How BRICS Plus clashes with the US economic war on Iran = By Pepe ESCOBAR (THE SAKER)

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by Pepe Escobar (cross-posted with the Asia Times by special agreement with the author)

Rhetorical war has far-reaching consequences, including a potential economic slump via the disruption of global oil supplies

The key take away from the BRICS summit in Johannesburg is that Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – important Global South players – strongly condemn unilateralism and protectionism.

The Johannesburg Declaration is unmistakable: “We recognize that the multilateral trading system is facing unprecedented challenges. We underscore the importance of an open world economy.”

Closer examination of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s speech unlocks some poignant details.

Xi, crucially, emphasizes delving further into “our strategic partnership.” That implies increased BRICS and Beyond BRICS multilateral trade, investment and economic and financial connectivity.

And that also implies reaching to the next level; “It is important that we continue to pursue innovation-driven development and build the BRICS Partnership on New Industrial Revolution (PartNIR) to strengthen coordination on macroeconomic policies, find more complementarities in our development strategies, and reinforce the competitiveness of the BRICS countries, emerging market economies and developing countries.”

If PartNIR sounds like the basis for an overall Global South platform, that’s because it is.

In a not too veiled allusion to the Trump administration’s unilateral pullout from the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA), Xi called all parties to “abide by international law and basic norms governing international relations and to settle disputes through dialogue and differences through consultation,” adding that the BRICS are inevitably working for “a new type of international relations.”

Relations such as these certainly do not include a superpower unilaterally imposing an energy export blockade – an act of economic war – on an emerging market and key actor of the Global South.

Xi is keen to extol a “network of closer partnerships.” That’s where the concept of BRICS Plus fits in. China coined BRICS Plus last year at the Xiamen summit, it refers to closer integration between the five BRICS members and other emerging markets/developing nations.

Argentina, Turkey and Jamaica are guests of honor in Johannesburg. Xi sees BRICS Plus interacting with the UN, the G20 “and other frameworks” to amplify the margin of maneuver not only of emerging markets but the whole Global South. 

So how does Iran fit into this framework?

An absurd game of chicken

Immediately after President Trump’s Tweet of Mass Destruction the rhetorical war between Washington and Tehran has skyrocketed to extremely dangerous levels.

Major General Qassem Soleimani, commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps’ (IRGC) Quds Force – and a true rock star in Iran – issued a blistering response to Trump: “You may begin the war, but it is us who will end it.”

The IRGC yields massive economic power in Iran and is in total symbiosis with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei. It’s no secret the IRGC never trusted President Rouhani’s strategy of relying on the JCPOA as the path to improve Iran’s economy. After the unilateral Trump administration pullout, the IRGC feels totally vindicated.

The mere threat of a US attack on Iran has engineered a rise in oil prices. US reliance on Middle East Oil is going down while fracking – boosted by higher prices – is ramping up. The threat of war increases with Tehran now overtly referring to its power to cripple global energy supplies literally overnight.

In parallel the Houthis, by forcing the Yemen-bombing House of Saud to stop oil shipments via the Bab al-Mandeb port, are configuring the Strait of Hormuz and scores of easily targeted pipelines as even more crucial to the flow of energy that makes the West tick. 

If there ever was a US attack on Iran, Persian Gulf analysts stress only Russia, Nigeria and Venezuela might be able to provide enough oil and gas to make up for lost supplies to the West. That’s not exactly what the Trump administration is looking for.

Iranian “nuclear weapons” was always a bogus issue. Tehran did not have them – and was not pursuing them. Yet now the highly volatile rhetorical war introduces the hair-raising possibility of Tehran perceiving there is a clear danger of a US nuclear attack or an attack whose purpose is to destroy the nation’s infrastructure. If cornered, there’s no question the IRGC would buy nuclear weapons on the black market and use them to defend the nation.

This is the “secret” hidden in Soleimani’s message. Besides, Russia could easily – and secretly – supply Iran with state-of-the-art defensive missiles and the most advanced offensive missiles.

This absurd game of chicken is absolutely unnecessary for Washington from an oil strategy point of view – apart from the intent to break a key node of Eurasia integration. Assuming the Trump administration is playing chess, it’s imperative to think 20 moves ahead if “winning” is on the cards.

If a US oil blockade on Iran is coming, Iran could answer with its own Strait of Hormuz blockade, producing economic turmoil for the West. If this leads to a massive depression, it’s unlikely the industrial-military-security complex will blame itself.

There’s no question that Russia and China – the two key BRICS players – will have Iran’s back. First there’s Russia’s participation in Iran’s nuclear and aerospace industries and then the Russia-Iran collaboration in the Astana process to solve the Syria tragedy. With China, Iran as one of the country’s top energy suppliers and plays a crucial role in the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Russia and China have an outsize presence in the Iranian market and similar ambitions to bypass the US dollar and third-party US sanctions.

Beam me up, Global South

The true importance of the BRICS Johannesburg summit is how it is solidifying a Global South plan of action that would have Iran as one of its key nodes. Iran, although not named in an excellent analysis by Yaroslav Lissovolik at the Valdai Club, is the quintessential BRICS Plus nation.

Once again, BRICS Plus is all about constituting a “unified platform of regional integration arrangements,” going way beyond regional deals to reach other developing nations in a transcontinental scope.

This means a platform integrating the African Union (AU), the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as well as the South Asian Bay of Bengal Initiative for Multi-Sectoral Technical and Economic Cooperation (BIMSTEC).

Iran is a future member of the SCO and has already struck a deal with the EAEU. It’s also an important node of the BRI and is a key member, along BRICS members India and Russia, of the International North-South Transportation Corridor (INSTC), essential for deeper Eurasia connectivity.

Lissovolik uses BEAMS as the acronym to designate “the aggregation of regional integration groups, with BRICS Plus being a broader concept that incorporates other forms of BRICS’ interaction with developing economies.”

China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi has defined BRICS Plus and BEAMS as the “most extensive platform for South-South cooperation with a global impact.” The Global South now does have an integration road map. If it ever happened, an attack on Iran would be not only an attack on BRICS Plus and BEAMS but on the whole Global South.

