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Afghanistan Crisis: Security Problems for Russia and Central Asian States

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The article was originally published in Russian on August, 10—before the hasty U.S. military withdrawal and the subsequent takeover of the country and its government by the Taliban. Some parts of the article may therefore contain somewhat outdated vocabulary.

For more than 40 years, Afghanistan has seen non-stop military hostilities, with ten years of the Soviet war in the Democratic Republic of Afghanistan, another ten years of civil wars—first between the victorious mujahedeen, then between the mujahedeen and the Taliban—with the following twenty years taken up by the military presence of the U.S. and NATO [1]. Today, Afghanistan is reminiscent of a disturbed wasps’ nest.

In India, they call Afghanistan “the heart of Asia” as often as not, since the country stands at an intersection point of many regional and global issues. This is potentially fraught with many security problems for Russia and for those post-Soviet Central Asian states whose security is guaranteed by Moscow either because of their CSTO membership (Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan) or because of close bilateral ties (Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan). In early July 2021, Tajikistan officially applied to the CSTO for assistance in protecting its border with Afghanistan.

Here are the three principal episodes in Russia’s recent military history connected with Afghanistan:

  1. The well-known Soviet-Afghan war (1979–1989).
  2. Separating the parties in the 1990s during the civil war in Tajikistan; subsequently, Russian border guards were involved in skirmishes on the Afghan-Tajik border. The most dramatic episode involved militants killing 25 Russian border guards on 13 July 1993 at Border Outpost 12 of the Moscow Border Detachment. Khattab, future leader of Chechen militants, was one of the militants’ commanders in that battle.
  3. Russia’s involvement in the 1999 Batken Conflict in Kyrgyzstan under the CIS Collective Security Treaty. During that mini-war, members of the Al-Qaeda-related Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, a terrorist group, attempted to break through into their native country following large-scale terrorist attacks in Tashkent, and became bogged down in the Batken Region of Kyrgyzstan [2].

We might also add here the close ties between the more radical wing of North Caucasian militants and the Taliban via Al-Qaeda [3]. The latter was actively involved in the last two Chechen wars. The bombers who carried out many of the terrorist attacks in Russia had been trained by Al-Qaeda instructors sent from Afghanistan. The key person liaising between Afghanistan and Chechnya was the mentioned above Amir ibn al-Khattab, a well-known warlord and Shamil Basaev’s main ally; previously, he had fought against the USSR in Afghanistan (1987–1992), then he transferred his “jihad” to Tajikistan (1993) and Chechnya (1994–1995).

Additionally, before our very eyes, the militants who fought against Russia in Syria (primarily, post-Soviet space natives) are forming a new connection with Afghanistan via the Islamic State of Khorasan (ISIS – Khorasan Province), an ISIS territorial unit in Afghanistan, as well as via ethnic terrorist groups with ties to Al-Qaeda.

Russia inevitably perceives growing threats in Afghanistan and in Central Asia in the context of the above events.

Interconnected threats of international terrorism in Central Asia, Afghanistan and the Middle East

As the U.S. withdraws its troops and the civil war grows progressively bitter, the instability in Afghanistan is creating major security problems for Central Asian states.

Even if we take the many Taliban statements at face value, believing that they will refrain from attacking the Central Asian states (the latest such statement was made on July 8, 2021, in Moscow), there is still a threat posed by the many extremist ethnic groups consisting of the post-Soviet space natives, who are currently based in the north of Afghanistan, close to the borders with Central Asian states. The Taliban’s recent offensive and its approach to the borders of states in the region has done nothing but exacerbate the problem. Moreover, this is inevitable since Northern Afghanistan is the historical lands of the Emirate of Bukhara populated by Tajiks, Uzbeks, Turkmens and Kyrgyz, just like the lands on the other side of the former Soviet border. Regional actors are already being pulled into the Afghan conflict.

On July 8, 2021, Taliban representatives claimed in Moscow that they controlled over 90% of Afghanistan’s borders and 85% of its territory (although control over many districts and administrative centers was contested). According to Tajikistan’s State Committee for National Security, the Taliban had seized control of over 70% of the 1,430-kilometre Tajik-Afghan border. The Taliban offensive forced over 2,000 Afghan troops into Tajikistan. About 1,500 residents of Badakhshan also fled to Tajikistan to escape the Taliban, and they were not only ethnic Tajiks but Kyrgyz as well. These events made Tajikistan’s President Emomali Rahmon, speaking at the Security Council, order mobilization of 20,000 reserve troops to strengthen the defense of the border with Afghanistan. Sergey Shoigu, Russia’s Defense Minister, said Russia was ready to provide military assistance to Tajikistan should any threats emerge from Afghanistan.

The danger for Russia is increasing as terrorist groups defeated in Syria and Iraq (ISIS in particular) are showing a growing interest in relocating to Afghanistan and Central Asia (and Africa). Sergey Shoigu said, “We, certainly, very much hope that some consensus and national reconciliation will be achieved in Afghanistan. Yet, we also see ISIS units very actively moving, relocating there from various regions, including Syria and Libya”.

There is also the issue of “terrorist emigration” by militants of Central Asian origins who might either return home from the Middle East (posing a threat of terrorist attack in their home states), or else go to fight in the neighboring Afghanistan. Central Asian militants present a regional and global terrorist threat. In 2017 alone, they carried out four major terrorist attacks in the U.S., Turkey, Sweden and Russia. Russia, just like the global community as a whole, is therefore interested in preventing terrorist groups from taking root in Central Asia and Afghanistan.

As per the Soufan Centre report, militants from Central Asia fighting in Syria and Iraq number over 5,000. By country of origin, they form the following picture: Kazakhstan – over 500 (11.90%), Kyrgyzstan — over 500 (11.90%), Tajikistan — 1,300 (30.95%), Turkmenistan – over 400 (9.52%), Uzbekistan — over 1,500 (35.71%). Central Asian militants, together with China’s Uighurs and militants from Russia’s Northern Caucasus, fought on the side of ISIS in the Middle East [4]. Central Asia natives also supported several smaller Middle Eastern terrorist groups banned in Russia, such as Imam Bukhari Jamaat, Jaish al-Muhajireen, Sayfullakh Shishani’s Jamaat, Tawhid Wal Jihad, etc.

Another threat is posed by cross-border criminal groups fighting for control over contraband flows, particularly over drug trafficking along the “Northern Route” from Afghanistan via Central Asia to Russia and then to Eastern and Northern Europe. The latter development is particularly important since drug profits are among the sources used to finance terrorism [5].

