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A Military Response to Russians’ Infernal Question

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Who is to blame? A seemingly clear-cut answer to this accursed question relevant for the country’s current security concern has recently emerged: the United States and NATO with its U.S.-led enlargement into the post-Soviet space, with them having completely eclipsed international terrorism on the agenda. By the same token, the issue has been supplanted in U.S. discourse by the notions of “great power competition” with Russia and China.

What should be done? This appears a far more difficult question to answer.

The basic approach is certainly well known. To quote Vladimir Putin’s November 2021 speech at an expanded meeting of the Foreign Ministry Board, “it is important for them [the West – author’s note] to remain in this state [of tension – translator’s note] for as long as possible,” meaning that it is imperative for Moscow “to push for serious long-term guarantees that ensure Russia’s security.” Much has been (and will be) said about what could be incorporated into the mutual security treaties proposed to the U.S. and NATO, much as about their underpinnings and about the progress of talks. Given all this, there is probably no need for us to delve deep into these aspects. However, even at this stage, we can assert that NATO—and to a lesser extent the United States—refused to discuss most of the fundamental demands that Moscow put forward, most notably any legal guarantees to limit NATO enlargement and to withdraw the “old guard’s” troops and arms from Eastern Europe.

While it is tempting to attribute these demands to unrealistic expectations that Moscow built on as a starting point for negotiations on the serious issues—the United States has demonstrated will to do so, at least with regard to strike weapons, military exercises near Russia’s borders—Russia will nevertheless be unable to neglect the flat-out refusal it encountered on the issues that were declared vital to its interests.

In the event that Russia receives no sufficient diplomatic guarantees enshrined in legally-binding documents, Moscow—as we can glean from statements made by some of Russia’s top officials—will be forced to ensure its security in a different way, through a “military-technical” response that will consist in deploying certain unnamed weapons systems. Moreover, these systems should be non-standard, as Sergey Ryabkov has described this step as “a critical political decision.”

With a high degree of certainty, we can assume that we are talking about Russia withdrawing from its unilateral moratorium on non-deployment of medium- and short-range missiles, which no one adheres to anyway, all the more so because the potential deployment of such U.S. systems in Europe is a central as well as pragmatic (rather than ideological) issue included in the so-called “guarantee agreements.”

General on a Gryphon

The current issues stem from the collapse of the INF Treaty, which banned land-based cruise and ballistic missiles with a range of 500–5500km. The Treaty was abandoned at the U.S. initiative, as it accused Russia of violating the terms in August 2019. RIAC produced a series of articles on the issue at the time, and there is no need to rehash the arguments presented in earlier pieces.

It is worth noting that mass-production and deployment of Russian land-based mobile missile systems carrying 9M729 cruise missiles (NATO reporting name SSC-8)—allegedly in violation of the INF Treaty—disappeared from news feeds immediately once the Treaty collapsed, with Washington “for some reason” no longer informing the rest of the world about its distribution in the Russian army. Russia, in turn, had counterclaims against the United States. Some of them were casuistic[1] , others ultimately had to do with deploying strike weapons in Europe. The latter concerned the Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defence system commissioned in Romania in 2016 and under construction in Poland. These complexes, essentially simplified “land destroyers,” use missiles from the SM-3 family launched from the MK 41 Vertical Launching System. At the same time, Tomahawk-family cruise missiles are launched from the same launchers on ships, causing Moscow to believe that these are actually ground-based launchers of medium-range missiles.

Washington has always claimed that the complexes are not equipped with the necessary software to launch cruise missiles, while having other limitations as well. There is no way, however, to verify these claims from the outside. In any case, these “limitations” can easily be rectified, as the Aegis system and its MK 41 standard launchers were specifically designed to be universal in nature, capable of using a wide range of missiles designed for them, without any further modifications. The main guarantee that cruise missiles will not be launched from Aegis Ashore is that there is absolutely no reason to do so. Land-based systems may provide a cheap and convenient replacement for sea-based destroyers carrying antiballistic missiles, but they lose many times over in all other respects—the systems have a mere of 24 launchers instead of hundreds, and they are vulnerable and not mobile. Therefore, the risks of being caught out “deceiving” Russia are not in any way justified. In all honesty, every hypothetically installed Tomahawk would only increase Russia’s security, as this would mean that they are not deployed on a conventional platform (a destroyer, a missile cruiser, a submarine or… see below).

