Central Asian Military Capabilities

Another Oxford Analytica brief, this one originally published in late February 2015.

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SIGNIFICANCE: Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan are leading other Central Asian governments in increased spending on military and security forces and the procurement of modern equipment. Regional governments have long-standing fears of potential Russian military interference and remain concerned about the situation in Afghanistan. The increase in military expenditures is expanding capabilities, although the degree and pace of improvement varies from country to country, and regional militaries still lag Russian and NATO forces.

ANALYSIS: Impacts

  • Russian forces presence in Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan will increase.
  • Turkmenistan will place greater emphasis on modern weapons procurement and naval assets.
  • Mobile and counter-terrorism focused forces will be seen as more important than conventional land forces.
  • While Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan will drive military reform, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan will increasingly rely on Russia.

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan’s military is Central Asia’s most capable, but it is far less capable than NATO or Russian militaries. Special forces will play a larger role as Kazakhstan looks to make a greater contribution to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation’s counter-terrorism capability.

A Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report estimates Kazakhstan’s armed forces at 30,000-45,000 troops — plus many thousands of other personnel attached to the Interior Ministry. In 2014, Astana said that it would be increasing defence spending by 36% over three years from around 2 billion dollars per annum to 2.7 billion dollars by 2017, according to a report by IHS Janes. However, this increase may have to be reduced slightly to fall in line with expected budget cuts due to low oil prices.

Astana is looking to trim all 2015-17 budgets to match a 50 dollars per barrel oil price, but President Nursultan Nazarbayev could authorise the government to support increased defence expenditure with oil reserves from the National Fund. The World Bank noted that in 2013 Kazakhstan spent the equivalent of 1.2% of GDP on defence.

Air force

The air force, which has a primarily air defence role, has between 11,000 and 13,000 personnel, according to SIPRI and the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS). Combat pilots average 100 hours of flight time per year, which is lower than the NATO standard. On February 4, Major General Nurlan Ormanbetov, Commander in Chief of the Kazakhstan Air Defence Forces (KADF), said that Astana plans to acquire the Russian Sukhoi Su-30SM ‘Flanker’ from Russia. As noted by IHS Janes, the KADF currently uses the MiG-27 ‘Flogger’, Su-25 ‘Frogfoot’, MiG-31 ‘Foxhound’, Su-27 ‘Flanker’, and MiG-29 ‘Fulcrum’ aircraft. The SU-30SM has been developed by Russia as a stopgap unitl the MiG-35 and Sukoi T-50 PAK-FA fifth generation fighters become fully operational.

Navy procurement

The navy has been significantly expanded and modernised since 2010. It now has 3,000 personnel and has deployed new patrol boats and missile boats. By the end of 2015, it will have gained mine countermeasure (MCM) capabilities with the delivery of a Project 1750E inshore MCM vessel from Russia. The navy’s missions focus on territorial defence and protection of offshore oil platforms and tankers. Kazakhstan’s increased naval procurement follows a general trend of greater military activity on the Caspian. On February 16, as reported by IHS Janes, Kazakhstan and France are to work jointly on the development of unmanned underwater vehicles (UUVs). Astana will buy 10 UUVs to use in the Caspian.

Uzbekistan

Uzbekistan’s military is reckoned to be Central Asia’s second most capable with an army currently numbering 40,000 personnel. Total defence spending is approximately 2 billion dollars per annum, according to SIPRI. The military is focused on improving its capabilities to defeat asymmetric challenges to President Islam Karimov’s administration. However, in Uzbekistan, the National Security Service (SNB) has historically been seen as significantly more important than the military. This trend will likely continue. The SNB will be a key powerbroker in any Karimov succession crisis. This highlights Tashkent’s main security priority, which is to maintain internal stability as opposed to undertake foreign operations.

Air force disrepair

Uzbekistan’s air force is reasonably well-equipped, but ill-maintained. Pilots receive around only 10 hours of flight time per year. Uzbekistan’s primary air assets are SU-24, SU-27, SU-25 and MIG-29 fighters, with transport capabilities provided by Illyshin-76 and AN-26s.

Joint Russian training

Uzbekistan’s defence priorities include procuring modern military equipment, improving combat readiness and mobility, and increasing professionalism among the officer corps. In December 2014, defence and military cooperation were discussed during President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Uzbekistan. Some 3,000 Uzbekistani military officers will reportedly study at military schools in Russia this year, which will increase Russia-Uzbekistan military interoperability.

Leaner fighting force

Uzbekistan aims to cut the overall size of its military in order to free up resources to create and train more mobile units. Heavy armour formations — using T-72, T-64 and T-62 battle tanks — and high-calibre artillery units are being reduced in favour of lighter infantry units with counter-insurgency/counter-terrorism and mountain warfare capabilities.

In January, the United States announced delivery to Uzbekistan of 328 Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) military vehicles to be used for counter-terrorism and counter-narcotics operations, according to Radio Free Europe/Free Liberty (RFE/RL). Washington stressed that this was non-lethal aid.

Turkmenistan

Ashgabat’s military numbers an estimated 22,000-30,000, according to SIPRI. Despite being willing to spend money on modern weapons, Turkmenistan’s armed forces are considered weak with low operational effectiveness. Ashgabat has been unwilling to allocate spending to training and equipment maintenance. Meanwhile, the modern weapons it has acquired largely remain unused due to a lack of qualified personnel. The 2012 defence budget is estimated to be 210 million dollars, according to SIPRI. The army currently uses a lot of old Soviet era hardware such as T-72 tanks, BTRs and BMP infantry fighting vehicles.

Air Force struggles

Despite having received a large number of aircraft at the collapse of the Soviet Union, Turkmenistan has struggled to maintain these, and pilot training has suffered. Currently it has MiG-29 and SU-25 fighters along with a handful of Mi-24s and Mi-8 helicopters. The air force lacks a heavy lift capability and would struggle to support the army on out-of-area operations or on Caspian patrols, which it is officially tasked to do.

Navy new ships

The navy was reformed as an independent force in only the past two years. Previously it was a department in the general staff. The navy’s missions include defending the Caspian coastline and protecting energy assets. Ashgabat has focused on improving naval capabilities through building new bases, procuring new ships and setting up a naval officer training academy.

