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10 notable military-defence events of the world in 2021

In 2021, the world situation continued to witness both negative and positive developments. COVID-19 pandemic, strategic competition, trade war, conflicts, subversion, and disputes over sovereignty and territories were extremely intense and negatively impacted on the world’s economy and social life. The following are 10 notable military-defence events selected and introduced by National Defence Journal.

1. US withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan and Taliban’s takeover of the country

On April 14th, 2021, the US announced that it would withdraw troops from Afghanistan and complete this work by September 11th, 2021, ending its 20-year global war on terror which cost a lot of money, took many lives, and produced no fruits. Seizing that opportunity, Taliban attacked and conquered the capital city of Kabul and most of the country’s territory; at the same time, it announced the establishment of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan. During the global war on terror after September 11, 2001, the Taliban was hunted down by Washington; hence, this organisation’s return to power means the failure of the US post-Cold War strategy of “promoting democracy” via military strength. Nevertheless, the Taliban is confronted with countless difficulties and challenges, including the biggest wave of immigrants of ever from Afghanistan to its neighbouring countries and Europe, an internal conflict between the Taliban itself and oppositional groups that could lead to a civil war, and terrorist organisations, namely Al-Qaeda, self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS), and Islamic State - Khorasan Province  (ISIS-K) which are enhancing their operations and seriously threatening regional and global security.

2. The US Interim National Security Strategic Guidance

On March 3rd, 2021, US President Joe Biden released the US Interim National Security Strategic Guidance which identified changes in the distribution of power across the world and the biggest threats to the US, including rising nationalism, receding democracy, and growing rivalry with China and Russia. The Interim National Security Strategic Guidance also pointed out the US national security priorities, namely (1) defend and nurture the underlying sources of American strength, including American people, economy, national defence, and democracy at home, (2) promote a favorable distribution of power to deter and prevent adversaries from directly threatening the United States and its allies, inhibiting access to the global commons, or dominating key regions, (3) lead and sustain a stable and open international system, underwritten by strong democratic alliances, partnerships, multilateral institutions, and rules. According to the Guidance, Washington can not realise those priorities alone; it will reinvigorate and modernise its alliances and partnerships around the world. It will reaffirm, invest in, and modernise the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and other global alliances and partnerships as this is America’s greatest strategic asset. Moreover, the US will assess the appropriate structure, capabilities, and sizing of its armed forces and work towards solutions to ensure that the US Military will remain the best trained and equipped force in the world. President Joe Biden underlined that the United States will never hesitate to use force when required to defend its vital national interests. However, Washington will readily cooperate with China in several issues, such as climate change and COVID-19 pandemic. It will confront unfair and illegal trade practices, secure supply chains for critical national security technologies, comprehensively support Taiwan, stand up for democracy, human rights, and human dignity, including in Hong Kong, Xinjiang, and Tibet, and conduct practical, results-oriented diplomacy. American strategic policy makers believe that the US Interim National Security Strategic Guidance represents the way Washington will get involved with the world in the years to come.

3. Russia’s new National Security Strategy and “red lines” for the US and NATO

On July 2nd, 2021, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree approving a new National Security Strategy. According to this document, Russia will have to increase its economic, political, and military strength to respond to the risk of war from aggressive action of the US and NATO. Economically, Russia will reduce dependence on import in several key fields and establish appropriate conditions so that the country’s growth rate will be higher than the world average. Culturally and ideologically, it will focus on identifying threats created by the technology era when psychological wars will be more intense. Diplomatically, while strengthening efforts to stabilise the international legal system, it will attach importance to fostering its strategic partnerships with China and India as new global centres of power. Besides, it will seek every way to increase and always regard its military potential as the most effective deterrent. Russia’s new National Security Strategy was released when leaders of Moscow and Washington shared the same opinion that the relations between the two countries were at their worst and even ushered in a new “cold war.” On April 21st, 2021, in his state-of-the-nation address, President Putin stated that Moscow would set up “red lines” in its relations with other countries. Russia will “quickly and toughly” respond to any crossing of those “red lines.” Many experts around the world believe that the “red lines” mentioned by President Putin included violation of Minsk-2 Agreement, aggressive action of the US and NATO in Black Sea against Russia’s sovereignty over Crimea peninsula, Russia’s force in the Arctic, and Russia’s peacekeeping force in Nagorno - Karabakh, the US decision to initiate Ukraine into NATO, the US violation of Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START-3), and Washington’s intervention in Russia’s legislative and presidential elections.

4. United Nations Security Council’s approval for maritime security cooperation

On August 9th, 2021, United Nations Security Council organised an online high-level open discussion themed “Enhancing Maritime Security: A Case for International Cooperation.” This is the first time the largest international organisation has held an official meeting on maritime security. At the meeting, it agreed to ratify the Presidential Statement according to which it called for strengthened global and regional cooperation in order to respond to threats to maritime security and safety. More specifically, the Security Council urged countries to abide by international law, acknowledged the importance of the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), and considered this document as the legal framework for all activities at sea, particularly against illegal activities at sea. It also stressed the importance of encouraging global and regional cooperation to deal with threats to maritime security and safety, foster marine transport, and ensure freedom of navigation in accordance with international law. It welcomed mutual legal assistance and forms of cooperation in law enforcement against transnational organised crime, piracy, and terrorism, while considering strengthening cooperation to protect important facilities, including cross-border ones. According to many experts worldwide, that Statement will attract a lot of attention within the international community, particularly from countries with sea or relating to sea about providing assistance for nations and international organisations in bettering their capacity and sharing experience in settling threats to maritime security as a current pressing issue on a global scale.

