What Does The US Troop Withdrawal From Afghanistan Mean For China?

                          by David Parmer / Tokyo

September 11,2021 will see the last American soldiers leave Afghan soil. Well, that is the plan anyway. The US’s “forever war” had to come to a close sooner or later. September 2021 is sooner than many think prudent, but a lot later for those who think that an anti-terrorist action morphed into a long-term, unsuccessful and costly exercise in nation building.

Opinions are mixed on what will happen in Afghanistan once the US and NATO leave. Now not many experts see a collapse of the Afghan government similar to that when the US pulled out of Viet Nam in 1975. There seem to be too many stakeholders in the region including Pakistan and Russia and Tajikistan and China that have no interest in seeing a failed state on their borders or in their region.

A civil war might be one outcome if the government collapses, or loses any claim to a mandate to govern. Some sort of compromise might be worked out with the Taliban in power sharing, but an Isis (Daesh) controlled “caliphate” would be in no one’s interest.

China has real concerns about a spillover of any chaos taking place in Afghanistan. Even though it takes robust measures to patrol its border with Afghanistan, it still must be vigilant to prevent an increase in cross-border crime, smuggling, or terrorism.

East Turkestan Islamic Movement (ETIM) terrorists dedicated to removing China from Xingjiang have found shelter with the Taliban, and there are reports of Uyghur fighters participating in the war in Syria.

China has supported the Afghan government military in terms of supplying both training and equipment. Beijing has vehemently denied that there have ever been any PLA boots on the ground despite press reports to the contrary. Perhaps China’s “plausible deniability” is that if anyone were in Afghanistan, it would be police and not PLA.

Whether China’s efforts in Xinjiang to inoculate the populace against radical Islam are working will only be able to be grasped in the long run. China’s angry pushback has neither explained its actions in Xinjiang nor done anything to change perceptions in most of the rest of the world.

After September 11, 2021 China will continue to have its Xinjiang Uyghur problem and the political fallout worldwide, and it will also have the threat of anything from a civil war to an era of Afghan warlordism to the possibility of an ISIS caliphate on its border.

With this kind of situation, it is pretty hard to find any kind of “silver lining.” What do you think about this? Please let us know.

Photo: US Army via flickr

Photo: Matthew Lee via flickr

Turkey The New Regional Power?

                      by David Parmer / Tokyo

The face of Turkey today is the face of its leader and president, Recp Tayyip Erdogan. Mr. Erdogan is imposing his vision of the way things might be not just on his own country, but also on his region and indeed the world.

The once proud and powerful Ottoman Empire disappeared after WWI, but it seems to many that the president is determined to bring back the days of glory when the Ottoman Turks were both feared and respected. Mr. Erdogan, using a combination of soft power and military force, might just be the man to do it.

Under Mr. Erdogan Turkey has asserted and inserted itself around its region and beyond. In the not-too-distant past Turkey joined NATO as its only Islamic member and was looking toward possible EU membership. But then Turkey began to assert its own policy which while not anti-western was certainly pro-Turkey.

In home waters Turkey has had an ongoing dispute with the EU over drilling for energy resources off Cyprus. The dispute began in 2018 regarding the exclusive economic zone around Cyprus. Despite opposition and recommendations from the European Council in 2019 Turkey has continued with its exploration activities.

In 2016 the powerful Turkish military began an incursion into Syria to defeat the Islamic State (ISIS/ DAESH). A long and bloody conflict ensued which had its roots all the way back to 2011. During its involvement in the Syrian civil war Turkey has lost at least 300 personnel killed and had numerous aircraft and armored vehicles destroyed. Turkey conducted another major incursion into Syria in 2019 to protect its borders and remove pro-Kurdish forces.

In January 2020 Turkey entered the Libyan civil war on the side of the side of the GNA or Government of National Accord, the established government of Libya. Turkey has reportedly supplied intelligence support, air and naval support as well as introducing Syrian mercenary fighters in support of the government. Turkey’s support and the victory of its proxies would demonstrate to the region and o the world Turkey’s ability to project power and influence the outcome of regional conflicts. In 2020 Turkey has also backed Azerbaijan in its fight with Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh region.

And it is not just its neighbors and the Europeans with whom Turkey is asserting itself, now it is the United States. In what seems to be a “no winner” contest Turkey and the US are embroiled in a very unfriendly discussion over Turkey’s decision to buy the Russian S-400 “Triumf” missile system, and incredibly lethal air defense weapon that far surpasses the US Patriot missile system.

