US national defence strategy 2018

The mechanisms for the prevalence of peace remain a question mark but the reasons are valid

Maryam Nazir April 05, 2018
The writer is an assistant research officer at the Islamabad Policy Research Institute, Islamabad. She can be reached at [email protected]

Gen John Nicholson in his recent BBC interview heavily favoured peace talks and specified the US action strategy as one of relevance. However, for the United States, absolute victory in Afghanistan is reconciliation between warring parties for peace or may be the Taliban and other violent actors becoming part of an inclusive Afghan government. As the general claimed that the warring parties have started discussing peace offers which is a fundamental change, attributing the change to the introduction of a more aggressive US policy. On the whole, the interview was reflective of the new US defence strategy which does not have much to deal with the problem of terrorism.

Recently, new offers have been made by the Afghan government to the Taliban for their mainstreaming and political rights. The US believes that the Taliban hold as little as 12 per cent of the country’s total territory while projections made in SIGAR reports measure the Taliban presence at more than half of Afghanistan. Analysts in the US are also making judgments about the lowered ambitions of the Taliban side as they have moved from seizing land to pure guerilla tactics. With the defence strategy now focusing more on inter-state strategic competition than the terrorism threat, the US desires a wrap-up from Afghanistan, while continuing to violently and non-violently pressure national stakeholders to sustain peace in the country. However, the mechanisms for the prevalence of peace remain a question mark but the reasons are valid.

James Mattis’s 2018 National Defence Strategy speaks of increased emphasis on development of new capabilities alongside technological innovation, focus on resurgent Russia and rising China as greater potential threats than trans-national terrorism, stress on preserving American operational flexibility and unpredictability along with a strong commitment towards the well-being of its individuals in uniform and their combat readiness. It also adheres to the creation of a joint force to cater to the new concepts of warfare and entire spectrum of threats and conflicts. An unclassified synopsis of NDS states, “Should deterrence fail, the joint force is prepared to win. Reinforcing America’s traditional tools of diplomacy, the DoD provides military options to ensure the president and our diplomats negotiate from a position of strength.” This statement inculcates the sense that the US re-strategises to maintain its influence globally which has somehow been questioned.

As inter-state strategic competition forms the core of the strategy, the US’s respective need-based presence and reliance in Afghanistan and on Middle Eastern region could be a possible policy for future. Though the strategy pronounces China and Russia simultaneously as great potential threats just now, many view the pivot to Asia, creation of Trans-Pacific Partnerships, emergence of terminologies such as Indo-Pacific as efforts under way for long.

Russia, despite inconsistencies, has been able to strike back at the Western world and assert its influence on important issues to the US such as Syria and Afghanistan. In contrast, China’s assertiveness although confined to Far East side in terms of uninhabited maritime areas or islands, with its rise, has the ability to make a difference. Now with Russia and China on one side and Washington’s overstretched presence in parts of world on the other, it is suspected that sooner both feet will be dangling entirely off the ground, to which this strategy might be remedial. In lieu of this, may be a shift from counter-terrorism campaign or advocacy for the sustenance of peace in areas of turmoil could add to the cumulative outcome for the US.

Although states have assumed the positions of global powers, they lack elements needed to become one supreme. In the post-Cold War world, terrorism has remained more detrimental to world peace than inter-state competition or rivalry. But as dynamics change, powers rise and the world becomes more multi-polar, the doctrines advocating arms and security build-up like the past cannot assure peace.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 5th, 2018.

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