From global geopolitics to the concerns of American voters, Trump's behaviour on Afghanistan bears a passing resemblance to the presidential. Who's behind it?by Robert Fry / August 22, 2017 / Leave a comment
President Trump’s change of heart of Heart on Afghanistan has his many critics sniggering at yet another major policy u-turn. The apostle of America First has, it seems, turned into an interventionist the minute the guiding hand of Steve Bannon departed the White house.
Such judgements are easy, but they are also cheap. What Trump is doing is addressing a series of political issues from the global to the most parochial levels; in doing so, his behavior bears a passing resemblance to the presidential.
Geopolitics first: while Trump’s speech contained a characteristic rant against Pakistan it was his Defence Secretary, Jim Mattis, who gave the plan its proper context when he referred to it as a South Asia Strategy. It is a strategy, moreover, that is closely linked to events in East Asia.
In order to defend South Korea against nuclear attack from North Korea, the US has installed its Theatre High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system in the south, to howls of protest from the Chinese who see it as a forward deployed missile defence system for the protection of the continental US. Its proximity to the mainly land based Chinese nuclear capability means that the delicate balance of mutual deterrence is upset and the Chinese may have to expand its submarine based nuclear systems in response.
This, in turn, will provoke an Indian reaction, as, while Pakistan is its most proximate enemy, it is the Chinese nuclear inventory that represents the standard by which it will measure its own. Pakistan has always compensated for its conventional military inferiority to India by a first use nuclear policy and, proportionately, it holds more nuclear warheads, an advantage it will feel compelled to retain.
By putting Pakistan on warning, Trump is circumscribing its strategic freedom of action at every level from support of terrorism to nuclear deployment. In doing so he aims to consolidate a US advantage in the Western Pacific without provoking instability in South Asia.
Regional politics second: Pakistan has always seen Afghanistan as its reserved strategic space. With borders that are indefensible and facing superior Indian conventional forces its warfighting choices are limited to nuclear release or a retreat into Afghanistan. That’s why Pakistan has always hedged its bets by ostensibly supporting Western intervention…