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Russian military bases in Syria: Ukraine crisis and the Iran nuclear deal

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After the start of the Russian military operation in Ukraine, many questions arose about: the extent of the impact of that war on relations between Moscow and the Middle East, specifically “Iran, Israel, and the Persian Gulf”, with regard to the developments of the Iranian nuclear file, and the appropriateness of the current Russian position in the matter.  Confronting the American and Western policies of their bargaining over the Iranian nuclear file in exchange for making concessions in favor of Russia regarding its ongoing war with Ukraine, and even wondering, about: (the extent of its impact on Russia’s relations with those Iranian militias in Syria and Hezbollah on the southern border of Lebanon, and then the Israeli presence  In the Syrian Golan Heights, and the impact of the strong Russian presence in Syria on the security of Tel Aviv itself as a close partner of the United States of America, Moscow’s archenemy in its conflict with Ukraine).

  On the academic and analytical level, the Egyptian researcher was greatly interested in analyzing the impact of the presence of (the Russian Hmeimim Air Base in the southeast of the Syrian city of Latakia, near the Russian naval base in the Syrian ports of Latakia and Tartus), near to the (Lebanese, Iranian, and Israeli) borders, on the file of negotiating the current Russian crisis with Ukraine, then the extent of the (possibility of Russian bargaining in the face of the United States of America and its allies in the West over the negotiation of the Iranian nuclear file).

  In sum, the Egyptian researcher was able to monitor and analyze the positions of the following countries and parties on the Ukrainian crisis with Russia, the extent of its impact on the Middle East and its countries, the path of negotiation with the Iranian side to make any progress in those talks taking place in Vienna, and the extent to which Russia can influence Iran and all regional parties interlocking with it, (in view of the proximity of the Russian air base and its two naval bases in the Syrian ports of Latakia and Tartus) on the borders of Israel, Iran and Lebanon, as follows:

  The real question since the beginning of the Russian military operation in Ukraine has been about: (the extent of the influence of the stable and powerful Russian presence in Syria near the Lebanese, Iranian and Israeli borders on the Middle East in general, and on the possibility of expressing and passing some pressures or concessions by Russia with any  One of the parties to this intertwined crisis over the nuclear negotiations with Tehran), in exchange for the other parties making concessions to the Russian side when the negotiating process began after the Russian war against Ukraine will over and the impact of all this on the regional countries of the Middle East, such as Israel, Iran, and the Arab Gulf states, especially with the Russian air base sharing some landing paths at (Basel al-Assad International Airport), although it is limited to only Russian workers, according to an agreement between Russia and the Syrian president.  Bashar al-Assad.  Which allows Russia to find a foothold in (confronting the Iranian presence in Syria and the Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights, up to the extent of Russia’s ability to exert pressure on Israel as an ally of Washington and neutralize it regarding the Russian crisis with Ukraine).

  The importance of this small Russian air base in Syria, given its proximity to other Russian and Chinese naval bases in the Syrian ports of Latakia and Tartus on the Mediterranean, facing the Israeli ports of “Haifa and Ashdod” on the Mediterranean. The agreement was signed between Russia and Syrian President “Bashar al-Assad” in August 2015, (giving the Russian military forces the right to use the Hmeimim base at all times, free of charge and for an indefinite period). Russia has used that air base to carry out several military missions against the Syrian opposition factions. After a year of the Russian presence at the Hmeimim base, Moscow announced its intention to (expand the Hmeimim air base in Syria with the aim of turning it into a fully equipped military air base to support the permanently stable Russian military presence in the region).

  Therefore, the Egyptian researcher’s analysis goes in the direction of the extent to which the Russian military intervention in the Ukrainian depth can contribute to accelerating the revival or slowing down of the Iranian nuclear agreement, given (the Russian proximity to Tehran, Tel Aviv and the Arab Gulf in general through those Russian naval and air bases in Syria), and the possibility of Russian bargaining in the file of economic and financial sanctions imposed on it by the United States and the West because of its movements in Ukraine by creating (continuous Russian pressure and threats on Tel Aviv as a partner of the United States of America and threatening the interests of the Hebrew state in the Syrian Golan Heights occupied by Israel, and even its impact on the Russian role in  The negotiating file with Iran in the face of Gulf interests and the security of Israel itself)?  Then, finally, this question is considered, regarding: the declared Israeli position not to obligate it to any agreement signed by the West, the international community and Washington with Tehran, given the lack of confidence in the Iranian negotiating positions and maneuvers and the complexity of their tracks.