5. Strategy of NATO 2030

On June 14th, 2021, leaders of member states of NATO approved the Strategy towards 2030 which is expected to “breathe new life” into the world’s largest military organisation. According to the Strategy, NATO is faced with a lot of challenges, namely Russia’s increased military power and China’s rise that could change the balance of power across the globe and lead to a race for taking the initiative in economic and technological terms, the rise of terrorist organisations, and the appearance of threats to an open society and personal freedom. Under the Strategy, NATO will strengthen and maintain its military strength via more investments in modernising its forces, build a politically unified organisation, adopt global approaches, and foster cooperation with its allies outside Europe, such as Australia, New Zealand, South Korea, and Japan in aerospace, cyberspace, new technology, and materiel control. However, many analysts believe that NATO 2030 could hardly help this military alliance to overcome the state of being “brain-dead.”

6. Military coup in Myanmar

On February 2nd, 2021, Tatmadaw (the armed forces of Myanmar) suddenly staged a coup overthrowing Myanmar’s civilian administration, issued the state of emergency, and arrested State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, President Win Myint, and key members of the ruling National League for Democracy. According to analysts, the underlying cause of the coup was differences between the National League for Democracy and the Tatmadaw that had not been resolved. With reference to this event, many countries in the region and the world have expressed their concern over instability in this Southeast Asian nation.

7. Agreement on Comprehensive Strategic Partnership between China and Iran

On March 27th, 2021, Iran and China officially signed a 25-year Agreement on Comprehensive Strategic Partnership while the two countries were listed as “threats to the United States.” According to Iranian Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammad Javad Zarif, China is the most important country and biggest trading partner of Iran. Under the Agreement, Iran will allow China’s bombers, fighters, and military transport aircraft to get unlimited access to Iran’s air bases. China will also be the main contractor of the projects on constructing Iran’s military bases, Tehran-Kom-Is high-speed railway, and petrochemical plants. Beijing will be allowed to exploit petroleum and gas within Iran’s territory and purchase Iran’s petroleum at a lower price (12% and even 20%). Many analysts around the world believe that Agreement is one of the plans of the century to realise China’s “Belt and Road” Initiative and will bring benefits to the two countries.

8. Trilateral security partnership - AUKUS between the US, the UK, and Australia

On September 15th, 2021, US President Joe Biden, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison issued a joint statement on establishing a trilateral partnership (AUKUS). Under that statement, the three countries are committed to strengthening diplomatic and defence-security cooperation to deal with challenges in the Indo-Pacific Region, particularly China’s ambition to monopolise East Sea. Via AUKUS, those countries will improve their own capability in ensuring common defence-security interests, build long-term, sustainable multilateral relations, share information and technology more widely and deeply, and foster cooperation in science, technology, industries, and supply chains relating to defence and security. Australia alone will possess new-generation nuclear-powered submarines. American strategic planners hope that AUKUS and the Quad will enable the US and its allies to take the initiative in the Indo-Pacific Region.

9. NATO’s Sea Breeze exercise

From June 28th, 2021 to July 10th, 2021, NATO conducted an exercise called “Sea Breeze 2021” in the Black Sea with the participation of the US 6th Fleet, forces from 30 NATO member states, and forces from other countries, namely Ukraine, Georgia, Australia, Brazil, Egypt, Israel, Japan, Moldova, Morocco, Pakistan, Senegal, South Korea, Tunisia, and United Arab Emirates. There were 30 warships, 40 aircraft, more than 100 military lorries and armoured vehicles, and 18 special task teams with over 5,000 troops in the exercise. According to strategic analysts, the exercise was carried out when the relations between Russia and NATO were at their worst, and large-scale allied efforts made by Western countries were aimed at both probing reactions and sending a strong message that they would not allow Russia to turn several regions of the Black Sea into Moscow’s “home.” In response to this exercise, Russia showed off its force, tested its air defence system in Crimea, and deployed 20 aircraft and helicopters, including SU-24M bombers, and S.400 surface-to-air missile systems. As a result, many nations expressed their concern over regional security. 

10. The Philippines’ complete restoration of the Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) with the United States

On July 30th, 2021, President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte decided to restore the VFA with the US which had been signed in 1998 and nullified in February 2020. Accordingly, thousands of American troops will be stationed again in the Philippines and annual joint exercises together with humanitarian assistance operations and common defensive agreements will be resumed. This is a very new move between the two countries that attracts a lot of attention from the international community. Analysts believe that the restoration of the VFA will directly or indirectly impact on issues in the East Sea which have been extremely complex so far. This is also the way America often uses to approach and exert its influence on the region.

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The success of the Russian October Revolution is a prominent event of the twentieth century, with profound epochal significance, and in line with the laws of movement and objective development of the history of human society. Its historical necessity is undeniable and increasingly affirmed in human life.