The brutal Russia-Ukraine war threatening to go on for “as long as it takes” is believed to be why Finland and Sweden sought NATO membership. On the day NATO leaders gathered in Madrid, a retired US Army Lt. Col. called the move “a US mistake.” Some critics in the West also reckon expanding NATO is not only “bad news for America,” it is more a threat than a boost to Europe. Besides, as US and NATO celebrate the two Nordic countries losing their neutrality, Biden’s claims have come under scrutiny that the two states are willingly entering the Organization.
The news from Madrid was that NATO has formalized its invitation to Sweden and Finland to join the security alliance. The only delay in the way of the two Nordic countries joining the security bloc within a year or less from now is the 30-member countries’ parliaments ratifying the Madrid decision. Describing the decision as NATO’s most consequential enlargement in decades, the global media chose to downplay the move which potentially might turn Europe into a dangerous rather than safer place. Comments such as “NATO brought war into Ukraine, NATO membership expansion might push Europe into war,” are now commonplace in the major European capitals, as also in Washington.
What is NATO?
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), also called the North Atlantic Alliance, is an intergovernmental military alliance founded by 12 countries in Washington, D.C., on April 4, 1949. During the Cold War, the purpose of the US-led European security alliance was to defend its member states against the perceived threat from the Soviet Union. Following the dissolution of the USSR in 1991, not only the alliance was not dissolved, it instead further expanded its membership and military operations. It now has 30 member states – 28 in Europe and the United States and Canada.
In the post-Cold War years, analysts in Europe as well as in the US have argued that following its main security threat the Soviet Union gone, there was no rationale for NATO to continue and therefore it should be disbanded. However, in the ensuing years not only has the alliance increasingly come to be seen as no longer defensive, but it has been carrying out military operations in the Balkans, the Middle East, South Asia, and Africa. In China, analysts and foreign ministry officials now refer to the world’s most powerful military alliance as “global NATO.” Or, as Professor John Mearsheimer says: “It is a totally false account that the crisis in Ukraine is largely the result of Russian aggression. The United States and its European allies are mainly responsible for the crisis. The taproot of the trouble is NATO expansion.”
NATO-ization of Finland: A Threat or Boost to Europe
Welcoming the two Nordic countries into the NATO family, President Biden had said in May, “NATO is an alliance of choice, not coercion.” As if endorsing Biden’s above statement, Swedish Prime Minister Magdalena Andersson too emphasized: “I must say that Sweden has chosen a new path at a moment.” However, the truth is something entirely different. According to reports, efforts to bring Finland and Sweden into NATO were going on for months before the Russia-Ukraine conflict occurred in February.
Speaking of expanded NATO membership and Europe’s shared security, Biden said in Madrid, “Putin thought he could break the transatlantic alliance. [Putin] wanted the Finlandization of NATO. He got the NATO-ization of Finland.” Well, for starters, the term “Finlandization” entered the German political debate during the 1960s and 1970s and it referred to the decision of a country – modeled on Finland’s – not to challenge a more powerful neighbor in foreign policy.
Besides, it is now generally acknowledged in the West that by invading Ukraine, the Russian leader has “successfully” managed his “own goal.” Or in other words, an immediate short-term fallout for Russia – with a huge and irreversible specific military consequence – of Sweden and Finland’s swift decision to join the military alliance for Russia is the additional eight hundred miles of border with NATO. As Susan B. Glasser wrote in her New Yorker column that the two Nordic states will bring in two additional militaries that are among the most capable in Europe. “This will enhance the prospect of the alliance being able to bottle up the Baltic Sea and keep the Russians from coming out,” she added.
On the other hand, for both NATO and Europe, there is an urgent need to overcome immediate challenges such as overcoming fissures in the alliance and forging political unity “against Russia among major European powers including Germany, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, etc. Or else, as forewarned by several analysts, the embracing of two new members “would increase instead of lowering the chances of war on one hand, and would increase the risk of future conflict for the entire alliance on the other.”
NATO Enlargement: What is at stake for the US?