Still, Moscow realized this, and any criticisms it levelled at Aegis Ashore were casuistic in nature. They were never seen as a reason to break the agreement and were not mentioned in the draft guarantee agreements, unlike the U.S. tactical nuclear bombs stored in Europe.

However, plenty remains unknown about the U.S. real post-INF missile systems. First of all, this has to with the LRHW (Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon), which has unofficially been dubbed Dark Eagle by the U.S. military. The LHRW is, in fact, a medium-range ballistic missile, with a declared striking distance of up to 2775 km. The plan is to have a non-nuclear hypersonic glider as combat equipment, allowing politicians and the “advertising specialists” in the Pentagon and the military to “market” it as a trendy “hypersonic weapon.” The battery is expected to include four-wheeled mobile launchers, carrying two missiles each. So far, the LHRW has only been tested with individual elements (rocket engines on stands, gliders on nonstandard boosters, etc.), but it is expected to become operational within the next few years. There is no point talking about scheduled dates for commissioning, as they will inevitably be pushed back after unsuccessful hypersonic testings of 2021. The LRHW can be considered successor to the Pershing II missile, the most famous missile system deployed during the first Euromissile crisis in the 1980s.

The second complex under development can also be conceived as a reincarnation of the late Cold War hero—the BGM-109G Gryphon, a modification of the land-based Tomahawk. It may be less well-known than the Pershing II, but it was released in larger numbers to be deployed in several countries at once, not only in Germany. A modern land-based mobile complex carrying cruise missiles is built under the U.S. Army’s Mid-Range Capability (MRC) program, with the unofficial name of Typhon[2]. The battery is expected to include four launchers carrying four missiles each and transport-loading vehicles with additional ammunition. Modern non-nuclear Tomahawks have an approximate range of 1800km[3]. Unlike the expensive LHRW, designed for critical missions only, the MRC should become a convenient way to use cruise missiles, which are relatively cheap, on a wide scale. In some ways, it is even more convenient than ships, which can only reload at ports[4], as ground-based launchers offer greatest stability. It is no surprise that the military has attached higher priority to the MRC than to the LHRW, as no problems are expected in its design. All U.S. missile systems will carry conventional weapons only. In theory, they can be equipped with nuclear warheads (“conventional” warheads are typically larger and heavier than their advanced thermonuclear counterparts); however, this would aggravate tensions between Washington and Beijing, setting off a real nuclear arms race.

The plan, at least in the initial stages, is to combine the LHRW and MRC into special units under the Multi-Domain Task Force (MDTF), which will also include batteries of new PrSM operational-tactical missiles with a range of up to 700–800 km. Five MDTFs will be created—two in the Indo-Pacific, one in the Arctic (when deployed in Alaska, there will be an additional MDTF in the Pacific), one in Europe and one in the U.S. territory. Training has already begun at the unit stationed in the United States, which is receiving, among other things, part of the LRHW ground infrastructure (while there are no missiles, it has launchers, full-scale models of launching modules, etc.). Moscow cannot but be concerned that the second MDTF in Europe is already at the second stage of implementation. This includes the 56th Artillery Command of the U.S. Army, which operated the Pershing II back in the 1980, being redeployed in Germany to command the European MDTF.

Of course, any MDTF deployment in Ukraine is unlikely, as it simply makes no sense to expose such a valuable asset to a potential strike, especially since their range allows them to reach targets in Russia from Germany. However, it is also unacceptable for Ukraine to acquire PrSM missiles, which the United States will apparently be selling to its allies in the future. As of now, the United Kingdom is the only country to purchase them, but the MLRS and HIMARS universal launchers that use it are widely proliferated across NATO—Romania, for example, has purchased some, while the Baltic nations are planning to buy them as well.

Pre-Emptive Response

It is entirely possible that the trigger for Russia to intensify what can be labelled “insistent dialogue” on its apprehensions about Europe and its own security was not so much Kiev’s reluctance to see the Minsk agreements implemented or Ukraine’s attempts to make headway in joining NATO—there have been no developments here over the past year. On the contrary, in early summer 2021, Volodymyr Zelensky was given the run-around at the NATO Summit in Brussels, something quite insulting for a leader of an allied power.

