Subscribe to our weekly newsletters for free

Subscribe to an email

If you want to subscribe to World & New World Newsletter, please enter
your e-mail

Defense & Security
China, USA and Iran Flags

Iran’s Strategies in Response To Changes in US-China Relations

by Sara Bazoobandi

Bazoobandi, S. Iran’s Strategies in Response to Changes in US-China Relations. Middle East Policy. 2024;31:120–132. https://doi.org/10.1111/mepo.12727 Abstract The dynamics of the relationship between the United States and China have been shifting. This has prompted changes in strategic calculus and policy adoption by the friends and foes of each side. Iran, given its decades-long links with China, has made several. First, it has deepened its ties with the Asian power beyond collaboration in business and trade. Second, it has revised its policies in the Gulf region to be a part of what it sees as China's network of influence, hoping to better position itself in a multilateral global order. Third, it has been seeking opportunities to project power through showing off its military capabilities in Ukraine. This article examines these strategic responses and concludes that Iran has been pursuing an agenda in line with the world vision of its senior leaders. The end goal for Tehran is to gain more power and relevance in the global strategic calculus. This analysis is part of a special issue examining the responses of Gulf countries to rising Sino-American competition, edited by Andrea Ghiselli, Anoushiravan Ehteshami, and Enrico Fardella. Over the past decade, the relationship between China and United States has been going through fundamental changes.1 “Engagement, cooperation, and convergence,” previous pillars of the ties between the world's largest economic powerhouses, have been replaced by the trade war between Beijing and Washington.2 These changes have influenced strategic choices made by states around the world, including Iran. The country has increased its commercial ties with China, which has been instrumental in Tehran's efforts to circumvent US sanctions and maintain the regime's financial bloodline. As a result, China has remained Iran's largest trade partner for more than a decade.3 The Islamic Republic perceives the changes in US-China relations as a sign of US decline and foresees the end of unipolarity in the global system. This has emboldened Tehran's attempt to pursue three main strategies: deepen its ties with China, revise its policies in the Gulf region, and project power through showing off its military capabilities in Ukraine. This article analyzes Tehran's strategic calculus in pursuing these strategies. It aims to provide a holistic understanding of Iran's vision for a multipolar world system that the country's senior leaders sense as increasingly viable. The article starts with a brief review of the expansion and strengthening of Iran-China ties, which has undoubtedly been crucial in Iran's economic survival. This section underscores that in addition to economic hardship, the changing dynamics between Beijing and Washington, combined with Iran's ideological framework of the “new world order” and the regional struggle over the balance of power, have influenced Iran's relations with China. In 2022, Iran's supreme leader, its most senior political figure, stated: “The world is on the threshold of a new world order” in which “the United States is becoming weaker day by day.”4 The analysis indicates that Iran sees this as the starting point for the emergence of a multipolar order, in which the global clout of non-Western powers such as China and Russia is on the rise. By expanding and strengthening its ties with China, Iran is aiming to align itself with the leading global powers that are both deemed to be trustworthy by the senior political leaders and expected to emerge as stronger than the United States. The second section focuses on the impact of US-China relations on Iran's strategy toward the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. China has been visibly increasing its involvement in the Gulf region. Trade and investment levels have been rising, and both sides have indicated their intentions to boost their strategic partnership. The United States has for several decades played the role of the security guarantor of the Arab nations in the Gulf. Given Iran's perception of America's weakening, navigating these regional dynamics, particularly the strengthening of GCC-China ties, has influenced Tehran's strategy in the region. The article argues that Iran is seeking to improve ties with the GCC, in line with its strategy of expanding relations with China as a non-Western power in an emerging global multipolar system. For example, the consolidation of the ties between China and the GCC has motivated Iran to shift its hostile approach toward some member states, particularly Saudi Arabia. This section provides an overview of the Gulf-China partnership in light of changing relations between Washington and Beijing. It aims to provide a better understanding of how Iran's strategies have been shaped by its perception of the shifting dynamics among the Western and non-Western powers in this region. Next, the article investigates the impact of US-China relations on the ties between Tehran and Moscow, given the perception of Iran's senior leaders of American decline and their determination to gain more significance in the global order. Russia and China's mutual desire to redefine the normative principles of the international order has strengthened their cooperation in various areas, including military, energy, and finance.5 Their interest in pushing against the US-led, liberal global system has motivated them to form networks of partnership with like-minded states across the world.6 They have used international platforms and frameworks to promote their visions and constrain the West.7 Unlike the Western powers, both China and Russia seem to have been able to navigate Iran's complex and ideology-oriented political system.8 As a result, Tehran has been inspired to pursue strategies that share Moscow and Beijing's vision for the world order, and to seek to establish itself as a more powerful global player.9 The final section examines the influence of the visions and ideologies of Iran's political leaders on the country's strategic direction. It argues that Iran's quest for power projection is its main response to the changing US-China relationship. This shift has prompted Iran's leaders to seek ways to pursue the “resistance strategy” beyond its traditional realm of influence in its immediate neighboring region. As part of this, Russia's war in Ukraine has offered Iran the opportunity to project power through military collaboration. This article concludes that Iran's strategic response to the changing relationship between Beijing and Washington is based on anticipation of the decline of US hegemony and aimed at claiming a powerful position in the new world order. Iran's aspiration to increase its relevance and strength in the global and regional strategic calculus is reflected in official government documents that highlight the regime's vision. “The Islamic Iranian Progress Model” and the declaration of “The Second Phase of the Revolution” by Iran's supreme leader provide an outline of the regime's vision, which includes economic and political independence from the West and resistance against global imperialism.10 Against this backdrop, the analysis concludes that this ideological framework, built around the notion of American decline and the emergence of a new global order, has been Iran's main strategic response to the changes between the superpowers and the most effective driving force for Tehran's policies toward China, the GCC, and Russia. The study uses qualitative analysis to trace the processes of policy formation, considering states’ visions and ideologies, as well as regional and global events. It employs a variety of sources, including academic literature, news articles, and government websites. CHINA-IRAN RELATIONS: AN OVERVIEW The need to build and strengthen links with the world's strongest non-Western economic powerhouse, particularly in times of harsh US-led economic sanctions, has driven Iran's relations with China. Other factors have influenced the development of non-economic aspects of Tehran-Beijing ties, including the changing dynamics between Beijing and Washington, domestic ideological frameworks, global and regional balance-of-power struggles, and domestic dissent. Iran's relations with China began before the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Despite the country's “no East, no West” slogan that marked its policies in the early years after the revolution, the regime has consistently maintained its ties with China.11 The presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a significant period for the bilateral relationship, and it was considered the starting point of Iran's “Asianization” era. During that period, Tehran accelerated its nuclear program and reactivated the anti-West narrative.12 Since then, China has wavered between promoting a diplomatic solution to Iran's nuclear file, supporting a decision by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) in 2006 to refer the file to the United Nations Security Council, and helping Iran in its efforts to circumvent sanctions. The two countries began a nuclear-cooperation agreement in the early 1990s, which quickly ended under US pressure. In 2006, China agreed with IAEA's decision to refer Iran's file to the Security Council. This was a turning point in the decades-long nuclear dispute. Between 2006 and 2010, China agreed to Security Council resolutions that led to increasing economic pressure on Iran through international sanctions. Despite that, during the Ahmadinejad presidency, bilateral trade between Iran and China increased from $10 billion to $43 billion. This was a clear signal of their cooperation to bypass the sanctions, which at times had negative consequences for China and for globally recognized Chinese businesses, such as Huawei. Such strengthening of Iran's relations with the East (non-Western great powers) was largely influenced by the personal views and foreign-relations goals of the country's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.13 In recent years, he has openly driven the strategy of strengthening ties with China, publicly declaring Beijing a trustworthy partner and explicitly stating that the Islamic Republic will never forget its support in bypassing the sanctions.14 Following Khamenei's guidance for closer ties with China, President Ebrahim Raisi has in recent years described “the friendship” between the two countries as based on mutual respect and trust.15 Such political language indicates a long-lasting and perhaps all-encompassing commitment to maintain and expand ties with China. In response, the Iranian regime has received Beijing's support beyond the bypassing of sanctions. For example, despite the concern raised by other regional players, particularly GCC members, China supported terminating the arms embargo on Iran in 2020.16 This, in theory, allows Iran to purchase weapons and upgrade its military armaments.17 A year later, in March 2021, the two countries announced a comprehensive strategic partnership aimed at strengthening bilateral relations in energy and the economy, as well as cybersecurity and the military.18 Not much detail is available on the agreement, which Khamenei described as a wise decision, and its implementation.19 China has been Iran's most important trade partner for more than a decade.20 Before the US withdrawal from the nuclear agreement in 2018, Tehran had hoped to benefit more from freer trade and investment by both the Asian power and Europe. In 2015, Iranian officials announced plans to rebuild relations with Europe and expand ties with China.21 However, the calculus changed with President Donald Trump's decision to impose a maximum pressure campaign on Iran. Despite European and Asian leaders’ initial disagreement with the US decision, European firms quickly responded by ceasing business with Iran.22 The Chinese banking system also limited the scope of its operations with the country.23 This has posed a major challenge to all aspects of bilateral trade and investment. Undoubtedly, the Chinese business and economic collaboration promised by the framework of the comprehensive strategic partnership was affected by American pressure. Considering its location, Iran has the potential to be a valuable element of Chinese economic initiatives like the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).24 Hacked documents obtained from the Centre for Strategic Studies, a research entity within the Office of the President of Iran, revealed that Raisi has officially ordered the Foreign Ministry to facilitate economic collaborations with China.25 This reflects the government's desire to turn Iran into a key player in the “Chinese value chain.”26 This expansion of economic ties with China has been challenged by the Western sanctions.27 Consequently, Iran has not been successful in attracting Chinese investment, either in the BRI or other projects. The pressure eased under the Biden administration, which restored some sanctions waivers.28 Iran's oil exports to China, through subterranean methods, have continued to flow relatively steadily. This has benefited both sides, maintaining Iran's vital revenue stream and helping facilitate the import of Chinese goods and services in return for discounted energy.29 Collaboration between Iran and China has expanded into areas such as technological exchange. Beijing's cooperation model is more favorable toward Tehran in comparison to those of the Western governments, as it does not impose values on partners.30 While Western companies have been reluctant to engage with Iran due to sanctions, China has offered technological assistance. This has been, in part, facilitated by China's strategy to develop its technological and scientific industries, civil-military integration, and dual-use technologies through the export of products and standards.31 Iran has also been pursuing strategies to expand its scientific and technological capabilities, driven by the views of its senior political leaders. In his 2006 Persian New Year speech, Khamenei stated, “Knowledge is authority, it is equal to power; whoever finds it can rule; a nation that finds it can rule; a nation that cannot [build its scientific and technological capacities] must prepare itself to be ruled by others.”32 This clearly indicates Iran's motivation and intention. Khamenei has frequently encouraged the country's policy makers to promote strategies that support the “jihad of knowledge.”33 This phrase has gained significance in Iran's strategic planning in recent years, driving the country's efforts to advance its defense and military capacities. Technological assistance in fields such as artificial intelligence (AI) and cybersecurity has been a major area of collaboration between China and Iran.34 For example, the Chinese firm Tiandy, one of the world's leading video-surveillance companies, has been reportedly working with the Iranian government.35 Rising domestic dissent over the past few years may have played a role in advancing this technological collaboration. There is very little public information about the nature