In an attempt to put the “now hot, now cold” relationship between Russia and US-Europe in a historical perspective, the Polish scholar Dębski, cited above, called the Russia-NATO Foundation Act as the root cause of dramatic ups and downs between Russia and NATO. The Act, which today no one is talking about, was signed in 1997 between NATO and Russia and was essentially NATO’s political commitment to Moscow that it would not deploy substantial combat forces to the alliance’s new member states. Even as the brutal war rages on in Ukraine, like in the past when Russia assaulted Georgia and annexed Crimea respectively, the NATO establishment at the Madrid summit made all concerted efforts to protect the Foundation Act.
In a June 29 statement, the White House claimed all NATO decisions at Madrid were made in the spirit of the Foundation Act. However, commentators are claiming that when some alliance members in Madrid asked that the Act be denounced, the response was a compromise formula, i.e. “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Such indecisiveness or miscalculated signals from NATO to Russia could mean more war for Europe. [My emphasis]
Indeed, the decision of the two Nordic countries to embrace NATO has received an overwhelmingly positive response in both Europe and the US. However, no one knows what further risks for Europe are in place coming from Russia (with currently only 6% of its borders with NATO) which is already feeling threatened and encircled by the existing 30-member NATO. Within days of Sweden’s announcement to abandon neutrality the Swedish capital was turned into a “naval garrison” with the arrival of the US amphibious battle group consisting of assault ships, etc. What is one to make of what are the security implications for Europe as the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Mark Milley, standing atop the assault ship USS Kearsarge, declared the US intention to make the Baltic Sea a “NATO lake”?
Furthermore, viewed against a former US Army Lt. Col. Daniel L. Davis saying “Enlarging NATO might seem a wise thing, [but] adding more members is likely to have the opposite effect,” what does the claim that the Russian military aggression has “remade” US-European relations mean after all? Interestingly, according to a US political affairs analyst, even long-term supporters of US and European security concerns are apprehensive about NATO’s 31st and 32nd members. The analyst cited the former US State Department policy planning director Anne-Marte Slaughter as saying “[But] a weak and humiliated Russia is a dangerous Russia. Putin may well be able to stay in power even longer on the strength of ‘the foreign enemy’ encroaching on Russia’s borders.”
To conclude, not only within Europe but opinions even in Sweden are at variance on whether NATO membership expansion will escalate tensions with Russia. “Joining NATO would be preparing for war,” Gabriella Irsten of the Swedish Peace and Arbitration Society has stated. It is no use denying that Finland and Sweden’s simultaneous declaration to join NATO has sparked off the fiercest debate in Europe since the end of the Cold War about NATO’s mission. The ongoing debate has once again brought back what one of NATO’s early critics had warned its European member states way back in the concluding years of the past century.
In an Op-Ed for the NYT in 1997, George F. Kennan wrote: “NATO expansion after the Soviets’ demise would be the most fateful error of American policy in the entire post-Cold War era.” Now that the two Nordic countries’ NATO membership is almost granted, imagine which way Europe would transform, especially for Finland post-NATOization, recall what Liana Fix and Michael Kimmage had warned us about in the Foreign Affairs just a few days before Russia launched military attack on Ukraine on February 24: What if Russia wins?
U.S. Sanctions and Russia’s Weapon Systems: A New Game in the Quest of High-Tech Microchip
Modern warfare places a great deal of emphasis on semiconductors and microchips because they are the fundamental building blocks for a wide range of military technology, such as drones, radios, missiles, and armored vehicles. Russia has consistently used modern weapons in its military operations against Ukraine since the start of the war between Russia and Ukraine in 2022, thereby prolonging the ongoing war.
In the year 2022, Moscow initiated a comprehensive military intervention in Ukraine, while the nation of Russia saw an increase in the importation of semiconductor technology, with a value of $2.5 billion, compared to $1.8 billion in the preceding year of 2021. Microprocessors originating from Western countries are used in smartphones and laptops, which are progressively being integrated into Russia’s military inventory. Moscow has been procuring a higher quantity of superior Western technology by using intermediate nations, such as China.