  There are real common fears among the leaders and countries of the “NATO” about (the impact of these Russian air bases, mainly and then the navy in Latakia and Tartus in Syria, on the security of the Middle East and developments in the Iranian nuclear file), which will allow the Russian side the ability to maneuver in it, and even achieve  Pressure on its other regional parties, which will affect Israel’s security in the occupied Syrian Golan Heights, especially in light of the Russian war against Ukraine, and the Russian desire to neutralize Israel in Syria and the region. This was confirmed by the Supreme Commander of “NATO” forces in Europe, General “Philip Breedlove”, in September 2018, emphasizing:

  “This kind of Russian military infrastructure in Syria, including Russian anti-aircraft and defense systems, will de facto cause a no-fly zone at the level of that region in Syria with the development of Russian air defense systems in Syria.  A flight ban in the eastern Mediterranean, which will inevitably affect regional and global security”

 The danger of the Russian naval facility or base in the Syrian city of Tartus stems from its view that it is basically a (military facility leased to the Russian Navy on the northern edge of the sea port of the Syrian city of Tartus in the Middle East facing Israel, Iran and the Arabian Gulf, as well as affecting the Middle East region and all its interactions). It is also used for Russian military and strategic purposes and to carry out some naval military maneuvers or joint exercises or to monitor those mainly Western countries that overlook the Mediterranean. A Chinese or a Russian presence in them so as not to (harm the American Sixth Fleet security and its bases on the Mediterranean Sea from the side of Israel).

 Here, the danger of these Russian and Chinese naval bases in Syria appears in influencing the course of the crisis with Ukraine, through an analysis and conceptualization of the military, security and naval scene, which lies in the possibility of the Russian side using the pressure card related to its permanent stationing in the “Syrian Tartus base”, as it is the only thing for the Russian Navy in the Mediterranean, which (avoids the Russian warships a trip back to their bases through the Turkish Straits in the Black Sea, which misses or wastes the opportunity for the Western allies in the “NATO” to put pressure on Russia in terms of pressure on Turkey  and its ambitions to strengthen its military role with NATO countries).

  Therefore, the American administration has adopted the (principle of separation of tracks in dealing with Russia), regarding the Ukrainian and Iranian crises, meaning that: Washington does not want to completely exclude Russia from the file of obligating Iran to sign the new nuclear agreement and to make a breakthrough in the Vienna nuclear negotiations, given the Russian close presence to  Tehran and on its borders, through the Russian air and naval bases in Syria, as well as the significance of the (Russian influence on the Iranian militias in Syria, and its ability to pacify or impede and limit its escalation against Israel), allowing Russia a margin of maneuvering and manipulation of Washington by keeping Russia  By threatening to take an escalatory political and economic position against it in the Ukrainian crisis on the one hand and putting pressures on the Israeli front and its other outlets in the Mediterranean on another hand to (place the Russian military facilities which are permanently located and stationed in that area in Tartus and Latakia in Syria).

   As for the relationship between the Ukrainian crisis and the Russian presence in Syria, it lies in the (Syrian agreement provides for Russia’s use of air and sea military bases and facilities in Tartus, Syria, to deliver weapons and supplies by landing ships and cargo ships that cross the straits from the Black Sea port to Syria in the “port of  Russia’s Novorossiysk”, which Russia and the world consider as Syrian highways for Moscow’s interests). Therefore, the fears of the “NATO” countries that Russia may use those air and sea bases in Syria for military purposes and strategic operation against Ukraine.

 On the other hand, and in light of the decision to exclude and expel Russia from the (Swift financial system for bank transfers), this matter may push the Russian side to stop its oil exports, which exceed 11 million barrels per day, in addition to this huge Russian production of natural gas, especially with Russia’s inability at the present time due to the war on Ukraine to recover its financial revenues in hard currencies, and this may make Iran a necessary alternative in order to (compensate for the global shortage in energy sources at the expense of Russian interests themselves), which may push Russia to (prevent transition of any Iranian tankers or shipments to the world), even in the event of lifting sanctions on Tehran, through Russia’s monitoring of developments in the Iranian position and its presence in the Syrian depth.

 Therefore, we understand from the Iranian position, the reasons behind the justification of a number of officials in Iran after the Russian invasion of Ukraine for Russia’s position in confronting Ukraine and the West. The same was confirmed by the statement of the Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman, “Saeed Khatibzadeh”, given that (Eurasia is facing suspicious American attempts, due to NATO’s moves to annex Ukraine led by the United States of America, which will affect Russia’s security regionally and internationally).

  Here, Washington is trying to (obtain Russian guarantees, in order to exercise its role and pressure on the Iranian side to prevent it from developing its nuclear program by moving to advanced levels, which would disrupt and complicate the negotiating tracks), and may transfer it to various other levels, to the extent that the United States of America is forced to deal with the Iranians from a different perspective, especially in the case of Iran exploiting the Ukrainian crisis to develop uranium enrichment.