of such cooperation. However, technologies accessed through collaboration with Chinese companies have helped Iran spy on its citizens, crack down on protests, and monitor dissidents.36 Trade and business partnerships have dominated the bilateral relationship.37 China has cooperated with Iran to get around sanctions while taking advantage of discounted energy prices.38 At the same time, the two countries have been expanding into other areas, such as technology. The regime in Tehran, heavily influenced by the supreme leader, sees China as the main challenge to US hegemony and is determined to consolidate its ties with Beijing while trying to maximize its power in the global system. The next section explores the changing relationships between Iran and the GCC, analyzing the impact of US-China relations on Tehran's strategies toward its neighbors. US-CHINA RELATIONS AND IRAN'S STRATEGIES IN THE GULF Senior Iranian politicians have frequently stated that they foresee a new international order to replace the US-led unipolar system.39 As the previous section demonstrated, such anticipation has motivated Tehran to maintain close ties with Beijing. This section investigates how Iran's vision of a new world order has prompted the strategy of normalization with the GCC. It examines the regime's understanding of the future Chinese and American roles in the region and how this impacts Tehran's strategy toward its southern neighbors. In the years before the 2023 Iran-Saudi agreement that re-established diplomatic ties between the two countries, the dynamics between Iran and the GCC were predominantly based on “intra-regional threat perceptions and intense mutual securitisation.”40 The deal brokered by China seems to have shifted this formulation. One factor that played a significant role in changing Iran's policies was the advancement of the China-GCC relationship. In 2021, Beijing officials described this as a part of building a “synergy” between the “new development paradigm in China” and “major development strategies” in the region.41 Such statements may well have been perceived by Tehran as indicating Beijing's increasing strategic influence and its pushing back against US involvement in the security structure of the region. This has motivated Iran to be a part of what it sees as a newly emerging realm of influence for China. Further, the normalization of diplomatic ties with Saudi Arabia is anticipated to pave the way for a much needed, yet challenging, “tripartite peace deal between Iran, Saudi Arabia and Houthis”42 that can address one of the most pressing security concerns across the GCC. Iran has long desired a new security structure forged by eradicating US influence and presence. In 2019, the Iranian government proposed the “Hormuz Peace Endeavor” (HOPE), a security-cooperation initiative that would include all of the Gulf's littoral states.43 Motivated by Iran's long-held aspiration to undermine US hegemony, it was presented during the GCC's internal crisis with Qatar, which coincided with the initial stage of the US-China trade war.44 During the long-running hostilities between the GCC and Yemen's Houthi rebels, Washington was not able to offer any meaningful solutions. The Saudi government, disappointed by this inability to protect its security, therefore welcomed the Chinese-backed rapprochement with Iran. As for Tehran, this shift toward Riyadh demonstrates how the perception of US decline and Chinese rise influenced its strategic calculus in relation to the GCC countries. Iran's decision to normalize with the GCC came at a time when policy makers anticipated an increase in China's regional power and saw it as helping fulfill their strategic vision. Collaborations between the GCC and China have convinced Tehran that Beijing is determined to increase its engagement with the region. Iran assumes this will be to the detriment of the United States. Against that backdrop, the Islamic Republic is also motivated to be a member of the newly emerging realm of influence. Over many decades, the GCC countries have had warm relations with the United States, leading to a strong American military presence in the region that has excluded Iran from a position of influence in the Gulf. Iran sees an expansion of China-GCC cooperation as an opportunity to enter China's realm of influence that will, according to its senior leaders, end the US-led global system. Whether Iran's assessment of China's intentions for expanding ties with the GCC is accurate can be debated. Nevertheless, Tehran perceives China's ties with the region to be aimed at creating a new area of influence, one hospitable to its own vision. Moreover, Iran has for a long time perceived high strategic value in its economic ties with China and is hoping to improve such relations with both China and the GCC.45 The Iran-Saudi deal is estimated to boost bilateral trade to $2 billion, and Iran's drive to improve relations with the GCC could similarly be motivated by the prospect of economic gain.46 To highlight the impact of China-US relations on Iran's strategies in the Gulf, it is important to review the development of Beijing's relations with the GCC countries. The most significant aspect has been business and trade cooperation. China has been a net oil importer since 1993.47 The country's reliance on foreign energy has played a crucial role in its policies toward the Gulf's oil-exporting countries. Bilateral trade between China and the GCC increased from $182 billion in 2014 to about $229 billion in 2021, making China the region's largest trading partner.48 This volume has been substantially larger than that of China-Iran trade (about $16 billion in 2022).49 While energy demand has been a key element of bilateral trades with the GCC, business relations have been expanding into other areas, such as infrastructure investment and the exchange of technology, goods, and services. Iran has undoubtedly been envious of this cooperation between China and its southern neighbors. This has induced Tehran's efforts toward normalization in the hope of benefiting from collaboration with both Beijing and the GCC. This is manifested in the comprehensive strategic partnership and other forms of collaboration examined in the previous section. Chinese political leaders have adopted an effective narrative in describing their strategy for engagement with the GCC, emphasizing “equality between countries regardless of their size” and support for their “independent sovereignty.”50 This is aimed at persuading local leaders to see expanding ties with Beijing as “an opportunity to enrich the strategic substance” of the relationships.51 Such a narrative has undoubtedly been well received by Tehran, as it advances multilateralism. Saudi Arabia, until recently considered Iran's most obvious regional rival, has been one of China's most important partners and largest recipient of its investment in the region.52 Tehran sees normalization with a former foe—one becoming an even closer partner of China's—as both strengthening anti-US collaboration in the region and winning for itself a place in a network of partnerships based on equality and independence, as expressed in the Chinese narrative. Being part of such a network will help Tehran position itself better in a multilateral global order. Ultimately, Iran is pursuing its agenda in line with the world vision of its senior leaders, the goal of which is to gain more power and relevance in the global strategic calculus. For decades, the United States was considered a close ally of some of the regional powers. By brokering a deal between Tehran and Riyadh, China has undertaken a role that the United States and Europe have failed to play in recent years. Iran-Saudi normalization came at a time when European policy makers, who have been seeking to facilitate a regional dialogue, failed to achieve any tangible results between Tehran and Riyadh. Indeed, Iran has become skeptical of the EU's potential in resolving regional issues, particularly in the aftermath of Trump's withdrawal from the nuclear deal.53 The Iran-Saudi rapprochement highlighted China's mediation capacity and boosted the country's status among regional leaders. By welcoming Beijing's intervention, Iran sought to demonstrate that the United States and its Western allies can no longer shape regional dynamics. Iran has envisioned a multipolar world order and aspires to play a role in achieving this in the Gulf region. Beijing seems to have successfully managed to convince the regime in Tehran, along with the leaders of the Arab Gulf countries, of its capacity and willingness to support their aspirations. While the Western world has failed to maintain the regional leaders’ trust, China has gained it. These developments have been motivated by the changing relations between Beijing and Washington, which Tehran sees as signaling China's deep strategic influence in the region. Further, it serves Iran's belief in the decline of US power, particularly in the Gulf. THE US-CHINA RIVALRY AND IRAN'S POWER PROJECTION This section analyzes the effects of the changing dynamics between the United States and China on Iran's power-projection strategies. Tehran's perception of the decline of American global power, particularly in the Gulf, has driven Iran to restore ties with its main regional competitor, Saudi Arabia. Regardless of the future of normalization between Tehran and Riyadh, China's mediation indicates Tehran's anticipation of the strategic role the Asian power will play in the Gulf. It has also influenced Iran's power-projection strategies, particularly beyond its traditional realm of influence. Senior Iranian leaders have long seen realism as the main pillar of their relationship with China and Russia.54 More recently, however, Iran has pursued a policy of “looking East,” largely aimed at strengthening relations with those two powers. In 2019, Iran, Russia, and China conducted a naval exercise in the Indian Ocean symbolizing their commitment to breaking down American global unilateralism.55 Undoubtedly, the aims, motives, and extent of the relations among these countries varies. However, the common denominator is their anti-hegemonic sentiments, which have gained significance with the shift in dynamics of US-China relations. The Russian war in Ukraine has provided Iran a chance to project power, demonstrate its military capability, and remain relevant in the international calculus given the changing world order.56 This section argues that anti-hegemonic principles shared among Russian, Chinese, and Iranian political leaders play a significant role in strengthening their relationships, and the Ukraine war is a great opportunity for Iran to pursue its world vision and power-projection aspirations. Russia's overarching global strategy has been focused increasingly on challenging a unipolar system dominated by the United States.57 This has resonated with political ideologies in Tehran and China.58 Iran's supreme leader, who exerts a strong influence over the country's strategic policy making, has frequently emphasized maintaining and expanding “strategic depth” as one of the country's fundamental strategies.59 Moreover, he has expressed his anticipation of a “new world order” and accentuated the significance of “Geography of Resistance.”60 This ideology reflects Tehran's desire for influence in global and regional systems and has played a crucial role in driving the country's power-projection aspirations. Khamenei's use of theological concepts like jihad and resistance indicates his strong anti-hegemonic and anti-West views.61 He sees the West's policies as continuing the historical clash over identity and destiny between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds. According to this view, Iran is located at the heart of the geography of resistance and is the main powerhouse of the Muslim world.62 Therefore, joining non-Western security and economic initiatives will help Tehran gain a more powerful global position to advance its strategic agenda. The Ukraine war presented Iran with new arenas in which to project power.63 The synergy between the Russian vision, manifested by its invasion, and that of Iran is perceived in Tehran as promising for the new global order. Iran's delivery of hundreds of Shahed-136 drones to Russia has been a clear signal of its determination to collaborate with powers that share its perception.64 In an order in which US power is challenged by China, Iran aspires to advance its ambitions, demonstrate its military capabilities, and gain relevance outside of its traditional realm of influence. The perceptions of Iran's political leaders and their visions for Iran's position in the world system are a driving force behind their strategic decisions.65 Their anticipation of the decline of the West, particularly the United States, is the crucial foundation. Historically, Iran's strategy of building a “Resistance Axis” has been used to project power through “a mix of strategic alliance, security community, and ideational network”66 in the Middle East and North Africa region. The war in Ukraine presented a new arena for this. CONCLUSION The relationship between the United States and China has been going through fundamental changes, prompting strategic responses by Iran on various fronts. Tehran believes American global power is declining while China's is rising. This interpretation has dominated Iran's policies and its envisioned regional and global roles. The senior political leaders in Tehran have been advocating for what they refer to as “the new world order.” This is a multipolar system in which the West, specifically the United States, no longer dominates. Iranian officials perceive the war in Ukraine and the October 7 attacks on Israel as powerful blows to the Americans. Khamenei has referred to the Hamas attacks as the starting point for the formation of a new map in the Middle East based on “de-Americanization.”67 Iran has welcomed these crises and supports the aggressors, with rhetoric based on the notion of resistance to the Western oppression of the Muslim world.68 Iran's understanding of the changing China-US relationship has prompted three strategies. First, the country has been seeking to deepen its ties with the Asian power. The relationship between Iran and China has been formed mainly around trade and business collaborations that have been strengthened by Tehran's efforts to circumvent sanctions. Iran sees China as the main challenge to US hegemony and a key player in fulfilling its envisioned world order. It is therefore determined to consolidate ties with Beijing, along with implementing strategies that can establish a more powerful position for Iran in the global system. Second, Iran has revised its policies in the hope that it can help contribute and be a part of what Tehran perceives as China's new realm of influence in the Gulf region. Iran's envisioned multipolar world system drives its aspirations of making itself more relevant and influential in the regional strategic calculus. Tehran interprets China's engagement in the Gulf as not negating its desired role in the emerging multipolar world. Third, Iran has been seeking to project power by aiding Russia in Ukraine, thus showing off its military capabilities, and forging an anti-Israeli front. These conflicts have presented Iran with new arenas to project influence, within and beyond its traditional regional realm. Tehran understands the synergy between the Russian vision and its own as the most promising for materializing a new global order. This analysis of how the changing US-China relationship is perceived in Tehran is crucial to understanding its strategic calculus and policy choices. In Iran's view, a new global order is emerging because of these shifting dynamics. As US power declines, Iran is seeking every opportunity to emerge as a powerful global player. ACKNOWLEDGMENTS Open access funding enabled and organized by Projekt DEAL. REFERENCES 1 An earlier version of this article was first presented at “The Persian Gulf and the US-China Rivalry,” a roundtable held in Rome on July 6, 2023. That event and this special issue have been sponsored by the ChinaMed Project of the TOChina Hub and the HH Sheikh Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah Programme at Durham University. 