China’s mixed signals over the Ukrainian crisis have prompted commentators to speculate about a forming Sino-Russian alignment. Beijing’s ambiguous position towards the conflict has, however, crucial implications that go beyond understanding the trajectory of Sino-Russian cooperation. How China responds to the ongoing conflict is bound to shape NATO allies’ perceptions of the Asian power. Over the last few years, the Atlantic Alliance has initiated a reevaluation of its strategic interests due to concerns over the challenges posed by the People’s Republic of China (PRC). As NATO drafts its new Strategic Concept, Beijing’s response to the ongoing crisis in Ukraine offers NATO leaders the opportunity to reify or reject their perceptions and misperceptions about the PRC.
The Alliance’s posture towards Beijing is far from settled. While the overall view of China amongst NATO members has taken a negative turn in recent years, disagreements over the extent to which China is a potential threat remain. NATO members have been seemingly divided into three groups. The first group is composed of those states along the Eastern flank, for which the PRC has represented only a marginal concern compared to Russia. This position, which was clearly outlined by Estonian Prime Minister Kaja Kallas at the 2021 Brussel’s Forum, is even more relevant in light of the recent developments in Ukraine. The second group consists of those states along the Southern flank that have been traditionally more concerned with instability in the Middle East and North Africa and its impact on migration patterns.
However, the third group comprises those states that have been more open to balancing China’s assertiveness and acknowledge the Indo-Pacific as an area of strategic interest. For example, France, Germany, the UK, and the Netherlands have all issued strategic documents emphasizing the importance of the Indo-Pacific and directly linking it to the Transatlantic region. In addition to the UK and France, which have a tradition of naval engagement in Asia, both Germany and the Netherlands deployed a frigate to the Indo-Pacific for the first time last year. In light of these divergent perceptions within the Alliance, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has been cautious to label China a direct enemy of the alliance.
Despite differences in opinion, since 2019, NATO has paid increasing attention to the relevance of the Indo-Pacific region. Much of this is the consequence of growing concerns over China’s assertiveness and its implications at the global level. The 2019 London Declaration reflected these concerns and included the first reference to the PRC as an actor simultaneously presenting opportunities and challenges for the Alliance. Since then, NATO’s wariness towards China has only increased. The NATO2030 report clearly emphasized the need to update NATO’s strategic concept in light of the increasing political, economic, and military weight of the PRC and recommended that the Alliance devote resources to address the security challenges posed by a “systemic rivalry with China.”
Similarly, at last year’s Brussels Summit, NATO leaders denounced China’s assertive behavior as a systemic challenge to the Alliance and the rules-based international order, adding that Beijing’s “coercive policies stand in contrast to the fundamental values enshrined in the Washington Treaty.” These documents reflect a general recognition that China poses long-term multifaceted challenges extending beyond the mere military sphere and suggest that NATO is adjusting its strategic position.
Aligning the interests and priorities of the three distinct groups is no easy task. Yet, preoccupations concerning the extent of Beijing and Moscow’s cooperation could bring these groups together. As NATO increasingly sees Russia and China as two authoritarian powers working together, Beijing’s reaction to the Russian invasion of Ukraine could play an important role in reshaping NATO’s perceptions of China, thus shifting the Alliance’s strategic calculations in the Indo-Pacific. Although NATO’s eyes may be on Moscow and Kyiv, Beijing’s actions in this context continue to be under scrutiny.
So far, the PRC has chosen to follow an ambivalent, and at times contradictory position, reaffirming the importance of the principles of national sovereignty and non-interference without condemning Russia’s actions. Speaking to the press, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi reiterated that the “friendship between the Chinese and Russian peoples is rock-solid.” Beijing has criticized Western “illegal” sanctions and has blamed NATO’s “Cold War Mentality” for causing the crisis. Moreover, Chinese state media and government officials have disseminated Russian narratives about Ukraine. Reports of Russia requesting military and economic aid from the PRC have also emerged. At the same time, Beijing appears uncomfortable with the scale of Russian actions. At least two of China’s state-owned banks have distanced themselves from Russian businesses. The PRC has also refrained from openly or unconditionally aligning itself with Moscow, even going as far as abstaining from the UN Security Council vote to condemn the Russian invasion, an action that has sparked conflicting interpretations in the West. Still, Beijing’s dilemma does not seem to have altered China-Russia relations which, according to Wang, “have withstood the new test of evolving international landscape.”