  We find here the importance of Russian pressures in the Iranian nuclear file, considering (the Iranian pressure paper is one of the most prominent cards in Russia’s hands before going to the negotiating table with Washington and the international community regarding its current crisis with Ukraine). We analyze this, with the expected Russian bargaining paper to the Russian side to push the progress with Iran in the Vienna nuclear negotiations, and then the impact and results of that on Russian interests with the world, perhaps at the expense of Iranian interests themselves.

  In my new analysis regarding (the impact of Russia’s removal and expulsion from the SWIFT financial system for remittances on its relationship with Iran and the world), especially with the Russian realization, that any progress in the nuclear agreement means lifting and canceling the economic sanctions imposed on Iran, and thus easing the severity of the Russian bargaining chip in confronting the United States of America and its allies in the West, using the Iranian card.

  From the Russian point of view, accelerating a fair agreement with Iran on its nuclear file would (damage and negatively affect all Russian economic, political and negotiating interests globally, by Russia losing the element of the Iranian pressure card in the face of the United States of America and its allies in the West, as well as  about its negative effects on Russia’s economic interests, by opening global markets to Iranian exports in the oil and gas sectors, which negatively affects economic interests and the Russian market).

  Based on the previous analysis, Moscow is well aware that its delay in making any progress in the nuclear agreement with Iran will inevitably achieve Russian interests, with the Russian understanding of the general scene from my analytical and interpretive point of view that (the Russian persistence in disrupting or suspending progress in the Vienna nuclear negotiations with Iran). Iran will block the way for Washington and European countries to secure and find or obtain any other alternative sources of energy away from the Russian source, which will lose Moscow a dangerous pressure card when negotiating the crisis of its war with Ukraine, especially if the Russian-Ukrainian crisis develops to more complex levels. L

  Perhaps I will take my analysis of the situation much further, that (the Iranian side may well take advantage of the extent of the Russian preoccupation in its war against Ukraine and the imposition of economic sanctions on Russia, in order to sign a new nuclear agreement in Vienna independently, away from those distant and complex Russian calculations of linking  between the negotiations of the Ukrainian and Iranian nuclear crises), thus weakening the ability of the Russian side to maneuver the Iranian pressure card.

  In line with the previous point in my analysis, maybe (Iran will be able to win in all cases, whether if it accepts to negotiate with the United States of America and the West on its nuclear file independently, away from the Russian mediation in the negotiation), and also from the possibility of Iran exploiting the Russian-Ukrainian crisis on the other hand, taking advantage of the international preoccupation with it, and thus developing its nuclear program by moving to advanced levels in it, which (pushes Washington and the international community to make concessions in favor of Iran).

  In my personal opinion, Iran has become the only party in the crisis of the Russian war against Ukraine, by (enabling the Iranians to play independent negotiating roles, and perhaps Iranian bargaining in the face of Washington and the West to cancel and lift US sanctions on it, and thus the result or that final outcome will be Iran’s transformation into an important international partner in the energy sector and oil and gas supplies instead of Russia), with the full Iranian awareness and understanding of the international and European crisis due to their having to impose economic sanctions on Russia due to the developments of the invasion of Ukraine.

   According to my analysis of the realistic scene of the crisis until this moment, I believe that (the negotiating track with Iran has entered a state of vacuum, crisis and doubt), with the chief Iranian negotiator “Ali Bagheri Kani” announcing his return to Tehran again after failing to reach any agreement in Vienna when discussing the Iranian nuclear file on February 25, 2022.

  Here, we find that the Russian invasion or entry into Ukraine may contribute to shuffling the cards on the negotiating table in Vienna over the Iranian nuclear file, due to (the failure of the American administration’s efforts to keep the line of communication open with Russia regarding efforts to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons).

   There are fundamental concerns that have become farther and broader than the mere achievement and success of the agreement in the Iranian nuclear file due to the repercussions caused by the Russian-Ukrainian war, especially since this Russian invasion of Ukraine may (give Iran the green light to develop a nuclear weapon by taking advantage of the preoccupation of the United States of America and the whole world with managing  That war against Russia).

  As for the Israeli position regarding the progress of the nuclear negotiations with Iran, we note here (the complete Israeli refusal to sign any new nuclear agreement with the Iranian side, and the Israeli government refuses to lift any sanctions on Tehran, especially with the intersection and intertwining of the southern Lebanese borders with the northern region of Israel  Thus, the Israeli fears appear, according to what the Hebrew press announced, about the presence of more than 250,000 Iranian missiles in cooperation with the “Hezbollah movement in southern Lebanon” surrounded by Israel from its southern border with Lebanon), with the existence of explicit Israeli accusations against Iran of its intention to work to destroy Israel, and to target  Security of Tel Aviv, with the Iranians continuing to develop their nuclear program and enrich uranium.  Therefore, the complete Israeli refusal to lift the sanctions against Iran, and even to go further, by refusing to sit with the Iranians to negotiate over its nuclear program in the first place.

