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Why Russia Succeeded in Syria When U.S. Failed in Afghanistan

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The U.S. intervention in Afghanistan was launched in October 2001 to be nearly two decades long. Russia’s military operation in Syria was launched in September 2015, and it has been going on for six years. Both powers justified their interventions by the need to combat international terrorism: while the U.S. was fighting against Al-Qaeda and the Taliban (terrorist organizations banned in Russia), Russia has fought against ISIS (a terrorist organization banned in Russia) and associated radical groups of the Syrian opposition.

It is difficult to compare Moscow and Washington’s campaigns as they are very different in scale, in their objectives and, particularly, in the specifics of their warfare. The U.S. operation in Afghanistan involved large numbers of American marines as well as military units of different sizes from several dozen U.S. allies and partners. Russia’s presence in Syria mostly involved its Aerospace Forces (the VKS) and a relatively small contingent of military police units.

The irrecoverable losses of the international coalition in Afghanistan have totaled over 3,000 people, with Americans accounting for about 80% of these; in the meantime, Russia’s losses in Syria have been smaller by an order of magnitude.

Money down the drain…

The U.S.-waged 20-year Afghanistan campaign is estimated to have cost an astronomical sum, something in between USD 1 and 2 tn. Various estimates put the cost of Russia’s six-year Syrian operation at USD 10 to 15 bn, which is significantly less than the American outlays as well as less than those of many of the U.S. junior partners in coalition (for instance, Germany alone spent some USD 50 bn in Afghanistan over the two decades).

These whopping outlays did not help the U.S. Although Al-Qaeda’s strongpoints in Afghanistan were largely eliminated in the course of the first three months of the military intervention as the surviving Taliban fighters were pushed out into the neighboring Pakistan within approximately the same time, the U.S. and its allies ultimately came to suffer a crushing defeat. Set by the U.S. leadership 20 years ago, the objectives have not been achieved, and the international coalition’s withdrawal from Afghanistan had essentially degenerated into a rather rushed and ill-designed evacuation.

At the same time, even Moscow’s most intransigent opponents admit that Russia was victorious in Syria. At the moment, at least, it is certainly a winner.

Russia did not have any fundamental military-technical or geographical advantages as compared to the U.S. On the contrary, the U.S. had a major advantage over Russia in transport accessibility and related logistics. Moscow only had two full-fledged bases in Syria—the naval base in Tartus and the airbase at Khmeimim. The Americans, though, not only used the military infrastructure of Afghanistan (including the infrastructure built by the USSR during its ten-year presence in the country) but also established bases in Central Asia, as well as many transport corridors via Pakistan, the South Caucasus, Central Asian states and Russia.

Two Military Operation Model

Why did Washington ultimately lose when Moscow succeeded?

First, although both the U.S. and Russia proclaimed the aim of combating international terrorism, the two operations had, in fact, quite different objectives.

In 2015, by saving President Assad and his inner circle, Moscow was saving Syria’s statehood; Russia was, therefore, defending Syria’s status quo.

Back in 2001, the U.S. intended to radically change the status quo in Afghanistan by installing a new political regime and implementing an ambitious plan for building a modern secular state. Clearly, the latter objective proved far more difficult than the former, especially since the country lacked the objective premises for successful state-building.

Second, Russia’s partners in Syria were Iran and Turkey, the region’s two leading actors. Each had—and still has—its own vital interests in Syria. Although these interests do not always coincide with those of Russia, the trilateral Astana format has demonstrated its effectiveness and stability. It was not destroyed even by such acute crises as the escalation in Idlib in early 2020.

Some fifty U.S. partners in Afghanistan mostly included current and potential members of NATO, ranging from the UK and Turkey to Georgia and Ukraine. Most of these nations had no vital interests to pursue in Afghanistan, and their involvement largely stemmed from their desire to demonstrate loyalty to the U.S. and support America’s well-meaning undertaking. Especially since America’s plans for Afghanistan, unlike its subsequent intervention in Iraq in 2003, were fully approved by the UN Security Council. It turned out, however, that values- rather than interests-based solidarity is not a particularly reliable foundation for an operation lasting many years.

Third, Russia was mostly opposed by international terrorist groups in Syria that ultimately viewed the country’s territory as merely one of the possible springboards for their operations. Today, they are fighting in Syria—tomorrow, they could move to the neighboring Iraq, or to Libya, or the countries of the Sahel, or any other place in the world with a situation most favorable for them.

The Taliban is a purely Afghan movement. Its fighters have nowhere else to go; they fought for their country and continue to do so. Even when, in the early 2000s, the international coalition pushed Taliban militants into Pakistan, they tried to get back home, sooner or later and at any cost. Islamic “globalists” and Islamic “nationalists” are motivated somewhat differently; figuratively speaking, the former have legs, the latter have roots.

