Connect with us


US national policy regarding the nuclear threat in the Russo-Ukrainian war

Avatar photo



The Russian invasion of Ukraine raises two areas of interest for the US – the fight between democracy and authoritarianism and the nuclear threat to humanity. Democracy faces deep challenges that could threaten the longest peace between great powers ever recorded in history. Nuclear weapons are a leading existential threat to humanity. Both are intertwined in this war.

There seem to be two general views in the West regarding the Russian invasion.

The first, represented by John Mearsheimer (Mearsheimer, 2022), sees the war as the logical and reasonable outcome of a “bad play” by the West against Russia in a realist world run by a zero-sum game for power. According to this view, liberal values and international law are a luxury that the West could impose on other civilizations as long as the US was the sole hegemon in the world, a time which has now passed.

The second, represented by Yuval Noah Harari (Harari, 2022), sees the war as an epic moment in a struggle to preserve the peace mechanisms and global order that humans managed to construct since the end of World War II, and which have begun to crack in the last few years. According to this view, liberal values and international law are not just another cultural theme of a sinking hegemon, but an amazing “human progress” to achieve the longest peace periods ever known in history.

Though different from each other, both perspectives represent the current reality. On the one hand, although imposed by the West, these values do reflect a tremendous “human progress” in maintaining low violence levels (although the view that they are a central factor in peace can be debated). On the other hand, although being such an important “human progress,” they have in fact been imposed by the West to a great degree.

Now consider that the West’s power is declining and that some authoritarian regimes possess nuclear weapons and might be willing to use them in contexts irrelevant to the MAD effect. What we get out of this is that the world is heading toward an era in which the use of nuclear weapons might become an unfortunate reality.

Putin’s ideological view of Ukraine’s role in the Russian Slavic empire (Putin, 2021), combined with core security concerns (Kofman, 2022), circumstantial reasons, and the “Westernization” course of Ukraine (Kofman M. , 2022), led him to the current invasion. Putin aims to weaken Ukraine militarily, economically and politically, to take the pro-Russian territories from Ukraine, to bring Ukraine back under Russian control and influence, and to have the West’s attention and willingness to give in to his interests (Reynolds, 2022). 

However, Putin met an unexpectedly strong Ukrainian resistance, supported by a Western unity demonstrated by significant military aid and extreme economic sanctions. Putin’s army failed to capture Kyiv, lost a lot of manpower, and was forced to focus on the Donbas region in the south-east (Kofman D. A., 2022). Yet, Ukraine has renounced its wish to join NATO, China, and to a lesser extent India, remained on Russia’s side diplomatically and economically, and Putin managed to rally most of the Russian public around the war (Kirby, 2022).

To reach a peaceful ending, three top issues in serious disagreement need to be resolved, and the West is an essential player in all of them: security arrangements, the lifting of the sanctions, and the status of the conquered territories (Beddoes, 2022b).

The possibility that Russia will use nuclear weapons against Ukraine is a big threat for the US. A dissatisfying response could potentially drive extremely negative trends and outcomes for US national security strategy and deterrence: legitimacy for nuclear use by other nuclear states, nuclear proliferation, and aggressive actions towards the US by its enemies who are less deterred.

This paper will analyze scenarios for Russian uses of nuclear weapons and suggest American response policies. The responses are based on the strategies of deterrence and enforcement from Lawrence Freedman’s “strategic coercion” theory (Freedman, 1998), suited for the US’s defensive aim to maintain the “nuclear taboo”. Both strategies aim to guide the enemy to choose an alternative behavior that should be presented to him, and demonstrated to be more favorable to his interests. However, these strategies can fail due to internal pressures, cognitive dissonance, wrong calculations, and cultural differences.

American nuclear policy towards Russia and arms limitation agreements

The US began to develop a nuclear strategy after it had reached a nuclear capability in 1945, and as the Soviet Union (SU) had also managed to achieve it in 1949. Until the 1960’s, the US tried two strategies: A. “Containment”: not using nuclear weapons militarily or diplomatically, containing the communist advance to neutral states and maintaining the status quo. B. “Massive Retaliation”: fearing from exhaustion in long and esoteric wars, the US aimed to prevent them by threatening to use nuclear weapons in any war (Freedman L., 1981).

Since the 1960’s, the US understood that a nuclear war should only be deterred from and could not be “won” under the MAD effect (Mutually Assured Destruction), created by the “second strike” (nuclear retaliation after an enemy attack) ability of both sides (Art, 1985). This led to the “Flexible Response” strategy: attempting to first stop conventionally a SU conquer of Europe, then with tactical nuclear weapons (TNW), and then, if failed, with strategic ones. Later, the stability of MAD was challenged by developments like the first satellite launch into space, the ability to carry a few nuclear warheads on missiles, a growing accuracy, the space laser interception project, and anti-ballistic missiles that could prevent a “second strike” ability by defending from the few missiles the enemy has left after a “first strike”. (Freedman L., 1981).

These challenges pushed both sides to a nuclear arms race that led eventually to a series of arms limitation deals, starting with “SALT” at 1972. This process was also strengthened after the Cuban missile crisis (1962), the closest event to an unwanted nuclear war. In 1968, the international NPT treaty was signed, forbidding all signatory states from developing nuclear weapons, besides the nuclear super-powers. The latest agreement, NEW START (2012), is in power until 2026 and limits both sides to 1,550 warheads, 700 delivery systems, and 800 launching platforms (Daryl Kimball, 2020). However, in 2002, the US withdrew from the ABM treaty (1972) which limited the number of anti-ballistic missiles to 100 (Daryl Kimball, 2020a). Under Trump, the US withdrew from the INF treaty (1987), which abolished all intermediate-range missiles, arguing for China’s inclusion and claiming that Russia cheated (Daryl Kimball, 2020b).