   On the other hand, regarding (the same American position from the Israeli point of view regarding refusing to negotiate with Iran), there is an American rejection of the Israeli position, especially with the sensitivity of relations between the United States of America and Israel in this file. As the (Israeli fears are the leadership of the United States of America for the five partner countries in the nuclear negotiations with Tehran, and everyone finally acquiesced to those Iranian demands and blackmails, and all of them accepted to make many concessions to the Iranian side in the nuclear negotiations file), without any guarantees that might be taken against the Iranians, which harms the security of Israel.

  Perhaps this point directly earlier in my analysis is one of the direct reasons for the Israeli rapprochement with Russia in the face of Iran and the Israeli attempt to spoil the shape of relations between Iran and Russia.  Where Israel is trying here to (win the Russian position in its favour, to balance its suspicions in the face of the compromising and flexible US position with the Iranians in the face of Iran from the Israelis’ point of view).

   That last Israeli plan or game after the outbreak of the Ukrainian-Russian war lies in an attempt to (exploit all available opportunities to strain relations between Russia and Iran, and try to push the Russians to adopt a hard stance against Iran in the nuclear negotiations). That is why, in my academic and personal opinion, (the Israeli decision to abstain from voting on the resolution adopted by the United States of America to condemn Russia in the United Nations General Assembly, after its annexation of the Crimea in 2014, which actually caused severe tension and a major crisis in the form of relations at that time in the form of relations  American-Israeli).

  There is already joint Russian-Israeli coordination in several files related to the Middle East, on top of which is the (Syrian file), especially with the Israeli occupation of the Syrian Golan Heights, and Russia’s military intervention in the Syrian civil war in 2015, in addition to the most important thing from my point of view which is the presence of  (the Russian air base in Hmeimim, 15 km from the Syrian port of Latakia). Therefore, Israel is trying to appease many of the Russian positions, in order to preserve Israel’s security from any Iranian threat from the depth of Syrian territory with the help of Hezbollah militias in southern Lebanon to launch attacks on it, in exchange for (coordinating the Israeli-Russian positions, for Israel’s failure to condemn the Russian presence in Syria).

  Here, the pivotal Gulf role will appear with Washington to (make pressures on Iran over its nuclear file, with the urgent need of the United States of America for its allies and partners in the Gulf), and its increasing need for them after the Ukraine crisis, and requesting support for those American efforts to secure the flow of energy supplies from the Gulf markets to the world, given Washington’s anticipation of any retaliatory position by Russia by using energy as a weapon, so it became (the only opportunity available to the Gulf countries is to put pressures on the United States of America and the five countries involved in the nuclear negotiations with Tehran, to ensure that some pressures are being exercised and concessions from Iran in the interest of Arabian Gulf security and freedom of navigation in Bab al-Mandab and the region).

  Thus, we conclude from this comprehensive analysis, the extent of the impact of these Ukrainian-Russian military developments on all developments related to the Iranian nuclear file, in view of the discussion of each regional parties of (Iran, Israel, the Arab Gulf) on its interests in confronting the other party. Here, it should be noted that the (Russian role in the Iranian nuclear file after its crisis with Ukraine didn’t enjoy political consensus in Iran), many Iranian political forces and parties disagree on the Russian role in the file after the outbreak of the Russian war in Ukraine, with other fears of Russian trap. The Iranian nuclear file is in its favour. Rather, the (reformist figures in Iran have strongly criticized this role and called for its marginalization), as a number of decision-making circles in Iran believe that: “Russia is deliberately keeping the tense relationship between Iran and the West and the United States of America after the Ukraine crisis in the first place”, in order to (ensure the survival of Tehran’s nuclear file and giving the opportunity to Iran to join its Russian ally to balance pressures on it over the Ukrainian crisis).

Associate Professor of Political Science, Faculty of Politics and Economics / Beni Suef University- Egypt. An Expert in Chinese Politics, Sino-Israeli relationships, and Asian affairs- Visiting Senior Researcher at the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies (CMES)/ Lund University, Sweden- Director of the South and East Asia Studies Unit

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The East Expands into NATO: Japan’s and South Korea’s New Approaches to Security

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Official White House Photo by Adam Schultz

The 2022 NATO Summit in Madrid can be seen as a momentous occasion not just for NATO but also for security in the Asia-Pacific. For the first time in NATO’s 73-year-long history, Japanese and South Korean leaders participated in the meeting as “Asia-Pacific partners”. For the first time, the Alliance named China a threat in their documents. However, having approached the hic sunt dracones (here be dragons) mark, NATO and its partners will soon have to think about the limits and purpose of expanding the organization’s areas of activity.