Fourth, to all appearances, Russia’s operation in Syria was simply prepared much better than the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. Russian Arabists, diplomats, military personnel and intelligence deserve credit for their understanding of the situation in Syria and the surrounding states.

The U.S. operation in Afghanistan had the appearance of a not-entirely-successful improvisation; the U.S. vision of this country was formed throughout the confrontation with the Soviet Union back in the 1980s, and they proved far removed from reality.

The Kremlin succeeded in making its limited presence in Syria stable, financially affordable and generally acceptable to the Russian public. The White House failed to do the same in Afghanistan.

Russia’s success in Syria is particularly impressive as—unlike the out-of-power Afghan leadership—Assad was (and still is) under U.S. and EU sanctions, and the West has not recognized the outcome of the recent presidential elections in Syria (although there were quite a few problems with the latest Afghan elections as well). Additionally, Syria has so far failed to regain full membership in the community of Arab states. Even so, Assad can be certain that he will wake up in his palace on January 1, 2022, as Syria’s president. At the same time, the political biography of Ashraf Ghani, who had spent the greater part of his life in the U.S. and had long held U.S. citizenship, has already come to an inglorious end…

Appropriate and inappropriate debates

Of course, Russia’s victory in Syria can only be claimed with significant qualifications. The country’s territorial integrity has not been fully restored as Turkey still controls the Idlib province in the West, the North is controlled by Kurdish units beyond the control of Damascus, while the Golan Heights in the South have been annexed by Israel. The danger of a new escalation remains in Syria while the ventures of post-conflict restoration are pushed further into the future. It is not entirely clear when and under what circumstances Russia’s military operation in Syria will end or whether Moscow has a detailed withdrawal strategy.

Nonetheless, whereas the long-term outcome of Russia’s operation in Syria can still be debated, the outcome of the Afghan campaign is in no doubt: the U.S. and its allies have suffered an obvious and extremely painful defeat. Today, it is a matter of downplaying the humiliation of this defeat as much as possible and preventing the American public from developing an “Afghanistan syndrome” as was the case with the “Vietnam syndrome” half a century ago. If the Republicans succeed in transforming the subject of “the Democrats stealing our victory in Afghanistan” into an item on America’s domestic agenda, debates on this matter might even affect the outcome of the 2024 presidential elections.

Russia’s operation in Syria has significantly bolstered Moscow’s standing in the Arab world and increased Russia’s prestige throughout the Middle East, where high reliability as well as consistent and predictable policies have always been in value.

Washington’s reliability as a strategic partner and security guarantor has once again been cast into doubt. NATO’s ability to conduct successful operations far from their traditional area of operation is in even greater doubt. Certainly, the defeat in Afghanistan will have a rather detrimental effect on the morale of the U.S. military.

It should be mentioned that Afghanistan merely is the most graphic illustration of the American military presence shrinking throughout the world. The Pentagon will now have to more actively prepare to conduct autonomous operations, without relying on the existing military infrastructure of its allies and partners.

Post-battle Landscape

What lessons can we learn for the future from this brief comparison of the two interventions of the early 21st century?

First: victory cannot be guaranteed by an overwhelming military superiority over the adversary or virtually unlimited financial resources or broad international support or even readiness to maintain an occupation for decades. Attempts to impose a specific socioeconomic and political system on a nation that, for whatever reason, is not ready for it will inevitably end in failure.

No matter what we think of Syria’s leader Bashar al-Assad, we can but recognize that he enjoys the support of, at least, a part of the Syrian society. No matter what we think of the Taliban, this movement clearly reflects, in some manner, the interests of large groups of the Afghan population.

Political settlement in Syria is inconceivable without the participation of the present leadership in Damascus. On the contrary, over the 20 years of international occupation, Afghanistan failed to develop an efficient central authority, strong political and state institutions as well as resolve the problems of corruption, nepotism and clan loyalty. In 2021, just as back in 2001, significant portions of the Afghan population, especially in the provinces, have no access to many basic social and economic services.

Syria certainly has many pressing socioeconomic problems similar to those of Afghanistan. Certainly, the efficiency of its state governance is also somewhat dubious. Yet, the stability of the state in Syria has proved to be far greater than that of the Afghan state.

Besides, both in Syria and in Afghanistan, victory in state-building is impossible without active collaboration with regional actors. No international coalition founded on shared democratic values and loyalty to the leader will be substitute for cooperation with the neighboring states. In the case of Syria, Iran and Turkey turned out to be just such irreplaceable neighbors. In the case of Afghanistan, these are primarily Pakistan, China, Iran, Central Asian states, Russia and, possibly, India. The rich Persian Gulf nations may also take part in Afghanistan’s economic restoration, as may the European Union under certain circumstances.

