Book Review “The Path To Zero: Dialogues On Nuclear Dangers” By Richard Falk And David Krieger

This book ought to be required reading for college students everywhere in the world, and also for decision-makers.

Mushroom cloud from the atomic bombing of Nagasaki on August 9, 1945

It shakes us out of our complacency and makes us realize that widespread, immediate and dedicated public action is urgently needed if we are to save human civilization and the biosphere from a thermonuclear catastrophe. The book is published by Paradigm Publishers, 2845 Wilderness Place, Boulder, CO 80301, USA. ( On the back cover there are endorsements, with which I entirely agree, by Archbishop Desmond Tutu and David Ellsberg.

“We are greatly privileged, like flies on the wall, to join this conversation between two remarkable stalwarts. Richard Falk and David Krieger, in the campaign for a nuclear-free world. It is unconscionable that so many of us seem to accept the prospect of our 'mutually assured destruction', the immoral massacre of millions of civilians, and to view with equanimity such a gross violation of international law. Falk and Krieger discuss persuasively and cogently the folly of reliance on nuclear weapons that can cause apocalyptic devastation. If we want to survive in a habitable world, then we have no choice: we must heed, and do so urgently, these lovers of mankind.” Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Nobel Peace Laureate

“In 'The Path to Zero', Falk and Krieger engage in a stunningly eloquent dialogue on a range of nuclear dangers, and our common responsibility to put an end to them. This is urgent reading for citizens, scientists, policy-makers and political leaders, actually for anyone who cares about the future of civilization and life on earth”, Daniel Ellsberg, Whistleblower

Other enthusiastic endorsements come from Jonathan Schell, Commander Robert Green and Maude Barlow.

The book has ten chapters: 1 The Nuclear Age; 2 Nuclear Deterrence; 3 Nuclear Proliferation; 4 Nuclear Arms Control and Nuclear Disarmament; 5 Nuclear Weapons and Militarism; 6 Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear Energy; 7 Nuclear Weapons and International Law; 8 Nuclear Weapons, Culture and Morality; 9 Nuclear Weapons and Democracy; 10 The Path to Zero.

The two authors

Richard Falk is Albert G. Milbank Professor of International Law and Practice Emeritus at Princeton, where he was a member of the faculty for 40 years. Since 2002 he has been a research professor at the University of California-Santa Barbara. He has been Special Rapporteur on Occupied Palestine for the UN Human Rights Council since 2008, and served on a panel of experts appointed by the President of the UN General Assembly, 2008-2009. He is the author or editor of numerous books, including “Legality and Legitimacy in Global Affairs” (Oxford 2012).

David Krieger is a Founder of the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, and has served as President of the Foundation since 1982. Under his leadership, the Foundation has initiated many innovative projects for building peace, strengthening international law, abolishing nuclear weapons, and empowering peace leaders. Among other leadership positions, he is one of 50 Councilors from around the world on the World Future Council. He is the author and editor of numerous books and articles related to achieving peace in the Nuclear Age. A graduate of Occidental College, he holds MA and PhD degrees in political science from the University of Hawaii.

Flaws in the concept of nuclear deterrence

In discussing the concept of nuclear deterrence, the two authors emphasize the fact that it violates the fundamental ethical principles of every major religion. Dr. Krieger comments:

Krieger: “Who are we? What kind of culture would be content to base its security on threatening to murder hundreds of millions of innocent people? ”

The two authors also point out that the idea of deterrence is an unproved theory, based on the assumption that accidents will not happen, and that leaders are always rational. In fact, we know historically that the world has come extremely near to accidental nuclear war on very numerous occasions, and there are also many historical instances of irrational behavior by leaders. This cannot continue indefinitely without a catastrophe. See:

The illegality of nuclear weapons

As Dr. Krieger and Prof. Falk point out, the threat or use of nuclear weapons violates international law. The fact that planning an aggressive war or conducting one is a crime according to the Nuremberg Principles is discussed. The two authors also review in detail the 1996 Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice, which was asked by the UN General Assembly and the World Health Organization to rule on the legality of the threat or use of nuclear weapons. The ICJ ruled that under almost all circumstances, the threat or use of nuclear weapons would be illegal. The only possible exception was the case where a country might be under attack and its very survival threatened. The Court gave no ruling on this extreme case. Finally, the ICJ ruled unanimously that states possessing nuclear weapons have an obligation to get rid of them within a short time-frame.

