India-Russia friendship too pragmatic to be ruined

Sreeram Chaulia

Sreeram Chaulia is a professor and dean at the Jindal School of International Affairs in Sonipat, India. His forthcoming book is ‘Crunch Time: Narendra Modi’s National Security Crises’

Upon his return from India last week, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has said he feels no wavering on New Delhi’s end of its defense cooperation with Moscow. Despite American pressure on anyone doing business with Russia.

The 19th century British statesman Lord Palmerston famously said “we have no eternal allies, and we have no perpetual enemies. Our interests are eternal and perpetual.” This maxim has been used to justify flexibility for a country to choose and discard partners. Depending on the changing times and circumstances.

Whether in defiance, or in support of this very pragmatic logic, one major relationship has persisted. India and Russia have sustained a robust partnership through the Cold War, the post-Cold War era, and now in the emerging multipolar order. The international system as a whole has changed beyond comprehension in the last fifty years, but what New Delhi and Moscow call ‘Druzhba-Dosti’ (friendship in Russian and Hindi) has remained intact.

India’s External Affairs Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar referred to this while hosting his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on April 7 by remarking that India and Russia have shown a “consistent ability to identify and update our shared interests.”

In spite of the US

While there is a perception of divergence between the two sides due to their respective global strategic compulsions, India needs Russia and vice-versa. The ‘special and privileged strategic partnership’ is not fading away. Defense cooperation is an obvious illustration of that. Lavrov’s comment in New Delhi that ‘prospects for additional production of Russian military equipment on India’s territory are under discussion’ caught attention in India because of the threat of American sanctions on any country that does ‘significant transactions’ with Russia.

New Delhi insists that the Russian-made S-400 anti-missile system is essential for India’s national security and that imposing sanctions on India for pursuing its core national interests would be a strategic blunder by the US. Russia is a touchstone for India to prove its ‘strategic autonomy’ in foreign policy. Moreover, Russia has been the most generous among the world’s military powers in offering co-production and technology transfer to India for defence manufacturing. Lavrov’s emphasis that ‘we are the only partner that indeed transfers to India cutting-edge military technology’ and that this is in ‘the national interests of both countries,’ conveys that the two sides are determined to plough ahead.

President Vladimir Putin’s commitment to enhancing India’s indigenous defence production capacities matches with Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s vision of making India an exporter of ‘low-cost, high-quality’ weapons. Russia is keen to retain its share of the Indian defence market, which has historically been massive but lately has fallen to 49% of total Indian military imports. If Russia’s competition for a share of the Indian defence pie with France (18%), Israel (13%) and the US spurs more advanced co-development of weapons with India, it serves both New Delhi and Moscow.

Between China and India

Skeptics who contend that India and Russia are strategically drifting apart because of the former’s closeness to the US, the latter’s alignment with China, and intensifying tensions between India and China, should look at how Russia promptly supplied much-needed defence equipment to India in 2020 as New Delhi was engaged in a major national security crisis along its northern border. Jaishankar acknowledged in Lavrov’s presence that “our defence requirement in the past year was expeditiously addressed” by Russia.

Lavrov’s statement that “we are closely watching the process of normalisation at the Line of Actual Control (LAC)” between China and India was not unwelcome from an Indian point of view. Moscow’s good offices have been creatively used both in the 2017 Doklam standoff and during the LAC dispute that began in 2020. India and Russia serve as each other’s balancing factors that bring stability in relations with China.

Unlike the crude offers to ‘mediate’ or ‘arbitrate’ between China and India that the US made under President Donald Trump, Putin’s Russia has a proven record as a pragmatic interlocutor. Lavrov has assured New Delhi that “Russia has no plans to sign a military alliance with China”. Russia has been willing to hear out India’s geopolitical perspectives and dilemmas despite having a joint front with China in standing up to the West. The same open-mindedness has led to exploration of new avenues such as Japan-India-Russia trilateral economic cooperation in Russia’s Far East and India manufacturing Russia’s Sputnik V vaccines for combating the Covid-19 pandemic.

Sticking points

One issue where differences have crept in between India and Russia is Afghanistan. Some in India have expressed worries of a ‘Russia-China-Pakistan axis’ emerging in South-Central Asia whose practical effect could be to sideline India from the settlement of Afghanistan’s future. Lavrov’s recent discussions with Jaishankar on Afghanistan, the former’s reiteration that India was very much a part of the ‘Moscow format’ for stabilising Afghanistan and an ‘important player in the settlement in Afghanistan’, should calm nerves in New Delhi.

Russia’s defence sales to Pakistan are much smaller in volume and scope than the India-Russia security cooperation. And in themselves are not major irritants. What is required in order to reduce disagreements on this front is for Russia and India to coordinate better on their commonly stated goal of an ‘Afghan-led, Afghan-owned peace process.’

Iran is another regional issue where India and Russia are looking more aligned now. The restart of talks involving the Europeans, Russia, China, the US and Iran to revive the 2015 nuclear agreement has India’s wholehearted backing. New Delhi’s investments and plans to integrate with Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia via Iran’s Chabahar port were stuck in limbo as long as Washington applied ‘maximum pressure’ sanctions on Tehran. India’s push to get Chabahar included in the agenda of the 13-nation International North South Transport Corridor (INSTC) could connect Russia, Iran, India and Central Asia closer and help usher in balance in the Eurasian region.

