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Russia and China in a strategic alliance to counter NATO’s global ambitions

By Ardain IsmaIt has been some time since Russian and Chinese officials have been ringing the alarm bell against NATO’s ever growing, self-appointed new role. Last summer in Shanghai, Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart engineered the Shanghai Corporation Organization (SCO), an organization that includes China, Russia, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.During an interaction with a group of Western professors, several think tanks and news organizations, president Vladimir Putin made some frantic remarks about the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).Putin made it clear that Moscow did not “plan” for the SCO’s present standing, but had only set its sights on the organization’s potential to resolve the “utilitarian question of settling borders” between China and its post-Soviet neighbors. “After all, to be honest, I know that somewhere within the depths of various governments and intelligence services there are people thinking that Russians and Chinese are up to something here, that they have got some kind of secret mechanism and are planning something, ” he added with his usual reluctance and his manner of using carefully chosen words to make his points.”It’s simply that after the collapse of the bipolar world, there was a real need for the emergence of centers of influence and power. This is simply an objective reality,” he concluded his blunt summary about the SCO’s true reason for its existence.Surprisingly, Putin was speaking just ahead of the sensational “revelation” in Moscow last week that the first-ever joint military exercise of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO – Russia, Belarus, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan) and the SCO would be held next year.The CSTO-SCO exercise will be staged in Chebarkul in Russia’s Volga-Urals area under the Code-named Peace Mission Rubezh. Significantly, the heads of state of the participating countries, Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Belarus and Armenia, are expected to witness the exercise. There are speculations the Iran, Pakistan and India may join in since they are part of the observer countries in SCO.In essence, this becomes a military exercise involving Russia and its select band of close Commonwealth of Independent States allies plus China. Equally, this will also be the SCO’s first full-scale exercise involving all its member countries. China is expected to display, for the first time abroad, its latest battle tank, as well as its latest FC-1 multi-role fighters powered by Russian AL-31FN/FNM1 engines. Both China and Russia are expected to participate at battalion strength. The exercises are ostensibly aimed at countering “terrorist and extremist networks in this world of ours” (to quote a Russian commentator) and are not targeted at any country – “definitely not NATO [North Atlantic Treaty Organization] or the United States or any other bona fide entity”.There are also rumors about a possible gathering of the participating countries’ chiefs of staffin Urumchi, the capital of China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region.It is fair to say that there is much political symbolism in the highly anticipated event. The revelation, en grande pompe, in Moscow on November 3rd was itself just about 25 days ahead of the NATO summit scheduled to take place in the Latvian capital of Riga, which of course will be the first time that the trans-Atlantic Alliance holds its annual summit meeting on the territory of a former Soviet republic. The Riga summit “is expected to be a landmark event that may well end up formalizing NATO’s transformation in the post-Cold War era into a security organization with global reach – something that Washington has been assiduously seeking, “ commented M K Bhadrakumar who served as a career diplomat in the Indian Foreign Service for over 29 years, with postings including India’s ambassador to Uzbekistan (1995-1998).What frightens the Kremlin leadership further was the prospect of an unstoppable NATO move backed by The United States toward Eurasia, aiming at creating a cordon of insecurity around Russia, the lone country capable of posing a real threat to US strategic interests in Central Asia.The Riga summit may take up the next round of NATO expansion plans in the Eurasian region. This has become a matter of grave concerns for policy planners in Moscow and in Beijing, who have now convinced that only their own strategic alliance can fend off such a threat.However, Russia continues to nourish the hope that the manifest reluctance of the countries of “Old Europe” to fit into the US straitjacket of global security may yet come in the way of defining NATO’s role as an aggressive bloc. The great hope has always been that somehow NATO may meander into a conceptual impasse as it steps out of its traditional European periphery.Many observers believe that there is great