Geopolitical notes from India
M D Nalapat
DONALD J Trump has been condemned by the strategic establishment on both sides of the Atlantic for his comments on NATO. However, the reality is that the Republican nominee is correct in his assessment of the military alliance, that it is now an anachronism, and indeed a dangerous one for the security of the globe. Once the Soviet Union collapsed, NATO ought to have been disbanded and replaced by a mesh of alliances across the globe, some involving European states, others excluding them. However, bureaucracies are adept at survival, as for example has been witnessed at India’s Defence Research & Development Organisation (DRDO), which has morphed into a trade union for scientists and technologists rather a means towards self-reliance in advanced weaponry.
NATO is even better at providing “jobs for the boys” than the DRDO, and has since the 1990s evolved into an alliance without a genuine core mission, except of course self-preservation NATO has often intervened in force during the past two decades, much more than was the case in previous decades, but these are invariably in countries whose military capabilities are far inferior to those of the alliance (which avoids tangling with Moscow despite the takeover of territories in Georgia and Ukraine by an assertive Vladimir Putin) However, while the alliance usually has muscle to win a battle or two, it lacks brainpower needed to win the war.
In Afghanistan, the Taliban are still a force in almost a third of the country, and control much of poppy trade. This is despite constant pounding by US and other forces against them, interspersed with efforts at co-opting elements of the Taliban into power-sharing arrangements. Afghan National Army (ANA) has till recently been deprived even of an Air Force, this while NATO spends on itself tens of billions of dollars each year in deployments that on the ground achieve almost no long-term result. Whether it be in Iraq, Afghanistan or in other locations where NATO has inserted itself, much of its expenses have come about as a consequence of funding a force with bloated expenditure levels.
India or China could each deploy hundreds of thousands of troops across theatres of conflict at a cost far below that incurred by the profligacy of the NATO commanders. Despite such huge budgets, the alliance has not won any of the major wars that it has fought. Neither Iraq nor Afghanistan have been stabilised, in fact the opposite has taken place. Both countries have been edged closer to ruin, a situation in which they are joined by other countries in which NATO has been active, such as Libya and Syria This columnist warned in writing in 2011 that a flood of refugees into Europe and a revival of the terror machine would follow NATO intervention in Libya and afterwards, Syria. Not being from the tribe of boosters of NATO, these warnings went unheeded, as indeed did others in the past, such as to Andrew Marshall at the Pentagon soon after the Iraq that the way US forces were operating in that country, disaster would follow.
The advice was that these forces ought to situate themselves at the borders of the country, and leave the rest of the land to be run by the people of Iraq themselves rather than by comic book proconsuls such as Paul Bremer. Any individual who calls out such mistakes is sought to be marginalized as a “fringe element”, and this is the fate that has been reserved for Donald Trump, unless there be a September Surprise or an October Surprise which makes Hillary Clinton toxic to the US voter, thereby enabling the construction magnate to occupy the White House in a shock victory that would see the first challenge to establishment primacy in policy since first Teddy and later Franklin Roosevelt took over at the White House.
Franklin in particular was a visionary, for example favouring independence for India even in the 1930s, but he chose a machine politician, Harry Truman, as his Vice President, and once the lad from Missouri came into the Oval Office, he ensured that the establishment regained its dominance over policy, a process accelerated under Dwight D Eisenhower, who played golf while conventional wisdom ruled over policy, among the most disastrous of which was Washington (except briefly in the case of the Suez Canal) abandoning the Roosevelt policy of support for Asian countries against European colonialism, and allying the US with France in Vietnam. These days, at Aleppo, another huge error by NATO seems to be taking shape. So visceral is the hatred of the alliance for Bashar Assad (a stance formed through generous donations to think tanks and retired officials by countries seeking the overthrow of the Alawite leader) and his ally Vladimir Putin that it has backed what at the core are elements of ISIS in that city.
Should the “moderate opposition” take over the east of that almost fully destroyed city, as is sought by NATO and its regional allies, the more than a million inhabitants in the western parts of Aleppo that are Alawi,Kurd, Christian or moderate Sunni face the same sort of slavery and slaughter that faced the Yazidis when ISIS (armed with weapons earlier handed over to the “moderate opposition” by France and Qatar) surrounded Mount Sinjar. Certainly Bashar Assad is hardly a textbook example of a democrat, but he is a far better bet for the security of the globe than those battling his army, and which contain elements from across the region and from Europe who are committed to Abubakr Al Baghdadi’s fancied caliphate.
Should NATO succeed in breaking Assad’s siege of Aleppo, it will be responsible for the bloodbath that will follow once the fighters armed and funded by it take control of the whole of the city the way they had in the past. The good news for NATO is that the UN Human Rights machinery has a blind spot where the alliance is concerned, and hence none of its members will need to stand before any tribunal in Geneva. There has been a steady drum roll of commentary by CNN, Al Jazeera and BBC as well as several newspapers about the sufferings of the people of Aleppo, exactly as was the case in Benghazi in 2011. However, should NATO’s chosen warriors prevail over Assad, that is when the massacres will begin.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.