Wednesday, January 06, 2021, 14:13 (GMT+7)
Ten world defence and military events in 2020

The international situation continued to envision complex developments as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, increased conflict and contradiction, geopolitical, geostrategic competition, arms race, etc., which greatly worsened global defence and military in 2020. The National Defence Journal reviews and highlights 10 of the most significant ones as follows:

1. Covid-19 pandemic

Since its first detection in the Chinese city of Wuhan, Hubei province in late 2019, the acute pneumonia caused by the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) has shaken the whole world because of its danger and ongoing quick spread all over the world. Many politicians and leading experts share the same conclusion that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused catastrophic consequences, fundamentally changing global politics, economy, military and so on.

As far as national defence and military is concerned, the Covid-19 pandemic has made a negative, direct, comprehensive impact on military operations as well as the maintenance and enhancement of operational capacity of militaries worldwide. Militaries must undertake any necessary measures, including large-scale distancing regulations, military personnel movement and travel restrictions, change in training methods, delay or cancellation of recruitment and large-scale exercises to prevent and respond to Covid-19 pandemic.

Ten measures to prevent Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has also made a profound change in the employment of militaries in response to non-traditional security challenges. The militaries play a core role in epidemic prevention and control, including construction of field hospitals, deployment of military medicine for establishment and management of quarantine and isolation areas, homeland security and border control, manufacture of medical device, cleaning and disinfection of environmental surfaces, treatment of patients with Covid-19 infection, etc., in many countries. The Covid-19 pandemic has significantly enhanced defence cooperation and diplomacy. Militaries have deployed their experts in the fields of military medicine and biochemistry as well as essential equipment to foreign countries to provide support in epidemic prevention and control at the request of those governments, contributing to strengthening defence relations among countries. Thereby, militaries have demonstrated their competence and experience in response to non-traditional security threats, especially future biological and chemical warfare. They are also indispensable forces in crisis management, which contributes to peace and stability in the world.

2. U.S.-Taliban agreement

The United States of America and the Taliban signed a historic agreement on Afghanistan (Doha Agreement) in Doha, Qatar on February 29, 2020. Accordingly, the United States is committed to withdraw from Afghanistan all military forces under a road map and lift sanctions imposed against the Taliban step by step. The Taliban is committed to cease terrorist activities and prevent any group or individual, including al-Qaeda and the self-proclaimed Islamic State, from using Taliban-controlled areas to threaten the security of the United States and its allies in return. The Taliban also agrees to negotiate with the Kabul government on national reconciliation and peace restoration in Afghanistan. The agreement is expected to be a political document of historic significance, which offers prospects of ending the bloody war after nearly 20 years and bringing sustainable peace to this South Asian nation.

Zalmay Khalidzat, US special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation, and Abdul Ghani Baradar, Taliban leader, signed in the agreement. (Photo: AP)

3. China-India border dispute

Continued border clashes in Ladakh between the Chinese and Indian border troops occurred since May 2020. Both countries accused each other of causing the conflict. The Chinese and Indian Ministries of National Defence engaged in many activities to deter and retaliate against each other, which made tensions run high and worsened relations between the two giants of Asia. According to international analysts, the conflict has caused heavy casualties for both sides and become the bloodiest conflict over many decades. It is the international pressure that induces leaders of both countries to agree to ease tensions through dialogue. Nevertheless, there remain more than 20 unresolved disputes on the border between China and India. They continue to be formidable obstacles to China-India relations and flashpoints in the region.

Map of the India-China border dispute (Photo: India today)

4. Armed conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh 

Military conflict was suddenly sparked off between Azerbaijan and Armenia over Nagorno-Karabakh on September 27, 2020. What made this conflict different from the previous ones was the direct intervention of Turkey with the aim to restore influence of the Ottoman Empire in Kavkaz. This posed a serious threat to Russia – Armenia’s ally in the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO). On November 9, 2020, Russian President Vladimir Putin persuaded Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan to sign a full ceasefire agreement and end all hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh since November 10, 2020. This will create necessary conditions for crisis resolution on the basis of mutual benefit for both Armenia and Azerbaijan. However, there are reasons for doubting that the outstanding conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh may be triggered at any time.

Map of the Nagorno - Karabakh area (red colour)

5. US withdrawal from the Open Skies Treaty

The United States of America declared to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty on May 21, 2020 and accused Russia of continued violation of clauses. The Open Skies Treaty was signed in Finland on March 24, 1992 and became one of confidence-building measures in Europe after the Cold War. Coming into effect since 2002, the Treaty permits each state-party to openly collect data on military forces and activities. There are thirty-four state-parties to the Treaty, including Russia, the United States, and some members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). The Treaty is regarded as the most important pillar of the Old Continent. The key objective of this document is to evaluate countries’ compliance with its disarmament treaties, especially the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE), troubleshoot growing problems, and establish strategic trust. US withdrawal from the Treaty is predicted to lead to many consequences, particularly the fate of the Treaty on Measures for the Further Reduction and Limitation of Strategic Offensive Arms (sometimes referred to as START-III), signed between the United States of America and the Russian Federation in 2010. This Treaty will expire in early 2021.