Today, the US arms control agenda is to limit new kinds of delivery systems for intercontinental weapons, to address tactical warheads, to preserve NEW START’s limits, and to include China in agreements. Russia’s seeks to limit American missile defense systems, prevent a space arms race, include France and Britain in agreements, and a US removal of nuclear weapons from Europe (Ibid). 

Scenarios for Russian use of nuclear weapons and US strategic responses

The American strategy

With the collapse of the SU, the US became a sole hegemonic world power, while Russia experienced a painful decline in political and military status, loss of territory, and the beginning of an economic rehabilitation process. However, the West’s and American image today is of a civilization suffering deep systematic political crises. Furthermore, Western global order and its international law are challenged by Russia’s and China’s authoritarian model that promotes “rationality” and detachment from “confused” public opinion by means of a meritocratic system, is gaining support (Michael Kofman A. S., 2021). Russia and China also point to the failure of the Western model in places where it attempted military intervention to build a Western state, as proof that Western democracy is neither a universal value nor a successful one (Jana Puglierin, 2021).

In recent years the US has become in fact less and less willing to involve itself in military conflicts to project its influence to distant places, as seen in the decisions of the last three presidents to leave Iraq and Afghanistan and to avoid broad intervention in Syria. That stems both from the lack of public support for such interventions, which demand many resources and fail to bring desired results, as well as the shift in US priorities to focus on China (Jana Puglierin, 2021). The US views China, in Biden’s words, as “the only competitor with the potential to combine economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to create a constant challenge to an open and stable international system” (Biden, 2021, p. 8). Despite the eruption of the Russian challenge in Europe, China is still the top priority, while the declared American strategy toward Russia is to strengthen deterrence against her by cooperation with NATO and other partners (Biden, 2022b).

First scenario – “demonstration” towards a preferable ending to the war

The Russian action in this scenario is explosion of one TNW in an uninhabited area in Ukraine or in its territorial waters in order to avoid casualties (Hoffmann, 2022). To blur the red line of the “nuclear taboo”, (Joshi, 2022) Russia declares that it was only a “legitimate test launch in light of NATO’s aggression fighting Russia indirectly and leading to World War III.”  Russia would call on all sides to show “real willingness” for peace and stability in the region as a condition for peace talks.

This scenario is likely to occur in case of a wider NATO intervention in Ukraine, for example in sending volunteer soldiers, improving the size or quality of military aid, or enforcing a no-fly zone.

The Russian rationale behind it would be deterring the West from intervening too far in the war and limiting the Russian room for maneuver, by demonstrating the threat of nuclear destruction in Ukraine and thereby leading the West to bigger concessions to end the war (Beddoes, 2022a).

This mechanism of action is based on the Russian military and nuclear doctrine. The Russian doctrine has been updated in recent years and is focused on the enemy’s psychology as a target to influence in different areas in accordance with Russian interests (Adamsky, 2015). Russia inflates its perceived will and resolve to use nuclear weapons by threats, alertness, and exercises.

Beyond verbal threats in the psychological domain, it is common to divide the operational use of nuclear weapons in the Russian doctrine into two distinct strategies: “global deterrence” and “regional deterrence” (Michael Kofman, 2020).

Global deterrence is a continuation of the Soviet strategy in the Cold War to prevent a nuclear attack from the West. Regional deterrence is aimed at deterring a large conventional war, most likely with tactical nuclear weapons (TNW).

Regional deterrence includes a hierarchy of growing escalatory use of TNW which starts after readiness is exhibited in order to show resolve. The hierarchy begins with “demonstration” – a bomb in an uninhabited place or on non-strategic enemy facilities to avoid enemy casualties or significant damage. This is followed by a step up to “intimidation” – several bombings of enemy forces in order to impede their progress and for defense. Finally, “retaliation” represents the most escalatory step and includes massive bombings of enemy forces and strategic targets aiming to severely damage him and change the course of the war (Ibid).

TNWs are central in the Russian nuclear doctrine as stated. While the US holds today a few hundred bombs (some of them in Europe), Russia holds an estimated 2,000 bombs (Corera, 2022). Despite the humble image implied by the word “tactical,” TNW has the same destructive nuclear effect on its surroundings as SNW, just in a smaller range. For example, a TNW blast will also create a fireball, shock waves, and lethal radiation that will inflict long term health damage on survivors, while the nuclear fallout will contaminate the air, water, soil and food for a long time (Tannenwald, 2022). 

Evidently, Russia’s recent behavior exemplified this doctrine. Three days after the start of the invasion, Putin declared that he ordered “the Russian army deterrence forces to be put on high combat alert.” He also warned other countries from interference that could lead to “consequences greater than any you have faced in history” (Andrew Roth, 2022).

On March 4, Russia attacked and took over the biggest nuclear plant in Ukraine and in Europe, Zaporizhzhia. On March 6, Russia claimed that the Ukrainians tried to make a “dirty bomb” that emits radiation but without a nuclear explosion. Toward the end of March, Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu declared that Russia was in nuclear readiness (Boffey, 2022). On April 26, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov threatened again and said that the risk for a nuclear war in Ukraine is “serious and real,”, arguing that unlike the Cuban missile crisis, there are “few rules left” between Russia and the US (ALJAZEERA, 2022).