India, Russia to Ink Big Weapons Deal – By Andrei AKULOV – (Strategic Culture Foundation)

India, Russia to Ink Big Weapons Deal

Russia still retains a strong presence in the Indian arms market. Delhi has worked with Moscow to develop the BrahMos supersonic anti-ship and land-attack cruise missile. India also fields Russia’s S-300 air-defense system, and its INS Vikramaditya aircraft carrier is made in Russia and uses Russian aircraft.  The list of Russian weapons used by the Indian military is very long. The countries have an almost 60-year history of military cooperation, but in recent years New Delhi has been shifting to purchases of US-produced weapons. Moscow has lost a few tenders to the United States and France. Now it looks like the situation is going to change and Russia will get back on its feet after some breakthrough agreements.

India is finalizing negotiations with Russia to purchase 48 additional Mi-17-V5 utility helicopters.  According to Jane’s, the deal is likely to be signed in early October during Russian President Putin’s visit to Delhi. The proposed deal also includes an offset obligation that requires all vendors to invest 30% of the overall contractual value of all military purchases over $290 million into India’s defense budget.  The additional Mi-17-V5s are meant to supplement the 151 similar platforms that India has already acquired. All in all, more than 400 Russian-made rotary wing aircraft are operating in India. It’s not known as yet whether the Mi-17-V5s will be weaponized.

Each Indian Mi-17V-5 is equipped with a complex navigation and KNEI-8 avionics suite. According to the Indian Express, the multitude of indicators for various information systems has been replaced with four multifunction displays. The KNEI-8 also helps reduce pre-flight inspection time.

The thick-skinned Mi-17-V5 can operate in adverse weather, day or night, in any climate conditions, carrying out transport/assault missions simultaneously. Its heavy armor protection is an advantage.  In 2013, a Syrian Mi-17 was hit by an air-to-air missile launched by a Turkish fighter.  The chopper survived long enough to allow its pilots to bail out over friendly territory and thus avoid capture. 

With a maximum takeoff weight of 13,000 kg., it can carry up to 36 heavily armed troops or 4,000 kg. of cargo inside the cabin, with an additional 4,500-kg. payload attached on an external sling.  Two TV3-117BM or VK-2500 turbo-shaft engines with a maximum power of either 2,100 hp or 2,700 hp respectively provide for a greater service/hovering ceiling and improved performance at high altitudes in hot weather. The modern, powerful engines significantly expand the helicopter’s abilities to transport heavy and bulky loads, especially in the Indian highlands and mountains. The copter can be armed with Shturm-V anti-tank missiles, S-8 rockets, and several machine guns of various calibers for engaging personnel armored vehicles, ground sites, and other fixed and movable targets. Its maximum speed is 250 km/h and standard range is 580 km. That range can be extended to 1,065 km. when fitted with two auxiliary fuel tanks.  Its maximum altitude is 6,000 m.

The US paid Russia $1 billion to supply the Afghan security forces with the Mi-17s. The Afghan air force fliers preferred them to the American rotary-wing aircraft.  The last batch was delivered in 2014.

Before 2014, India had studied the possibility of buying 12 Italian AgustaWestland AW101 luxury helicopters for use by its VIPs, but the deal was scrapped amidst corruption scandals. As a result, those VIPs got Russian Mi-17-V5s.

In December, Delhi and Moscow agreed to produce 200 Russian light multipurpose Ka-226T helicopters in India. The deal includes maintenance, operation, the repair of the helicopters, and technical support.

It should be noted that the news about the Mi-17-V5 deal appeared only hours after the US Congress announced that both the House and Senate had agreed on the draft National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for fiscal year 2019. That legislation allows waivers under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) for India, Vietnam, and Indonesia (among other countries purchasing Russian military equipment) on the condition that they take steps to wean themselves off of those products. Turkey is not among those exempt from this “punishment.”

India is adamant in its desire to acquire Russia’s famous S-400 air defense system. This is an issue for the United States. India can pay billions for the weapons it needs, but buying the system has nothing to do with the NDAA provision to offer waivers to those who are trying to reduce and eventually end their purchases of Russian-made systems. Delhi never said it had any such intention.  India’s Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman believes that “CAATSA cannot impact the India-Russia defense cooperation.”  The last US-Indian meeting on July 6 in the “2+2” format (between the foreign and defense chiefs) was unilaterally canceled by the US. If CAATSA creates bumps in the road for the US-India relationship, Washington will lose a lucrative market and an important partner, while gaining nothing in return.  

Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Morocco are currently negotiating with Russia over the purchase of the S-400. Will they be also be sanctioned under CAATSA, thus making Iran quite happy? What about Algeria, which has bought half of all the Russian weapons sold in Africa and has a growing interest in more purchases? Will the US sanction the Philippines, its old ally, for buying grenade launchers from Rosoboronexport?

The NDAA 2019 bill does not include the United States in the list of countries to be granted waivers. This means the US itself must be sanctioned for violating CAATSA by continuing to buy Russian RD-180 and RD-181 rocket engines that the United Launch Alliance can’t do without in order to power the Atlas 5 rocket used for US government launches. This is a strong argument that could be used by those who come under US attack for buying weapons and technology from Russia. 

Extraordinarily misleading: How corporate media wove a false narrative of North Korean nuclear deception – By Gareth Porter 38 North (SOTT)

North Korea flag and nuclear flag

© Getty Images

Since the June 12 Singapore Summit between US President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, the US media has woven a misleading narrative that both past and post-summit North Korean actions indicate an intent to deceive the US about its willingness to denuclearize. The so-called intelligence that formed the basis of these stories was fed to reporters by individuals within the administration pushing their own agenda. TE

The Case of theSecret Uranium Enrichment Sites

In late June and early July, a series of press stories portrayed a North Korean policy of deceiving the United States by keeping what were said to be undeclared uranium enrichment sites secret from the United States. The stories were published just as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was preparing for the first meetings with North Korean officials to begin implementing the Singapore Summit Declaration.

The first such story appeared on NBC News on June 29, which reported:

U.S. intelligence agencies believe that North Korea has increased its production of fuel for nuclear weapons at multiple secret sites in recent months-and that Kim Jong Un may try to hide those facilities as he seeks more concessions in nuclear talks with the Trump administration.