Falk: “It may be time for the General Assembly to put this question to the ICJ: What legal consequences arise from the persistent failure of the nuclear weapon states to fulfill their obligations under Article VI of the NPT. In my view, the nonnuclear states have also been irresponsible in not insisting on on mutuality of respect in the nonproliferation setting. It may be up to civil society actors to bring wider attention to this disrespect for the vital norms of international law…”

Colonialism and exceptionalism

Falk: “We need to remember that the expansion of Europe at the expense of the non-Western world rested on violence and the superiority of European weaponry and strategic logistics, including naval power. This link between Western militarism and historical ascendancy is, in my view, one of the deep reasons why there is such an irrational attachment to nuclear weaponry, making it very diffiicult to renounce as the supreme expression of political violence.”

Krieger: “I would like to add that there is a general orientation in much of Western society to subordinate international law to geopolitical desire, in other words, not to allow international law to be a limiting factor in seeking geopolitical advantage. International law is thus applied when useful and ignored when self-interest and convenience dictate. This is a striking manifestation of the double standards that have served the interests of the powerful in both the colonial and postcolonial worlds.”

The Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

In discussing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, Prof. Falk and Dr. Krieger point out that that it has several serious flaws: It is unsymmetrical, giving a special status to the nuclear weapons states, and forbidding all others to possess these weapons. The treaty encourages the “peaceful” use of nuclear energy, which in practice opens the door to acquisition of nuclear weapons by many nations and which exposes the world to radioactive fallout from accidents like Chernobyl and Fukushima, and very long-term dangers from radioactive wastes. Finally, membership in the NPT is not universal. Here are some comments by the two authors:

Falk: “In my view, the failure of the nuclear weapon states to pursue nuclear disarmament over a period of more than forty years, despite the injunction to do so by the International Court of Justice, is a material breach of the NPT that would give any party the option of pronouncing the treaty void.”

Krieger: “It would be wonderful to see a strong and concerted effort by non-nuclear-weapon states to challenge the nuclear weapons club. I think that the most effective thing that such states could do would be to start the process of negotiating a nuclear weapons convention and, if necessary, to do it without the nuclear weapon states.”

Falk: “My proposal is a two-year ultimatum by as many nonnuclear states as possible, threatening to withdraw from the NPT unless serious nuclear disarmament negotiations get underway.”

Dr. Krieger is not in complete agreement with Prof. Falk regarding such an ultimatum. He feels that even though it is flawed in many ways, it is still so valuable that its continuation ought not to be threatened.

Krieger: “One of the great problems with the NPT is that it encourages the peaceful use of nuclear energy, which actually opens the door to nuclear weapons proliferation. It ends up making the treaty work against itself. Of course, Israel is not a party to the treaty, nor are India and Pakistan. This demonstrates a fundamental weakness of international law, that is, the exemption of nations that do not sign a treaty from the law. This would be unworkable in domestic law, and it is equally so in international law.”

Krieger: “The nuclear plant operators are willing to downplay for short-term gain the catastrophic risks that are involved in the use of nuclear reactors to boil water. They are wiling to generate wastes that will adversely affect the health and well-being of of untold generations to follow us on the planet. ¡K The tragedy is that governments embrace and support this industry, demonstrating that they also do not place the interests of their people and the future at the forefront of their planning and decision making.”