As reported by Eurasianet in 2011, Turkmenistan bought two 12418 Molniya-class missile corvettes armed with the Uran-E missile system. These vessels are among some of the most powerful ships on the Caspian, although Ashgabat still trails Moscow and Tehran in naval capability. In 2013, Turkmenistan reportedly procured eight naval vessels which will be made at the Turkish shipyard Dearsan.

Military reform

President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov has made military reform a central aspect of his policy platform. In 2010, the government adopted a five-year military modernisation plan. However, reports indicate that the programme focuses on rearmament objectives, rather than structural reforms. In November, Berdymukhamedov reportedly told his national security council that Turkmenistan must procure the most advanced modern military equipment.

With the country having a long, porous border with Afghanistan, Ashgabat will increasingly look to procure unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) for surveillance. However, despite buying modern arms, absent reforms and greater training of personnel, Turkmenistan’s military will remain an impressive military on paper but will lack the capabilities to defend the state.

Kyrgyzstan

In 2013, according to World Bank data, Kyrgyzstan allocated the equivalent of 3.2% of GDP to defence spending. This represents a gradual decline over the last four years from 2010 (3.8%) and 2011 (3.4%). The Kyrgyzstani armed forces are weak overall with gaps in command and control. Total spending on military and security services is estimated by SIPRI at 234 million dollars per annum.

Morale is assessed to be low. Declining funding means that Kyrgyzstan is increasingly dependent on external assistance for equipment and training. Bishkek’s main goal is to improve readiness and mobility in order to let the military respond to both border and internal events.

Army

The army’s total strength is 8,500 personnel, according to SIPRI. The army is looking to become a more agile force focused on mountain warfare. Mirroring a common theme across the region, the army is equipped with T-72 tanks, BMPs and BTR armoured vehicles.

Air force

Poor pilot and personnel training hinder Kyrgyzstan’s air force which is considered to be one of Central Asia’s weakest. Given limited resources, the country’s leadership has chosen not to upgrade the air force’s capabilities. Instead, Bishkek relies on assistance from Russian air forces based at Kant, where Moscow has rights until 2032 ( see CIS: Unstable Central Asia will drive Russian ties – January 23, 2015). In February, Russia announced intentions to reinforce the combat capabilities at Kant.

Tajikistan

With its 1,300 kilometre border with Afghanistan, Tajikistan’s military would be pressed to halt any incursions from militant groups. To boost security, Tajikistan is planning a new military base on the Afghan border.

Total spending on military and security services is estimated at 164 million dollars per annum, according to SIPRI. Dushanbe’s military forces developed out of irregulars that operated during the 1992-97 civil war. In recent years, the military has sought to increase mobility by establishing airborne and mountain infantry units. Tajikistan is dependent on Moscow for its security. Russia has 7,000 troops in Tajikistan that are set to remain in the country until 2042 ( see CIS: Unstable Central Asia will drive Russian ties – January 23, 2015).

Tajikistan’s army has only 7,000 personnel, and uses a variety of Soviet era equipment. Air forces are divided among various ministries, and have only a handful of Mi-24 and Mi-8 helicopters. With GDP of 8.5 billion dollars (World Bank 2013), Tajikistan’s military and security forces are likely to remain constrained for the foreseeable future. Dushanbe lacks the spending power to boost the military significantly.

CONCLUSION: Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan appear to be building reasonably capable military forces. In Uzbekistan, the security service (SNB) will likely remain pre-eminent and enjoy the best access to the president. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are struggling to maintain even small rapid reaction forces; Bishkek and Dushanbe would likely need Russian military support in the event of a security crisis. Turkmenistan has the wealth to formulate a major military force, but Ashgabat has been unwilling to spend on training and maintenance.

US-Russian arms competition will focus on India

I’ve fallen behind on reprinting my Oxford Analytica briefs. Here’s one from late January, on US-Russian competition in arms sales. This version is slightly different from the originally published version, in that I have restored some material cut due to space constraints.

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SIGNIFICANCE: India is the world’s largest arms importer and its primary suppliers are Russia and the United States. Although the two suppliers largely sell their weapons to different customers globally, Russian efforts to expand to new markets to compensate for declining sales to traditional partners will lead to increased competition with the United States in many parts of the world.

ANALYSIS: Impacts

  • The most likely new markets for Russian arms sales include South America, South-east Asia, Egypt and Pakistan.
  • Russian competition with the United States in arms sales will be limited to a small number of countries.
  • Defence firms offering technology transfers will have an edge in the Indian market.
  • For decades, Russia and the United States have been the largest arms exporters in the world. From 2009 to 2013, Russia accounted for 27% of total world arms sales, while the United States was just ahead with 29%.
  • Russian arms sales have been highly dependent on a few major customers, with India, China and Algeria accounting for over 60% of Russian purchases in the last five years.
  • US arms sales are far more diversified, with the top three customers (Australia, South Korea and the United Arab Emirates) accounting for under 30% of total sales.

Shifting markets for Russia

The main targets of Russian weapon sales have been shifting:

China

Sales to China have declined as Beijing pursues a programme of domestic manufacturing of advanced weaponry. Many Chinese designs appear to be based on reverse-engineered Russian imports, particularly in fighter aircraft.

Europe and the Middle East

Russia has already lost other markets in Europe where many former Warsaw Pact countries are shifting to NATO equipment. Conflicts in the Middle East and North Africa have halted major sales to Libya and Syria.

India

Russian military industry is also worried about potential declines in purchases by India, its leading customer. The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has reported that between 2009 and 2013 Russia supplied 75% of weapons imported by India. However, serious delays and cost overruns on major contracts, such as aircraft carrier Vikramaditya to India and Il-76 transport aircraft to China, have dented Russia’s reputation as a reliable partner for India.

As a result, Delhi has sought to diversify its arms purchases. India chose French Rafale fighters in its multi-billion dollar Medium Multi Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA) fighter tender and purchased helicopters and transport aircraft, as well as ASW aircraft, from the United States. India chose the American C-130J Super Hercules transport aircraft over Russia’s Il-76 plane. Moreover, India is looking to be 75% self-reliant in defence production by 2020-25, which is likely to result in declines in foreign arms purchases from both Russia and the United States.