The Bargaining Yen

Fumio Kishida was Japan’s first premier to ever attend a NATO summit. Japan’s leader called for enhancing Tokyo’s ties with NATO based on the 2014 Individual Partnership and Cooperation Programme. However, he also proposed permanently attaching representatives of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces to NATO’s headquarters, mutually exchanging observers at military drills, as well as to regularly involve Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and South Korea in NATO’s activities.

We should note Japan’s rather loose interpretation of the concept of indivisible security. For instance, Russia and China insist that the security of any state cannot be bolstered at the expense of other states. However, Kishida believes that security in Europe and the Indo-Pacific are inseparable from each other; therefore, attempts to change the status quo by force in any region should be stopped through joint efforts.

As part of the steps taken to assist European partners amid the events in Ukraine, Tokyo imposed additional sanctions on 70 Russian individuals and companies since Japan “is not ready to provide any military support to the Alliance.” In exchange, Japan hopes that NATO will fully support Japan’s course for militarization. Particularly, Japan is expected to publish its revised National Security Strategy to replace the 2013 Strategy by the end of 2022. Over five years, “the land of the rising sun” will ramp up its defense capabilities by significantly increasing its spending (up to 2% of the GDP) and by stepping up its interactions with the U.S. It is also possible that the Strategy will, for the first time, name China as a clear and present danger to Japan—previously, Tokyo avoided openly labelling China as its adversary.

The West heard the Japanese leadership’s message of European stability being impossible without eliminating the threats in the Asia-Pacific. Ultimately, the NATO 2022 Strategic Concept that determines the activities of member states for the next ten years states that Beijing’s “ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security and values.” Principal threats include China’s non-transparent conventional and nuclear military build-up, malicious hybrid and cyber operations, confrontational rhetoric and disinformation, attempts to control key technological and industrial sectors, critical infrastructure, and strategic materials and supply chains, and creating strategic dependencies intended to subvert the rules-based international order, including in the space, cyber and maritime domains.

The list would certainly have been incomplete without sending an alarm regarding the deepening strategic partnership between Moscow and Beijing. NATO’s Madrid Summit declaration also contains a statement on competition with China and on Beijing’s challenge to NATO members’ security and development.

At the summit’s sidelines, Kishida attended a trilateral meeting with U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol, and then a quadrilateral meeting with South Korea’s President and Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. The leaders discussed the threats from China and North Korea, while the U.S. President reaffirmed guarantees to every party present military aid in case of an attack on their states. At the same time, it appears that the idea of putting China on NATO’s agenda and generally under the organization’s purview had been spearheaded by Washington that has less and less strength and willingness to challenge the “dragon” to an honest battle.

Korean Tanks in Polish Woods

Similar to Japan’s leader, South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol noted in his debut NATO summit address that security in any given region has global ramifications. Consequently, a crisis cannot be resolved through the efforts of a regional alliance or union. Therefore, South Korea’s President announced plans to consistently bolster security cooperation between Washington, Seoul, and Tokyo, primarily for counteracting the threat of North Korea’s nuclear missile program. Moreover, since, in Yoon Suk Yeol’s opinion, Pyongyang’s actions posit a major threat to peace and stability and to the non-proliferation regime, all NATO members will need to assist in resolving this problem. Generally, South Korea raised the issue of North Korea’s denuclearization at every event at the Madrid Summit, including the plenary session, the three-party meeting between the leaders of the U.S., Japan, and South Korea, and a dozen of bilateral talks.

In turn, in order to bolster European security, Seoul is ready to expand its economic interactions with NATO states—in particular, to ensure uninterrupted deliveries of semi-conductors—assist in building NPPs and modernizing power facilities, and also ramp up military technical cooperation. Among the successes already achieved by the South Koreans is an agreement to deliver FA-50 jet trainers/light combat aircraft, K-2 main battle tanks, K-9 self-propelled howitzers and AS21 IFVs to Poland, and to participate in building NPPs in the UK, the Czech Republic, Poland, France, Romania and the Netherlands.

Curiously, unlike Japan, Yoon Suk Yeol avoided in every way directly mentioning Beijing in connection with threats to global and regional security. Moreover, Seoul believes that South Korea’s interactions, both with NATO and otherwise, should not be aimed against any specific country. Even though some surveys indicate that only 26% of South Koreans have a positive opinion of China, the country’s leadership is not prepared to oppose Beijing and fully commit to U.S.-led containment initiatives. Besides, in the near future, Yoon Suk Yeol’s administration will have to explain to China its own plans to deploy a second THAAD missile defense unit and Seoul actively arming its navy, air force, and ground forces with state-of-the-art strike missile weapons.