It is not out of question that the last straw for the Kremlin was the obvious lack of interest on the part of the West as regards Russia’s proposal for a region-wide moratorium on the deployment of medium- and short-range missiles at least in Europe—Russia also provided for the Far East to be possibly included in its proposal, but there is absolutely no chance of this happening. Besides, the wheels had been set in motion for the deployment of the necessary infrastructure for new U.S. missile systems on the continent. The announcement of the redeployment of the 56th Artillery Command in August was a clear signal. If the adversary has no interest in avoiding another Euromissile crisis “the easy way,” why yield the initiative to them and wait until they bring their missiles to Europe? The objective threat of a bilateral crisis—a lose–lose for everyone involved, especially in a situation where the “European theater” for the U.S. is of secondary concern and should not divert resources from the Indo-Pacific—may well be enough to avoid such a crisis.

Less is known about Russia’s post-INF missile programmes, although reports suggest Russia is designing missiles. In February 2019, when it was clear that the INF Treaty would soon be no more, there was published a video recording and a transcript of Vladimir Putin’s meeting with the Minister of Defence and the Minister of Foreign Affairs, where the President endorsed proposals to start works on a land-based version of the Kalibr sea-launched cruise missile and some “hypersonic intermediate-range and shorter-range missiles.”

The background of the former is known. The Kalibr complex (exported as the Club family) was initially offered for export, including as a land-based solution. In its catalogue, the English page of the Rosoboronexport website still features a mobile wheeled complex with six of the family’s missiles on each launcher to those wishing to purchase a Club-M system. Simplified Club-T models crop up from time to time—these belong to the same complex but they lack a radar station as part of the battery, as they are designed to destroy ground targets only. There were also earlier concepts of land-based Kalibr missiles, such as a launcher on the trailer of a wheeled motor traction vehicle as well as such exotic ideas as fitting a missile in the form factor of a universal launching module and installing launchers on railway platforms (they can surely be installed on a truck or a ship just as well; a significant part of the noble madness would then be lost, though). There were no buyers for the complex, since it was less interesting as anti-ship missiles than Bastion, while it had limited capabilities when firing at land targets. The Russian Armed Forces avoided purchasing it, partly on account of this, partly to avoid suspicion and accusations of violating the INF Treaty. The complex was offered for export with short-range 3M-14E missiles only, which had a specified range of approximately 300 km (given the restrictions imposed by the Missile Technology Control Regime, although the real range may be up to 500 km), but there was nothing preventing potential buyers from making their own to be equipped with long-range 3M-14s with a range of over 2000 km: it could accommodate 3M54 anti-ship missiles with a high-speed second stage, and with the same reach as the 3M-14M/Ks. Such Kalibr-M systems deployed in Russia’s western regions will increase the “weight of fire” of cruise missiles, offering higher stability and requiring significant efforts and spending on the part of NATO to build up its air defence systems.

Another originally sea-based complex—whose finalization is highly likely—is the Bastion coastal defence missile system, which can be armed with Zircon instead of Oniks anti-ship missiles. Like most anti-ship missiles, both are able to hit ground targets, something that the Bastion amply demonstrated in Syria. Although the proposed Bastion-2 will continue to serve primarily as an anti-ship “silver bullet”—Zircon would be both redundant and expensive to target bridges and warehouses—it could still ignite tensions.

The deployment of at least one MiG-31I with a Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missile in Kaliningrad, likely during joint exercises with Belarus, is also a clear demonstration of Russia’s new strike capabilities.

However, the true Holy Grail of European missile hysteria could be the Pioneer’s revival in the military-strategic niche, which was the missile responsible for the first Euromissile crisis. This is a reference to the RS-26 Rubezh (Frontier) complex, which received a lot of attention several years ago only to “disappear from the radar.” The fact that we’ve heard nothing about it since 2016–2017, after some six test launches had been carried out before mass production was set to begin and the complex put into service, is interesting. This was likely due to the preference to keep the INF Treaty intact against the backdrop of heated discussions on the topic. Rubezh was, in fact, a light version of the Yars, and the West claimed that it was actually a medium-range ballistic missile with a maximum range of some 6000 km, suggesting that the lighter combat equipment it was carrying was just for show. The conclusion was that it could be considered an ICBM and thus not be banned under the INF Treaty. Equipped with a hypersonic glider—at some point, the Rubezh and the Vanguard were part of one project, many experts argue—its range would drop to that of an intercontinental missile. At the same time, however, such a missile with a short active trajectory and an actively manoeuvring warhead would still be extremely difficult to intercept.