The proposed American strategic response is immediate and extended deterrence against the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. Deterrence aims to prevent an enemy’s action before it is taken. Its success is conditioned on the deterrent’s reputation for enforcing its threats, communication of the red lines, capability to realize its threats, and credibility in its will to do so. There are two kinds of threats (Freedman L. , 1998):

  1. “Punishment”: to inflict such great pain on the enemy that any achievement he gets from his action will be a total loss.
  2. “Prevention”: of the achievement the enemy hopes to gain from his action, which cancels his rational.

The rationale behind this strategy is that due to the failure of US general deterrence, an immediate deterrence should be created toward any use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. This can be achieved by “punishment” threats, augmented by an increased ability and showing a clear will to do so, and by “prevention” steps as well.

The ultimate goal of this strategy is prevention of further use of nuclear weapons until the end of the war. In any case, the US will strive to prevent further escalation to a direct conflict between NATO and Russia and will present Putin with an alternative to the war.  

Regarding the American action, first, President Biden will open the hot-line and will speak to Putin (Nye, 2000). The message will be that the US has no intention to go to war but any use of nuclear weapons is a red line that, if crossed, will lead to changing the policy of non-intervention and will not achieve deterrence as the Russian doctrine falsely assumes. It will also be made clear that any radiation entering a NATO state will be considered an attack on NATO and will lead to a military response (Kheel, 2022). Putin will be presented with an alternative: a complete lifting of sanctions in return for a full retreat from Ukraine, which will remain neutral outside of NATO.

Militarily, The US will announce a nuclear alert and mobilize more forces to Europe that could attack Russian targets in larger force and scale if needed. Diplomatically, the US will threaten that any further use of nuclear weapons will lead to action in the UN to ban all Russian representatives from international institutions and cancel its veto power. In the press, the US will conduct public polls to show support for carrying out the threats against Russia if necessary and thus strengthen their credibility.  

Second scenario – “breakthrough” to change the war’s course

The Russian action in this scenario is explosion of a small number of TNWs against military targets in order to paralyze strategic facilities and weapons, while striving to minimize civilian casualties (Corera, 2022). Russia will blame Ukraine and the US for preparing radioactive “dirty bombs” to bomb Russian forces (perhaps even exploding one of these as a “false flag”) which will supposedly justify the nuclear response within the official policy against nuclear attacks (Kirby, 2022). Russia will also call on the US to stop fighting in Ukraine indirectly, threatening that it will lead to World War III and declaring weapons sent to Ukraine to be a legitimate target. 

This scenario is likely to occur in case of a Ukrainian shift to counter-attack and signs of success in retaking the lost territories in Donbas, or threatening on the Crimean Peninsula (David E. Sanger, 2022). The Russian rationale behind it would be reversing the course of the war to allow expansion of conquests along the Ukrainian southern shoreline, so as to cut off Ukraine from the Black Sea. 

This mechanism of action is based too on the Russian military and nuclear doctrine and war actions so far – both described above. However, this scenario is different from the first one, because here Russia is breaking the “nuclear taboo” clearly and explicitly. A Russian success to achieve its purposes through the use of nuclear weapons, could severely damage the American nuclear strategy on a few levels.

First, for a country signed on the NPT treaty to break the “nuclear taboo” would give legitimacy to other states to challenge the “red line.” Second, a successful use of nuclear weapons that the US fails to deter could induce countries now dealing with security threats to choose to develop nuclear weapons of their own for deterrence purposes and thus lead to renewed nuclear proliferation that could also include terrorist groups. Third, the damage to American deterrence could lead to actions against American interests from other enemies like China, Iran, and North Korea.

The proposed American strategic response isenforcement on the use of nuclear weapons, including a 48-hour ultimatum to stop any use of nuclear weapons. Enforcement aims to restore the status quo after an enemy’s challenging action has already happened and has broken deterrence. It is based on two efforts (Freedman L. , 1998):

  1. Taking a significant toll from the enemy to realize the deterrent threat and prove resolve to strengthen deterrence again.
  2. Posing demands for the enemy to change his behavior, by threatening for greater costs.

The rationale behind it is thatto reestablish the “nuclear taboo”, the US must use enforcement by actualizing its previous threats and making Russia pay a price for its action, and by posing an ultimatum with a significant threat for violating it. The ultimate goal of this strategy isa complete stop to any use of nuclear weapons within 48 hours. However, the US will strive to prevent a direct confrontation between NATO and Russia and will present Putin an alternative to the war.

In 2018, the Trump administration wrote the most recent Nuclear Posture Review (NPR) to be published in full, which portrayed a problematic situation for American nuclear deterrence (Jim Mattis, 2018). The NPR highlighted a problem in one of four key factors in deterrence according to Freedman’s “Strategic Coercion” (Freedman L. , 1998) – communication, clarifying your red lines to the other side. It suggested that the Russians might assume that they can use TNWs to escalate and deter the West, and lead to a convenient end for a war.

Therefore, it is suggested in the NPR that the US clarify unequivocally to Russia that any first use in nuclear weapons against the US or its allies and partners will fail in achieving its purpose and lead to unacceptable costs for Russia. For the threat to be credible, it is argued that the US must have both nuclear and conventional tools that can endanger Russian targets (Jim Mattis, 2018).