The Russian military incorporates a diverse range of foreign-manufactured components throughout its 27 advanced military systems. These systems include various technologies such as cruise missiles, communications systems, and electronic warfare complexes. A significant majority, exceeding two-thirds, of the foreign constituents detected in Russian military equipment may be traced back to corporations based in the United States. Additionally, a portion of these components are sourced from Ukraine, as well as other allied nations like Japan and Germany. Russia continues to successfully import the essential Western-manufactured components required for its military operations. Nevertheless, the influx of microchips into Russia continues via trade lines through China, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, and other nations, contributing to the expansion of the country’s prewar inventories.
China is the primary supplier of microchips and other technological components used in critical military equipment to Russia. This represents a substantial increase compared to the same period in 2021 when Chinese sellers accounted for just 33% of the imports. Furthermore, Moscow has seen a notable rise in its imports from nations situated in the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the Middle East. In 2022, there was a notable increase in exports to Russia from Georgia, Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan. This rise mostly consisted of automobiles, airplanes, and warships, which played a key role in driving the overall growth. Simultaneously, there was an increase in exports from the European Union and the United Kingdom to these nations, although their direct commerce with Russia saw a significant decline.
The increasing trade flows have led Western partners to advocate for expanding the number of countries participating in sanctions or imposing secondary restrictions on specific companies operating inside those countries to suppress Russia’s military capabilities. In June 2023, the European Union implemented a fresh set of sanctions that include an anti-circumvention mechanism aimed at limiting the trade, provision, or export of specifically sanctioned commodities and technology to certain third nations serving as intermediaries for Russia. In addition, the aforementioned package expanded the roster of corporations that directly endorse Russia’s military by including 87 newly incorporated entities across several nations, including China, the United Arab Emirates, and Armenia. Furthermore, it imposed limitations on the sale of 15 specific technological goods that are often found in Russian military apparatus deployed in Ukraine.
The use of microchips originating from the United States is contributing to the enhancement of Russia’s military capabilities, even amidst the ongoing war between Russia and Ukraine, facilitated via clandestine channels including intermediate nations like China. American technological companies like Intel, Micron Technology, Texas Instruments, and others produce a portion of these microchips. The United States and other Western countries have put restrictions in place to make it more difficult for Russia to trade certain technologies.
While the Russia-Ukraine war is ongoing, Hong Kong ranked as the second-largest exporter of microchips to Russia in terms of monetary value and as the third-largest exporter in terms of transaction volume. In 2022, Finland ranked as the fifth-largest supplier of microchips to Russia in terms of dollar value and Germany ranked as the third-most significant supplier of microchips to Russia in terms of dollar value and held the fifth position in terms of the number of transactions conducted. Germany is a significant supplier of semiconductor equipment to the Russian market. In 2022, the Netherlands and Estonia held the position of being the fourth-largest exporters of microchips to Russia in terms of dollar value. ASML Holding NV, a prominent Dutch company, is globally recognized as the foremost provider of lithography equipment, a critical component in the production of sophisticated microchips.
Subsequently, the United States has implemented sanctions on Russia, which include prohibiting the shipment of American semiconductors, as well as items manufactured using American equipment, software, and designs, to Russia. The United States has engaged in collaborative efforts with its allied nations, including the European Union, Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom, Canada, and New Zealand, to effectively enforce such limitations. The United States Commerce Secretary has issued a warning over the potential termination of Chinese firm’s access to essential American technology required for chip manufacturing in the event of their non-compliance with the ban on chip supply to Russia. The United States has also called upon China to participate in international endeavors aimed at exerting pressure on Russia to withdraw from Ukraine. The United States employs diverse methodologies to oversee and trace the transportation of chip shipments that have the potential to reach Russia.