New markets

Russia is actively seeking to expand its arms sales in South-east Asia, particularly Indonesia and Vietnam. Both are looking towards naval expansion and have in recent years bought aircraft, combat ships and infantry fighting vehicles from Russia. It is also seeking to sell diesel submarines to Thailand and has signed a deal to supply transport helicopters to Pakistan.

Besides Asia, Russia has been actively looking for new customers for its arms in the Middle East. Russia has recently concluded significant contracts with Iraq for helicopters and air defence systems worth 4 billion dollars and Egypt for air defence systems worth 2 billion dollars. Negotiations are also under way for coastal defence systems, attack helicopters and MiG-35 fighter aircraft. Ten years after being forced out of the Iraq market by the US invasion, Russia has once again become a major supplier of air defence systems and helicopters to that country.

It has also signed an agreement expanding military cooperation with Iran, with officials discussing the possibility of restoring the agreement to sell S-300 air defence systems with a possible upgrade to the more advanced S-400 system. Such sales would not violate the existing international sanctions regime.

In Latin America, Russia has long had a reliable customer in Venezuela, which has in recent years bought missiles, tanks and armored vehicles from Russia. Russia is looking for new markets in the region and is hopeful of selling fighter aircraft to Brazil and Argentina. Russia has sold air defence systems to Brazil and hopes to develop a defence industrial partnership that might parallel its military cooperation with India.

Russian competition with the United States

Russia mostly seeks to sell arms to countries that are not able or interested in buying US weapons, either because the customer states are not partners of the United States or because the products are too expensive. Iran, Venezuela and China are not likely to become areas for competition in US-Russian arms sales. Egypt has turned to Russia in recent years because of a deterioration in relations with the United States in the aftermath of the 2013 military coup. Many African and South-east Asian countries choose Russian arms when they cannot afford US-made versions.

India, a large unaligned country with a high level of military expenditures, is an attractive target for defense companies from both countries. Russia is also hoping to make inroads into Brazil and Argentina, two countries that have traditionally bought the majority of their weapons from the United States and its NATO allies.

The sectors in which Russian weapons systems are considered equal or superior to Western equivalents include: air defence, fighter aircraft, helicopters, submarines and cruise missiles. These are the sectors in which Russia’s defence industry can compete with the most advanced Western suppliers, with weapons such as the S-300 air defence system, the Su-35 fighter jets and the Kilo class submarine being noteworthy. In other sectors, such as transport aircraft, drones, surface ships, tanks and armoured vehicles, the quality of Russian products is significantly inferior to that of the United States, and Russian exporters compete primarily on price.

US strategy.

International arms sales can offset reductions in US defence spending, helping to keep the US defence industrial base healthy. Arms sales also fit with the Obama administration’s goal of strengthening allies and partners so they can provide more security for themselves without relying on US support. The US government has revised its export control system and is trying to streamline the Arms Export Control Act to make arms transfers simpler.

The combination of high-level policymaker attention, steady reforms and a volatile international security environment has resulted in an increase in US arms sales, thereby accelerating the competition with Russia.

In fiscal year 2014, US arms sales worldwide totaled 34 billion dollars, up 4 billion dollars from the previous year and about three times greater than the pre-2006 average. By contrast, President Vladimir Putin yesterday announced that in 2014 Russia sold more than 15 billion dollars-worth of arms and that new signed orders stood at around 14 billion dollars.

Outlook.

The United States continues to dominate the defence trade with its traditional partners such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Japan. Yet it remains committed to maintaining or expanding ties to countries that Russia is also courting, such as Brazil, Argentina, India, Indonesia, Egypt and Pakistan.

In 2014, the United States and India agreed to identify co-development and co-production opportunities as part of the US-India Defence Trade and Technology Initiative (DTTI). Industry sources report that surveillance UAVs may be the first batch of products sold.

Since these products would be of particular use to India, especially in patrolling disputed areas with Pakistan, the United States may expect to see greater competition with Israel, a major drone manufacturer, shifting the Indian market towards higher-end products, and perhaps leaving fewer areas in which the main competition is with Russia.

CONCLUSION: The Russian and US defence sectors will push for greater exports to offset constraints in the defence budgets of their own governments. India, with growing expenditures and skepticism about Russia’s reliability, appears to be opening further to the United States. Competition between the two manufacturers will also be seen in Latin America and South-east Asia, where the US ‘Asia pivot’ may help Washington win new customers.

Moscow Conference on International Security 2015 Part 5: International cooperation in combating terrorism

With apologies for the long delay, today I’m posting the final installment of my notes from the 2015 Moscow Conference on International Security, covering the panel on combating terrorism and extremism. Speakers included Mohamed Atmar, the National Security Advisor to the President of Afghanistan, Amb. Zamir Kabulov, the Russian special representative for Afghanistan; Maj. Gen. Walid Salman, the Chief of Staff of the Lebanese Army; General Ngoga, the head of the military police of Cameroon; and Richard Weitz, the Director of the Center for Political-Military Analyses at the Hudson Institute.

The keynote speech was delivered by Igor Sergun, the Head of the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) of the Russian Armed Forces. Unfortunately, the text of his speech is not available, so I all I have is my incomplete notes and photos of the slides Sergun presented. He argued that terrorism is increasing a global force that is advancing around the world. The characteristics of modern terrorism includes fanaticism and intolerance, global goals, secure financing sources, access to modern weapons and advanced technology, and close ties to criminal networks.

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Efforts by groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS to restore the Great Caliphate pose a critical threat to a wide swath of the world, from Libya to Afghanistan, and especially including Iraq and Syria.

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The expansion of terrorist and radical activity has claimed many lives.

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ISIS is a particularly grave threat to the region.

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Groups such as Boko Haram, al-Shabaab, IMU, and Hizb-ut Tahrir are active on the periphery of this core region. The Taliban continues to have access to training camps in remote areas of Pakistan. Even farther away, Jamaa Islamiya poses a threat in Southeast Asia. Experienced fighters are returning to Europe and even starting to act in South America.