With the INF Treaty collapsed and Russian proposals to prevent another missile confrontation in Europe possibly rejected, the logical thing to do would be to deploy the revised Pioneer missile in response to the new Pershings and Gryphons. At the same time, Russian missile systems will be dual-use at the very least (Kalibr and Zircon missiles) or, possibly, exclusively nuclear (Rubezh, although designing a non-nuclear modification with a high-precision glider or gliders cannot be ruled out, whereas this would be quite expensive). This can be put down to the different attitudes towards nuclear weapons: in Russia, nuclear weapons are regarded as the only means necessary to equalize the imbalance of forces. When it comes to the West, prevalence of tactical weapons in Russia makes these complexes inherently dual-use, as it makes no sense to keep them purely conventional.

Of course, the problem that plagued the Euromissile crisis of the 1980s would persist if another confrontation of this kind were to break out. Russia would keep U.S. junior partners in its crosshairs, and the U.S. would threaten targets in Russia with European missiles. At the same time, this assessment ignores a fundamental change that has taken place in Washington’s strategic situation since the 1980s. Back then, China was at odds with the Soviet Union, and it was neither friend nor foe of the United States. For this reason, Moscow needed to divert significant resources to contain Beijing. Today, the “European theater” has taken a backseat in U.S. foreign policy. To divert forces to “contain” Russia in Europe—with additional strike missile units, missile and air defence units or aviation—would mean pulling resources from the “Chinese theater”, with it requiring critically more resources than available.

Perhaps, the real rationale for the diplomatic activity seen in the last couple of months is rooted in Russia’s attempts to mitigate, if not avert, the consequences of a potential European missile crisis by giving Washington the opportunity to refrain from wasting efforts and resources on such a venture, which will allow Moscow to do just the same. This proposal has turned out to be of interest to Western leaders, especially those keen to endorse a moratorium on the deployment of strike capabilities. Another option is to act in desperation, declaring the inception of the crisis on one’s own terms, forcing the opponent to react and spend more.

In any case, the processes we are currently witnessing are vital for European and global security, and they will have an impact on the course of history.

  1. For example, in the part about strike UAVs, the definition of cruise missiles given in the 1987 INF Treaty was worded in such a way that the MQ-9 Reaper could be classed as such.
  2. Note that it is spelled with just one “o” – not Typhoon, but Typhon, named after a giant in Greek mythology.
  3. The last nuclear Tomahawks were decommissioned and disposed of in the 2010s.
  4. It is possible in principle to reload MK 41 (or the Russian UKSK) vertical launchers on surface ships at sea, and this has even been tested during exercises, but it is so inconvenient that it is not used in practice. That said, reloading at port – which involves cranes loading narrow, 8-metre long containers into “canisters” – is itself a long and arduous process that can take an entire day or longer.

From our partner RIAC

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What makes India’s participation in the Quad intrinsically unique?

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From left, Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, U.S. President Joe Biden, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi wave hands ahead of the Quad leaders’ meeting in Tokyo, May 24. Credit: The Prime Minister’s Office of Japan

In this essay, I try to shed light on the geopolitical imperatives that make India’s involvement in the Quad intrinsically unique and distinct from the other members.

The prime ministers of India, Japan, Australia and the President of the United States met in Tokyo, for the second in-person Quad summit on 24 May 2022, coming three months after the foreign ministers of these countries met in Melbourne, for the fourth time in three years. In addition to two virtual summits in the month of March in 2021 and 2022, the leaders also met in-person in September, last year, in Washington DC. In the last two years, the Quad has gathered rapid momentum with regular multi-level interactions, and the scope of co-operation has widened.

While the Quad is not a formal collective security alliance, Japan and Australia are two of the ‘major non-NATO allies’ of the United States in the Indo-Pacific, meaning, the three countries are already allies, with or without the Quad, which brings us to the question of India’s participation. Indian involvement brings about an existential purpose to the four-nation grouping as it reflects the growing geopolitical heft of the Indian Ocean region and India as an emerging Asian power in the strategic thinking of the three countries, particularly of the United States, the de-facto leader of the grouping.

Growing strategic insecurity emanating from the perceived disruptive rise of China in the last two decades, especially after 2012, has been a factor that brought these four countries together, ever since the grouping was revitalized in 2017 after a gap of ten years since the idea of the ‘Indo-Pacific’ was put forward by the former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. China and Russia are the only two countries in the world that outrightly rejects the term ‘Indo-Pacific’ and favours the usage of the term ‘Asia-Pacific’ instead, as they consider it as a US-led strategy to counter China.

