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The Wagner Group and the Evolving Global Threat of Private Military Companies

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Amid the rise of great power competition, Russia and China, near peer competitors to the United States, have been working to advance their technology, economic power, and military prowess in order to attain the number one position in the post-Cold War international system. After the September 11th attacks, the United States underwent a major shift toward a focus on combating terrorism and violent extremism. Nevertheless, the prospects of Chinese and Russian power continued to linger in U.S. security dialogue and remained among the top U.S. national security priorities. Amid the War in Ukraine, the Wagner Group has gained significant attention due to their active involvement in fighting for the Russian state. The Wagner Group is a private military company (PMC), and not officially a proponent of Russia’s military. Despite their widespread usage, private military companies are prohibited by Russian law (Bowen). The Wagner Group’s criminal activity and their subsequent emergence as an “army with an ideological component” (Cook) shows the threat convergence of both terrorism and great power competition. China remains an active user of private military companies. However, there is little information regarding China’s present use, and prospective future use of private military companies. The developments surrounding the Wagner Group indicate that change and action may be needed regarding the use of these private armies, and to ultimately prevent their misuse. In a multipolar world, the activities of the Wagner Group represent an evolving transnational threat in the use of private military companies.

Private Military Companies have a long history and were used extensively during Medieval times. “The Middle Ages were a mercenary heyday. Nearly half of William the Conqueror’s army in the 11th century was made up of hired swords, as he could not afford a large standing army and there was not enough nobles and knights to accomplish the Norman conquest of England. King Henry II of England engaged mercenaries to suppress the great rebellion of 1171-1174” (McFate 11). Europe during this period was harbored with mercenaries. “Medieval Europe was a hot conflict market, and mercenaries were how wars were fought. Kings, city states, wealthy families, the church—anyone rich enough—could hire an army to wage war for whatever reason they wanted: honor, survival, god, theft, revenge, or amusement” (McFate 11-12). After the Peace of Westphalia was signed, states monopolized control over mercenary forces and mostly outlawed their use (McFate 14-15). According to McFate (14), “Rogue mercenary units and the destruction of the Thirty Years’ War proved too greats, and state rulers began investing in their own standing armies, loyal only to them.”

The problems associated with private military companies in the past have trickled into the present day. According to McFate (15), “Mercenaries did not go extinct but were driven underground. Lone soldiers of fortune bounced between geopolitical hot spots and were secretly hired by rebel groups, weak governments, multinational corporations, and states. The decolonialization that followed World War II offered rich opportunities for these private warriors, especially in Africa.” According to McFate (15), the most widely accepted definition of a mercenary, which can be found in Article 47 of Protocol I to the Geneva Conventions, is difficult to use. “The characterization of a mercenary is so restrictive yet imprecise that anyone can wiggle out of it” (McFate 16). The use of these private forces has been expanding quickly. “Private force is manifesting everywhere. After 150 years underground, the market for force is returning in just a few decades and is growing at an alarming rate” (McFate 6).  The Wagner Group and its activities represent the overwhelmingly negative implications that come with the use of private security companies.

Although it has garnered attention through the War in Ukraine, the roots of the Wagner Group can be traced back before the Russian Annexation of Crimea in 2014 (Bowen). Before the annexation, Russia experimented with the use of private military companies. “According to media reports, Wagner evolved out of earlier Russian PMC outfits, including groups operating in Syria in 2013. During this time, Russia was experimenting with PMCs, including their role and relationship to the state” (Bowen). Notably, Russia did not make use of these private networks as much in Crimea. Instead, they stuck mostly with conventional military. In eastern Ukraine, however, the situation was different. “In Crimea, Russia achieved quick success through direct application of military power, while in Eastern Ukraine, its leadership took an entirely different approach” (Kofman et al. 75). According to Kofman (75), “Moscow leveraged private networks, some with their own agents, in the hopes of accomplishing this goal at low cost and with plausible deniability.” Similarly, Russia also used oligarchs and elites to aid deniability. “It made sense for Russia to use private networks of individuals, such as Malofeev, and their connections in Ukraine to achieve its objectives while maintaining deniability” (Kofman et a. 60). The investment in such mercenaries and oligarchies was thought to be difficult to control. As such, it was argued that Russia would refrain from using these irregular forces in the future:

Russia had too few of its own operatives in Ukraine at the onset of the conflict, especially given the size of the geography. It was not able to control the leaders and irregulars that it had sponsored—powerful personalities with their own ideology and interpersonal conflicts. In the future, Russia may avoid this approach in favor of covert action, backed

by conventional forces, which worked in Crimea. By employing paramilitaries, mercenaries, and ideologues, Russia invested in a mess instead of a constructive means to achieve political objectives. Despite several prominent assassinations and dismissals, the conglomeration of personalities and agendas continues to plague the present-day separatist republics. (Kofman et al. 64)

Russian use of private military companies in the present shows that they did not avoid this approach. The PMC was also reported to be involved with Russia and their operations in Syria (Bowen). Then, Wagner Group would spread to several other countries in Africa. Aside from the profits incurred from providing security services, the Wagner Group’s presence in Africa was for an even greater purpose due to their unofficial affiliation with the Russian state.