Regarding the American action, first, President Biden will open the hot-line and will speak to Putin. The message will be that the US will make Russia pay for this use of nuclear weapons which is an unacceptable violation of its red line. Biden will threaten graver consequences in the event of a violation of the 48-hour ultimatum, including a humanitarian direct intervention in the war. Putin will be presented with an alternative, but a complete ceasefire will be a pre-condition to any peace talks. He will be offered a recognition in the Ukrainian constitution of its neutrality position outside of NATO, and a gradual removal of sanctions, in return for an immediate Russian retreat.

Militarily, the US will send maximum conventional military aid to Ukraine, to allow some protection from TNWs, and offensive tools to attack the Russians (Blair, 2022). Moreover, the US will deploy defense systems against nuclear weapons in NATO territory, declaring that nuclear attacks near the borders of NATO will be thwarted. In addition, the US will commit to secure humanitarian corridors with no-fly zones if Russia violates the ultimatum (Raine, 2022).

Diplomatically, NATO will announce that a Russian violation of the ultimatum will lead Finland and Sweden to join the alliance immediately. In the UN, a resolution to ban all Russian representatives from international institutions and cancel its veto power will be prepared for immediate passage if Russia violates the ultimatum.

Economically, NATO countries will announce a complete cutoff of all economic relations with Russia should the latter violate the ultimatum. Moreover, the US will conduct dialogue with China and India on joining the sanctions and pressuring Russia diplomatically to comply with the ultimatum. China might be persuaded by a combination of carrots and sticks.

The carrots would include allowing her to take the diplomatic credit for ending the crisis and pointing to the potential economic loss from the wrecking of Ukraine in which China is the biggest investor (Rennie, 2022) . The sticks would be a threat from the US to further limit economic relations in case China avoids any sanctions after a Russian violation of the ultimatum.

In the press, horrifying pictures from the bombing of Japan in 1945 will be shown with the message that the world must stand up to Putin and join economic sanctions.

Third Scenario – “a killer blow” to Ukrainian resistance

The Russian action in this scenario is explosion of a nuclear bomb in a size similar to those dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki (15 kiloton TNT). Russia will drop the bomb on two symbolic Ukrainian targets, far enough from NATO and Russa: Dnipro (a large industrial city) and Odessa (a city that has an important trade harbor and a Ukrainian naval base).

Russia will use Hypersonic missiles (with a speed faster than five times that of sound) to display its power to the world. The explosion will lead to tens of thousands of Ukrainians casualties, to mass destruction, and to radiation that will contaminate a wide area, similar to the effects of the bombs in Japan.

The Russians will declare that they have warned the Ukrainians and that this is a step to end the war and save lives on both sides. They will call on Ukrainians to get away from industrial and military centers and urge the Ukrainian leadership to surrender and avoid more bombings.

Russia will point out that the US did the same in World War II and warn NATO against continuing to aid Ukraine if they wish to avoid World War III, explaining that this war is “existential” for Russia and justifies the use of nuclear weapons.

This scenario is likely to occur in case of a war of attrition in Ukraine in which Western aid leads to a large number of Russian casualties and hurts the Russian army’s image, while Ukrainians are not ready for any concessions. In addition, Russia is economically collapsing and there is a real threat to Putin’s regime.

Given the immense economic, political and military damage to Russia due to the prolonging of the war and the domestic pressure to produce achievements, the Russian rationale would be that Russia must win the war at all costs. It will do so by breaking Ukrainian resistance with a killer blow, which will deter NATO from continuing to intervene in the war, posing a direct threat to escalate to World War III.  

The proposed American strategic response is a combination of enforcement after Russia’s use of nuclear weapons on civilians with a 48-hour ultimatum for a complete cease-fire and an immediate cessation of nuclear weapons use, with deterrence from attacks on the US or NATO members by threatening punishment and prevention measures. 

Russia used powerful nuclear weapons on the centers of populated cities, committing the biggest war crime possible, and shattering the international norms and American deterrence. Therefore, the rationale behind the American response is preventing any achievement from Russia and sustaining the deterrence from using nuclear weapons in the rest of the world.

To do that, the US will exert maximum political, economic and military pressure to end the war as soon as possible in a complete defeat for Russia and Putin (with the aim of removing him from power). This includes enforcing a 48-hour ultimatum for a cease-fire and an immediate cessation of nuclear weapons use, while prioritizing a complete Russian withdrawal as soon as possible to keep Ukraine independent.

The US will avoid the use of nuclear weapons in response to Russia, given the danger of escalation of the war, and to present Russia as the only side who committed crimes against humanity. The ultimate goal of this strategy is a cease-fire within 48 hours and a clear defeat for Russia and Putin.

Regarding the American action, first, President Biden will open the hot-line and will speak to Putin. The message will be that the US will exact a maximum price from Russia and will cut off all relations and communications with Russia apart from military contact to avoid escalation. In addition, the US will intervene directly in the war and is declaring a 48-hour ultimatum for a cease-fire.

Militarily, the US will secure humanitarian corridors, supply chains, and communications lines for the Ukrainians. NATO will announce that violating the ultimatum, using nuclear weapons again, or attacking NATO forces or state members will be answered with a military response against Russian military targets in Ukraine or in Russia itself.  In addition, the US will deploy a variety of nuclear and conventional weapons that can endanger Russian targets.

Diplomatically, NATO will lead a global effort to ban Russia from the international community: to close Russian embassies, to ban Russian delegates from international institutions, and to cancel Russia’s veto power in the UN Security Council.