uneasiness in Moscow about the specter of Russia having to share borders with NATO member countries. According to Asia Times Online, “with the NATO countries’ refusal to ratify the treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe, the ground reality is that Russia is at a serious disadvantage with regard to the strength of its conventional forces, and with each passing day it widens. Russia is eager for ratification of the treaty to extend its applicability to the territories of the Baltic States, which are not covered by the existing treaty’s ceilings on force deployments.”Russian deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov has repeatedly voiced Russian concerns. “During the first wave of NATO expansion [in the mid-1990s], we [Boris Yeltsin’s Russia] were given solemn assurances that there would be no NATO military infrastructure in the new members’ territory. We were simply duped,” Ivanov said on November 1 while on a visit to Norway, a key NATO member.”We don’t see why NATO’s military infrastructure is getting closer to our borders. Do we pose a threat to anyone?” Ivanov questioned and than added that “Russia would take at face value the potentials of developing a cooperative relationship within the framework of the Russia-NATO Council.” But in spite of Russian statements in recent months, the facts on the ground indicate that the two sides’ interests are diverging to a point of extensive disagreements. As Fedor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs, wrote recently, “After a decade and a half of pretensions, Russian politicians are once again reaching for their pistols when they hear the word ‘NATO’.”The former head of Russian intelligence, General Leonid Ivashov, told Radio Russia last month that the US and NATO “helped to mastermind the provocative measure” involving a recent Russian-Georgian spy scandal since they needed a “new platform in the North Caucasus, which is an extremely important strategic corridor for them”. He said the intention was to create an “arc of insecurity” around Russia, by involving the Baltic States, Poland, Ukraine, Armenia and Georgia.NATO’s grand ambition was also the subject of an important commentary in September in the People’s Daily. “The emergence of NATO troops in Afghanistan and the rapid expansion in the scope of its moves have shown a new trend in the process of its hastening shift toward globalization, and this has drawn extensive concern of people worldwide,” the journal commented in an editorial.”NATO has intensified its interference in the affairs of major ‘hot-spot’ regions in recent years … The frequent appearance of NATO troops in the ‘hot-spot’ areas is closely related to its strategic functions … Equipping itself with such a raid deployment force, NATO will naturally step up its efforts to expand its domain and the scope of its moves … It is the US that provides the biggest driving force behind NATO’s worldwide overreach,” the editorial added.Most significantly, the commentary referred to NATO’s imminent appearance in the Asia-Pacific region. It said NATO “plans to propose at the [Riga] summit in November a plan for global partnership, which is aimed at enhancing its cooperation with Japan, Australia and New Zealand, while seeking an expansion of the parameters of its cooperation with such ‘democratic nations’ as Brazil, India, South Africa and the Republic of Korea”.Both Moscow and Beijing will be keenly watching the US’s ambitious plans to deploy a network of anti-missile systems across the world, ostensibly to safeguard against threats from “rogue states” such as Iran and North Korea, but which Moscow and Beijing see as a direct challenge to their security. As Russian Defense Minister Ivanov said, “The announced purpose is the interception of Iranian inter-continental ballistic missiles, which do not exist and will not exist in the near future. I think everyone understands against whom they [anti-ballistic missile defense systems] can be used.”By December, a dreadful new threshold is fast approaching for both Russia and China. The US has scheduled full-scale tests of its interceptor missiles in that month, and if they prove successful, that leads to the deployment of ground and space-based elements of the missile defense program in full.This has prompted Russia to plan an “asymmetric response” to the deployment of an American missile defense system in the NATO countries bordering Russia. Russia is developing its Topol-M (SS-27) and Bulava missile systems with a uniquely short boost phase, which helps the missiles avoid interception when their engines are firing.According to M K Bhadrakumar, “whereas the boost phase at present lasts five minutes (which is sufficient time for a missile launch to be spotted from space), the new systems aim at cutting down the burning time to 130 seconds, which provides hardly any lead time for kinetic interceptors to hit the missile. Besides, Russia is resorting to such other “asymmetric responses” like coating missile surfaces with reflecting materials or