According to Kofman et al. (65), “Weak states often have powerful nonstate actors and vested interests. Russia’s periphery is replete with countries with weak national governments and without functioning institutions but with strong networks of undemocratic elites who could offer surprising resistance.” The case of Africa supports this. The Wagner Group in Africa follows a scheme in which resource rich states, particularly ones with weak governance, are targeted for the extraction of resources and the projection of Russian influence, in exchange for their protection. According to Fasanotti, “Russian President Vladimir Putin also seeks to create African dependencies on Moscow’s military assets and access African resources, targeting countries that have fragile governments but are often rich in important raw materials, such as oil, gold, diamonds, uranium, and manganese.” In the Central African Republic, this influence is evident. The government in the Central African Republic recently required university students to learn the Russian language (Flanagan). With these special deals, Wagner forces have gotten away with a myriad of human rights violations. These abuses have been committed primarily against civilian populations. “Wagner’s war crimes and human rights abuses in Mali are not an isolated case but rather the latest in an ongoing trend. In many of their past and ongoing deployments, Wagner has perpetrated a wide range of abuses against local civilian populations” (Doxsee & Thompson). The influence of the group in Mali remains present, with Malian authorities even refusing to allow anyone to investigate the atrocities:

Although reports of the massacre were met with international condemnation and calls for a UN investigation, including from the U.S. Department of State, the Malian junta has refused to grant access to Moura to investigators from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). Russia, for its part, blocked a proposed UN Security Council request for an independent investigation into the killings. Given the government’s complicity with atrocities, it is increasingly difficult for observers to document atrocities or to provide aid to survivors. (Doxsee & Thompson)

In the Central African Republic, Wagner forces also committed various human rights violations and atrocities. “From the time Wagner arrived in the country, its troops were implicated in crimes against local populations, including frequent rapes of teenage girls in villages near its operating bases. Wagner-linked atrocities in the CAR multiplied as PMC troops became increasingly involved in combat operations” (Doxsee & Thompson). In the CAR, they have been suspected of killing journalists. “Three journalists were killed before an attempt to film Wagner contractors at Lobaye Invest-operated gold mines in July 2020” (Parens). Officials have taken note of the effects of the Wagner presence on terrorism:

Speaking before the United Nations Security Council this month, James Kariuki, Britain’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations,  warned of the “destabilizing role the Wagner Group plays” in the Sahel, a conflict-ridden stretch of territory spanning western and north-central Africa, from Senegal to Sudan. Speaking of the Kremlin-linked private military contractor, Kariuki concluded, “They are part of the problem, not the solution. (Clarke)

In a sense, the human rights abuses by the Wagner Group and other actors have created a cycle. The Wagner Group would take the security role that the state forces lack and fight other violent nonstate actors. Civilians affected by Wagner abuses would be forced to join these other actors, such as terrorist organizations, continuing the conflict:

Civilians, faced with these predatory actors, will be increasingly forced to look elsewhere—such as toward communal militias and jihadists—for security and basic services. While jihadist groups such as Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) have similarly committed violence against civilians, they have also demonstrated an ability to construct political order, resolve land disputes, and offer protection to local populations. (Doxsee & Thompson)

Wagner Group’s criminal abuses has been shown to be a major destabilizing force in the continent of Africa. Because of these criminal acts, the Wagner Group, in late January 2023, was designated as a transnational criminal organization by the U.S. Department of the Treasury:

The Wagner Group has also meddled and destabilized countries in Africa, committing widespread human rights abuses and extorting natural resources from their people. Today, the Wagner Group is being redesignated pursuant to Executive Order (E.O.) 13581, as amended by E.O. 13863, for being a foreign person that constitutes a significant transnational criminal organization. Wagner personnel have engaged in an ongoing pattern of serious criminal activity, including mass executions, rape, child abductions,

and physical abuse in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Mali. (Treasury Sanctions) These sanctions come with the formal acknowledgement by Washington that Wagner operations are criminal in nature (Faulkner). Notably, the United States dismissed the idea of a foreign terrorist organization designation against the Wagner Group. “But a congressional aide, requesting anonymity to discuss sensitive conversations, told The Hill that the administration opposes the legislation over concerns it could impede U.S. efforts to convince and work with African nations to end their associations with or dependency on Wagner” (Kelly). The Wagner Group has shown to have parallels with terrorist and extremist groups. The Wagner Group uses the social media app Telegram to communicate with the public. Telegram has been notably used by other extremist groups (Williams et al. 11). Wagner has been allegedly documented in public executions, which were posted online via Telegram. (Ladden-Hall). The most notable confirmation of a terrorist intent within the Wagner Group came in March 2023, when the group’s founder, Yevgeny Prighozin, announced that the Wagner Group would be an “army with an ideological component” (Cook). These developments show that a private military company, which is commonly attributed as a group for-profit, has evolved into a group with a likening to a terrorist organization.

Vladimir Putin chose to allow the Wagner Group to fight for Russia in the War in Ukraine. However, Putin and the Russian government could seek to maintain deniability for illegal actions in the use of PMCs (Stronski). The use of a private military company like the Wagner Group supports this denial by obscuring Russian involvement. “Aggressors obscure involvement in an attack often by using ostensibly nonstate actors, such as private military companies, as well as through cyber operations that are difficult to attribute and sometimes reinforced by public statements of denial by officials” (Atwell et al. 114). The Wagner Group’s unique status may allow plausible deniability for Russia:

Wagner Group often overlaps with Russian state foreign policy aims, but its position as an independent contractor lends it unpredictability, while giving Russia plausible deniability. The group offers the Russian state a valuable tool: the ability to test new environments for military cooperation without appearing heavy-handed or overtly involved. (Parens)

Nevertheless, Russia had continued to take steps to conceal any involvement in suspicious casualties. Generally, Russian military officials have refused to acknowledge the number of casualties that have resulted at the hands of Russian private military companies (Stronski).

