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China to NATO Alliance: End War in Afghanistan Now

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By Richard Walker

As NATO struggles to keep its members committed to the war in Afghanistan, China has called for the U.S. and its allies to declare an end to the war and withdraw.

China’s first public comments on the conflict were made in an article in China Daily, the government-run newspaper. The author was Li Quinggong, deputy general of the country’s National Security Policy Studies. He described the Afghan conflict as the “anti-terror war begun by President Bush in 2001” and said it had been “the source of ceaseless turbulence and violence.”

He suggested that if NATO were to withdraw it could be replaced by an international peacekeeping force to help the Afghan government and its security forces “exercise effective control over domestic unrest and maintain peace and security.”

He also called on the wider international community to  add its voice to what he referred to as “ever mounting anti-war calls in the U.S.” He suggested anti-war sentiment could be exploited to pressure on the Obama White House to end the war. In addition, the UN Security Council could discuss the matter and see if a roadmap could be developed to bring an end to the conflict.

One of the major points raised in the China Daily piece was “the ticklish issue” of whether NATO could accept the Taliban as a “key player” in a “reconciliation process” and whether it could agree on how to “dispose of al Qaeda’s armed forces.”

From the tone of the article it was clear China’s leaders believed dialogue with the Taliban was a key ingredient in any effort to stop the violence, a point often made by the Afghan leader, Hamid Karzai.

“The Taliban and the country’s major warlords are all key actors who can play an influential role in deciding the country’s prospect,” the article stressed.

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In essence, the basic thesis of the article was that chaos in Afghanistan was linked to “long-standing domestic strife between factions” and the fact that the country had experienced numerous wars and conflicts, including the Soviet invasion. All of that was compounded by the ongoing “chaotic battle” involving U.S.-led coalition forces, Afghan government troops, domestic warlords, and the Taliban and al Qaeda.

“The disorderly confrontations and strife do no good to anyone but have only caused untold suffering to Afghan people,” the article concluded.

For China to encourage an international anti-war movement to put pressure on the Obama White House implied the Chinese were not only concerned about an expanded NATO presence in Central Asia but were also worried by growing unrest among Islamic elements within their own population. The Beijing leadership has reckoned for some time that the longer the war in Afghanistan continues the greater is the likelihood of a spill-over of Islamic militancy into parts of China. Interestingly, the article offered no suggestions on how to “dispose” of al Qaeda and its surrogates and carefully avoided any reference to U.S.-Pakistan or U.S.- India relations.

For China to speak out in this way confirms that its leaders have been aware of the growing war stresses within NATO and NATO countries. Behind the scenes in Brussels, NATO has had great difficulty maintaining a unity of purpose among its members, many of whom disagree on strategy, with some refusing to send troops to the frontlines. NATO leaders are witnessing growing opposition to the war across Europe and in some member states politicians are coming under pressure to call for a withdrawal from Afghanistan and to deny NATO reinforcements.

On the battlefield, the military campaign NATO thought would display its strengths has only served to expose its weaknesses. The brunt of the fighting is being done by the

U.S. and Britain with other member nations refusing to put their troops in harm’s way, insisting they not be deployed to combat zones. The cracks in the alliance, which is now in its 60th year, emerged as the Taliban showed itself to be a lethal adversary and the prospect of defeat became accepted wisdom in some circles.

There is now a real risk that NATO will be bogged down the way the Soviets were when they faced the same Afghan tribesmen. That fear is gradually invading the corridors of power in many NATO capitals.

In April 2008, the Obama White House privately believed the new president would get the support he needed from all NATO member states. That was a na´ve assumption exposed by NATO that same month when several alliance members made it clear they did not have the political will or public backing to provide reinforcements.

Furthermore, states like Germany told White House advisors they did not want their combat troops involved in volatile zones like Helmand Province. In Britain, Washington’s key ally, Prime Minister Gordon Brown, has been busy fighting a political rearguard action to maintain troop levels. Recently, reports surfaced that he denied his generals extra combat troops. Next year, Canada will pull its troops out and Italy may follow suit, if not before then.

While the political pressure in Brussels increases there is a growing recognition elsewhere that NATO misjudged the problems it faced on the battlefield. And Obama, who made the Afghan crisis a major issue in his pre-election campaign, had no grasp of Afghan history when he insisted he had the solution. Like so many before him, he made the mistake of believing the more troops and military hardware thrown at the Afghan conflict the greater the prospect of success. The British, the Russians and even Alexander the Great learned that military adventurism in Afghanistan
always leads to failure.

NATO is facing yet another major problem as Russia makes it clear it prefers to have a positive relationship with the West. Since NATO grew out of a Cold War doctrine in  1949, it might find little to bolster its continued existence with no bogeyman in Moscow. For the West, the real threats, economically and militarily, may soon come from China.

A report in the Independent newspaper in London on Oct. 6, 2009, claimed that China was planning for an economic war with the U.S. that might result in military confrontations over oil. The Independent claimed it had proof that Arab oil states have held secret meetings with finance ministers from China, Russia, Japan, France and Brazil to discuss ending the primary role of the dollar in oil trading, replacing it with gold, the yen or the euro, or a combination of currencies.

China has taken a great interest in Middle East oil in recent years and now imports 60 percent of its crude oil from the region. It has invested heavily in oil exploration in Iran, Iraq, Sudan and many African nations like Nigeria.

As it continues to build its oil and energy links to Africa, the Middle East and Latin America, it may seek to overpower U.S. influence in those parts of the globe as a means to creating a new world order with China at its pinnacle.

What many observers have failed to recognize is that China has been flooding the Middle East with its exports, thereby partially fueling its massive industrial infrastructure.

Without increasing oil supplies at a level never reached by the U.S., China’s march to superpower status would grind to a stop.

Privately, China worries that because it has to ship most of its oil by tankers, its supply chain could be highly vulnerable in the event of a military confrontation with the U.S. In such a scenario the U.S. Navy could close down the majority of China’s fuel supplies. The impact would not only damage its economy but also its military readiness.

Richard Walker is the pen name of a former NY news producer.

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(Issue # 42, October 19, 2009)

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