Archive for the ‘UK’ Category

The Cost of Expanding Afghan Security Forces

January 28, 2010

Today in London, 70 nations are taking part in a conference about the future of Afghanistan.  One of the main focus points is the plan to greatly increase the size of the country’s security forces.  The US and its European allies intend to fund the expansion and help train new recruits.  British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that there will be 134,000 soldiers in the Afghan National Army by October of this year, and 171,600 in October 2011; he also said the Afghan National Police force will have 109,000 officers and 134,000 personnel by the same respective dates. 

The Pentagon estimates that it will cost between $10 billion and $20 billion to bankroll the augmentation, and Afghan President Hamid Karzai estimated that it will take five to 10 years to complete the process and as many as 15 years before his government can finance its defense establishment.  According to these figures, the West will have to spend tens of billions of dollars to enlarge the army and police, and several billion dollars annually just to sustain the forces.  There is reason to doubt that Afghanistan will be able to pay for its national security apparatus on its own by the end of Mr. Karzai’s timetable because the country’s yearly tax revenue currently totals a mere $1.1 billion.  Considering the facts that the government will need to spend money on other programs and corruption is a major problem, it is highly unlikely that the state will be able to afford to maintain sufficiently large security organizations without a high level of financial assistance from the international community for decades to come, barring an economic miracle in one of the world’s poorest nations.

However, the American-led war effort is expected to cost more than $100 billion a year as long as the size of the foreign military presence remains the same, so requisite spending on indigenous forces would only be a fraction of current operational expenditures.  NATO members, including the US, have stated that they intend to begin withdrawing their combatants next year, but given the strength of the insurgency and the weakness of the Afghan National Army, it appears that a major drawdown in 2011 will be infeasible if Western leaders are determined to prevent the Taliban from taking over large swathes of Afghanistan.  The attendees at the London conference should recognize these facts before they devise plans for the future.

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Why Iran Backed Out of a Nuclear Deal

November 3, 2009

Yesterday, the New York Times published an illuminating news analysis article by Michael Slackman in which he discusses domestic politics in Iran and its relations to the nuclear issue http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/03/world/middleeast/03iran.html?ref=global-home). 

Last month, Iran tentatively agreed to a deal with the West and Russia over its nuclear program but then backed away from it before anything was signed.  The deal would require Iran to ship most of its uranium out of the country for it be enriched and then returned to the Islamic Republic for use in a research reactor.  The measure was designed to ease Western concerns that Iran will use its stockpile of uranium to build nuclear weapons, and it would do so by preventing Iran from enriching its uranium to weapons-grade levels.  The Islamic Republic denies that it seeks to acquire the Bomb.

Mr. Slackman argues that reformists and traditional conservatives oppose the nuclear deal because Mr. Ahmadinejad supports it.  He says that they are trying to turn public opinion against him for their own political advantage.

Mr. Slackman offers some interesting insights, but he seems to underestimate the degree to which many Iranian leaders believe that maintaining the capability of building nuclear weapons is critical for Iran’s national security.  It may be true that some public figures see political benefits in undermining the Iranian president, who won the last presidential election amid widespread complaints of voting fraud, but Iranian security concerns and perceptions of national interests should not be discounted.

The Upcoming P5+1 Talks

September 30, 2009

Last week, the leaders of the US, France and Britain publicly revealed that the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) has been informed about the existence of a uranium enrichment facility near the city of Qum in Iran.  This revelation came just days before the planned P5+1 talks between the permanent members of the UN Security Council and Iran about the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program, which will take place tomorrow in Geneva.  On his ForeignPolicy.com blog, Marc Lynch speculated about why the existence of the site was recently disclosed (http://lynch.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/09/25/the_iran_nuclear_revelation).

Mr. Lynch argues that the revelation strengthens the bargaining position of the P5.  But the disclosure will not likely be a significant game-changer.  The European powers were already convinced of the need to compel Iran to allow intrusive IAEA inspections, and they apparently are still more concerned about the Iranian nuclear program than the US. 

Meanwhile, the new information will merely reinforce Israeli fears that Iran is secretly developing nuclear weapons.  This fact gives the Iranians leverage because the US wants to quickly reach a deal with Iran to ward off a threatened Israeli military strike that could have disastrous consequences for the US and the Middle East region.

Despite the disclosure of the Qum facility, the Russians and the Chinese will still likely veto any harsh economic sanctions against Iran because the two countries have strategic relationships with the Islamic Republic, especially when it comes to energy. 

Any deal between Iran and the West will probably entail an Iranian agreement to report the location of all of its nuclear facilities and allow IAEA inspectors to closely monitor them.  In return, other powers will acknowledge Iran’s right to maintain a peaceful nuclear program and give the country economic benefits.  In addition, the US may reestablish diplomatic relations with the Islamic Republic for the first time in 30 years.

Whether such an agreement will be reached at the upcoming meeting is uncertain.  And even if a deal is made, the Iranians could still pursue a secret nuclear weapons program, especially if they believe it serves their vital national interests.

The P5+1 negotiations might bear fruit and head off an international crisis.  But the exposure of the Qum site will probably not play a major role in such a development.

Questions and Comments About Afghanistan

September 25, 2009

The commitment of America’s NATO allies to the conflict in Afghanistan has been much discussed on this blog and elsewhere.  There is a significant possibility that European governments will soon begin withdrawing troops in response to growing public opposition to the war effort, which is partly a reaction to increasing casualties, at a time when the US is dispatching more soldiers and Marines to join the fight.

The blog At War: Notes from the Front Lines, which can be linked to from this website and nytimes.com, is excellent.  In a recent post, war correspondent John Burns answers questions from readers about Afghanistan and America’s coalition partners. (http://atwar.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/02/john-burns-answers-your-questions-on-wobbly-us-allies/.  Many of the readers’ comments are also interesting and worth reading.

British Will Keep Troops in Afghanistan

September 4, 2009

Earlier today, UK Prime Minister Gordon Brown announced that his government will keep British roops in Afghanistan until that country’s army and policy are capable of protecting civilians from Taliban insurgents without the help of NATO forces.  There are currently 9,000 British soldiers in Afghanistan and 31,000 military personnel from other NATO membes aside from the 68,000 American troops operating there.  The prime minister said preventing Afghanistan from becoming a safe haven for Al Qaeda was important for national security.

Mr. Brown’s decision comes at a critical time when Western forces are struggling to combat a strengthened Taliban insurgency.  Had he decided to withdraw British troops soon, the US or other NATO countries would have had to step up and fill the void, and other alliance members might have felt more comfortable withdrawing their troops to satisfy constituents.  The war effort is growing increasingly unpopular in Europe, where the majority of citizens believe their country’s troops should be withdrawn from Afghanistan.

The Obama administration is considering increasing the size of the American military presence following claims by military commanders that they do not have enough soldiers to succeed in their mission.  The administration is reportedly considering deploying an additional 10,000 to 45,000 troops to Afghanistan.  If 45,000 more soldiers and Marines are added to the American force presence, the number of militay personnel in Afghanistan will approach the amount currently in Iraq.

Whether the British will live up to their promise of keeping 9,000 troops in Afghanistan until local security forces are fully capable of securing their country is doubtful.  It might take a decade or more for that goal to be achieved, if it can be achieved at all, and a lack of public support for continuing the war may for force European governments to pullout.  If that happens, the US may have to go it alone, a policy option that President Obama heavily criticized former President George W. Bush for pursuing in Iraq.