus have been reformatted in any case, and it is likely to improve the “rationality” of the “roadmap,” since the politically conditioned landing date had progressively subsumed everything else, forcing the agency to work on both full-fledged and provisional solutions simultaneously. Most likely, any administration coming to power in 2021 would have allowed NASA to push the landing date back to the late 2020s, and the Democrats were not opposed to that programme as a matter of principle (even though their ideological paradigms will most likely prompt them to partially redistribute funding to finance the study of climate change).

However, the new timeframe will not alter the programme’s political role. It primarily symbolizes the upcoming shift of the efforts (mostly financial) of the United States, as the country will refocus its manned space flights on the Moon instead of low orbit. This inevitably means the end of the ISS either in 2024 or 2028. The station will not be able to exist, at least in its current form, without the United States, which contributes several times more than anyone else (its partners will clearly switch their spending to participate in the Artemis programme). It is doubtful that Russia will take part in the American lunar programme, which threatens the future of Russia’s manned space flights in general.

Second, in some manner or other, this development looks, at least for now, like the beginning of human expansion, however slow and cautious it may be. This is not simply a “flag-sticking mission,” which is clearly proved by the fact that the U.S. military has started real work on the CHPS (Cislunar Highway Patrol Satellite) programme – effectively the first military spacecraft intended for use beyond the Earth’s orbit, in this case, for monitoring the lunar space and non-U.S. space vehicles around the Moon. This work aims to discover whether these vehicles are engaged in activities that threaten U.S. national interests (American interests now extend at least to the lunar orbit, with the menacing addition “and beyond”), whether such activities may pose a threat for the space vehicles and astronauts of the United States and its allies, and how these activities generally align with the Artemis Accords. The Artemis Accords are a code of conduct for outer space that the United States demands its partners sign. They are of interest in and of themselves and will probably play a historic role in the future. Critics, including those in Russia, fell just short of declaring them an attempt on the part of the United States to annex the Moon. What concerns them are provisions in the Accords that both allow and encourage the use of celestial bodies for the needs of bases, colonies, or commercial use and establishing security zones around the facilities similar to zones around oil rigs in the open sea.

There are regular claims that the Artemis Accords go against the so-called Moon Agreement of 1979 that proclaims the right of humankind to “promote on the basis of equality the further development of co-operation among States in the exploration and use of the moon and other celestial bodies.” There is usually deliberate or accidental confusion with the Outer Space Treaty of 1967. Unlike the latter, the Moon Agreement was signed and ratified by a handful of such “great outer space powers” as Uruguay and the Philippines. This Treaty can only be seriously mentioned together with such “promising” initiatives as the attempts undertaken by some equatorial states at roughly the same time to extend their sovereignty to the geostationary orbit portions [6], which were not met with understanding by the space powers.

Clearly, any space exploration will only be possible with the use of local resources, and large-scale exploration will only begin if it is economically viable to do so (which is hard to imagine in the foreseeable future).

Any prohibitions in this area are simply criminal, and those who insist on equal rights could start by trying to get a share of the oil basin of the Persian Gulf, which is as much the heritage of humankind as any nameless asteroid. On the other hand, the problems with the Artemis Accords lie in the fact that the United States is promoting them single-handedly, as a condition for partnership, which, taken together with the political confrontation with China and Russia, prevents space powers from working out common rules of the game. It would be highly desirable to make some progress in developing a common charter in the upcoming decade, but, sadly, as is usually the case, this is extremely unlikely to happen before acute conflict situations emerge.

The pandemic and the impending austerity period will certainly force many space programmes to be delayed or even abolished. However, I would still like to believe that we are at the beginning of a new stage in space exploration. And we will have to embark upon this stage with space militarization and competition between great powers as our inevitable companions. If humanity succeeds at containing these developments within reasonable rules, then it will not be all that bad. In the long run, Gagarin’s rocket, cell phones, GPS and GLONASS also have military origins.

1. The military structure of the United States is very different from that of Russia. Any comparisons of their respective status are thus provisional. I believe that positioning the Space Force and the Marine Corps as individual services, on the one hand, which do not have departments of their own within the Department of Defense, on the other, is closer to that of a military branch than an army specialization.