In addition to these problems, the following factors enhance the Afghanistan- and Central Asia-related threat to Russia:

  • Extensive Islamic propaganda in Central Asia using the latest means of communication.
  • The regional identity crisis that emerged after the collapse of the USSR. Kadyr Malikov, an eminent Kyrgyz theologian, notes, “The crisis stemmed from disappointment in secular authorities and in the traditional clergy. The traditional clergy are unable to respond properly to current political issues and confine themselves entirely to performing rites. They are not competent to answer questions about politics or jihad. In addition, we might mention the high level of corruption, particularly in law enforcement, unjust courts, the overall weakness of the state and social problems. All these have a certain impact. In that respect, Central Asia has all the conditions for radicalization.”
  • There is a “risk group” for Islamist recruiting that includes migrant workers, millions of whom travel from Central Asia to Russia to earn money. These people are particularly vulnerable to jihadist propaganda.
  • Several factors categorize some regional states as “fragile” ones. Their “fragility” (see, for instance, the Fragile States Index) creates a potential for them to become “failed states.”
  • There is an obvious connection between the region’s rampant corruption and drug trafficking, transport of drugs from Afghanistan to Russia along the northern route. The endemic corruption among the region’s secular institutions is the principal target for Islamist propaganda.
  • Poverty is spreading among the agrarian overpopulation, overlapping with a shortage of water and fertile soil, while Soviet-era education, healthcare and social security systems are falling apart. Population density in the Fergana Valley is among the world’s highest, having grown 32% over the last ten years. Today, Salafism and Wahhabism are popular in the valley, and foreign preachers and recruiters are very active there.
  • Major conflicts between states, particularly in the Fergana Valley, including those between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, which exacerbated in the spring of 2021 and resulted in large-scale military clashes.
  • In some cases, going underground and further radicalization are the only way to survive for proponents of political Islam. In Kyrgyzstan, the authorities permit Pakistan’s Tablighi Jamaat to function, though this Islamic organization banned in many CIS states.
  • The Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated the problems of inefficient governance in some regional states.

ISIS and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and the Danger they pose to Central Asia

The danger for Central Asia’s post-Soviet states is typically linked with the activities of the most sinister global terrorist groups, ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Let us then consider an ISIS penetration into Afghanistan and a step-up in Al-Qaeda activities. We will look at these developments specifically in connection with the situation in the north of Afghanistan and on the borders of Central Asian states.

Small individual groups supporting ISIS appeared in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the autumn of 2014. The first extremist ideologues in Afghanistan were probably foreign militants from among Pakistanis, Chechens, other natives of Northern Caucasus and Central Asia (Uzbeks, Tajiks, Kyrgyz) and of China (Uighurs). At the next stage, groups that had split off from Pakistan’s Taliban played an important role in the entrenchment of ISIS in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Pakistan’s military conducted the massive Zarb-e-Azb operation. As a result, large numbers of Pakistani Taliban and other terrorist groups were pushed from Pakistan’s Waziristan and Baluchistan into Afghanistan, thereby spurring a massive penetration into Afghanistan by ISIS-connected militants and making some Pakistani Taliban change allegiance. Pushed into Afghanistan, large numbers of Pakistani Taliban pledged loyalty to the ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Russian and Tajik experts noted in their report, “Now, in Afghanistan, one frequently hears and reads that, in the spring and summer of 2014, the first Pakistan’s intelligence agency (ISI) and CIA members, and then the ISI and leaders of the Afghan and Pakistani Taliban concluded a secret agreement on redeploying militants. Allegedly, as armed groups are “pushed out” of Pakistan, they are, under this agreement, offered a corridor to retreat to Afghanistan; they are even encouraged to move to north-eastern, northern and western provinces of Afghanistan.” [6]

Over a very short period, ISIS largely managed to become entrenched in Afghanistan as well as turn into an important local actor. In the assessment provided by Dr Mirwais Balkhi of Afghanistan’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs, [7]ISIS – Khorasan Province differs from other terrorist groups, including the Taliban and Al-Qaeda, in that it is more belligerent and better at ensuring its economic independence, recruits mostly educated young people, is more pragmatic on a whole range of issues, forms more efficient and decentralized terrorist networks, and is more active on the Internet.

As militants were pushed out of northern Pakistan into Afghanistan in the winter and spring of 2015, new logistics corridors were created for providing supplies to these groups. Members of the Afghan power structures are convinced that Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) has a hand in ISIS militants appearing in Afghanistan and supports them. Abdul Qadeer, Deputy Speaker of the Lower House of Afghanistan’s parliament, states that militants had been transported by unmarked mysterious helicopters. In January 2016, four unidentified helicopters landed in a district of Afghanistan’s Ghazni province controlled by the militants. In the summer of 2021, Sergey Shoigu said, “ISIS movements appear to be fairly well organized.”

Massive funding from the Middle East became an important recorded factor behind the penetration of ISIS militants into Afghanistan. In particular, Zamir Kabulov, Russian Presidential Envoy to Afghanistan, said that ISIS receives up to 70% of its funding from abroad, while profits from its activities in Afghanistan (including drug trafficking) cover about 30% of its spending. Many Afghan observers note ISIS’s excellent supplies. For instance, Abdul Zahir Qadeer, First Deputy Speaker of the lower house of Afghanistan’s parliament, voiced concern over how well-armed the militants in Nanganhar province were. As he said, they had everything apart from tanks and helicopters.

ISIS did not penetrate into Afghanistan incidentally or spontaneously. This process has been supported by major regional and possibly global forces. It is, therefore, impossible to ignore the factor of ISIS-Khorasan Province as the key threat to regional security. There are many conspiracy theories in this respect in the region itself as well as in the East and in the West; we shall not analyze them now, as a separate study would be needed for this.

Several groups of foreign militants were particularly inclined to abandon the Taliban for Al-Qaeda, especially groups connected with post-Soviet states. In August 2015, the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, previously believed to be part of Al-Qaeda, published a video with some of its members announcing they were joining ISIS. Part of the Jundallah group—previously financed from Saudi Arabia and based in Pakistan—pledged allegiance to ISIS, with this playing an important role in this terrorist group’s penetration into Kunduz Province. In late 2015, there were reports coming from Baghlan Province (Borka District) of ISIS militants appearing there, whereas Jundallah militants played an important part in this development as well.

Besides, Afghanistan authorities connected ISIS’s interest in the north of Afghanistan with the Russian Aerospace Forces’ operation in Syria. In October 2016, Abdul Rashid Dostum, Afghanistan’s Senior Vice President, citing reports by special services, warned that ISIS was planning to move thousands of militants from Iraq and Syria to the north of Afghanistan by the spring of 2017. Dostum said they were mostly natives of Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and the North Caucasus [8]. Both in the north and in the east of Afghanistan, foreign militants play a major part in ISIS penetrating into the country. Governor Mohammad Omar Safi believes that militants from Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkey and the North Caucasus have, in particular, been seen in Kunduz Province.

Following its defeat in Syria and Iraq, ISIS is currently expressing a growing interest in Afghanistan and Central Asia. Essentially, the growing instability in Afghanistan provides ISIS with an opportunity to regain a territorial base it had lost in the Middle East.

As was noted by Russian Presidential Envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov, several northern Afghan provinces have militant training centers connected with various international terrorist groups. The latter are affiliated with the Taliban, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, various ethnic groups (natives of Central Asian states and the Caucasus, Uighurs, Arabs).

Even Afghanistan’s formerly trouble-free north is subject to increasing chaos, as is confirmed by reports by various anti-government units periodically exchanging the Taliban’s white flag for the ISIS black flag and vice versa. This change of flags depends on various situational factors—particularly, money coming in from outside sponsors—or on other short-term political interests.

Various ethnic groups connected with Al-Qaeda present, alongside ISIS, a no less serious danger for the post-Soviet space. Such groups are also gathering in Northern Afghanistan. In this connection, we should note that the Afghan authorities and representatives of the international coalition spoke about Al-Qaeda stepping up its activities in Afghanistan as far back as 2015–2016, while Russian and Central Asian experts confirmed this. Currently, there are also many reports of Al-Qaeda militants fighting against Afghanistan’s government armed forces in the north of the country, among other regions. The Taliban never officially announced it was cutting ties with Al-Qaeda, while the latter’s representatives in Afghanistan repeatedly pledged allegiance to the Taliban leaders.