Nonetheless, Beijing and Islamabad will be the main external actors taking part in determining Afghanistan’s future. Beijing is on the list because China will inevitably become the country’s principal foreign investor and trade partner. The Taliban’s official representatives have already hastened to say that they welcome China’s economic presence in Afghanistan. Islamabad is on the list as well because Pakistan has the broadest range of means to influence the Taliban. To some degree, it is fair to say that the Taliban’s military victory is also a victory for Pakistan. At the same time, it would be a major mistake to consider the Taliban a mere puppet in Islamabad’s skillful hands: the Afghan movement, for instance, actively keeps in touch with separatists among the radical Pashtun movements in Pakistan.

Iran will most likely be the third member of the leaders’ trio as it holds long-standing and solid positions in the West of Afghanistan. Iran’s relations with the Taliban have always been complicated, with frequent conflicts—but given Tehran’s pragmatic foreign policy, there is no doubt they will reach some kind of compromise with the victorious Taliban.

Russia and Afghanistan

Unlike Syria, where Moscow plays a largely central role as a guarantor of the country’s stability and territorial integrity, Russia is not a major league player in Afghanistan so far. Moscow has neither Beijing’s economic capabilities nor Islamabad’s political tools; unlike Iran, it does not share a long border with Afghanistan.

There, however, remains a lingering “Afghanistan syndrome,” and the Russian public is strongly opposed to any form of military involvement by Russia in Afghanistan.

In the late 1990s, Moscow did actively collaborate with Uzbek and Tajik groups united in the so-called Northern Alliance in the North of Afghanistan. Following the international occupation of Afghanistan, the Northern Alliance was disbanded to see some of its leaders join the team of then-president Hamid Karzai. Even though there is talk today of the Northern Alliance being revived, this has not yet had any effect on the battlefield balance of power and has not provided Moscow with any additional capabilities.

The tasks Moscow is setting itself today in Afghanistan are fairly modest, more so than those set for the Russian military in Syria in 2015.

First, it is important to prevent the military and political instability in Afghanistan from spilling across the borders of Russia’s allies in Central Asia and to prevent flows of refugees and forced migrants. Over 2.5 million Afghan refugees, or maybe even double this figure, are already dispersed throughout the world.

Second, Moscow needs to prevent international terrorist groups, like Al-Qaeda or ISIS, from transforming Afghanistan into a springboard for their operations in Central Asia or, for that matter, in Russia. In this respect, Afghanistan is potentially an even greater threat than was Syria prior to Russia’s operation. The estimates of international terrorist group presence in Afghanistan vary widely; some sources claim there are at least 3,000 ISIS militants in Afghanistan with no fewer than nine military bases.

There are also claims that ISIS and the Taliban are engaged in secret talks, which presupposes the Taliban’s consent to ISIS being present in Afghanistan—provided they refrain from interfering in the country’s domestic affairs. It is hard to say how well-founded these claims are; they may be just attempts to discredit the Taliban in the eyes of regional actors.

Third, it is in Moscow’s interests to cut drug trafficking from Afghanistan into Russia and the neighboring states as much as possible. In the first years under the international occupation, poppy plantations in Afghanistan expanded from 2,000 hectares to 30,000 hectares. There are reasons to suspect international coalition members of condoning the unprecedented flourishing of Afghan drug trafficking and of being involved—directly or indirectly—in this lucrative business. The Taliban, for their part, actively began combatting drugs back in the late 1990s, since Islam decisively prohibits drugs. The future will show whether there will be any success in countering production and export of Afghan drugs in the wake of the U.S. withdrawal.

Much will depend on the perception of Afghanistan’s changing political landscape in the eyes of the U.S. and Europe. If Russia has to compete in Afghanistan with the EU and the U.S., Russia’s capabilities, which are modest as things stand, will prove even more limited. If the West decides to steer a course toward Afghanistan’s international isolation, any government in Kabul will have additional incentives to expand cooperation with Russia to at least somehow reduce its inevitable dependence on China.

Certainly, Moscow will have to sidestep—carefully—around many hidden pitfalls. For instance, how can possible complications with India, which has its own views of and approaches to Afghanistan, be avoided? What is to be done about the activities of Turkey, which claims an independent role in Afghanistan? What should be the response to Washington’s desire to preserve a residual military presence in the region by using the relevant infrastructure in Central Asia? Yet, no matter how important these and other questions might be, they should not distract Moscow’s attention from strategic collaboration with the principal regional actors in Afghanistan. The preliminary results achieved by Russia in Syria give us grounds to hope that the Kremlin might well succeed in avoiding obvious miscalculations in Afghanistan.