According to some commentators, China’s ambivalence has two main goals: gauging the West’s reactions and preventing NATO from meddling in the Indo-Pacific. Yet, such ambivalence risks having the opposite effect. If NATO members interpret Chinese ambivalence as a sign of Beijing’s complicity with Russian aggression, it could prompt less convinced allies to reorient their threat perceptions to encompass Beijing. During an extraordinary summit, NATO Heads of state have expressed concerns regarding China’s potential assistance to Russia. These concerns are all the more important given that the Atlantic Alliance is currently redrafting its new Strategic Concept, which is expected to be announced this summer. A deterioration in NATO members’ views of China, as well as perceptions or misperceptions concerning Beijing’s close alignment with Moscow, could have long-term implications for NATO’s strategic calculus. Beijing’s ambiguous position, if interpreted as a sign of closer Sino-Russian alignment, could even create the momentum to counter China in the Indo-Pacific.
Such a scenario should not be easily dismissed given the Biden Administration’s insistence on reinforcing the synergies among U.S. allies and partners beyond established regional divides. This goal is certainly not new. Last year, a spokesperson for the Pentagon already mentioned the possibility of engaging NATO and Indo-Pacific allies beyond their respective traditional areas. Indicative of this trend is the concerted reaction of U.S. Indo-Pacific allies to the Ukrainian crisis and their support of European security. In light of this context, a future role for NATO in the Indo-Pacific should not be excluded. First, NATO members could be more willing to bear a higher share of the defense burden in Europe to facilitate the U.S. repositioning in the Indo-Pacific theater. NATO could also intensify exchanges and further expand areas of cooperation with its Indo-Pacific partners, an objective already identified within the NATO2030 report. Given the intersecting challenges that bind the Indo-Pacific and Transatlantic regions together, such cooperation could cross various domains, including joint efforts to develop critical technologies and counter Beijing’s disinformation machine.
Far from eclipsing NATO’s role in the Indo-Pacific, the crisis in Ukraine could have the opposite result. In light of the ongoing conflict, Russia remains the main priority. But this does not mean that the Alliance will have no role to play in contributing to the security of the Indo-Pacific. The debate over what NATO could do beyond its borders has already been initiated. At a first glance, an imminent Russian threat along the Eastern flank may reorient NATO’s attention towards its traditional area of interest, but we cannot exclude the possibility that perceptions of a growing Sino-Russian alignment may also lead to a deeper NATO Indo-Pacific outlook.
Beyond the Battlefield
Since the beginning of time, wars and conflicts have been an inextricable part of human history. As such, they have developed in lockstep with the complex interactions between social, political, and technological changes that have shaped our world. Warfare’s methods and goals have undergone a significant metamorphosis, moving from crude and simple engagements to ones that are sophisticated and complex. Armed conflicts have expanded to take on global proportions with the advent of destructive world wars, and are no longer restricted to simple tribal or regional skirmishes. In addition to transcending their religious roots, these conflicts are now driven by nationalistic imperatives, giving rise to wars with geopolitical goals.
However, in the fierce race to reach the pinnacle of technological achievement with the introduction of a revolutionary artificial intelligence-powered search engine, issues of veracity and the widespread dissemination of false information are the most crucial issues of our time. These worries are well-founded because the consequences of a poorly functioning search engine could distort reality, worsen the already virulent spread of false information, and cause irreparable harm to the fabric of truth.
Additionally, warfare has changed from being characterized by linear battles to being characterized by maneuver warfare, placing greater emphasis on flexibility, agility, and strategic maneuvering. Armed engagements have evolved from primitive first-generation manifestations to the complex dynamics of fourth-generation warfare. They now involve a variety of unconventional tactics such as asymmetric tactics, psychological operations, and information warfare. Thus, in order to successfully navigate the complexity of the modern battlefield, this evolution calls for both a thorough understanding of the many facets of modern warfare and the adoption of adaptive strategies.
Simultaneously, the concept of fifth-generation warfare, also known as hybrid warfare, denotes a paradigm shift in contemporary military tactics, where the importance of cultural warfare, information warfare, and unconventional methods surpasses the conventional use of brute force on the battlefield, as seen in third- and fourth-generation warfare. India is said to be using 5th-generation warfare strategies against Pakistan to sow seeds of enmity and spread false information in an effort to block Pakistan’s progress. Moreover, India is using all of its resources to undermine Pakistani society in a number of different domains. Pakistan to modernize its weaponry and armed forces given the strategic landscape of South Asia, which is becoming more complex and volatile, especially given India’s use of fifth-generation warfare against Pakistan.
Relatedly, information warfare has undeniably grown significantly important in the effort to effectively project Pakistan’s narrative both domestically and internationally. A well-calibrated national response reinforced by a clearly defined foreign policy is required in light of the double-edged nature of fifth-generation warfare. Modern times see a rapid spread of irregular wars across the spectrum of conflict, amid intensifying great power competition, as the nature of warfare changes continuously.