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Western countries don’t realize that the controlled chaos strategy they have implemented around the world has led to the growth of terrorism. US assistance to Afghan mujahedeen fighting against the Soviet Union in the 1980s led to the emergence of al-Qaeda. More recently, Western efforts to remove the Qaddafi regime in Libya have resulted in the spread of radical ideologies and Libyan weapons to groups throughout northern Africa. Similarly, US support for rebels opposing the Syrian government have directly led to the formation of ISIS and other radical groups in Syria and Iraq. US actions lead to the growth of extremism around the world. Then the US tries to mobilize the international community to stop terrorism, not recognizing that it played a key role in the origin of the threat in the first place.

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I thought it was interesting that the entire speech did not mention the threat posed by terrorists and radical Islamists to Russia itself, and specifically to the North Caucasus. In past speeches on this topic, Russian leaders always made sure to note that danger and how it tied Russia and other countries together against a common threat. Now, it almost seems like the discussion of radical Islam and terrorism is being used as a pretext to condemn Western countries (and especially the US).

This sense was highlighted for me by an intervention during the discussion after the speakers. The chair, Deputy Defense Minister Anatoly Antonov, recognized Russian Middle East expert Yevgeny Satanovsky. He called on Satanovsky in such a way as to make it appear that the intervention was pre-arranged. Satanovsky, in turn, started by arguing that it was time to stop thinking that the US is part of the solution to the problem of terrorism, and to start thinking that it is part of the problem. He noted that the US supports Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which both have supported terrorist organizations in the Middle East. He then went on to talk about the risk posed by a Central Asian Spring and the need for Russia, China and Iran to work together to guarantee Central Asian security. Support for Iran’s role was also expressed by Kabulov, who argued that Iran does not export terrorism and should be included in the SCO once sanctions are lifted.

Moscow Conference on International Security 2015 Part 4: Russian views of NATO

In addition, to the plenary session, there were two panels at this year’s MCIS conference. The second, on the role of military and political instruments in ensuring regional and global stability was the more interesting of the two. The main speaker was Andrey Kartopolov, the head of the Main Operations Directorate of the Russian military’s General Staff. Kartapolov focused on the threats posed to Russia by NATO.

He started by reminding the audience that NATO was founded to stop the spread of Communism in Europe. But after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact in 1991, the new Russia sought to become close to the West. The Russian government made unprecedented concessions to the West, including removing its troops from Europe and handing over its military bases to the countries of Eastern Europe. The west took this as a demonstration of Russian weakness, rather than an offer of peace and partnership. The US wanted to be the sole superpower and chose to ignore Russian interests. Washington saw Russia as a source of cheap resources that it would like to control. In order to achieve these goals, the US has consistently sought to weaken Russia’s influence in the international system and in the post-Soviet space.

NATO has brought its military infrastructure up to Russia’s borders. As a result, the entire territory of European Russia is under the threat of NATO air attack, with the time it would take NATO assets to reach critical Russian infrastructure having been cut in half. This is why a number of military facilities in the Baltic States, Poland, Romania and Bulgaria have been modernized to NATO standard since 2008. Furthermore, NATO is organizing military equipment storage bases on the territory of a number of East European states. This will allow NATO to rapidly deploy its first response forces near our borders and also decrease the amount of time it will take for additional forces to be transferred from the continental US and from Britain. Support agreements signed with Finland and Sweden have legitimized the presence of NATO forces on the territory of these countries and will allow the use of their infrastructure for the transfer of coalition forces to northern Europe.

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NATO has increased its military strength in recent years, as the US has provided modern arms to its East European allies, including JASSM LRCMs. This will allow NATO to attack targets deep in Russian territory while avoiding Russian air defenses.

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At the same time, the US is still trying to convince Russia that its strategic missile defense systems do not present a threat to Russia while refusing to take into account that Standard-3 missiles could in the future be capable of intercepting Russian ICBMs. Furthermore, the vertical launchers used by missile defense systems could also be used to launch Tomahawk missiles.

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Since the start of the crisis in Ukraine, NATO activity has become strongly anti-Russian in its nature. Under the banner of countering Russian expansion, the alliance has systematically expanded its military presence on Russia’s borders. At the present time, NATO has instituted a constant rotational presence of military forces in Eastern Europe, including up to 30 combat aircraft, at least 300 pieces of armor, and more than 1500 US military personnel. US and other NATO navies have almost constant ship presence in the Black Sea, while the frequency of reconnaissance aircraft flights have doubled compared to 2013. Since January 2015, there have been regular flights by Global Hawk UAVs over the Black Sea and in March they were expanded to include flights over Ukrainian airspace.

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NATO exercise activity increased by 80% in 2014. Exercises such as Baltops and Sabre Strike were carried out next to Russia’s borders and were openly anti-Russian in their nature. During these exercises, the NATO forces group in the Baltic region included 10,000 personnel, 1500 pieces of armor, up to 80 aircraft, and around 50 combat ships. Five US strategic bombers were also involved, deploying from airfields in the UK.

In the aftermath of the Wales summit, NATO is planning additional increases in force structure for next year, including a rapid response force of 30,000 personnel and a spearhead force of 5,000 personnel that can be ready to deploy in 2-7 days. AThe deployment of these forces will be organized by six command centers that will be established in the Baltic States, Poland, Romania, and Bulgaria.

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Kartapolov’s conclusions regarding NATO’s activity and intentions highlighted US efforts to turn NATO into an instrument designed to contain Russia and ensure US global dominance. He also highlighted that bringing NATO infrastructure to Russia’s borders will allow its air attack forces to penetrate deep into Russian territory, while reducing their response time, and in the future may allow the US to counter Russian strategic deterrence forces.

Kartapolov noted that Russia will have to take measures in response and argued that instead of mindlessly expanding NATO to include new members that were not ready for membership and placing members’ armed forces next to Russia’s borders, NATO should have been focusing on more significant threats (such as Islamic extremism and terrorism).

