2014 A “RETHINKING NATIONAL SECURITY” YEAR:: WHAT DOES IT PORTEND?
By Harry C. Blaney III
2014 was without much doubt a significant year in terms of global security. One question is whether 2014 has set a trend in the makeup of our international order in the future and to what extent? The events of 2014 were at many levels transformative but also show much continuity with the recent past trends.
Terrorism took on a new guise in the rise of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, and “caliphate”), with the fierce occupation by this extraordinarily brutal group of large areas in both Iraq and Syria. The emergence of added conflicts and upheavals in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, and the Sunni-Shia divide were continuing factors of instability. But less mentioned is the serious question of unstable and nuclear armed Pakistan’s trajectory and that of nuclear India which is being reshaped still as this is written with unknown consequences.
Another event of special note was the end of an assumed understanding about the security and inviolability of the boundaries and independence of existing European states by the invasion and occupation of Crimea and Eastern Ukraine by Russian troops and paid mercenaries. With the annexation of Crimea, and now continued fighting and uncertainty over the fate of Eastern Ukraine, the viability and security of the entire country has changed radically the landscape of Central and eastern Europe and beyond.
NATO has reassessed its role and the implication of these actions resulted in agreement to establish a more robust “rapid reaction force.” America also has assigned a “rotating” troop and air armed units to the Baltic States. Putin has recently called NATO a threat to Russia and the new Russian strategic plan seems a bit more aggressive than earlier.
Not least, with this external belligerence towards what Russian nationalists call “The Near Afar” or “Near Abroad” – their neighborly countries, – Putin has established increasingly harsh authoritarian rule over Russia and its people proper. This development is as important to global security and stability as is the Ukraine invasion and conflict. The two seem to be intertwined and have indeed been fed by Putin and his cronies heating up a new “fascistic” Russian xenophobia and militaristic nationalism.
This effort can be attributed to the perceived need by Putin to shore up his domestic support in light of an increasingly economic catastrophe that Russia seems to be experiencing at the end of 2014; all due to Putin’s costly international blunders and foolish economic choices. Even Putin has acknowledged in his New Year’s message that Russia faces hard times ahead.
At home, the same neo-cons that got us into an unneeded and disastrous war in Iraq, and ran the Afghanistan war mindlessly and incompetently now wrongly depict Putin and Russia as stronger, which is absurd given the real impact of sanctions, the fall in the price of oil and gas, and the precipitous fall of the Ruble. This argument was not only predominant in one major neo-con publication but has been picked up by the right-wing GOP hawks who if they had their way would have us still deep in the mud of “endless war.”
The reality is the increased isolation of Putin personally and of Russia. Their economy ever fragile is now in real recession and week in many sectors. Global leaders realize, as do investors, that Russia under Putin is a risky place to place any bets on. This new realization by many is that Russia is in the hands of an incompetent, arbitrary, and illusionary leader who seems to care not a bit about the well being of his country’s people. Russia is weaker today than at the start of 2014 despite all of its aggression and seems destined to fall further under Putin’s harsh hand unless there is a major change of course. None of this is good news for the West, however, given the uncertainty of Russian behavior.
On the contrary, America, led by President Obama and with the help of Secretary John Kerry and his team, is clearly in ascendancy, but largely unnoticed by our U.S. media or acknowledged by the Republicans. With the U.S. showing a recent 5% growth rate, better job numbers, and closer cooperation with Europe, it remains at the center of global decision-making and power.
Further, with the negotiations with China over climate change successful, the continued push for Atlantic and Pacific free trade treaties, and the hope of successful nuclear talks with Iran continuing, there is some positive momentum for 2015. In addition, the successful efforts to help put together still fragile, but key new “unity” governments in Afghanistan and Iraq is better than the likelihood of immediate tribal conflict between major ethnic communities in the face of terrorist threats.
One of the great new creative developments has been President Barack Obama’s initiative to reestablish relations with Cuba. This is a landmark action with potential to change the entire playing field regarding a nation that is in a time of major transition. Obama has with one stroke of the pen re-engaged America with Cuba. He recovered two prisoners and let long serving Cubans in jail free, see political prisoners released, broadened the areas of exchange of visits, goods, and dialogue, advancing towards early establishment of full diplomatic relations.
Yet, what one must also recognize is the continuing monumental challenge that faces all of mankind and our natural world: climate change. And 2014, while it did not bring about any immediate significant global move to fully address this existential threat, has nevertheless shown some progress and hints of what the major powers might be trying to move towards to mitigate, if not yet fully solve the coming cataclysm. This has largely been done by executive authority whether by domestic pollution regulation or by international diplomacy.
Also among the non-events, Iraq and Afghanistan did not yet disintegrate into warning ethnic and political conflict but at least for now choose a path of political compromise and efforts at inclusiveness, thanks to the intensive efforts of Secretary Kerry backed by President Obama along with efforts of other diplomats. China did not make a full war yet over the South China Sea islands, and Putin did not yet attack any NATO countries, although he did send irresponsible flights and ships near NATO counties and neutrals to show his great detest toward their sanctions. North Korea did not use its nuclear bombs and thus saved itself from total destruction. And American politics continued, without change, its corrosive politics, however adding one electoral change that may have extended the power of its crazies over the Senate.
What did not happen in 2014 is almost as important as the events that did. We did not attack Iran, nor do we have combat troops in Syria yet. We have not changed our goal to pull direct combat troops out of Afghanistan, but did act to support that frail nation and its armed forces in more constructive ways. Russia did not become “Nine Feet” tall but simply diminished itself with its own acts of silliness and cruelty. Additionally, Scotland did not become an isolated mini-state north of Britain, the American economy did not “tank” but grew and in the 3rd quarter some 5% annual growth. Lastly, Europe still did not really recover from it own self induced “austerity” policy which has proved a disaster for most of the EU counties that tried that disastrous road.
Sadly, the Middle East remains in deadlock; largely by the determined and also self-destructive efforts, not least new settlements, of the current Israeli government to destroy it seems the only possible rational creation of a two state solution. Nor did the PLA do much that was constructive. Gaza was a tragedy for all sides.
In the coming weeks we will be writing about what 2015 and beyond may bring, and look at how America might shape events towards positive outcomes and perhaps even more real security and peace.
We welcome your comments!