Written by Lieutenant-General S. Afanasiev; Originally appeared at Foreign Military Review 2020 #1, translated by AlexD exclusively for SouthFront
The current international situation is characterised by the growing global instability caused by the desire of the United States of America to maintain political, military and economic dominance on the world stage, while completely ignoring the norms of international law and the interests of other countries.
American elites have de facto appropriated the right to set “red lines” and determine how to punish “disagreeable” states for violating them. By doing so, Washington and its allies seek to replace the United Nations and reduce its role in maintaining world peace and resolving crisis situations. The events in Venezuela, Syria, Hong Kong and Bolivia are vivid examples of the White House’s destructive actions in 2019.
The United States is trying to implement a similar approach in relation to our country, consistently pursuing an aggressive anti-Russian foreign policy. In their activities, overseas political strategists completely ignore its negative consequences not only for the global stability, but also for the national interests of their allies.
The main reason for such approaches in Washington is the unwillingness of the US ruling circles to accept the concept of a multipolar world promoted by Russia, China and a number of other countries, which American politicians consider as a serious challenge to “American global leadership”. Contrary to the objective needs of the international community, Washington seeks to weaken the Russian Federation as much as possible, thereby freeing up forces and means to confront the People’s Republic of China.
The active use of force by the White House and its allies to gain hegemony in the world leads to the preservation of the main hotbeds of tension in 2020 and the emergence of new threats to international stability and the national interests of countries that are “opponents” of the United States. In addition, the situation is complicated by a number of factors that have a negative impact on the global security. The most significant of them are:
- acquisition of strategic properties by non-nuclear weapons (including cyber weapons) and “erasing” differences in combat effectiveness between them and nuclear weapons;
- the formation of “nuclear multipolarity” as a result of the irreversible proliferation of nuclear weapons (NW) and the uncontrolled build-up of nuclear missile capabilities of other states;
- the dangerous decrease in the level of competence of western elites, an “atrophy” of the sense of responsibility, an increase in “strategic parasitism” – the feeling that “peace is forever”, a weakening of public resistance to militarism.
It is also necessary to take into account the desire of the United States to manipulate international law in favour of its interests, in particular to achieve a “reformatting” of the existing arms controls system.
American steps such as withdrawal from the Intermediate-Range and Short-Range Missile Elimination Treaty and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to resolve the situation around the Iranian nuclear programme, unfair implementation of the Strategic Offensive Arms Treaty (START), exploring the possibility of refusing to participate in the Open Skies Treaty, and unwillingness to ratify the Comprehensive Nuclear Test Ban Treaty significantly undermine strategic stability.
At the same time, the Start-3 Treaty expires in February 2021.
As a condition for its extension, Washington proposes to radically revise the content of the document. In particular, it should include non-nuclear strategic systems, tactical nuclear weapons, and include China as a participant. This position may indicate the intention of the United States, under the pretext of demands that are obviously unacceptable to the Russian Federation, to disrupt the extension of the agreement and get rid of the restrictions imposed by it.
The American leadership also consistently opposes the formation of an international legal framework prohibiting the use of outer space for military purposes. The Pentagon sees space as a potential theater of war and is trying to ensure complete freedom of maneuver in this direction. Last year, the United States began forming a new type of armed forces – the Space Force. The creation of the United Space Command (USC) is responsible for their training and combat application. The USC has the world’s largest orbital constellation at its disposal.
It is obvious that the activities of Washington and its allies, which ignore the interests of other subjects of international relations, create new global military dangers. Among them must include:
- prerequisites for the resumption of the “arms race”;
- attempts to put the new Russian systems under contractual control, such as the Poseidon Underwater Autonomous System, the Kinzhal air-launched ballistic missile, and the Burevestnik long-range cruise missile with a nuclear power plant;
- the desire of “disagreeable”-to-US regimes to acquire nuclear weapons in order to protect themselves from “colour revolutions”;
- Washington’s attempts to “demonise” its geopolitical rivals, primarily Russia and China, by imposing unjustified restrictions and sanctions against them to curb economic growth;
- “blur” boundaries between military and non-military means of warfare (including informational influence, economic sanctions, etc.) and, as a consequence, the emergence of “gray” areas make it impossible to unequivocally categorise the steps of other countries as hostile, the impossibility of reliably determining the beginning of the aggression.
At the same time, Washington is increasing military spending as well as putting pressure on its allies to increase funding for NATO.