In this context, it can be a good sign that Lavrov personally met the Joe Biden administration’s climate envoy and former US Secretary of State John Kerry. He had played a crucial role in the US-Iran thaw of 2015, while both happened to be in New Delhi.

With a lot still in common between India and Russia, the global dichotomies of Sino-US confrontation and Russia-US frostiness need not be insurmountable hurdles. In the current fluid multipolar world, there are no watertight or exclusive alliances. Countries have to forge one set of friends on one issue and another set on a second issue. India and Russia are mature enough to understand this dynamic.

US warship stirs the waters ‘without Indian consent’

Reacting to the development, the Ministry of External Affairs adhered to the government’s stand on not allowing military exercises in its exclusive economic zone without consent and said it has conveyed its concerns to the US government through diplomatic channels

Written by Krishn Kaushik | New Delhi |

Days after the first summit of the Quadrilateral grouping and US Secretary of Defence Lloyd J Austin’s visit to New Delhi, the US Seventh Fleet announced that one of its warships, USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53), had carried out a Freedom of Navigation operation west of Lakshadweep Islands. “Inside India’s exclusive economic zone! And without requesting India’s prior consent, consistent with international law”.

Responding to this public announcement by the US Navy which raised eyebrows given the growing ties between the armed forces of the two countries, especially their navies, New Delhi said: “We have conveyed our concerns regarding this passage through our EEZ to the Government of USA through diplomatic channels.”

“The USS John Paul Jones was continuously monitored transiting from the Persian Gulf towards the Malacca Straits.”

“The Government of India’s stated position on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea is that the Convention does not authorise other States to carry out in the Exclusive Economic Zone and on the continental shelf, military exercises or manoeuvres, in particular those involving the use of weapons or explosives, without the consent of the coastal state,” it said.

In a statement dated April 7, Arabian Sea, the US Seventh Fleet said: “USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53) asserted navigational rights and freedoms approximately 130 nautical miles west of the Lakshadweep Islands, inside India’s exclusive economic zone, without requesting India’s prior consent, consistent with international law.”

“India requires prior consent for military exercises or maneuvers in its exclusive economic zone or continental shelf, a claim inconsistent with international law. This freedom of navigation operation (“FONOP”) upheld the rights, freedoms, and lawful uses of the sea recognized in international law by challenging India’s excessive maritime claims,” it said.

Freedom of Navigation Operations

“US Forces operate in the Indo-Pacific region on a daily basis. All operations are designed in accordance with international law and demonstrate that the United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows. We conduct routine and regular Freedom of Navigation Operations (FONOPs), as we have done in the past and will continue to in the future. FONOPs are not about one country, nor are they about making political statements,” it said.

Under Indian law — The Territorial Waters, Continental Shelf, Exclusive Economic Zone and Other Maritime Zones Act, 1976 — “all foreign ships (other than warships including submarines and other underwater vehicles) shall enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial waters” and a passage is innocent “so long as it is not prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of India”.

“Foreign warships including submarines and other underwater vehicles may enter or pass through the territorial waters after giving prior notice to the Central Government,” the law states.

The US Navy’s Freedom of Navigation operation near Lakshadweep is not unprecedented. The US Department of Defence publishes an annual Freedom of Navigation report and India found mention in the 2019 report along with 21 other countries that included China, Russia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Maldives and Saudi Arabia. India was mentioned in the 2017, 2016 and 2015 reports as well.

But the public announcement of the operation has raised eyebrows. It comes at a time when military cooperation between India and the US is on the rise. Their navies were involved in a joint exercise, along with navies of Japan, France and Australia in the eastern Indian Ocean region, in the La Pérouse exercise between April 5 and April 7, and led by the French Navy.

“Shared vision for the free and open Indo-Pacific”

Last month, Secretary of Defence Austin conveyed to New Delhi the Biden administration’s “commitment towards strengthening the bilateral defence relations between the two countries”.

India and the US, along with Australia and Japan, make the Quadrilateral grouping. At its first summit on March 13, Quad leaders affirmed their commitment to a “shared vision for the free and open Indo-Pacific” and a region that is “inclusive, healthy, anchored by democratic values, and unconstrained by coercion”.

The Quad members, for the first time since 2007, had together participated in the Malabar multilateral wargaming exercise last November.

Reacting to the Seventh Fleet statement, former Navy chief Admiral Arun Prakash, in a Twitter post, said: “There is irony here. While India ratified UN Law of the Seas in 1995, the US has failed to do it so far. For the 7th Fleet to carry out FoN missions in Indian EEZ in violation of our domestic law is bad enough. But publicising it? USN please switch on IFF!” — IFF stands for Identification, Friend or Foe.

He also questioned the intent behind the move. “FoN ops by USN ships (ineffective as they may be) in South China Sea, are meant to convey a message to China that the putative EEZ around the artificial SCS islands is an “excessive maritime claim.” But what is the 7th Fleet message for India?” he said.