The Russia factor

While India is a democracy, just like its three Quad partners, it also happens to be the only member of the grouping that has neither openly criticised nor imposed sanctions on Russia for its military intervention in Ukraine. Moreover, no other Quad member is as overwhelmingly dependent on Russian arms supply as India is, even though measures to diversify India’s imports are actively underway. Currently, up to 70 per cent of India’s military hardware is estimated to be of Russian origin.

The post-Cold War years saw India reaching out to Southeast Asia, a region that lies at the centre of the Indo-Pacific, and also to the United States. However, the fading aura of ASEAN-led regional institutional mechanisms, which India has been involving since 1992, in balancing mounting Chinese power can also be stated as one of the key factors that led to the rise of the alternative plurilateral groupings in the Indo-Pacific like the Quad and AUKUS (Australia, United Kingdom, and the United States security partnership) in the last few years.

Even after the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991, the successor state of Russian Federation continued to be a close strategic partner and major defence supplier of India. Just last year, in 2021, India and Russia observed the golden jubilee of the signing of a landmark friendship treaty between the two countries during the Soviet-era. Russian President Vladimir Putin was welcomed in New Delhi in December 2021 for the annual India-Russia summit, and two months later, Russian forces breached the Ukrainian borders, pushing global political stability into the brink.

Varying geostrategic imperatives

Unlike the predominantly maritime geostrategic imperatives of other Quad members, India’s geography is connected with the Eurasian continental landmass, of which Russia has the commanding position, as much as it is connected to the Indo-Pacific oceanic continuum. In fact, the biggest and most pertinent of India’s security challenges arise from its land borders. While Japan is an archipelagic country located entirely in the northern Pacific, Australia lies in between the Indian and Pacific Oceans to the south, and the United States is sandwiched between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans to its east and west respectively.

Moreover, India happens to be the only Quad member that shares a land border with China. The 3,488-km-long undemarcated Line of Actual Control (LAC) between India and China’s Tibet Autonomous Region is often regarded as the world’s longest disputed border. Apart from these differences, India also happen to be a participant in Russia and China led groupings such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) and the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa grouping), which constrains India’s options in a full-fledged involvement in US-led groupings such as the Quad or any other. New Delhi views its involvement in the aforementioned groupings as an indicator of reformed multilateralism, which has been traditionally seen as West-dominated, and wishes to chart its own place in the emerging multipolar world order.

India’s opportunities as the scope of co-operation in the Quad widens

Even after four summit-level meetings, four ministerials and numerous issue-specific working groups set in action, the Quad has not yet openly acknowledged the elephant in the room, i.e., China, or its higher purpose of balance of power, which essentially ought to give a security dimension to the grouping. But it is yet to see progress. Accommodating and reconciling India’s varying interests with the grouping’s larger collective agenda is a big challenge too. Items in the Quad’s agenda since the very first virtual summit in March 2021 include a partnership to manufacture and distribute vaccines to needy countries of the Indo-Pacific region drawing on each other’s strengths, critical and emerging technologies, climate resilience, cyber security, space, fostering people-to-people ties through educational opportunities, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) and so on.

The launch of the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness (IPMDA) at the recently-concluded Tokyo summit could enable information-sharing across the existing regional fusion centres. It can also bolster India’s involvement in an agenda item that is closely related to security – maritime data sharing. Being the regional leader in the Indian Ocean, India’s naval surveillance capabilities, including the Gurugram-based Information Fusion Centre-Indian Ocean Region (IFC-IOR), can be better utilised to achieve the grouping’s collective objectives, aimed at identifying illegal activities in the region’s seas.

Another key initiative launched on the sidelines of the Tokyo summit is the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity (IPEF), which adds a key economic pillar to Washington’s engagement in the region, especially in the backdrop of China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), which India also opposes due to concerns on its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Moreover, India’s pharmaceutical industry can play a major role in the vaccine initiative announced last year, which is yet to materialise fully.

India’s ties with the US shapes its involvement in the Quad and vice versa

India’s deepening ties with the United States is also playing a significant role in shaping India’s participation in the Quad and in expanding the currently identified generic agendas of co-operation to a more security-oriented one, for which the recent signs are positive. While the previous Trump Administration subtly welcomed India again to the Quad, in 2017, the Biden administration cemented on the ties and has been largely following a policy of continuity towards India. The decision on whether to impose sanctions on India under CAATSA (Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act), owing to the purchase of Russian weapons, is put on hold, and is unlikely to be imposed as the ties between the two countries continue to remain robust, despite the Russia factor, both bilaterally and under the Quad framework.

