Stratfor is one of the most respected strategic forecasting organizations in the world. They provide strategic intelligence to large corporations – including all the major financial institutions – and a significant part of their membership is comprised of former and serving military officers in the western world. George Friedman, the Founder of Stratfor, has also written numerous books regarding the future of the world from a strategic and political perspective. Two of his books which I have read and particularly enjoyed are “The Next Decade” and “The Next 100 Years“. While I don’t agree with all of Mr. Friedman’s conclusions, a lot of his perspectives are right on the money. Here at TechLahore, we’ve previously featured Stratfor’s forecasting and you can take a look at that post here.
Much has been written and said about the most recent flareup in Pakistan-US relations. The crisis resulted from an unprovoked NATO attack on two Pakistani checkposts, leading to the martyrdom of 24 Pakistani army personnel, including two officers. In response, Pakistan ordered the eviction of US troops from a key air base in Balochistan, shut down all NATO supply lines, ordered troops on the border to fire at will in the even that NATO violates Pakistan’s territorial borders again and is undertaking a full review of all cooperation with NATO. What is very important to consider is how the immediate future will be shaped in context of this incident. Will this result in greater tensions between the two countries? A shooting war perhaps? Does NATO have the upper hand? Does Pakistan hold any strategic cards? These are all questions that are being asked by millions in Pakistan, the wider South/Central Asian region and indeed, the West.
What complicates the situation further is that while there are two land supply routes that can be used; one through Pakistan, and the other through Russia and Central Asian States (i.e. the Northern Distribution Network, or NDN), suddenly, both these supply lines have been put at risk. The supply line via Pakistan is by far the most inexpensive and efficient, by a factor of 10, while the NDN is long, circuitous and dependent on the cooperation of not one, but numerous countries. That wouldn’t have been so bad if all the countries through which the NDN runs were pro-NATO, but unfortunately for the US military, that is not the case. Russia, in particular, incensed over US efforts to deploy a missile shield in Europe, and also due to an increasingly belligerent American Middle East agenda which now seeks to implement regime change by force in both Syria and Iran, has openly threatened to cut off all NATO’s remaining supply lines.
Stratfor’s take on all of this, is as follows:
The United States and NATO have been exposed as waging a war that depended on the willingness of first Pakistan and now increasingly Russia to permit the movement of supplies through their respective territories. Were they both to suspend that privilege, the United States would face the choice of going to war to seize supply lines — something well beyond U.S. conventional capacity at this time — or to concede the war. Anytime a force depends on the cooperation of parties not under its control to sustain its force, it is in danger.
The issue is not whether the threats are carried out. The issue is whether the strategic interest the United States has in Afghanistan justifies the risk that the Russians may not be bluffing and the Pakistanis will become even less reliable in allowing passage. In the event of strategic necessity, such risks can be taken. But the lower the strategic necessity, the less risk is tolerable. This does not change the strategic reality in Afghanistan. It simply makes that reality much clearer and the threats to that reality more serious. Washington, of course, hopes the Pakistanis will reconsider and that the Russians are simply blowing off steam. Hope, however, is not a strategy.
In a nutshell, NATO has no option but to back off and make nice with both Russia and Pakistan. In Mr. Friedman’s opinion, there are only two options. The first is to concede the war in Afghanistan and run. And the second is to fight yet another war to secure an over-land supply route. The second option, he explains, is impossible and beyond the current means and capabilities of both the US and NATO.
Ignoring the emotion and the rhetoric, we agree with Mr. Friedman. The US has lost the war in Afghanistan and nothing can change that. However, the stakes at the moment involve a safe retreat vs. an absolute, unmitigated military disaster which would dwarf Vietnam. Given these two choices, the US and NATO will have to back off. As a consequence, the alliance with Pakistan will continue, but now, more so on Pakistan’s terms.