Turkey was on board to buy the Patriot system but the US refused the technology transfer that would enable it to be copied and built. The Turks retaliated by turning to Russia for the S-400 system and the US retaliated by excluding Turkey (a NATO partner) from its F35 fighter jet program. As of later 2020, Turkey is going ahead with its S-400 acquisition (including test firing) and the US is talking sanctions.

It seems that Mr. Erdogan is determined to make Turkey a real regional power going forward. The Turkish economy is predicted to make a healthy rebound in 2021 despite some contraction. Given that and the president’s popularity among the voters, there is a good chance that modern Turkey just might become the new Ottoman Empire, at least in spirit.

Photo: Pavel Vanka via flickr


NATO’s Article 5 – What Does it Really Mean Today?

                     by David Parmer / Tokyo

“All for one and one for all. United we stand divided we fall” Alexandre Dumas The Three Musketeers, 1844.

The world was a lot different in 1949 when the North Atlantic Treaty Organization was formed and the North Atlantic Treaty was signed in Washington on April 4 of that year. Back then, in what would become to be called “the postwar period” the Soviet Union and its allies were seen as the enemy and further Russian expansion seemed like a real possibility. To prevent this, 12 countries banded together and came up with the North Atlantic Treaty to protect each other from possible Russian aggression.

From the beginning the purpose was, and still remains, mutual support. The crux of this commitment can be found in in Article 5:

The Parties agree that an armed attack against one or more of them in Europe or North America shall be considered an attack against them all and consequently they agree that, if such an armed attack occurs, each of them, in exercise of the right of individual or collective self-defense recognized by Article 51 of the Charter of the United Nations, will assist the Party or Parties so attacked by taking forthwith, individually and in concert with the other Parties, such action as it deems necessary, including the use of armed force, to restore and maintain the security of the North Atlantic area.

Any such armed attack and all measures taken as a result thereof shall immediately be reported to the Security Council. Such measures shall be terminated when the Security Council has taken the measures necessary to restore and maintain international peace and security.

The definition of an “attack” as written in Article 5 is spelled out in Article 6.

For the purpose of Article 5, an armed attack on one or more of the Parties is deemed to include an armed attack:

  • on the territory of any of the Parties in Europe or North America, on the Algerian Departments of France 2, on the territory of Turkey or on the Islands under the jurisdiction of any of the Parties in the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer;
  • on the forces, vessels, or aircraft of any of the Parties, when in or over these territories or any other area in Europe in which occupation forces of any of the Parties were stationed on the date when the Treaty entered into force or the Mediterranean Sea or the North Atlantic area north of the Tropic of Cancer.

The first time that Article 5 was invoked was the day after the terrorist attack on New York’s World Trade Center on September 12, 2001, and the Allies responded according to their Article 5 commitment.

It could be argued that for 71 years the NATO alliance has worked to stem Soviet and Russian aggression, and that it greatly added to the peace and stability of not only Europe but also the world. And yet, recently attitudes and perceptions seem to be divided or at least more diverse.

To begin with, strong criticism of NATO has come from US president Donald Trump who routinely chastises NATO members for not meeting their commitments of 2% of GDP as agreed upon in 2014. Trump has hinted that the US will cut back on its support of NATO. While the 2% has not been met across the board, reports show European defense spending rising on an upward curve.

Equally interesting is a report by Pew Research in 2019 that of the 16 states queried, people who said that their country should NOT answer the call from an Ally under article 5 was at 50% while those who said that their country should defend an Ally stood at just 38%. The same poll showed that generally people across Europe (except Russia) have a generally good impression of NATO, even if they don’t think they should honor Article 5.

Is NATO obsolete? Is it time to re-write the Atlantic Treaty? There are new and complex problems facing the alliance including an inward-turning America and the status of NATO member Turkey that is fighting in Syria and sustaining casualties, and who has bought Russian air defense equipment. What thoughts do you have about NATO and mutual defense treaties? Please let us know.

NATO Viewed Favorably Across Member States Pew Research Institute

NATO, Official text North Atlantic Treaty

Photo: The Three Musketeers (1921) Wikimedia Commons

Turkey’s Military Fully Capable Of Projecting Power.