Efforts have been made to uncover suspicious activity, particularly by journalists. There are cases of suspicious deaths of journalists covering these sensitive topics:

Russian official media present the military campaign in Syria as an unqualified success conducted with virtually no casualties. (Independent media outlets have covered the subject at significant risk: several Russian investigative journalists reporting on Russian PMCs have died under suspicious circumstances.) There are also credible reports that Wagner personnel have been involved in atrocities, including the torture and dismemberment of Syrian citizens. The lack of official affiliation with the Russian government allows Moscow to keep responsibility for such crimes at arm’s length. (Stronski)

Vladimir Putin may pursue plausible deniability, but their suspicious involvement in potential cover-ups should open a door for intergovernmental organizations and the governments of PMC host countries to lawfully act to investigate the casualties. International regulations or agreements might be needed to establish requirements for host countries to allow investigations of human rights violations prohibited by international law.

China, like Russia, banned private military companies, but private security companies (PSCs) have remained legal and become widespread (Markusen). “While China explicitly forbids PMCs, China legalized PSCs in September 2009. Since then, Chinese PSCs have rapidly proliferated, increasingly obscuring the line between security and military services” (Markusen). According to Weinbaum, “The distinction between a PMC versus a PSC is the difference between a for-hire military contractor versus a security team that merely protects a single static location, like a military base, embassy, or port.” China has multiple potential uses for private security companies. Protection became necessary for Chinese workers after they were repeatedly attacked:

On August 11, nine Chinese workers were killed in a blast in Pakistan, the latest in the string of attacks targeting Chinese citizens. The incident highlighted the vulnerability of Chinese nationals and assets abroad and the need to improve protection and security for workers in foreign countries. As a solution, China has come to see private military companies (PMC) as an eminently necessary tool. (Avdaliani)

Moreover, their services may be used to support the Belt and Road Initiative, a large economic project. “Therefore, finding a niche is as much an economic effort as it is a geopolitical one. Thus far, Chinese PSCs have found a market in the countries which are closely related to the BRI” (Avdaliani). In terms of great power competition, China may also use private military companies to for power projection:

As the United States is decreasing its military presence across the Eurasian landmass, this opens up the space for China’s projection of power into regions like Afghanistan and the Middle East. Expansion of influence brings risks on the ground and the need for the use of PMC rapid operations in the face of the absence of central governments’ proper security services. (Avdaliani)

Just like Russia in Africa, the lack of an adequate government with a stable security force may serve the same benefits to China. The only known Chinese action in managing private military companies is that they are a signer to the Montreux Document. Importantly, the document is “not a legally binding instrument” (The Montreux 9). This makes the document more like a guide, with no real penalty if a signer is found in violation. “Contracting States have an obligation to provide reparations for violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law caused by wrongful conduct of the personnel of PMSCs when such conduct is attributable to the Contracting States in accordance with the customary international law of State responsibility” (The Montreux 12). With plausible deniability, China may still deny if any actions of Chinese PSCs are in violation of international humanitarian law.

As the world may become multipolar, with multiple powerful state actors competing against each other, Russian and Chinese investments in private military companies raise concern for U.S. and global security. As such, measures may be needed both at the national and international level to ensure that private military companies, if not outlawed, are used properly and with complete regard to international law. The United States State Department should follow European counterparts and designate the Wagner Group as a Foreign Terrorist Organization. “Wagner’s designation would inhibit Russia’s ability to expand its international influence as the group wields terror all too effectively to advance Russian strategic interests. Designating Wagner would counter Russia’s continued violation of international norms and help protect innocent citizens around the globe” (Urban & Downing). Additionally, more research and study may be needed to examine the ideological motivations of Wagner recruits, Yevgeny Prighozin, and other Wagner financiers.

The United States should engage with international partners to discuss the expanding use, and misuse, of private military companies. At the international level, a binding document regulating private military companies may be ultimately needed to ensure that these companies are not used for any of these negative purposes. This may be created by an intergovernmental organization, such as the United Nations. The United States and other “Big Five” members should lead the effort to enact regulation. Additionally, trusted diplomats should convene with the governments of PMC host countries to help decrease their reliance on these destabilizing violent non-state actors. Most importantly, full accountability is needed when private military companies commit crimes and abuses. Russian officials and oligarchs, and host country governments that are complicit in Wagner’s abuses have evidently not been properly handled diplomatically. Because Russia may be expected to continue with plausible deniability, new international regulations may be needed to allow investigators into countries that are accused of turning a blind eye on abuses committed by private security forces. While the Montreaux Document provides decent guidance, it does not have any force of law. As such, a new, binding agreement on PMCs might be needed as they become more widespread.

As mentioned, states had outlawed the use of private security companies due to the mess and bloodshed that resulted from their use. Based on their activities in the present, it can be reasonably argued that the deadly history of private armies has continued to repeat itself. Only now, private military companies have evolved to do the bidding of powerful state actors. And, in the case of the Wagner Group, they have shown that they can be motivated by ideology, and not just by profit. Action is needed to reveal the deadly consequences of widespread PMC misuse, and to ultimately hold mercenaries, financiers, and state sponsors accountable.