2. Strictly speaking, orbital internet has been in existence for a while already. The services provided, for instance, by Iridium can be qualified as such, but the speed and signal lag leave much to be desired, to put it mildly, and so does the cost for the end consumer.

3. Modern MAW satellites lock on missile launches and monitor them at the active stage, while future MAWs will trace warheads and hypersonic gliders in flight and provide target pointing.

4. Robert Zubrin, an advocate of space exploration and President of the Mars Society, described it as a plan that “proposes to spend USD 100 billion on human spaceflight over the next ten years in order to accomplish nothing.”

5. In 2010, it was slated for 2016.

6. The 1976 Declaration of the First Meeting of Equatorial Countries on claiming sovereignty over the portions of geostationary orbit portions over their territory.

From our partner RIAC

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Spotlight on the Russia-Ukraine situation

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The United States of America and Russia have recently been at loggerheads over the issue of Ukraine.

Weeks ago the leaders of the two superpowers behind the Ukrainian situation convened a meeting on the crisis. Although they both drew a clear line between them during the meeting, they made no political commitment, thus showing that the political chess game surrounding Ukraine has only just begun.

In what was seen as a “frank and pragmatic” conversation by both sides, President Putin made it clear to President Biden that he was not satisfied with the implementation of the February 11, 2015 Minsk-2 Agreement (which, besides establishing ceasefire conditions, also reaffirmed arrangements for the future autonomy of pro-Russian separatists), as NATO continues to expand eastward. President Biden, in turn, noted that if Russia dared to invade Ukraine, the United States of America and its allies would impose strong “economic sanctions and other measures” to counterattack, although no US troop deployments to Ukraine were considered.

Although they both played their cards right and agreed that they would continue to negotiate in the future, the talks did not calm down the situation on the Ukrainian border and, after the two sides issued mutual civilian and military warnings, the future development on the Ukrainian border is still very uncertain.

Since November 2020 Russia has had thousands of soldiers stationed on Ukraine’s border. The size of the combat forces deployed has made the neighbouring State rather nervous.

The current crisis in Ukraine has deepened since the beginning of November 2021. Russia, however, has denied any speculation that it is about to invade Ukraine, stressing that the deployment of troops on the Russian-Ukrainian border is purely for defensive purposes and that no one should point the finger at such a deployment of forces on the territory of Russia itself.

It is obvious that such a statement cannot convince Ukraine: after the 2014 crisis, any problems on the border between the two sides attract attention and Ukraine still has sporadic conflicts with pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country.

Firstly, the fundamental reason why the US-Russian dispute over Ukraine is hard to resolve is that there is no reasonable position or room in the US-led European security architecture that matches Russian strength and status.

Over the past thirty-two years, the United States of America has forcibly excluded any reasonable proposal to establish broad and inclusive security in Europe and has built a post-Cold War European security framework that has crushed and expelled Russia, much as NATO did when it contained the Soviet Union in Europe in 1949-1990.

Moreover, Russia’s long cherished desire to integrate into the “European family” and even into the “Western community” through cooperation with the United States of America – which, in the days of the impotent Yeltsin, looked upon it not as an equal partner but as a semi-colony – has been overshadowed by the resolute actions of NATO, which has expanded eastward to further elevate its status as the sole superpower, at least in Europe, after its recent failure in Afghanistan.  

Maintaining a lasting peace after the great wars (including the Cold War) in the 20th century was based on treating the defeated side with tolerance and equality at the negotiating table. Facts have shown that this has not been taken on board by the policy of the United States of America and its Western fawners and sycophants. Treating Russia as the loser in the Cold War is tantamount to frustrating it severely and ruthlessly, thus depriving it of the most important constituent feature of the post-short century European security order.

Unless Russia reacts with stronger means, it will always be in a position of defence and never of equality. Russia will not accept any legitimacy for the persistence of a European security order that deprives it of vital security interests, wanting to make it a kind of protectorate surrounded by US-made nuclear bombs. The long-lasting Ukrainian crisis is the last barrier and the most crucial link in the confrontation between Russia, the United States of America and the West. It is a warning to those European countries that over the past decades have been deprived of a foreign policy of their own, not just obeying the White House’s orders.