In 2018, the United States renamed its oldest and largest military command, the Pacific Command, to the ‘Indo-Pacific Command’, in a largely symbolic move acknowledging India’s growing importance in US strategic thinking and calculations for Asia. In the same year, the annual India-US ‘2+2’ ministerial dialogue was also inaugurated. Two years before that, in 2016, India was made a Major Defence Partner of the United States, followed by the inking of a series of foundational pacts for military inter-operability, the last one being the Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA), signed in 2020.

At the same time, while one Quad member Japan hosts the largest number of US military bases in the world, coming further under the US alliance protection and the nuclear umbrella, the other Quad member Australia is part of other US-led groupings in the region such as the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence network, ANZUS (Australia, New Zealand and the United States) treaty and the recent AUKUS grouping. However, India has never been part of any security alliance right from its independence and has followed the path of ‘non-alignment’ (during the Cold War years), which later metamorphosed into ‘multi-alignment’.

India’s simultaneous involvement in a diverse set of groupings with varying purposes, goals, and participants, and being close to both Russia and the US at the same time is indeed sheer diplomatic skill. However, the fact that being a vibrant democracy and a key maritime power in the Indian Ocean region brings India closer to the Quad’s shared values and interests. The Quad today reflects the need for balance of power in the Indo-Pacific, where-in a power transition is underway with the rise of China. The Quad is largely reflective of a Western-led response to this power transition, while Indian interests are aligned both in being part of the Western-led response, i.e., Quad, IPEF and IPMDA, and also in acting as a key independent pillar in the changing regional and global order.

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Is Fatigue Causing Twists and Turns in Russia Ukraine War?

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Image source: war.ukraine.ua

As Russia Ukraine war completes three months, both sides are witnessing spectacular twists and turns, showing that reality is biting both sides. Few would have predicted a month ago that President Putin would be willing to swallow the bitter pill of Finland and Sweden’s bid to join NATO, which effectively amounts to NATO’s eastward expansion, adding over a thousand kilometres of direct land border between Russia and NATO, and respond only with a weak warning to react to increased weapon deployment in these two countries.

Likewise, the rhetoric of Ukraine winning the war overhyped by US led NATO through exhaustive information and perception war, seems to be fading with surrender of over 2000 Azov fighters in Mariupol, cutting off of Ukraine from Sea of Azov, besides losing a large chunk of land in Donbass Region. President Zelensky acknowledgement of diplomacy being only answer, highlighting concerns for people and soldiers is not too late, if those interested in prolonging this war let him act on it.  

Parties to the Conflict

The war is sparing no-one in the world from inflationary pressures, having doubled the figures of global food insecure population, due to acute food shortage, triggering the blame game by both sides to seek concessions. While Russia can be accused of launching pre-emptive ground offensive on Ukraine, NATO can also be accused for creating conditions threatening Russia by continued eastward expansion and proxy war. While the kinetic, contact, hybrid war is on between Russia and Ukraine, the US led NATO is fighting a non-kinetic, non-contact, undeclared war in economic, information, diplomatic and political domains, against Russia; hence de-facto parties to the war.

Russian Stakes and Compulsions                

After three months of war, while Russia can draw solace by sizeable territorial gains and linking Donbas with Crimea after capture of Mariupol, but at a very heavy cost of men and material, besides an unprecedented economic stress due to crippling sanctions by the West. It has made President Putin revisit his stance on Finland and Sweden, as it is cost prohibitive for Russia to open another front with NATO on Finland borders. It therefore makes better sense for him to achieve the desired end state in ongoing conflict with Ukraine by liberating Donbass Region, landlocking Ukraine and deal with Finland later. Russia realizes its limitations in economic, diplomatic, information and political warfare domain; hence more territorial gains on ground to landlock Ukraine by extending land bridge between Crimea, Odesa to Transnistria and liberating Donbass is the best option for it, to gain better negotiating position, to have the sanctions lifted.

Ukrainian Stakes and Compulsions             

President Zelensky appears to recognise that neither he nor the western propaganda-based information war, which has made him a hero and outright winner, can be sustained in the long run, having lost more territory than size of some European countries, left with devastated towns, over four million refugees, heavy casualties, and the surrender of his overhyped Azov Regiments. While additional aid and weaponry with $40 billion cheque from US and $16.4 billion from EU can boost his combat power, but regaining lost ground from Russians is going to be extremely difficult, as they will use built up areas for defending their gains, as Ukraine did. Prolonging war doesn’t guarantee peace for Ukraine, but it may result in greater territorial loss, unending proxy war, and a long-term Russian threat.