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In good Soviet tradition, Kartapolov concluded his speech with a slide showing a citation from a speech by President Putin, in which he states that “Russia is not looking to start a military standoff with the West or to threaten anyone. But we will not allow anyone to use the language of force against us and will stand up for our national interests using all of the means at our disposal.”

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In addition to General Kartapolov, there were several other speakers on the panel. Here are highlights from some of their remarks:

Jean Pierre Chevenement — French Special Representative on relations with Russia

  • The crisis in Ukraine could have been avoided. Maintaining a frozen conflict is not in anyone’s interest, but will only help extremists.
  • Need to declare Ukraine’s neutrality.
  • Need to follow UNSC rules in order to avoid a new Cold War.

General Rivera — Head of Cuban military intelligence

  • Color revolutions and hybrid warfare have become state policy for some countries.
  • The US is still fighting against Cuba through subversion.
  • Other Latin American states don’t interfere in each other’s affairs.

General Yao Yunzhu — Director of China-US Defense Relations Center

  • Cold War legacies are still with us.
  • New security mechanisms are needed to maintain stability in the world.
  • US alliance networks in Asia-Pacific have become a de facto security architecture in the region.
  • Asia needs a security architecture that includes China. China wants an inclusive security partnership, rather than alliances.
  • The balance of nuclear forces prevented an active war during the Cold War period.
  • The desire for absolute security on the part of any state will upset strategic stability.
  • Missile defense upsets the balance of deterrence and could lead to future arms races.

Moscow Conference on International Security 2015 Part 3: Speeches by foreign defense ministers

This year, there were a lot of foreign defense ministers participating in the Moscow Conference on International Security. In fact, there were so many that the organizers had to take an unscheduled break as the conference running well over time, with Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu notably absent after the panel resumed. In this post, I will summarize the most interesting of the presentations. Videos of all the plenary speeches are available on the Russian Defense Ministry website.

Not surprisingly, the first slot in this lineup was given to Chang Wanquan, the Minister of Defense of the People’s Republic of China. Minister Chang focused on the development of a multipolar world as the center of gravity in international affairs has moved in recent years. He noted that some countries (not mentioning the U.S. by name) have been trying to obtain absolute security, which has complicated the international situation. China has been promoting a comprehensive vision of global security, focused on the need for a fair international order, the idea that common development enables security, and the primacy of dialog and cooperation over threats and the use of force. He noted that the PLA has been focused on safeguarding national sovereignty and territorial integrity, as crises on China’s periphery have been causing insecurity for the country. He also mentioned the role of the PLA Navy in conducting evacuations from Yemen and Libya and conducting other humanitarian missions such as disaster assistance and providing medical help for the Ebola crisis in West Africa. He highlighted the need to commemorate the victory over Nazism in World War II and the steps that China has been taking to promote development through the AIIB Bank and various Silk Road initiatives. Minister Chang concluded with a discussion of new efforts to conduct military dialog and increase military cooperation between China and the United States as part of efforts to counter terrorist threats and violent extremism. The overall perception from the speech was of China performing a careful balancing act between supporting Russia as the conference host while telegraphing that it was not interested in getting involved in any kind of confrontation with the United States.

Panos Kammenos, the Greek Defense Minister, was the only senior military official from a NATO country to make a presentation. He began with a statement highlighting the strong ties between Greece and Russia based on spiritual and historical connections, as well as on the two countries’ joint fight against fascism. He mentioned the dangers posed by terrorism and by new asymmetrical and hybrid security threats. The financial crisis that has affected the European Union has led to an increase in instability. Traditional security problems have been joined by new threats, such as ethnic and religious conflict, mass migration, and the dissemination of arms to non-state actors. He argued that the greatest security threat is posed by terrorism and religious conflict in the Middle East and the role of Greece as the bastion of Europe in this area. In this context, he mentioned the significance of Greece’s Hellenic initiative to protect Christians in the Middle East. He concluded by noting that security cannot be divided into internal and external areas. The same terrorist groups are attacking both the U.S. and Russia, so there is no choice but to have both countries working together to resolve this crisis.

The Pakistani Defense Minister, Khawaja Muhammad Asif, highlighted the emergence of new security threats in the last years. He noted that the radicals of the Islamic State have created a transregional crisis that has heightened the danger of the fragmentation of the modern state order. Conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Yemen can all be viewed as outcomes of failed regime change, the Arab spring and regional conflict. The old order in the Middle East is dying, while external powers are the only force preventing the emergence of a new order based on religious radicalism. Local extremists in Southeast Asia and Africa are losing foot soldiers to transnational groups such as the Islamic State and Daesh. The region needs a comprehensive social, economic, and political reform package that must be combined with ongoing military actions. 200 thousand Pakistani soldiers are currently fighting terrorists in northwest Pakistan. We need to compromise on principles to ensure that the conflict ends (referring to Charlie Hebdo and Muhammad cartoons).

The Iranian Defense Minister, Hossein Dehghan, started by describing ISIS as a global cancer that has support from foreign states. He blamed the United States and Israel for using these groups to change the strategic balance in the region. He made a very strong statement against Saudi aggression in Yemen, arguing that as a result in the future Saudi Arabia will face the same situation as Saddam Hussein did. He argued that Saudi Arabia has killed many civilians through its aerial bombing campaign and needs to stop supporting terrorism in the Middle East. The international community needs to stop foreign interference in Yemen. Iran, by contrast, is a factor for stability in the region. He then turned to U.S. cyber attacks on Iran and the role of the U.S. as a threat to international security. He proposed a multilateral cooperation initiative between Iran, Russia, China, and India against U.S. missile defense and other international threats. He highlighted that Iran is focused on the peaceful use of nuclear energy.

The North Korean Defense Minister, Hyon Yong Chol, did not pull any punches in his speech. He started by arguing that the U.S. is the greatest threat to world peace and has caused an increase in the risk of war on the Korean peninsula by its actions. He called the U.S. and South Korea a cancer, because they want to overthrow the DPRK and dominate northeast Asia in order to put added pressure on Russia and China. He called the 1953 armistice worthless and argued that North Korea has been threatened by a U.S. nuclear attack. Efforts to have dialog with the U.S. did not achieve any results as it became clear that the U.S. just wanted to eliminate North Korean nuclear weapons without creating a peace deal. “If we had peace, we would not need nuclear weapons.” If the U.S. were to suspend joint exercises with South Korea, North Korea would stop its nuclear program. Instead, the U.S. is trying to create an Asian NATO.