Secondly, the Ukrainian issue is an important structural problem that affects the direction of European security construction and no one can afford to lose in this crisis.

While Europe can achieve unity, integrity and lasting peace, the key challenge is whether it can truly incorporate Russia. This depends crucially on whether NATO’s eastward expansion will stop and whether Ukraine will be able to resolve these two key factors on its own and permanently. NATO, which has continued to expand in history and reality, is the most lethal threat to security for Russia. NATO continues to weaken Russia and deprive it of its European statehood, and mocks its status as a great power. Preventing NATO from continuing its eastward expansion is probably the most important security interest not only of Russia, but also of European countries with no foreign policies of their own, but with peoples and public that do not certainly want to be dragged into a conventional war on the continent, on behalf of a country that has an ocean between Europe and itself as a safety belt.

The current feasible solution to ensure lasting security in Europe is for Ukraine not to join NATO, but to maintain a permanent status of neutrality, like Austria, Finland, Sweden, Switzerland, etc. This is a prerequisite for Ukraine to preserve its territorial integrity and sovereignty to the fullest extent possible, and it is also the only reasonable solution for settling the deep conflict between Russia and the United States of America.

To this end, Russia signed the aforementioned Minsk-2 Agreement of 2015. Looking at the evolution of NATO over the past decades, however, we can see that it has absolutely no chance of changing a well-established “open door” membership policy.  

The United States of America and NATO will not accept the option of a neutral Ukraine, and the current level of political decision-making in the country is other-directed. For these reasons, Ukraine now appears morally dismembered, and bears a striking resemblance to the divided Berlin and the two pre-1989 Germanies. It can be said that the division of Ukraine is a sign of the new split in Europe after Cold War I, and the construction of the so-called European security – or rather  US hegemony – ends with the reality of a Cold War II between NATO and Russia. It must be said that this is a tragedy, as the devastating consequences of a war will be paid by the peoples of Europe, and certainly not by those from New England to California.

Thirdly, the misleading and deceptive nature of US-Russian diplomacy and the short-sightedness of the EU, with no foreign policy of its own regarding the construction of its own security, are the main reasons for the current lack of mutual trust between the United States of America – which relies on the servility of the aforementioned EU – and Russia, terrified by the nuclear encirclement on its borders.

The United States took advantage of the deep problems of the Soviet Union and of Russia’s zeal and policies for the self-inflicted change in the 1990s – indeed, a turning point – at the expense of “verbal commitment” diplomacy.

In 1990, on behalf of President George H. W. Bush’s Administration, US Secretary of State Baker made a verbal promise to the then Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev, that “upon reunification, after Germany remaining within NATO, the organisation would not expand eastward”. President Clinton’s Administration rejected that promise on the grounds that it was its predecessor’s decision and that verbal promises were not valid, but in the meantime George H. W. Bush had incorporated the Baltic States into NATO.

In the mid-1990s, President Clinton indirectly made a verbal commitment to Russia’s then leader, the faint-hearted Yeltsin, to respect the red line whereby NATO should not cross the eastern borders of the Baltic States. Nevertheless, as already stated above, President George H. W. Bush’s Administration had already broken that promise by crossing their Western borders. It stands to reason that, in the eyes of Russia, the “verbal commitment diplomacy” is rightly synonymous with fraud and hypocrisy that the United States of America is accustomed to implementing with Russia. This is exactly the reason why Russia is currently insisting that the United States and NATO must sign a treaty with it on Ukraine’s neutrality and a ban on the deployment of offensive (i.e. nuclear) weapons in Ukraine.

Equally important is the fact that after Cold War I, the United States of America, with its mentality of rushing to grab the fruits of victory, lured 14 small and medium-sized countries into the process of expansion, causing crises in Europe’s peripheral regions and artfully creating Russophobia in the Central, Balkan and Eastern European countries.