Modern warfare has undergone a sea change as a result of the advancement of information technology, which makes it easier for nontraditional actors like violent extremist groups to communicate. We find ourselves ensconced in a world permeated by high tension, accompanied by a flood of tweets, ranging from the tumultuous battlefields in Ukraine to a pernicious terrorist attack on mass transit inside the borders of the United States. Our insatiable appetite for knowledge is driven by a desire to protect our safety, show compassion for those who are suffering, or see wrongdoers brought to justice. Despite our desire for knowledge, we must maintain an appropriate level of skepticism toward the sources that provide it. After all, we are living in a time that is frequently referred to as the “golden age of fake news.”
Today’s conflicts are largely not fought between nation-states and their armies; instead, they are increasingly fought with the mighty arsenal of words rather than with traditional weapons. In recent years, policy discussions, popular discourse, and academic analyses have given priority to a particular breed of weaponry: “fake news” and viral disinformation. In reality, disinformation used in warfare in the digital age may not differ much from other forms of warfare; after all, wars are fought to establish power, with some reaping financial rewards while the most vulnerable suffer the most.
The problem of fake news has gotten worse since the Internet and social networks were invented. The conventional news model, which involved a small number of media outlets run by experienced journalists who interviewed reliable sources and meticulously verified the information before it was published, has been overturned by the current media environment. Today, there are numerous channels, a never-ending stream of messages, and an environment where contradictory information is frequently overlooked that all contribute to the relative ease with which conspiracy theories and rumors can spread. The temptation to cling to a simpler fiction rather than taking on the laborious task of dissecting a more complex reality grows as we are frequently presented with contradictory messages.
United States Donates $9 million in Weapons, Equipment to Support Somalia National Army
Official reports here said the United States through its diplomatic office in Mogadishu has presented $9 million in weapons, vehicles, medical supplies and other equipment to the Somali National Army (SNA). The ceremony was attended by Minister of Defense Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur Jama and U.S. Ambassador Larry André.
Aside from heavy weapons, equipment included support and construction vehicles, explosive ordinance disposal kits, medical supplies, and maintenance equipment for vehicles and weapons. Most of the supplies are already on their way to Hishabelle and Galmudug States to support SNA troops.
“We cheer the success achieved by Somali security forces in their historic fight to liberate Somali communities suffering under al-Shabaab,” said Ambassador André. “This is a Somali-led and Somali-fought campaign. The United States reaffirms commitment to support country’s efforts.”
Minister of Defense Abdulkadir Mohamed Nur Jama thanked the United States, saying, “Allow me to convey the appreciation of the Federal Government of Somalia to the Government of the United States of America for the continued support to Somalia’s peacebuilding process and the support for the fight against terrorism. This support comes at a critical time for our forces as we boost their capabilities to combat al-Shabaab.”
The Minister was joined by Chief of Defense Forces Brigadier General Odowaa Yusuf Rageh for the ceremony.
The weapons, including light and heavy machine guns were purchased with U.S. Department of Defense funding. They are marked and registered pursuant to the Federal Government of Somalia’s Weapons and Ammunition Management policy, designed to account for and control weapons within the Somali security forces and weapons captured on the battlefield.
Notification to the UN Security Council is conducted by the Federal Government of Somalia in close coordination with the Office of Security Cooperation of U.S. Embassy Mogadishu in accordance with UN Security Council resolutions.
The weapons will support SNA-Danab battalions, including battalions currently participating in operations in Hirshabelle and Galmudug. The weapons will provide a significant increase in the lethality and mobility of the SNA-Danab units participating in these operations. Somalia and its neighbouring States have come under frequent heightened militant attacks in the Horn of Africa.
From Strategic depth to Strategic Threat
On 30th December, in broad daylight, the hub of Peshawar and administrative center was targeted by the militants with the explosion of a deadly bomb, leaving behind 59 dead. the attack was claimed by the TTP Mohmand faction, whose leadership is allegedly residing in Afghanistan.
The issue of Afghanistan has occupied a consequential part of the strategic culture of Pakistan. Following the partition, with the specter of Pashtun Nationalism looming large on the horizon, policymakers in Pakistan opted for a policy of Islamic Nationalism, which became a cornerstone of strategic thinking during the era of General Zia-ul-Haq in the wake of the Afghan Jihad War in 1979.
Islamic nationalism was seen as only the means through which Pashtun Nationalism could be confronted and subdued.