The mystery of Azerbaijan’s missing army chief

In the middle of the country’s victorious war against Armenia, the chief of staff of the armed forces – long the subject of public rumors of “treason” – disappeared. He hasn’t been seen since.

Ulkar Natiqqizi

Najmaddin Sadikov had been Azerbaijan’s top military officer since 1993, the chief of general staff of the armed forces and a deputy defense minister. But in the middle of last year’s war with Armenia, on the cusp of the victory for which the armed forces had prepared nearly all those 27 years, Sadikov mysteriously disappeared.

Rumors had long swirled around Sadikov, a career Soviet army officer who joined the Azerbaijani armed forces in 1992 during the first war with Armenia. Many Azerbaijanis considered him a “traitor,” a word they often used in social media posts about him. Insinuations were made about his ties with Russia and claims that his brother was a senior officer in the Armenian armed forces. 

The rumors reached a peak during fighting in July, when a well-known and respected senior officer, Major General Polad Hashimov, along with Colonel Ilgar Mirzayev, were killed. On social media, many Azerbaijanis accused Sadikov of giving their coordinates to Armenia. 

Sadikov attended the funeral, acting as a pallbearer along with Defense Minister Zakir Hasanov. 

But at a massive demonstration in Baku that followed the funeral of another fallen officer, protesters blamed Sadikov for the deaths and called on him to resign. Rumors spread that he had been fired.

The allegations of treason appear ungrounded, but the government seems to have been worried by the harsh public reaction to Hashimov’s death and the heightened accusations against Sadikov, said Fuad Shahbaz, a Baku-based political and military analyst.

“The harsh criticism of Sadikov during the mass demonstrations in July and the demands for his resignation gave the government serious doubts about Sadikov’s image,” Shahbaz told Eurasianet. “This is likely the reason for his dismissal.” 

Sadikov still retained official support, however. In response to the many public insinuations about him, several articles in pro-government media appeared, chronicling his successful career and blaming rumormongers for slandering him. 

The Ministry of Defense issued a statement on July 21 denying the rumors that he had been fired and that his brother was in the Armenian armed forces; the ministry said the brother had been dead for more than 30 years. 

“These reports are fabrications and disinformation spread by enemy forces for provocative purposes,” the ministry said. “Unfortunately, the recent spread and discussion of news on social networks clearly shows that this is done in order to create bias, hostility and confusion in society.” 

Sadikov’s family also was mixing with the Azerbaijani elite: Azerbaijani-Russian pop star Emin Agalarov, the former son-in-law of President Ilham Aliyev and friend of former U.S. President Donald Trump, released a song in September on Instagram called “Fatima,” which many fans took as an announcement that he was marrying Sadikov’s daughter, Fatima Sadikova. Agalarov has been coy and not confirmed directly that he is marrying Sadikova, but continued to drop hints that he was.

About two weeks after “Fatima” was released, war broke out again with Armenia.

When Azerbaijan appeared to suffer significant early losses in the fighting, especially around Murovdag in the Kelbajar region, many Azerbaijanis again blamed Sadikov. Rumors again spread that he had been fired for treason.

On October 4, the Ministry of Defense published a photo showing a video teleconference among senior military leaders, including Sadikov. 

A few days later, though, Sadikov’s biography and other information was quietly deleted from the MoD’s web page. There was no official comment, though the erasure was noticed and widely commented on in social networks.

At the same time, Aliyev quietly signed two decrees to dismiss Sadikov’s nephew, Ramil Asgarov, another senior military official. In June, Aliyev had promoted Asgarov to major general. But then in two late October decrees, Aliyev first dismissed Asgarov from his position as chief of the Main Department of Special Security of the Ministry of Defense and then four days later dismissed him from active duty. Neither decision was publicly announced and the decrees passed unnoticed.

Azerbaijan went on to win the war, and on December 10 held a military parade in Baku to celebrate. Sadikov, who hadn’t been seen since that October 4 photo, didn’t appear at the parade. 

Social media speculation again spiked. One Facebook user, under a post captioned “What do you think of Najmaddin Sadikov?” commented: “Why has he not been punished before the people? Why has whatever he has done not been investigated? Why is there no news?” Others returned to Agalarov’s Instagram post and accused the pop star of marrying the daughter of a traitor.

Finally, on January 28, there was official news, of a sort. The Defense Ministry, in response to a query from state news agency APA, confirmed that Sadikov was no longer in military service. APA reported, without citing a source, that he was suffering serious health problems and was undergoing open heart surgery in Moscow. 

But other government officials began to say a bit more. 

One member of parliament, writer Agil Abbas, wrote a short humor piece about Sadikov headlined “Najmaddin Sadigov Has Become a State Secret,” which concluded with a pointed retelling of an old Soviet joke. “So, a journalist wrote about a very high-ranking government official who was a fool. The journalist was sued. The judge sentenced him to a very high sentence – 15 years. Not because he insulted that high-ranking government official, but because he revealed an important state secret.”

