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Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Global military dominance becoming unaffordable

Midweek by BUNN NAGARA

Both ‘Britannia’ and the Western alliance are losing the means to perpetuate military-political hegemony worldwide.

BRITAIN was once a proud maritime power, with a foremost Royal Navy that policed a global empire on which “the sun never set.”

These days the British Navy has trouble trying to pin down a single Third World country with a tottering regime: Libya. This incompatibility between present Western capacities and current intentions is, however, greater than any disjuncture with past glories.

This week Admiral Sir Mark Stanhope, Britain’s First Sea Lord, announced that the Royal Navy would not be able to sustain the current campaign against Libya for more than six months. He also noted that the decline is in both equipment inventory and, consequently, morale.

Britain’s Strategic Defence and Security Review last year had cut 10,000 jobs in the Navy and Royal Air Force, and consigned the aircraft carrier Ark Royal, the frigate HMS Cumberland and the once-iconic Harrier jets to the storeroom or junkyard.

As the Libya military campaign suddenly loomed, the Cumberland was diverted there to help in evacuating British nationals. Yet for Downing Street, Britain remains a leading military power with the world’s fourth-largest defence budget.

Evidently like much of Europe, Britain’s lack of appetite for global patrolling work is not totally in sync with US interventionist moves. The “pole positions” occupied by Britain and France over Col. Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya helps to conceal the incongruity, but not for long.

When US Defence Secretary Robert Gates reportedly blasted unnamed Nato partners in Brussels last week for not contributing their share, he ridiculed some for running out of ammunition at critical times in laying siege to a country. The Royal Navy now needs to purchase more Cruise missiles from the US after firing some of them.

The US provides more than 75% of Nato’s budget, with Gates wondering aloud whether this major contribution and Nato itself could be sustained. All of this has come at a time of budget squeezes, after Osama bin Laden’s death and a Cold War which ended 20 years ago.

Washington has been lobbying its European partners in Nato to raise their military commitment, much of it in vain. It is not that the latter do not share US concerns about global instability, but rather they prefer political, diplomatic, economic and social solutions rather than inordinately military ones.

After Iraq, the US has waded into Afghanistan, Pakistan and Libya while straining to get stuck into Syria. Its challenge is to get a sizeable number of allies to go along to a significant degree.

For much of the world outside Washington, a propensity for unilateral military intervention abroad links these various armed adventures. It is not a popular indulgence, not even when the spectre of international terrorism is invoked as the alternative to inaction.

If the continued role of global policeman today seems dated, it is even more surreal given emerging major powers such as those in BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa). These are all fast-growing major economies, besides Russia and China being permanent members of the UNSC with veto power.

This week both Moscow and Beijing boycotted a UNSC meeting called by the Western powers to discuss a proposed resolution against Syria. The other BRICS countries are also unhappy with the prospect of further war against another oil-rich Muslim country.

Even in Western circles there is strong reluctance to rely on more military power. Germany, Europe’s leading economy and a major Nato partner, is still unconvinced by the campaign against Libya.

But if the interests of the military-industrial complex are any guide, efforts will continue towards war. Officially there are six major US military bases in Afghanistan, but on the ground US and other foreign forces are stationed at some 400 bases in the country.

Although the Obama White House is supposed to comply with its pullout schedule in Afghanistan, secret talks with Kabul are continuing over the actual outcome. There are reports that US forces may well remain in Afghanistan for decades after the 2014 complete pullout date.

On the surface the issue is a resurgent Taliban and their terror connections, but strategically Afgha­nistan is critically located in Central Asia next door to China, Pakistan and Iran. So long as it remains in that position, which it will, the great powers will play their “games” while the locals will fight a war to resist them.

Afghanistan meanwhile is pressing for better terms in a draft agreement that would reflect its sense of sovereignty. Whether that would work is another question.