NBC News reporters quoted one official as saying, “There is absolutely unequivocal evidence that they are trying to deceive the U.S.” They further reported that the intelligence assessment “concludes that there is more than one secret site” for enrichment.

The story was highly problematic because it reported the alleged conclusion of the intelligence report as a fact, even though it admitted that NBC reporters had not seen or been briefed in detail on any part of the intelligence assessment in question, but had relied entirely on general statements by unnamed officials. Furthermore, none of the officials on whom they relied were identified as members of the intelligence community.

Significantly, the story did not indicate whether the assessment was endorsed by the entire US intelligence community or-as turned out to be the case-only one element of it. Normal journalistic practice would have made clear that NBC was passing on an unconfirmed conclusion the accuracy of which they were unable to verify. Instead, the NBC reporters played up the alleged conclusion as unambiguous evidence that US intelligence believed the North Koreans intended to deceive the United States by maintaining secret enrichment facilities under a future agreement with the United States.

The Washington Post published a report by national security and intelligence reporters Ellen Nakashima and Joby Warrick the day after the NBC story that paralleled its main thrust and cited the same unnamed intelligence sources that were cited in the NBC story. But the Post also revealed that the intelligence assessment in question had come from the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), which is generally recognized as an outlier within the intelligence community on most assessments of adversary capabilities and intentions. A former senior intelligence official with extensive experience dealing with DIA assessments explained in an interview with this writer that the DIA “would tend to put a worse-case spin” on any analysis of North Korean intentions.

That makes it all the more important to know whether the rest of the intelligence community agrees with the reported assessment of North Korean intentions. Nakashima and Warrick seemed to suggest that there is no doubt in the intelligence community that the North Koreans “have operated a secret underground enrichment site known as Kangsong,” and they linked to an earlier Post report on that alleged secret enrichment site published May 25.

That earlier Post story quoted a former senior US official as saying that intelligence agencies had “long suspected the existence of such a facility” and believed there were “probably” others as well. But a PowerPoint on the Kangsong issue by David Albright, the founder and CEO of the Institute for Science and International Security, makes it clear that US intelligence lacks hard evidence to support such suspicions. Albright, a former UN weapons inspector, revealed that the original allegation of the secret enrichment plant had come from a North Korean defector who said he had “worked near the site,” clearly implying that he had inferred the purpose of the site without having been inside it.

More importantly, according to Albright, “we have not located this site,” meaning that the US intelligence community still did not have a specific location for the suspected plant eight years after the defector was obviously asked to provide it. Albright further disclosed that some US intelligence analysts and senior officials of at least one foreign government have challenged the belief that the building in question was an enrichment site, because, “some aspects of the building are not consistent with a centrifuge plant.” And he recalled that other alleged covert enrichment facilities had been suggested to his organization, but that he viewed them as “less credible than the information about Kangsong.”

The intelligence community appears to have even less basis for claiming a secret North Korean nuclear site-much less multiple secret sites-today than it did when the US government charged that North Korea had a secret nuclear facility in mid-1998. That was when the Clinton administration informed congressional leaders and the South Korean government privately that US intelligence analysts were convinced that a site with tunnels carved into a mountain at Kumchang-ri was intended to house a new reactor and plutonium reprocessing center, based on satellite photographs and other intelligence.

After months of negotiations, the North finally agreed to US on-site inspections in June 1999 and again in May 2000. The result of those two inspections was that the US government was compelled to acknowledge that the purpose of the tunnel complex at Kumchang-ri had been to vent fumes from an underground uranium milling plant.

At least the intelligence community had identified a specific site in 1998 that it regarded with suspicion, which is not the case today. Nevertheless, a group of officials is promoting the idea that North Korea is planning to keep such sites secret under a negotiated agreement. The timing of the leaked intelligence assessment that prompted these stories suggested that someone in the Trump administration was seeking to sway the White House to adopt the tougher US stance in Pompeo’s trip to Pyongyang in early July. Albright appeared to be referring to that effort when he told the Post that intelligence assessment came just when “there’s a worry that the Trump administration may go soft, and accept a deal that focuses on Yongbyon and forgets about these other sites.”

National security adviser John Bolton had been reported as pushing for a hard line in diplomatic talks with North Korea that would threaten their viability. These reports raise the obvious possibility that the officials who conveyed the alleged intelligence conclusion were part of a political effort coordinated with him.

Hyping Yongbyon Improvements to Discredit Diplomacy

During the same time period as the reporting on alleged secret sites, NBC News, CNN and the Wall Street Journal all reported on North Korea making rapid upgrades to its nuclear weapons complex at Yongbyon and expanding its missile production program-all at the very moment when Trump and Kim were agreeing on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula at their Singapore Summit.

In each case, the reports cited analyses of commercial satellite imagery from independent analysts, including contributors to 38 North. But they all employed a common device to create a false narrative about the negotiations with North Korea: by misrepresenting the diplomatic context in which the satellite images were collected, they drew political conclusions about North Korean strategy that were unwarranted.

The series of stories involved more than a mere misunderstanding of the raw information being reported. They all denigrated the idea of negotiating with North Korea on the grounds that it cannot be trusted. The NBC News and CNN stories on improvements at the Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center cited the analysis of satellite images published by 38 North on June 26. And they were all slanted to lead readers to conclude that the improvements in question signified a nefarious intention by North Korea to deceive the Trump administration.

The headline of the June 27 NBC News story asked, “If North Korea is denuclearizing, why is it expanding a nuclear research center?” And it warned that North Korea “continues to make improvements to a major nuclear facility, raising questions about President Donald Trump’s claim that Kim Jong Un has agreed to disarm, independent experts tell NBC News.”

CNN’s story about the same images declared that there were “troubling signs” that North Korea was making “improvements” or “upgrades” at a “rapid pace” to its nuclear facilities, some of which it said were carried out after the Trump-Kim summit. It cited one facility that had produced plutonium in the past that had been upgraded, despite Kim’s alleged promise to Trump to draw down his nuclear arsenal.

Both the NBC and CBS stories were misrepresenting the significance of the improvements described in the 38 North analysis. They either ignored or sought to discredit the carefully-worded caveat in that assessment, which cautioned that the continued work at the Yongbyon facility “should not be seen as having any relationship to North Korea’s pledge to denuclearize.”