The sanctions imposed on Russia have had a substantial and diverse effect on its military capability. To develop modern weapons, Russia is heavily dependent on purchasing a variety of high-tech goods from Western nations, such as microchips, engines, composite materials, and semiconductor machinery. The implementation of Western sanctions has limited Russia’s ability to produce and maintain its modern military hardware, including aircraft, missiles, drones, tanks, and radar systems. Russia’s military-industrial complex, which includes more than 800 businesses engaged in defense and related industries, is largely responsible for the country’s defense capabilities. Western sanctions have been imposed on several companies, including Rostec, Mikron, Tactical Missiles Corporation, Sukhoi, MiG, and Kalashnikov Concern. The implementation of these sanctions has resulted in the cessation of their ability to get funding, access technological advancements, and engage in market activities, leading to a decline in their overall financial gains and profitability.
The Russian economy and energy industry exhibit a significant reliance on the exportation of oil and gas to Western countries. The industries have also been subject to Western sanctions, which have imposed limitations on their ability to access financial markets, technology, and services. This resulted in a decrease in their ability to produce new weapons. Additionally, this has led to a decline in the government’s foreign exchange reserves, both of which are essential for funding its military activities and defense expenditures. Also, these sanctions have resulted in the isolation of Russia from the international community since they have curtailed Russia’s ability to engage in diplomatic, political, and security collaborations with other nations. Russia’s influence and power in regional and international affairs have decreased, which has also made it more vulnerable to pressures and challenges from abroad. Furthermore, this has undermined Russia’s perceived credibility and standing as a dependable and trustworthy collaborator.
In conclusion, the imposition of Western sanctions has effectively sent a resolute and unified message from Western nations in reaction to Russia’s aggressive actions against Ukraine. However, there is little proof that these sanctions have caused Putin to behave differently or withdraw from Ukraine. Hence, the efficacy of the imposed restrictions in restraining Russia’s military aspirations remains uncertain.
Three Sahelian Interim Military Leaders Sign Security Pact
Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger have taken an admirable strategic step by signing trilateral security pact in collective efforts to battle extremism and terrorism threats in the Sahel region. It is an opportunity, especially this critical moment, to work relentless for peace and tranquility, a necessary factor that could determine their sustainable development.
These three Sahel states are under the interim military administration. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the 15-member regional bloc, has put political pressure on them to return to constitutional democracy since after removing the elected civilian governments. The African Union (AU) and the ECOWAS have jointly suspended their membership, and further imposed stringent sanctions on them.
Backed by the AU, ECOWAS has even gone as far as threatening the use of force to reinstate constitutional governance in Niger. In response, Mali and Burkina Faso have solemnly pledged to extend their support to Niger if it is eventually attacked by ECOWAS Standby Forces. Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger also have considerable strain on their relationships with neighboring states and international partners.
Nevertheless, in a significant development on September 16th, three West African Sahel states came together to ink a security pact. Currently grappling with formidable challenges of combating Islamic insurgents associated with groups like al Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS), this accord offers the possibility to tackle any rebellion or external aggression.
The security pact, known as the Alliance of Sahel States (ASS), unequivocally indicated that an assault on the sovereignty or territorial integrity of any of its signatory nations would be deemed an aggression against all parties involved. The agreement outlined their unwavering commitment to provide assistance, either individually or collectively, and further categorically stipulated the deployment of armed forces.
The signed charter binds the signatories to assist one another – including militarily – in the event of an attack on any one of them. “Any attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of one or more contracting parties shall be considered as an aggression against the other parties and shall give rise to a duty of assistance… including the use of armed force to restore and ensure security,” it states.
Malian leader, Col. Assimi Goita, announced the establishment of the Alliance of Sahel States through his social media account. He emphasized their primary objectives of establishing a framework for collective defense and mutual assistance. Its aim is to “establish an architecture of collective defence and mutual assistance for the benefit of our populations”, he wrote.
The Liptako-Gourma region – where the Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger borders meet – has been ravaged by jihadism in recent years. A jihadist insurgency that erupted in northern Mali in 2012 spread to Niger and Burkina Faso in 2015.
“This alliance will be a combination of military and economic efforts between the three countries. Our priority is the fight against terrorism in the three countries,” Mali’s Defence Minister Abdoulaye Diop also said after the signing the document.
