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for: "uncle sam's coalition of one"
Document No. 1 of 1

Uncle Sam's coalition of one
America's allies have fallen so far behind militarily that they have no choice but to follow the U.S. lead, says DAVID MALONE
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Tuesday, December 11, 2001  Print Edition, Page A25

With the military defeat of the Taliban, a first phase of the campaign in Afghanistan is over. While Al-Qaeda mastermind Osama bin Laden and Taliban overlord Mullah Mohammed Omar are still at large and may require considerable military effort to track down, it is possible now to discuss several propositions.

First, military firepower matters. U.S. capacities so far outstrip those of even its best-equipped allies that NATO capabilities have proved irrelevant in the recent military campaign. Allies have helped with diplomatic support, intelligence and action against suspected terrorists or terrorist sympathizers within their own borders. But they have had little to offer militarily.

Second, from Washington's perspective, a military hub-and-spoke command operation has worked far better than the consensus decision-making on which it and other allies relied during the air campaign over Kosovo and Serbia in 1999, which left many in the Pentagon deeply frustrated. NATO's political unity was critical in staring down Moscow at that time, and a less efficient command format was then well worth some irritation among military brass in Washington. But it was not necessary in the Afghanistan theatre (and may never be again).

Third, key allies are decisively weakened diplomatically when they have nothing much to offer militarily. For years, successive U.S. administrations have pleaded with leading European and other allies to increase their military spending, enhance their capabilities and rationalize their defence industries. (In fact, Washington would have been pleased if the Europeans had scrapped their own defence industries altogether and relied on American ones.) Efforts within the European Union to create an EU-wide, rapidly deployable military force have become bogged down (as has so much else in Brussels) in euro-wrangling. Technological and other gaps between the U.S. and European weaponry are now such that U.S. dominance cannot be challenged.

In the absence of any significant military contribution to the coalition effort in Afghanistan, it proved impossible for U.S. allies to prevail, as of mid-November, in their argument that an international peacekeeping force needed to be deployed in the parts of Afghanistan newly freed of Taliban control. Washington has let General Tommy Franks, at Central Command in Tampa, call the military shots, and veto any operationally related diplomatic initiatives. In a rare, public diplomatic clash, Washington faced down the United Kingdom and other allies in late November, refusing to contemplate a peacekeeping force of any sort in Afghanistan until Gen. Franks is ready for one. Significantly, in this campaign, Gen. Franks has no real allied opposite numbers, in spite of the presence of several allied liaison teams in Tampa.

This explains why, in welcoming the agreement reached at the Bonn conference held under UN auspices to develop an interim government in Afghanistan, the UN Security Council failed last week to mandate any international military presence to help secure Kabul and other major Afghan centres. The United States does not dispute the need for such a force, at least in Kabul, but it has insisted that priority be given to its own military goals.

Diplomatic confusion has been rife for weeks now. With the United States focused on important but narrow military goals, it has been difficult for those countries prepared to contribute to a peacekeeping force to organize themselves and articulate a strategy (in consultation with the UN's point man for Afghanistan, Lakhdar Brahimi, the hero of the Bonn negotiations). Thus, even passively, the United States retains significant diplomatic blocking power.

This was demonstrated when Canada offered to lead a coalition of countries into Eastern Zaire in late 1996 to provide urgently needed security for humanitarian assistance efforts. A lack of enthusiasm in the Pentagon, privately shared in London, proved sufficient to torpedo the effort, with tragic results on the ground.

Of many international actors jockeying for position ever since the attacks of Sept. 11 in the United States, Russia and China may have gained the most. While co-operation of NATO allies with Washington in its hour of need can never have been greatly in doubt, diplomatic and intelligence support from Moscow, freely offered, has allowed President Vladimir Putin to reposition his country diplomatically, netting him a vastly enhanced relationship with NATO as of last week.

Beijing has demonstrated to the United States that its diplomatic support, in the UN Security Council and well beyond, carried real value. This has dispelled dyspeptic talk of "strategic adversaries" in Washington, and the earlier sour approach of the Bush administration to the governments of several major non-NATO countries.

In fact, Moscow, on the ground, has been up to some of its old tricks. It maintained, straight-faced, at the United Nations that no international peacekeeping deployment could proceed without a request from a legitimate Afghan governing authority that did not yet exist, thereby annoying the United Kingdom and France, which have attached priority to such a deployment. Simultaneously, Russia sent into Kabul large numbers of military transport aircraft and "construction engineers," purportedly to shore up local medical facilities and rebuild the Russian Embassy. This, Russian diplomats explained, was legitimated by a request of the rump Northern Alliance government, led by failed warlord Burhanuddin Rabbani, still formally recognized at the UN until the successful conclusion of the Bonn conference.

On the effect the move had in unhelpfully emboldening Russia's close friends within the Northern Alliance, these diplomats had little to say. Although Russia's actions recalled its near-farcical dash to occupy the airport at Pristina in Kosovo in 1999 before NATO forces could reach it, Moscow may have gained more leeway in testing the limits of its new freedom of manoeuvre vis vis Washington than key NATO allies retain.

In days and weeks ahead, we will see agreement among a number of countries, eventually mandated by the Security Council, to deploy a peacekeeping mission to the Afghan capital. The danger here is that while it should prove possible to extend a degree of security to the capital, the writ of the government there may not extend much beyond the "Republic of Kabul." Some security in Afghanistan is better than none, but its absence in broad swathes of the country will make it difficult and dangerous for the UN, the Red Cross system, the World Bank and non-governmental organizations to provide assistance and to help underpin economic recovery and reconstruction.

In sum, Washington is not only in complete military control of the coalition it built to support its objectives in combating al-Qaeda and the Taliban, but it is also in a position of uncontested diplomatic dominance, exercised both actively and passively. It is not operating multilaterally: Echoing U.K. and U.S. efforts at the UN to move toward "smart sanctions" against Iraq, it might be described as practising "smart unilateralism."

If the allies do not much like this, they have only themselves to blame. For years, they have been content to see Washington consolidate its lead in military capacity. Washington will also now, very largely, call the tune of the international diplomatic minuet.

This does not mean that it can dispense with engagement of allies on issues such as trade, environmental protection and the international financial system. But its hand is not only strong, it is much strengthened, and its partners' protests about American unilateralism have fallen largely silent for now.
David M. Malone is president of the International Peace Academy in New York.

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