The analysis was referring to the fact that the Singapore Summit’s joint statement did not commit North Korea to immediately halt its activities in their nuclear and missile programs and therefore the improvements at Yongbyon had no bearing on whether Pyongyang would agree to denuclearization. Indeed, during the negotiation of US-Soviet and US-Russian arms control agreements, both sides continued to build weapons until the agreement was completed. It should not have come as a surprise, therefore, that work at Yongbyon was continuing.

NBC News deliberately ignored these crucial contextual facts and instead selectively reported statements from other analysts dismissing the notion that North Korea would ever denuclearize and would continue to try to deceive the US about its true intentions.

On July 1, a few days after those stories appeared, the Wall Street Journal headlined, “New satellite imagery indicates Pyongyang is pushing ahead with weapons programs even as it pursues dialogue with Washington.” The lead paragraph called it a “major expansion of a key missile-manufacturing plant.”

The images of a North Korean solid-fuel missile manufacturing facility at Hamhung showed that new buildings had been added to the facility beginning in the early spring, after Kim Jong Un had called for more production of solid-fuel rocket engines and warhead tips last August. The exterior construction of some buildings was completed “around the time” of the Trump-Kim summit meeting, according to the analysts at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies. The Center’s David Schmerler told the Journal, “The expansion of production infrastructure for North Korea’s solid missile infrastructure probably suggests that Kim Jong Un does not intend to abandon his nuclear and missile programs.”

The improvements in North Korea’s infrastructure for missile parts manufacturing documented by the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, which began well before the summit, are hardly evidence against North Korea’s willingness to negotiate a comprehensive agreement with the United States. Like any country dealing with a serious military threat from an adversary, North Korea is both hedging against the real possibility of talks failing and signaling that it is not unilaterally surrendering. The United States is doing the same thing, albeit in different ways.

Conclusion

Major media reporting on what is alleged to be intelligence and photographic evidence that North Korea intends to deceive the United States in negotiations on denuclearization has been extraordinarily misleading. It has blithely ignored serious issues surrounding the alleged intelligence conclusions and suggested that North Korea has demonstrated bad faith by failing to halt all nuclear and missile-related activities.

Recent stories do not reflect actual evidence of covert facilities, but rather deep suspicions of North Korean intentions within the intelligence community that have been fed to the media by individuals within the administration who are unhappy with the direction of the president’s North Korea policy following the Singapore Summit. And breathless reports on improvements in North Korean nuclear and missile facilities ignore the distinction between a summit statement and a final deal with North Korea. They have thus obscured the reality that the fate of the negotiations depends not only North Korean policy but on the willingness of the United States to make changes in its policy toward the DPRK and the Korean Peninsula that past administrations have all been reluctant to make.

These stories also underscore a broader problem with media coverage of the US-North Korean negotiations: a strong underlying bias toward the view that it is futile to negotiate with North Korea. The latest stories have constructed a dark narrative of North Korean deception that is not based on verified facts. If this narrative is not rebutted or corrected, it could shift public opinion-which has been overwhelmingly favorable to negotiations with North Korea-against such a policy.

Gareth Porter is an investigative reporter and regular contributor to TAC. He is also the author of Manufactured Crisis: The Untold Story of the Iran Nuclear Scare. Follow him on Twitter @GarethPorter.

Comment: See also: Journalistic snake oil: Corporate media’s brazen dishonesty about North Korean nuclear violations

Who Is Isolating Whom? – By Martin SIEFF (Strategic Culture Foundation)

Who Is Isolating Whom?

For nearly 30 years since the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the United States and its main Western European allies the United Kingdom, France and Germany have comfortably assumed themselves to be the invincible and unstoppable spearhead and cutting edge of the human race. The assumption that democracy and free trade, Western style will conquer the world is axiomatically held and permeates the educational systems and intelligentsia of all these nations.

Yet this presumption of moral and superiority and ideological inevitability by the leaders of the United States, the European Union, NATO and the Group of Seven (G7) nations has not been confirmed by any verifiable hard evidence.

On the contrary, the US State Department’s own reports have remorselessly documented throughout the 21st century that every nation where the United States intervened either directly, applying kinetic military power, or indirectly destabilizing existing governments and urging other players to rise up to destabilize existing governments – misery, not happiness has inevitably resulted.

Whether one looks at Ukraine, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Iraq, Libya, Somalia or Syria, the pattern is always the same. Per capita rates of human trafficking, including, the enslavement of children for sexual exploitation, organized crime, drug trafficking, per capita hard drug addiction rate, and the likelihood of violent death has soared after every such US and/or allied military intervention. Life expectancy and standards of living as well as recorded GDP have plummeted catastrophically in every case.

Even the creation of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization on June 15, 2001 failed to dent Western paradigm blindness, arrogance and complacency about the true, future “Way of the World.” Now we see the same extraordinary complacency presented by the Western elites to the crucial accession of India and Pakistan to the SCO.

The geostrategic, world historical importance of this development cannot be overestimated. For 17 years since the founding of the SCO, the United States and its NATO and European Union allies have pressed ahead in one minor war of destabilization and aggression after another. Yet every one of those misadventures has been a strategic and even tactical failure. The United States and its NATO allies have proven all too adept at starting wars around the world. Through fear and the narrowest calculations of self-aggrandizement, tiny nations from Estonia to Georgia have flocked to their banner.

However now, at a single stroke, the two giant nuclear-armed nations of South Asia – India and Pakistan – have set aside their existential rivalries and suspicions and have both sought security and protection within the framework of the SCO. And more, these two nations are both English speaking democracies!

How can the United States and the United Kingdom in particular now claim to uphold the cause of democracy when the largest, most populous democracy on earth – a nation of almost 1.3 billion people, and another nation with an English-speaking democracy – Pakistan – with a population now in excess of 200 million have now joined the SCO?

How can the United States, NATO, the EU or the Group of Seven now claim to uphold democratic values around the globe when two democracies with a combined population of more almost 1.5 billion – double the population of all the 28 nations combined in the EU and almost five times the population of the United States – have now opted to join the SCO?

Why did Delhi and Islamabad both decide upon such a n epochal move? Clearly, they did so in large part because both nations fear the future potential coercive designs of the Western alliances against either of them.