2 Evan S. Medeiros, “The Changing Fundamentals of US-China Relations,” Washington Quarterly 42, no. 3 (2019): 93–119, https://doi.org/10.1080/0163660X.2019.1666355; Pablo Fajgelbaum et al., “The US-China Trade War and Global Reallocations,” National Bureau of Economic Research, 2021, https://www.nber.org/papers/w29562 3 China Daily, “China Remains Iran’s Largest Trading Partner for 10 Consecutive Years,” 2023, https://global.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202302/16/WS63ee40d8a31057c47ebaf3ee.html 4 Al-Monitor, “Khamenei Urges Iranians to Prepare for ‘New World Order,’” 2022, https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2022/04/khamenei-urges-iranians-prepare-new-world-order 5 Brett Forrest, Ann M. Simmons, and Chao Deng, “China and Russia Military Cooperation Raises Prospect of New Challenge to American Power,” The Wall Street Journal, 2022, https://www.wsj.com/articles/china-russia-americamilitary-exercises-weapons-war-xi-putin-biden-11641146041; Reuters, “China’s Xi Looks to Strengthen Energy Ties with Russia,” 2022, https://www.reuters.com/business/energy/chinas-xi-looks-strengthen-energy-ties-with-russia-2022-11-29; Mrugank Bhusari and Maia Nikoladze, “Russia and China: Partners in Dedollarization,” Atlantic Council, 2022, https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/econographics/russia-and-china-partners-in-dedollarization. 6 Gregorio Betizza and David Lewis, “Authoritarian Powers and Norm Contestation in the Liberal International Order: Theorizing the Power Politics of Ideas and Identity,” Journal of Global Security Studies 5, no. 4 (2020): 559–71. 7 Anthea Roberts, Is International Law International? (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017). 8 Anoushiravan Ehteshami and Gawdat Bahgat, “Iran’s Asianisation Strategy,” ISPI, 2019, https://www.ispionline.it/sites/default/files/pubblicazioni/ispi_iran_looking_web.pdf#page=11. 9 Masoud Akbari, “اینگونه است که آنها «گذشته» هستند و ما «آینده‌»ایم [This is why they are ‘the past’ and we are ‘the future’],” Keyhan.ir, 2023, https://kayhan.ir/fa/news/273444. 10 Olgou.ir, “Islamic Iranian Progress Model [الگوي اسلامي ايراني پيشرفت],” 2018, https://olgou.ir/images/olgou/sanad-virastari-14.pdf; Tasnim News, “Statement of the Second Phase of the Revolution [بیانیه «گام دوم انقلاب» امام خامنه‌ای خطاب به ملت ایران منتشر شد],” Tasnim News, 2017, https://www.tasnimnews.com/fa/news/1397/11/24/1946416; Sara Bazoobandi, “Re-Revolutionising Iran: Condemning Prosperity and Jihadi Management,” GIGA Focus, November 3, 2022, https://www.giga-hamburg.de/de/publikationen/giga-focus/re-revolutionising-iran-condemning-prosperity-and-jihadi-management. 11 Bazoobandi, “Re-Revolutionising Iran.” 12 Ehteshami and Bahgat, “Iran’s Asianisation Strategy.” 13 Hongda Fan, “China–Iran Relations from the Perspective of Tehran’s Look East Approach,” Asian Affairs 53, no. 1 (2022): 51–67, https://doi.org/10.1080/03068374.2022.2029053. 14 Deutsche Welle, “Mission of Khamenei's confidant to implement the ‘wise’ agreement with China [ماموریت معتمد خامنه‌ای برای اجرای توافق ‘حکمت‌آمیز’ با چین],” 2023, https://www.dw.com/fa-ir/a-64703051; BBC Persian, “Khamenei's advisor defended the cooperation agreement with China [مشاور آیت‌الله خامنه‌ای از سند همکاری با چین حمایت کرد],” 2020, https://www.bbc.com/persian/iran-53289164. 15 China Daily, “Xi Holds Talks with Iranian President, Eyeing New Progress in Ties,” February 14, 2023, http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/a/202302/14/WS63eb6619a31057c47ebaec27.html. 16 Mohsen Shariatinia and Hamed A. Kermani, “Iran, China and the Persian Gulf: An Unfolding Engagement,” Global Policy 14, no. 1 (2023): 36–45, https://doi.org/10.1111/1758-5899.13122. 17 Nasser Karimi, “UN Arms Embargoes on Iran Expire despite US Objections,” Associated Press, 2020, https://www.apnews.com/article/tehran-middle-east-iran-united-nations-united-states-6b6600decc0436b0aa52578fc7bfa374. 18 Mher Sahakyan, “China’s Belt and Road Initiative, the Middle East and Iran,” in The Belt and Road Initiative in Asia, Africa, and Europe, ed. David M. Arase, Pedro Miguel Amakasu Raposo de Medeiros Carvalho (London and New York: Routledge, 2023), 107–25. 19 Deutsche Welle, “Mission of Khamenei’s confidant.” 20 Taylor Butch, “Iran’s ‘Belt and Road’ Role,” Middle East Quarterly 28, no. 2 (2021): 1–8. 21 Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, “Iran Hopes To Rebuild Economic Ties With Europe After Sanctions,” 2015, https://www.rferl.org/a/iran-rebuild-economic-ties-europe-sanctions/27148663.html. 22 Ellen R. Wald, “10 Companies Leaving Iran As Trump’s Sanctions Close In,” Forbes, 2018, https://www.forbes.com/sites/ellenrwald/2018/06/06/10-companies-leaving-iran-as-trumps-sanctions-close-in. 23 Jonathan Fulton, “The China-Iran Comprehensive Strategic Partnership: A Tale of Two Regional Security Complexes,” Asian Affairs 53, no. 1 (2022): 145–63, https://doi.org/10.1080/03068374.2022.2029073. 24 Mohmad Waseem Malla, “China’s Approach to the Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry,” Middle East Policy 29 (2022): 25–40, https://doi.org/10.1111/mepo.12613 25 Radio Farda, “افشای سند «محرمانه» مرکز زیرنظر ریاست‌جمهوری؛ ایران به «کارخانه غرب آسیا» چین تبدیل شود [Leaking a ‘confidential’ document produced by the Presidential Office; Iran should become China's ‘West Asia Factory’],” 2023, https://www.radiofarda.com/a/secret-letter-presidential-think-tank-china-manufacture-west-asia/32457771.html. 26 Radio Farda, “Leaking a ‘confidential’ document.” 27 Yo Hong, “China-Iran Deal Complements the BRI, but Faces Iranian Domestic Opposition and US Sanctions,” Think China, 2021, https://www.thinkchina.sg/china-iran-deal-complements-bri-faces-iranian-domestic-opposition-and-ussanctions. 28 Humeyra Pamuk, “U.S. Restores Sanctions Waiver to Iran with Nuclear Talks in Final Phase,” Reuters, 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/middle-east/biden-administration-restores-sanctions-waiver-iran-talks-final-phase2022-02-04. 29 Shirzad Azad, “Bargain and Barter: China’s Oil Trade with Iran,” Middle East Policy 30, no. 1 (2023): 23–35, https://doi.org/10.1111/mepo.12669. 30 Anoushiravan Ehteshami, “Asianisation of Asia: Chinese-Iranian Relations in Perspective,” Asian Affairs 53, no. 1(2022): 8–27, https://doi.org/10.1080/03068374.2022.2029037. 31 Meia Nouwens and Helena Legarda, “China’s Pursuit of Advanced Dual-Use Technologies,” IISS, 2018, https://www.iiss.org/research-paper/2018/12/emerging-technology-dominance. 32 Seyed Ali Khamenei, “کارکردهای قدرت علمی در اندیشه‌ مقام معظم رهبری [Application of power of knowledge in the Supreme Leader's thoughts],” Islamic Revolution Documents Center, 2006, https://irdc.ir/fa/news/5354. 33 Sara Bazoobandi, “Populism, Jihad, and Economic Resistance: Studying the Political Discourse of Iran’s Supreme Leader,” Digest of Middle East Studies, 2023, 1–19, https://doi.org/10.1111/dome.12303. 34 Mohammad Eslami, Nasim Sadat Mousavi, and Muhammed Can, “Sino-Iranian Cooperation in Artificial Intelligence: A Potential Countering Against the US Hegemony,” in The Palgrave Handbook of Globalization with Chinese Characteristics: The Case of the Belt and Road Initiative, ed. Paulo Afonso B. Duarte, Francisco Jose B.S. Leandro, and Enrique Martinez Galan (Singapore: Palgrave Macmillan, 2023), 543–62. 35 Tate Ryan-Mosley, “This Huge Chinese Company Is Selling Video Surveillance Systems to Iran,” MIT Technology Review, 2021, https://www.technologyreview.com/2021/12/15/1042142/chinese-company-tiandy-video-surveillance-iran. 36 Steve Stecklow, “Special Report: Chinese Firm Helps Iran Spy on Citizens,” Reuters, 2012, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iran-telecoms-idUSBRE82L0B820120322. 37 Anoush Ehteshami, Niv Horesh, and Ruike Xu, “Chinese-Iranian Mutual Strategic Perceptions,” The China Journal 79 (2018): 1–20, https://doi.org/10.1086/693315. 38 Bloomberg, “China Gorges On Cheap, Sanctioned Oil From Iran, Venezuela,” 2022, https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-01-10/china-buys-more-sanctioned-oil-from-iran-venezuela-at-a-bargain#xj4y7vzkg. 39 Mashregh News, “ماجرای «نظم نوین جهانی» مورد اشاره رهبر انقلاب چه بود؟ [What Did the Supreme Leader Mean by ‘New World Order’?],” 2022, https://www.mashreghnews.ir/news/1368745. 40 Benjamin Houghton, “China’s Balancing Strategy Between Saudi Arabia and Iran: The View from Riyadh,”Asian Affairs 53, no. 1 (2022): 124–44, https://doi.org/10.1080/03068374.2022.2029065. 41 Sabena Siddiqui, “Can China Balance Ties with Iran and the GCC?” Al-Monitor, 2021, https://www.al-monitor.com/originals/2021/03/can-china-balance-ties-iran-and-gcc. 42 Betul Dogan Akkas, “The Complexities of a Houthi-Saudi Deal and Its Impact on Yemen’s Future,” Gulf International Forum, 2023, https://gulfif.org/navigating-the-complexities-of-a-houthi-saudi-deal-and-its-impact-on-yemens-future. 43 Nicole Grajewski, “Iran’s Hormuz Peace Endeavor and the Future of Persian Gulf Security,” European Leadership Network, 2020, https://www.europeanleadershipnetwork.org/commentary/irans-hormuz-peace-endeavor-and-the-futureof-persian-gulf-security. 44 Fajgelbaum et al., “US-China Trade War.” 45 Iranian Students’ News Agency, “روابط ایران و چین و پیامدهای استراتژیک آن [Iran-China Relations and Their Strategic Consequences],” ISNA.IR, 2021, https://www.isna.ir/news/99042216001. 46 Javad Heiran-nia, “مزایای اقتصادی بهبود رابطه ایران و عربستان [The Economic Benefits of Improving Relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia],” Donya-e-Eghtesad, 2023. 47 Kadir Temiz, Chinese Foreign Policy Toward the Middle East (London and New York: Routledge, 2022). 48 GCC STAT, “China-GCC Economic Relations,” 2021, https://gccstat.org/en/statistic/publications/trade-exchangebetween-gcc-and-china. 49 Financial Tribune, “China Remains Iran’s Largest Trade Partner for Ten Consecutive Years,” 2023, https://financialtribune.com/articles/domestic-economy/117145/china-remains-irans-largest-trade-partner-for-tenconsecutive-years. 50 Xi Jinping, “Keynote Speech by President of China at the China-GCC Summit,” Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the People’s Republic of China, 2022, https://www.mfa.gov.cn/eng/zxxx_662805/202212/t20221210_10988408.html; Flavius Caba-Maria, “China and the Wave of Globalization Focusing on the Middle East,” in Duarte, Leandro, and Galan, Palgrave Handbook of Globalization with Chinese Characteristics, 563–74. 51 Xi, “Keynote Speech.” 52 Ishtiaq Ahmad, “Saudi Arabia and China Linked by Shared Interests, a Promising Future,” Arab News, 2022, https://www.arabnews.com/node/2212521 53 Jane Darby Menton, “What Most People Get Wrong About the Iran Nuclear Deal,” Foreign Policy, 2023, https://foreignpolicy.com/2023/05/07/iran-nuclear-deal-jcpoa-us-trump-biden-nonproliferation-diplomacy. 54 Nicole Grajewski, “An Illusory Entente: The Myth of a Russia-China-Iran ‘Axis,’” Asian Affairs 53, no. 1 (2022): 164–83, https://doi.org/10.1080/03068374.2022.2029076. 55 Reuters, “Russia, China, Iran Start Joint Naval Drills in Indian Ocean,” 2019, https://www.reuters.com/article/us-iranmilitary-russia-china-idUSKBN1YV0IB. 56 Arash Saeedi Rad, “افول هژمونی ایالات‌متحده آمریکا و نظم جدیدجهانی [Decline of the United States’ hegemony and the new world order],” American Studies Center, 2023, https://ascenter.ir/1402/02/04. 57 Martin A. Smith, “Russia and Multipolarity since the End of the Cold War,” East European Politics 29, no. 1 (2013): 36–51, https://doi.org/10.1080/21599165.2013.764481; Eugene Rumer, “The Primakov (Not Gerasimov) Doctrine in Action,” Carnagie Endowment for International Peace, 2019, https://carnegieendowment.org/2019/06/05/primakov-notgerasimov-doctrine-in-action-pub-79254; Jolanta Darczewska and Pitor Zochowski, “Active Measures: Russia’s Key Export,” Centre for Eastern Studies, 2017, https://www.osw.waw.pl/sites/default/files/pw_64_ang_activemeasures_net_0.pdf. 58 Tasnim News, “امام خامنه‌ای: امروز جهان در آستانه یک نظم جدید است/ آمریکا در همه چیز از بیست سال قبل ضعیف‌تر شده است [Imam Khamenei: today, the world is beginning a new world order/ America is weaker in every respect than 20 years ago],” Tasnim News, 2022, https://www.tasnimnews.com/fa/news/1401/02/06/2701671; Pang Ruizhi, “China Wants a Multipolar World Order. Can the World Agree?” Think China, 2020, https://www.thinkchina.sg/china-wants-multipolar-world-order-can-world-agree. 59 Sara Bazoobandi, Jens Heibach, and Thomas Richter, “Iran's Foreign Policy Making: Consensus Building or Power Struggle?” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, March 16, 2023, 1–24, https://doi.org/10.1080/13530194.2023.2189572; Hamshahri Online, “عمق استراتژیک ایران [Iran's strategic depth],” 2019, https://www.hamshahrionline.ir/news/141615. 60 Al-Monitor, “Khamenei Urges Iranians to Prepare”; Khamenei.ir, “بیانات در دیدار مجمع عالی فرماندهان سپاه,” October 2, 2019, https://farsi.khamenei.ir/speech-content?id=43632. 61 Bazoobandi, “Populism, Jihad, and Economic Resistance”; Bazoobandi, “Re-Revolutionising Iran.” 62 Karim Sadjadpour, “Reading Khamenei: The World View of Iran’s Most Powerful Leader,” Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, 2008, https://carnegieendowment.org/files/sadjadpour_iran_final2.pdf. 63 Robbie Gramer and Amy Mackinnon, “Iran and Russia Are Closer Than Ever Before,” Foreign Policy, 2023, https://foreignpolicy.com/2023/01/05/iran-russia-drones-ukraine-war-military-cooperation. 64 David Brennan, “Shahed-136: The Iranian Drones Aiding Russia’s Assault on Ukraine,” Newsweek, 2022, https://www.newsweek.com/shahed-136-kamikaze-iran-drones-russia-ukraine-1770373. 65 Yahia H. Zoubir, “Algeria and China: Shifts in Political and Military Relations,” Global Policy 14, no. 1 (2023): 58–68, https://doi.org/10.1111/1758-5899.13115. 66 Edward Wastnidge and Simon Mabon, “The Resistance Axis and Regional Order in the Middle East: Nomos, Space, and Normative Alternatives,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies, 2023, https://doi.org/10.1080/13530194.2023.2179975. 67 hamenei.ir, “Khamenei's Speech on meeting with Basij Forces [بیانات در دیدار بسیجیان],” 2023, https://farsi.khamenei.ir/speech-content?id=54526. 68 Sara Bazoobandi, “Iran Confident Israel-Hamas Conflict Can Advance Its Geostrategic Position,” Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington, 2023, https://agsiw.org/iran-confident-israel-hamas-conflict-can-advance-its-geostrategic-position.