Abbas gave a more serious interview to a local news website, Yenicag, where he said he believed that Sadikov was under house arrest. “He made mistakes, or lost credibility, in my opinion, that’s why he was removed,” Abbas said. “If he was arrested, it would be published in the press. Because the arrest of a general could not be hidden. He is probably under house arrest in his house, or one of his villas.” 

A former state prosecutor, Ferman Rzayev, said in an online video show that Sadikov was responsible for early losses in the war. 

“Who created the tactics? Of course, Chief of General Staff Najmaddin Sadikov,” Rzayev said. “Najmaddin trapped our army, directed the attack to the right, towards Agdam. For 30 years, Armenians have built tunnels, fortifications and traps there. Najmaddin had a plan to attack the direction in which the Armenians were strongest.”

Rzayev also had implicated the current minister of defense, Zakir Hasanov. A few days later, the defense ministry responded to Rzayev’s report directly defending Hasanov, but also Sadikov, albeit indirectly. It noted that Hasanov was commanding troops in the operation led by the Supreme Commander-in-Chief, i.e. Aliyev. 

“We once again call on the media, as well as electronic media, to refrain from circulating unfounded, untrue and unofficial information.” the MoD said. 

Detailed official information, however, is not likely to be forthcoming.

“The state wants a quiet solution to this and for people to forget about it,” Shahbaz said.

Ulkar Natiqqizi is a reporter based in Baku.

Indonesia to arm up with Rafale, F-15 fighter jets

Jakarta backs away from previous plan to buy Russian Su-35 air defense fighters under threat of US sanctions


After a series of pandemic-defying trips across the world, Indonesian Defense Minister Prabowo Subianto appears to have settled on the French-made Rafale and an under-strength squadron of American F-15EX jet fighters to bolster Indonesia’s front-line air defenses, with deliveries expected over the next three years.

Along with the 36 Dassault Rafales and eight Boeing F-15s, the wish list also extends to three Lockheed Martin C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft, three Airbus A330 tankers for aerial refuelling, six MQ-1 Predator drones and Italy’s Leonardo early-warning radar system. 

It could be Jakarta’s biggest-ever defense purchase if it goes through in its current form, but serious questions remain over whether debt-burdened Indonesia can afford the estimated $11 billion it will cost for the aircraft alone and the early availability of the F-15 variant, only two of which have been built so far.

Indonesia’s defense budget for 2021 stands at US$9.2 billion, an increase over the 2020 allocation that started out at $9.3 billion and dropped to $8.7 billion because of fiscal pressure from the pandemic. The 2021 spending includes $3 billion for military modernization.

Widodo’s first-term government had hoped to increase the defense budget to $20 billion by 2019, or 1.5% of gross domestic product (GDP), but that was predicated on 7% growth, not the average 5% the country has achieved over the last five years as it struggled to attract foreign investment.    

What the February 17 announcement does seem to have settled is that Indonesia has decided not to risk US sanctions with the $1.1 billion deal to buy a further 11 Sukhoi Su-35 air defense fighters to go with the 16 twin-engine Su-27 and Su-30 Russian jets it already has.

Then-US president Donald Trump signed off on the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) in mid-2017, three years after the Barack Obama administration introduced the legislation to punish Russia for its invasion and annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

If the deal is finalized, Indonesia will become the first East Asian country to operate the Rafale, a twin-engine, delta-winged multi-role aircraft introduced in 2001 and currently in service with the French air force and navy, Egypt, Qatar and, most recently, India. 

India paid $9.4 billion for its 36 aircraft, which began arriving last July amid tensions between India and China over the contested Ladakh region in the western Himalayas. New Delhi also wants to purchase 21 MiG-29s and 12 Su-30MKI fighters.

Washington has yet to respond to India’s request for a waiver from CAATSA for the aircraft, but senior Pentagon officials have made it clear that sanctions would be applied if New Delhi goes ahead with a plan to buy Russia’s self-propelled S-400 missile system in a deal worth $5.5 billion.

The Rafales will add a third logistical tail to the Indonesian Air Force, which apart from its fleet of Sukhoi fighters also has three squadrons of refurbished Lockheed F-16s, recently deployed on patrols over the southern reaches of the South China Sea where Chinese Coast Guard vessels have conducted past intrusions.

Concerns have mounted since China passed legislation authorizing its Coast Guard to use weapons against foreign ships that are considered to be intruding into its waters, a move that could also be aimed at enforcing its unlawful maritime claims inside Indonesia’s economic exclusion zone (EEZ) north of the Natuna islands.

Prabowo had previously shown interest in buying 15 second-hand Eurofighter Typhoon fighters offered by the Austrian Air Force, but despite the favorable price he has always said privately that he wants new-generation aircraft that will stand the test of time.

The 4.5 generation Rafale always appeared to be on his radar, however, due in small part to his affinity for France. A French speaker, the retired special forces general spent his early years in Europe, where family members once came across him standing in front of the mirror pretending to be president Charles de Gaulle.

The history of the proposed sale appears to go back to 2017 when the two countries signed a letter of intent to increase defense cooperation, but it was Prabowo’s two meetings with French Defence Minister Florence Parly, last October and in January, that appeared to lay the groundwork for the deal.