Mali and Burkina Faso have vowed to come to Niger’s aid if it is attacked. “Any attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of one or more contracted parties will be considered an aggression against the other parties,” according to the charter of the pact, known as the Alliance of Sahel States.
The three French-speaking West Africa states were previously members of the France-backed G5 Sahel alliance joint force, (with with Chad and Mauritania) initiated in 2017 to combat Islamist extremist groups in the region. However, Mali withdrew from this alliance following its own military coup, and relations between France and these three Sahel states have severely deteriorated. France has been compelled to withdraw its military presence from Mali and Burkina Faso, leading to a tense standoff with the junta that assumed power in Niger after requesting the withdrawal of French troops and its ambassador. France has firmly declined to recognize the authority of the interim military governments.
The situation in the Sahel region including Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger still remains extremely difficult with internal conflicts, extremism and militant attacks, economic development is undeniably at its lowest points in history. In fact, Sahelian states are consistently looking for strategic ways to effectively address the sustainable development in the region. These three French-speaking states and the entire Sahel region are the most volatile and have large impoverished population in Africa.
The African Union, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the European Union (EU), the United States and the United Nations (UN) are all asking for quick transition to civilian governments, and that efforts are taken to resolve outstanding issues relating to sustainable development and observing strictly principles of democracy in these French-speaking states in West Africa.
Depleting Water Resources and Growing Risks of Water Wars
Climate change, often regarded as byproduct of modern industrial society, has gradually transformed into a challenge with global ramification. The most concerning factor regarding climate change is the unpredictable nature of consequences it can cause. One of the grave impacts of climate change is the depleting fresh water resources available to humanity. The Earth’s surface is predominantly covered with water, accounting for approximately 70 percent of its total area. Within this vast water coverage, a staggering 97 percent is composed of saltwater found in the Earth’s oceans while only 3 percent is fresh water. This 3 percent is distributed among various sources, with the majority, approximately 69 percent, residing in glaciers and about 30 percent is situated underground. The remaining fraction, less than 1 percent, can be found in lakes, rivers, and swamps. This suggests that mere 0.33 percent of planet’s fresh water is directly available to humanity and other animal life forms. To put into perspective, if the world’s water supply was 100 liters, then usable fresh water supply would be mere 0.003 litre (one-half teaspoon approximately).
According to the United Nations, by 2025, two-thirds of the global population could be living under water-stressed conditions and around 1.8 billion people will be living in areas with absolute water stress. The depletion of fresh water sources is generating friction between nations and thus increasing the risks of water wars in vulnerable regions.
Conflict over water is not a new phenomenon and over 1298 conflicts over water have been recorded in human history. In modern times, factors like climate change, expansion of population, and shrinkage of water sources have further increased the likelihood of water-conflicts. There are growing concerns that the competition over water sources will yield conflicts between nations in near future. There are four regions in particularly, including South Asia, Central Asia, Middle East, and North-East Africa, which are highly vulnerable to water induced conflicts. Besides suffering from water scarcity, these regions are under-developed and have history of political instability and mutual hostilities.
Perhaps the biggest flash point of water wars is South Asia, or more specifically India and Pakistan. Both nations, being the second and fifth most populated countries in world, are overwhelming dependent on rivers emerging from Himalayan Glaciers. These glaciers, located in territorially disputed Kashmir region, have the most snow covered land area after Antarctica and Arctic. Melting of ice due to global warming on one side has increased the intensity of Glacial Lake Outburst Floods (GLOF), while on other side it has significantly reduced the volume of frozen water deposits in Himalayan region.
The Indus Water Treaty (1960), which delineates the sharing of the Indus River’s waters between the two nations, has historically maintained a fragile equilibrium. However, with growing shortage of fresh water and subsequent construction of new dams by India at Indus upstream, occasional tensions and lack of co-operation regarding treaty have been observed between New Delhi and Islamabad. With disputed Kashmir region still awaiting resolution, any water-crisis can further exacerbate already strained relations between both nuclear armed neighbors. Under current circumstances, it’s highly probable that South Asian region will be at the verge of water-war in near future if both nations failed to undertake credible Confidence Building Measures (CBMs) regarding water resources.