Defense & Security
The national flags of NATO members fly outside the organization's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on April 3, 2023.

NATO anniversary 2024 - 75 years of the defense alliance

by Christina Bellmann

한국어로 읽기 Читать на русском Leer en español Gap In Deutsch lesen اقرأ بالعربية Lire en français What is required of member states between now and the Alliance's anniversary summit in Washington D.C. from July 9 to 11 75 years after its founding, NATO is facing an unprecedented set of challenges. The global security landscape is changing rapidly - from the ongoing war in Ukraine to crucial elections on both sides of the Atlantic. The summit in Washington D.C. will not only be a celebration of the past, but also a crucial marker for the future direction of the Alliance.  NATO is in troubled waters ahead of its 75th birthday - on the one hand, it is not 'brain dead' but offers protection to new members - on the other hand, the challenges are enormous in view of the war in Ukraine.  In the third year of the war, the military situation in Ukraine is serious. The military is coming under increasing pressure and European partners are delivering too little and too slowly.  Western support must be stepped up in order to influence the outcome of the war - Russia's future behavior towards its neighbors also depends on this.  Elections will be held on both sides of the Atlantic in 2024 - the US presidential election in November will be particularly decisive for NATO.  Two thirds of NATO member states are well on the way to meeting the two percent national defense spending target - Germany in particular must ensure that this target is met in the long term.  Now it is up to the leadership of larger countries such as Germany, France and Poland to develop traction in European defense in order to present a future US president with a resilient burden-sharing balance sheet and not leave Ukraine - and the European security order - in the lurch. Return to the core mission In the 75th year of its existence, the North Atlantic Defense Alliance has returned to its core mission: deterrence and defense against a territorial aggressor. NATO defense planning will be reviewed for its resilience before the NATO summit in Washington D.C. from 9 to 11 July 2024. What challenges does the Alliance face in its anniversary year and what needs to happen between now and the NATO summit to make the summit a success? The state of the Alliance ahead of the summit NATO is in difficult waters ahead of its 75th anniversary. On the one hand, it has proven since the beginning of the Russian war of aggression that it is capable of acting and not brain-dead. The two new members, Finland and Sweden, have given up their decades of neutrality because their populations are convinced that they are better protected against Russian aggression within the 30 allies, despite the excellent condition of their military. On the other hand, the admission process has taken much longer than was to be expected given the high level of interoperability of both countries with NATO standards. It took a good twenty months since the application was submitted for both flags to fly on the flagpoles in front of NATO headquarters in Brussels - the internal blockade by Turkey and Hungary is an expression of the Alliance's challenge to maintain a united front against the Russian threat. The Vilnius decision of 2023 to adhere to the previous two percent target for annual defense spending as a percentage of national gross domestic product (GDP) as a minimum figure in future and even to strive for additional spending beyond this is an enormous effort for the members of the alliance - and the biggest point of criticism from its sceptics. The implementation of this goal goes hand in hand with the further development of the defense posture, which was also decided in Vilnius. This includes new regional defense plans that provide for more combat-capable troops that can be deployed more quickly. The Washington summit will show how far the Alliance has come in this respect in a year - gaps between targets and actual capabilities would consequently have to be covered by investments that go beyond the two percent GDP contributions. There are also a number of other important events and factors that will influence the summit. Ukraine's military situation In the third year of the war, the military situation in Ukraine is serious. The fighting has largely turned into a war of position, with high casualties on both sides. The sluggish supply of support from the West means that the Ukrainians have to make do with significantly less than their defense needs. The European Union has failed to meet its promise to deliver one million 155-millimetre shells within a year (by March 2024), while the Russian war economy is producing supplies in multiple shifts. This imbalance is making itself painfully felt in the Ukrainian defense - due to the material deficit, nowhere near enough Russian positions can be eliminated and Russian attacks repelled, and Ukrainian personnel on the front line are depleted. President Volodymyr Zelensky is coming under increasing pressure to mobilize fresh forces for the front. As a result, the Ukrainian military is having to give up some of its terrain in order to conserve material and personnel and take up the most sustainable defensive position possible for the coming weeks and months until relief hopefully comes. comes.1 The Czech initiative to procure half a million rounds in 155 millimeter caliber and 300,000 rounds in 122 millimeter caliber on the world market for Ukraine by June 2024 is urgently needed - but it does not change the fact that Europe and the West are delivering too little and too late, despite the efforts that have been made so far and must continue to be made.2 Even if the US and Europe were to produce at full speed, it would only be half of what Russia produces and receives in support from its allies. Western support therefore urgently needs to be ramped up, as it is of crucial importance for the outcome of the war - and for Russia's future behavior in its neighborhood. Upcoming elections A series of landmark elections will take place on both sides of the Atlantic in the run-up to the summit. The US presidential elections in November 2024 will be of the greatest importance for the future direction of NATO. To date, the USA has been the largest single supporter of Ukraine in the military field; in addition, the USA has decisive weight in the coordination of concrete support from NATO countries - the German Chancellor has repeatedly oriented himself towards US arms deliveries when it comes to the question of German support or even made this a condition for his own commitments.3 While the Democrats in the US Congress continue to support aid packages to Ukraine, the Republican Party is dominated by voices around presidential candidate Donald Trump calling for this "European war" to be left to the Europeans and for domestic challenges to be addressed instead.4 This has led to a months-long blockade of further aid amounting to 60 billion US dollars in the US House of Representatives, which is led by a wafer-thin majority of Republicans. Ukraine urgently needs these supplies to avert shortages in ammunition and air defense. At the time of publication of this Monitor, a release of the funds is not in sight. In terms of foreign policy, there is a bipartisan consensus that the real danger for the USA lies in a systemic conflict with China. Among Republican supporters, impatience with the continuation of the war is increasing, while approval for further support for Ukraine is decreasing. The mood among the general population is similar: between April 2022 and September 2023, the view that the US is doing "too much" for Ukraine increased (from 14% to 41%).5 On the European side, the most important milestone for further support for Ukraine is the election of the new European Parliament from 6 to 9 June 2024. Since the outbreak of the war, approval ratings in the EU for support for Ukraine have been remarkably stable.6 Even in the face of a sometimes difficult economic environment in the 20 eurozone states, approval ratings for the continuation of aid to Ukraine have only fallen slightly in a few EU states - starting from a high level. While the broad center of the EP groups (EPP, S&D and Renew) are united in their support for Ukraine and the transatlantic alliance, the foreign and security policy positioning of the far-right parties of the ECR and ID groups and the non-attached groups is not always clear. According to Nicolai von Ondarza and Max Becker from the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), while the ECR parliamentary group "largely plays a constructive and compatible role" in foreign and security policy, including with regard to NATO and Ukraine, parts of the ID parliamentary group such as the French Rassemblement National (RN) or the German AfD either voted against resolutions critical of Russia in parliament or abstained.7 According to Olaf Wientzek from the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, both the ECR and ID can expect significant seat gains in the upcoming EP elections.8 In terms of numbers, the ID and ECR groups are competing with Renew to be the third strongest force behind the EPP and S&D - according to current estimates, they all have between 80 and 90 seats. It would be conceivable for the currently non-attached Hungarian Fidesz (currently 13 MEPs) to join both the ECR and ID. In view of the increasing co-decision role of parliament - including for further Ukraine support packages - it is important for the EU how these parties and party alliances position themselves in terms of foreign and security policy.9 In fact, parties in the ID faction represent Russian propaganda within Europe in order to exert influence through disinformation, subversion and mobilization and thus undermine the social consensus with regard to Ukraine and NATO.10 This may also become apparent in individual elections, such as in the eastern German states in September 2024. Economic pressure - prioritizing defence? Global inflation averaged 6.2% in 2023. Current forecasts assume falling inflation rates in the Euro-Atlantic region over the course of 2024 to 2026.11 At the same time, however, global economic growth of 3.1% (2024) and an expected 3.2% (2025) compared to the previous year is well below the projections for the post-pandemic recovery.12 The combination of higher consumer prices and slower economic recovery continues to pose the risk of declining approval for strong support within the populations of the European Ukraine-supporting states. Protests in the face of announcements of cuts in various policy areas have demonstrated this in Germany and Europe over the past year. This does not make it easy to prioritize defence spending from a national perspective for the coming years. In the case of Germany, the defense budget is competing with all other departments in the budget negotiations for 2025, which are calling for an increase in social spending and investments in view of the current burdens on the population.13 At the same time, inflation does not stop at military procurement. As early as 2022, Germany therefore had to cancel a number of planned procurement projects due to increased costs.14 The cost increase also affects the maintenance of existing equipment and personnel. Even if Germany nominally reaches the two percent target in 2024, the increases in national defense spending within the Alliance will actually be lower when adjusted for inflation. Systemic threat from China The increasing systemic confrontation with China is not only identified in the US national security strategy; for the first time, China was classified as a concrete threat by NATO in its Strategic Concept of 2022. China is threatening to annex the democratically governed island of Taiwan to its territory, possibly by military means.15 This would have enormous global escalation potential and far-reaching effects on important international sea routes. Concerns about free trade routes are leading to a convergence of threat perceptions on both sides of the Atlantic. As a result, many European partners are rethinking their relations with China - as is Germany in its China strategy. China's global ambition to restructure the existing multilateral order according to its own ideas does not only affect Taiwan's independence. China's supremacy in key technical and industrial sectors as well as critical infrastructure, rare raw materials and supply chains would lead to a deepening of existing dependencies. Because the USA sees China as a systemic threat to international order, freedom and prosperity, it has been refocusing its efforts since President Obama took office. European NATO partners are therefore expected to invest in Europe's security themselves. Only greater burden-sharing by the Europeans would enable the USA to focus its attention more strongly on the Indo-Pacific. Challenges in new dimensions In addition to the geopolitical challenges outlined above, NATO designated space in 2019 as an additional battlefield to the existing fields - land, air, sea and cyberspace - due to its increased importance.16 In recent decades, China has rapidly expanded its presence in space in both the civilian and military sectors.17 The war in Ukraine has once again underlined the importance of satellite-based intelligence and the significance of connected weapons for combat. In addition, the effects of man-made climate change, which also have an impact on security in the Euro-Atlantic alliance area, have recently become increasingly apparent. At the 2021 NATO summit in Brussels, the Alliance set itself the goal of becoming a leading international organization in understanding and adapting to the effects of climate change on security.18 To this end, it adopted the "Climate Change and Security Action Plan". The NATO countries' homework A successful NATO summit in the anniversary year 2024 would send an important signal of the unity and defense capability of the Euro-Atlantic alliance in the face of Russia's breach of international law in a time of systemic competition. NATO member states are confronted with a complex threat situation ahead of the next summit in Washington D.C.. These give rise to various requirements: More NATO members must reach the two percent target In financial terms, the Washington summit will probably be considered a success if a substantial number of member states reach the two percent target. In 2023, this was the case for eleven countries (Poland, USA, Greece, Estonia, Lithuania, Finland, Romania, Hungary, Latvia, UK, Slovakia).19 In February 2024, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced on the sidelines of a meeting of the Ukraine Contact Group in Brussels that 18 countries would reach the target by the summit.20 Germany, the Netherlands, Czech Republic, Bulgaria, Denmark, Albania and North Macedonia are the countries that have recently reached the target.21 The newest NATO member, Sweden, increases the number to.19 Achieving the two percent target for defense spending is not an end in itself. The discussion within NATO as to whether one should deviate from the numerical contribution target and instead assess the actual capabilities contributed by the individual member states is not a new one. Amounts of money to measure collective defense remain the simplest way to approximate burden-sharing within NATO - and until all countries have achieved this, it will remain the relevant metric in the political discussion. From NATO's perspective, the gap between the desired capabilities listed in the defense plans and the troop contingents registered by the member states has widened steadily of late. In reality, there is no way around increased defense spending in order to adequately equip the required personnel, who would have to be subordinate to the NATO Supreme Allied Commander (SACEUR) in an emergency - from a military perspective, the demand is therefore increasingly being made that two percent should be the minimum target. In order to achieve all the required capabilities, larger contributions are needed from all nations. Due to the threat situation and political pressure, it seems possible that 21 countries, i.e. two thirds of the member states, will meet the two percent target by the NATO summit in Washington. In addition to the 19 countries mentioned above, these are France22 and Montenegro.23 Turkey wants to achieve the target by 2025,24 although this commitment is uncertain in view of the poor economic situation. Italy wants to spend two percent within the next two years25, while Norway should reach the target by 2026 according to Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Stoere26. Slovenia has set 2027 as the target date for meeting the commitments27, while Portugal, Spain and Belgium have set 2030 as the target date. Canada (1.38%), Croatia (1.79%) and Luxembourg (0.72%) have not provided any information. Reduce bureaucracy, speed up procurement In material terms, the main aim is to convert the increased defense spending into "material on the farm" in a timely manner. To achieve this, the planning and procurement processes in many European countries need to be accelerated, made less bureaucratic and at the same time better coordinated. The common European defense will require massive improvements in the coming years. Some announcements have already been made during the pre-election campaign for the European Parliament; here, too, what counts is how the announcements are implemented after the election. Progress must also be made in the area of research and development in order to invest scarce resources in state-of-the-art systems. The question of joint development versus off-the-shelf procurement of available equipment will also have to be decided in many cases. A rethink in European procurement is essential for this. This is primarily the responsibility of the European nation states: long-term contracts with the arms industry must be concluded urgently, cooperation initiated and loans granted for production. Strengthening EU-NATO cooperation and NATO partnership policy NATO's Strategic Concept and the EU's Strategic Compass show a strong convergence in threat analysis. The EU has effective starting points and tools, particularly for cross-cutting challenges such as combating climate change, the threat of hybrid attacks and the protection of critical infrastructure. With the European Peace Facility and other instruments, a concrete institutional framework has been created to strengthen the European pillar in NATO and contribute to fairer burden-sharing on both sides of the Atlantic. The EU and NATO should further intensify the exchange on common challenges and utilize the strengths of the respective forum. In addition to the partnership with the EU, the member states should continue to promote NATO's partnership policy. 2024 marks the 25th anniversary of NATO's eastward enlargement and the 30th anniversary of NATO's Partnership for Peace program. In view of a global confrontation with Russia and an increasingly aggressive China, it is worth taking a look at the instruments that were devised during the Cold War with a view to 'like-minded' partners outside the Alliance. NATO's partnership policy - adapted to the new circumstances - is an ideal instrument for forging close ties with democratic nations in the Indo-Pacific that share NATO's interests and values.28 Investing in interoperability NATO must continue to act as a "guardian of standards" in favor of military interoperability. This year's major exercises as part of "Steadfast Defender 2024" and "Quadriga 2024" will show, among other things, which weaknesses still exist in the various dimensions of interoperability in practical tests. In addition, care must be taken to ensure that military innovations from pioneers within NATO do not leave the Alliance's other allies behind in technical terms. This does not mean that technological progress is slowed down in a race to the bottom; instead, member states with lower expenditure on research and development must be enabled to catch up more quickly - especially in areas such as space technology and the use of artificial intelligence in warfare, it is becoming increasingly important to avoid the technological gap between the members of the alliance. What does this mean for Germany? The Federal Chancellor's announcement on February 27, 2022 that the establishment of the 100 billion euro special fund heralded a turning point in Germany's security policy was seen everywhere in Germany and within the Alliance as the right decision in view of Russia's aggression. In his speech, Olaf Scholz emphasized that Germany was not seeking this expenditure to please allies. The special fund serves national security. However, the acute threat to European security remains and although the NATO target will be reached in 2024, the future of Germany's defense budget is anything but certain. However, investment in the Bundeswehr's defense capabilities is essential to contribute to credible deterrence. The foundation for securing sustainable defense spending in Germany's medium-term financial planning must be laid now, otherwise two percent - depending on the spending status of the special fund - may already be unattainable in 2026, when the regular federal budget is once again used as the basis for calculating the NATO target. As the budget for 2025 will not yet have been decided at the NATO summit in July 2024, the Chancellor will need to make a credible commitment to the allies that Germany will not fall behind. The Bundeswehr will also have to stretch itself enormously in order to achieve the troop levels announced for the new defense plans. The number of servicewomen and men is currently stagnating at just under 182,000. 29 In order to be able to provide the brigade in Lithuania in addition to the nationally required forces and to meet the division commitment for 2026, the Bundeswehr must come significantly closer to the target figure of 203,300 active servicewomen and men by 2027.30 The questions of how many of the 182,000 soldiers available on paper are also willing to become part of the brigade in Lithuania and how many of the total number are actually deployable in an emergency have not even been asked at this point. What counts now - political leadership The security situation in Europe is serious and NATO has no shortage of challenges in its 75th year of existence. It is in good shape to meet these challenges and has welcomed two strong nations into its ranks, Finland and Sweden. However, it is now important not to let up in the efforts that have been agreed. A united external stance is key here, as the current NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg never tires of emphasizing. His successor will have to continue this. Even more important, however, are actual, concrete and substantial actions - the English expression "put one's money where one's mouth is" must be the leitmotif of all European NATO nations in view of the US elections at the end of the year, regardless of the outcome. Ultimately, political leadership is what counts within the alliance in virtually all the areas mentioned - and it matters now. Many smaller countries in Europe look to the larger member states such as Germany, France and Poland for leadership. This applies both in terms of sustainable compliance with the two percent target and when it comes to political agreement and cooperation in the field of armaments. Here, the larger states have a role model and leadership function that can develop traction and pressure on the Alliance as a whole. This political leadership will be more important than ever for the European representatives in NATO in 2024. At the moment, however, it seems questionable whether the current leadership vacuum can be filled before the NATO summit. Germany, France and Poland have not yet been able to develop a jointly coordinated stance that could have a positive effect. It is therefore also questionable whether the NATO summit will be able to send important signals beyond the minimum objectives. The US presidential election hangs over everything like a sword of Damocles - the erratic leadership style of another US President Donald Trump could be difficult to reconcile with the strategic goals of the alliance. Imprint This publication of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung e. V. is for information purposes only. It may not be used by political parties or election campaigners or helpers for the purpose of election advertising. This applies to federal, state and local elections as well as elections to the European Parliament. Publisher: Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung e. V., 2024, Berlin Design: yellow too, Pasiek Horntrich GbR Produced with the financial support of the Federal Republic of Germany. References 1 Reisner, Markus: So ernst ist die Lage an der Front. In: Streitkräfte und Strategien Podcast, NDR Info, 12.03.2024, online unter: https://ogy.de/0ne7 2 Zachová, Aneta: Tschechische Initiative: Munition für Ukraine könnte im Juni eintreffen. Euractiv, 13.03.2024, online unter https://ogy.de/gofh 3 Besonders eindrücklich bleibt das Beispiel der Lieferung schwerer Waffen in Erinnerung: so rang sich Bundeskanzler Scholz zur Freigabe der Lieferung Leopard-Panzer deutscher Fertigung erst nach amerikanischer Zusage von Abrams-Panzern von militärisch zweifelhaftem Mehrwert durch. 4 Dress, Brad: Ramaswamy isolates himself on Ukraine with proposed Putin pact. In: The Hill, 01.09.2023, online unter: https://ogy.de/c9ow 5 Hutzler, Alexandra: How initial US support for aiding Ukraine has come to a standstill 2 years later. ABC News, 24.02.2024, online unter https://ogy.de/h0z6 6 Grand, Camille u.a.: European public opinion remains supportive of Ukraine. Bruegel, 05.06.2023, online unter https://ogy.de/ipbu 7 von Ondarza, Nicolai und Becker, Max: Geostrategie von rechts außen: Wie sich EU-Gegner und Rechtsaußenparteien außen- und sicherheitspolitisch positionieren. SWP-aktuell, 01.03.2024, online unter: https://ogy.de/a62v 8 Wientzek, Dr. Olaf: EVP-Parteienbarometer Februar 2024 - Die Lage der Europäischen Volkspartei in der EU. Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, 06.03.2024, online unter https://ogy.de/fv9b 9 s. Footnote 7 10 Klein, Margarete: Putins „Wiederwahl“: Wie der Kriegsverlauf die innenpolitische Stabilität Russlands bestimmt. In: SWP-Podcast, 06.03.2024, online unter: https://ogy.de/7i5s 11 Potrafke, Prof. Dr. Niklas: Economic Experts Survey: Wirtschaftsexperten erwarten Rückgang der Inflation weltweit (3. Quartal 2023). ifo-Institut, 19. Oktober 2023, online unter: https://ogy.de/wunq 12 Umersbach, Bruno: Wachstum des weltweiten realen Bruttoinlandsprodukts (BIP) von 1980 bis 2024. Statista, 07.02.2024, online unter: https://ogy.de/5ohz 13 Petersen, Volker: Ampel droht Zerreißprobe: Vier Gründe, warum der Haushalt 2025 so gefährlich ist. N-tv, 07.03.2024, online unter: https://ogy.de/9fcl 14 Specht, Frank u.a.: Regierung kürzt mehrere Rüstungsprojekte. Handelsblatt, 24.10.2022, online unter: https://ogy.de/71z3 15 Vgl. Wurzel, Steffen u.a.: Worum es im Konflikt um Taiwan geht. Deutschlandfunk, 12.04.2023, online unter https://ogy.de/ddc1 16 Vogel, Dominic: Bundeswehr und Weltraum - Das Weltraumoperationszentrum als Einstieg in multidimensionale Operationen. Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik, 01.10.2020, online unter: https://ogy.de/c7m1 17 Rose, Frank A.: Managing China‘s rise in outer space. Brookings, letzter Zugriff am 18.09.2023, online unter https://ogy.de/374g 18 Vgl. Kertysova, Katarina: Implementing NATO’s Climate Security Agenda: Challenges Ahead. In: NATO Review, 10.08.2023, online unter: https://ogy.de/ho94 19 Vgl. Statista: Defense expenditures of NATO countries as a percentage of gross domestic product in 2023. Abgerufen am 18.09.2023 online unter https://ogy.de/wtsb 20 Neuhann, Florian: Ukraine-Kontaktgruppe in Brüssel: Eine Krisensitzung - und ein Tabubruch? ZDF heute, 14.02.2024, online unter https://ogy.de/rezf 21 Mendelson, Ben: Diese Nato-Länder halten 2024 das Zwei-Prozent-Ziel ein. Handelsblatt, 15.02.2024, online unter https://ogy.de/quiu 22 Kayali, Laura: France will reach NATO defense spending target in 2024. Politico, 15.02.2024, online unter https://ogy.de/7vdd 23 https://icds.ee/en/defence-spending-who-is-doing-what/ 24 Vgl. Daily Sabah: Türkiye’s defense spending expected to constitute 2% of GDP by 2025. 21.10.2022, online unter https://ogy.de/xtbr 25 Vgl. Decode39: Defence spending: Rome’s path towards the 2% target. 20.07.2023, online unter https://ogy.de/c0g3 26 Waldwyn, Karl: Norwegian defence chief sounds alarm and raises sights. In: Military Balance Blog, International Institute for Strategic Studies, 23.06.2023, online unter https://ogy.de/8b4a 27 Vgl. Army Technology: Russian threat driving Slovenia’s defence budget increase. 02.08.2022, online unter https://ogy.de/c5y7 28 Vgl. Kamp, Dr. Karl-Heinz: Allianz der Interessen. In: IP, Ausgabe September/Oktober 29 Vgl. Bundeswehr. Stand: 31.07.2023, abgerufen am 19.09.2023, online unter: https://ogy.de/m69j 30 Bundeswehr: Ambitioniertes Ziel: 203.000 Soldatinnen und Soldaten bis 2027. Online unter https://ogy.de/3pzs