The Indian Defense Minister, Rao Inderjit Singh, highlighted that most nations have now given up some of their sovereignty to various transnational bodies, as the have recognized that traditional state instruments are not adequate to respond to modern threats. Non-state actors are becoming orchestrators of conflict. States can’t reign them in or are even tacitly encouraging them in some cases. Responses need to combine hard and soft power. Conventional wars have declined in recent years, as have civil wars. Now, multi-polarity is allowing old rivalries to reemerge.  In addition, there are new forms of threat from resource scarcity and climate change. Armed forces have to be prepared to fight both high end threats and irregular warfare. Space, cyberspace, and even underground warfare are now part of the war environment and have to be taken into account. Rapid technological innovation will help wealthy states and local entrepreneurs of violence, while potentially hurting the middle powers.

Moscow Conference on International Security 2015 Part 2: Gerasimov on military threats facing Russia

Here’s the second installment of my reporting from the 2015 MCIS conference. This one and the next will focus on Russian views of NATO as the primary source of military threat to the Russian Federation. The first speech was by General Valery Gerasimov, the Chief of the General Staff. His topic was the military threats and dangers facing Russia in the contemporary period. He launched into a discussion of how the West saw Russia’s efforts to stabilize the situation in Ukraine as unacceptable independence in standing up for its national interests. He argued that this reaction was the cause of the increase in international tension over the last year, as the Western countries have sought to put political and economic pressure on Russia in order to “put it in its place.” He argues that while many Western experts believe that the Ukraine crisis has led to a sudden and rapid collapse of world order, the reality is that the situation has been developing since the start of the 1990s. The problems were caused by the collapse of the bipolar system, which allowed the US to consider itself the winner of the Cold War and to attempt to build a system in which it had total domination over international security. In such a system, the US would decide unilaterally which countries could be considered democratic and which were “evil empires,” which were freedom fighters and which terrorists and separatists. In doing so, the US stopped considering the interests of other states and would only selectively follow the norms of international law.

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Russia has had to respond to this threat and has done so in its new military doctrine, which strictly follows international norms. The key points, as presented by Gerasimov in the slide below, include using violent means only as a last resort, using military force to contain and prevent conflicts, and preventing all (but especially nuclear) military conflicts. At the same time, the doctrine states that the current international security system does not provide for all countries to have security in equal measure. In other words, Russian military leaders continue to feel that Russian security is infringed by the current international security system and imply that they would like to see it revised.

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The most significant threat facing Russia, in Gerasimov’s view, comes from NATO. In particular, he highlights the threat from NATO enlargement to the east, noting that all 12 new members added since 1999 were formerly either members of the Warsaw Pact or Soviet republics. This process is continuing, with the potential future inclusion of former Yugoslav republics and continuing talk of perspective Euroatlantic integration of Ukraine and Georgia. Political arguments about creating a single Europe sharing common values have outweighed purely military and security in enlargement discussions, with many new members added even though they did not fulfill the economic and military criteria for membership. This expansion has had a serious negative effect on Russia’s military security.

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In addition to NATO enlargement, NATO has also expanded cooperation with non-member countries in the region through programs such as the Partnership Interoperability Initiative, which includes Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine among 24 priority countries for cooperation, and Privileged Partnership, which will allow NATO to use infrastructure in Finland and Sweden to transfer troops to northern Europe. Furthermore, NATO is actively seeking to increase its influence in Central Asia and the Caucasus.

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NATO is using the crisis in Ukraine as an excuse to strengthen the forces it has arrayed against Russia. It has openly blamed Russia for aggressive policies in the post-Soviet space and has made containment of Russia the prime force for future development of NATO. The decisions made at the Wales NATO summit in September 2014 confirm this.

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While NATO military activity near Russia was relatively stable through 2013, it has increased substantially over the last year. NATO states’ naval presence in the Black Sea has quadrupled, flights by reconnaissance and tactical aviation have doubled, and flights by long range early warning aircraft have increased by a factor of nine. US UAVs are flying over the Black Sea, while German and Polish intelligence ships are constantly present in the Baltic. The number of NATO exercises increased by 80% in 2014 compared to the previous year. The character of these exercises has also changed. Whereas in the past they were focused primarily on crisis response and counter-terrorism, now they are clearly aimed at practicing military action against Russia.

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The action plan approved in Wales included a significant increase in NATO military presence in Eastern Europe and the Baltics, including a rapid reaction force and a constant presence of a limited contingent of forces rotating through the region. This will allow a large number of NATO military personnel to be trained to conduct operations against Russia. At the same time, military infrastructure, including weapons storage facilities, is being built up in Eastern Europe. Gerasimov argued that on the basis of all of these developments, it is clear that efforts to strengthen NATO’s military capabilities are not primarily defensive in nature.

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Gerasimov then turned to the question of US efforts to develop global ballistic missile defense systems. He argued that Russia views the development of these systems as yet another move by the US and its allies to dismantle the existing international security system on their way to world domination. Over the last four years, US BMD systems have begun to appear near Russian borders, including Aegis-equipped ships in the Mediterranean and Black Seas, Aegis Ashore systems in Romania and Poland, and anti-missile systems being deployed in the Asia-Pacific region with Japanese and South Korean cooperation.

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These forces present a real threat to Russian strategic nuclear forces and could also strike Russian satellite systems. Washington has so far refused to share command authority for global BMD systems, even with its allies, making it clear that it alone will decide which NATO member states it will defend from missile threats. Since Russia will have no choice but to take counter-measures against global BMD systems, this may subject non-nuclear NATO-member states to the risk of being early targets of Russian response measures.

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What’s more, the deployment of anti-missile systems violates the INF treaty, since the Aegis Ashore systems can be armed with Tomahawk cruise missiles as easily as with SM-3 anti-missile systems.