generating radio noise to confuse the interceptors or deploying interceptor killers near the Russian border.”But if Russia’s military industrial complex has the potential to preempt NATO—for Russia is the only country in the world that has the capacity to “defeat the United States in less than 30 minutes”—China, on the other hand, faces a far more daunting challenge. The US missile system threatens to simply wipe out the Chinese strategic capability. China will be virtually left with no alternative but to “build up its nuclear forces by massive deployments of multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicles.”Understanding the gravity of the situation, both Moscow and Beijing feel forced to enter the alliance of survival, something they never anticipated during the Soviet era. They accuse the United States of provoking a potential full-scale nuclear arms race. In a statement on October 3, the Russian Foreign Ministry could not be more blunt. “We regard negatively the US plans to deploy an anti-missile defense system in Europe, and we believe that with the possible deployment of the European NATO missile defense system, it would have a negative impact on strategic stability, regional security and inter-governmental relations,” the statement warned.Just few days ago, Russian Air Force commander-in-chief General Vladimir Mikhailov further warned that the potential of external threats to Russia was increasing in the nature of the improvement and acquisition of more strategic and tactical cruise missiles by NATO countries. “Not only are NATO countries buying large quantities of missiles, such as the Storm Shadow, KEPD-350, JASSM and SLAM-ER, for their air forces, but they are also energetically promoting their export, including to Russia’s next-door neighbors,” he said.Vladimir Putin stressed again his concerns about NATO expansion last week during a major policy speech delivered at the Russian Military Intelligence headquarters. “The international community finds itself in a situation in which factors of force are dominating in international relations, a situation where relations are being undermined by unilateral actions … and by attempts by some countries to unceremoniously impose their positions without taking into account at all the legitimate interests of other partners,” Putin said.That is why since last year Moscow began initiate steps aimed at building up the CSTO alliance, which embraces Russia’s most reliable allies, on the international arena. Thus, CSTO has gained observer status in the United Nations and it has been “recognized” by the SCO.A plan to develop an integrated air defense system for the member countries was discussed at a meeting of the CSTO collective security council in Moscow in June last year. Putin listed that CSTO’s priorities would include cooperation in air defense, manufacturing of weapons, preparation of military personnel and peacekeeping activities. (CSTO’s air defense system presently comprises 20 command control units and 80 combat units.)But Washington is also watch with mounting suspicions. The worse case scenario for the hawks in the US capital would be the creation of an alignment between CSTO and the SCO, “which could become a mission analogous to NATO as a security organization.””The inter-operability of the Russian and Chinese forces would constitute a great force multiplier in the event of a major military confrontation, and the possibility of a coordinated action is viewed by the Pentagon with great suspicion. Such inter-operable forces do not threaten the US presence in the Far East – yet. However, the Russian units outnumber American forces deployed in Central Asia. Military cooperation between Russia and China, under the guise of counter-terrorism in Central Asia, has the potential to set off alarms in the planning rooms of NATO and the Pentagon,” confirmed Ariel Cohen of the Heritage Foundation.Nonetheless, the battle for control of the old silk-road in Central Asia is well under way, and the announcement of CSTO-SCO joint military exercise has already shed new light in the Sino-Russian alliance—an alliance, according to many observers, that is advancing to a “qualitatively new level.” It is an alliance that can no longer be regarded as a scarecrow vis-à-vis Washington to “be flaunted selectively when the going gets tough in their partnership with the US.” The Russian elites and the Chinese nouveaux riches have now concluded if their countries need to thrive in the 21st century, only an alliance based on substantive strategic (political and economic) can safeguard not only their strategic interest along the lines of their sphere of influence, but also give them the muscles to transform the growing NATO’s global expansion into nothing but a hot air balloon. Note: Ardain Isma, Ph.D. is the chief editor of CSMS Magazine. He also teaches Cross-Cultural Studies at Nova Southeastern University.Also see: The G-8 Summit in St. Petersburg confirms The Return of Russia as a Global Power

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