Defense & Security
Paper airplanes with the US and Iranian flags face each other

Drone attack on American troops risks widening Middle East conflict – and drawing in Iran-US tensions

by Sara Harmouch

Watch on YouTube A drone attack that killed three American troops and wounded at least 34 more at a base in Jordan has increased fears of a widening conflict in the Middle East – and the possibility that the U.S. may be further drawn into the fighting. President Joe Biden vowed to respond to the assault, blaming Iran-backed militias for the first U.S. military casualties in months of such strikes in the region. But to what extent was Iran involved? And what happens next? The Conversation turned to Sara Harmouch, an expert on asymmetric warfare and militant groups in the Middle East, to answer these and other questions. What do we know about the group that claimed responsibility? Al-Muqawama al-Islamiyah fi al-Iraq, which translates as the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, has claimed responsibility for the drone attack. However, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq is not a single group per se. Rather, it is a term used to describe an umbrella organization, which, since around 2020, has included various Iran-backed militias in the region. Initially, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq emerged as a response to foreign military presence and political interventions, especially after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion of Iraq. The Islamic Resistance in Iraq acted as a collective term for pro-Tehran Iraqi militias, allowing them to launch attacks under a single banner. Over time, it evolved to become a front for Iran-backed militias operating beyond Iraq, including those in Syria and Lebanon. Today, the Islamic Resistance in Iraq operates as a cohesive force rather than as a singular entity – that is to say, as a network its objectives often align with Iran’s goal of preserving its influence across the region, but on a national level the groups have their distinct agendas. The collective is notorious for its staunch anti-U.S. posture and dynamic military campaigns, such as a recent two-day drone operation targeting American forces at an Iraqi airbase. Operating under this one banner of Islamic Resistance, these militias effectively conceal the identities of the actual perpetrators in their operations. This was seen in the deadly Jan. 28, 2024, attack on Tower 22, a U.S. military base in Jordan. Although it is evident that an Iranian-supported militia orchestrated the drone assault, pinpointing the specific faction within this broad coalition remains elusive. This deliberate strategy hinders direct attribution and poses challenges for countries attempting to identify and retaliate against the precise culprits. What do they hope to achieve in attacking a US target? Iranian-backed militias have been intensifying attacks on U.S. forces in recent months in response to American support for Israel in the Israel-Hamas conflict, and also to assert regional influence. Since the beginning of the conflict in October 2023, Iranian-backed militias have repeatedly struck American military bases in Iraq and Syria, recently expanding their attacks to include northeastern Jordan near the Syrian border. The deadly assault on Jan. 28 marks a significant escalation, though – it is the first instance during the Israel-Hamas war that American troops have been killed. Where is Tower 22 – the US base hit in drone attack? Three American troops were killed at a camp in Jordan near the Syrian border.   The attack in Jordan forms part of a strategy by Iranian-backed militias to counter Washington’s support for Israel in the Gaza conflict. But it is also aimed at advancing a wider goal of pushing U.S. forces out of the Middle East entirely. By coordinating attacks under the Islamic Resistance in Iraq, these groups are trying to display a unified stance against U.S. interests and policy, showcasing their collective strength and strategic alignment across the region. What role did Iran have in the attack? Iran has officially denied any involvement in the drone strike. But the Islamic Resistance in Iraq is known to be part of the networks of militia groups that Tehran supports. Iran, through the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ Quds Force, has provided such militias with money, weapons and training. However, the extent of Iran’s command and coordination in specific incidents like the Jordan attack remains unclear. At this stage, more concrete evidence is necessary to firmly implicate Iran. As Iran expert Nakissa Jahanbani and I recently explained in an article for The Conversation, Iran’s strategy in the region involves supporting and funding militia groups while granting them a degree of autonomy. By doing so, Iran maintains plausible deniability when it comes to attacks carried out by its proxies. So while Iran’s direct involvement in the attack has not been definitively established, Tehran’s long-standing support of groups like the Islamic Resistance in Iraq is well documented, playing a significant role in the regional conflict dynamics and geopolitical strategies. What options does the US have to respond? It isn’t clear how the U.S. intends to respond to the attack. The Biden administration faces complex dynamics when it comes to responding to attacks linked to Iranian-backed militias. While a forceful military strike is an option that the Biden administration appears to be looking at, targeting Iran directly on its own soil is fraught with risks and may be seen as a step too far. Even when targeting Iranian interests or personnel, such as the assassination of Quds Force General Qassem Soleimani, the U.S has conducted these actions outside Iranian territory. Iran’s denial of direct involvement in the attack further complicates the situation and makes it less likely that the U.S. attacks Iran in retaliatory strikes. But adopting a targeted approach, such as striking militia leaders outside of Iran, raises questions about the effectiveness of U.S. tactics in deterring Iran and its proxies. This strategy has been employed in the past, yet it has not significantly curbed Iran’s or its proxies’ aggressive actions. The concern is that while such strikes are precise, they may not be enough to deter ongoing or future attacks. The key to the strategy’s success may rest in identifying the most influential factors, or “centers of gravity,” that can effectively influence Iran’s behavior. This means determining key leaders, critical infrastructure or economic assets, which, if killed, destroyed or seized, could substantially alter Iran’s decision-making or operational capabilities. The Biden administration’s need to balance a strong response with the geopolitical consequences highlights the difficulties of navigating a tense and evolving situation. How might the attack affect the wider Middle East conflict? How the U.S. responds could reshape the Middle East’s geopolitical landscape and influence the dynamics of proxy warfare in the region. A strong military response from Washington might deter Iranian-backed militias from future attacks, but it could also provoke them into taking more aggressive actions. In the short term, any U.S. retaliation – especially if it targets Iranian interests directly – could escalate tensions in the region. It could also exacerbate the cycle of tit-for-tat strikes between the U.S. and Iranian-backed forces, increasing the risk of a broader regional conflict. And given that the attack’s pretext involves the Israel-Hamas war, any U.S. response could indirectly affect the course of that conflict, impacting future diplomatic efforts and the regional balance of power.