With the adoption of this policy, swiftly and generously, aid from US, UAE and KSA began to inundate the territory of Pakistan, carrying each their national interests with it.
Within a short period, thousands of new madrassas were established, cultivating youngsters by inculcating the concept of Jihadism.
This formation of an alliance with the US in the Afghan Jihad war was driven by two factors; first, to subdue the dominant Pashtun Nationalism with Islamic Nationalism, and second, to establish an Islamabad-friendly regime in Afghanistan so that any terrorist group could not use Afghan territory while keeping New Delhi at bay, by not letting her establish any foothills in Afghanistan.
Fast forward to 2023, the facts on the group are now telling a different story. Islamabad’s once “strategic depth” is now becoming a distant dream as Pakistan is now confronted by insurmountable problems from all sides
According to the data collected by the Pak Institute of Peace Studies, Islamabad, in the past two years, Pakistan has encountered 100 terrorist attacks, and yet, the recent surge of terrorist activities shows no signs of cooling down in the formidable future. This is clearly evident from the news coming from the casualties on the daily basis of the security forces of Pakistan, mostly on the border areas, and the havoc it caused to the infrastructure. Officially, it is estimated that in the last six months, around 350 military personnel have lost their lives, while the outlawed group has claimed even more than that. These occurrences elucidate the failure of the Pakistani state to effectively persuade the Taliban regime not to let the Afghan territory be used against Pakistan’s territorial sovereignty.
Now, who is to be blamed, if not our flawed policies, and the masters of shortsightedness. Lately, upon leaving his office, the ex-COAS scapegoated Imran Khan who initiated the dialogue with the outlawed group, TTP. While Imran Khan, on the other hand, said that the army was on board when the negotiation decision with the TTP was taken. These inconspicuous but powerful statements clearly reveal the uncertainty of our policymakers while dealing with a sensitive topic. Besides that, it also shows how the wizards of policy making and governance are not on the same page while dealing with the Afghanistan issue.
Recently, a document was released by the National Counter Terrorism Authority and presented to the senate committee where discoveries pertaining to the ceasefire between the government of Pakistan and TTP were made. According to the report, the truce initiated by the PTI-led government last year had utterly emboldened the TTP.
With careful planning and shrewd utilization of resources, they were able to revive themselves both logistically and materially. Once the truce between the two parties was over, yet again, a surge in violent attacks was documented.
Beside the challenge of TTP, the Afghan Taliban shows no signs of a positive stance for the Durand line issue. In an interview, the information minister, Zabiullah Mujahid, said, “The issue of the Durand line is still an unresolved one, while the construction of fencing itself creates rifts between a nation spread across both sides of the border. It amounts to dividing a nation”.
Another prominent concern is the time to time border shelling. On Dec 11, 2022, the Taliban forces heavily shelled a town on the outstrips of the Pakistani border leaving behind seven civilian casualties. A few days later, on Dec 15, another exchange of fire took place, claiming one more life. Although, not much heed has been given to such reports, it seems the genie is out of the bottle now.
Last but not least, the Taliban had even scapegoated Pakistan through which the US drone was flown that killed the top Al Qaeda leader, Ayman Al Zawahiri.
The cherry on top happens to be the readiness of the new system to exhibit the disposition of candour in their interactions with India. The Taliban defense minister, Mullah Yahoob, has expressed his desire for the training of Afghan troops by Pakistan’s arch-rival India. If this goes according to the plan, the dependent policy of Afghanistan on Pakistan will diminish and create new challenges for Pakistan. India, by using Afghan soil, can embolden and logistically support the liberation movements in Balochistan and Sindh, thus exacerbating the already precarious situation.
It’s high time to call a spade a spade!
Our Policymakers must accept that the old strategic depth policy inside Afghanistan has begun to fail. Taliban 2.0 are entirely in contrast to its 1.0 version in terms of statecraft. They are more pluralistic in their policies, and economically, they are far more independent compared to the 90s. This time, they want to cut deals directly with the regional states. It may appear unilateral, but rather it’s a mutually desired engagement as other states have expressed interests in establishing relations with Afghanistan while considering them a new and inevitable reality.
Meanwhile, China is feathering its own nest, and is more concerned about the East Turkmenistan Islamic Movement (ETIM). She does not want Afghanistan to be used as a pawn by an insurgent group in the great game against China.
Considering these dynamic global realities, Pakistan must abrogate its old policy towards Afghanistan and focus on a unanimous policy towards Afghanistan. For the success of a cohesive and effective anti-terrorism strategy it is contingent for policymakers to align their viewpoints against the new resurgent groups. And last but not the least , a collective action by the military, politicians and society is necessary.
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