Be Wary of ‘Peace Dividends’ in 2015 – Haven’t we Heard it all Before?

IT HAS been 25 years since the fall of the Warsaw Pact.  It heralded what many would term the peace dividend’ allowing defence budgets to be cut across Europe because the Soviet threat no longer existed.  History has shown us that wasn’t the case.  Just when governments think the defence coffers can be broken into, to invest into health and education particularly during election years, along comes another conflict.

When the Cold War all but ended in 1990 we saw NATO and its allies focus its attention on Saddam Hussein after he invaded Kuwait and then the 1991 Gulf War.  With President George W Bush not pushing onto Baghdad to eliminate Saddam, many of NATO’s elite were kept busy enforcing no fly zones from Turkey or Saudi Arabia for another ten years.  Wars broke out in Yugoslavia during 1992 which led ultimately to the 1999 Operation Allied Force and NATO bombers striking Serbia.  President Milosevic caved in after two months of attacks and ended up in the Hague charge with war trials.

It seemed, with no real threats, big defence cuts could be made.  Then came the 9/11 attacks on New York in 2001 which claimed nearly 3000 lives.  After that, the so-called war on terrorism’ got underway to eliminate al Qaeda; first in Iraq (Operation Iraqi Freedom) to capture the weapons of mass destruction’ in 2001 and in Afghanistan shortly afterwards (Operation Enduring Freedom).  Defence cuts were continuing but defence spending in real terms was still rising to fund the operations.  In 2011, with Iraq finished (or so we thought) and Afghanistan now heading towards a conclusion, the Arab Spring broke out.  It led to another bombing campaign, this time against Colonel Gaddafi who had turned on his own people.  With him and his government defeated by mid-2011, NATO and its Middle Eastern allies congratulated themselves on a job well done.  The focus could get back to winding down operations in Afghanistan.

A year ago we all imagined the counter-insurgency warfare efforts that had taken up much of the west’s military over the past 13 years would be largely, a thing of the past.  They could start training again, covering all aspects of contingency operations including expeditionary warfare and air to air operations.  Reclaiming skills lost during years of continuous air to ground operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It looked likely there would be another peace dividend’ as everyone headed home from Afghanistan in late 2014.  Once again NATO would need to find something else – otherwise it could be seriously affected by dwindling defence budgets in the US and Europe.  It needn’t have worried.

Russia’s red star which had been steadily rising over the past three years, was casting its shadow over the Ukraine after an uprising in Kiev.  By late March 2014, the Ukraine’s Crimea had been annexed and once again part of Russia.  Russian separatists backed by Putin started a land grab in eastern Ukraine, which led to a civil war in the region.  NATO couldn’t do anything, but aware that Putin was casting an envious eye at the three Baltic States which could open up a path to Kaliningrad, air defence aircraft were sent to Poland and Lithuania, then later Estonia.  Intercepts of Russian bombers became common place.  It meant NATO’s air defences and fighters would have to be beefed up for the foreseeable future.

While all that was underway, the ISIL jihadis were marching through northern Iraq in the summer 2014, killing anyone that stood in their way including thousands of innocent civilians.  The US commenced its anti-ISIL campaign in early August and had been joined by other NATO allies in September.  The UK sent RAF Tornados, Voyager tankers, RC-135 Rivet Joint, Sentinel R1s and Reaper RPAS – all doing their bit for the cause.  With no clear end in sight of Operation Resolute Support, as the NATO campaign against ISIL is known, or the air policing of the Baltic states, it seems that there will be no peace dividend’ just yet.

However with the UK Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) expected in the wake of the UK’s general election in May, Prime Minister David Cameron will be hoping that a speedy conclusion to the ISIL issues can be reached soon.  Paving the way for more defence cuts in what he will deem a dividend of peace.  Don’t be fooled, as well now know 25 years after the Cold War ended, peace is never likely to break out for too long.

Happy New Year!

Alan Warnes