Will the Taliban oppose ISIS and Al-Qaeda?

The key issue connected with ensuring security for the post-Soviet Central Asia is whether the Taliban will interact with ISIS, Al-Qaeda and the many ethnic groups linked to these two terrorist organizations and include post-Soviet space natives. The Taliban has repeatedly claimed their opposition to ISIS, stating that they would not attack the Central Asian states. They repeated that statement at the press conference in Moscow on 8 July. We shall not forget that this does not apply to Al-Qaeda or ethnic post-Soviet groups.

If the Taliban is, indeed, able and willing to oppose ISIS effectively, this could be very positive for Russia as an aspect in resolving the Afghan problem, as was particularly pointed out by Russian Presidential Envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov.

Afghanistan’s future is hard to predict. We can only attempt to list the takeaways from expert discussions concerning confrontation or, on the contrary, cooperation between the Taliban and ISIS.

As the militants pushed out of Pakistan made their way to Afghanistan, ISIS launched a propaganda campaign to convince the Afghani Taliban to pledge allegiance to ISIS. On January 25, 2015, ISIS “Caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi called the Taliban leader mullah Omar “an illiterate and uneducated militant.” ISIS subsequently announced it was establishing ISIS–Khorasan Province spanning Afghanistan, Pakistan, parts of India and Iran, the post-Soviet Central Asian states and China’s Xingjian.

Following the appearance of ISIS–Khorasan, some Taliban units went over to its side owing to, among other factors, the influx of funds from the Middle East, support for ISIS along logistics channels from northern Pakistan, and conflicts between various Taliban units over control over the profits from poppy plantations and heroin-producing labs. Terror and intimidation by former Taliban militants played an important role in their transfer to ISIS.

Currently, the global expert community is debating the fundamental factors that hinder former Taliban militants from joining ISIS ranks or, on the contrary, encourage them to do so.

On the one hand, most experts agree there are significant ideological differences between the Taliban and ISIS, which makes the ISIS ideology alien to Afghanistan in general and its Pashtun population in particular. The Taliban follow the fairly moderate Hanafi Islam that allows folk traditions. Moreover, along with Islam, a key part in the Taliban ideology is played by the traditional Pashtun code of honor (Pashtunwali). ISIS members are the most hard-core and intransigent Salafists who reject all folk traditions and customs in the name of “pure” Islam.

Besides, ISIS and the Taliban have significant political differences. The Taliban’s goals are generally confined to Afghanistan. It is essentially a nationalist Pashtun movement, be they Afghan or Pakistani Taliban. The Taliban’s goal is to establish a Pashtun Islamic emirate, expelling foreigners and ensuring Pashtun domination of non-Pashtun territories in Afghanistan. ISIS represents the most radical Jihadism and Salafism, and its goal is to establish a global Islamic caliphate, which requires all-out war against outside infidels and domestic “heretics.” Moreover, the essence of ISIS ideology is expecting the impending “end of the world”, a tenet making Taliban’s nation-building tasks rather pointless.

Yet, does this mean that the Taliban and ISIS cannot cooperate at all? A closer scrutiny of their ideologies and political goals uncovers a large number of indirect links. As improbable as an alliance between individual groups within the Taliban and ISIS might appear at first glance, it is in fact quite likely.

Point 1. Just like Al-Qaeda and ISIS, the Taliban, when in power, did fight “non-Islamic” folk traditions and cultural monuments—the large-scale destruction of historical monuments and the Buddhas of Bamiyan are worthy of particular attention.

Point 2. Both the Taliban and Takfiri Salafists have never shied away from using mass terror against their opponents within Islam. For instance, they treated Afghanistan’s Hazara Shiites and certain other representatives of non-Pashtun minorities with particular cruelty. ISIS penetration into Afghanistan tends to go hand in hand with active terrorist attacks against Shiites (particularly the Hazaras, with their Iranian connections).

Point 3. In Afghanistan, ISIS is already becoming “Afghanized” and “Pashtunized.” The leaders of “Khorasan Province” are Pashtuns rather than Arabs (primarily, of Pakistani origin). In this “Pashtunized” form, ISIS ideology and practices prove far more acceptable for Afghani Pashtuns.

Point 4. Predecessors of the Taliban and ISIS have long been engaged in cooperation and subject to mutual influence; historically, these two structures are closely linked. We are talking about the multiple training camps set up in Pakistan by bin Laden during the war against the USSR. In the Arab world, Al-Qaeda ultimately grew out of these camps while ISIS emerged from Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Similar camps in Afghanistan were the predecessors of the Taliban already in the 1990s. Both Al-Qaeda and the Taliban were initially closely connected with Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence and with sponsors from among radical Arab Islamic foundations. Al-Qaeda shares many elements of ISIS ideology (historically, ISIS split off from Al-Qaeda). Simultaneously, Al-Qaeda quite successfully co-operates with the Taliban.

Point 5. The claim that the Taliban wish to confine themselves to Afghanistan and Pashtun lands in Pakistan is quite debatable. Short-term, the Taliban were not strong enough for anything else but they did have expansionist plans (at least, indirectly by aiding Al-Qaeda) [9]. Officially, the Taliban claim they will not wage war against Central Asian regimes (this claim was repeated during the Taliban representatives’ visit to Moscow in the summer of 2021). Indeed, there had been no direct Taliban incursions into Central Asia in the 1990s, when the Taliban approached the borders of the former Soviet republics. Yet, the Taliban, via Al-Qaeda, have always actively supported the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan and other Central Asian extremist groups, maintaining an allied relationship with them throughout the years. And those groups, in turn, carried out incursions and terrorist attacks in Central Asia (suffice it to recall the terrorist attacks in Tashkent and the Batken Conflict in Kyrgyzstan in 1999).

Point 6. ISIS, as Al-Qaeda before it, has certain advantages over the Taliban in the north of Afghanistan and in Central Asia. This terrorist organization might appeal not only to Pashtuns; it could thus attract people from non-Pashtun ethnic groups in Afghanistan as well as numerous international terrorists coming to Afghanistan (particularly, after being pushed out of the north of Pakistan). Therefore, ISIS in the north is becoming a valuable ally for the Taliban, and it is no accident that these two organizations are locked in conflict only in the east of the country.

Point 7. There are already suspicions that the Taliban and ISIS are vying for control over drug trafficking in only a very small area, namely, in the east of Afghanistan (in the lands populated solely by the Pashtuns). In the non-Pashtun north, there is no confrontation between them; rather, both organizations there oppose the government forces and the remainders of the Northern Alliance. Most Russian experts are in agreement on this. Essentially, even Gen. Philip M. Breedlove, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe, acknowledged this fact in September 2015. At a multimedia roundtable in Kabul, he noted, “There are places where there are actually fighting between the Taliban and ISIS because they do not share some of their belief systems in the way things should be done and then there are other places where there doesn’t appear to be fighting and so these are all things that we are going to have understand in the future.”

Point 8. Both ISIS and the Taliban receive supplies along the same logistics corridors passing through Pakistan, and these corridors are generally most likely to be held by the Taliban rather than ISIS. So, an ISIS unit appearing in any Afghanistan district—particularly, so far away from Pakistan—means that ISIS members have at the very least reached agreement with the Taliban on letting their weapons-carrying caravans through Taliban-controlled lands. This provides grounds for the many rumors circulating in Afghanistan about collusion between ISIS and the Taliban.