This complete disregard for the “concert of great powers” – a centuries-old principle fundamental to ensuring lasting security in Europe – and the practice of “being penny wise and pound foolish” have artificially led to a prolonged confrontation between Russia and the European countries, in the same way as between the United States of America and Russia. The age-old trend of emphasising the global primacy of the United States of America by creating crises and inventing enemies reaffirms the tragic reality of its own emergence as a danger to world peace.

All in all, the Ukraine crisis is a key issue for the direction of European security. The United States will not stop its eastward expansion. Russia, forced into a corner, has no other way but to react with all its might and strength. This heralds Cold War II in Europe, and lasting turmoil and the possible partition of Ukraine will be its immutable destiny.

The worst-case scenario will be a conventional war on the continent between NATO troops and Russian forces, causing millions and millions dead, as well as destroying cities. The war will be conventional because the United States would never use nuclear weapons – but not out of the goodness of its heart, but out of fear of a Russian response that would remove the US territory from the NBC security level.

To the point that that we will miss the good old days of Covid-19.

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Why shouldn’t Israel Undermine Iran’s Conventional Deterrence

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When Naftali Bennett took over as the prime minister of Israel, it was expected that he would take a different approach compared to Netanyahu. This could be a probable expectation, save for the issue of Iran, since Iran is considered a consistent strategic and existential threat in the eyes of Israeli political and military officials same way that Israel has always been considered an enemy in the strategic culture of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Therefore, with the resumption of the Iran nuclear talks in Vienna, Israel has intensified its campaign for an imminent military strike on Iran. On the other hand, Iran has tried to create a balance of missile threat against Israel based on valid deterrence during the past years.

However, the level and the nature of performance and deterrence of these two influential actors of the Middle East are fundamentally different. While Iran has defined its deterrence based on hybrid missile deterrence concepts—including direct and extended deterrence—, Israel’s deterrence is based on preemptive warfare, a.k.a. “immediate deterrence,” irrespective of its nuclear capabilities, policies of “strategic ambiguity” and “defensible borders strategy.”

From a direct deterrence perspective (i.e., the strength of a large missile fire from within Iranian territory) and given the extended and asymmetric dimensions (i.e., strengthening missile capabilities of the axis of resistance), the Islamic Republic of Iran believes that Israel will gradually become weaker and more fragile defensively, considering the importance of objective components in the area of ​​deterrence—such as geographical depth and population, and this will derive Israeli leaders to consider their fragile security and survival before any attempt to take on a direct military confrontation with Iran. For instance, when the tensions over Iran’s nuclear program escalated between 2010 and 2013 during the Obama administration, none of Iran’s nuclear facilities was attacked, despite Israel’s repeated expression of its willingness to do so. Former defense minister Ehud Barak justified this inaction with the pretext of Barack Obama’s opposition and lack of support.  In fact, the Netanyahu administration sought to instill this idea to the world that Israel has both the “determination” and the “ability” to attack Iran should this preemptive action not have been faced with Washington objection. The fact that Netanyahu still failed to implement the idea even during Trump administration—as John Bolton points out in the first chapter of his book—despite his overwhelming support for Israel, indicated the fact that Israel does not have independent military capabilities and determination to take such hostile action at no cost without the support of the US.

Therefore, despite the constant claims of Israeli officials, this country’s general strategy so far has been to avoid direct military confrontation with Iran and to focus on less intense and covert warfare. This has changed since 2017 due to Israel’s objection to pro-Iranian forces regaining the control over Al-Bukamal Qa’im border crossing on the Iraqi-Syrian border, and the consequent lack of a proportionate and retaliatory response from Iran to Israel’s ongoing operations in Syria. In fact, inaction of Iran has allowed Israeli army to expand its campaign from northern borders and the Golan Heights (as the first ring) to the province of Deir ez-Zor in eastern Syria, then to the depths of Iraq in cooperation with the US (as the second ring), and eventually, inside the Iranian territory (as the third ring). The expansion of Israel’s subversive actions deep inside Iran is an effort to discredit Iran’s deterrence as well as undermining Iran’s strategic stability, while also dismantling Iran’s military and nuclear capabilities.

