GSTAR moot urges major powers to avoid polarisation to resolve global issues

Speakers caution selective sharing of space technologies in South Asia will lead towards strategic instability

ISLAMABAD     -    It’s time for major powers to avoid polarisation and adopt a cooperative rather than confrontational approach to resolve global issues as humanity deserves peace. This was the key message of the flagship Global Strategic Threat and Response (GSTAR) Conference on ‘Evolving Global Order: Challenges and Opportunities’ organised by the Centre for Aerospace & Security Studies (CASS) in Islamabad. Addressing the concluding session as guest of honour, Vice Chief of Air Staff Air Marshal Muhammad Zahid Mahmood said the international moot would help create awareness among all segments of society, particularly practitioners about the seriousness of the security environment, both at the global as well as regional level. He said unfortunately, international organisations responsible to ensure peace and stability across the globe, did not have the wherewithal to counter the fast-paced technological developments in space, primarily because the present international system did not have the power to block any state from using space for military purposes. He cautioned that selective sharing of these technologies, especially in a conflict prone region such as South Asia was leading towards strategic instability; and urged all nations to work towards peaceful use of these technologies for betterment of humanity and formulate rules and an international framework for their military applications. Earlier in the day, speakers of the working session on ‘Aerospace Security: Determinants and Future Prospects’ included keynote address by Air Commodore (retd)R Shaun Clarke, Former Director RNZAF Air Power Development Centre & Chief of Staff for New Zealand’s Joint Forces Command; and speakers Dr James J Wirtz, Professor National Security Affairs, Naval Postgraduate School, USA; Dr Damon Coletta, Director, Eisenhower Centre for Space and Defence Studies, USA; Dr Sannia Abdullah, former visiting research scholar, Sandia National Labs, USA; Air Commodore (retd) Khalid Banuri , Former Director General Arms Control & Disarmament Affairs Branch, Strategic Plans Division, government of Pakistan; and Air Commodore Dr Liaquat Ullah Iqbal, CPD & CEO National Aerospace Science and Technology Park, Pakistan. The session was chaired by former Chief of Air Staff (retd) Tahir Rafiq Butt and moderated by Air Commodore Dr Zia Ul Haque Shamsi, Director (Peace & Conflict Studies) at CASS. In his keynote address, Air Commodore (retd) R Shaun Clarke discussed why the specter of fully autonomous air was well within reach, and why there was little confidence in banning it. He was of the view that attempting to ban technology in a war that had such high utility outside war would be novel and achieving consensus to ban the ongoing development of autonomous air was extremely improbable. The keynote speaker predicted that the political consensus necessary for a meaningful ban on autonomous air would be challenging, especially since countries like China, Israel, Russia, South Korea, Australia, UK, US (apart from 90+ others) were already significantly invested in higher order development of autonomous air at some level. Dr James J Wirtz opined that space-based communication, intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance systems were figuring prominently in peacetime and wartime military operations. In his judgement, hypersonic vehicles promise to open pathways to new types of military operations in space. In their joint presentation Dr Damon Coletta and Dr Sannia Abdullah discussed the hybrid character of aerospace power. While Dr Coletta focused on the theoretical aspects and shared that air power theory was travelling a path that was distinct from space power theory and how the Russia-Ukraine war had introduced the new concept of ‘air denial’. Dr Abdullah focused on South Asia, particularly on Pakistan. She stressed that in order to keep pace with global technological trends, Pakistan would need to look beyond its traditional air strategy from the perspective of ground forces or airland battle concept to air space concept; improve its space programme, foster strategic relationship with the US and EU and organise Pak-US joint workshops on non-kinetic warfare. Discussing the role of aerospace power in South Asia’s security environment, Air Commodore Khalid Banuri agreed with his fellow speakers that air power now included the use of space for military purposes and regularisation attempts had largely become the arms controllers’ coffee club since nothing significant was coming out. While discussing PAF’s clear space mission 2047, he remarked that significantly large milestones needed to be traversed. He also added that lack of balance in the approach of some major powers, particularly the US, was augmenting Indian arrogance and hostility leading to greater instability in South Asia. In his presentation about the National Aerospace Science and Technology Park (NASTP), Air Commodore Dr Liaquat Ullah Iqbal shared that NASTP was an integral project of Aviation City Pakistan, being developed as Pakistan’s first aerospace cluster. With the complete support of the government and under the patronage of the Pakistan Air Force, NASTP had been envisioned to set up a state-of-the-art Special Technology Zone (STZ) housing high-tech aerospace technologies; design centres; public, private, national and international Aviation Industry; MRO facilities for commercial and military aircraft; aviation logistics; expo centres; and advanced vocational training institutes. Delivering his vote of thanks, President CASS, Air Marshal Farhat Hussain Khan shared key takeaways of the proceedings of the conference from each of the four sessions. He stressed that alliance politics seem to have accelerated US-China rivalry that may be heading towards a new Cold War. He emphasised that world powers should work together in a democratic way to ensure peaceful co-existence, respect for sovereignty of states, and shared rather than polarised world and the region. President CASS cautioned that US-India strategic agreements would result in downloading of critical technologies (including dual-use) to India, upsetting the regional balance of power in the political, strategic, and economic domains - an ideal recipe for destabilising South Asia. The two-day international conference was attended by a large number of diplomats, senior military officers, heads of various think-tanks, scholars, journalists and students.

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