Therefore despite US efforts at engineering Regime Change from Ukraine to Brazil, the accession of India and Pakistan to the SCO confirms the isolation of NATO in the wider world, shrinking the alliance’s expansion into Eastern Europe to just the western end of Eurasia and the periphery of East Asia.

This therefore is the self-inflicted strategic catastrophe that the fantasy vision of global strategic engineering and a worldwide “crusade for democracy” has inflicted upon its perpetrators. Rather than isolating Russia, or China or both of them – an absurd goal if ever there was one – the half-baked failed neo-conservative and neo-liberal Hegelians of the Sub-Age of Francis Fukuyama have isolated themselves instead.

Just as the capitalist United States, the communist Soviet Union and the paleo-colonialist British Empire all eventually joined forces to crush the mutual threat of Nazism, the neocon and neo-lib fanatics of Permanent Global Revolution (PGR) – democratic – style – have expended trillions of dollars and set off wars costing millions of lives – only to succeed in isolating themselves.

The solution to this global catastrophe for the forces of the West w is actually very simple and practical. It is to end the policy of endless military interventions, to immediately end the remorseless expansion of NATO and indeed to permit any nation within the alliance to quietly and efficiently decide to leave it whenever it so chooses.

All NATO nations, led by the United States must also solemnly undertake to respect the primacy of international law and to implement and respect all decisions taken by the United Nations Security Council where the permanent veto power still welded by the United States and its allies the UK and France provide ample diplomatic and legal protection against their own coercive and expansionist tactics being turned against them.

This is what the leaders of the West should do. But of course they will not. For when did Fools ever willingly embrace Wisdom?

What the British really did to India – By Neil Godfrey – Vridar`(SOTT)

Shashi Tharoor‌

Oh my god. The lies we were taught in school. I have just finished listening to an interview with (v.i.p.) Shashi Tharoor about his book on the British rule of India: Inglorious Empire: What the British Did To India.

  • Before the British arrived India represented over 20% of the world’s GDP (textiles, steel, shipbuilding…) and had done so for centuries. By the time the British left it was reduced to 3% of world’s GDP.
  • There is an eyewitness account the British smashing Indian looms and breaking or cutting off the weavers’ thumbs so they could not rebuild the looms and resume production.
  • The Indian export textile industry was effectively destroyed as Indians were forced to sell cotton to Britain and then buy back inferior British textiles.
  • The railways did little to benefit Indians until after the British left.

An interesting datum given today’s situation…

  • The British were the ones responsible for introducing the Hindu-Muslim antagonistic divide. The Hindus and Muslims were united, serving under common native command, to oppose the British. The British responded by initiating policies that over time succeeded in their aim of building hostility between the two faiths – the old “divide and conquer” tactic.

And we are reminded again of the genocidal policies that I first read about in Mike Davis’s Late Victorian Holocausts. This time, however, it was Winston Churchill himself who emerged as the Stalinesque monster, diverting grain from regions where millions were dying in order to build up reserves for remotely hypothetical threats in Europe. Churchill is on record as saying the deaths are the Bengalis own fault for “breeding like rabbits”.

And on and on it goes…..

And we were taught how different the British empire was from any other previous empire. The British empire was a civilizing boon to the world, spreading law and civilization and lifting the standards of living of its subjects.

The only redeeming detail in Tharoor’s account is that there were many British voices who saw the reality of what was happening in their own day and did speak out. But like the anti-war and anti-neoliberalism voices today they were sidelined by those with the power.

Pepe Escobar: Why India is brushing aside US sanctions and sticking with Iran – By Pepe Escobar (SOTT)

Iran oil

Pay very close attention to what India’s External Affairs Minister, Sushma Swaraj, said after meeting with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif earlier this week in New Delhi:

“Our foreign policy is not made under pressure from other countries … We recognize UN sanctions and not country-specific sanctions. We didn’t follow US sanctions on previous occasions either.”

After fellow BRICS members China and Russia, India left no margin for doubt. And there’s more; India will continue to buy oil from Iran – its third top supplier – and is willing to pay in rupees via state bank UCO, which is not exposed to the US. India bought 114% more oil from Iran during the financial year up to March 2018 than in the previous term.

India-US trade amounts to $115 billion a year. In comparison, India-Iran trade is only $13 billion a year. India may grow an impressive 7% in 2018 and has reached a GDP of $2.6 trillion, according to the IMF, ahead of France, Italy, Brazil and Russia. To keep growing, India badly needs energy.

So for New Delhi, buying Iranian energy is a matter of national security. Couple it with the obsession in bypassing Pakistan, and it’s clear this is all about a complex interconnection of geopolitics and geoeconomics.

The comprehensive India and Iran partnership revolves around energy, trade and investment connectivity corridors, banking, insurance, shipping and – crucially – the imminent possibility of doing everything using the rupee and the rial, bypassing the US dollar.

India-Iran already trade in euros – so that is step one in bypassing the long arm of the US Department of the Treasury. Both nations are still using SWIFT. Assuming the EU does not give in to the unilateral US violation of the Iranian nuclear deal, known as the JCPOA, India’s oil imports won’t be sanctioned.

If that’s the case, step two will be turbo-charging the already booming trade in rupees and rials to the energy front – facilitated by the fact Tehran has invested in upgrading and perfecting insurance for its fleet of tankers.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) energy strategy, unsurprisingly, needs to cover all fronts; solar, wind, oil and gas. Not only is Iran central to the strategy; Central Asia also features heavily, with New Delhi eagerly expecting to import oil and gas from Turkmenistan, certainly transiting via Iran and Kazakhstan.

New Delhi, by all means, needs plenty of access to natural gas from South Pars, the largest gas fields on the planet; either via the still ongoing Pipelineistan soap opera IPI (the Iran-Pakistan-India pipeline) or, more plausibly, an underwater pipeline from the Persian Gulf to the Indian Ocean.

Enter the Indo-Pacific Command

Also not surprisingly, the Holy Grail for India is Iran-related: the so far $500 million investment in Chabahar port in the Indian Ocean, as well as completing the Chabahar-Zahedan railway. Chabahar is the starting point of the Indian version of the New Silk Roads, linking India to Afghanistan and Central Asia, bypassing Pakistan.