Defense & Security
Armed security on a cargo ship in the Red Sea.

America: Seeing red in the Red Sea

by Vivek Mishra

The attacks on shipping in the Red Sea is a test for the US’ Indo-Pacific strategy to deal with China In a House Armed Services Committee hearing in March 2023 on the US posture and security challenges in the Middle East and Africa, it was acknowledged that “…President Biden’s decision to unilaterally and unconditionally withdraw all US forces from Afghanistan has undermined our national security.” The developments of the past few weeks in the Red Sea have made this assertion seem prophetic. Yemen’s Houthi rebels have strategically positioned themselves to exploit less monitored zones in the Red Sea and the broader Arabian Sea. With numerous naval vessels navigating this critical route linking the Mediterranean and the Arabian Sea, countering the Houthi rebels and their assaults on global shipping has become exceedingly challenging for the US. The Houthi rebels have connected these attacks to the ongoing conflict in Gaza, tying the halt in hostilities along shipping lanes to a ceasefire negotiation between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Their strategy involves increasing attacks on ships and holding them as leverage to prompt the US to pressure Israel for a ceasefire. The timing of the Houthi actions aligns with Israel’s focused operations in southern Gaza and a waning Congressional backing in the US for continuous financial support for overseas conflicts. Tactically, the Houthis see an opportunity to open a third front in the maritime domain, even as the Israeli air defence systems are overwhelmed by combined rocket attacks of Hamas and Hezbollah in the north and south. In an offensive barrage last week, the Hezbollah carried out six attacks in eight hours. In the maritime domain, the Houthis have carried out multiple UAV, rocket and missile attacks targeting a dozen merchant ships in the larger Indian Ocean. Iran has conducted attacks on US and Israeli vessels in the region as well. A recent attack on an Israeli vessel off the west cost of India near Veraval is a red flag for safety and security of the Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) in the Indo-Pacific. With unmanned aerial vehicles and use of other technological capabilities, the attacks on ships could be rapid, discreet, damaging and, most of all, with little or no accountability. Often, the vulnerabilities associated with international strategic choke points have always been assessed from the perspective of State complicity, resting States’ conviction on limited capacities of non-State actors to exact huge costs. If anything, the Red Sea crisis shows that even with little but calculated external support, non-State actors could indeed significantly disturb the predictability of global supply chains and bring merchandise flow to a halt. The economic impact of increased attacks in the Red Sea is already being felt, as many ships have begun to avoid the route through the Red Sea and prefer the longer route around the Cape of Good Hope in Africa. This has caused worries of delay in the global freight markets and pricing concerns in energy dependent countries beside the security concerns for shipping companies such as Maersk. Since the Israel-Hamas war began, the US Central Command has been active in preventing a slew of UAV attacks by the Houthi rebels. For the US, the situation developing in the Red Sea presents a combination of political, economic and strategic challenges. The ongoing Israeli operation in Gaza has politically isolated the US at the global level as the only country to oppose a UNSC ceasefire resolution. The political heat from the Israel-Hamas war is being felt at home with dwindling youth support for President Biden as presidential elections near. The economic costs of the two wars – one in the Middle East and the other in Ukraine – is already tearing the US Congress apart. At the strategic level, coordinated attacks on international shipping threatens to force a rebalancing of the US force posture in the Indo-Pacific. The US currently has two aircraft carriers positioned in the Middle East since the Israel-Hamas war began. While a strong US military presence in the region may have prevented the war from spreading through the region, any additional and long-time concentration of force posture in the Gulf may be detrimental to Washington’s Indo-Pacific intent. Indeed, America’s Indo-Pacific strategy is being tested in the Middle East through five core ideas. Firstly, the recentring of US forces in the Middle East contradicts the intended pivot towards Asia. Secondly, the attacks orchestrated by the Houthis and Iran highlight the unpredictable threats that can disrupt supply chains in the region. Thirdly, the US faces challenges in executing counterterrorism and counterpiracy efforts in the Indo-Pacific, especially while collaborating with allies. Moreover, integrating the Middle East into an Indo-Pacific connectivity project appears increasingly challenging. Lastly, China’s refusal to join the US in protecting the Red Sea shipping lanes reveals Beijing’s divergent strategy for engaging with the Middle East from that of the US.

Defense & Security
Prime Minister of Norway Jonas Gahr Støre

Norway Prime Minister Jonas Gahr Støre's Speech on board the USS Gerald R. Ford

by Jonas Gahr Støre

Ambassador, Admiral, Excellencies, friends, It is a great honour to welcome the USS Gerald R. Ford and its crew to Norway and to Oslo. This is a historical event, nothing less. – A show of force. But just as important: A show of friendship – and a show of trust. And it is great to be back on the Ford! – Because I have been here before. Actually, I landed on the Ford outside Norfolk, Virginia last September. I experienced how it was to land – but even more memorable was to take off, being catapulted off the ship – I am still recovering. Today, we came by boat. – It is more relaxed, if I may say so. It is very good to be back. I would like to thank you for this extraordinary U.S. hospitality, we can all feel it, thank you, Captain for the superb Friday evening entertainment. Stepping onto the ship once again, on the Norwegian side of the Atlantic Ocean, reminds me of the obvious fact: The ocean does not divide us. It unites us. And the ocean, as we can see, is a gateway, a waterway, that makes us to what we are – we are neighbours and close friends across the Atlantic.  The Ford flies a battle flag which shows the compass rose. – This is an important tool, for centuries, and a powerful symbol – for staying on the right course. Navigating the Oslo fjord is no easy thing, and on your very first overseas visit I believe it proves that you master the tool – the compass, although – probably, the pilots also helped. Your skilled sailors have anchored the ship on a spot which is significant in many ways in my country. Because the Oslo Fjord tells an important part of the history of Norway: Merchants and rulers came this way, landed near Akershus Castle, which defended the city for centuries from invasions from outside. The famous explorer Roald Amundsen – whose name is, as you know, on the frigate – started his South Pole expedition from exactly where we are now, just ashore here. The Nazi German occupants came this way in 1940 – however, they struggled a lot more to get through the narrow parts of the fjord. The Norwegian king returned from his exile in Great Britain in 1945 on HMS Norfolk by this waterway. – War and peace. Shortly after, NATO was founded. Our two nations – founding fathers of NATO – are close allies, and – as you reminded, Admiral – the U.S. Navy is particularly important to Norwegian security. The U.S. Marine Corps equipment, stored in Mid-Norway, is proof of that commitment. The Norwegian Armed Forces appreciates, in numerous contexts, the opportunity to train with U.S. women and men in uniform. – And that is what we will do in the coming days, and we look forward to it. Well planned, joint exercises are essential. This is not new. It is about continuity. We know. Our neighbours know. And our allies know.  The USS Gerald R. Ford is now anchored in the heart of the five Nordic countries – coastwise towards the Atlantic Ocean. This region will now form the new northern flank of NATO – with Finland, its newest member – and just pending the acceptance of Sweden. So – a new security policy map is in the making. For the first time in centuries the Nordic countries will belong to the same security alliance, being U.S. partners and partners of a strong alliance for stability and peace.  Admiral, You are not just navigating a large ship; you are navigating a significant political and diplomatic tool: the U.S. at sea. This ship has the ability to enhance stability and security wherever you sail, whatever waters you travel. You demonstrate the U.S. commitment to NATO and to transatlantic security. To our security. For that we are truly grateful. Against the backdrop of the ongoing war in Ukraine, this is – to put it short – more important than ever. So, dear friends, on this beautiful Friday afternoon, we should be reminded that there have been dire times, wars in Europe, and we should prepare to avoid dire times in the future. Immediately after the attack on Pearl Harbour in December 1941, President Roosevelt wired Prime Minister Churchill the following words: “Today we are all in the same boat (…) and it is a ship which will not and cannot be sunk.”  A truly transatlantic message – and from this our transatlantic alliance emerged. Democracies decided on standing together. Like then, we are in the same boat – and in a big one this time, and it feels safe. So, friends, Welcome to Norway, welcome to Oslo. Welcome to come training with us. I wish you and your fantastic crew of this ship an excellent stay. You have been well received in Oslo. You are our friends. I wish you a good onward voyage. Thank you very much for your attention.

Defense & Security
Flag of Philippines and USA

A look at the expanded ambit of the Washington-Manila MDT

by Pratnashree Basu

The further strengthening of ties between the US and the Philippines is indicative of the breadth and scope of maritime security arrangements in the region.Only four months into the year and 2023 has already been very busy in terms of United States (US) engagement in the Indo-Pacific, particularly in East Asia and the South China Sea. During Philippine President Ferdinand Marcos Jr’s recent visit to the US, alongside reaffirming the continuation of the broader ambit of bilateral partnership, the two countries established ‘ground rules’ on US-Philippine defence cooperation on 3 May. The US and the Philippines have a long-standing treaty partnership that dates back to the post-World War II era. The treaty partnership began with the signing of the Mutual Defense Treaty (MDT) in 1951, which established a framework for military cooperation and mutual defence between the two countries, making Manila the oldest ally of Washington in the region. Beijing, quite expectedly, has expressed its disapproval of this new development characterising it as Washington’s attempt at drawing Southeast Asian nations into a small clique to contain China. Beijing’s usual reaction whenever the US conducts outreach in the region comprises various versions of the narrative that Washington is forcing countries to sacrifice their sovereign identities by becoming pawns in the latter’s efforts to destabilise the region and turn countries against China. Mao Ning, a spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry stressed that the South China Sea is not a hunting ground for countries outside of it. Meanwhile, the state-run foreign-language news channel, CGTN, warned against President Marcos’s ‘dangerous courtship.’The reinforced scope of the US-Philippines defence partnershipInterestingly, in addition to reiterating US commitments as Manila’s treaty partner and referencing the strong need for maintaining peace and stability in the South China Sea, the joint statement noted that the two sides “affirm the importance of maintaining peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait” as an indispensable element of global peace and security. Defence ties between the US and the Philippines have indeed expanded to include, first the South China Sea and now, the Taiwan Strait. What this indicates is a steady consolidation of security frameworks in the region that would form bulwarks against Beijing’s repeated and expanding overtures into the South China Sea and pressures on Taiwan. Given that the Taiwan Strait lies at a distance of only 800 miles from Manila, it is not surprising that the security of the Strait has been included under the expanded purview of Washington and Manila’s treaty partnership. Under the basic framework of the MDT, the US and the Philippines agreed to come to each other’s aid in the event of an attack by an external aggressor. The MDT has been an important part of the US-Philippines relationship, providing a basis for close military cooperation and joint training exercises. The US has provided military aid and assistance to the Philippines, helping to modernise its armed forces and improve its capabilities in areas such as maritime security and counterterrorism. Despite episodic friction over issues such as human rights and the rule of law, the US-Philippines treaty partnership remains an important part of both countries’ foreign policy agendas. As the geopolitical landscape in Asia continues to evolve, the US-Philippines treaty partnership will likely remain an important pillar of stability and cooperation in the region. Now, the partnership includes a broadening of “information sharing on the principal threats and challenges” to the peace and security of the US and the Philippines. The upgraded ‘ironclad’ alliance commitments also make room for the inclusion of new sites which could contribute to the enhancement of Manila’s maritime security and modernisation efforts under the U.S.-Philippines Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement. It also creates a greater space for US involvement in the improvement of local and shared capacities in the delivery of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.What this means for the Indo-PacificPresident Marcos’s visit comes close on the heels of South Korean President Yoon’s visit to Washington which resulted in the latter agreeing to send an Ohio-class nuclear ballistic missile submarine to Seoul to strengthen deterrence against Pyongyang’s recent nuclear flexing. Earlier in April, Manila allowed Washington access to four additional military bases for joint training, pre-positioning of equipment and building of facilities such as runways, fuel storage, and military housing. Access to these new locations is significant as two of them—Isabela and Cagayan—are positioned facing Taiwan while the Palawan base is in proximity to the Spratly Islands—a source of a long-standing dispute between China and the Philippines. The two countries have agreed to resume joint maritime patrols in the South China Sea and Manila is also assessing a trilateral security pact involving Japan. In mid-April, before President Marcos’s visit, the two countries participated in their largest-ever joint military drills, Exercise Balikatan, in the South China Sea. China is decidedly furious at the pace and scope of these new developments. Undoubtedly, steps like these are strategic and oriented towards boosting the defence postures of ‘like-minded’ countries in the region. But despite Beijing’s strong censure, these measures are indicative of the breadth and scope of maritime security arrangements in the region being on the course to be further strengthened.

