Saturday, November 20, 2010

Europe's Maginot Line

Watching the news coverage surrounding the NATO summit in Lisbon, it's easy to think that this is just another catch-up for the 28 members that make up this Cold War-era alliance, but in fact this is far more important and will have deeper consequences over the coming years. They key issue being discussed is that of Afghanistan. I'm amazed by the language being used both in the coverage and by the people at the summit making statements. We are hearing words such as "success in Afghanistan" and that it is dependant on the Afghans being able to take over their own security. Somehow, these people expect this to happen by 2014, the date when NATO forces will allegedly be able to withdraw from Afghanistan.

What a complete load of rubbish. Today we are on the eve of 2011, and NATO has been fighting goat-herders and villagers in the mountains of Afghanistan for the past ten years with no success. In fact, the Taliban are today going from strength to strength and now mounting regular attacks against NATO bases. Apart from the cities, the Taliban appear to dominate the countryside and, although unthinkable ten years ago, NATO countries talk about 'negotiating' with the Taliban rather than dismissing them outright as they first used to. This is a remarkable about-turn, but I don't find anybody else amazed about, or even mentioning, it.


NATO's proposed missile-defence network is riling the Russians, and with good cause too, but the Russians are not the foe NATO has in mind. What they are really worried about, allegedly, is Iran and its growing missile capabilities. In Israel, the "Iron Dome" missile network is supposed to be operational by around 2014 and that too is supposed to make Israelis feel better about the fact that the IDF can no longer defend them from external threats by the natives.

That's actually very serious. There is a whole strategy based on provoking wars and fighting abroad so that the fighting can't happen at home, but this all looks like it is no longer an option as Asian countries become increasingly sophisticated and influential. Yet it is not Iran which is the prime driver for this imaginary defence line. China is becoming stronger, and in order to drive its economy it is going to require energy. This energy is going to come from many places, but I think it will come mostly from Africa or the Middle East and this is how it all ties in with fears of Iran, and non-Western allied actors in the region. In this context, the recent multi-billion dollar weapons deal with Saudi Arabia gains an additional dimension. Yet nobody seems to be questioning the effectiveness of missile defence.

Whether for Israel or for Europe, missile-defence is being touted as some wonder solution that will make the host country impregnable, yet in all the recent conflicts where missiles have been a threat, there have not been any successful measures which prevented sustained missile attacks. In 1991 the Patriot missile system could not defend Israel. Since the year 2000 onwards, Israel has been unable to prevent or defend against missile attacks, and this was made most obvious in 2006 when Hezbullah's missile attacks did not only carry on throughout the 33 day war, but in fact increased considerably throughout. Unless some miracle breakthrough has been made, missile-defence is at best costly and, at worst, ineffective. There was a time when the French thought that a costly and highly defensive line of fortifications would protect or delay a German invasion. This false sense of security was undermined when France was overrun by Panzer divisions within weeks. The discourse today seems similar, so is this missile-defence network appears to be a present-day Maginot Line. What are these people thinking?

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