For Indian trade, a straight sea lane to Iran and then overland to Central Asia, including direct access to the mineral wealth of Afghanistan, is absolutely invaluable. A trilateral memorandum of understanding signed two years ago committed $21 billion: $9 billion for the whole Chabahar project and the rest for developing Afghan iron ore.

If Iran, for Beijing, is a solid hub in the New Silk Roads, or Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and an essential plank in the Eurasia integration project, Tehran is simultaneously courted by New Delhi as a counterpunch to one of BRI’s standout projects, the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC).

So it’s no wonder that the External Affairs Ministry in New Delhi continuously raves about the India-Afghanistan-Iran connectivity corridor, “from culture to commerce, from traditions to technology, from investments to IT, from services to strategy and from people to politics,” in the words of Swaraj.

Washington’s counterpunch so far has been to rename PACOM – the Pacific Command, which includes India, China, Mongolia, Southeast Asia, Australia, Antarctica, in fact, the entire Pacific Ocean – as the “Indo-Pacific Command,” thus flattering New Delhi. Most of all, the move aligns with the Indo-Pacific strategy deployed by the Quad – US, India, Japan, Australia – which is a barely disguised containment of the China follow-up mechanism to the Obama administration’s pivot to Asia.

It’s still unclear how the Trump administration might “punish” New Delhi for non-stop trading with Tehran. In the case of Russia – also under sanctions – pressure is relentless. India has been encouraged not to buy S-400 air defense systems from Russia. The excuse is not exactly subtle; that would “complicate interoperability” with US forces and “limit … the degree with which the United States will feel comfortable in bringing additional technology” into India, according to House Armed Services Committee chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas). New Delhi will announce its decision in October.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Qingdao, China, on June 9, will be the privileged arena to discuss all these issues. Russia, China, India and Pakistan, as full members, will be there, as well as Iran and Afghanistan as current observers and, inevitably, future members. It’s clear that fellow SCO/BRICS members China, Russia and India will refuse to isolate Iran. And there’s nothing the Indo-Pacific Command can do about it.

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Arctic stronghold: Might of Russia’s Northern Fleet shown in anniversary video – By RT

 

Arctic stronghold: Might of Russia’s Northern Fleet shown in anniversary video
The Northern Fleet, which is arguably the most powerful Russian naval force, is celebrating 285 years of operations. Its anniversary video shows state-of-the-art vessels and unique installations in the Russian Arctic region.

Established back in 1733, the Northern Fleet comprises some of Russia’s most remarkable military hardware, with 41 submarines, 37 surface vessels and ground troops making it a “cross-branch strategic force”, as the Russian Defense Ministry puts it in a Twitter post. Its anniversary video shows various military exercises staged by the Northern Fleet forces, including submarines firing cruise and ballistic missiles, Tu-95 strategic bombers flying training sorties and military divers holding underwater firing drills.

The flagship of the fleet is a nuclear-powered battlecruiser the ‘Pyotr Velikiy,’ one of the biggest nuclear-propelled ships in the world. The ‘Admiral Kuznetsov,’ Russia’s only serving aircraft carrier, which took part in the fight against Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) terrorists in Syria in 2016, is also part of the Northern Fleet.

The naval force also has some of Russia’s most advanced nuclear-powered multipurpose submarines equipped with cruise and ballistic missiles. Two state-of-the-art submarines – a Yasen-M class vessel the Severodvinsk, carrying as many as 32 Onyx and Kalibr supersonic cruise missiles, and a Borei-class submarine the Yury Dolgorukiy, equipped with 16 Bulava nuclear ballistic missiles – are already in service in the fleet, while another Yasen-M class submarine, the Kazan, is currently undergoing sea trials.

The strategic force, which is particularly tasked with “defending Russia’s national interests in the Arctic,” also controls some unique military bases within the Polar circle. Of particular interest is Russia’s northernmost military base, called Arctic Shamrock.

The unique base is the world’s only permanent infrastructure facility built in the area located 80 degrees of latitude north of the Equator. The autonomous complex, which occupies an area of 14,000 square meters, allows up to 150 people to live and work there for as long as 18 months without any external support.

The Russian infrastructure in the Polar region is “unmatched” by any other country, the country’s Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu said, in December 2017.

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US Warns India Not to Buy Russian Weapons – By Peter KORZUN ( Strategic Culture Foundation)

US Warns India Not to Buy Russian WeaponsPeter KORZUN | 01.06.2018 | SECURITY / DEFENSE

The US does not shy away from openly threatening its allies and friends into submission. America’s major defense partners could face tough sanctions for purchases of Russian military equipment. Since January 29, the US has been imposing punitive measures under the CAATSA on foreign entities and individuals who cooperate with Russia in the field of defense or intelligence gathering. Congress is not inclined to give the administration the right of waiver to make an exception from the rule for some close allies. Despite that, many of them remain adamant in their intent to purchase the weapons they need from Russia.

Washington is exerting pressure on Turkey to make it abandon the plans to purchase Russia S-400 Triumf state-of-the-art air defense systems. So far, Ankara stood tall refusing to bow. US Congress is already considering the proposals on halting US arms sales to that country.

Unlike Turkey, India is not a NATO ally but its desire to acquire the Triumf triggers a negative reaction in the US. American lawmakers not only express concern over the planned deal but also issue warnings that sensitive American military technology may be banned from being shared with India in future. According to House Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry, “There is a lot of concern in the US administration and Congress with the S-400.” India’s decision will be made final before the October Russia-India summit. During the informal talks in Sochi in May 2018, President Putin and Prime Minister Modi discussed the ways to get around the US potential sanctions when the deal goes through. Both countries have pledged to jointly create a plan to keep it out of CAATSA. New Delhi has just concluded price talks on the S-400 deal with Moscow, saying it will go ahead, no matter what the US says or does.

Those who follow the news on arms trade know well that India is interested in purchasing 22 American Predator Guardian drones for its Navy. It’s also willing to acquire the weapon the US has not sold anyone so far: 80-100 Avenger (Predator C) armed drones for the Air Force. The price may be as high as $8 billion. The F-16 production on Indian soil is also in doubt. All these projects are questioned as the US sticks to its guns implementing the “do it or else” policy. But it will hardly work with India, a nation known for its independent foreign policy. It has never bowed to any pressure from outside since its independence.