Defense & Security
Sukhbaatar, the parliament building of the government of Mongolia in Ulan Bator

Renewed Geopolitical Rivalries: Challenges and Options for Mongolia

by Mendee Jargalsaikhan

IntroductionDuring a break in the COVID-19 pandemic, the foreign ministers of China, Russia, Japan and the United States boosted Mongolia into international headlines. Returning from the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting in Moscow, for instance, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi stopped in Ulaanbaatar (15–16 September) with a message: Do not take sides with China’s competitors if Mongolia wants to rely on the Chinese economic powerhouse. Within the week, Mongolian Foreign Minister Enkhtaivan Nyamtseren was invited by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to meet on short notice. Even though the ministers jointly announced the finalization of a treaty on the permanent comprehensive strategic partnership, the Kremlin showed its will to lead trilateral economic projects (such as a gas pipeline) with China and impose the Eurasian Economic Union agenda on Mongolia. Then on 29 September, the United States Secretary of State Michael Pompeo announced the inclusion of Mongolia in his trip to visit allies in East Asia—Japan and the Republic of Korea.2 Although the trip was ultimately cancelled due to an outbreak of COVID-19 cases among White House officials, Pompeo talked by telephone with President Battulga Khaltmaa and highlighted their shared commitment to democracy and regional security. A few days later, Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi, considered a key insider of then Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s geopolitics, flew to Ulaanbaatar. In addition to updating the strategic partnership plan until 2022, the Japanese Foreign Minister’s interests centred on Mongolia’s inclusion in the Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy. Mongolia has declared strategic partnerships with each of these great powers and is thus entering a complicated geopolitical setting. It is not entirely new. A similar scene occurred in the summer of 1991. Chinese President Yang Shangkun, Japanese Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu and the United States Secretary of State James Baker each visited Mongolia within a month’s time. China wanted agreement to non-interference in its internal affairs, whereas Japan and the United States imposed non-reversal conditionality on Mongolia’s democratic transition to receive much-needed economic assistance. The primary difference then was the absence of Russia. This policy paper discusses the renewed geopolitical rivalries of the great powers, explains Mongolia’s challenges to manoeuvring in this tough geopolitical terrain and then proposes pursuit of a pragmatic, neutral foreign policy option similar to Finland’s strategic concessions to its neighbouring great power, the Soviet Union.Renewed geopolitical rivalriesThe great power competition also is nothing new. Even after the Cold War, China, Japan, Russia and the United States were watching each other suspiciously while avoiding unnecessary tension. In the 1990s, policymakers and academics in Japan, Russia, and the United States debated over the China threat and the consequences of China’s economic rise. Russian leaders, such as Foreign Minister and later Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov and President Vladimir Putin, sought ways to balance with the United States and to integrate into the European economic and security framework. It was not a surprise when Putin hinted at Russia’s inclusion in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) because the country was already supporting American military operations in Afghanistan. Similarly, in 2000, the United States Congress mandated its Defense Department to report annually on China’s security strategy and military development. China and Japan had similar outlooks. China was wary of the United States, whereas Japan remained vigilant of both China and Russia. In the mid-2000s, all these countries reassessed their long-term geopolitical and economic objectives as the geopolitical setting began to shift. With similar geopolitical concerns about American strategies, China and Russia advanced their partnership by conducting an annual joint military exercise (Peace Mission, beginning in 2005) and even demanded the withdrawal of American forces from Central Asia. When the United States proposed another round of NATO’s expansion into Ukraine and Georgia and new missile defence systems in the Czech Republic and Poland, Russia quickly reacted. This resulted in a brief military conflict with Georgia in 2008. Following the breakdown with Europe, Russia began pursuing policies to reassert its influence in former Soviet republics through the Eurasian Economic Union as well as the Collective Security Treaty Organization. China and Russia jointly strengthened the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and created a new bloc with Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa (BRICS) for collaborating on major geopolitical issues. From 2012, the great power rivalries intensified. Chinese President Xi Jinping renounced the “hide and bide” principle of Deng Xiaoping by pledging that China would take an active role in global politics. A year later, China unveiled a new grand strategy, known as the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), to invest in infrastructure that increases global connectivity. Chinese leaders explained that the BRI is a “win–win” developmental initiative. The ambitions and ambiguity of the BRI, however, immediately raised geopolitical concern from all the great powers, as if China was about to reshape the global and regional order for its geopolitical advantage. For example, building on its earlier strategy (Pivot to East Asia), the United States launched a series of measures to contain China. It endorsed Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s quadrilateral security dialogue (for the alliance of Japan, India, Australia and the United States) and strengthened ties with India, Myanmar, Singapore and Vietnam, all of whom are cautious of China’s economic and military powers. Meanwhile, in 2014, Russia annexed Crimea and intervened in Eastern Ukraine, based on its geopolitical concerns for Ukraine’s potential membership in NATO. Then, in 2015, Russia deployed its military to Syria to check the United States’ interventions while declaring its strategic partnership with China. In response, the United States cited China and Russia as the biggest threats in its National Defense Strategy (2018), which is the country’s long-term strategic defense document.6 The American Defense Department released its Indo–Pacific Strategy Report, and the State Department defined its Free and Open Indo–Pacific vision. Both documents prioritized containing China’s growing economic and military power in the Indo–Pacific region. In addition to sanctions against China and Russia, the United States pressured its allies to ban Chinese telecommunication companies from participating in the development of the 5G network. In contrast, Russia welcomed the Chinese telecommunication giant—Huawei—to develop its 5G network and pledged to develop Chinese missile defence capabilities. This new round of great power rivalries is changing the geopolitical setting for a small State like Mongolia.Challenges for MongoliaThe primary challenge for Mongolia is to maintain its sovereignty. For centuries, geography has dictated the country’s fate as a classic buffer State between two expansionist and rival great powers—China and Russia. While serving the Kremlin’s geopolitical interests from 1921 to 1986, Mongolia gained United Nations membership and its independence from China. During this period, Mongolia remained under close control of the Kremlin and became a militarized buffer State whenever Russian geopolitical interests were threatened. The Kremlin deployed its military three times: in 1921, 1936 and 1960. Following the Sino– Soviet rapprochement and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Mongolia normalized its relations with China and developed new ties with the United States and its allies. In the 1990s, Mongolia did not experience any geopolitical pressure from the great powers and firmly declared a series of neutrality policies. At the time, Mongolia’s two neighbours were preoccupied with maintaining their domestic matters and also coping with security concerns elsewhere. The United States and Japan focused on Mongolia’s political and economic transition while explicitly avoiding developing security ties. In that period, Mongolia adopted a series of neutrality policies: the constitutional prohibition on foreign military transition and basing, a non-aligned foreign policy stance, declaration of a nuclear weapon-free zone and bilateral treaties with all the great powers, with a “against no third party” principle. In this favourable geopolitical context, Mongolia increased Its engagement with international and regional organizations and sought ways to attract the interests of so-called “third neighbours”. The most important endeavour was its military deployment in support of American operations in Iraq, when China and Russia were strongly opposing the United States war in Iraq. Then, Mongolia deployed its military to Kosovo and Afghanistan. This military contribution resulted in close political and defence ties with the United States and NATO members as of 2003. The other endeavour was the conclusion of an investment agreement with Anglo–Australian mining giant Rio Tinto and Canadian Ivanhoe Mines to develop the Oyu Tolgoi copper and gold deposit. These endeavours triggered reactions from China and Russia. China’s security experts cautioned Mongolia’s inclusion in the American “strategic encirclement” of China, whereas Russia was wary of losing its geopolitical privileges in Mongolia to NATO members. China and Russia jointly pressured Mongolia to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. As a result, Mongolia became an observer in 2005. Since then, Russia has taken assertive action to secure its geopolitical and geo-economic interests in critical areas such as railway construction, the energy sector and uranium mining. To be clear, neither China nor Russia attempted in this period to influence Mongolia’s domestic politics, especially its elections. Now all these great powers want to include Mongolia in their competing geopolitical visions. China declared a comprehensive strategic partnership in 2014 and included Mongolia as one of six economic corridors of the BRI. Beijing leaders hope that Mongolia will join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization to fulfil its regionalization strategy of Central Asia. They also want Mongolia to commit to non-intervention in its internal affairs, especially in matters related to Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Inner Mongolia, in return for economic assistance and market access. In 2019, Russia quickly upgraded its strategic partnership with conclusion of a permanent treaty, which imposed Mongolia’s adherence to the Russian geopolitical agenda. Specifically, the treaty prioritizes bilateral consultations, renews defence technical cooperation and requires Mongolia’s adherence to the 1,520 mm (Russian standard railway gauge) for the railway extension. As hinted by some Russian officials, the Kremlin even dreams of Mongolia’s inclusion in the Eurasian Economic Union and the Collective Security Treaty Organization, considering how Mongolia is traditionally wary of Chinese expansion. The United States and Japan have included Mongolia in their Free and Open Indo–Pacific strategy because Mongolia shares similar values (democracy, human rights) and security concerns regarding China and Russia. Interestingly, the American Pentagon’s Indo–Pacific Strategy (June 2019) identified Mongolia as a “reliable, capable and natural partner of the United States,” while designating Mongolia’s two neighbours as the biggest security threats: China as a revisionist power and Russia a revitalized Malign Actor. The American State Department’s Free and Open Indo–Pacific visionary document highlights Mongolia as one of the beneficiaries and supporters of its strategy. Japan also included Mongolia in its Partnership for Quality Infrastructure (PQI), a developmental assistance alternative to China’s BRI, and designated a new international airport and railway flyover (Sun Bridge) in Ulaanbaatar as PQI projects. Like many small States, Mongolia’s challenge is determining how to manoeuvre in this round of great power competitions without compromising its sovereignty and undermining its institutions of democratic governance.Options for MongoliaIdeally, the best option for Mongolia is to maintain friendly ties with all the great powers and to benefit economically as it sits at the merging point of different geopolitical strategies. In fact, this has been the case to a certain degree. Mongolia’s nuclear weapon-free zone status has been endorsed by all permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. The country’s peacekeeping efforts, whether military deployments or hosting training events, have been supported by all the involved great powers. Both China and Japan have aided in road development, such as with the Chinese-built Moon Bridge (BRI funding) and the Japanese Sun Bridge (PQI project) in the capital city. At the moment, China and the United States are assisting to improve the capital city’s water supply and infrastructure. Hopefully, China and Russia will construct a natural gas pipeline through Mongolia, which would increase trilateral economic cooperation. Current trends, however, force a consideration of the likelihood of consequences in the worst- and best-case scenarios. The most likely worst-case scenario has China alone or together with Russia entering into conflict with the United States. This circumstance would force Mongolia to limit its relations with the United States and even to stand with its neighbours against the United States and its allies. The other worst-case scenario, which is less likely at the moment, is the emergence of Sino–Russian geopolitical tension. This would create the direst situation, in which Mongolia could easily fall into the control of either neighbour or become a battleground. The best-case scenarios are also possible and would create a favourable overarching setting for Mongolia to manoeuvre and maintain its sovereignty. The best-case scenarios have all the great powers seeking strategic stability because they are intertwined with domestic challenges or geopolitically distracted elsewhere. In all these scenarios, the primary objective for Mongolian leaders would remain the same—to maintain sovereignty and independence. However, Mongolia’s options to maintain its sovereignty are limited. First, it is a regionless country. Therefore, it cannot rely on any regional security alliance, such as NATO or the Collective Security Treaty Organization. The only close alliance is the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, but Mongolia is wary of jeopardizing its sovereignty if it joins. Second, it is impossible for leaders in Ulaanbaatar to gain security guarantees from one or several of the great powers, with the possible exception of Russia. Leaders in Washington and Tokyo are not likely to make any such deal as with the Philippines or Taiwan. Mongolia is too cautious of losing its sovereignty to Russia and provoking China by renewing the mutual defence clause with Russia. Lastly, Mongolia is too economically poor to build its defence capabilities in a way that is similar to Singapore, Switzerland and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Therefore, the most suitable option would be to make strategic concessions to the great powers following the example of the Finnish experience during the Cold War. This option requires that Mongolia avoid joining in the security alliance of any great power, just as Finland avoided joining NATO and the Warsaw Pact. In this sense, Mongolia should not attempt to upgrade its current level of confidence-building security defence relations with members of NATO, the Collective Security Treaty Organization and, potentially, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (if it turns into a regional security organization). In regard to the Free and Open Indo– Pacific, Mongolia should limit its security cooperation to specific areas: peacekeeping, humanitarian assistance, disaster relief and defence diplomacy. This type of neutrality policy would also require Mongolia to abstain from taking any stance on controversial matters related to its neighbours and their geopolitical competitors. Such avoidance would help Mongolia to promote itself as a neutral place for all great powers to negotiate, such as the Finnish model of the Helsinki process. At the same time, Mongolia should strengthen its democratic governance: the parliamentary system, civil society and the rule of law. Democratic governance would distinguish Mongolia’s identity within the authoritarian great powers and ensure self-rule free from those great powers. One of the downsides of this type of neutral, pragmatic strategy, however, is its limit on participation in foreign policy decision-making processes. This requires that only professional diplomats handle foreign policy matters while encouraging informed public discourse. In return for this neutral policy, Mongolia would expect the great powers to respect its sovereignty and restrain any actions to influence its policies.ConclusionWhen the foreign ministers of the great powers gave some attention to Mongolia in the fall of 2020, Mongolia reacted with proactive diplomacy amid the pandemic. On 29 February, Mongolian President Battulga became the first foreign dignitary to visit China during the pandemic and extended a gift of 30,000 sheep as a goodwill gesture. On 21 June, the Mongolian airline, MIAT, conducted a long-awaited flight to North America and delivered more than US$1 million worth of assistance and 60,000 personal protective equipment to the United States. On June 24th, despite Russia having the second highest number of coronavirus cases, the Mongolian military marched in the Victory Day Parade, marking the 75th anniversary of the Soviet victory in the Second World War, in which Mongolia stood as a close ally. As with the proactive diplomacy, the renewed geopolitical tensions among the great powers will require unity, patience and deft diplomacy from Mongolian leaders to steer through the rough sea.