In the meantime, Israel’s embark on the strategy of Third-Circle Directorate based on intensifying low-level but effective military actions on Iranian soil has played a greater role in undermining Iran’s conventional deterrent advantages. Israel’s repeated operation and its recklessness in accepting responsibility for such actions has taken Israel’s belief and determination that it can target Iran’s assets and strategic resources inside and outside of Iran with numerous intermittent actions to a new level. Therefore, it can be said that while the previous positions of Israeli officials regarding the bombing and cessation of Iran’s nuclear capabilities were mostly focused on the assassination of Iranian scientists, targeted cyberattacks, sabotages, and bombings of industrial, security, and military facilities, there is no guarantee that the Third-Circle Directorate would not extent to explicit and direct entry of Israeli fighters, bombers or ballistic missiles to bomb Iran’s nuclear and military facilities in cooperation with the United States or independently.

If Israel mistakes Iran’s inaction with inability to respond and decides to extend Mabam Campaign to air or missile strikes inside the Iranian borders, it should not be sure of the unpredictable consequences. Iran has not yet responded decisively to cyber-attacks, the assassination of its scientists, and the Israeli sabotages due to the fact that these actions have been designed and carried out in such a way that Iran has assessed the damage as compensable. That is, a long set of low-level attacks were conducted to change the state of the field without taking actions that justifies an extensive reaction. Iran’s failure to respond to the recent Israeli attack on the port of Latakia is a clear example of the success and effectiveness of Salami Slicing strategy. Such strategies are designed to engage Iran in a polygonal dilemma: that it cannot respond to every individual military actions and small-scale sabotage, while inaction against these multiple small and non-intensive attacks will gradually result in losing its strategic position and deterrent credibility.

This very, unique Israeli strategy in military confrontation with Iran has reinforced the assessment of the Bennett administration about the serious weakness of Iran’s conventional deterrence. As a clear case Foreign Minister Yair Lapid claimed that “Israel could attack Iran if necessary without informing the Biden administration, which is looking to rejoin the nuclear deal”. This problem became more apparent after the assassination of the commander of the Quds Force of the IRGC, especially in the last months of Donald Trump’s presidency. In other words, if Tehran decided to respond directly to various Israeli actions, such as the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh and attacks on its military and industrial centers, the risk of a war with Israel with the support of the US would increase. By the same token, this has in fact given Tehran an opportunity not to retaliate based on the concept of conventional strategic stability. That is, at this level of conflict, Iran’s confidence in its ability to retaliate makes it easier for this country to limit and delay the response. From Iranian perspective, therefore, conventional strategic stability means preventing armed conflict in the Middle East, especially a level of conflict that directly threatens its security and territory.

However, if Israel tries to discredit Iran’s conventional deterrence and strategic stability by launching a direct air strike into Iranian territory, Iran’s retaliatory response will not be as limited and symbolic as the attack on the US base of Ain al-Assad in Iraq, because Tehran would face the so-called “Sputnik moment” dilemma, which forces it to test its missile credibility. In such a situation, Iran will be forced to first, launch a decisive comprehensive missile response against Israel and then change its deterrent structure from conventional to nuclear by leaving the NPT in order to contain pressure of domestic public opinion, maintain its credibility with regional rivals such as Turkey, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and even the Republic of Azerbaijan, and to reassure its proxy forces in the axis of resistance.

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Indo-Pacific strategy and the new China-IDF relationship

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The signing of the United States of America (the new Aukus defense agreement and the Quad Quartet agreement with Japan, India and Australia), had significant future repercussions on the Middle East region and the balances of power and influence within it, given its great geopolitical importance, according to these new American agreements in the “Indo-Pacific region”, China will have to (face a new strong defense alliance in the Indo-Pacific region, then transfer this entire Chinese conflict to the Middle East and the Iranian nuclear file and increase Chinese influence in the sea straits and waterways in the Middle East), an alliance welcomed by regional partners such as  Japan. The three countries in the new US regional alliances and polarizations of “Japan, India, and Australia” also make it clear that such agreements with the United States of America are a (historic opportunity for them and their allies to protect common values ​​and enhance security and prosperity in the Indo-Pacific region). On the other hand, we find that those American agreements and alliances in the “Indo-Pacific” region surrounding China will be reflected in one way or another and may increase in the Middle East, for China will have to transfer conflict and competition with Washington to the region, Israel and Iran, and this will have future consequences and repercussions.  The countries of the region in the Middle East and the Arabian Gulf, as follows:

The equation of competition between the United States and China in the Middle East has increased since the Biden administration took office, and here (placing the neutral countries in the middle became more difficult). One of the areas that may witness an escalation in the intensity of competition between the two sides is the Middle East.