Viewing the situation in dynamics, we see that the existence of ISIS and Al-Qaeda additionally stimulate the Taliban’s radicalization. If the Taliban leadership concludes a peace agreement with the government, the Taliban’s most radical part—primarily, its younger members—might go over to ISIS in droves.

Last Argument of Kings

What could and should Russia do to combat the threat of instability around Afghanistan and Central Asia?

Once prime minister of France, Cardinal Richelieu ordered that the words “Ultima ratio regis” (Latin for “Last argument of kings”) be inscribed on French cannons. The meaning of this inscription is that every diplomatic avenue should first be explored to prevent a conflict, so weapons become the final argument only if diplomacy fails.

As Russian Presidential Envoy to Afghanistan Zamir Kabulov recently noted at a RIA Novosti briefing, the threat to Russia from Afghanistan will only materialize if nothing is done to counteract it.

A rational analysis of Russia’s stance on Afghanistan reveals two levels of effort to neutralize this threat.

The first is the efforts made by Russia’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs to resolve the tangled net of global and regional knots that has tightened around Afghanistan so that the exacerbating conflict surrounding this country would not affect Russia. This is an extremely complicated task requiring both wisdom and flexibility.

We shall briefly describe the complexity of the tasks Russian diplomacy is facing. Afghanistan found itself at the center of regional differences between 1) the U.S. and Russia and 2) China and the U.S. There are several regional conflicts adjacent to Afghanistan: 1) the India–Pakistan conflict; 2) partially, the conflict between India and China (as Pakistan’s key ally); 3) the conflict between Iran and the Persian Gulf monarchies, Shiites and Sunnis in the Greater Middle East; 4) contradictions between the Pashtuns and Afghanistan’s ethnic minorities, with Tajiks playing the key part, and the problem of the Pashtun people divided between Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Contradictions between the U.S., on the one hand, and Russia and China, on the other (particularly when Moscow and Beijing agreed to connect China’s Belt and Road Initiative and the EAEU, which is particularly important for Central Asia) are well-known. Less so are regional frictions that are fraught with a big war of “all against all”, like in Syria or Libya.

For instance, with Iran’s help, Afghanistan’s Hazara Shiites established the Fatemiyoun brigade, a highly battle-worthy militia. It is battle-tested (in Syria, in particular) and can be used against the Taliban since the Hazaras had a very negative experience of terror against Shiites during the Taliban’s short-lived rule. During the war with the Americans (this is a debatable question since the Taliban themselves rather speak of ISIS in this context), the Taliban frequently carried out terrorist attacks against Shiites in both Afghanistan and Pakistan. The Sunni-Shia conflict can thus easily spread from the Middle East to Afghanistan—owing, among other things, to the money that regularly flows into Afghanistan from the Persian Gulf states.

Pakistan and Afghanistan are the two countries divided by the conventional Durand Line drawn by the British colonial authorities. The majority of Pashtuns (Afghanistan’s titular ethnic group) live in Pakistan. Consequently, Islamabad is interested in a government in Kabul that would not broach the question of Pashtunistan’s independence. In turn, India will, to the bitter end, support any Afghan government that will steer an independent course in relation to Pakistan. Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) is a special actor, and its different branches are connected with such variegated forces as China, the U.S., and the Persian Gulf states (where many Pakistani military serve in local armies by way of a “side hustle”) [10]. Hence comes the tendency of Afghan political forces to blame all their country’s problems on Pakistani intelligence.

Afghanistan is being riven by inter-ethnic problems between the Pashtuns and ethnic minorities. Should the situation destabilize further, a new confrontation might develop between the Taliban and the renewed Northern Alliance. Different forces will turn to different actors for assistance. Pashtuns, for instance, will turn to Pakistan, possibly also to China, the U.S. or the Persian Gulf states; the Hazaras will turn to Iran; Tajiks will turn to Tajikistan, Russia and possibly India; Uzbeks will turn to Uzbekistan, Turkey and Russia. Such developments already took place in the 1990s during the civil war between Tajik and Pashtun mujahedeen and then between the Taliban and the Northern Alliance.

The second direction in Russia’s Afghanistan policy is the efforts undertaken by the Defense Ministry and the CSTO to strengthen the defense of Central Asian states whose security is guaranteed by Russia. This means shaping a sort of external “rampart” to protect Russia should the situation in Afghanistan suddenly exacerbate. Given all the difficulties with the diplomatic settlement, this direction is of crucial importance.

In the CSTO, Russia delivers arms to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan at subsidized prices or even gratis. Members of the military from the CSTO states are given training at subsidized prices. Russia has military bases in Tajikistan (base 201, former Division 201) and Kyrgyzstan (the airbase in Kant); there are also other military facilities in the CSTO states. The CSTO holds regular exercises intended to counter militants possibly breaking through the border (the Border exercises) and to combat drug trafficking into Russia, which could also be used to finance militants (the Channel exercises).

Recently, there has been a rapprochement between the stances of Russia and Uzbekistan. In particular, there are the August 5–10, 2021 joint exercises by the militaries of Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan at the Kharb-Maidon range 20 km from the Tajik-Afghan border.

Importantly, as Russia aids Central Asian states in ensuring their security, it also assists in ensuring Europe’s security. Afghanis already constitute one of the three main refugee groups in Germany (together with Syrians and Iraqis). So far, the waves of Afghani refugees have not affected the northern (Russian) direction. Yet, this is a possible development in the event of a major destabilization on the borders of Afghanistan and Central Asia (as already happened in the 1990s when first the supporters of the People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan and then refugees from the Tajikistani civil war fled to Russia). Tajikistan is already getting ready for this new wave of refugees, with the U.S. having specifically inquired whether Central Asian states could take some of the refugees. In this case, a new wave of refugees will most likely overrun Europe as well.

  1. The Taliban is a terrorist group banned in Russia.
  2. The terrorist group Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan is banned in Russia.
  3. Al-Qaeda is a terrorist organization banned in Russia.
  4. Particularly zealous ISIS warlords included Abu Omar al-Shishani, who was half-Georgian and half-Chechen, and former SWAT Colonel Gulmurod Khalimov, a Tajik.
  5. See: Andrey Kazantsev. Scenarios and Trends in Central Asian CSTO Collective Security After 2014. IIS MGIMO: Analytical Papers 2 (37). July 2013. (in Russian)
  6. Akbarsho Iskandarov, Kosimsho Iskandarov, Ivan Safranchuk. A New Stage of the Afghan Crisis and Tajikistan’s Security. A Report. Valdai Discussion Club. Moscow. August 2016. P. 3, 4-5.
  7. Report on the situation in Afghanistan delivered at ICWA, New Delhi, 2016.
  8. Reported in the Hashte-Subh newspaper, 16 October, Kabul.
  9. For more detail, see: W. Muzhdah. Afghanistan in five years of Taliban’s sovereignty. Nay Publication, Tehran, 1382/2004.
  10. Andrey Kazantsev. International Jihadism Networks: Central Asia, Caucasus, Middle East, and Afghanistan. Moscow: MGIMO University, 2019. (in Russian)

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Defense

AUKUS: Human-made disaster

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AUKUS is a new military alliance that emerged recently, among Australia, UK, and The US. Under this alliance, it has been declared that Australia will be equipped with nuclear submarines. There exists a panic in the region as Australia was not a declared nuclear state and if equipped with a nuclear submarine, whether or not, it is safe? Scholars and intellectuals have various opinions, but, agreed on one point that it will promote a nuclear race in the region. I believe, the spread of nuclear weapons, especially those who have no experience of handling nuclear submarines, maybe not be safe. It can be mishandled or accidentally, can cause any incident of disaster not only for Australia but for the whole region. Keeping nuclear weapons, need special safeguards and different temperament. To be a mature and responsible state is a prerequisite for having nuclear weapons, it also needs different ethics and principles to be equipped with such lethal weapons.