Economically, the US and Europe will cut off all economic ties with Russia, while coordinating with Saudi Arabia to produce more oil and balance the rise in its price. The US will make significant efforts to persuade all the countries in the world to cut off their economic ties with Russia. The message to those countries refusing will be that the more pressure put on Putin now, the faster this war ends and the danger of calamity passes. It will also be hinted that the West will punish the states who chose to collaborate with Putin.

In the press, pictures and videos from the horrific disaster in Ukraine will be brought to the whole world, together with evidence that the Ukrainians are not breaking and remain independent. In addition, the US will conduct efforts to spread information to the Russian public to facilitate domestic pressure on Putin to end the war. These will include securing Ukrainian communications and breaking through the Kremlin’s firewall (Todd C. Helmus, 2022).

To present Putin with an alternative, the US will work with China to mediate for a peace settlement. This will include an offer for gradual removal of economic and diplomatic sanctions as long as the cease-fire and Russian withdrawal remain in force. In addition, the US will offer to commit to avoid security cooperation with Ukraine, which will be established as a neutral state in its constitution, so long as the Russian forces remain outside of Ukraine.


This paper discussed three scenarios for Russian use of nuclear weapons and suggested US strategies. The first scenario (“demonstration”) is driven by an effort to deter the West from further involvement in the war. It includes a single blow in an unpopulated area, which resembles an experiment, albeit in Ukraine’s territory. The proposed strategy is immediate and extended deterrence against the use of nuclear weapons in Ukraine. The second scenario (“breakthrough”) is driven by an effort to change the war’s course, if it deteriorates for Russia. It includes detonating TNWs against Ukrainian military targets in order to paralyze strategic facilities and weapons. The proposed strategy is enforcement on the use of nuclear weapons, including a 48-hour ultimatum to completely stop any use of nuclear weapons. The third scenario (“a killer blow”) is driven by an effort to break the Ukrainian resistance, and is possible in case of immense damage to Russian interests which poses a real threat to Putin’s regime. It includes blowing a SNW on two symbolic Ukrainian targets. The proposed strategy is a combination of enforcement after Russia’s use of nuclear weapons on civilians with a 48-hour ultimatum for a complete cease-fire and an immediate cessation of nuclear weapons use, and deterrence from attacks on the US or NATO members by punishment and prevention threats. 

Looking forward, two subjects for future research stand out: A. The Chinese role – as the most powerful state in the world other than the US, and who has immense influence on Moscow, China can be a tiebreaker. Although it may seem like China and Russia are always “on the same page”, in fact they are compete for dominance in the same region and have opposite perceptions of the international system (China tries to achieve influence within it while Russia aims to “break it”). The way to reach China and make it cooperate to make Russia comply is of utmost importance. B. Security arrangements – Ukraine’s neutral status is a major issue that each side cannot compromise on (Beddoes, 2022b). Although agreeing to remain outside of NATO, Ukraine seeks “hard” assurances that it will not be attacked again, while Russia denies any Western involvement. A formula that could be agreed on both sides (at least temporarily to end the war) can be a decisive factor in presenting a workable alternative to Putin.

Yuval Rymon is a Politics, Philosophy and Economics (PPE) student at Tel Aviv University, and incoming student at Columbia University (starting September 2022). He has previously served as an officer and head of research teams in various positions in the Israel Defense Forces Intelligence Directorate.

Continue Reading


Quad foreign ministers meet in New York for the third time

Avatar photo



Image source: X @SecBlinken

Quad foreign ministers met in New York for the second time this year and the seventh time since 2019. The four-nation grouping’s ambit of cooperation has clearly expanded and diversified over the years. What were the key talking points this time? I analyse.

The foreign ministers of India, Japan, Australia and the United States – four key maritime democracies in the Indo-Pacific – met on the sidelines of the 78th annual session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) in New York on September 22. This was their seventh meeting since 2019 and the second of 2023. Notably, exactly four years ago, this four-nation Quad was raised to the foreign ministers’ level amid a UNGA session. Earlier in 2023, the ministers met in March on the sidelines of the G20 ministerial in New Delhi and in May, this year, the Quad leaders’ summit was hosted by Japan on the sidelines of the G7 summit. Having met twice in 2022 as well, the ministers congregated six times in person and virtually once so far.

The previous ministerial in New Delhi saw the four-nation grouping making a reference to an extra-regional geopolitical issue for the first time – Ukraine – and also the initiation of a new Working Group mechanism on counter-terrorism, a key agenda item for India and the United States, among other themes of discussion. Following the seventh meeting, India’s foreign minister Dr S. Jaishankar tweeted, “Always value our collective contribution to doing global good”, while U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken remarked that the grouping is “vital to our shared vision for a free and open Indo-Pacific, and together we reaffirmed our commitment to uphold the purposes and principles of the UN Charter”.

Diversifying ambit of cooperation

The ministers have clearly doubled down on the commitments taken during their previous deliberations, particularly to improve capacity-building for regional players. The joint statement that followed the meeting read, “The Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness is supporting regional partners combat illicit maritime activities and respond to climate-related and humanitarian events.” Similarly, the Working Group on maritime security promised “practical and positive outcomes” for the region. Prior to the recent ministerial, the Working Group on counter-terrorism conducted a Consequence Management Exercise that “explored the capabilities and support Quad countries could offer regional partners in response to a terrorist attack”, the joint readout mentions.

