From the point of view of international peace and stability, 2010 ended on a positive note with the ratification by the U.S. Senate of the new START treaty that will further reduce deployed strategic nuclear weapons of Russia and the U.S. to 1,550 in seven years. However, in view of the ongoing conflicts and possible conflagrations, 2011 is likely to be a turbulent year.
The strategic stalemate in Afghanistan will continue with the Taliban and NATO-ISAF forces alternately gaining local ascendancy for short durations in the core provinces of Helmand, Marja and Kandahar. While U.S. forces may be expected to step up drone strikes in Pakistan against extremists sheltering in the NWFP and FATA areas, the results are not likely to appear justifiable in view of the diplomatic fallout in Pakistan. The Afghan National Army is still many years away from achieving the professional standards necessary to manage security on its own. Hence, it will be difficult for the U.S. to begin its planned drawdown of troops in July 2011.
The military stand-off along the 38th Parallel in Korea has further exacerbated the already unstable situation in East Asia caused by increasing Chinese assertiveness that appears out of character with its stated objective of a peaceful rise. Though the international community may be able to ensure that a major conflict does not erupt again between the two Koreas, the sub-region will remain volatile unless the Chinese use their influence with North Korea to persuade it to back off from the path of confrontation. As of now they do not appear inclined to do so.
Turmoil in West Asia will continue through 2011 as Israel stubbornly refuses to halt the construction of new settlements in the West Bank and the Palestinian militias are getting increasingly restive. Iran’s nuclear ambitions and the vaguely stated threats of several of its neighbours to follow suit will continue to add to instability in the region. Saudi Arabia, in particular, may fund Pakistan’s nuclear expansion programme as a hedging strategy against the acquisition of nuclear weapons by Iran. Such a course of action would be a disastrous blow to international non-proliferation efforts.
It can be deduced form recent arrests in the U.K. and elsewhere that international fundamentalist terrorists may succeed in launching another spectacular strike in the West. A successful strike would resurrect the al Qaeda and enable it to rally its wavering cadres. All in all, 2011 will see a continuation of ongoing conflicts without major let up.
(Gurmeet Kanwal is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies (CLAWS), New Delhi.)