On the other hand, while NATO is there and Quad was created to specifically counter China, was there any genuine need for creating a new alliance like AUKUS? Is NATO abandoned? How the NATO member state thinks to ward AUKUS, one can imagine. Anyhow, they are hurt and mistrust has been created among NATO and the US.  First of all, The US is not at its peak to offend or compel any other country, like EU member states, and on other hand, the US economy is not in such a state, where it can support the luxury of defense expenditure like before. It is right to approach to cut defense expenditures and spend more of the socio-economic welfare of the country, but to create a new alliance is negating such an approach.

Many EU member states are confused and upset and in the days to come, the gap may widen further. First of all, some of the EU countries are in close cooperation with China economically. China has become the largest trading partner and investor for many EU countries. Dependency on the US has reduced considerably.

Especially, France is offended as it was in the advanced stage of negotiations with Australia for a similar deal but suddenly hijacked by the US and UK. France has lost a big opportunity and it’s her right to react and protest. France has called back its Ambassadors from Australia and the US. This is an initial reaction, but, more actions may be seen in the near future.

France, in a reaction, has announced to collaborate with India in a similar manner, which is not welcomed by Asian partners, as it will create a race in the region. Furthermore, India is in the hands of an extremist Hindu political party – RSS. RSS is a fanatic party and can go to any extent, without thinking about the consequences. It is not safe for the region to equip India with nuclear submarines.

This region is highly populous, China with its population of 1.4 billion, India itself is 1.2 billion, and the rest of countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Nepal, Myanmar, Maldives, collectively constitutes almost half of the world’s population. If any misadventure happened in this region, half of the population of the whole world is under threat.

It will be not a wise decision to promote nuclearization, either by the US, UK, or France. One mistake cannot be compensated for by making another one. It will be a total disaster for humankind.

Humankind needs peace and prosperity. Human-made disasters can be averted and must be averted. It is the right time to take appropriate measures to stop nuclearization and the promotion of the nuclear race in this part of the world or any other part of the world. It is our individual’s responsibility to raise our voice and bring public awareness of such human-made disasters. Collectively we may avert such disasters, all peace-loving nations and individuals must join efforts to neutralize such deals and agreements. Countering China, to take such extreme actions is not justified. The US may review its decisions and avert disaster to humankind.

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Defense

Presidential Irrationality and Wrongdoing in US Nuclear Command Authority

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Credit: U.S. Air Force

Abstract: In post-World War II memory, no greater political danger has confronted the United States than the presidency of Donald J. Trump. Endowed with nuclear command authority, this unstable and openly law-violating American leader pointed the United States toward existential harms.[1] Recognizing this threat to the nation’s physical survival, General Mark Milley acted honorably and effectively to protect an imperiled republic. By expanding pertinent safeguards against any presidential abuse of nuclear command authority,[2] the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff did what was necessary and proper. The following assessment by Professor Louis René Beres, who has been publishing on nuclear war-related issues[3] for more than half a century, underscores what should never again be allowed to defile America’s national security decision-making. “The safety of the people,” reminds Cicero in The Laws, “shall be the highest law.”

——————

“As to dangers arising from an irrational American president, the best protection is not to elect one.”

General Maxwell D. Taylor, from personal letter to the author, 14 March 1976[4]

Meanings of Decisional Irrationality

Strictly speaking, irrationality is not a proper medical or psychiatric term; rather, it is a more-or-less scientific description of human distortion and behavioral disposition.[5] Still, as a convenient shorthand for exploring mental or emotional debility in US presidential decision-making, this colloquial reference is adequate, timely and potentially useful. In essence, though now just retrospective, America’s most senior general officer revealed assorted verifiable grounds for questioning former President Donald J. Trump’s mental stability. Now, looking ahead, it is necessary to take a longer term and generic look at US presidential nuclear authority.

               This look must become a task for disciplined strategic thinkers, not politicians.

               How to begin? This uniquely critical area of presidential decision-making – one that has remained ambiguous or deliberately “opaque” – concerns both the right and capacity to order a launch of US nuclear weapons. To be tangibly meaningful, these intersecting decisional components must always be examined together. This is the case though any presidential nuclear capacity functioning without correct antecedent authority would be worrisome per se.

               By definition, as I have discovered personally over the past half century, these are all complicated intellectual matters. In 1976, then just five years out of Princeton as a newly-minted Ph.D., I began work on an original book about nuclear war and nuclear terrorism.[6]  From the start, I focused especially on US presidential prerogatives to order the firing of nuclear weapons.  I was most particularly interested in the potentially-plausible prospect of presidential nuclear irrationality and/or wrongdoing.

               In technically scientific terms, this did not mean a US president who was “clinically insane” (obviously the most fearsome sort of scenario), but “only” a Head of State who might sometime value some specific preference or combination of preferences more highly than American national survival. Today, at least until General Milley’s revelations, we worry more about leadership irrationality in certain other countries, most conspicuously in North Korea and Iran.[7] Nonetheless, as the JCS Chair recently disclosed, the worst atomic decisional errors could happen here. Even if this were not the case, there could still take place  variously unforeseen decisional synergies between (1) a fully rational American president and his irrational negotiating counterparts in Pyongyang or Tehran;[8] or (2) an irrational American president and his expectedly rational counterparts in such conspicuously adversarial states.[9]

In the Beginning

               Back “in the early days” of apocalyptic nuclear issues, and with an expressly American decision-making focus in mind, I entered into ongoing communication with then-former JCS Chairman Maxwell Taylor. In my last correspondence with the distinguished and decorated general, he responded with a handwritten letter (attached hereto) dated 14 March 1976. As the Taylor response explicitly referenced only the dangers of an “irrational American president,” I could legitimately undertake no automatic extrapolation of his diagnosis to other strategic risks.[10]

Still, there are various related hazards that ought never be disregarded prima facie.  For example, we must become better prepared to deal with a US Chief Executive who appears more than irrational. This means a president who was seemingly “crazy,” “insane,” or “mad.”[11]

               It is difficult for me to imagine that General Taylor would have hesitated to adapt these characterizations of more advanced decisional “pathology” to the extant subject-matter scope of nuclear decision making. This is the case even though such characterizations could never be seriously scientific. To obtain authentically scientific assessments of nuclear event probability, there must first exist a determinable frequency record of pertinent past events. Unassailably (and fortunately), there has never been a nuclear war from which to draw valid strategic inferences.

               There is more. Any US presidential order to launch nuclear weapons would be effectively sui generis. The US bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of World War II did not constitute a nuclear war, but rather the American use of nuclear weapons in an otherwise conventional war. In August 1945 (the month of my own birth in war-torn Europe), there were no other atomic bombs anywhere on earth.

               Not a one.