NATO’s Stakes and Compulsions            

NATO seems to be emboldened by soft Russian response to the bid of Finland and Sweden to join NATO, with a confidence that Russia has been adequately weakened to challenge eastward expansion of NATO; hence, it is keen to add these two countries with strong militaries, to secure its northern flank and have a better collective security posture in the long run. It also makes sense in context of Sino-Russian footprints in Arctic region and North Atlantic Ocean. Towards that aim, it is ready to sacrifice some of its energy and economic interests for the time being.

It is too early to predict how long this show of unified strength will continue, because the war is certainly not making Europe peaceful, with millions of refugees and non-state actors activated and a longer border with belligerent Russia, which will reorganize itself, learning from its miscalculations. While NATO may be able to handle the objections of Turkey and Croatia with few concessions/addressing security concerns, but the disagreement regarding long term energy security may not be easy to handle, once the rhetoric of united NATO starts fading with economic fatigue and energy deficit.

Is USA the Beneficiary?

In short term USA can rejoice some immediate gains. It has been able to get control of NATO, weaken Russia, create market for its arms dealers, energy companies and infrastructure contractors. It has been able to block strategic Nord Stream1 and 2, and encourage EU to find alternate energy sources, thereby reducing Russian influence drastically.

It has, however, incurred certain long-term losses, the most serious of which is driving Russia into a stronger China-Russia Axis than ever before, which is beyond its individual capabilities to handle. True, this battle has revitalised NATO, but it has also strengthened the Russia-China-Iran nexus, or anti-West alliance. Sanctions have fueled calls for an alternative financial system to avoid financial paralysis caused by a monopolized dollarized financial system, which could harm the US in the long run.

The US’s global exhibition of backing proxy war by enabling Ukraine/Zelensky to fight to the bitter end in order to achieve its geopolitical aim of weakening Russia, with no American losses has tarnished the US’s reputation as an ally/partner. Indeed, more than $56 billion in funding for a proxy war in Ukraine, which is more than double the amount spent in Afghanistan’s 20-year war, reveals misplaced priorities, unless US is counting on making much more money from increased weapon sales by prolonging the war.

It has put Taiwan, Japan and South Korea on notice facing similar threat from aggressive China, to which US has been extremely shy of sanctioning it, despite later breaching territorial integrity of many democracies in South China Sea, violating Taiwanese air space at will, and incremental encroachment in Himalayas. The world, struggling with financial, food and energy crisis, doesn’t want any extension of war, on any pretext.

The visit of President Biden to Indo-Pacific is significant to restore declining confidence of allies and partners in Indo-Pacific, without which, taking on China challenge is difficult. Many in this region accuse Biden administration of reactivating Cold War 1.0 with Russia, diluting Cold War 2.0 with China, which is a bigger global challenge with better economic muscles. The proposed launch of Indo Pacific Economic Forum is to lure more regional countries to gain lost ground in economic engagement vis a vis China.

Way Ahead

In a situation where NATO continues to persuade Zelensky to fight, giving hopes to recapture entire territory of Ukraine, and the Russians continue incremental efforts to achieve an end state of landlocked Ukraine and independent Donbass, the war will continue. Neither the sanctions have deterred Russia, nor blocking gas flow by Russia will deter NATO. As long as Ukraine is ready to be used as a tool in big power contestation and NATO continues to add fuel to the fire, the chances of talks or any mediation seems to be a remote possibility. In Russia Ukraine war, there will be no winners, but a new set of security and economic challenges will impact entire world.

Having tested US responses in Ukraine, the growing Chinese aggressiveness in Indo-Pacific is a wakeup call to US to avoid losing influence in the region, especially after losing considerable strategic space in the Middle East and Af-Pak regions. Chinese footprints in the Solomon Islands surprised US and Australia. Regular violation of ADIZ of Taiwan, belligerent North Korea threatening South Korea and Japan, reassertion of Chinese and Russian claims against Japan indicate that US resolve is under greater threat in the Indo-Pacific, where it has obligation to defend Japan and South Korea and strategic necessity to save Taiwan. It is also not easy to find another Zelensky/Ukraine in Asia, willing to act as proxy of NATO. It is for this reason President Joe Biden needs partners in Indo-Pacific, strengthen/expand Quad, and put up viable alternative economic, infrastructure, technological and supply chain in Indo-Pacific with allies and partners. The UK Foreign Minister’s call for Global NATO seems far fetched at this point of time, but indicates desperation for global support to face the reality of threat from growing Chinese Russian alliance. 