Armed with a range of air-to-air and air-ground missiles and advanced French-developed avionics, the 4.5 generation Rafale has a maximum speed of 2,200 kilometers an hour and a combat range of 1,850 kilometers. It can be used in air superiority, interdiction, ground attack or anti-ship roles.  

Prabowo had initially hoped to also acquire Lockheed’s stealthy F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, but was persuaded to accept the latest version of the F-15, which only now is entering service with the US Air Force to fill a gap left by cuts in the F-22 Raptor program.

Then US defence secretary Mark Esper reportedly told Prabowo on a visit to Washington last October that Indonesia would have to wait at least a decade for the delivery of the F-35s because of a long waiting list of buyers, including  Japan, South Korea and Singapore as the only Asian customers.

While it is the first time the US has sold the F-15 in 20 years, Saudi Arabia and Qatar have continued to fund upgrades worth $5 billion over the intervening years to a point where the EX variant is very different from its predecessors.

Military experts point to its more powerful twin engines, updated cockpit systems and sensors, data fusion capabilities and an ability to carry 29,500 pounds of ordnance over 2,200 kilometers as examples of the improvements to the purpose-built air superiority fighter.

They also note that the F-35 is far more expensive to operate and more problematic to repair compared with the F-15EX, which has a reputed 20,000-hour lifespan and, according to some sources, may cost half as much as the F-35 to operate.

That would present a major challenge to Indonesia. It already has difficulties maintaining the army’s eight sophisticated AH-64 Apache attack helicopters, which have been barely visible since they were delivered nearly three years ago.

Claims by Indonesian officials that six of the new F-15s will be ready for delivery in 2022 appear to be overly ambitious when the US Air Force and Air National Guard will get priority in replacing up to 144 aging F-15C/Ds that are reaching the end of their service years.

Each jet has a fly away price of $87.7 million, but the avionics and weapons systems are expected to add as much as $40 million to its overall cost. The experts also note that some of America’s cutting-edge technology is banned for export to countries like Indonesia.

The acquisition of the mobile Leonardo interdiction radar system will help to bolster Indonesia’s air defenses and, if positioned at a high elevation on frontier islands like Natuna Besar and Sebatik, could conceivably cover more than 500 kilometers of both air and sea, far beyond its EEZ.  

Known as unmanned aerial combat vehicles (UACVs), the Predators are a surprise addition to the shopping list, but Indonesia has been operating unarmed Chinese, Israeli and French-made surveillance drones for three years.

Indonesia’s Agency for the Assessment and Application of Technology is also developing the country’s first armed Black Eagle drone, which will carry a home-built 2.75 folding fin aerial rocket already used by attack helicopters and jet fighters.

Deployed extensively across Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Middle East, the Predator’s precision-guided Hellfire missiles have killed thousands of Al Qaeda and Islamic State militants since they were introduced in the wake of the 9/11 attacks.

The US Air Force replaced it with the heavier, more capable MQ-9 Reaper in 2018, but it remains in service with the Italian, Turkish and Moroccan air forces and would probably be based at Pontianak, West Kalimantan, the main drone base on the edge of the South China Sea.

The moral case for China to fight a war

Ancient Chinese philosophy draws a clear and moral distinction between an ‘attack’ and ‘punishment’


War sounds nearer for China while its contours remain rather foggy. But Hu Xijin, the editor of the Global Times, a popular newspaper associated with the Communist Party organ the People’s Daily, recently broached the possibility of a real war.

“Chinese people don’t want war, but we have territorial disputes with several neighboring countries encouraged by the US to confront China. Some of these countries believe that the US support provides them with a strategic opportunity and try to treat China outrageously.

“They believe that China, under the US’s strategic pressure, is afraid, unwilling or unable to engage in military conflict with them. Thus, they want to pull the chestnuts out of the fire. Considering that there is also the Taiwan question, the risk of the Chinese mainland being forced into a war has risen sharply in recent times,” he wrote.

In this context, Hu makes some interesting and important points. War must have a solid moral justification; thus, China would not fire the first shot and it should be clear that it is the victim and not the aggressor.

The point harks back to ancient times: Mozi, an ancient philosopher who deals with the reasons for war, condemns the aggressive war of big states against small ones (gong 攻) but supports the actions sanctioned by the supreme Son of Heaven who punishes (zhu 誅) unruly rulers.


The warring lords would gloss over their conduct with arguments to confute Mozi, saying: “Do you condemn attack and assault as unrighteous and not beneficial? But anciently Yu made war on the Prince of Miao, Tang on Jie and King Wu on Zhou. Yet these men are all regarded as sages. What is your explanation for this?”

Mozi replied: “You have not examined the terminology of my teaching and you do not understand its motive. What they did is not to be called ‘attack’ but ‘punishment.’”

The issue is crucial for Mozi, and we are in a situation totally different compared with that of Sunzi, who has no moral qualms but wants to win the military engagement. He utters:


“Attack him with superior forces where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected. These military devices, leading to victory, must not be divulged beforehand.”