Despite of both Japanese and South Korean leaders attending the 2022 NATO Summit, questions still remain regarding normalizing relations between Seoul and Tokyo. The parties noted that there is potential for improvements and the problems of the past and the future would need to be discussed together. At the same time, internal forces in both states have very mixed feelings concerning the prospects of setting up practical interactions on security issues. Kishida’s government is concerned with South Korea’s growing military capabilities, unacceptable compensation demands to victims of the Japanese occupation, and its intractable stance on the Liancourt Rocks (Dokdo/Takeshima islands). Particularly, Japan vehemently protested Korea’s military drill around the islands on July 30, 2022, although this time the drill was far more modest than before and did not involve a beach landing. One of the few shared sentiments between Seoul and Tokyo is their negative attitude to North Korea’s nuclear missile program, although Japan’s current potential for resolving this matter via talks is small since Tokyo has virtually completely severed contacts with Pyongyang.

Beyond the Purview

According to Le Monde, NATO’s focus on the events in Ukraine does not mean that the Alliance is ignoring threats emanating from beyond the organization’s traditional purview, for instance, like those from the Asia-Pacific. Asia-Pacific’s “collective West” representatives gradually expanding their involvement in the region evidences both the Alliance’s transformation into a certain global security body, and Seoul’s and Tokyo’s transforming approaches to protecting their interests by expanding their partnership network.

Japan is already a member of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) whose principal and implicit goal is to form a counterbalance to China. In Kishida’s opinion voiced on June 10, 2022 at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore, Russia’s actions in Ukraine may spur a similar scenario in Asia Pacific, particularly toward Taiwan, especially given a recent surge in the regional activities of China’s People’s Liberation Army. That, however, did not prevent Japan from sending a parliamentary delegation, including two former defense ministers, to Taipei to “discuss extensively the regional security situation in Taiwan, especially in the context of the Russia-Ukraine military conflict.” In this situation, it would be odd to expect anything from Beijing except a protest boosted by military aircraft patrolling around the island.

Yoon Suk Yeol seems intent on significantly increasing South Korea’s role in regional affairs by using the image of a liberal democracy in a crusade against authoritarian regimes around it. However, Seoul intends to wage such a battle solely against the neighboring regime, and even that is not quite a real crusade with clearly defined results. Getting North Korea, to abandon its nuclear weapons though intimidation during an exacerbating East Asian crisis is utterly impossible, particularly in view of Kim Jong Un’s proclaimed readiness for any military action against the U.S.

NATO believes that comprehensive security cooperation with “partners in Asia Pacific” should be conducive to making the international situation more predictable. However, given the Alliance’s track record, should it interfere in the Korean Peninsula or in the Taiwan Strait, there will be little cause to expect a positive outcome.

From our partner RIAC

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A war where the machine decides who to kill! (LAWs wars)

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Which country wants to be attacked by an AI-controlled system with no one in command? Which country wants their soldiers to be killed by an autonomous machine, and potentially, some civilians by mistake? The answer is evidently no one! No country wants that. But which country intends to possess such weapons, then the answer is more ambiguous. The last report of the Group of Governmental Experts (GGE) reflects this. After a week (25-29 July) of discussion at the Palais des Nations, UN Geneva, the adopted report is hollowed without meaningful conclusion or commitments.

Lethal autonomous weapons

Lethal autonomous weapons (LAWs) are military system that can autonomously search for and engage targets based on programmed constraints and descriptions. LAWs are also known as killer robots.

Autonomous weapons have existed for many years; for example, land mines trigger and kill or an injury without any human action. With emerging technology, including AI, we understand the interest of certain states to include these technologies in weapons to improve their autonomy. Since the 70s, the US has used the Phalanx CIWS, which can autonomously identify and attack incoming missiles. With AI, its capacities are considerably increased! Continuing with the example of mines, Russia’s anti-personnel mines of the POM-3 type are particularly deadly. They are disseminated in the land of operations but do not explode immediately. When activated, they rise in the air before exploding and causing multiple ravages, which can be fatal within a radius of 16 meters. Equipped with sensors and software, they choose their target, when they explode or not, depending on the identity of the people or equipment that approach. There are, unfortunately, so many other systems that will be too long to cite here. To conclude this part, in Libya in 2020, a Kargu 2 drone hunted down and attacked a human target. According to a report from the UN Security Council’s Panel of Experts on Libya, published in March 2021. This may have been the first time an autonomous killer robot armed with lethal weaponry attacked human beings. [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_robot]

We quickly understand all potential ethical and legal issues. Autonomous systems can make mistakes; who is responsible then? Like mine killed millions of civilians, new systems may have bias and kill unstintingly, with no one to stop them. The range of potential problems is extensive.