Later this year, the U.S. island state of Hawaii will host the Counter-terrorism Working Group’s meeting and tabletop exercise, which will focus on countering the use of emerging technologies for terrorist activities, while the Working Group on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief (HADR) will be convened in Australia’s Brisbane for its second tabletop exercise. Earlier in August, this year, all four Quad navies participated in Exercise Malabar for the fourth consecutive year, off Sydney, the first hosted by Australia. However, as in previous meetings, the ministers didn’t specifically mention Russia or China with regard to the situations in Ukraine and maritime east Asia respectively.

On the Ukraine question, the ministers expressed their “deep concern”, taking note of its “terrible and tragic humanitarian consequences” and called for “comprehensive, just, and lasting peace”. In a veiled reference to Russia, the ministers rebuffed the “use, or threat of use, of nuclear weapons”, underscoring the respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states, and called for the resumption of the UN-brokered Black Sea Grain Initiative, which allows for the export of food grains and fertilizers from Ukraine to world markets via a maritime humanitarian corridor, amid the ongoing conflict with Russia.

Similarly, in another veiled reference to continuing Chinese belligerence and lawfare in maritime east Asia, the ministers stressed upon the need to adhere to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and to maintain “freedom of navigation and overflight consistent with UNCLOS”, reiterating their “strong opposition to any unilateral actions that seek to change the status quo by force or coercion”, including with respect to maritime claims in the South and East China Seas. Going further ahead, the ministers expressed their concern on “the militarisation of disputed features, the dangerous use of coast guard and maritime militia vessels, and efforts to disrupt other countries’ offshore exploitation activities”. The joint readout also had mentions of North Korea and Myanmar.

The evident and the inferred

Today, almost all the areas of cooperation of Quad countries happen to be the areas of strategic competition with China, the rapid rise of which necessitated the coming together of the four nations, even though this is not openly acknowledged. In this new great game unfolding in the Indo-Pacific, the U.S.-led Quad is trying to balance China’s overwhelming initiatives to capture the support of smaller and middle powers in the region and around the world. Placid initiatives such as the Open Radio Access Network, the private sector-led Investors Network, Cybersecurity Partnership, Cable Connectivity Partnership and the Pandemic Preparedness Exercises should be read in this context.

With the rise of Quad in parallel with the rise of China and other minilateral groupings in the Indo-Pacific such as the AUKUS (a grouping of Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States), the existing regional framework based on the slow-moving, consensus-based Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was put to test. However, allaying all doubts, Quad deliberations at both the ministerial and summit levels continued to extend their support to ASEAN’s centrality in the region and also for the ASEAN-led regional architecture that also includes the East Asia Summit and the ASEAN Regional Forum. Despite somewhat differing regional outlooks, the Quad likes to see itself as “complementary” to the ASEAN, rather than an “alternative” to its pan-regional influence.

India, the only non-ally of the U.S. in the Quad, will host the fourth in-person Quad leaders’ summit in 2024. The Asian giant is often dubbed as the weakest link in the grouping, owing to its friendly ties with Russia, but other members intent to keep India’s bilateral equations with other countries away from the interior dynamics of the grouping, signalling an acknowledgement of India’s growing geopolitical heft in the region and beyond. This seems to be subtly reflected in the stance taken by individual Quad members in the recent India-Canada diplomatic row, in which they made sure not to provoke New Delhi or to touch upon sensitive areas, even though a fellow Western partner is involved on the other side.

  Quad Foreign Ministers Meeting  Month & Year  Venue
FirstSeptember 2019New York
SecondOctober 2020Tokyo
ThirdFebruary 2021Virtual
FourthFebruary 2022Melbourne
FifthSeptember 2022New York
SixthMarch 2023New Delhi
SeventhSeptember 2023New York

NB:- All three Quad ministerials in New York were held on the sidelines of the respective annual sessions of the UN General Assembly i.e., the first, the fifth, and the seventh meetings.

On the multilateral front, the four ministers reaffirmed their support for the UN, the need to uphold “mutually determined rules, norms, and standards, and to deepen Quad’s cooperation in the international system, and also batted for a comprehensive reform of the UN, including the expansion of permanent and non-permanent seats in the Security Council. While China and Russia, two powerful permanent members of the Security Council, continue to denounce the Quad as an “exclusionary bloc”, the Quad ministers and leaders tend to tone down any security role for the grouping.

However, a recent comment made by Vice Admiral Karl Thomas of the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet during this year’s Exercise Malabar is noteworthy. He said the war games were “not pointed toward any one country”, rather it would improve the ability of the four forces to work with each other and “the deterrence that our four nations provide as we operate together as a Quad is a foundation for all the other nations operating in this region”. Even in the absence of a security treaty, in a way he hinted at the grouping’s desire to cherish its collective strength across all fronts and to check on hegemonic tendencies that may manifest in the region from time to time.

Continue Reading


Dynamics of the Sikh Vote Cloud Canada’s Diplomatic Relations with India

Avatar photo



Image source: X @JustinTrudeau

Operating across British Columbia (BC), Alberta, Manitoba and Ontario, gangs made up of Indo-Canadian Punjabis – Brothers Keepers, Dhak-Duhre, Dhaliwal, Sanghera, Malli-Buttar, and several such, are involved in arms trafficking, racketeering, extortion, narco trafficking, money laundering, and not the least, assassinations. Formed in 2004 and mandated to disrupt and suppress organised crime in B.C. the  Combined Forces Special Enforcement Unit (CFSEU-BC), has warned the public of the nexus of Punjabi-Canadians to violence.