Iraq, Egypt, the UAE, Qatar, Morocco, Indonesia and Vietnam are among the countries threatened by sanctions if they go on with the plans to purchase Russian weapons. Many of them are particularly interested in the S-400. There is a catch here. If you make an exemption, others will feel humiliated and demand waivers too, but if you punish nobody then what is CAATSA for? Perhaps, the entire policy of punishing others in case of non-compliance with US laws is fundamentally wrong. It may not push Russia out of the international arms market but rather make its products a commercial success. After all, it’s an open secret that the S-400 is much more capable than the US Patriot air-defense system.

Turkey is told that if it buys Russia arms, the US won’t sell it F-35 aircraft. India may not get drones in case it purchases the S-400s. The essence is the same: sovereign countries are to be deprived of their right to have the best. They’d better be satisfied with what the US imposes or face punitive measures for daring not to comply. But many of them will not. For instance, there is little doubt that the pressure will make US-Indian relations hit a rough patch.

Defense Secretary James Mattis sought waivers for allies buying Russian weapons but failed to persuade Congress to give the administration this right. Besides, State Secretary Mike Pompeo holds a different view on the issue.

The “arms twisting” approach is prevalent in US foreign policy and even NATO allies are no exception. According to The Times, President Trump is expected to scale back America’s commitments or even issue an ultimatum over further American involvement in Europe.

No world leaders taking part in the St. Petersburg’s economic forum (SPIEF-2018) in May were happy about the US ultimatums as well as the sanctions against Russia, especially at a time it is leaving recession behind and oil prices are going up. The complains were made heard and concerns voiced at the conference held in the country, which is the prime target of American attacks. Nobody admired the trade wars the US has unleashed. May was the month the US stepped up its attacks on the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline – the project Germany, Austria and some other European countries want to go through so much.

Israel was the only country to greet the US withdrawal from the Iran deal. Nobody endorsed the President Trump’s decision to cancel the meeting in Singapore with the North Korean leader (it may still take place, the talks are underway).

The US and its European allies appear to go separate ways on defense. On May 27, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz called for a European operation in North Africa to stem the immigrants’ flows. Austria will take over the EU Presidency for six months starting in July. The idea has been being floated since a long time ago. Europe’s main security concern is the protection of its borders, not taking part in US ventures in faraway places or provoking Russia by deploying forces near its borders. The EU is gradually moving to its own deterrence and defense posture, which may not necessarily meet US interests.

The US policy of diktat will backlash, bringing together those who are threatened by US sanctions. The EU is about to fight back, Turkey sticks to its guns, India has refused to bow. American allies will have to work out their own approaches to international problems, using quite different instruments to achieve the desired goals. The US global standing will be weakened. By trying to isolate others America will isolate itself. But the addiction to teach, dictate and bark orders is too great to get easily rid of. It takes time to realize that the times have changed. What worked well yesterday has become counterproductive today.

South Africa picks up the baton of BRICS Chairmanship – By TASS

January 01, 2:02 UTC+3

BRICS is an informal inter-state association whose objective is to develop a consistent, active, pragmatic, open and transparent dialogue and cooperation between countries

© AP Photo/Anupam Nath

MOSCOW/PRETORIA, January 1. /TASS/. South Africa is taking over the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) Chairmanship on January 1. The decision to this effect was made at the most recent summit of this informal association in Xiamen, China, in September 2017.

South Africa: No chairmanship agenda yet

Vice President of the BRICS New Development Bank, Leslie Maasdorp, told TASS that the South African government has not yet hammered out the objectives and agenda of its chairmanship in this integration association.

Nevertheless, one can judge the priorities of South Africa’s policy in relations with its club partners, which are to determine its agenda at the joint events in 2018, based on President Jacob Zuma’s speech at a special session of the BRICS Business Council held in September 2017 during the 9th summit in Xiamen.

Efforts to promote economic development and growth, increase trade volumes and attract investment to the industrial sector of South Africa’s economy were identified as the key objectives for the country’s participation in this format at that time. Special hopes have been pinned on investment in industry, because, according to government’s plans, they should assist the authorities in accomplishing their key declared aims, namely, creating new jobs, and reducing poverty and social inequality.  

 

Resolving conflicts in Africa

Cyril Prinsloo, a researcher at the South African Institute of International Affairs, has singled out the development of a common approach to the problem of maintaining peace and security in the countries of the African region, which traditionally remains a major source of instability. These are just some of the political issues Pretoria will tackle during its chairmanship in the group of five nations. Currently, more than 1,000 South African peacekeepers are involved in the United Nations Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.   

Internal political difficulties in BRICS countries

According to Vyacheslav Kholodkov, Head of the International Economic Organizations Sector at the Russian Institute for Strategic Studies (RISS), the meeting of the BRICS leaders will not be easy due to the current internal political difficulties in the association’s member-states.

“Since South Africa will hold the BRICS chairmanship in 2018, the summit will be held in that African country. The summit will be not an easy one from a domestic policy point of view,” Kholodkov told TASS, referring to the upcoming 2018 presidential elections in Russia and Brazil as the factors that could make the meeting more difficult. In his view, the situation in Brazil will be the most difficult. “The situation there is very tense due to the fact that there are many flaws in the policy pursued by incumbent head of state Michel Temer, and he is under fire for that. Therefore, the (presidential) election can trigger an internal political standoff and exacerbate the situation in the country, which could turn ugly.”

The expert also pointed to the loss of influence by South African leader Jacob Zuma. “The situation of South African President Jacob Zuma has also been volatile recently. The African National Congress (the oldest political organization of South Africa’s African population and the ruling party – TASS) raised the issue of his voluntary resignation over a number of scandals, due to which a change in that country’s political leadership is possible.”

“In such a difficult internal political situation in South Africa, Brazil and, to some extent, in Russia, the summit and preparations for it will be much more complicated,” Kholodkov emphasized. “These countries’ top officials will have to pay much more attention to work to tackle internal issues, which means that less time and energy will be dedicated to preparations for the landmark summit. Therefore, I expect no breakthrough decisions at this summit.”