Whether concerned with presidential irrationality or madness, present analytic concern should be focused upon an emotionally or mentally debilitated president.[12]  Whichever applies, the truly vital questions going forward will have to do with Constitutional, statutory and other recognizable sources of US war-making authority, especially presidential right to order the use of nuclear weapons.

International Law and US Law

Urgent questions here will relate to assorted and sometimes subtle intersections of international law and US law. From the beginning of the United States, international law has been an integral part of its national law. Early on, Chief Justice John Marshall asserted and reasserted that all international law – whatever its source – had been incorporated into the domestic law of the United States.[13] Before Marshall, William Blackstone’s Commentaries on The Law of England clarified that the “law of nations” is always “a necessary part of  the law of the land.”

These Commentaries represent the authoritative foundation of all United States law.

               Under current US law, whatever its apparent jurisprudential origins, a president may correctly use military force once Congress has declared a war or after the US (and/or its citizens) have been attacked.[14] As to the permissible kinds of force and levels of force, these operational decisions would have to be determinable according to longstanding laws of war of international law (the comprehensive law of armed conflict or humanitarian international law), and also the municipal law of the United States. In any such foreseeable circumstances, there would exist no clearly identifiable prohibitions against nuclear force per se.[15]

               For better or for worse, non-weapon-specific prohibitions would apply broadly, to the extent that any US retaliation or counter-retaliation would violate the always-binding expectations of discrimination (sometimes called “distinction”), proportionality,[16] or military necessity.[17]

               Both the US Constitution and the War Powers Act place strict limits on any president’s authority to initiate hostilities with a foreign power, whether by conventional or nuclear means. A significant grey area has to do with the Commander-in- Chief’s right to strike first defensively or preemptively; that is, as a presumptive expression of “anticipatory self-defense.[18] Here, the authorizing component of permissibility must be the perception of any grave danger that is “imminent in point of time.”

               Logically, the relevant criteria of “imminence” could not reasonably be the same today as they were back in a pre-nuclear 1837. That was the year of the Caroline, the classic case setting the correct legal standard for all subsequent preemptive national action.[19]

Matters of Chronology and Crisis

               What should we have expected from former President Donald Trump if he had sometime reasoned that a nuclear attack on the United States or its allies was “imminent in point of time?” Should we have remained comfortable with leaving such a prospectively existential judgment to his own personal decisional standards of the moment? Or should this eleventh-hour option have been be a matter of more plainly shared or “concurrent authority” with the US Congress?[20]

               In actual state practice, applicable questions of law are apt to be subordinated to the overarching and ubiquitous assumption[21] that any  president’s final authority in defending the United States should never be challenged during an impending or already-ongoing crisis. This sort of assumption would become especially worrisome in circumstances where an enemy nuclear attack could be contemplated and anticipated. In brief, this means that a verifiably irrational or mad American president would likely have his military commands obeyed, up to and including an order to use nuclear weapons. This reasoning applies also to preemptive American strikes, whether launched in retaliation or counter-retaliation. It also means that while a wide variety of redundant safeguards already exists to prevent unauthorized uses of American nuclear weapons up and down the identifiable nuclear chain of command, no parallel safeguards can exist at the top or apex of this unique decisional hierarchy.

               This was the precise conclusion reached in General Maxwell Taylor’s 1976 letter to me (attached hereto) on nuclear command authority.

               There is more. It remains possible, of course, and even potentially desirable, that a presidential order to use nuclear weapons would be disobeyed at one or another recognizable level of implementation. Strictly speaking, however, as any such expression of disobedience would be “illegal,” it is not sufficiently probable or reliable in extremis atomicum. The staggering irony of actually having to hope for certain high-level instances of disobedience or chain-of-command failures ought not be too casually set aside.

               Prima facie, this irony reveals that extant US nuclear-decision safeguards are sorely and overwhelmingly inadequate.

The Best Protection Lies with the American Voter           

               Is the US nuclear presidential authority dilemma remediable in any still-promising ways? “The best protection,” I learned from General Maxwell Taylor almost fifty years ago, is “not to elect” an irrational president. But now, as such straightforward advice cannot be acted upon retroactively, the residually “best protection” must lie elsewhere Among potentially gainful sources, this suggests more vigilant statutory oversight by the Secretary of Defense, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the National Security Advisor and certain select others. This oversight also includes a more predictably reliable willingness – either singly or in appropriate collaboration with the others – to disobey any presumptively irrational or insane presidential nuclear command.

               Such willingness could be correctly defended as law-enforcing under those universally binding Nuremberg Principles (1946)[22] that obligate all persons (especially senior government officials everywhere)  to resist “crimes of state.” Because war and crimes against humanity are not mutually exclusive, compliance with overriding Nuremberg Principles could become necessary not only to limit aggression, but also to prevent genocide.[23]

               Ultimately, America’s best chance of avoiding or surviving such a grievous threat could depend less upon any codified law or tangible institutions than the last-minute or impromptu courage of a handful of senior officials. Though any such estimation must be less than ideal or optimal, it may simply be “realistic.” To wit, it was the courage and insight of a single senior decision-maker, JCS Chair Mark Milley, that firmed up necessary Constitutional protections against a severely debilitated commander-in-chief.

Buttressed by national and international law, it is incumbent upon voting American citizens to act upon General Maxwell Taylor’s 1976 warning.[24] That earlier alarm, which cautioned “not to elect” a potentially “irrational” American president, should be extended to include even a potentially “insane” Commander-in-Chief. In the final analysis, however, we may not be able to rely upon prudential and law-oriented voters to effectively save the United States from itself – that is, from prospectively aberrant nuclear decision-making. In that intolerable case, all narrowly statutory or technical directions on nuclear decision making would be overtaken by  visceral expectations of American “mass.”[25]

               Then it would be too late.

 American democracy owes a sincere debt to US General Mark Milley. In the sycophancy-driven Trump world, a world of determined anti-reason, Milley’s reliance upon law and virtue was much more than merely acceptable.[26] For US national integrity and survival, it was indispensable.

But what should we do now?


[1] For informed accounts by this author of nuclear attack effects, see: Louis René Beres,  The Management of World Power: A Theoretical Analysis (1973); Louis René Beres, Transforming World Politics: The National Roots of World Peace (1975);  Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1980); Louis René Beres, Mimicking Sisyphus: America’s Countervailing Nuclear Strategy ((Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books, 1983); Louis René Beres, Reason and Realpolitik: U.S. Foreign Policy and World Order (Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books, 1984); Louis René Beres, Security or Armageddon: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (Lexington, Mass: Lexington Books, 1986); and Louis René Beres, Surviving Amid Chaos: Israel’s Nuclear Strategy (2016; 2nd ed., 2018).

[2] This expansion included urgent consultations with chiefs of the armed forces and conversations with foreign leaders concerned about Trump-induced US instabilities.

[3] These publications have been both strategic and legal in focus.

[4] General Taylor was an earlier Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. His handwritten letter to Professor Beres follows this article and the author’s bio. On August 18, 2017, Rep. Zoe Lofgren introduced a bill to the US House of Representatives that would have required President Donald Trump to undergo a mental health examination to determine if he is emotionally stable enough to remain in office. The proposed legislation expressly invoked the 25th Amendment, a rarely-used Constitutional provision allowing the vice-president and members of the Cabinet to remove a president from office. Rep. Lofgren’s bill did not become law.