From our partner RIAC

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In 2022, military rivalry between powers will be increasingly intense

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“Each state pursues its own interest’s, however defined, in ways it judges best. Force is a means of achieving the external ends of states because there exists no consistent, reliable process of reconciling the conflicts of interest that inevitably arise among similar units in a condition of anarchy.” – Kenneth Waltz,

The worldwide security environment is experiencing substantial volatility and uncertainty as a result of huge developments and a pandemic, both of which have not been experienced in a century. In light of this, major countries including as Russia, the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, and India have hastened their military reform while focusing on crucial sectors. 2022 might be a year when the military game between big nations heats up.

The military competition between major powers is first and foremost a battle for strategic domination, and the role of nuclear weapons in altering the strategic position is self-evident. In 2022, the nuclear arms race will remain the center of military rivalry between Russia, the United States, and other major countries, while hypersonic weapons will become the focus of military technology competition among major nations.

The current nuclear weapons competition between major nations will be more focused on technological improvements in weapon quality. In 2022, the United States would invest USD 27.8 billion in nuclear weapons development. It intends to buy Columbia-class strategic nuclear-powered submarines and improve nuclear command, control, and communication systems, as well as early warning systems.

One Borei-A nuclear-powered submarine, two Tu-160M strategic bombers, and 21 sets of new ballistic missile systems will be ordered by Russia. And its strategic nuclear arsenal is anticipated to be modernized at a pace of more than 90%. This year, the United Kingdom and France will both beef up their nuclear arsenals. They aspire to improve their nuclear forces by constructing new strategic nuclear-powered submarines, increasing the quantity of nuclear warheads, and testing new ballistic missiles.

Russia will commission the Zircon sea-based hypersonic cruise missiles this year and continue to develop new hypersonic missiles as a leader in hypersonic weapon technology. To catch up with Russia, the US will invest USD 3.8 billion this year in the development of hypersonic weapons. Hypersonic weapons are also being researched and developed in France, the United Kingdom, and Japan.

Surviving contemporary warfare is the cornerstone of the military competition between major countries, and keeping the cutting edge of conventional weapons and equipment is a necessary condition for victory. In 2022, major nations including as Russia and the United States will speed up the upgrade of primary war equipment.

The United States will concentrate on improving the Navy and Air Force’s weaponry and equipment. As planned, the US Navy will accelerate the upgrade and commissioning of weapons and equipment such as Ford-class aircraft carriers, Virginia-class nuclear-powered submarines, and F-15EX fighter jets, as well as develop a high-end sea and air equipment system that includes new aircraft carrier platforms and fifth-generation fighter jets.

Russian military equipment improvements are in full swing, with the army receiving additional T-14 tanks, the navy receiving 16 major vessels, and the aerospace force and navy receiving over 200 new or better aircraft. The commissioning of a new generation of Boxer armored vehicles in the United Kingdom will be accelerated. India will continue to push for the deployment of its first homegrown aircraft carrier in combat. Japan will also continue to buy F-35B fighter jets and improve the Izumo, a quasi-aircraft carrier.

The US military’s aim this year in the domain of electromagnetic spectrum is to push the Air Force’s Project Kaiju electronic warfare program and the Navy’s next generation jammer low band (NGJ-LB) program, as well as better enhance the electronic warfare process via exercises. Pole-21, Krasukha, and other new electronic warfare systems will be sent to Russia in order to increase the automation of electronic warfare systems. The electronic warfare systems of the Type 45 destroyers, as well as the Type 26 and Type 31 frigates, will be upgraded by the United Kingdom. To build combat power, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces will continue to develop the newly formed 301st Electronic Warfare Company.

Around the world, a new cycle of scientific, technical, and military upheaval is gaining traction, and conflict is swiftly shifting towards a more intelligent form. Russia, the United States, and other major countries have boosted their investment in scientific research in order to win future battles, with a concentration on intelligent technology, unmanned equipment, and human-machine coordinated tactics.

This year, the US military intends to spend USD 874 million on research and development to boost the use of intelligent technologies in domains such as information, command and control, logistics, network defense, and others. More than 150 artificial intelligence (AI) projects are presently being developed in Russia.

This year, it will concentrate on adapting intelligent software for various weapon platforms in order to improve combat effectiveness. France, the United Kingdom, India, and other countries have also stepped up their AI research and attempted to use it broadly in areas such as intelligence reconnaissance, auxiliary decision-making, and network security.

In the scope of human coordinated operations, the United States was the first to investigate and has a distinct edge. The US intends to conduct the first combat test of company-level unmanned armored forces, investigate ways for fifth-generation fighter jets to coordinate with unmanned reconnaissance aircraft and drone swarms, and promote manned and unmanned warships working together on reconnaissance, anti-submarine, and mine-sweeping missions.

Russia will work to integrate unmanned equipment into manned combat systems as quickly as feasible, while also promoting the methodical development of drones and unmanned vehicles. Furthermore, France and the United Kingdom are actively investigating human-machine coordinated techniques in military operations, such as large urban areas.

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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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