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Russia is also concerned with the development of the concept of Prompt Global Strike, which will also damage the strategic nuclear balance that currently provides the main guarantee for international stability.

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In its efforts to “put Russia on its knees,” Washington and its NATO partners continue to create crises in territories on Russia’s borders. Having successfully carried out regime change scenarios under the guise of colored revolutions in Ukraine, Georgia, and Moldova, the US was able to place anti-Russian governments in power in a number of states bordering Russia. The radicals and Russophobes who came to power in Ukraine in 2014 have based their policies on blaming Russia for all of Ukraine’s problems while persecuting the country’s Russophone population. They are now trying to use force to repress their own citizens who expressed a lack of confidence in this new government. As a result, Ukraine has been plunged into civil war. Gerasimov said that it is difficult to know how the conflict will end, since “we don’t know what directives Ukrainian leaders will receive from their Western ‘curators’ and where Kiev’s aggression may be directed in the future.” But it is clear that these actions pose a military threat to Russia, much as the Georgian attacks on Russian peacekeepers in South Ossetia in 2008 did. Gerasimov also noted that Mikheil Saakashvili, who ordered these attacks, is now an advisor to Ukrainian President Poroshenko.

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Gerasimov then moved on to a discussion of other frozen conflicts in the post-Soviet space, noting the increased risk that these conflicts may be “unfrozen” as a result of the currently heightened threat environment. He noted statements by the current Georgian government reflecting its intention to restore control of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by force. The Moldovan government has been pressing for the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from Transnistria while continuing its economic blockade of the region. This is all leading to an increase in tension in these regions and may result in response measures from the Russian side.

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In conclusion, Gerasimov turned to the threat posed by global terrorism. He noted that the number of members of various extremist organizations has grown from 2000 in the 1960s-70s, to 50,000 in the 1990s, to over 150,000 today. He also expressed concern about the growth of transnational terrorist networks, including some such as ISIS that have developed certain aspects of statehood. Some ISIS fighters are Russian citizens. These fighters threaten the entire world and attempts to fight the threat by a US-led airstrike operation have so far not achieved visible results. As a result, Washington and Brussels have once again turned to developing new armed groups among so-called “moderate Islamists.” But such projects do not take into account how such terrorist empires have formed in the past. Al-Qaeda, for example, formed from mujahideen who were funded by the US and its allies. Similarly, ISIS fighters until recently were “good” fighters but have now gone out of Western control and started to threaten their former sponsors.

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In response to this range of threats, Russia has continued to develop its armed forces. Nuclear forces are maintained at a level designed to guarantee nuclear deterrence, including modern systems that can overcome US BMD systems. Russian Air-space defense systems continue to be developed. Defensive forces have been placed in Crimea. Russian bases have been placed in Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan. These bases will serve as a guarantee of stability and security in these regions.

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At the same time, Gerasimov noted that Russia understands that most modern security threats affect entire regions and even the whole world so that their solution requires international dialog and cooperation.

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I’ll have some reactions to this speech in a follow-up post. For now, let me just say that it was interesting to see the shift to the discussion of “old school” military threats, following last year’s focus on colored revolutions and hybrid warfare.

Moscow Conference on International Security 2015 Part 1: The plenary speeches

Last week, I was once again in attendance at the Russian MOD’s Moscow Conference on International Security (MCIS). As I did last year, over the next couple of weeks I’ll write up some of the key speeches and then conclude with some takeaway thoughts on the event.

The Russian speakers at the plenary session included Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and Chief of the General Staff Valery Gerasimov. Security Council Secretary Nikolay Patrushev delivered greetings from Vladimir Putin. So pretty much the same lineup as last year, with the addition of Patrushev. The links above go to video of the speeches, with Russian language audio. Texts of the speeches have also been posted: Shoigu, Lavrov, Gerasimov, Patrushev.

For those who don’t understand Russian, here are some highlights of the speeches:

First up, the greeting from Vladimir Putin, as read by Nikolay Patrushev. The greeting highlighted the significance of holding the conference just before the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II, noting that it is a reminder that history cannot be forgotten and of the threats presented by the glorification of Nazism, the encouragement of xenophobia and extremism, and pretensions of any country to world domination. The speech also noted that the current system of international security was developed collectively in the aftermath of the second World War on the basis of mutual interests and partnership. Any distancing from these rules leads to one-sided and non-workable efforts to resolve global threats. Furthermore, crude interference in any country’s internal affairs through scenarios such as “color revolutions” just increases the space where violence and chaos are rampant. The rise of the Islamic State highlights the rapid growth and global spread of extremism and terrorism that no single country or grouping of states can defeat. Coordinated action by the entire global community, based on international law, is the only way to address this threat.

Sergei Shoigu gave the first substantive speech, expanding on the themes in Putin’s greeting. He highlighting the leading role played by the Soviet Union in defeating Nazism, while noting the contributions of all countries that participating in the fight. He then transitioned to the need for the world to unite to fight the rebirth of fascism, xenophobia, racism and militarism and to tie Russia’s perceptions of the current international situation to the fight against Nazism. Specifically, he focused on the threat posed by “countries that consider themselves winners of the Cold War and want to force their will on others” to the stability of the international system that was created after World War II. He warned against unilateralism in international affairs and against efforts by any one country to develop absolute military superiority.

He then returned to the previous year’s theme of the threat posed to the world by color revolutions, noting events over the last year in Hong Kong and Venezuela as continuing the effort by the United States and its allies to sow chaos in states that oppose US policies. He then turned to Ukraine, calling it the greatest tragedy caused by the color revolutions policy. He said that in its efforts to make Ukraine into its satellite, the US had crossed all conceivable lines in promoting an anti-constitutional overthrow of the legal government that resulted in a civil war and forced Russia to react. With the war having already resulted in 6,000 deaths, “how many more victims will be needed to force Ukrainians in the southeastern part of the country to feel themselves European?”