[5] “Science,” says 20th-century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset in Man and Crisis, ” by which I mean the entire body of knowledge about things, whether corporeal or spiritual – is as much a work of imagination as it is of observation…. the latter is not possible without the former.”

[6] This book was published by the University of Chicago Press as Louis René Beres, Apocalypse: Nuclear Catastrophe in World Politics (1980).

[7]Irrational adversaries would likely not be deterred by the same threats directed at presumptively rational foes. On pertinent errors of correct deterrence reasoning (here regarding Iran in particular) see: Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Could Israel Safely Deter a Nuclear Iran?”  The Atlantic, August 2012; and Professor Louis René Beres and General John T. Chain, “Israel and Iran at the Eleventh Hour,” Oxford University Press (OUP Blog). February 23, 2012. General Chain (USAF/ret.) served as Commander-in-Chief, U.S. Strategic Air Command (CINCSAC).

[8] Expressions of decisional irrationality could take different or overlapping forms. These include a disorderly or inconsistent value system; computational errors in calculation; an incapacity to communicate efficiently; random or haphazard influences in the making or transmittal of particular decisions; and the internal dissonance generated by any structure of collective decision-making (i.e., assemblies of pertinent individuals who lack identical value systems and/or whose organizational arrangements impact their willing capacity to act as a single or unitary national decision maker).

[9] Nuclear risks threatening US security could form an intricately interconnected network. Capable assessments of such risk must eventually include a patient search for synergies, and also for possible cascades of failures that would represent one especially serious iteration of synergy. Other risk properties that will warrant careful assessment within this genre include contagion potential and persistence.

[10] One such generally ignored risk is “playing to the audience,” that is, seeking personal popularity at the expense of national security. Accordingly, see Sophocles, Antigone, Speech of Creon, King of Thebes: “I hold despicable and always have…. anyone who puts his own popularity before his country.”

[11] Donald Trump’s presidency brings to mind those fragments of Euripides that concern tragic endings. Here we may learn from the classical playwright, “Whom God wishes to destroy, He first makes mad.” Inter alia, Greek tragedy explores the wider civil harms that any deranged “sovereign” mind can produce. Looking at the United States today, struggling with rampant “plague” and with extraordinary domestic instability, there is a still-discoverable wisdom in classical Greek tragedy.

[12] Significantly, neither the irrational/rational nor insane/sane distinction is narrowly dichotomous. There are, rather, multiple or “continuous” variations of each pairing, an indisputable fact that makes any more far-reaching psychological or legal analysis of these already-complex nuclear decision-making issues even more problematic.

[13]  See also “Supremacy Clause” of the US Constitution (Article VI); The Paquette Habana, 175 US 677,700 (1900); and Tel-Oren v. Libyan Arab Republic, 726, F.2d. 774, 781, 788 (D.C. Cir. 1984) per curiam).

[14] For the crime of aggression under international law, see: Resolution on the Definition of Aggression, adopted by the UN General Assembly, Dec. 14, 1974. U.N.G.A. Res. 3314 (XXIX), 29 UN GAOR, Supp. (No. 31), 142, UN Doc A/9631 (1975) reprinted in 13 I.L.M., 710 (1974).

[15] See, on such issues: Summary of the Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons (Advisory Opinion), 1996.

[16]  The principle of proportionality has its jurisprudential and philosophic origins in the Biblical Lex Talionis, the law of exact retaliation. The “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” can be found in three separate passages of the Jewish Torah, or Biblical Pentateuch.

[17] The principle of “military necessity” is defined authoritatively as follows: “Only that degree and kind of force, not otherwise prohibited by the law of armed conflict, required for the partial or complete submission of the enemy with a minimum expenditure of time, life, and physical resources may be applied.” See: United States, Department of the Navy, jointly with Headquarters, U.S. Marine Corps; and Department of Transportation, U.S. Coast Guard, The Commander’s Handbook on the Law of Naval Operations, NWP 1-14M, Norfolk, Virginia, October 1995, p. 5-1.

[18] Long before the nuclear age, Swiss scholar Emmerich de Vattel took a position in strong favor of anticipatory self-defense. Vattel concludes The Law of Nations (1758) as follows: “The safest plan is to prevent evil, where that is possible. A nation has the right to resist the injury another seeks to inflict upon it, and to use force and every other just means of resistance against the aggressor.” (See Vattel, “The Right of Self-Protection and the Effects of the Sovereignty and Independence of Nations,” reprinted in 3 Classics of International Law, 130 (Carnegie Endowment Trust 1916 (1758). Vattel, in the conspicuously earlier fashion of Dutch scholar Hugo Grotius, (The Law of War and Peace, 1625) drew widely upon ancient Hebrew Scripture and Jewish law.

[19] The Caroline concerned the unsuccessful rebellion of 1837 in Upper Canada against British rule. Following this case, the serious threat of armed attack has generally been sufficient in law to justify certain appropriate militarily defensive actions. In a formal exchange of diplomatic notes between the governments of the United States and Great Britain, then US Secretary of State Daniel Webster outlined a framework for national self-defense that did not require antecedent attack. Accordingly, the authoritative jurisprudential framework now permitted a military response to threat as long as the danger posed was “instant, overwhelming, leaving no choice of means, and no moment for deliberation.” Naturally, this standard could sometimes be more easily met in our time-compressed and prospectively apocalyptic nuclear age.

[20] Reflecting this second point-of-view, Congressman Ted W. Lieu (D, LA County) and Senator Edward J. Markey (D, Massachusetts) introduced H.R. 669 (Restricting First Use of Nuclear Weapons Act of 2017) back on 24 January 2017. Although this proposed legislation would have prohibited the president from launching a nuclear first strike without a Congressional Declaration of War, it’s not clear that it could also have dealt satisfactorily with the irrationality/insanity issues herein under discussion. Moreover, the proposed legislation seemed to make no meaningful distinction between a nuclear first-strike and a nuclear first-use. https://lieu.house.gov/media-center/press-releases/congressman-lieu-senator-markey-introduce-restricting-first-use-0

[21] In part, at least, this implicitly core assumption is rooted in our continuously-anarchic system of international relations, a decentralized structure often referred to by the professors as “Westphalian.” The reference here is to the landmark Peace of Westphalia (1648), which concluded the Thirty-Years War and created the still-extant state system. See: Treaty of Peace of Munster, Oct. 1648, 1 Consol. T.S. 271; and Treaty of Peace of Osnabruck, Oct. 1648, 1, Consol. T.S. 119. Together, these two major agreements comprise the historic “Peace of Westphalia.”

[22] See Affirmation of the Principles of International Law Recognized by the Charter of the Nuremberg Tribunal, Adopted by the UN General Assembly, 11 December 1946. Inter alia, these Principles underscore the formal jurisprudential assumption of solidarity between states. This peremptory expectation, known in formal law as a jus cogens assumption, was already evident in Justinian, Corpus Juris Civilis (533 CE); Hugo Grotius, 2 The Law of War and Peace (1625; Chapter 20); and Emmerich de Vattel, The Law of Nations (1758; Chapter 19).

[23] See Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, 9 December 1948; Entered into force, 12 January 1951.

[24] “The safety of the people,” Cicero warns prophetically in The Laws, “shall be the highest law.”