In the murders of Punjabi singer Sidhu Moose Wala and Ripudaman Singh Malik, acquitted in the tragic 1985 Air India Kanishka terror-bombing case,  the conspicuous involvement of these Indo-Canadian gangs with notorious criminals Goldy Brar and Lawrence Bishnoi at the helm, manifested itself.

On June 18 Sikh Hardeep Singh Nijjar, was gunned down as he left his gurdwara in Surrey, B.C., which has the  highest proportions of Punjabi Canadians. Nijjar had entered Canada in 1995 on a fake passport and claimed asylum on arrest at Toronto. In B.C. he married a local who sponsored his immigration and he was subsequently awarded Canadian citizenship. Brazenly propounding anti-India separatist sentiments, Nijjar was even placed on Canada’s no-fly list and Interpol’s red corner notice. Alongwith gangsters Arshdeep Singh Dala, Maninder Singh Bual, and Mandeep Singh Dhaliwal his outfit Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF) was involved in contract killings in Punjab. Gang-related killings account for a third of all homicides in Canada’s British Columbia.

Despite this disconcerting background of Nijjar’s ties to organised crime gangs in Canada, on September 18, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau alleged the involvement of “agents of the Indian government” in the killing of Nijjar. A claim outrightly rejected by New Delhi as “absurd” and “motivated.” If Trudeau was looking to further impair an increasingly forbidding bilateral relationship, he succeeded. Canada and India have expelled a senior diplomat each and negotiations for a free trade agreement stand suspended.

There is a palpable perversity to Canada’s position on the Khalistan issue. In 1982, Trudeau’s father and then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau

had rejected Late PM Indira Gandhi’s demands for extradition of  Khalistani terrorist Talwinder Singh Parmar, who went on to execute the bombing of Air India Flight Kanishka, killing 329 people in 1985.

Alarmed by the presence of Sikh secessionists among the diaspora, former Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh during his 2010 trip to attend the G20 summit in Toronto, asked Canada “to stop people from using religious places to promote extremism.” Canadian MP Sukh Dhaliwal, had introduced a motion in the Canadian parliament to declare the 1984 riots a “genocide”.  Fast forward to 2023, G20 under PM Modi there was no attempt at all to put even a vaguely positive spin on the India-Canada equation.

The timing of Trudeau’s accusation just days after the G20 summit in New Delhi where he says he brought Khalistani extremism and “foreign interference” “directly to PM Modi in no uncertain terms” smacks of umbrage at being at the receiving end of a very hard-hitting message that the ‘extremist elements in Canada are “promoting secessionism and inciting violence against Indian.’

The Khalistan issue has got a fresh lease of life after the advent of the Justine Trudeau government. With just 32.2 percent of the popular vote, Liberal leader Trudeau has the least electoral support in Canadian history, and was backed by Jagmeet Singh’s  New Democratic Party (NDP) which openly supports the Khalistan Referendum on Canadian soil.

Canada’s Conservative opposition leader, Pierre Poilievre, has urged Trudeau to show the evidence that the government has in hand. Notwithstanding this current posture the Conservative Party (CP) too, has in the past caved in to the Sikh vote bank. In 2018 when its condemnation of ‘glorification of terrorism’ was objected to by the World Sikh Organisation, the CP dropped its ‘anti-Khalistan’ motion in the House of Commons.

There is beyond sufficient evidence, to India’s contention that Canada, and other western nations including US, UK, and Australia have allowed cadres of separatist violent Khalistani groups to thrive. The UK recently set up a £95,000 fund to enhance its understanding of the threat posed by Khalistan extremism. While the amount set aside to tackle pro-Khalistan elements is not substantial, it acknowledges that a Sikh radicalisation problem exists in the west. 

Sikh temples and organisations abroad orchestrate Remembrance Days for ‘Operation Blue Star’ on June 6 and ‘Sikh Massacre’ on November 5, that serve as cultural repertoires and focal points of advocating Khalistani extremism. This year at the remembrance day parade, Khalistan supporters in Ontario exhibited a female figure in a blood-stained white saree with turbaned men pointing guns at her, to celebrate the assassination of late PM Indira Gandhi. The poster behind the scene read “Revenge for the attack on Darbar Sahib.”

Reacting to this macabre tableau, External Affairs Minister Dr S Jaishankar said, “Frankly, we are at a loss to understand other than the requirements of vote bank politics why anybody would do this … I think there is a larger underlying issue about the space which is given to separatists, to extremists, to people who advocate violence. I think it is not good for relationships, not good for Canada.”

At multiple diplomatic and security talks, India has raised the issue of wanted terrorists and gangsters only to be defied by the Canadian government with non-committance and brazen support for extremist Sikhs. And yet Canada’s NATO allies and partners in the ‘Five Eyes’ intelligence sharing agreement, the United States and Australia, have expressed “deep concerns” over the issue. Adrienne Watson, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said, “We are deeply concerned about the allegations referenced by Prime Minister Trudeau.” Foreign Secretary of the UK, James Cleverly, posted UK’s reaction on platform X “We are in regular contact with our Canadian partners about serious allegations raised in the Canadian Parliament.” One wonders if this allegation of targeted killing by India is in retaliation to New Delhi’s steady favour of Russia, and has been levelled after reports of a brokered American deal with Pakistan for weapons transfer to Ukraine in lieu of an IMF bailout emerged.