Works Cited

Avdaliani, Emil. “For China, Private Military Companies Are the Future.” The National Interest, The Center for the National Interest, 8 Nov. 2021, private-military-companies-are-future-195772.

Bowen, Andrew S. “Russia’s Wagner Private Military Company (PMC).” CRS Reports, Congressional Research Service, 13 Mar. 2023, Clarke, Colin. “How Russia’s Wagner Group Is Fueling Terrorism in Africa.” Foreign Policy, 25 Jan. 2023, mali-sudan-central-african-republic-prigozhin/.

Cook, Ellie. “Wagner Group Has Ambitious Plans beyond Bakhmut.” Newsweek, Newsweek, 13 Mar. 2023, russia-yevgeny-prigozhin-1787137.

Doxsee, Catrina, and Jared Thompson. “Massacres, Executions, and Falsified Graves: The Wagner Group’s Mounting Humanitarian Cost in Mali.” CSIS, 11 May 2022, mounting-humanitarian-cost-mali.

Fasanotti, Federica Saini. “Russia’s Wagner Group in Africa: Influence, Commercial Concessions, Rights Violations, and Counterinsurgency Failure.” Brookings, Brookings, 9 Mar. 2022, counterinsurgency-failure/.

Faulkner, Christopher, and Marcel Plichta. “How to Beat the Wagner Group.” Foreign Policy, 13 Feb. 2023, putin/.

Flanagan, Jane. “Central African Republic Introduces Mandatory Russian for University Students.” The Times & The Sunday Times: Breaking News & Today’s Latest Headlines, The Times, 30 Nov. 2021, introduces-mandatory-russian-for-university-students-nmpxsfxkb.

Kelly, Laura. “Congress Wants to Label Wagner Group as a Terrorist Organization. Why Is Biden Opposed?” The Hill, The Hill, 13 Mar. 2023, a-terrorist-organization-why-is-biden-opposed/.

Kofman, Michael, et al. “Lessons from Russia’s Operations in Ukraine.” RAND Corporation, 9 May 2017,

Ladden-Hall, Dan. “Putin’s Private Army Goes Full ISIS with Sledgehammer Execution Video.” The Daily Beast, The Daily Beast Company, 14 Nov. 2022, execution-video-praised-by-prigozhin?via=rss&source=articles_fancylink.

Markusen, Max. “A Stealth Industry: The Quiet Expansion of Chinese Private Security Companies.” CSIS, 12 Jan. 2022, expansion-chinese-private-security-companies.

McFate, Sean. Mercenaries and War: Understanding Private Armies Today. National Defense University Press, 4 Dec. 2019, monograph/mercenaries-and-war.pdf.

“The Montreux Document on Private Military and Security Companies.” International Committee of the Red Cross, 20 Dec. 2021, montreux-document-private-military-and-security-companies.

Parens, Raphael. “The Wagner Group’s Playbook in Africa: Mali.” Foreign Policy Research Institute, 8 Apr. 2022, in-africa-mali/.

Stronski, Paul. “Implausible Deniability: Russia’s Private Military Companies.” Implausible Deniability: Russia’s Private Military Companies – Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2 June 2020, military-companies-pub-81954.

“Treasury Sanctions Russian Proxy Wagner Group as a Transnational Criminal Organization.” U.S. Department of the Treasury, U.S. Department of the Treasury, 26 Jan.2023,

Urban, Madison, and Sara Downing. “The Wagner Group: Paramilitary Terrorism.” FDD, Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, 12 Oct. 2022,

Weinbaum, Cortney. “China’s Security Contractors Have Avoided the Fate of Russia’s Military Contractors, so Far.” RAND Corporation, 11 Mar. 2022, of.html.

Williams, Heather J., et al. “Understanding the Online Extremist Ecosystem.” RAND Corporation, 2 Dec. 2021,

Caleb M. Tall is a fourth year student at George Mason University. He will be graduating in May of 2023, earning a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Global Affairs with a Concentration in Global Governance and Human Security. During his education, he developed an interest in studying terrorism, transnational crime, and other critical transnational threats. He has a strong academic performance in upper-level undergraduate courses on terrorism, security policy, and other topics in international affairs.

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Can Pakistan’s Embattled Polity Act Against Militant Groups?

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Despite claims by the Pakistani military that it has cleared the erstwhile Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) region and other tribal areas in the northwest of militants, evidence suggests that jihadist movements in Pakistan such as the Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) are re-energised and emboldened.

The  alliance of militant networks  Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan has announced three new ‘administrative units’ and rising attacks indicate that they are regrouping not only in the tribal areas, but in other centres. The number of TTP administrative units has reached 12 in the country, out of which seven are in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, one in Gilgit-Baltistan, and two each in Balochistan and Punjab. The group seems intent on rebuilding its operational capacity by consolidating various factions, a development that will have security implications for the entire region.

Pakistan, which had been facilitating the Taliban’s return to power, in an effort to marginalise India and keep Indians out of Kabul, had hoped that the Afghan Taliban would use its fluence to persuade the TTP to curtail its attacks and become amenable to negotiations with the Pakistani state. Islamabad never imagined that neither the Afghan Taliban nor the Haqqani Network leaders, such as Mullah Omar and Sirajuddin Haqqani, would refuse to utilise clout to modify the conduct of the TTP. Pak military strategists reasoned that once the US forces withdraw from Afghanistan, the Taliban would lose their legitimacy to fight and when that comes to pass, they reckoned, the TTP would also lose whatever ideological legitimacy it has, because it had emerged from Pakistan’s role in the war on terror.