A slow-downed convention

For nine years, the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons or CCW, also known as the Inhumane Weapons Convention, has tried to regulate it with its GGE. For the most ambitious, it would be a question of agreeing on a treaty, or another international instrument, which would guarantee the prohibition that a weapon can operate autonomously, i.e., without the intervention of human supervision. Many Latin Americans, and European states are now advocating for this outright ban. The answer is less clear-cut for other states, including the USA. They consent to the prohibition of specific weapon systems as well as to a certain regulation but refuse a binding legal framework. Finally, Russia is slowing down all negotiations and reducing its content.

Russia and the game of consensus

A majority of States are now convinced of the need to act significantly, even asking for more days to debate in 2023. But the main problem is the rule of consensus, which prohibits any discussion breakthrough”.

Many little disagreements, for instance, delegations, wasted time discussing whether the CCW is an appropriate forum or the only appropriate forum for dealing with the issue of autonomous weapons.

These discussions have even been theatrical when Russia attacked many times the presence of civil societies to limit their intervention and participation in informal meetings. It was a tool to slow down the discussion, focusing the debate on organizational points. At the same time, we can also be afraid that this Russian posture is appearing in others GGEs. Meanwhile, some other states, like Israel and India, are discrete and do not oppose it. They probably use this condition to their advantage. Russia is doing all the work for them.

Therefore with the refusal of a few states, all the details about elements and possible measures for an agreement on autonomous weapons were removed. All conclusions about what kinds of control are necessary, and possible processes to achieve that control, were taken out. The present conclusions section just outlines the types of proposals discussed, recognizes ethical perspectives, and repeats the respect for international humanitarian law. It confirms then that states are responsible for wrongful acts in accordance with international law [link to report], so no new laws. 

Not only are the conclusions disappointing, but the way the discussion was carried out was disappointing, and the mandate for 2023 remains uncertain.

We can not wait on CCW, the urgency of the problem is too critical.

The slow process is to the advantage of countries using these technologies. The Russian POM-3 mines, for instance, have been used in Ukraine, accordingly to Human Right Watch. The development and deployment by Russia and other countries will continue as long as no agreement is reached. LAWs have to be outlaws! And the CCW seems not to be anymore the right platform.

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Escalating Big Power Contestation on Taiwan: Can It Lead to War?

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Xi Jinping is seeking to hide his humiliation over US Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. His premature and unjustifiable warning to the US about the visit caused him embarrassment, and Pelosi’s purposeful visit after the warning not only hyped it, but humiliated him. China is using its Three Warfare Concept  which entails public opinion warfare, psychological warfare, and legal warfare along with aggressive military posturing, air violations, firepower power exhibition and some symbolic economic boycott of Taiwan, thus creating  heightened tension around Taiwan as a face saving exercise to amuse its domestic constituency. China is attempting to turn it as an opportunity to stoke national sentiments in favour of Xi Jinping on ‘Anti America’ theme highlighting Chinese mutilated version of his heroics to ensure that he doesn’t lose out on his third term in the 20th National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) later this year.

The US side has likewise been under similar pressures. Following the announcement of Pelosi’s visit and the contentious debate between President Xi Jinping and Joe Biden, the US found itself in a difficult situation. The USA was unable to cancel the trip in response to Xi’s warning because doing so would have indicated that Joe Biden was caving in to Chinese pressure. This would have been catastrophic for the Biden Administration, which is already struggling to recover from the disaster in Afghanistan and the difficulties brought on by the Russia-Ukraine War. Although the visit was a risky move, it is still unclear whether the US will follow it up by replacing strategic ambiguity with strategic clarity to support Taiwan in any prospective Chinese attack or not.

Can it Lead to War?

With unprecedented military posturing by China, live missile fire  East of Taiwan close to its coastline, and US aircraft carrier and maritime forces located not too far, the situation is tense and prone to accidental trigger causing escalation. It does not make any strategic sense for China to invade Taiwan, as it has all the negatives except false bravado, with bright chances of loss of face globally and domestically, in case the operations fail; hence, likely to contend with activities short of war.

Chinese strategist Qiao Liang, a retired PLA Air Force Major General, has warned that taking Taiwan by force is ‘Too Costly’. Chinese redline of “Taiwan going nuclear/declaring independence” has not been crossed as yet, giving no justification for China to cross US red line of ‘Changing status Quo by Force’. Xi Jinping may find it too costly to take such a risk before sealing his third term. The military drills near Taiwan have been conducted by Taiwan and US also in past and  the much publicised blockade of Taiwan through military drills, if prolonged may invite similar military drills by US and other democracies in Malacca Strait too, to block Chinese Sea Lines of Communication, beyond the realm of optics of the current Chinese aggressive posture, and it is well aware of this vulnerability.    