Defense & Security
Chinese Spy balloon

Did China’s balloon violate international law?

by Donald Rothwell

Was the balloon that suddenly appeared over the US last week undertaking surveillance? Or was it engaging in research, as China has claimed? While the answers to these questions may not be immediately known, one thing is clear: the incursion of the Chinese balloon tested the bounds of international law. This incident has also added another layer of complexity to the already strained relations between the US and China. US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s planned visit to Beijing has been postponed. And China has reacted to the shooting down of the balloon with diplomatic fury. Both sides have long disagreed over the presence of US warships in the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait, which China claims as its own waters and the US considers international waters. Will the air be the next realm to be contested by the two superpowers? A long military historyHot air balloons have a somewhat benign public image. But they also have a long military history that extends back to the Napoleonic era in Europe during the late 18th century and early 19th century when they were used for surveillance and bombing missions. The early laws of war even included some specific measures designed to address the military use of balloons during armed conflict. The modern military significance of balloons now appears to be understated, especially in an era of uncrewed aerial vehicles or drones, which have proven effective during the current Ukraine war. However, while balloons may no longer be valued for their war-fighting ability, they retain a unique capacity to undertake surveillance because they fly at higher altitudes than aircraft, can remain stationary over sensitive sites, are harder to detect on radar, and can be camouflaged as civilian weather craft. Who has sovereignty over the air?The international law is clear with respect to the use of these balloons over other countries’ airspace. Every country has complete sovereignty and control over its waters extending 12 nautical miles (about 22 kilometres) from its land territory. Every country likewise has “complete and exclusive sovereignty over the airspace above its territory” under international conventions. This means each country controls all access to its airspace, which includes both commercial and government aircraft. But the upper limit of sovereign airspace is unsettled in international law. In practice, it generally extends to the maximum height at which commercial and military aircraft operate, which is around 45,000 feet (about 13.7km). The supersonic Concorde jet, however, operated at 60,000 feet (over 18km). The Chinese balloon was also reported to be operating at a distance of 60,000 feet. International law does not extend to the distance at which satellites operate, which is traditionally seen as falling within the realm of space law. There are international legal frameworks in place that allow for permission to be sought to enter a country’s airspace, such as the 1944 Chicago Convention on International Civil Aviation. The International Civil  Aviation Organization has set an additional layer of rules on airspace access, including for hot air balloons, but it does not regulate military activities. The US also has its own “air defence identification zone”, a legacy of the Cold War. It requires all aircraft entering US airspace to identify themselves. Canada has its own complementary zone. During the height of Cold War tensions, the US would routinely scramble fighter jets in response to unauthorised Soviet incursions into US airspace, especially in the Arctic. Many other countries and regions have similar air defence identification zones, including China, Japan and Taiwan. Taiwan, for instance, routinely scrambles fighter jets in response to unauthorised incursions of its airspace by Chinese aircraft.Testing the waters – and airSo, given these clear international rules, the US was on very firm legal footing in its response to the Chinese balloon. Overflight could only have been undertaken with US permission, which was clearly not sought. China initially attempted to suggest the balloon malfunctioned and drifted into US airspace, claiming force majeure. If the balloon was autonomous, it would have been entirely dependent on wind patterns. However, a report in Scientific American said the balloon appeared to have a high level of manoeuvrability, especially when it appeared to linger over sensitive US defence facilities in Montana. Washington displayed a lot of patience in dealing with the incursion. President Joe Biden authorised military jets to shoot down the balloon, but it took some days before that could be done safely without endangering lives on the ground. The balloon incident has clearly tested the Biden administration and the US response to China’s growing military assertiveness. Similar events occur on a regular basis in the South China Sea, where the US Navy conducts freedom of navigation operations through Chinese claimed waters. The US presence is vigorously challenged by the Chinese Navy. China has also responded aggressively to the presence of US reconnaissance planes over the South China Sea, raising the risks of an accident that could spark a wider conflict. What is remarkable about the balloon incident is China has asserted its physical presence well within America’s sovereign borders. How both sides respond in the aftermath will determine whether China-US tensions worsen further and if we can expect potential future provocations between the two sides in the air, as well as at sea.

Defense & Security
President of United States Joe Biden

The Biden Administration’s National Security Strategy

by Douglas J. Feith

The Biden Administration’s national security strategy, as released to the public, has some praiseworthy elements, stressing, for example, the “need for American leadership.” But it does not take its own words seriously enough. Its discussion of “leadership” is confusing, and the administration is not providing for the kind of military strength that would make US leadership effective. A Preliminary Word on Precision A strategy should not use vague and ambiguous language (let alone mind-numbing repetition). Having said that no nation is better positioned than the United States to compete in shaping the world, as long as we work with others who share our vision, the strategy declares (the italics are mine), “This means that the foundational principles of self-determination, territorial integrity, and political independence must be respected, international institutions must be strengthened, countries must be free to determine their own foreign policy choices, information must be allowed to flow freely, universal human rights must be upheld, and the global economy must operate on a level playing field and provide opportunity for all.” The fuzziness—incoherence—of using the word “must” should be obvious. For example: “The United States must...increase international cooperation on shared challenges even in an age of greater inter-state competition.” But “some in Beijing” insist that a prerequisite for cooperation is a set of “concessions on unrelated issues” that the US government has said are unacceptable. So the strategy effectively declares that cooperation with China is a “must” even when China says we cannot have it. In other words, the word “must” doesn’t really mean “must.” In this case, it expresses no more than the administration’s impotent preference. This strategy is 48 pages long. It uses the word “must” 39 times. To drive home that President Biden is not his predecessor, the strategy constantly emphasizes allies and partners. It uses the word “allies” 38 times and “partner” or “partnership” an astounding 167 times. Meanwhile, it does not use “enemy” even once. Two of the three times it uses the word “adversary” it is referring to “potential” rather than actual adversaries. The third time, it says only that America’s network of allies and partners is “the envy of our adversaries.” Enemies and Hostile Ideology The strategy identifies, correctly in my view, America’s “most pressing challenges” as China and Russia. China is described as the only “competitor” with both the intent and power to “reshape the international order.” Russia is called “an immediate threat to the free and open international system,” while the Ukraine war is rightly characterized as “brutal and unprovoked.” The discussion of enemies, however, is euphemistic and misleading and does not give explicit guidance on confronting them. Alluding to China and Russia, it talks of “competing with major autocratic powers” as if everyone in the “competition” is playing a gentlemanly game with agreed rules. That creates a false picture of the problem. The strategy states that China “retains common interests” with the United States “because of various interdependencies on climate, economics and public health.” In discussing “shared challenges”—such as climate change or COVID-19—it implies that Chinese leaders see these challenges the same way the administration does, but the well-known recent history of Chinese secretiveness about COVID-19, for example, refutes that assumption. There are references to pragmatic problem-solving “based on shared interests” with countries like China and Iran. The strategy does not explain, however, what US officials should do if such cooperation is inconsistent with other US interests. Should they work with China at the expense of opposition to genocide against the Uighurs? Should they work with Iran at the expense of that country’s pro-democracy resistance movement? Iran and North Korea are called “autocratic powers,” but being autocratic is not the key to their hostility and danger. Rather, it is that they are ideologically hostile to the United States and the West. There are two passing references to “violent extremism,” though no discussion whatever about anti-Western ideologies. US officials are given no direction to take action to counter such ideologies. The strategy is entirely silent on jihadism and extremist Islam. Leadership and Followership—Ties to Allies and Partners While it properly calls attention to the value of America’s “unmatched network of alliances and partnerships,” the strategy does not deal adequately with questions of when the United States should lead rather than simply join its allies. It does not acknowledge that there may be cases when the United States is required to go it alone. President Biden is quoted as telling the United Nations, “[W]e will lead...But we will not go it alone. We will lead together with our Allies and partners.” But what if American and allied officials disagree? Sometimes the only way to lead is to show that one is willing to go it alone. Failing to distinguish between leadership and followership is a major flaw. While asserting that America aspires to the former, the strategy declares that “we will work in lockstep with our allies.” Such lockstep would ensure that the United States is constrained by the lower-common- denominator policy of our allies. If President Biden really believes what he is saying here, he is telling his team to refrain from initiatives that any or all of our allies might reject. Instead of soliciting ideas from administration officials that would serve the US interest even if they require campaigns to try (perhaps unsuccessfully) to persuade our allies to acquiesce, his strategy discourages initiative and efforts to persuade. That is the opposite of leadership. The strategy says that “our alliances and partnerships around the world are our most important strategic asset.” But that is not correct; our military power is. This is a dangerous mistake. Our alliances can be highly valuable, but to suggest that they are more important than our military capabilities is wrong and irresponsible. The document says, “Our strategy is rooted in our national interests.” This assertion is at odds with the insistence that America will not act abroad except in concert with our allies and partners. The strategy claims that “Most nations around the world define their interests in ways that are compatible with ours.” That, however, is either banal or untrue. Our European allies have important differences with us regarding China, Iran, Israel, trade and other issues. Before the Ukraine war, they had major differences with us regarding Russia. The strategy says, “As we modernize our military and work to strengthen our democracy at home, we will call on our allies to do the same.” What if they do not heed the call, however? For decades, US officials complained vainly that NATO allies underinvested in defense, confident that the United States would cover any shortfalls—what economists call a free-riding problem. Along similar lines, the strategy declares that America’s alliances “must be deepened and modernized.” But how should US officials deal with allies who act adversely to US interests, as Turkey has so often done under Erdogan—in buying Russian air-defense systems, for example—and as the Germans did, before the Ukraine war, in increasing their dependence on Russian natural gas? Interestingly, on strengthening the US military, the strategy does not say that US allies have to agree or cooperate. It says “America will not hesitate to use force when necessary to defend our national interests.” This part of the document reads as if it had different authors from the rest. Nuclear Deterrence The strategy makes an important point about nuclear deterrence as “a top priority” and highlights that America faces an unprecedented challenge in now having to deter two major nuclear powers. It makes a commitment to “modernizing the nuclear Triad, nuclear command, control, and communications, and our nuclear weapons infrastructure, as well as strengthening our extended deterrence commitments to our Allies.” But the administration has not allocated resources to fulfill its words on deterrence and Triad modernization. Promoting Democracy and Human Rights “Autocrats are working overtime to undermine democracy and export a model of governance marked by repression at home and coercion abroad,” the strategy accurately notes, adding that, around the world, America will work to strengthen democracy and promote human rights. It would be helpful if it also explained why other country’s respect for democracy tends to serve the US national interest. This is not obvious and many Americans, including members of Congress, show no understanding of how democracy promotion abroad can help the United States bolster security, freedom and prosperity at home. The strategy does not explain how its championing of democracy and human-rights promotion can be squared with its emphasis on respecting the culture and sovereignty of other countries and not interfering in their internal affairs. Nor does it explain how officials should make tradeoffs between support for the rights of foreigners and practical interests in dealing with non-democratic countries. Officials need guidance on such matters. The public also would benefit from explanations. The administration just announced that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, who is also prime minister, has immunity from civil liability for the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist who worked for the Washington Post. The strategy does not shed light on how the relevant considerations were weighed. It says the United States will make use of partnerships with non-democratic countries that support our interests, “while we continue to press all partners to respect and advance democracy and human rights.” That’s fine as far as it goes, but it does not acknowledge, for example, that we sometimes have to subordinate human rights concerns for national security purposes, as when President Franklin Roosevelt allied with Stalin against Hitler. A strategy document should be an aid in resolving complexities, not a simplistic list of all the noble things we desire or wish to be associated with. Refugees Regarding refugees, it is sensible that the strategy reaffirms the US interest in working with other countries “to achieve sustainable, long-term solutions to what is the most severe refugee crisis since World War Two—including through resettlement.” But there is no mention of why US officials should press Persian Gulf states to accept more refugees from the Middle East, given that those states share language, culture and religion with those refugees.Willing Ends Without Providing Means The strategy does a lot of willing the end but not specifying or providing the means. As noted, the administration is not funding defense as it should to accomplish its stated goals. On Iran, the strategy says, “[W]e have worked to enhance deterrence,” but US officials have been trying to revive the nuclear deal that would give Iran huge financial resources in return for limited and unreliable promises. The strategy says, “We will support the European aspirations of Georgia and Moldova...We will assist partners in strengthening democratic institutions, the rule of law, and economic development in the Western Balkans. We will back diplomatic efforts to resolve conflict in the South Caucasus. We will continue to engage with Turkey to reinforce its strategic, political, economic, and institutional ties to the West. We will work with allies and partners to manage the refugee crisis created by Russia’s war in Ukraine. And, we will work to forestall terrorist threats to Europe.” But these items are presented simply as a wish list, without explanation of the means we will use, the costs involved or the way we will handle obvious pitfalls along the way. Setting Priorities A strategy paper should establish priorities, but this one simply says we have to do this and that, when the actions are inconsistent with each other. It is line with the quip attributed to Yogi Berra: When you get to a fork in the road, take it. It says we should act in the US national interest, but we should also always act with allies and partners. We should oppose Chinese threats, but always cooperate with China on climate issues. We should pursue the nuclear deal with Iran even when Iran is threatening its neighbors and aiding Russia in Ukraine (and, as noted, crushing its domestic critics). We should insist on a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict while the Palestinian Authority remains unreasonable, corrupt, inflexible and hostile. A strategy should not set up choices that involve tradeoffs and then give no guidance on how to resolve the tradeoffs. If it promotes arms control and other types of cooperation (on COVID-19, for example) with Russia and China, it should forthrightly address problems of treaty violations and specify ways to obtain cooperation when it is denied. Such a document cannot specifically identify all possible trade-offs and resolve them, but it can set priorities and do a better job than this strategy does in informing officials on how to handle easily anticipated dilemmas. Strategic Guidance or Campaign Flyer The administration’s strategy combines valid points and unreality. It is unclear whether it is a serious effort to provide guidance, directed at officials, or a boastful campaign document, directed at the public. Mixing the genres is not useful.