In particular, the US military budget for the 2020 fiscal year is 748.8 billion dollars (16 times more than the Russian one). According to the White House, this figure will reach 800 billion by 2024. The total military budget of the Alliance has already by far exceeded $1 trillion, but the Trump administration is seeking to bring defence spending to 2% of GDP from the allies by 2024.
A significant concern is the reduction of the US threshold for the use of nuclear weapons. In particular, the new edition of the “US Nuclear Strategy” (2018) allows for the possibility of its use in response to a “significant attack using conventional means”, which Washington considers to include “cyber weapons”. This makes it possible to blame anyone for the “attack”, since there are currently no reliable mechanisms recognised by the international community for verifying the sources of “cyberattacks”.
At the same time, the United States and its allies are working to develop advanced high-tech weapons systems that have qualitatively new capabilities and can provide sustained superiority over comparable military capabilities of opponents. Such systems include hypersonic strike vehicles of various bases, autonomous robotic systems, weapons based on new physical principles (laser, electromagnetic, etc.).
Information systems for military use of artificial intelligence technology are actively developed and implemented. Applied research is carried out in the field of neurotechnology, genetic engineering, and regenerative medicine. The results obtained can be used to increase the physical and mental potential of military personnel, as well as to covertly influence the ecosystems and populations of “unfriendly” countries. The development of these areas creates prerequisites for the emergence of extremely dangerous means of armed struggle for humanity.
In particular, the United States and NATO attach key importance to the psychological impact on the leadership of the armed forces and intelligence services of unfriendly states. Various forms of threats, blackmail, bribery and other specific methods are used for this purpose. This is how the United States acts against the security forces of Venezuela, where the Americans failed to ensure the victory of the “democratic forces” due to the high level of support for the country’s leadership from the police and armed forces.
In addition, the threat of an “unintended” war remains in international relations, for example, as a result of the escalation of a non-nuclear military conflict between “third countries” – such as India and Pakistan – with the exchange of nuclear strikes.
The US course aimed at military “containment” of Russia is openly supported by NATO and the European Union.
In order to put pressure on our country, the Alliance is implementing the “Action Plan to Increase the Combat Readiness of the NATO Armed Forces” and the “concept of forward presence and reinforcement”. Its military potential continues to be built up, and military and transport infrastructure facilities on the Alliance’s “Eastern Flank” are being modernised. Two new NATO Joint Command (JC) at the operational and strategic level have been established in the USA (NATO JC Norfolk, Norfolk) and Germany (NATO JC Ulm), and the number of the primary engagement units has been increased.
Six tactical battalion groups, two of which are American, are deployed in Bulgaria, Hungary, Latvia, Poland, Romania and Estonia. In Europe, Washington additionally deployed an armoured brigade and an army aviation brigade on a rotating basis.
In 2020, the Alliance plans to conduct a series of command-staff and military exercises of the “Defender” type to work out plans for “military assistance” to Eastern European allies. As part of the events, large groups of American, Canadian and British troops (forces) are scheduled to be deployed to the Baltic states and Poland (for the first time in the last 30 years).
The United States’ efforts to increase the combat capabilities of the European segment of the American missile defence system have a destabilising effect on the situation in Europe. The construction of an anti-missile base in Poland, where it is planned to place Standard-3, model 2A anti-missiles, is being completed. It is planned to equip the existing Aegis Ashore Complex in Romania with the same means in the future. In addition, these systems can be quickly converted to use offensive weapons – the Tomahawk cruise missiles (range of 2,400 km).
A serious threat to military security in the European region is also posed by the continuing tension is south-eastern Ukraine, where attacks, including with heavy weapons, continue on civilian infrastructures in the Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics.
Kiev continues to try to avoid clear and consistent implementation of the Minsk Agreements on overcoming the crisis in the Donbas.
In these conditions another armed provocation is possible from the Ukrainian authorities to disrupt the negotiation process.
In the Middle East, the policy of the United States and its main regional allies to contain Iran, as well as the ongoing Syrian crisis, has had a negative impact on the situation.
Washington, in the context of Tehran’s strengthening position in the Middle East, is taking steps to isolate it. The traditional sponsors of the American administration – the management of the military-industrial complex, as well as representatives of major fuel and energy corporations, who are dissatisfied with the rapid transformation of Iran into an independent uncomfortable “player” on the world market of hydrocarbons use the “Iranian threat” factor to obtain multibillion-dollar contracts for the supply of arms to the Middle East countries.