No first use; no hair-trigger alerted missiles

In their concluding chapter, the two authors agree that a No First Use declaration could be a useful first step. Prof. Falk comments:

Falk: “What conceivable justification, consistent with a deterrence rationale for the retention of nuclear weapons, is there for not assuring other governments that the United States will only use such weaponry in retaliation a prior attack with nuclear weaponry? It is rather clear that such a declaration, especially if backed up by non-nuclear deployments, would both give the United States some new claim to leadership with respect to the weaponry and exert enormous psychological pressure on other nuclear weapon states to follow the American lead.”

This, of course, could be linked to taking all nuclear weapons systems off hair-trigger alert, which is probably the most important first step towards avoiding the catastrophe of an accidental nuclear war. Dr Krieger comments:

Krieger: “Those responsible for maintaining nuclear arsenals on hair-trigger alert are delusional if they think that it can be maintained indefinitely without dire consequences.”

Developments since the publication of the book

Since the publication of Prof. Falk and Dr. Krieger's book in 2012, several events have taken place which the authors probably would have discussed if they had occurred earlier. For example, on 2 April, 2013, the Arms Trade Treaty was passed by a massive majority by a direct vote in the UN General Assembly. The ATT had remained blocked for more than 10 years in the consensus-bound Conference on Disarmament in Geneva. Its passage gives us hope that a Nuclear Weapons Convention can similarly be passed by a direct vote in the UN General Assembly, where the vast majority of nations are in favor of the complete abolition of nuclear weapons. Even if bitterly opposed by the nuclear weapons states, a Nuclear Weapons Convention would have great normative value.

Another development which Prof. Falk and Dr. Krieger would certainly have discussed, had it occurred earlier, is an heroic law suit by the Republic of the Marshall Islands, suing the nuclear weapons states for violation of Article VI of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. In fact Dr. Krieger and his organization, the Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, are actively supporting the Marshall Islands in this David-versus-Goliath-like law suit.

Finally, the two authors would probably have discussed the hubris of Washington's power-holders in threatening war with both Russia and China. The effect of this colossally misguided US action has been to firmly unite China and Russia. In fact the BRICS countries, with their vast resources, are now moving away from using the dollar as a reserve currency for international trade. The probable effect will be the collapse of the already-strained US economy, and as a consequence, the fall of the US Empire. Prof. Falk and Dr. Krieger both wonder whether they have been too America-centric in their discussions of nuclear abolition. The probable fall of the United States from its present position of global hegemony may mean that US leadership will not, in the future, be the key to nuclear abolition.

Some conclusions

When the Cold War ended in 1991, many people heaved a sigh of relief and concluded that they no longer had to worry about the threat of a nuclear Armageddon. Prof. Falk and Dr. Krieger show us that this comforting belief is entirely false, that the dangers are greater than ever before, and that it is vital to bring this fact to the urgent attention of today's young people, who were born long after the tragic nuclear destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or perhaps even born after the end of the Cold War.

Ultimately, the complete abolition of nuclear weapons is linked with a change of heart, the replacement of narrow nationalism by loyalty to humanity as a whole, and the replacement of militarism by a just and enforcible system of international law.

John Avery received a B.Sc. in theoretical physics from MIT and an M.Sc. from the University of Chicago. He later studied theoretical chemistry at the University of London, and was awarded a Ph.D. there in 1965. He is now Lektor Emeritus, Associate Professor, at the Department of Chemistry, University of Copenhagen. Fellowships, memberships in societies: Since 1990 he has been the Contact Person in Denmark for Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. In 1995, this group received the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts. He was the Member of the Danish Peace Commission of 1998. Technical Advisor, World Health Organization, Regional Office for Europe (1988- 1997). Chairman of the Danish Peace Academy, April 2004. He can be reached at

Suggestions for further reading:

Ban Ki-moon. “The United Nations and security in a nuclear-weapon-free world.” Address to the East-West Institute, October 24, 2008.

Green, Robert, “Breaking Free from Nuclear Deterrence.” Santa Barbara: Nuclear Age Peace Foundation, 10th Annual Frank K. Kelly Lecture on Humanity's Future, 2011,

“Legality of the Threat or Use of Nuclear Weapons.” Advisory Opinion of the International Court of Justice, The Hague, July 8, 1996.