Hu Xijin, like Mozi and unlike Sunzi, is not concerned here with actual military success, but with a very important and delicate point that helps to lead to military success: how to build a moral case justifying a military intervention.

If the moral case is well built, it will help to reinforce domestic consensus and undermine enemy consensus, both crucial elements for a victory.

Chinese philosopher Mozi differentiated between attacks and punishments. Image: Wikimedia

International consensus-building

The point from this is how to build a domestic consensus in an authoritarian society and take it abroad successfully. In theory, the first part is simple. The government has a monopoly on information and what it says is true. It should be enough not to be too rough and naive with the use of its tools.

The problem is how to export the authoritarian truth to an open world. In theory, this was already done. Communist governments effectively engaged free capitalist societies for decades. In the Vietnam War, for example, they positively helped to undermine the enemy’s will to fight. This was no simple effort.

Communism was a complex ideology with a body of articulated and fascinating literature promising to improve the lives of people and the structure of state and society. It built a church and a theology in which all elements of the socialist life were encoded. The coding was fine-looking and so attractive that it cut a lot of ice in Western capitalist societies.

The ideological “capitalist” answer to the communist philosophical-propaganda offensive was also extremely complex, mixing theoretical elements with practical results, ie, tangible improvement of livelihoods in the capitalist West versus dwindling economic performance in the communist East.

Most importantly, both “capitalist” and “socialist” ideologies had no spatial border. Both were concerned with the well-being of everybody in the world and both wanted to change the whole world.

China now doesn’t want to export its socialist system; it wants to defend what it deems are its sovereign rights against a perceived aggression on many fronts of its frontiers: India, Vietnam, Japan, a “splittist” Taiwan, the US, and possibly other countries. But its size and its different system by themselves undermine the global US-dominated system.

This scares many countries at its borders, which may feel that if China’s ambitions are not territorially restrained, they will fall under Beijing’s economic and political clout.

Beijing may believe these concerns are totally unwarranted, it may want to assuage them and win over public opinion in these countries, just as these countries may try to do with Chinese public opinion.

Yet China doesn’t have a global philosophical outlook developed through decades of international debate. Russian communism, battling international physical and philosophical assaults in the 1920s, inherited communist literature dating back at least to the 1848 Marx-Engels Communist Manifesto. China has nothing similar.

Moreover, its stress on patriotism, borders and protection give a sense that China’s interests and those of its neighbors are at odds over specific nationalistic issues. In a nationalistic brawl, everybody sticks to their own nation.

Lastly, in a world adhering mostly to free exchange of opinions, ideas coming from an authoritarian, possibly nationalist, society cut little or no ice and conversely can be proof of Chinese bad and deceptive intentions.

To change this situation – that is, to have an effective philosophical-propaganda machine –China should develop an internationalist reach, like communism or “capitalism,” or stop being an authoritarian regime. For a better result, it should do both.

Short of that, Beijing finds itself painted in a corner. It doesn’t matter if India, Taiwan, Japan or anybody else is right or wrong with its grievances against China; Beijing’s reasons have little or no appeal outside of China. That is, its reasons for war will work only domestically and only as long as its monopoly on information holds.

Internal morale can be easily undermined in a public information onslaught by its enemies. They, in theory, can basically construct whatever reason to attack China and will get away with it because Beijing will have no credible voice.

Fake news is nothing new, but battling it is a very sophisticated game that a monopoly on information can sort out only if imposed on a global and absolute scale. On top of that, Beijing may actually be wrong.

Why Beijing is not totally wrong

But this is beside the point. Even if Beijing is right, without an open debate platform, without an appealing internationalist ideology, it will only have brute force and money to fend for itself and its morale.

If force and money were enough to hold power, Mao would have died in a ditch and Chiang Kai-shek’s grandson would rule China now.

Then this leaves the final, practical point: what did Hu Xijin want to say in the article?

Possibly by arguing about the moral issues in going to war he is building an argument that tries to cool down the animus of domestic hardliners. They are growing annoyed and nervous about what some in China perceive as a state of siege led by the US.

Hu is basically saying, it is impossible to go to war if we don’t have a clear-cut case and to have that we cannot be the ones who move first. It appears as an internal message against Chinese war-mongers to wait longer. It is a command not to rush things and ponder them.

Chinese People’s Liberation Army soldiers marching with their bayonets during a military parade. Photo: AFP/Stephen Shaver

But, actually, as soon as China speaks of war, many countries are impatient about the details of its arguments; they simply shrug, taking it as naive braggadocio. Conversely, some in Beijing may believe that this grand talk could actually intimidate certain foreign parties.

Now, given the international mood around China and the long shadow of events in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and on other fronts, it is possible that outside of China the message will be simply received as “Beijing is talking of going to war.”

China may be seen as trying to build a case to start a war and be provocative. Then, the foreign parties may think: this must be taken seriously and countermeasures must be arranged.

In this way, we are all one step closer to a slippery slope of massive misunderstandings leading to a war.

Used with permission of Settimana News. Read the original here.

Indo-US Security Pact to Alter Asian Geopolitics

by Nair N.B.