To understand the vision of regional countries for their interests with the two powers, it is necessary to look at the initial indicators issued by the Biden’s administration towards the region. It has become clear that the US administration has a desire to reformulate its approach towards the region, but (it is not yet clear how deep this American step and its impact on the regional security structure sponsored by the United States, especially in the Arab Gulf region).

The US Defense Secretary “Lloyd Austin” announced a comprehensive strategic review of the status of US forces around the world, including the Middle East. It seems that officials in the US Department of Defense “Pentagon” are tending to reconsider the status of US forces in the Middle East, which may be understood (not a condition of reducing them), in favor of increasing the size of the forces in the “Indo-Pacific” region.

At the present time, the Biden administration’s focus was on (ending the war in Yemen, reviving the negotiation track over the Iranian nuclear file), and it did not show much interest in other pivotal files.

In parallel with the previous US approach, the US National Security Adviser “Jake Sullivan”, reduced the number of Middle East experts in the US National Security Council, and significantly increased the number and hierarchy of Indo-Pacific experts.

Defense Minister “Lloyd Austin” also appointed three advisers to him, all of them are Asian experts, and none of them specialize in Middle Eastern issues, in contrast to the approach of all previous US administrations, due to the danger of China, according to the current US security strategy.

These American steps toward China reflect the Biden administration’s vision of the world from the perspective of “the theory of the great power conflict”, which prevailed during the Cold War, and the decline of the Middle East on its list of priorities.

On the Israeli-Chinese side, Beijing will try to play an increasing role inside Israel in order to bring about rapprochement with Tel Aviv at the expense of Washington.  Here, we note the (extent and seriousness of Chinese companies sought to obtain contracts to operate the main Israeli ports, as Washington was particularly concerned about a Chinese company winning a tender to manage a port in Haifa, where the US Navy’s Sixth Fleet is anchored).

Perhaps the future analysis will come in (China’s attempt to play a challenge to American interests inside Israel, and China’s future planning in order to manage all Israeli ports, and thus control the shipping lanes in the Mediterranean and the Red Sea). Which is what Washington fears the most.

In addition to China’s desire to invest and be present in vital infrastructure projects in Israel, (China is trying to obtain this advanced Israeli technology, and trying to obtain any monopoly information that can be harvested in China by Israeli companies to benefit from it in the aspects of Chinese progress and innovation), thus, he challenged American technological progress from the Israeli gate.

The most important and most dangerous for me, analytically, is the attempts of the People’s Republic of China to obtain all Israeli trade secrets related to the United States of America, and even more dangerous in the future is (the rapprochement of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army with the Israel Defense Forces, which relies heavily on advanced American equipment such as  Fighter “F-35”).

From my analytical point of view, the expectation remains that (if China succeeds in increasing its ability to exist, monitor and infiltrate the Israeli army), this may allow Beijing to obtain all American military technological secrets from Israel directly, and here is the danger for the United States of America being  Israel is a conduit through which the (People’s Liberation Army of China) “PLA” achieves greater parity with the US armed forces. This is what Washington is trying to confront from Tel Aviv to counter Chinese influence there, as the United States of America cannot in any way allow its military technology to fall into the hands of its main opponent, China.

   Perhaps the final analysis here, is explaining that (the absence of American thinking of a clear strategy until now to confront the growing Chinese influence in the region and the world), and perhaps it is a continuation of the same approach of the “Trump’s administration”, as the United States shows interest in what it does not want, without presenting a clear vision of the results that you want access to this conflict.

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