[25] The “mass-man,” we may learn from 20th century Spanish philosopher Jose Ortega y’Gasset The Revolt of the Masses, “learns only in his own flesh.” Seem, also, by Professor Beres, at Yale: Louis Rene Beres,  https://archive-yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/call-intellect-and-courage; and at Princeton: Louis Rene Beres: https://www.dailyprincetonian.com/article/2018/02/emptiness-and-consciousness

[26] There is no longer a virtuous nation,” warns the Irish poet William Butler Yeats, “and the best of us live by candlelight.”

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Defense

American Weaponry in the Hands of the Taliban

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Source: Twitter

The hasty withdrawal of the U.S. forces from Afghanistan attests to both the indifference of the U.S. administration as regards the future of Afghanistan as a state and the neglect for its obligations to its allies. Besides, Washington has clearly violated the current UN Security Council sanctions regime against the Taliban, which was established in accordance with Resolution 1988 (2011).

Paragraph 1, subparagraph (c), of the Resolution calls on all countries to “prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale, or transfer of arms and related material of all types including weapons and ammunition, military vehicles and equipment, paramilitary equipment, and spare parts” to the Taliban and other individual groups, undertakings and entities associated with them [1].

Washington faced serious backlash for violating the UN sanctions regime upon abandoning weaponry and ammunition during an abrupt evacuation of troops from the country—such as when U.S. troops left Bagram, the largest airbase in Afghanistan, without warning the local Afghan army in early July, 2021. General Mir Asadullah Kohistani, the new commander of Bagram Air Base, stated that Afghan soldiers only later learned of the Americans having departed, once they had all “disappeared into the night.” This is important as this proves that the Americans did not transfer weaponry and ammunition to the Afghan army through official channels. Since U.S. troops had turned off electricity at the airbase, looters soon found their way in, with barracks and storage tents ransacked. Among the “trophies” left by the Americans were hundreds of armored vehicles and ammunition, all of which ended up in the hands of the Taliban, either that very night or after Bagram being taken over (see image 1).

Image 1: Armored vehicles (left) and ammunition (right) deserted by the Americans at Bagram Airbase.

Source: RIA Novosti (left) and Haroon Sabawoon – Anadolu Agency (right)

According to The Military Balance, a military journal published annually, Afghan government forces had 640 MSFV armored security vehicles, 200 MaxxPro armored fighting vehicles and several thousand Hummers at their disposal. The Afghan Air Force had 22 EMB-314 Super Tucano (А-29) light attack aircraft (see image 2), four C-130H Hercules transport aircraft, 24 Cessna 208B and 18 turboprop PC-12s. The Army Air Corps boasted 41 MD-530F light turbine helicopters and as many as 30 multi-mission UH-60A Black Hawk helicopters (see image 2).

Image 2: A light attack EMB-314 Super Tucano (А-29) aircraft captured by the Taliban at Mazar-i-Sharif International Airport (left) and a light MD-530 F multi-role helicopter (center); a multi-mission UH-60A Black Hawk helicopter in the sky above Qandahar with what seems to be a person hanged by the Taliban (right).

Source: Twitter

On August 17, 2021, Jake Sullivan, U.S. National Security Advisor, confirmed that a significant amount of U.S. weapons had fallen into the hands of the Taliban. “And obviously, we don’t have a sense that they are going to readily hand it over to us at the airport,” he noted, thus confirming that the United States allowed the indirect transfer of weapons to what the UN Security Council has designated a terrorist organization.

This is not the first time that Washington has violated a UN Security Council Resolution. For example, a statement by Sergei Ryabkov, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, suggests that the United States released four Taliban members from Guantanamo in 2014, all of whom were on the Security Council sanctions list, to send them to the Middle East.

This was quite in line with the U.S. policy incepted back in 2010 and aimed at engaging in direct dialogue with the Taliban. This led to the UN Security Council Committee—established pursuant to Resolution 1267 on sanctions against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda—breaking up into two independent sanction mechanisms[2]. The UN Security Council Committee established pursuant to Resolution 1988 devised procedures that allow for a more liberal approach to the Taliban list (compared to those involved with Al-Qaeda), excluding those mentioned in consolidated lists of persons, groups and entities subject to restrictions.

Such facts should, in fact, be subject to the scrutiny of the UN Security Council Committee established pursuant to Resolution 1988 (including its Analytical Support and Sanctions Monitoring Team), in whose proceedings the Russian Federation takes part and whose mandate implies monitoring compliance with Taliban-related sanctions as well as presenting periodic reports on sanctions measures to the Security Council.

Prospects of the U.S. imposing sanctions against Russia in connection with the Taliban

It is important to recognize that the “Taliban issue” could become somewhat of a scapegoat for Washington, especially in the eyes of its allies, to impose even more anti-Russia sanctions. In addition to the Executive Order on Blocking Property with Respect to Specified Harmful Foreign Activities of the Government of the Russian Federation signed on April 15, 2021, the White House published a Fact Sheet outlining key accusations against Russia, which include reports on rewards for the murder of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. According to the document, the Biden administration is taking measures following the intelligence reports of Russia having encouraged Taliban attacks on the U.S. and alliance contingent in Afghanistan. Since such allegations directly affect the safety and well-being of U.S. troops, a solution can be found through diplomatic, military and intelligence channels.

Biden’s executive decree foresees the introduction of blocking sanctions for attempts to challenge the credibility of elections in the United States and allied countries, malicious hacker activities, spreading corruption internationally, crackdowns on dissidents and journalists, undermining security and stability in countries and regions important for U.S. national security interests, and the violation of international law, including the territorial integrity of states.

The reason for the Biden administration’s concern is likely a story published in The New York Times in June 2020 claiming that Russian military intelligence had offered Taliban-affiliated militia a reward for the murder of U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan. Sources of the newspaper claimed to have uncovered such information during interrogations of Afghan militia.

As a result, senator Robert Menendez suggested in September 2020 that the U.S. Congress move forward with yet another anti-Russia sanctions package, the Russia Bounty Response Act of 2020. The Act implied freezing assets, visa restrictions for President Vladimir Putin, Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu and other high-ranking officials, as well as restrictions on defense enterprises. The initiative was supported by Dem. Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. In an interview with MSNBC, she emphasized the need to immediately impose sanctions against Russia for “colluding” with the Taliban.

In his turn, however, former President Donald Trump called The New York Times story “a fake,” stating that the article had been ordered for political reasons. Trump went on to state that the U.S. intelligence had acknowledged the information used in the publication was misleading. Pentagon spokesman Jonathan Hoffman said there was no evidence of a “conspiracy” between Russia and Taliban officials. The Taliban also denied information from The New York Times about existing ties with Russia.

One should bear in mind that the United States and Russia are adopting more polarized stances regarding the situation in Afghanistan, which became evident during the UN Security Council meeting on August 30, 2021, when Moscow and Beijing refrained from supporting the West-drafted resolution on Afghanistan. Thus, Washington will look for any excuse to discredit Russia. An effective instrument in counteracting such sanctions, hoaxes and other foul play common for the United States should be that of keeping a meticulous record of Washington’s violations of the UN Security Council sanctions regime against the Taliban to present the findings to the international community.

  1. The Taliban is a terrorist organization that is banned in Russia under Decision No. 03-116 of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation dated February 14, 2003, which entered into force on March 4, 2003.
  2. Al-Qaeda is a terrorist organization that is banned in Russia under Decision No. 03-116 of the Supreme Court of the Russian Federation dated February 14, 2003, which entered into force on March 4, 2003.

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