AIDS can be major issue during South Africa’s chairmanship

According to Kholodkov, the development of joint mechanisms to fight and prevent the HIV infection could be one of the most pressing and key issues for both South Africa as the BRICS chair and the association’s summit. “One of the central problems that could be discussed at the BRICS summit in South Africa and for which we could find some mutually acceptable solutions is the spread of the HIV infection,” he said. “The fact is that the situation in both Russia and South Africa in this regard is very difficult.”

The expert noted that Russia and South Africa could adopt China’s productive experience from its efforts to fight and prevent this disease. “China has a very positive experience. The number of new HIV-infected people has decreased dramatically there,” he said. “We need to use China’s experience and hammer out a common program.”

“Developing a broad strategy to fight the HIV infection is a major task facing both our country and other BRICS member-states,” the expert concluded.

Informal association of BRICS states

BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) is an informal inter-state association whose objective is to develop a consistent, active, pragmatic, open and transparent dialogue and cooperation between countries. The association’s member-states also share such principles as a non-aligned status and activities that are not aimed against any third parties. Russia initiated the creation of the association. Annual BRICS summits have been held since 2009 in its member-countries alternately. The host country is the association’s chair and ensures coordination of all current activities. The 2018 summit is set to be held in Johannesburg, South Africa.

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http://tass.com/economy/983678

Pentagon Falsifies Paperwork To Keep Syrian Rebels Armed With Quasi-Covert Program – by Whitney Webb

 

On July 19, the Trump administration announced that it would end the CIA’s covert program aimed at arming and training terrorist-linked “moderate rebels” in Syria, sparking hope among some Trump supporters that he was finally enacting the anti-interventionist rhetoric of his campaign.

However, a recently released report shows that the Pentagon has picked up the slack left by the end of the CIA’s program — pumping billions of dollars worth of weapons into the hands of Syrian “rebels,” while attempting to mask the paper trail and their suppliers’ ties to organized crime.

The report, published Tuesday by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) and the Balkan Investigative Reporting Network (BIRN), provides conclusive evidence that the Pentagon plans to provide up to $2.2 billion in weapons to Syrian “rebel” groups, particularly Kurdish militant groups like the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). While the Pentagon has been arming “rebels” since 2015, the Department of Defense began requesting increased funding for the program once the CIA covert arms program was ostensibly slated to shut down

While the Pentagon has been arming “rebels” since 2015, the Department of Defense began requesting increased funding for the program once the CIA covert arms program was ostensibly slated to shut down.

The Pentagon has requested an additional $322.5 million for the financial year ending October 2017 and $261.9 million for the following 12 months. For fiscal years 2017 and 2018, the budget for the program has been set at $584 million while another $900 million has been earmarked to continue the program through 2022.

 

Working the Balkan arms pipeline

Weapons were shipped from Eastern-Europe via Silk Way airlines, who offered security-free diplomatic flights to clients ranging from Saudi Arabia, Israel to US Central Command.

The program utilizes the Pentagon’s so-called “Balkan arms pipeline,” a network first exposed by Bulgarian journalist Dilyana Gaytandzhieva. The arms-supply chain involves the U.S. purchasing vast amounts of Soviet-Era weaponry from Eastern Europe, from which it is then shipped to air bases in Turkey and Kuwait, via the Azerbaijan commercial airline Silk Way, and later sent into Syria. The BIRN/OCCRP report adds, notably, that several of the Pentagon’s weapons suppliers in these countries share links to organized crime organizations and other unsavory actors.

In addition, the report details how this Pentagon program to arm “rebels” has essentially sidestepped long-established checks on international weapons trafficking that are intended to curb illicit deals. Many of these safety checks are included in the UN’s Arms Trade Treaty, which the U.S. has yet to ratify but ostensibly supports.


Related | Journalist Interrogated For Linking CIA Weapons Shipments To Syrian Jihadists


Patrick Wilcken, an arms researcher at Amnesty International, told BIRN that the Pentagon’s actions are undermining the treaty in its entirety.

 

Masking the recipients

Syrian militants are seen with a Serbian made MO2 Coyote machine gun, a weapon which was shipped to Syria via Saudi Arabia and Turkey on diplomatic flights a few months earlier.

The specific “sidesteps” the Pentagon has been taking involve the alleged removal of documentation regarding who or what groups ultimately receive the purchased weapons. By removing this documentation, the Pentagon enables weapon transfers to any armed group within Syria it chooses – including Syrian rebels – without providing documentation as to who received what.

“The Pentagon is removing any evidence in their procurement records that weapons are actually going to the Syrian opposition,” Ivan Angelovski, who co-wrote the report, told Foreign Policy. Indeed, when the report authors contacted authorities in Romania, Bulgaria, and other nations involved in the program, several of the governments responded that they had granted export licenses for the weapons where the U.S., not Syria, was listed as the final destination. They claimed to have been unaware that the weapons were destined for Syria.

Thus, the Pentagon’s alteration of documentation is, in fact, illegal, given the U.S.’ membership in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which requires that end-user certificates include the final destination country.

 

Exhausting the Balkan weapons’ supplies

A visitor looks at assault rifles made by the Serbian company Zastava Arms, during a defense fair, in Belgrade, Serbia. (AP/Darko Vojinovic)

Furthermore, the report notes that the arms transfers are so massive that they are fundamentally altering the economies of the Eastern European nations that are supplying the weapons. The report notes that factories in Serbia and Bulgaria have been drastically increasing arms and ammunition production in order to keep up with demand. In order to meet the increasing demand to be generated by the program over the next several years, Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic promised in July to turn “meadows and forests” into arms factories and almost double Serbia’s arms exports to $750 million by 2020.

Increased production alone has proven insufficient, however, with the Pentagon being forced to lower its standards for weapons and ammunitions to meet demand, while also forcing the U.S. to procure even more arms from “non-traditional” countries like Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Vietnam.

While the U.S. has ostensibly accepted that Syria’s government will remain in power and even reclaim most, if not all, of its territory, it seems the Pentagon – along with its regional ally, Israel – are unwilling to let the billions already spent on arming the Syrian “rebels” go for naught, spending billions more in hopes that the situation will finally favor their long-standing goal of regime change.

Top photo | Free Syrian Army militants clean their weapons and check ammunition at their base on the outskirts of Aleppo, Syria. (Khalil Hamra/AP)

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