In Central Asia, the climate change, coupled with growing populations, has also intensified competition over shared water resources. The construction of upstream dams by Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan on Amu Darya and Syr Darya rivers, under the rubric of hydroelectric development, has raised concerns about downstream water availability for Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan. The drying-up of Aral Sea and gradual reduction of water in Caspian Sea is exacerbating the water-crisis further. Similarly, the fertile land of densely populated Ferghana Valley, known for its near perfect faming conditions, is now heading towards desertification primarily due to global warming. Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan converge in this valley which is gradually becoming a flash-point for water-based conflict. In April 2021, a border clash erupted between Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan over dispute of irrigation water distribution. The conflict killed 40 people and displaced more than 30,000 residents. The confrontation stopped after Russia led diplomatic settlement but the core issue still persists.
With 61 percent population living in high water stress areas, Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is the most water scare region in the world. Approximately 60 percent of fresh water resources in MENA region flows across international border, and thus is source of political tensions between states already suffering from water scarcity and political instability. Against this backdrop, Euphrates and Tigris Rivers which are critical source of water for Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran, have strained relations since 1960. Factors like erratic weather patterns, global warming, increasing population, and uncoordinated water management projects, are diminishing fresh water availability in Euphrates-Tigris basin. Instead of crafting a equitable and sustainable trans-border agreement for countering water deficiency, the four riparian stated have securitized water relations with neighboring countries. As a result, the risk of regional water-induced conflicts has increased substantially.
Moreover, militancy in region has also significantly contributed in intensification of water related crisis. For example, in 2014, attempts by ISIS to use Mosel Dam at Tigris River in Iraq for Hydro-Terrorism was also timely thwarted by security forces and a major water-disaster was successfully averted. Similarly, few months ago a border conflict ignited between security forces of Iran and Afghanistan in Zabu district of Sistan. The major cause of military clash was distribution of Helmand River water which flows from Afghanistan into Iran. Being among the most effected region of climate changes, both nations are vulnerable to frequent and intense droughts. Persistence of political instability and lack of co-operation has undermined the prospects of resolution of water issue in these regions.
In North-East Africa, the Nile water crisis has the potential to ignite a multifaceted conflict involving Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan due to their overwhelming dependence on the Nile River’s waters. Ethiopia’s construction of the controversial Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) has raised concerns in Egypt and Sudan as both are concerned over potential reductions in downstream water flow. In particular, Egypt, historically reliant on the Nile’s waters, views the GERD as a direct threat to its water security. In recent past, Egypt has even threatened military action against GERD if Ethiopia fails to address Cairo’s concerns. Despite several negotiation efforts, these African nations have failed to agree on a mutually acknowledged framework regarding distribution of Nile water.
Israel is often regarded as benchmark for overcoming the shortage of fresh water. Once a country suffering from acute fresh water shortage, Israel now has ample fresh water availability to meet the domestic, agricultural and industrial requirements. Israel achieved this fate by building robust water Desalination infrastructure. However, Israel’s example cannot be used as a template for highly populated regions with varying geopolitical and demographic dynamics.
Technological advancements have provided new solutions for conservation of new water resources. Beside desalination, many similar water conservation technologies like, drip irrigation, fog & rain water harvesting, nano-filtration, and aquifer recharge etc. have been developed to extract, purify, and store fresh water. However, adaptation of these technologies on national scale is very expensive and, therefore, beyond the economic capacity of majority of developing nations.
Abruptly changing weather patterns are disturbing water cycle and rapidly declining availability of fresh water. The intensifying water scarcity can potentially act as conflict flashpoint with far reaching consequences. Therefore, it’s crucial that international society should realize the magnitude of problem and adapt to the changing realities of a warming planet. Collaborative efforts are essential to; undertaking scientific research for finding affordable and innovative technological solutions, water diplomacy for establishing effective water-sharing agreements, and adopting water-saving practices for sustainability of fresh water resources. If humanity fails to timely resolve this issue, it will not only undermine the global strategic stability, but will also threaten our existence as modern civilization.
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