McCloy-Zorin Accords. “Joint Statement of Agreed Principles for Disarmament Negotiations,” signed on September 20, 1961, unanimously adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on December 20, 1961.

Model Nuclear Weapons Convention. “Convention on the Prohibition of the Development, Testing, Production, Stockpiling, Transfer, Use and Threat of Use of Nuclear Weapons and their Elimination, April 2007.”

Obama, Barak, Remarks of President Barak Obama, Hradcany Square, Prague, Czech Republic, April 5, 2009.

Rotblat, Joseph, “Remember Your Humanity”, Nobel Lecture, Oslo, Norway, December 10, 1995,

Russell-Einstein Manifesto, issued in London, July 9, 1955,

Santa Barbara Declaration, “Reject Nuclear Deterrence: An Urgent Call to Action,”

Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons, entered into force on March 5, 1970.

Vancouver Declaration. “Law's Imperative for the Urgent Achievement of a Nuclear-Weapon-Free World,” Vancouver, Canada, March 21, 2011.


Tomgram: Patrick Cockburn, How to Ensure a Thriving Caliphate

Think of the new “caliphate” of the Islamic State, formerly the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), as George W. Bush and Dick Cheney's gift to the world (with a helping hand from the Saudis and other financiers of extremism in the Persian Gulf). How strange that they get so little credit for its rise, for the fact that the outlines of the Middle East, as set up by Europe’s colonial powers in the wake of World War I, are being swept aside in a tide of blood.

Had George and Dick not decided on their “cakewalk” in Iraq, had they not raised the specter of nuclear destruction and claimed that Saddam Hussein’s regime was somehow linked to al-Qaeda and so to the 9/11 attacks, had they not sent tens of thousands of American troops into a burning, looted Baghdad (“stuff happens”), disbanded the Iraqi army, built military bases all over that country, and generally indulged their geopolitical fantasies about dominating the oil heartlands of the planet for eternity, ISIS would have been an unlikely possibility, no matter the ethnic and religious tensions in the region. They essentially launched the drive that broke state power there and created the kind of vacuum that a movement like ISIS was so horrifically well suited to fill.

All in all, it’s a remarkable accomplishment to look back on. In September 2001, when George and Dick launched their “Global War on Terror” to wipe out — so they then claimed — “terrorist networks” in up to 60 countries, or as they preferred to put it, “drain the swamp,” there were scattered bands of jihadis globally, while al-Qaeda had a couple of camps in Afghanistan and a sprinkling of supporters elsewhere. Today, in the wake of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and an air power intervention in Libya, after years of drone (and non-drone) bombing campaigns across the Greater Middle East, jihadist groups are thriving in Yemen and Pakistan, spreading through Africa (along with the U.S. military), and ISIS has taken significant parts of Iraq and Syria right up to the Lebanese border for its own bailiwick and is still expanding murderously, despite a renewed American bombing campaign that may only strengthen that movement in the long run.

Has anyone covered this nightmare better than the world’s least embedded reporter, Patrick Cockburn of the British Independent? Not for my money. He’s had the canniest, clearest-eyed view of developments in the region for years now. As it happens, when he publishes a new book on the Middle East (the last time was 2008), he makes one of his rare appearances at TomDispatch. This month, his latest must-read work, The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising, is out. Today, this website has an excerpt from its first chapter on why the war on terror was such a failure (and why, if Washington was insistent on invading someplace, it probably should have chosen Saudi Arabia). It includes a special introductory section written just for TomDispatch. Thanks go to his publisher, OR Books. Tom

Why Washington’s War on Terror Failed

The Underrated Saudi Connection

By Patrick Cockburn

[This essay is excerpted from the first chapter of Patrick Cockburn’s new book, The Jihadis Return: ISIS and the New Sunni Uprising, with special thanks to his publisher, OR Books. The first section is a new introduction written for TomDispatch.]