Rather both groups have maintained a mutually beneficial relationship, and the Afghan Taliban have not spoken directly about the TTP recently. Then in November last year, the ceasefire agreement between the  TTP and the Pakistan government collapsed and the banned outfit group stepped up attacks across the country. TTP’s leader, Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud, and spokesperson Muhammad Khurasani in their statements have attributed Pakistan’s problems of inflation and taxes, rising ethnic strife, and government mismanagement of natural disasters to the “the government’s cruel policies”, the corrupt practices of its civil and military leaders. This is testament that the Pakistani state has been ignoring the political drivers of the insurgency.

So, while the Pakistani government has been insisting that its sustained counterterrorism measures have rendered the TTP a fragmented and exhausted militant organisation, the latter appears to have reinvented itself becoming more potent. This year till August, more than 200 Pakistani military officers and soldiers  have been killed in escalating terror violence, especially in the districts near or along the Afghan border where militant ambushes and raids against security forces become daily occurrences. Remarking on the August 31 attack at a military convoy in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa’s Bannu district, in which nine soldiers were killed, Pakistan’s caretaker prime minister Anwaar-ul-Haq Kakar said that  militant groups are carrying out frequent and more lethal attacks on security forces because they are using the military equipment left behind by the United States in Afghanistan. Speaking to state television Kakar “This equipment has greatly enhanced the fighting capacity of terrorists and non-state actors in the region,” and that “Previously, they had minimal capacity, but they can now target my soldier even if he moves his finger.”

Incidentally just three days prior to these attacks,  counterterrorism experts at the UN, Vladimir Voronkov, and Natalia Ghe­rman, raised the alarm about “Nato-calibre weapons” ending up in the hands of IS-K, through the TTP, at the Security Council. The report claimed that Nato-calibre weapons, typically associated with the former Afghan National Def­ence and Security Forces, were “being transferred to IS-K by groups affiliated with the Taliban and Al Qaeda, such as TTP and the Eastern Turkistan Islamic Movement (ETIM).

Rejecting such claims as ‘unfounded’ Zabihullah Mujahid, a spokesman for Afghanistan’s Taliban government posted on his X account that since the Taliban takeover, “activities of the Daesh group in Afghanistan have been reduced to zero”. He said that those who were “spreading such undocumented and negative propaganda” about terrorist activities in Afghanistan “either lack information or want to use this propaganda to give a moral boost to Daesh and its cause”.

On September 6 the TTP began its incursion into Chitral and four soldiers and 12 militants were killed in clashes. The area borders Afghanistan and also Gilgit-Baltistan region of Pakistan-occupied Jammu and Kashmir. TTP chief Mufti Noor Wali Mehsud has appeared in a video that purports to show him passing instructions to the jihadists fighting Pakistani army in Chitral district of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Cashes between TTP militants and security forces have become more frequent. The use of gunship helicopters and the Pak government’s imposition of frequent curfews in the mountainous region indicates that TTP militants have succeeded in forming a new safe haven, on the Pakistani side of the border. These attacks were the latest in a series by the TTP.

In a meeting of the National Security Committee held in April, Pakistan’s military and civil leadership concluded that the recent wave of terrorism in Pakistan was a result of “the soft corner and the absence of a well-thought-out policy against the banned Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan”. 

After the fall of Kabul the eagerness for reconciliation on the Pakistani side was enhanced considerably. Since the resurgence of the militant group, the Pakistan Army Has attempted to distance itself from the previous government’s initiative of holding dialogue with the TTP. In a press conference earlier this year, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Maj-Gen Ahmed Sharif Chaudhry categorically stated that “holding dialogue with the banned TTP was the decision of the then-government of Pakistan and they have openly admitted this as well”. But the reality is that exactly a year ago, it was the country’s powerful army which was  pushing for a negotiated settlement with the TTP. negotiations between the TTP leadership and the Pakistani army officials were going on since late 2021. A 50-member Pakistani tribal assembly delegation ‘jirga’ was handpicked by the former Director General ISI Directorate Lt. General Faiz Hameed Chaudhry to talk with the TTP. Faiz himself held direct talks with the TTP. The jirga talks with the TTP was a project of the Pakistan army, to work out a peace deal since they “all come from the same region and ethno-cultural background”.

UN counter terrorism experts have rightly pointed out that these weapons pose a “serious threat in conflict zones and neighbouring countries”. For decades the weak and failing state of Pakistan has been an attractive safe haven for transnational terrorist groups. The resurgence of these militant safe havens in Pakistan will make terror groups more powerful and violent from Kashmir to Xinjiang. With consistent political and economic uncertainty, Pakistan  internal dynamics are also ripe for insurgent groups to thrive. As the violence escales, other Pakistani militant outfits  will see in the rise of the TTP, a model to emulate and practically adopt in the quest of their jihadist objectives. India can expect a repeat of the 1990s scenario when foreign fighters poured into Kashmir from camps in Pakistan which actively helped to fuel the insurgency. The question is can Pakistan’s embattled polity act against the armed militant groups within the country?

