Security Politics Agenda 2004

Posted in Europe , United States , Terrorism | 30-Dec-03 | Author: Dieter Farwick

Strategic competitors
The year 2003 did not go away leaving a clean sheet of paper behind with all security politics problems solved. In contrast, we will meet a lot of old “Friends”. There are lines of long lasting unsolved issues around the globe. The most prominent are terrorism (often combined with border-crossing crimes), proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, shortages in energy supply (oil, gas, water), political and religious extremists, poverty, environmental problems, rapid growth of population and its ageing, urbanisation, health problems, divide between winners and losers, massive violation of human rights, failed states, corruption, drugs and AIDS. Wherever some of these factors pop up on a continent, in a region or in a country the next crisis and conflict will be close.

To make things even more complicated there a lot of totally controversial interests of global players. In the middle of this problem stand the USA - the only superpower in the world.

The USA wants to safeguard this unique position, while other countries want exactly the opposite. Their aim and objective is a multi-polar world in which USA’s power and influence will be constrained. They want to deal with USA from eyeball to eyeball. The power struggle is not restricted to the military. Economy, trade, finance, culture and military lead to an ongoing open and clandestine global competition – mainly against the USA.

That power struggle was the driving force of the opposition – led by France - against a war in Iraq, which testified to the US dominance. It was not morale or ethic thinking – it was a power struggle, which is still ongoing in the phase of “nation building” in Iraq. The number one topic is will the US-led “coalition of the willing “ succeed or not? Will it be possible to hand over the responsibility of government to the Iraqis? To which Iraqis? What kind of statehood will prevail? There is one strong point for the coalition. Because of the importance of this region and the neighbouring Caucasus to the whole world, neither China and Russia nor Europe and Japan can allow chaos in Iraq with its worldwide repercussions. There is an invisible red line in the sand nobody wants to be crossed. The questions are: what is the prize tag and who will win the face saving competition - USA or “old Europe”? What role can UN play?

This political fight will dominate the year 2004. But in the summer there will be a result. Either the situation will have reached a sufficient degree of stability allowing the US-led coalition to leave as winners or the USA will have to extend its commitment in spite of the up-coming US elections. In the first case, the UN could play a role supporting the new Iraqi government backed by UN mandated NATO–led forces in another “coalition of the willing.” The US commitment would get a lower visibility. But NATO cannot do the job without US backing in so-called “strategic capabilities.” The alternative is chaos and defeat for the whole world. In this world there will be no winners – except the terrorists who would occupy Iraq at the end of the day.

Closely related to the development in Iraq is Afghanistan. There is no alternative to success there. The “West” cannot get out halfway. It has to fight that battle to the successful end, disregarding the time and resources that will have to be invested. For NATO there is a chance to succeed as “Alliance,” which is very important for its future. USA should stop regarding NATO as a toolbox.

Another hot issue in the arc of instability between Marrakech and Bangladesh is the ongoing conflict Israel/Palestine. The expected positive effect from a USA war in Iraq has yet to be seen. Israel could feel better in a strategically changed environment in the “Greater Middle East” enhanced by Libya’s decision to give up its programme of weapons of mass destruction. The “Geneva Accord” should be taken as a blueprint. It will be interesting to see whether the Palestinian Prime minister Qureia will be strong enough to discipline the extreme Palestinians and whether Sharon will be strong enough to make real compromises.

The conflict in the Balkans will go on – hopefully on a lower level of violence. It will take more time to allow hand-over of control to domestic politicians. There might be some light in the tunnel in the summer of 2004. There might be a situation in which USA can end its commitment and hand-over the responsibility to the EU – based upon the “Berlin plus” accord with NATO supporting the ongoing operation. This development could reduce US worldwide commitment.

Another hot spot will be Iran. 2004 might show whether Iran is really giving up the nuclear weapons programme. The terrible earthquake might show government and people in Iraq that outside support and multinational cooperation should not be restricted to natural disasters.

So far, USA was repeatedly able to defuse the conflict between the nuclear powers India and Pakistan. It will be interesting to see whether the Kashmir conflict can be contained or not. The internal situation in Pakistan seems to be volatile, to say the least. Pakistan is a place where nuclear weapons might fall in the hands of terrorists groups. Time will show whether USA can stabilise Pakistan.

China is not too far away from that region. It is gaining financial and economic clout, but has tremendous social problems to be solved. China might continue to play a significant role in the conflict on the Korean peninsula, as it is very interested to de-nuclearize North Korea. The six-countries-talks might lead to a more stable situation. With the economic success, China’s dependence on energy from the above mentioned regions will grow. These facts might reduce China’s willingness to get Taiwan back through a military operation.

EU has lost another chance to be a real global player speaking with one voice. It has to be seen whether the EU can agree to a new constitutions in 2004 and stay together “at 25” or whether it will allow its members a variable geometry with some nations working closer together.

Russia will have presidential elections in March 2004. There is no reason to doubt that the old president will be the new one, too. The federal elections have shown that Putin is strong in the saddle of the “Russian democracy.” The media and the economy follow guidance from the Kremlin. Chechnya will remain a bleeding wound for Russia, but obviously the “West” has given up criticizing Putin for it.

NATO will get an opportunity to come back into the business as “Alliance”. Afghanistan and Iraq will offer both chances and risks. The new NATO Reaction Force offers a chance to the Europeans to show their willingness and capability to work together with USA in a complementary way.

Back to USA. The year 2003 should have brought more realism into the political calculation of the superpower. Even a superpower cannot shoulder alone all problems of the future in order to avoid “imperial overstretch”. With the UN not able to play the role optimists had expected, the world needs USA as a power bringing law and order based upon military capabilities. Even pre-emptive strikes have to be accepted because the old system of deterrence does not work with terrorists who want to destroy and not rebuild. The US presidential elections in the fall of 2004 will be decided by the economy, counter-terrorism and counter-proliferation, and the developments in Iraq and Afghanistan. The outcome will determine the future role of USA with world-wide consequences.

There is one personal wish at the end: USA should show in 2004 that the role of a “cooperative empire or hegemon” suits best the long lasting interest of USA to remain the indispensable number one. “Old Europe” should realise that only a united “West” will be able to cope with growing uncertainties.