Shoigu also highlighted the Kosovo precedent: While Western countries blame Russia for unilaterally changing European borders for the first time since World War II, they ignore the planned dismemberment of Yugoslavia that “served as a laboratory for Western efforts to develop techniques to destroy a sovereign state” and culminated in the removal of Kosovo from Serbia without any respect for international law. Shoigu also blames the West for sowing chaos around the world through its ill-conceived military interventions, particularly in Iraq and Libya, which have resulted in the long-term destabilization of entire regions of the world. As a result, he denies that critics of Russia’s actions in Crimea have any moral right to blame Russia for violating international law.

Instead of adopting Russian ideas for building a common system for European security, Western states have enacted sanctions and launched an information war against Russia. They have renewed talk about containment and how to use NATO to deal with a growing Russian threat. The main goal is to break countries that have long cultural and historical ties with Russia free of its influence. Previous talk of NATO-Russia partnership has ended. Instead non-nuclear NATO states are being involved in exercises on how to use American tactical nuclear weapons that have been placed in a number of European states. The world should remember that the United States is the only country in history to have actually used nuclear weapons. “What consequences might have such eagerness to use nuclear weapons have had for Europe, had the US Army developed such weapons a little earlier.”

Shoigu also noted that Russian fears of the threat to global stability caused by American missile defense systems are also coming to pass. He said that It is becoming clear that the US has been bluffing about potential missile threats emanating from Iran, since no moves have been made to reconsider US missile defense plans now that a nuclear deal with Iran has been completed. Instead, the US is making moves to expand missile defense systems in the Asia-Pacific region.

Shoigu then turned to the threat to international security posed by terrorism. As with the rest of the speech, he went out of his way to highlight the role played by the United States and other countries in encouraging the development of terrorist organizations around the world. Pointing to the Taliban, Al Qaeda, and the Islamic State, he noted that such organizations have commonly gotten out of the control of their patrons and become a problem for international security.

In the final part of his speech, Shoigu turned to the importance of working together to solve international security. He argued that the liquidation of chemical weapons in Syria and the recently achieved nuclear agreement with Iran show what can be done with diplomacy when the international community comes together. He noted that similar breakthroughs could be achieved in the development of non-strategic missile defense in Europe and the establishment of a new multilateral security architecture in the Asia-Pacific region.

Shoigu was followed by Sergei Lavrov, who highlighted that peace can only be achieved through a collective international effort. NATO’s euphoria about winning the Cold War resulted in a belief that the West would be on top of the world forever. Meanwhile, international processes were actually heading in the direction of multi-lateralism. As a result, the world now stands at a crossroads where it must choose between cooperation and deadly conflicts. Lavrov highlighted the need to create a global security infrastructure to deal with the arc of instability stretching from northern Africa to Afghanistan.

In turning to the conflict in Ukraine, Lavrov argued that there is no military solution and that efforts to punish Russia for “its independent foreign policy, for standing up for truth and justice, for defending its compatriots” are absurd. He noted that many European leaders agree that the effort of some countries to break Russia is a huge and unforgivable risk to international security. Instead, the only solution is to carry out all parts of the second Minsk agreement, including not just the ceasefire, but also the end of Kiev’s economic blockade of the Donbas and the start of a real political process that leads to constitutional reform that takes into account all of Ukraine’s regions. In keeping with the theme of mentioning the anniversary of the end of World War II at every opportunity, Lavrov made sure to point out that the West must force the Kiev government to stop “glorifying Nazism and persecuting those who saved Europe from fascism.”

While Washington keeps talking about Russia coming to the gates of Europe, the reality is that NATO has brought its military infrastructure closer to Russia’s borders while US naval vessels are now regularly appearing in the Black Sea and US missile defense sites are being built in Romania and Poland. Russia sees US missile defense as part of a global project to reduce the effectiveness of Russia’s strategic deterrence forces. Like Shoigu, Lavrov highlighted that the continuation of missile defense plans in the aftermath of the Iran nuclear agreement shows that missile defense has always been aimed primarily against Russia.

Meanwhile, Lavrov noted that real threats to international security, including terrorism and the rise of extremist forces in the Middle East and North Africa, require international partnership to resolve. The exacerbation of Sunni/Shi’a divisions require a serious effort to create a compromise based on principles of international law. Instead, Western states have been using it as a pretext for interference in internal affairs in the region. Lavrov asks how the US can support the coalition operation in Yemen to restore by force a president who fled the country while in Ukraine it pursued the exact opposite policy. The double standards of US policy are in plain view in comparing the two situations.

Lavrov concludes by reinforcing the point made by Shoigu that unilateralism and forcing one country’s values on another leads to escalation of conflicts and an ever-growing region of chaos. Positive results can only come from combining forces, such as took place with the elimination of chemical weapons in Syria and the conclusion of a framework agreement on Iran’s nuclear program. Iran can now be included in the discussion on regional security in the Middle East and in the amelioration of conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Lebanon, as well as in solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Similar partnerships can be developed in other regions and conflict zones, including in Afghanistan and in East Asia. International organizations such as the Arab League, OIC, UN, and SCO can all be used to promote international security.

Valery Gerasimov spoke next, but his speech deserves a separate post, while I will endeavor to have up in the next few days.

The rest of the first session included presentations by Amb. Michael Moeller, the Director General of the UN Office in Geneva and by Amb. Marcel Pesco, the Director of the Office of the OSCE Secretary General. These speakers highlighted the role of their respective international organizations in promoting peace and resolving conflicts. Moeller focused on the threat posed by transnational violent extremist organizations such as the Islamic State and Boko Haram. He called for the international community to come together, to prevent the international system from being undermined. He argued that having power does not give states the power to take unilateral action. Instead, the international community should focus on rebuilding trust among leading actors, working on preventing conflicts, and improving early warning systems.

Marcel Pesco argued for the need for the members of the international community to commit to developing a common security infrastructure. He noted that the crisis in Ukraine has called into question some of the fundamental premises of the international system of cooperative security. He argued that the international community needs to build on the Minsk agreement to try to settle the conflict.

As a result of the Ukraine conflict, confrontation now exceeds cooperation in Europe, preventing forward momentum on other issues such as arms control. Pesco noted that the OSCE remains a platform for dialog in Europe but needs to become the basis for regional security.