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Pakistan-Turkey Defense Ties and Policy Options

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Pakistan and Turkey, two pivotal countries in the Islamic world, have historically enjoyed close and amicable ties. Their intertwined history is punctuated by mutual respect, collaborations, and a shared vision for their future. Both nations understand that their destinies, to some extent, are interlinked, and this understanding extends deeply into their defense ties. The Ottoman Empire, at its zenith, was a beacon of Muslim power and a center for arts, sciences, and culture. During its twilight years, particularly during World War I and the subsequent Turkish War of Independence, the people of the Indian subcontinent (now Pakistan, India, and Bangladesh) provided significant moral and financial support to the Ottoman Turks. This connection was not just political; it was deeply emotional and spiritual, a brotherhood of faith and shared challenges. The remnants of this camaraderie can be seen today. For instance, Lahore, a major city in Pakistan, has Allama Iqbal Road named after the famous philosopher and poet who dreamed of a unified Muslim ummah and saw the Ottoman Caliphate as its fulcrum. It’s a testament to the bond that once was and remains between the two countries.

The defense ties between Turkey and Pakistan cannot be viewed in isolation from their socio-political landscape. The two nations are linked by threads of shared culture, faith, and mutual respect, underpinning their robust defense relationship. Soft power, in the form of cultural exchange, has been a cornerstone of Pakistan-Turkey relations. Be it through the exchange of artists, students, or academics, such engagements allow for mutual understanding, which subsequently bolsters defense collaborations. Both nations, being influential players in the Muslim world, have shown solidarity on issues concerning the Islamic community. The Palestine issue, Kashmir, and global Islamophobia have seen unified stances, strengthening the socio-political foundations of their defense ties.

While the military dimension of the Pakistan-Turkey relationship is often highlighted, their defense industry collaborations are equally significant. The defense industries of both nations have synergized to produce state-of-the-art equipment. This includes next-gen fighter aircraft, naval frigates, and armored vehicles. Collaborative ventures not only allow for cost-saving but also technological exchange, ensuring that both nations stay at the forefront of defense innovation. Both friendly countries often participate in each other’s defense exhibitions, showcasing the prowess of their defense industries. Such platforms allow for the exploration of new collaboration avenues, tech-transfer agreements, and the strengthening of the defense trade. Military academies and training institutes in both countries often host officers from the other nation. Such engagements allow for the exchange of best practices, tactics, and the development of a shared defense ethos.

The defense ties might spur new regional alliances. Countries wary of the Pakistan-Turkey defense collaboration might seek to balance this by fostering new partnerships or strengthening existing ones. India might seek closer defense ties with Western countries, particularly the U.S. and European nations, to counterbalance the Pakistan-Turkey collaboration. The Arab nations, particularly Saudi Arabia and UAE, while having individual relationships with both Pakistan and Turkey, might view their defense collaboration cautiously, given Turkey’s ambitions in the Middle East.

For Pakistan and Turkey to further cement their defense ties, there are certain policy considerations to take into account:

  • With space and cyberspace emerging as the new frontiers of defense, both nations can embark on joint ventures in satellite technology, cyber defense mechanisms, and space research.
  • On global defense and security forums, presenting a unified stance on issues of mutual concern can amplify their voice and influence decision-making.
  • Building shared defense infrastructure, such as joint bases or training facilities, can allow for greater interoperability between their armed forces.
  • Given the volatile geopolitical landscape, establishing joint crisis management protocols can be crucial. This would involve collaborative response mechanisms for scenarios ranging from natural disasters to terror attacks.
  • Defense ties shouldn’t just be the prerogative of the military elite. Engaging civil society, think tanks, and academic institutions in defense dialogues can bring fresh perspectives and innovative solutions.
  • Both nations need to have candid discussions on mutual threat perceptions. This would allow them to devise strategies that are cognizant of each other’s concerns and priorities.

While the defense ties between Pakistan and Turkey are robust, they are not devoid of challenges:

  • Both countries face pressures from global powers which might not view their deepening ties favorably. Navigating this complex geopolitical milieu requires astute diplomacy.
  • Defense collaborations often require significant financial outlays. Economic challenges, if not addressed, can impede defense projects and collaborations.
  • While there’s significant convergence in their defense outlooks, there might be areas where their strategic interests diverge. Addressing these nuances is essential for a harmonious defense relationship.

The defense tapestry of Pakistan and Turkey is intricate, woven with threads of history, mutual trust, shared aspirations, and strategic imperatives. As the two nations march into the future, their defense ties will undeniably play a pivotal role in shaping their destinies. By building on their strengths, addressing challenges head-on, and being visionary in their approach, they can chart a path that’s not just beneficial for them, but for the broader region and the world at large. In a world riddled with conflicts and uncertainties, the Pakistan-Turkey defense partnership stands as a testament to what nations can achieve when they come together with shared purpose and resolve.

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Weaponizing Intelligence: How AI is Revolutionizing Warfare, Ethics, and Global Defense

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Is artificial intelligence the future of global warfare?” If you find that question compelling, consider this startling fact: The U.S. Army, by leveraging AI in its logistics services, has saved approximately $100 million from analyzing a mere 10% of its shipping orders. In an era defined by rapid technological advances, the marriage of artificial intelligence (AI) with military applications is shaping a new frontier. From AI-equipped anti-submarine warfare ships to predictive maintenance algorithms for aircraft, the confluence of AI and defense technologies is not only creating unprecedented capabilities but also opening a Pandora’s box of complex ethical and strategic questions.

