That was the year that was and here are the top ten (in no particular order) military events that defined (or defiled) 2013.
1. The Arab Spring Turns Rancid. In 2011 spontaneous uprisings in most Arab countries overthrew several long-standing dictatorships (Tunisia, Egypt, Somalia and Libya). But most of those uprisings failed. Some did so quietly, as in Saudi Arabia where the aristocrats passed out more gifts and made more promises. Others took longer or suffered continued violence and the growing presence of Islamic terrorist groups. This was not the way it was supposed to be and the Arab world is rethinking its options.
2. The Syrian Civil War Does Not Turn Out As Everyone Expected. Unwilling to risk supporting Islamic terrorists as in Libya the West refuses to provide support (especially air support) to the Syrian rebels who then squander their initial advantage by fighting each other. The government is now on the offensive and the rebels appear doomed. The rebels might still turn it around, but at the moment it doesn’t look good.
3. Iran Fools Everyone, Again. Unwilling to lose its only Arab ally in Syria, Iran hires mercenaries and convinces Russia to join in a series of unlikely adventures that saves the pro-Iran Syrian government. Iran also undertakes another clever campaign to sabotage the 2012 international sanctions (against the Iranian nuclear program) that have crippled the Iranian economy and made the religious dictatorship even more unpopular inside Iran. All this is yet another example of why Iran has been the regional superpower for several thousand years and why their Arab neighbors are very, very worried.
4. China Rolls On, One Tiny Victory After Another. The Chinese campaign of conquering real, or imagined, nearby “lost territories” by winning many little victories in battles none of the victims is willing to go to war over continues. China has, in the last few years, taken control of sizable chunks of India and large swaths of the South China Sea one tiny piece at a time. The victims are organizing, but have yet to come up with a workable defense against the Chinese tactics.
5. Iraq Finds A Way To Squander Democracy. When the American left in 2011 Iraq had a shrinking terrorism problem and bright prospects. Since then the terrorism has increased and the prospects have dimmed. One reason for that reversal could be seen when the Iraqi ambassador to Afghanistan recently advised the Afghans to not make the mistake Iraq made by forcing all U.S. troops out in 2011. Iraq now wants the Americans to come back, but there is little enthusiasm in the United States for that. Iraq faces the usual massive corruption that cripples so many Arab states and that makes it difficult to crush the Sunni Arab Islamic terrorists who want Sunni minority rule restored.
6. France Finds Glory In A Distant Desert. France unexpectedly takes the Islamic demon by the horns in Mali by leading a January invasion of northern Mali. That area had been turned into a sanctuary for Islamic terrorists in early 2012 and while the West and Mali’s neighbors dithered, France acted. Nevertheless, a year later France is telling Africans that they cannot expect France to always come clean up situations like this and that Africa has to form more peacekeeping forces to deal with the endemic violence and unrest in Africa.
7. North Korea Proves Again Why It Is Better To Be Feared Than Loved. With the economy continuing to crumble, despite Chinese efforts to prop it up, North Korea switches to using firing squads to discourage people from leaving the “workers’ paradise” or watching videos of life in more prosperous China and South Korea. Even senior officials and dictator Kim Jong Un’s own uncle have been executed, in an effort to inspire more discipline and less corruption and entrepreneurial spirit. China is not happy with all this, especially since the uncle was considered their man (and the number two guy in North Korea) but is willing to look the other way if it works. China is, many tend to forget, still a communist police state.
8. The UN Again Finds That Fighting For Peace Works. For years Congo was the largest UN peacekeeping operation, and also the least successful. Finally desperate enough to try the anything, the UN accepted the advice of many military experts (and military history) and resorted to a little ultra-violence. This meant forming a brigade trained and equipped for combat. This largely African brigade was sent after the most troublesome rebel militias and destroyed them in short order. Now the UN is considering trying this approach some more.
9. Russia Discovers That The Legacy Of The Soviet Union Is Poisonous. More than a decade of reform attempts have left the Russian military not much better off. This effort did reveal that the corrupt practices that were created during the Soviet era (including some inherited from the czars) were surviving and thriving in the aftermath of the Soviet collapse. Russia is having a hard time coming to grips with the fact that the corruption that helped bring down the czarist government in 1918 survived that revolution and grew to bring down the Soviet Union. Now it threatens the quasi-democratic Russia that could, if there were enough will, actually do something about it.
10. The Death Of Secrecy. China and political activists inside the U.S. government have made it clear that keeping secrets is a lot harder than it ever was before. Cheap and powerful computers plus over a century of new marketing and data management ideas has produced vast amounts of data about where most people are and what they are doing. This didn’t cause much commotion when it was just commercial firms collecting and using it. But the government was a different matter. A side effect of all this technology was growing difficulty in keeping secrets. China has spent most of the last decade plundering the world’s computers for all manner of commercial and military data. In the last year a lot more of the details of this effort became public knowledge.
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