To justify the anti-Iranian actions, the White House uses the thesis that Tehran threatens to block energy supplies from the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf through the Strait of Hormuz, including by organising sabotage on tankers and oil pipelines in Saudi Arabia.
In order to destroy the “Shi’ite Axis” (Iran-Iraq-Syria-Lebanon) Washington and its allies are provoking mass demonstrations in Lebanon and Iraq, urging the leadership of these countries to refrain from applying harsh measures to demonstrators. The protest movement is directed by pro-western non-governmental organisations that “prompt” demonstrators to make changes in the political system of these countries that ensure the removal of “Shi’ite pro-Iranian forces” from power.
The situation in Syria remains tense, ISIL (banned in Russia) sleeper cells are operating in government-controlled territories, the situation remains difficult in the “pacified” southern provinces. In the Idlib de-escalation zone, power is held by terrorist groups that threaten to destabilise the situation in the north-west of the country (in total, about 20 thousand radical extremists are concentrated in this area). The most efficient of them are “Hayat Tahrir al-Sham” (based on the organisation “Jabhat al-Nusra”), “Haras al-Din” and the Islamic Party of Turkestan. The militants continue their provocations against the Syrian government forces and the Russian Hmeimim air base, firing at the civilian population.
Western countries seek to preserve the Idlib de-escalation zone, citing the presence of “moderate” opposition groups as the main argument. To this end, they are conducting large-scale information campaigns to accuse government troops and the Russian Aerospace Forces of violating international law and deliberately attacking humanitarian targets.
In north-eastern Syria, the Russian-Turkish Memorandum of Understanding signed in Sochi on 22 October 2019 succeeded in bringing a large part of the Trans-Euphrates Region back under the control of Damascus. In accordance with the agreements reached, a Russian-Turkish Joint Coordination Centre has been deployed, and military personnel from the two countries are patrolling the border strip.
However, the United States has not abandoned its intention to establish a Kurdish quasi-state in Syria. To achieve this goal, Washington continues to cooperate with the Syrian Kurds and took control of the oil-bearing areas of the provinces of Hasakeh and Deir ez-Zor.
The main negative factor affecting the development of the situation in Africa was the intervention of the United States and its allies in the internal affairs of individual states to replace “undesirable” regimes. The purpose of such actions is to establish monopoly control over the continent’s natural resources.
In Libya, the internal armed conflict provoked by the NATO intervention has been ongoing since 2011. In the absence of unified state administration and law enforcement agencies, the country’s territory has become a “springboard” for African terrorists. At the same time, the chaos in Libya meets the interests of the United States, which seeks to prevent a reduction in the supply of cheap Libyan oil to the European market and thus replace Iranian raw materials. At the same time, the Americans secretly “encourage” the actions of both sides in the Libyan conflict, pushing them to continue the confrontation, and trying to undermine Russia’s position in this country.
In the south, the main threat is the intensive activity of radical Islamists, especially ISIL, in Afghanistan and Pakistan, whose goal is to create a so-called “Great Caliphate” with a theocratic form of government. The extremists’ plans call for the inclusion of the territories of the Central Asian republics and the Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous region of China in this quasi-state formation.
The Islamic Movement of Taliban (IMT) has the greatest influence on the situation in Afghanistan. Its formations, which are engaged in an armed struggle with government troops and units of foreign contingents on the Afghan territory, outnumber ISIL by an order of magnitude (about 50 thousand people against 4 thousand).
Not having achieved a significant advantage in the armed confrontation with the Taliban over 18 years of foreign military presence on the Afghan territory, Washington began consultations with the IMT at the end of 2018. At the same time, the parties are not ready to compromise and take tough positions to defend their demands. The lack of progress in negotiations keeps the level of terrorist activity in Afghanistan high.
Tensions between India and Pakistan do not decrease. Mutual territorial claims last year led to another armed incident in Kashmir.
Strict approaches of the leadership of both countries to the settlement of inter-state contradictions and the presence of large contingents of troops in the disputed territories hinder the normalisation of bilateral relations. At the same time, the probability of escalation of the Indian-Pakistani confrontation into a full-fledged armed conflict is low. However, the contradictions between Delhi and Islamabad can have a significant negative impact on the prospects for cooperation in international formats with the participation of India, Pakistan, China and Russia.