There are extraordinary elements in the present U.S. policy in Iraq and Syria that are attracting surprisingly little attention. In Iraq, the U.S. is carrying out air strikes and sending in advisers and trainers to help beat back the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (better known as ISIS) on the Kurdish capital, Erbil. The U.S. would presumably do the same if ISIS surrounds or attacks Baghdad. But in Syria, Washington’s policy is the exact opposite: there the main opponent of ISIS is the Syrian government and the Syrian Kurds in their northern enclaves. Both are under attack from ISIS, which has taken about a third of the country, including most of its oil and gas production facilities.

But U.S., Western European, Saudi, and Arab Gulf policy is to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad, which happens to be the policy of ISIS and other jihadis in Syria. If Assad goes, then ISIS will be the beneficiary, since it is either defeating or absorbing the rest of the Syrian armed opposition. There is a pretense in Washington and elsewhere that there exists a “moderate” Syrian opposition being helped by the U.S., Qatar, Turkey, and the Saudis. It is, however, weak and getting more so by the day. Soon the new caliphate may stretch from the Iranian border to the Mediterranean and the only force that can possibly stop this from happening is the Syrian army.

The reality of U.S. policy is to support the government of Iraq, but not Syria, against ISIS. But one reason that group has been able to grow so strong in Iraq is that it can draw on its resources and fighters in Syria. Not everything that went wrong in Iraq was the fault of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, as has now become the political and media consensus in the West. Iraqi politicians have been telling me for the last two years that foreign backing for the Sunni revolt in Syria would inevitably destabilize their country as well. This has now happened.

By continuing these contradictory policies in two countries, the U.S. has ensured that ISIS can reinforce its fighters in Iraq from Syria and vice versa. So far, Washington has been successful in escaping blame for the rise of ISIS by putting all the blame on the Iraqi government. In fact, it has created a situation in which ISIS can survive and may well flourish.

Using the al-Qa'ida Label

The sharp increase in the strength and reach of jihadist organizations in Syria and Iraq has generally been unacknowledged until recently by politicians and media in the West. A primary reason for this is that Western governments and their security forces narrowly define the jihadist threat as those forces directly controlled by al-Qa‘ida central or “core” al-Qa‘ida. This enables them to present a much more cheerful picture of their successes in the so-called war on terror than the situation on the ground warrants.

In fact, the idea that the only jihadis to be worried about are those with the official blessing of al-Qa‘ida is naïve and self-deceiving. It ignores the fact, for instance, that ISIS has been criticized by the al-Qa‘ida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri for its excessive violence and sectarianism. After talking to a range of Syrian jihadi rebels not directly affiliated with al-Qa‘ida in southeast Turkey earlier this year, a source told me that “without exception they all expressed enthusiasm for the 9/11 attacks and hoped the same thing would happen in Europe as well as the U.S.”

Jihadi groups ideologically close to al-Qa‘ida have been relabeled as moderate if their actions are deemed supportive of U.S. policy aims. In Syria, the Americans backed a plan by Saudi Arabia to build up a “Southern Front” based in Jordan that would be hostile to the Assad government in Damascus, and simultaneously hostile to al-Qa‘ida-type rebels in the north and east. The powerful but supposedly moderate Yarmouk Brigade, reportedly the planned recipient of anti-aircraft missiles from Saudi Arabia, was intended to be the leading element in this new formation. But numerous videos show that the Yarmouk Brigade has frequently fought in collaboration with JAN, the official al-Qa‘ida affiliate. Since it was likely that, in the midst of battle, these two groups would share their munitions, Washington was effectively allowing advanced weaponry to be handed over to its deadliest enemy. Iraqi officials confirm that they have captured sophisticated arms from ISIS fighters in Iraq that were originally supplied by outside powers to forces considered to be anti-al-Qa‘ida in Syria. More


All in the Timing: The Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East – Patricia Mary Lewis

The Helsinki Conference process established by the 2010 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference is the most significant opportunity to increase stability and prevent nuclear catastrophe in the Middle East that has presented itself in recent years. If states fail to take this opportunity, the consequences will be severe.