Admonishing Canada on X, former Foreign Secretary Nirupama Menon Rao said, “Canada has an extremely spotty  and very, very poor record on the whole issue of Khalistanis in Canada. The support these lawless elements have received under the cover of  what is  called freedom of expression and democratic rights of citizens…it must control such elements with a firm hand and cannot allow them to run free to foster terrorism and violence in our country.”

Amid the hectic media coverage there was speculation that ‘Trudeau’s allegations have put the White House in an especially tight spot.’ But this were swifty checked by Adrienne Watson in her X post, “reports that we rebuffed Canada in any way on this are flatly false. We are coordinating and consulting with Canada closely on this issue.”

The manner in which copious evidence on Khalistan separatists handed over to the Canadian side have gone unaddressed and yet Trudeau’s allegation invoked strong reactions from other western nations, implies that this has moved beyond our bilaterals with Ottawa. It will have ramifications on how India deals with its strong G7 allies, especially the US.

For India the existence of Khalistani extremists and their alignment with organised crime in Canada poses security exigencies. India must at this juncture refrain from a broad generalisation of Sikh diaspora as secessionist, an incrimination that was implied during the Sikh-dominated farmers’ movement.

Political parties must rise above partisan politics over separatist movements that are a threat to nation security. Voices from Punjab attest that Khalistan supporters remain ‘fringe’ and ‘on the margins.’  Even among expatriate Sikh community leaders have challenged the anti-India narrative laid out by Khalistanis and their supporters, despite the fact that  they, and the community there, regularly face harassment and threats of violence from expatriate Khalistanis. Former Punjab Chief Minister Amarinder Singh states that Nijjar’s murder was the result of a factional feud within the management of the Guru Nanak Sikh Gurdwara situated at Surrey and that Trudeau had “walked into a trap owing to vote bank politics.”

New Delhi must ensure that overseas Sikh communities which have tried to counter pro-Khalistan disinformation shall not be left alone to defend themselves. 

Continue Reading


China and Venezuela Deepening Cooperation

Avatar photo



Image source: X @NicolasMaduro

In a significant development that underscores the changing dynamics of global politics and economics, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro recently signed several bilateral cooperation agreements in Beijing, highlighting the changing dynamics of world politics and economics. China’s determination to participate in partnerships that promote economic stability and prosperity demonstrates its unwavering commitment to global economic recovery.

The agreements signify a strengthening of their partnerships and span a variety of fields, including trade, the economy, and tourism. The cooperation has been upgraded to an “All-weather strategic partnership,” reflecting the continued dedication of both countries to the advancement and development of the other. The decision by China and Venezuela to strengthen their ties comes as the world is witnessing a transformation in international alliances and trade partnerships.

The economic collaboration between the two countries is one of the most significant aspects of this new era of partnership. The recent agreements are expected to further cement Venezuela’s ties with China, which has long been the country’s major trading partner.Investments in infrastructure development and oil and gas exploration and production are part of the cooperation in the energy industry.

During his visit to China, President Maduro expressed his optimism for the relationship’s future, stating it heralds the start of a “new era” for both nations. Venezuela, which has recently experienced economic difficulties, views China as a dependable ally that can aid in reviving its economy. China, on the other hand, sees Venezuela as a crucial friend in the region and a valuable supply of natural resources.

China and Venezuela’s energy cooperation has broad implications. As the globe grapples with concerns about energy security and climate change, this alliance might have a big impact on the global energy landscape. China’s investments in Venezuela’s oil sector can stabilize oil prices and provide a more consistent supply of crude oil to the global market.

Aside from the energy industry, both countries have pledged to deepen their collaboration in a variety of other economic areas. Venezuela can benefit from China’s expertise in agricultural technologies and infrastructural development in one area. Venezuela may enhance food production and reduce its reliance on imports by modernizing its agricultural sector with Chinese assistance, thereby increasing food security for its citizens.

Additionally, both countries have enormous potential in the tourism sector. Venezuela has incredible landscapes such as the famous Angel Falls and virgin Caribbean beaches, which may appeal to Chinese tourists looking for new travel experiences. Similarly, China’s rich history and culture have always captured the interest of visitors from all over the world, including Venezuelans. The tourist accords aim to make travel between the two countries easier, to foster cultural interaction, and to develop tourism-related enterprises.

Furthermore, the strengthened relationship extends beyond economic interests to include political and strategic considerations. Both countries have reaffirmed their commitment to mutual support in international forums and to no interference in the other’s internal affairs. This strategic partnership is consistent with China’s aim of establishing a multipolar world and strengthening cooperation across developing nations.

The collaboration between China and Venezuela should be seen in the larger Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) initiative. The BRI seeks to establish a network of economic and infrastructure partnerships across Asia, Europe, Africa, and Latin America. A deeper integration of Venezuela into China’s global economic vision through its participation in the BRI could create new trade and investment opportunities.

The potential for economic development in Venezuela is one of the most notable benefits of the China-Venezuela cooperation. In recent years, the South American country has suffered severe economic issues, including high inflation, financial sanctions, and political unrest. China’s investments and assistance can help stabilize Venezuela’s economy, generate jobs, and raise inhabitants’ living standards.

The China-Venezuela connection is a key milestone in the shifting global political and economic landscape. In a changing world order, this partnership has the potential to provide Venezuela with economic prosperity, stability, as well as greater autonomy.

Continue Reading