October, 29. 2020

India and the United States have signed a key defence pact, which would give New Delhi access to real-time US geospatial data that would enhance the accuracy of automated systems and weapons like missiles and armed drones. The US has also said it would “stand with the people of India to confront threats to their sovereignty and to their liberty.”

Defence and security experts say India’s proximity to the United States could have an impact on the geopolitics of Asia, especially India’s long-term strategic partner Russia, while some others believe it could make China uncompromising on the contentious border dispute with India.

“This will have a very deep impact on the regional geopolitics. It is not Russia alone; Pakistan, China and our entire neighbourhood. This is a huge thing that happened on Tuesday. Let’s not undervalue the importance of this agreement,” says Pravin Sawhney, Editor of FORCE, a magazine which covers defence and security issues.

The Basic Exchange and Cooperation Agreement (BECA) – one of the basic deals the United States signs only with close partners, was the last of the foundational agreements New Delhi signed with Washington on Tuesday, 27 October, at the end of the third 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue. The first deal – the General Security of Military Information Agreement (GSMIA) was signed in 2002, when the late Atal Bihari Vajpayee was Prime Minister of India.

Sawhney believes the latest deal with Washington offers three things to Delhi – intelligence or information on data, more material-like platforms, fighter aircraft, where India could build its military capability, and advanced training with the US military, both at the bilateral and multilateral level.

The strategic expert, however, warns that the access to these advanced military system does not come free: in military terms, the US can “potentially” control India’s military operations.

“They can control the entire war cycle if they want. So by giving us three force-multipliers, potentially they can control our entire operations,” says Sawhney.

According to Sawhney, through the pact, the United States could ask India to take responsibility on its behalf for the security of sea lanes in the Indian Ocean region. “There is a strategic purpose and a military purpose,” he added.

Sawhney points out that now China could become more uncompromising in the contentious border with India, adding that Beijing “doesn’t get jittered by all these things”.

The Chinese foreign ministry on Wednesday once again reiterated that the “Indo-Pacific strategy proposed by the United States trumpets the outdated Cold-War mindset, a confrontation between blocs and geopolitical rivalry”. 

Nevertheless, Wang Wenbin, a spokesperson for the Chinese foreign ministry, maintained that the China-India boundary issue is between the two countries, and the US should stop “sowing discord between the countries of the region, and undercutting regional peace and stability”.

The Sino-Indian border dispute reached an unprecedented scale in the summer of 2020, resulting in a violent faceoff, in which 20 Indian soldiers lost their lives in the Eastern Ladakh region.  

Dragon at India’s Doorstep for Decades 

Agreeing with Sawhney, Professor Bali Ram Deepak of the New Delhi-based Center for Chinese and South East Asian Studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, says China has never been accommodating as far as its border with India was concerned.

“If you see our relationship in the 1980s or 1990s, even in the first decade of 2000 – during these three decades, though we put our contentious issues on the back-burner, there was no compromise at all (from the Chinese side),” he explains.

Professor Deepak continues by saying that during the three decades, China had narrowed its gap in terms of technological and defence capabilities with the United States, while widening it with India.

“Given these asymmetries, China is becoming more assertive along our border, and China believes that balance of power at least in Asia favours it and there is no need to make any concession to India,” he points out.

The academic, who specialises in Chinese and South East Asian countries, says Beijing is already thinking strategically, considering the possibility of India moving closer to the United States in terms of security cooperation.

India’s Power Equation with the US and Russia

Professor Deepak is sceptical as to whether the latest defence pacts with the United States would tilt New Delhi towards Washington, and believes that the kind of platforms and systems India has procured from the United States so far are limited.  

“To give full plate to these foundational agreements, India and the United States really need to transfer technology and a whole lot of these platforms. So at this point in time, it is not enough. I doubt the US would be willing to share these high tech technologies with India instantly,” he says. 

Besides, it also remains to be seen if India is willing to open up its facilities for the United States, the professor adds.

“We also have to see New Delhi’s commitments and relations with Moscow as Russia would be watching very keenly, like how far we would go to the United States as far as security cooperation is concerned,” suggests the professor.

The US is the second-largest defence exporter to India after Russia. Designated as a major defence partner by Washington, New Delhi has signed arms deals worth over 20 billion since 2008. Despite an increase in arms supply from Washington, Russia remains India’s top defence supplier, which is reflected in 86% of the equipment, weapons, and platforms currently in military service in the country. The figure is a whopping 90% if around 10,000 pieces of military hardware are also taken into consideration, as per a paper by the Stimson Centre.

Economics, not ‘security,’ likely fueling nuclear arms race

The US starting an arms race with China and Russia might be motivated by economics, in that defense industries are a major part of the US economy.

According to the US Department of Commerce, defense industries account for nearly 15% the economy, employ millions of people and are a major revenue generator. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) reported that the United States sold almost US$675 billion worth of weapons to nearly 100 countries between 1950 and 2017. Many times more were sold to the US military.

Under President Donald Trump, the US military budget and the value of arms exports to friends and allies are the biggest in US history and will most likely increase. Warning “allies” around the world of Chinese and Russia “aggression,” he and his senior officials have clinched weapons-sales deals worth hundreds of billions of dollars. The value of the most recent deal with Saudi Arabia alone was said to be more than $100 billion. If India and other potential allies bite, the aerospace and defense industries could drive economic growth in the US.