The Helsinki Conference process established by the 2010 nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) Review Conference is the most significant opportunity to increase stability and prevent nuclear catastrophe in the Middle East that has presented itself in recent years – coming at a time when the Iranian nuclear capabilities issue is being seriously and sustainably addressed, and when the instability in the region is all too plain to see. If states fail to take this opportunity, the consequences will be severe. Now is a time for leadership. Serious efforts to forge an agreement between Israel and Egypt would make all the difference and could help the region’s security in a time of considerable danger.

However, progress towards a weapons of mass destruction (WMD) free zone in the Middle East has been sporadic. A deadline of December 2012 was not met and no follow-on date has yet been announced for the Helsinki conference. There are three main scenarios that could play out in the period leading up to the next NPT Review Conference in April 2015. They are:

  • a Helsinki conference that has a successful outcome and leads to a process towards a WMD free zone negotiation that includes regional security measures to support the zone,
  • a Helsinki conference that results in no positive outcome and no follow-on process, and
  • no Helsinki conference before the 2015 Review Conference.

In the event of a successful Helsinki conference before 2015 there are a number of proposals to develop the zone.

  • Begin regional negotiations through a set of working groups or committees that divide the workload into nuclear weapons, chemical weapons, biological weapons, means of delivery including missiles, supportive measures/confidence- and security-building measures, wider regional security issues, and verification and other technical measures.
  • Install capacity-building measures to implement and verify the WMD free zone, such as training inspectors, developing common methodologies and learning how to use technical instruments for monitoring.
  • Involve civil society and the general public in the debate, and foster a wide discussion among all segments of the societies in the region, including young political leaders, young scientists and young journalists.

In the event of a failed or abandoned Helsinki conference it may still be possible to undertake the following measures.

  • Revamp the 1991 Madrid peace process and the multilateral tracks that it established which led to the Oslo Peace Accord and the Israeli–Jordanian Peace Treaty and see if the approach taken at that time could be adapted for today. This will require Egypt and Israel to enter into direct negotiations in order to get the ball rolling.
  • Revert to the UN Security Council to request a consideration of Resolution 687 that established the ceasefire in Iraq in 1991, which contains references to the Middle East WMD free zone.
  • Employ the UN General Assembly by building on the UN resolution that has been adopted annually calling for the ‘Establishment of a nuclear-weapon-free zone in the region of the Middle East’.
  • Establish a building-blocks approach aiming to establish a zone through a set of parallel or sequential commitments to sign and ratify the extant treaties such as the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), the NPT and the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Other measures could include a highly-enriched-uranium-free zone, separate agreements on non-attack of nuclear facilities (including cyber attacks), missile tests launch notifications, nuclear security assurances and transparency measures.

Research Paper: All in the Timing: The Weapons of Mass Destruction Free Zone in the Middle East


Russia’s Strategic Pakistan Play

Russia’s decision to go ahead with the sale of Mi-35 attack helicopters to Pakistan, even in the face of official Indian concerns, is being seen by some quarters as evidence of a “major” regional re-alignment in the wake of the American drawdown in Afghanistan.

In fact, the Russia-Pakistan dialogue for regional integration has been underway for some time now and beyond security cooperation, it is more fundamentally driven by Moscow’s push towards ‘southern” markets and Pakistan’s need for a capable yet politically “manageable” strategic sector trade and investment partner. The Mi-35 sale (if it does materialize) reflects the fact that the geo-economic stakes for both sides are now high enough for them to make a concerted push towards a long term compartmentalized working relationship in a manner not dissimilar to the way in which their more traditional partners – India for Russia and America for Pakistan – deal with each other. Indeed, in a world characterized by both competition and cooperation the heady rhetoric of “strategic partnership” means little and it is the transactional content that weighs on any relationship. Far more than cooperation in counter-terrorism, Russia and Pakistan will have to move forward quickly on Putin’s commitment to invest in the latter’s energy and metallurgy sectors for their relationship to be meaningful.