                            by David Parmer / Tokyo

The Turks live in a rough neighborhood–their country borders Iran, Iraq, Syria, and just across the Black Sea is Russia. So for defense alone they have to have credible military power. Moreover challenges often lie across the border, and they must have the ability to project power cross-border to defend what they see as their national interests. An example of this cross-border power projection was their October 2019 incursion into northern Syria in the wake of US withdrawal.

The Kurdish insurgency has always been a stone in their shoe, and so when the Kurds lost their American shield, it was the perfect vacuum in which to cross the border and deal with the long-standing issue of the Kurdish threat. Turkey easily has the power to do that, and their strength is impressive.

Estimates are that Turkey has 3/4 of a million soldiers under arms with another 1/2 million in reserve. They also have 4200 tanks of all types and 10,000 assorted armored vehicles, 475 helicopters, 1300 self-propelled artillery pieces and 1500 towed artillery pieces. They have over 500 combat aircraft including 270 F16 fighters-the biggest fleet outside of the US military. Although not playing a role in the current cross-border situation, they have a robust but small naval force of 16 frigates and 14 type-209 submarines. They also possess cruise missiles with a range of more that 150 miles.

Kurdish forces were, and are, no match for Turkish might, particularly without their American “allies.” News reports suggest that in the vacuum left by the Americans, the Kurds turned to President Bashar al Assad’s regime and its Russian allies for help. The Russians are now co-patrolling northern Syria with the Turks. It is indeed a complicated situation, for Turkey is a staunch NATO ally, and NATO faces off mainly against Russia.

Turkey gets its military hardware mainly from the US and Germany, NATO allies of theirs. They also have their own defense industry to make equipment like armored vehicles of all types. A surprise for NATO was President Erdogan’s decision to buy the powerful and deadly Russian S-400 Triumph air defense missile system instead of comparable equipment from American or other non-Russian suppliers.

That being said, President Erdogan has to walk a thin line between Russian and the US, its main supplier of military equipment, its NATO partner and the tenant at his Inchlink airbase. However, it is fairly clear that Turkey will not only act in what it sees as its self-interest, but will use its massive military power as it sees fit and will be willing to face criticism or even harsh sanctions to do so.

It is a complicated situation for all parties concerned. What is your opinion on this matter?

Photo:BMC Turkey, https://www.bmc.com.tr/en/corporate/press-center

Russian Naval Exercises Underscore Strategic Baltic Importance.

In a world where conflict and potential conflict makes front-page news, northern Europe’s Baltic region often gets short shrift. The Indo-Pacific, The Middle East, and even Africa seem to get more coverage. Yet for a long time things have been heating up at the top of the world.

America has its eyes on arctic security and its military has established coverage of the northern areas of the globe particularly the north Atlantic. In addition to keeping an early warning system in place, the US is also committed to freedom of navigation in the North, as it is the China Sea.

 Even China has arctic interests related to its Belt and Road initiative although, strictly speaking, it is an interested party and not an Arctic country. Naturally, the true Nordic countries of Sweden, Norway, Finland, Iceland, and Denmark have an interest in this domain, as it is their home neighborhood.

The Nordics have banded together to form NORDEFCO, to address the question of defense, mutual operability, and cooperation. (Some members of NORDEFCO are NATO members, and some are not.)

On the southern and eastern flank of the NORDEFCO countries lie the Baltic Sea and the vitally important states of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. These states form a buffer between the Russian Federation and the Baltic Sea. Russia’s only window on the Baltic are at the head of the Gulf of Finland and at Kalingrad (former East Prussia) where they have significant military assets.

For the second time in 2 years, Russia has put on a massive summer military exercise in the Baltic Sea. The exercise ran from 1 August to 9 August 2019. Dubbed “Ocean Shield 2019”, the exercise tested Russian equipment and tactics and fleet readiness with the US and NATO as its undeclared opponent. The exercise, which included amphibious landings, involved 10,000 Russian troops, 49 ships, and 58 aircraft.

British Forces in Estonia.

NATO is well aware of Russia’s ability to project power in this part of the North. To bolster its own flanks, NATO proposed and implemented the Enhanced Forward Presence program (eFP) where NATO units would integrate, train and operate with the militaries of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland. The result was 4 multinational battle groups supported by the UK, Germany, Canada, and the US. Their mission is to ensure the Baltic countries’ security. Units train with host nations and rotate every 6 months.