To make the arms-sales campaign effective, the US-led North Atlantic Treaty Organization is holding large military exercises and installing weapons systems in Eastern Europe targeting Russia. The US Navy conducts “freedom of navigation operations” in the South China Sea, is recruiting “allies” to “contain” China, and is increasing arms sales to Taiwan.

Unsurprisingly and predictably, China and Russia have responded in kind, giving the US the excuse, supported by if not cheered on by the corporate-owned media, to accuse the two antagonists of being “aggressive,” setting the stage for a dangerous nuclear arms race.

Which side initiated the arms race?

Which country or countries started the race depends on whom one talks to. The US has accused Russia of procuring and installing intermediate-range missiles targeting US allies in Europe for decades, the alleged reason for Trump to withdraw from the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Agreement (INF) that former Soviet and US presidents Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan signed in 1987. China was pulled into the narrative because it is believed to have thousands of short- and intermediate-range cruise missiles “threatening” US allies and military bases in Asia.

However, history has a different take on the matter. According to John Hopkins University scholar Stephen Cohen, the US reneged on its promise that NATO would not expand to Russia’s “back door” in the 1990s. History also has shown that the US under president George W Bush unilaterally withdrew from the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty in 2002. Around the same period, Washington deployed cruise missiles in Europe that were capable of hitting Russia.

Russia complained that installing intermediate-range missiles in Europe was a clear violation of the INF, but its complaints were ignored, prompting it to produce and install intermediate-range missiles targeting countries that hosted US missiles.

For China’s part, it said it was building more weapons to counter US  provocations and threats – playing the Taiwan card, forming an “Indo-Pacific quad” (to be made up of the US, Australia, India and Japan), and mounting “freedom of navigation operations” in the South China Sea meant to drag China into a conflict with the US and its allies.

It could therefore be argued that it is economics rather than “national security” that led to Trump vowing to increase the US nuclear arsenal until China and Russia “come to their senses.”

Will the US deploy nuclear arms first?

Both the US and China have enough nuclear bombs to kill each other and the world many times over, but that did not stop some US scholars from suggesting that pre-emptive strikes against China were feasible. Georgetown University scholar Caitlin Talmadge wrote in the November-December edition of Foreign Affairs edition that the US could knock out China’s nuclear forces in a pre-emptive strike. Her prediction was at least in part based on the United States’ more than 30-year history of pre-emptive bombing of Vietnam, Serbia, the Middle East and North Africa.

The problem with Talmadge’s assumption is that China is not like any of the countries that the US has bombed in the past. China has short-, intermediate- and intercontinental ballistic missiles that could hit US Asian allies, military bases and the US itself. Indeed, she seemingly admitted as much, urging the US and China to tread carefully to avoid a military conflict in her concluding paragraph.

Adding Russia to the calculations, the numbers of nuclear warheads targeting the US and its allies in Europe and Asia would increase enormously.

History will tell that the US and its allies only bombed countries that could not hit back. Because of the potential loss of huge numbers of American lives, the US public will vehemently protest against a US and China/Russia nuclear war, as they did during the Vietnam War. Besides, the majority of Americans do not seem to share the government’s and neoconservatives’ view of China and Russia as America’s “greatest threats” According to recent US polls, Chicago Council on Global Affairs and Pew, almost 50% viewed China positively and considered it a partner rather than a competitor.

It is also highly unlikely that any leaders of US allies in Europe and Asia would willingly allow US intermediate-range nuclear missiles on their soil. Being the battlegrounds for a US-China/Russia nuclear war, those leaders could suffer the same fate as Benito Mussolini, the World War II Italian fascist leader hanged by the toes and paraded around for siding with Nazi Germany.

Taking the debate to its logical conclusion, Trump or any US president will not likely be allowed to mount a nuclear pre-emptive strike against China/Russia.

Effects on the economy

As revealed by US government statistics, crumbling infrastructures require urgent repair, the number of American living in poverty is on the rise and the trade war against China (and others) is taking a toll as shown by decreasing investment, rising prices and declining economic growth.

China’s economy is slowing, albeit marginally, from 6.8% in the first two quarters to 6.5% in the third quarter, according to the China National Bureau of Statistics. It could use the money otherwise spent on arms to eradicate poverty and enhance economic growth in the less developed regions. The money could also be spent on industries that were hurt by Trump’s trade war.

Russia could use the money to diversify its economic infrastructure, from resource exploitation to industrialization. The country’s Far East needs huge investment to develop. The adverse effects of US sanctions require financial help to erase. What’s more, the last arms race with the US proved disastrous for the  economy, culminating in the Soviet Union’s demise.

The nuclear arms race might be driven by economics rather than “national security” because neither China nor Russia is threatening the US or its allies. The two emerging economies have enough problems at home, precluding them from mounting military adventurism against any country, let alone the world’s mightiest military power.

Weapons are one of if not the biggest exports of the US. Thus selling arms to its own military and that of the allies is a major engine of US economic growth.