It could be argued that it was actually America’s entry into the region a decade ago that ultimately accentuated the circumstances that impel Russia and Pakistan closer to each other. Pakistan’s counter-terrorism cooperation with America salved with military aid has been toxic for domestic stability, as the situation in FATA and Waziristan reveal. As the tempo of internal stability operations has increased, Pakistan is keen to diversify away from America for certain classes of weaponry to a source that can supply cheaper and more rugged alternatives with a much smaller political price on the domestic front. The Mi-35 fits that bill and is likely to prove useful for Pakistani operations against the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in mountainous areas, given its pedigree from the Afghan theater. At the moment Pakistan is using AH-1 Cobra Gunships that were originally obtained from America for use against Indian armoured formations in the plains and are proving expensive to use in operations against the TTP. Pakistan may not wish to be saddled with too much expensive American equipment that it can”t afford without generous aid.

Russia until recently was “reluctant” to transfer equipment that could be labelled as offensive in nature such as the Mi-35, and was holding back probably with an eye on a number of Indian military procurement tenders such as the multi-billion dollar medium multirole combat aircraft (MMRCA) competition. In 2010, Russia’s UAC, which was participating in the tender, even made noises about blocking the re-export of 150 KlimovRD-93 turbofans from China for Pakistan Air force’s future mainstay, the JF-17, on the grounds that it would compete with the Russian Mig-29 in international markets. By 2013, however, with Russia having lost out on the MMRCA tender and other Indian competitions, the Russians reiterated their commitment to continue supplies of the RD-93 and the JF-17 Block II commenced production in late 2013. So while much is being made of the Mi-35 sale, the fact is the Pakistanis seem set to rely on Russian engines for a majority of their fleet in the coming decades. When seen along with the fact that Russia supplied IL-78 MP refuelling tankers to Pakistan between 2009 and 2012, it is clear that comfort levels on both sides have been growing for quite a while now.

However, Russia is now willing to supply tactical equipment to Pakistan, especially in categories such as attack helicopters, where India either has domestic projects or may buy American. In many of these categories, though Pakistani spending ability given relatively cheaper Russian equipment is not insignificant, the pull for the Russians also comes from securing greater Pakistani willingness to help the Russians maintain security over energy infrastructure transiting areas like Eastern Afghanistan.

Once again, the American push to set up energy transit corridors from Central Asia to India such as the Turkmenistan-Afghanistan-Pakistan-India (TAPI) gas pipeline has created a situation of Russia-Pakistan commonality. Russia has for some time expressed an interest in joining the TAPI project and is now pushing decisively for it even while proposing new oil pipelines next to it. Russia is also eager to partner in the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline project, opposed by the Americans, but with clear potential if Pakistan agrees to guarantee delivery of gas to the India border. Of course, besides military supplies, Russia can also offer Pakistan a lot of useful intelligence in the latter’s fight against the TTP given that group’s link with various Central Asian terrorist organizations.

For Pakistan, the opening of Russia as a source for weapons greatly increases Pakistan’s leg room vis-à-vis American pressure at the strategic level. Moreover while Pakistan is certainly eager to get involved in trilateral military projects with Russia and China like the JF-17 (which may now even be exported to Myanmar), direct Russian weapon sales are also coveted since the Pakistani military does not want to field only Chinese weapons either.

In fact, as terrorist activities in Xingjiang increase and Pakistan’s internal security situation worsens, the Chinese have been rather selective in their Pakistani investments. For instance, Pakistan’s decrepit railways have actually had to turn to India for help and are looking to lease up to 50 diesel engines as rolling stock. While Indian industry has been making overtures to Nawaz Sharif’s government to open up to cross border investment, the Pakistani military is still looking to a politically less sensitive prospect to shore up the flagging core sectors of the Pakistani economy clearly in need of reliable foreign capital.