With global warming making Arctic transit more possible for longer times, and the never ending search for resources and China’s ongoing Belt and Road, access to the North whether it be the Arctic or the Baltic region will grow in importance. US officials predict that human activity will increase in what was heretofore remote and inaccessible land and sea areas. The Indo-Pacific and Middle East will continue to simmer, but from now on all major powers will have to keep their eyes looking north a lot of the time.

Photo: Russia MOD

British Troops in Estonia via flickr

506 Days Till US Presidental Election.

                           by David Parmer / Tokyo

In just over 500 days the United States will hold the most important presidential election in its 238-year history. On the surface, the election will be about whether Donald Trump gets another 4 years in the White House. But more fundamentally, it can be seen as a battle for the soul of America.

Donald J. Trump, real-estate tycoon, dealmaker, and 45th President of the United States has brought his own brand of populism to Washington. Polls consistently show his approval rating hovering around 35% and sometimes a bit higher. Many of those who voted for Trump did so in a belief that he would “shake things up.” And that he has done. It seems that this mandate has no limits and he can virtually do what he wants. He is famously quoted as saying that he could shoot someone on New York’s Fifth Avenue, and that there would be no backlash. It looks like he is right. Scandal after scandal just do not affect him, and the phrase “like water off a duck’s back” comes to mind.

More important than Trump’s personal style, about which much has been written, is his America First ideology. Trump’s philosophy boils down to: “If it ain’t broke, break it!” Trump has embraced foreign dictators like Kim Jong-un and Vladimir Putin and dismissed the advice of Washington professionals (including his own intelligence agencies) in the American government. Trump has also picked fights with America’s traditional allies and disparaged NATO. The most insidious part about Trump and his cohorts is the re-shaping of traditional American values. Trump claims to return to real-American values, but his policies speak otherwise. And now, Donald Trump wants another 4 years. Will he get those 4 years?

Trump will be voted out of office in November 2020 if the Democrats have their way. As of June 2019, their best candidate for doing this is former Vice President Joe Biden. Biden won’t get the Democratic nomination without a fight, and a tough one at that, but he has one magic quality: elect-ability. This means that if anyone can beat Trump he is seen as the one to do it.

There are 24 Democrats including Biden vying for the job of president. Biden’s strategy, from the beginning, is to target Trump and not his fellow Democrats. True, he will have to “mix it up” with them in several debates over the next 506 days, but he might just let them sort themselves out, and the last man/woman standing will get to be his running mate.

Democrats need to put up a centrist as a presidential candidate in order to challenge Trump in his 35% base areas, and Biden fits the bill perfectly. Probably to appease the Democratic Party’s leftists, however, Biden’s running mate will either be an “ethnic” or a woman. Senator Kamala Harris fits both bills and is a likely choice. Senator Corey Booker, a black liberal with impressive credentials, might also be chosen. Another possibility for Biden’s running mate is former Congressman Beto O’Rourke. Will the Democratic Party put forward two “white guys” in the age of diversity? That remains to be seen.

These are dangerous times in and of themselves and also by virtue of the climate that Donald Trump has created. The world is a much more dangerous place because of the policies the Trump administration has put in place vis-a-vis NATO, Iran, Russia and China to name just a few. With this in mind, it is no stretch to see this as the most important election in American history. Not only the US, but countries around the world wait with bated breath for the results of the 2020 presidential election.

Photo: Bastin Grenshake Tzovaras  via flickr 

Please let us know your thoughts on this.


NATO’s Gets 13th Secretary General


 Jens Stoltenberg (Photo: NATO)

On October 1, 2014 former Norwegian prime minister Jens Stoltenberg (55) became the 13th secretary general of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Born in 1959, Stoltenberg comes from a political family: his father was a politician and ambassador and his mother state secretary. Stoltenberg was a member of Norway’s parliament for 20 years, starting in 1993.

He served as prime minister from 200-2001, and then again from 2005-2013. Stoltenberg came to world attention after the domestic terrorist attack by Andres Behring Breivik which resulted in the death of 77 people. During his second term in office he increased Norway’s military spending, an action urged by US President Barack Obama on all NATO partners.

Analysts say the biggest challenge for the economist/politician will be dealing with Russia, particularly in light of the ongoing Ukraine crisis. Stoltenberg takes over from fellow Scandinavian politician Andres Fogh Rasmussen as 13th NATO secretary general. It is hoped that the number 13 will be a lucky one for him, and for the alliance.