Taiwanese President Tsai has bravely given bold statements during visit of Speaker Pelosi and earlier to take on Chinese aggression. Taiwan with its national spirit, modern arsenal from US, determined armed forces and US backing is unlikely to give a walkover, although the first onslaught of potential offensive will have to be borne by it, till global response gets activated. Comparisons are being made with Hong Kong, but the major differences is that leadership, hierarchy in Hong Kong and police was manipulated by CCP, whereas  the leadership in Taiwan is strong and resolute refusing to give in to Chinese coercion. The need for amphibious assault due to terrain friction makes Chinese misadventure in Taiwan more difficult than Hong Kong.

Chinese amphibious capabilities to capture Taiwan are suspect, more so if US warships like the USS Ronald Reagan are around. China has enough missile arsenals to destroy Taiwan, but such a massive destruction of Han Chinese (95 percent of Taiwanese population is Han), who have relations, investments and inseparable linkages with their relatives in mainland and vice versa will not go well with domestic population of mainland. Over two million Taiwanese live in China, mostly in Coastal areas, and over 20 per cent have married there.

This will also destroy Chinese and Taiwanese economy, which does not suit Chinese leadership struggling to revive its economy marred by trade war, failing BRI and COVID effect. China is top destination for Taiwanese export accounting for approximately 40% of total exports, with Taiwan having  overall trade surplus of US$104.7 billion in 2021 with China.

A public opinion poll in Taiwan in 2020 indicated 73 percent people identified themselves as Taiwanese, who were against China, and 77 percent  supported democratic movement in Hongkong and this figure has increased in last two years. Getting Taiwanese under its wings will also bring a fresh democratic wave in China, which CCP may not be used to handle. Taiwanese people do not want to sacrifice their democratic freedom and prosperity, which is the main reason for success of President Tsai. The conflict if imposed by China will be deadly and Chinese, who want to win without fighting are not known for their appetite to accept body bags of Han Chinese, for a cause which doesn’t give them economic benefit but takes it away its dream of national rejuvenation, as indicated by General Qiao. 

Why Taiwan is a US-China Issue?

PRC may keep claiming Taiwan to be its domestic issue, but it has much greater external dimensions. Diplomatically US may claim to follow ‘One China Policy’ but it treats Taiwan no less than an ally. The Taiwan Allies International Protection and Enhancement Initiative (TAIPEI) Act of 2019, effective from March 26, 2020 is an indication. The Taiwan Relation Act,1973, Taiwan Travel Act signed 2019, and National Defence Authorisation Act signed earlier this year to facilitate sale of state of the art weaponry and joint exercises justify the statement. US will always like to trade and strategically partner with democratic Taiwan outside Beijing’s influence, and not Taiwan under CCP.

In any potential invasion of Taiwan, the spill over of the battle space to Japan is obvious due to geographic proximity, an ally which US is obligated to protect. Chinese initial offensive can be on Taiwan, but US could join forces with its allies in the region to use their sea and air advantages to cut off Beijing’s maritime lifeline in and outside South China Sea. Chinese supply lines outside Nine dash line are still vulnerable to choking, and it will draw out PLA to get into war outside its comfort Zone. Taking Taiwan by force, therefore involves mobilisation of all its combat resources, expecting an escalation from limited war to an all-out war, as the operation amounts to crossing US redline of “No Change in Status Quo of Taiwan”. Economically Chinese heavy reliance on the US dollar is far from over, and such a war over Taiwan would be a massive economic blow to China, that would see capital flooding out, and companies moving of the country, much sooner than it thought.

Way Ahead

If Chinese aggressive posturing, air incursions and military drills announced for four days end as scheduled without escalation, may be that situation may still remain under control, as US and Taiwan have also done military drills in that region earlier. If it escalates into an attempt to unite Taiwan by force, it will certainly up the ante with US, prove China as irresponsible bully, may lead to loss of life of Han Chinese both ways, lead to economic destruction of its one of the largest investors and jeopardise China’s goal of national rejuvenation. Internationally, China may have miscalculated US resolve and Taiwan’s resistance and all may not go their way. If Chinese ambitions grow beyond global tolerance, it has bright chances to bring rest of the world against China. While the visit of Nancy Pelosi may have given a strong message to China, but the US resolve is still under test, because Taiwan can’t be expected to handle Chinese aggression alone, more so if it has been hyped by super power contestation. US therefore must consider starting similar military exercise in Malacca Strait with other navies to remind China of its vulnerable SLOC before it starts blocking Taiwanese shipping.

The aggressive posturing in Taiwan Strait, South and East China Sea will continue, even if the current crisis slows down. PRC’s aim is to pressurise President Tsai Not to declare independence, keep pressure on, hope DPP loses next election and work out favourable arrangements with opposition likely to be favourable to China. Neither China nor US want war, but none wants to give walkover as well, hence this strategic gaming and posturing is on and will continue.

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