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Defense

U.S.’ Unperturbed Response to Indian BrahMos Launch in Pakistan: Aberration or New Normal?

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As India’s nuclear-capable BrahMos cruise missile crashed into the territory of its nuclear-armed and ever-hostile adversary on the evening of March 9th almost pushing the two countries to the brink of catastrophic tit-for-tat exchange, the usually vociferous strategic experts and arms control enthusiasts in the USA maintained a cautionary conspicuous silence. Even it took the US State Department Spokesperson 06 days to issue a formal statement on the precarious issue and that too after being asked by a journalist during the daily press briefing. If one thinks for the USA – the self-proclaimed champion of nuclear safety and security – such a belated response to such a potentially hazardous “accident” constituted an anomaly, having a look at what the USA’s State Department’s spokesperson finally stated would be handy, which in essence uncritically endorsed the ambiguous and self-contradictory Indian viewpoint on the issue while refusing to make any further comments.

One does not need to wonder what would have been the reaction in the West had something of this character landed in India from Pakistan. Hell would have readily broken loose and the relevant academic, policy-advocacy, and policy-making circles in the West would have been up in the arms predicting a nuclear holocaust owing to irresponsible handling of sensitive weapon systems by Pakistan and making calls to fulfill their long-held desire of ‘securing’ Pakistan’s strategic arsenal. But given it was a breach on part of India, the belated and unperturbed response despite the profound precariousness associated with the fiasco makes complete sense. Anomaly! Not really, because the apparent aberration is all set to be the new normal: only those nuclear safety and security breaches would concern the Western (specifically the US) strategic community happening apropos countries considered on the other side of the geostrategic equation and India – given its geostrategic utility vis-à-vis China – is positioned on the same side as with the Western world so even the strategic blunders like the recent one would be conveniently brushed under the carpet. Reason: any criticism of Indian BrahMos blunder or even expression of concern about the safety and security of India’s cutting-edge weapons systems would have infuriated overly touchy souls in New Delhi, which Washington has been trying so desperately to woo. 

Though the convergence of geopolitical interests forms the most consequential and undoubtedly the umbrella reason for the USA’s unperturbed response to India’s BrahMos launch into Pakistan, it is not only the only one. Currently, the Indian diaspora constitutes one of the most powerful lobbies in the USA domestic political and electoral landscape augmented by their deep ingress into academia, policy advocacy, and policy-making spheres, where they primarily act as the arm of Indian foreign policy and security establishments essentially safeguarding and qualifying all rights and wrongs by New Delhi and by default working to discredit its prime adversary Pakistan using a wide range of means and mediums. The relegation of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute from a self-determination demand of nearly 20 million people once backed by the USA at international forums to a mere Pakistan-sponsored insurgency in complete concurrence with the Indian standpoint and conspicuous apologetic attitude of the USA government and intelligentsia over India’s now almost undisputed plunge into the abyss of fascism under Modi are the most vivid case studies of the lobby’s influence in the USA, though backed by the umbrella of convergence of geostrategic interests.

Though the USA and Pakistan being long-time allies have their own baggage of alleged betrayals, sanctions, and double-games, the steep decline in the goodwill for Islamabad during the past few decades is attributable to years-old concerted efforts by the Indian lobby and the muted reaction to India’s BrahMos launch in Pakistan even by the strategic and focusing on South Asia intelligentsia within the USA was another manifestation of the reality that the lobby has gained considerable check over the academic and policy discourse in the USA.

Ironically, the trend of overlooking India’s shenanigans at home and aboard and potentially catastrophic breaches of safety and security of destructive weapons systems is all set to be the new normal as the aforementioned factors of geopolitical convergence and the lobby’s role in influencing academic and policy discourse responsible for the setting the trends are only likely to be reinforced in the coming years and decades. However, there is a big question mark whether unwaveringly covering up New Delhi’s abysmal domestic and regional track records undermines the USA’s international legitimacy as the principal sponsor of “rules-based international order”? An unequivocal yes! But it appears policymakers in Washington are willing to let their legitimacy tarnish in barter for India’s utility vis-à-vis China – a characteristic case of power politics triumphing idealistic charades.       

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