DEFENCE AND DIPLOMACY – MORE GEO-POLTICAL WAKE-UP CALLS PASSING OVER NATO Heads!
By Howard Wheeldon, Senior Strategist at BGC Partners
06 Feb 12. Just as US politicians and public alike begin to digest plans from Defence Secretary Leon Panetta that will reduce the number of Army and Marine troops by 100,000 taking respective numbers down to 490,000 and 182,000 amid planned overall defence budget savings totalling $487bn over the next ten years note that global geo-political events appear to be taking another turn for the worse.
With both Russia and China refusing to support the European/US led motion calling for President Assad to step down; with Israel fearing the threat of Iranian nuclear intentions and now thought by some to be planning military based reprisals; with serious rioting in Egypt on the back of the minimal progress toward the establishment of a formal democratic based system; with increased unrest now evident in both Tunisia and Libya plus renewed anti-US taunts from a now seemingly revived Hugo Chavez in Venezuela we may conclude that the world appears no happier place than it was before the start of last year’s Arab Spring uprisings.
Last week following the death of four French soldiers in Afghanistan President Sarkozy announced that his troops would be pulled out a year earlier than planned in 2013 unless security improved. The US with 190,000 US troops currently serving in Afghanistan and the UK, whose 9,500 troops constitute the second largest allied military contingent of the forty-nine nations that have contributed troops to the Afghanistan conflict are both planning to draw down the number of troops in 2014 or earlier if they can. So far around 2,500 foreign troops have lost their lives in Afghanistan since the conflict with the Taliban restarted in 2001.
There are many good reasons why allied forces should be concerned that Afghanistan is increasingly being seen as a conflict that may yet prove very hard to win. In saying this I have absolutely no wish to denigrate the fantastic job being done by ISAF troops or the significant progress achieved in this long running mission. But by now the hope was that having trained 350,000 Afghan nationals to join both police and army more areas of this vast and complicated nation were supposed to placed back under local control.
In an election year such as this the rise in attacks by so-called ‘allied’ Afghan troops and police on NATO troops has not gone unnoticed in Washington DC and on Capitol Hill. Whilst a formal withdrawal plan already exists recent attacks on US forces by those trained as part of the Afghan government led force may yet force US political leaders to retreat to a view that determines a speeding up of withdrawal of ISAF troops. In an election year such as this in the US such thoughts would fit well with a growing public view that sees this now as an endless war in which the US should have no long term part in. Eleven years on it is a point that President Obama will probably not let pass unnoticed. While France may be the first to threaten to bring forward the withdrawal of its troops before 2014 Italy has recently re-iterated that it will continue with a gradual withdrawal through 2013/14.
Given that under the Obama plan the US has already committed to shift its strategic focus to the Pacific some believe that eventually this revised focus may lead to the US leaving NATO altogether. They argue that with European countries committed to a purely European Military Alliance and with evident French ambitions to reduce or remove US influence within the NATO Alliance could create an environment for the US to depart with no loss of face. Against this argument is that while the US has clearly stated that strategic focus will be more focussed toward the Pacific we should observe that by the same token President Obama was at pains to stress that the commitment to Europe remained in place. Clearly the glue that held NATO toge