In the East, the international situation is mainly determined by the confrontation between the United States and China. The problems of ensuring stability in the Korean Peninsula remain unresolved.
Washington aims to achieve military superiority over Beijing by creating a collective security structure in the region controlled by the United States, based on the American military presence and a network of military and political alliances. At the same time, the United States actively contributes to the process of destabilising the domestic situation in China. So, since May last year, protests have been taking place in Hong Kong, led by a coalition of opposition parties funded by overseas mentors. The protests became radical: public transport was paralysed, the medical system was disrupted, and there were more frequent cases of clashes between residents on the basis of political differences.
For its part, the People’s Republic of China pursues an active foreign policy aimed at expanding the strategic boundaries of its “living space” and gaining a dominant position that allows determining the direction of integration processes not only in the Asia-Pacific Region (APR), but also in the world as a whole.
This is achieved through economic and cultural expansion around the globe, as well as by involving as many states as possible in the implementation of the “One Belt, One Road” concept.
China’s goals so far have been achieved through a policy of “soft power”. At the same time, the Chinese leadership is increasingly striving to solve foreign policy problems from the position of a “strong state”.
In particular, Beijing is increasing the forward presence of its armed forces, building and modernising military infrastructure in disputed areas of the South China Sea, and actively equipping the People’s Liberation Army with modern weapons systems.
Japan has a significant influence on the situation in the Asia-Pacific Region.
The main goal of the foreign policy activities of the country’s leadership is to strengthen its position as one of the regional centres of power. In order to achieve this goal, priority is given to deepening military cooperation with Washington, as well as establishing a strategic partnership with NATO.
In addition, to contain its main competitor, China, Japan intends to play an active role in the implementation of the American concept of a “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Partnership”. At the same time, Tokyo does not intend to give up its claims to the Russian island of Iturup, Kunashir and the Lesser Kuril Ridge.
The Korean Peninsula remains another hotbed of regional tension that has a significant impact on the global situation. Pyongyang’s contacts with Washington and Seoul, which began in 2018, have had a certain stabilising effect on the development of the situation. However, further attempts by the United States to solve the problem of denuclearisation of the peninsula were in fact a failure. Pyongyang, having failed to ease international sanctions and reduce the military activity of the US-South Korea group near its borders, is threatening to end dialogue with the United States and end the “voluntary moratorium” on nuclear and missile tests.
In the Arctic, the military-political situation is characterised by increasing competition for control of energy resources, strategic sea and air communications between the United States, Canada, Norway, Denmark and Russia, as well as non-regional players. In this zone, there is an increase not only in their economic activity, but also in their military activity.
Washington’s primary task in implementing its interests in the Arctic is to prevent the division of territories in high latitudes according to an unacceptable option for the American side.
The new edition of the “Arctic Strategy of the US Department of Defense” focuses on the position of the Russian Federation on the use of the Northern Sea Route. The main destabilising factor is the military activity of the Russian Federation in the Arctic. Washington’s readiness to ensure freedom of navigation “in problem areas”, if necessary, is particularly emphasized.
The Pentagon has organised combat duty of nuclear multi-purpose submarines in the waters of the Barents and Norwegian Seas. Navy and Coast Guard ships serve off the coast of Alaska. In addition, a United States marine corps unit is based in Norway on a rotating basis.
The NATO leadership is also taking measures to strengthen the Alliance’s “northern flank”.
The block’s intelligence capabilities are being increased. Military formations of non-aligned states – Sweden and Finland – are actively involved in operational and combat training activities in the region.
A special role in the Arctic policy of the Alliance is assigned to Norway, which has warehouses of weapons and military equipment for reinforcement of troops.
In general, the assessment of the current international situation and the forecast of its development for 2020 indicate Washington’s desire to create a qualitatively new world order that assumes global dominance of the United States. It should also be noted that approaches to ensuring international stability based on maintaining strategic parity do not actually “work”. In terms of their effectiveness, the new means of armed struggle are approaching nuclear missiles. The proliferation of such weapons requires the organisation of international control over them in multilateral formats and the preparation of new treaties on restrictions in this area.
Thus, the international situation in 2020 still carries a significant potential for dangers and threats to the Russian Federation. On a global scale there are still prerequisites for the escalation of crises that may involve our country. The leading role in these destructive processes belongs to the United States and its allies, who realise their geopolitical ambitions without taking into account the norms of international law and the interests of other states.
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