As countries around the globe accelerate their investment in the militarization of AI, we find ourselves at a watershed moment that could redefine the very paradigms of global security, warfare ethics, and strategic operations. This article aims to dissect this intricate and evolving landscape, offering a thorough analysis of how AI’s ever-deepening integration with military applications is transforming the contours of future conflict and defense—across land, cyberspace, and even the far reaches of outer space.

AI on Land, Sea, and Air – A Force Multiplier

The evolution of AI in military applications is reshaping the traditional paradigms of land, sea, and air warfare. In the maritime realm, take DARPA’s Sea Hunter as an illustrative example—an unmanned anti-submarine warfare vessel that can autonomously patrol open waters for up to three consecutive months. This autonomous behemoth promises to revolutionize the cost metrics of naval operations, operating at a daily cost of less than $20,000 compared to $700,000 for a conventional manned destroyer. On land, the U.S. Army’s Advanced Targeting and Lethality Automated System (ATLAS) represents another significant leap. By incorporating AI into an automated ground vehicle, the military aims to accelerate target acquisition, reduce engagement time, and significantly lower the logistical and human costs associated with ground operations. The ATLAS program follows earlier attempts like the remotely controlled Military Utility Tactical Truck, essentially taking the next logical step toward full autonomy.

While the United States is making significant advancements in this arena, it is not alone. China’s autonomous Type 055 destroyers and Russia’s Uran-9 robotic combat ground vehicle are testaments to a global acceleration in AI-based military technologies. The international competition makes the ethical and strategic implications even more intricate

In the aerial domain, the fusion of AI with drones and combat aircraft is reaching new heights—quite literally. The Kratos UTAP-22 Mako Unmanned Combat Aerial Vehicle (UCAV), powered by the Skyborg Autonomy Core System, recently underwent a 130-minute test flight where it demonstrated capabilities ranging from basic flight patterns to intricate combat tasks. This experiment lays the groundwork for the “Loyal Wingman” project—a system that allows a single human pilot to command multiple AI-powered drones, thus expanding the operational reach and impact of aerial units exponentially. Beyond singular platforms, AI is leading to the development of ‘swarm intelligence,’ where multiple autonomous units, whether they are drones, boats, or land vehicles, can work in concert, amplifying their capabilities beyond the sum of their individual parts.

As these AI applications manifest across different operational theaters, they serve as ‘force multipliers,’ amplifying the effectiveness of military assets without proportionately increasing the resources invested. They provide higher operational tempo, improve decision-making, and most critically, enhance the speed and accuracy of threat neutralization. However, the enhancement in operational effectiveness comes at the price of navigating complex ethical waters. Decisions that were once the sole purview of trained human operators are increasingly being delegated to algorithms, raising fundamental questions about accountability, the rules of engagement, and even the very nature of conflict.

Cyber Warfare and Information Operations – The Invisible Front

In the evolving landscape of military strategy, cyber warfare has transitioned from a futuristic concept to an immediate reality. The testimonies and actions of top military brass, including Admiral Michael Rogers, former commander of the U.S. Cyber Command, underscore a pressing need for integrating artificial intelligence (AI) into our cyber defensive and offensive operations. According to Rogers, the lack of machine-assisted predictive capabilities essentially puts us “behind the power curve.” This is not just a conceptual shift but a strategic imperative. The reactive cybersecurity paradigms of the past, characterized by a so-called “fortress mentality” of building digital walls, have faltered in the face of increasingly sophisticated attacks. It’s here that AI steps in as a force multiplier. By enabling a predictive form of cybersecurity that analyzes potential threats in real-time, AI shifts the balance from a defensive posture to proactive engagement. The DARPA Cyber Grand Challenge, which encouraged the creation of AI algorithms for real-time vulnerability assessment and patching, signaled an official acknowledgment of AI’s critical role in cyber defense. More to the point, The United States isn’t the only player focusing on AI in cyber warfare. Countries like Israel, China, and Russia are investing heavily in AI-based cybersecurity solutions. Russia’s focus on information warfare, in particular, presents an evolving challenge that AI aims to mitigate.

But the invisible front of cyber warfare is not just about repelling hacks or malware attacks; it’s also about the war on perception and truth. The emergence of AI-assisted deep fake technologies presents a profound challenge, morphing the battleground from just code and firewalls to the manipulation of reality itself. The incident involving U.S. Army Stryker vehicles in Lithuania in 2018 is a case in point, where deep fake technologies were deployed to manipulate public sentiment. While DARPA’s Media Forensics program aims to counterbalance this threat by advancing deep fake detection algorithms, the real concern is the adaptive nature of this technology. As AI-based deep fake creation techniques evolve, so must our detection capabilities, creating an endless loop of technological one-upmanship. This arms race in information warfare adds an entirely new dimension of complexity to military strategy.

The amalgamation of AI in cyber warfare and information operations isn’t merely an enhancement of existing systems but a radical transformation that augments and, in some cases, replaces human decision-making. This transition mandates not just technological adaptation but an ethical reevaluation of the principles governing warfare and security. In summary, AI isn’t an adjunct to the new age of cyber warfare and information operations; it’s a sine qua non—a necessity we can neither ignore nor underestimate.