Of course, if former Pakistani Army Chief General Kayani’s views are anything to go by, the military understands that there can be no Pakistan without a viable economy. While in uniform, it was Kayani who made a couple of visits to Russia and today the Russians are being wooed as a source for investment in Pakistan’s flagship Thar Coal Project as well as a strategic partner for upgrading the South Asian country’s moribund steel industry. Chechnya it seems is more distant than Kashmir or even Xingjiang and Russia could yet prove a politically acceptable partner for meeting an energy crisis ridden Pakistan’s requirements in quite a few sectors.

For Russia the benefits of succeeding in Pakistan are worth the risk, since it could leverage influence over Af-Pak to reach Indian shores. Indeed, even Pakistan’s Gwadar port, much touted as a Chinese “pearl” could actually host a LNG liquefaction facility that could send cheaper gas supplies than Qatar to import terminals in South India. However, both Russia and Pakistan will have to work quicker to remove long-standing trade disputes for a more conducive environment.

India will of course watch closely to see whether the Russians are indeed able to use the dependencies they are creating in Pakistan for closer regional energy integration. That the Russians are increasing strategic options for their neighbor when even the Saudis are handing over Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorists will obviously be of concern to New Delhi. That is especially so since the Pakistanis themselves are masters at selective counterterrorism at a time when many jihadists in Syria and Afghanistan may soon be looking for a re-direct.

Saurav Jha is a commentator on energy and security. Follow him on twitter @SJha1618.


Sifting through the wreckage of MH17, searching for sense amid the horror

Any journalist should hesitate before saying this, but news can be bad for you. You don’t have to agree with the analyst who reckons “news is to the mind what sugar is to the body” to see that reading of horror and foreboding hour by hour, day after day, can sap the soul.

This week ended with a double dose, administered within the space of a few hours: Israel’s ground incursion into Gaza and, more shocking because entirely unexpected, the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over Ukraine, killing all 298 on board.

So in Gaza we look at the wildly lopsided death tolls – nearly 300 Palestinians and two Israelis killed these past nine days.

The different responses these events stir in those of us who are distant, and the strategies we devise to cope with them, say much about our behaviour as consumers of news. But they also go some way to determining our reaction as citizens, as constituent members of the amorphous body we call public, or even world, opinion.

As I write, 18 of the 20 most-read articles on the Guardian website are about MH17. The entry into Gaza by Israeli forces stands at number 21. It’s not hard to fathom why the Malaysian jet strikes the louder chord. As the preacher might put it, “There but for the grace of God go I.” Stated baldly, most of us will never live in Gaza, but we know it could have been us boarding that plane in Amsterdam.

Which is why there is a morbid fascination with tales of the passenger who changed flights at the last minute, thereby cheating death, or with the crew member who made the opposite move, hastily switching to MH17 at the final moment, taking a decision that would have seemed so trivial at the time but which cost him his life. When we read about the debris – the holiday guidebooks strewn over the Ukrainian countryside, the man found next to an iPhone, the boy with his seatbelt still on – our imaginations put us on that flight. Of course we have sympathy for the victims and their families. But our fear is for ourselves.

It’s quite true that if the US truly decided that Israel’s 47-year occupation of Palestinian territory was no longer acceptable, that would bring change.

The reports from Gaza stir a different feeling. When we read the Guardian’s Peter Beaumont describe the sights he saw driving around the strip on Friday morningthree Palestinian siblings killed by an Israeli artillery shell that crashed into their bedroom, a father putting the remains of his two-year-old son into a plastic shopping bag – we are shaken by a different kind of horror. It is compassion for another human being, someone in a situation utterly different to ours. We don’t worry that this might happen to us, as we now might when we contemplate an international flight over a war zone. Our reaction is directed not inward, but outward. More

There is an interesting article by Chris Hedges entitled It's NOT going to be OK on the current economic disparity which, he believes could lead to a drastic decline in democracy as states respond to social protests. The question I ask is what can be done to slow or erradicate this process? Editor