US aircraft conducts  recce flight in the framework of the treaty

6. US and Iran on the brink of war

In 2020, the administration of President Donald Trump continued to impose tough sanctions on Iran to contain Tehran’s nuclear ambitions. Apart from strict economic, financial, diplomatic sanctions, the White House repeatedly sent many modern, military aircraft and warships to the Arabian Sea to flex its military muscle and deter Tehran. Special forces of the US and its allies also launched many secret ambush operations to kill Iranian high-ranking officers, most notably the assassination of general Qasem Soleimani, commander of Quds Force, Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as well as the recent assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran’s top nuclear scientist on November 27, 2020. The international community is deeply concerned that U.S.’s hostile policy on Iran is likely to push U.S. and Iran to the brink of war.

US President Donald Trump and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani

7. Israeli-Arab peace deals

Two peace deals, brokered by U.S., were signed on September 15, 2020, to normalise relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, who was at the signing of the agreements, described them as “a pivot in history, a herald of a new era of peace, a new age between Israel and Arab world.” President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu also announced Israel’s intention to sign peace deals with five or six other Arab states. Many countries in the region and the world praise these peace agreements between Israel with UAE and Bahrain as a “historic leap” to leave the past behind and build a peaceful, secure, and prosperous Middle East. However, Palestine and many countries in the Middle East strongly oppose the peace deals and view this policy as a mere cover for U.S.’s and Israel’s efforts to divide Arab states and dominate the region. Representatives of Palestinian movements Fatah and Hamas hold joint protest against agreements between Israel and UAE and Bahrain and affirm further struggle against Israel’s annexation plans. The opposition makes political, security situation in the Middle East even more unforeseeable.

Signing ceremony of the Israeli-Arab peace deal

8. Tension high between Turkey and Greece

Waters in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea became a new flashpoint in the world when Turkey conducted a series of seismic surveys in search for natural gas close to the Greek islands in 2020. Athens regarded the surveys as illegal activities and violations of Greece’s sovereignty. Meanwhile, Ankara affirmed that the area belonged to its continental shelf. The dispute risked escalating into confrontation when both countries carried out military exercises in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea. Turkey held joint exercises with U.S. Navy while Greece conducted joint exercises with France, Italy, and the Republic of Cyprus. Given huge interests in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea, tension between Ankara and parties concerned is likely to witness complex developments. Both NATO and the European Union (EU) have made every effort to reconcile the two countries to prevent conflict. Nevertheless, recent escalations are viewed as underwater waves, which potentially turn this area into a new unstable region.

Hellenic Navy conducts exercise in the Mediterranean Sea on 25 August

9. Russia’s nuclear deterrent policy

President Vladimir Putin signed an executive order on June 2, 2020 to approve fundamentals of Russia’s nuclear deterrence policy. Accordingly, Russia views its policy on nuclear deterrence as defence by nature and intends to maintain nuclear forces capable of executing nuclear deterrence. The fundamentals also seek to protect Russia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, prevent potential aggression against Russia and its allies, and retaliate against any nuclear attacks as well as reserve the right to use nuclear weapons when the very existence of the state is in jeopardy. Russia also clarifies military threats such as the presence of nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, deployment of nuclear weapons in the territories of non-nuclear countries, and deployment of forces near Russia’s borders.

Russian President V. Putin

10. NATO’s large-scale military exercises

NATO conducted a series of military exercises on various scales in 2020, most notably the “Exercise Defender-Europe 2020.” The exercise included approximately 37,000 elite troops from U.S. and NATO members, who were meant to conduct training from January to May 2020 across 10 European countries. According to international observers, “Exercise Defender-Europe 2020” is NATO’s largest exercise over the past 25 years (similar to “Exercise Reforger” during the Cold War) and aims to improve NATO’s combat readiness to deter and defend against the so called “Russian aggression.” U.S. administration also hopes to use military exercises with its European allies to impede the Nord Stream 2 that will carry gas directly from Russia to the Old Continent. It is believed that, in the context of Europe’s struggle against the Covid-19 pandemic and internal frictions, NATO’s military moves are unnecessary waste of money and only serve to further increase tension and instability in the region.

The National Defence Journal

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