Space and Beyond – The New Frontier in Defense and Security

The Space Force’s establishment by the United States in 2019 didn’t just signify the birth of a new military branch; it was a formal recognition of space as a contested theater where AI-driven technologies have serious geopolitical implications. In this evolving landscape, AI serves as both a facilitator and a disruptor. While it offers unparalleled capabilities in satellite management, from collision avoidance with floating space debris to optimizing the end-of-life of satellites, it also introduces a new set of vulnerabilities. China’s AI-driven simulation of space battles targeting high-value assets, such as SpaceX’s Starlink constellation, signals a worrisome development. This isn’t merely a rehearsal of theoretical combat scenarios; it’s an overt strategic move aimed at nullifying communication advantages facilitated by these satellite constellations.

Yet, the AI-driven militarization of space isn’t simply an extension of earthly geopolitics; it fundamentally alters the dynamics of warfare at an orbital level. China and Russia’s aggressive tests against high-value American satellites underscore the indispensable role of AI in developing real-time, autonomous countermeasures. With space assets becoming intrinsic to everything from communications to Earth observation, the AI capability to make split-second, data-driven decisions becomes invaluable. For instance, AI can not only preemptively analyze mechanical failures in satellites but also execute automated defensive counteractions against adversarial moves, potentially limiting or preventing damage. In essence, AI isn’t merely supplementing our existing capabilities in space; it’s rewriting the playbook on how we strategize, implement, and protect space-based assets. As such, the urgency for international norms to regulate this new battleground has never been greater. Without some form of oversight or control, the risk of a disproportionate escalation—a ‘space race’ in the most dangerous sense—becomes a looming possibility with wide-reaching consequences.

Can We Trust AI on the Battlefield? Ethical Fixes for Tomorrow’s Robo-Soldiers

Ethical Frameworks and Human-Centric Decision-Making

One of the most compelling ethical questions surrounding AI in military applications is the notion of decision-making, particularly where lethal force is involved. The debate here often oscillates between a “human-in-the-loop” versus fully autonomous systems. The assumption underpinning the human-in-the-loop model is that humans, endowed with higher-level ethical reasoning, should be the final arbiters in consequential decisions. It provides for diverse human perspectives and enables the AI to serve in an advisory capacity. However, relying solely on human judgment comes with its own set of ethical pitfalls. Humans possess inherent biases and cognitive flaws that can lead to suboptimal or even dangerous decisions, especially in high-stress military situations.

Testing, Transparency, and Explanation Facilities

Robust testing frameworks are another vital component for mitigating ethical issues. Given the complexity of AI software, especially machine-learning models, exhaustive testing is essential to minimize harmful mistakes or unintended lethal actions. However, conventional testing techniques like “fuzzing” are often inadequate for the dynamically learning nature of AI. Approaches like “cross-validation” offer a more robust testing environment for these evolving systems. This takes us to the realm of “explanation facilities,” tools designed to illuminate the reasoning pathways of AI algorithms. Explanations can help bridge the ethical chasm by providing transparency and legal justification. Yet, they remain challenging in the context of complex numerical calculations, like those made by artificial neural networks. Furthermore, sensitive or classified data may restrict the transparency of military algorithms, requiring a nuanced approach that respects both ethical and security imperatives.

Automated Ethical Reasoning and Bias Detection

Arguably, the most radical avenue for ethical improvement lies in automated ethical reasoning within the AI systems themselves. The idea is to integrate ethical principles directly into the AI’s decision-making algorithms. This could manifest as separate neural networks dedicated to assessing the potential harm to civilians in a given military operation. While these systems would require complex, probabilistic assessments, they offer the promise of objective, data-driven ethical reasoning that is free from the emotional and cultural biases that can skew human judgment. Simultaneously, robust algorithms for detecting and correcting biases—whether based on height, nationality, or other factors—can help in building AI systems that are both effective and ethical.

The increasing integration of AI in military and defense strategies is irreversible, yet there remains a substantial gap in our ethical comprehension of this complex relationship. While no single approach provides a silver bullet, a blend of human-centric models, robust testing frameworks, and automated ethical reasoning can pave the way for a more ethically sound AI-powered defense landscape.


In sum, the fusion of artificial intelligence with military applications is a double-edged sword that enhances capabilities while simultaneously raising moral and strategic dilemmas that cannot be easily resolved. Whether it’s optimizing traditional warfare on land, sea, and air, fortifying the invisible fronts in cyber and information spaces, or pushing the envelope in the uncharted territories of outer space, AI is both an enabler and a disruptor. It accelerates operational effectiveness but leaves us navigating a labyrinth of ethical, legal, and strategic implications.

The real challenge lies not in harnessing the powers of AI for military advancement but in governing its usage to prevent strategic imbalances and ethical lapses. This need for governance becomes more critical as we stand at the brink of an AI-induced transformation that could redefine the very nature of conflict and security. With the accelerating pace of AI militarization, the window for establishing ethical norms and international regulations is rapidly closing. It’s not just about who has the most advanced AI but about how we manage this transformative technology responsibly.

As the global competition intensifies over the integration of artificial intelligence into military operations, the focus must extend beyond merely adopting this technology. The critical issue at hand is not just whether AI will define the future of warfare, but how we can navigate this future in an ethical and responsible manner. This pivotal moment calls for a collective approach to decision-making that transcends individual national agendas. The decisions taken today are set to sculpt the geopolitical realities of tomorrow. Therefore, it’s imperative for policymakers, ethicists, and military experts to come together now to address the complex ethical and strategic dimensions of AI in warfare, before we reach an irreversible tipping point.

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