Biden redraws the map of world conflict: Afghanistan is out but Ukraine is back… and the Falklands

16 April, 2021

Russian maneuvers in Crimea, again on the map of the world conflict.
Russian maneuvers in Crimea, again on the map of the world conflict.

The map of world conflict is turned on its head. The US leaves Afghanistan to confront “new challenges”. The first: Russia… but also the EU’s “strategic sovereignty” aspirations. Meanwhile, the US military encirclement of China generates fears of war in Taiwan and configures the Falklands/Malvinas and the Magellan Passage as a new hot spot in the midst of an unprecedented naval deployment since the 81 war and with a surprising official announcement: Beijing and the Casa Rosada are preparing the first exercises of the Chinese army in South America.

In this article

US pulls out of Afghanistan…

The Taliban are no longer that army of bearded men without uniforms. They are now the early victors on the new  map of world conflict.
The Taliban are no longer an army of bearded men without uniforms. They are now the early victors on the new map of world conflict.

The US will withdraw all its troops from Afghanistan before September 11. The US is far from being able to claim victory. The Taliban rightly consider themselves the winners of a twenty-year war and are already preparing with Iran, Pakistan and Russia the network of compromises and exchanges with which they hope to have a free hand to finish off the war by wiping out the remains of militias and the regular army and perpetuate their dictatorship

The argument put forward by Biden has been that sacrificing the foothold in the Central Asian country was necessary to face new challenges on the map of world conflict. And the fact is that, as we pointed out just two weeks ago if the US wants to win the strategic race against China it needs to gather forces in new regions sensitive for China and therefore leave what its strategists call the Middle East, an imaginary region that would stretch from Hindustan and Central Asia to Egypt.

In fact, the US exit from Afghanistan can only make China uncomfortable, fearing on the one hand that a Taliban strengthened by a triumph over the US will support armed groups in Xinjiang and its Muslim provinces, and on the other that the US will increase pressure in China’s economically sensitive areas.

…and becomes a leading player in Europe

US Navy destroyer Arleigh Burke, now en route to the Black Sea - a new hot spot on the Ukraine conflict map - according to reports from the Turkish navy.
The U.S. Navy destroyer Arleigh Burke, now on its way to the Black Sea – a new hot spot on the map of world conflict – according to reports from the Turkish navy.

What is relatively surprising is that the Afghan withdrawal was immediately accompanied by a buildup in Europe in what looks by all accounts like a dispersal of forces on a map of world conflict that is too sprawling to be economically sustainable in the long term. But these are only appearances. In the first place, the US has long thought of Russia and China as a whole in the military field. Its exercises and war games assume that the two countries form a de facto military bloc.

On the other hand, the game of tension with Russia allows the US to impose its leadership and exert pressure on the EU countries and in particular on Germany and France with the support of the eastern border countries. From the US point of view, putting an end to the German-Russian Nord Stream 2 project by bending Merkel’s arm and preventing France and Germany from using the Green Deal to gain trade advantages is both an urgent and a strategic matter. And the Russian threat offers to the US a golden opportunity to do so.

In addition, reinforcing its troops in Germany and sending a small armada to the Black Sea in response to the mobilization of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border reanimates and gives back the limelight to NATO by weakening Franco-German eagerness to claim strategic sovereignty for the EU. In other words, it is far more important to secure one’s own lines on the map of world conflict than to shift those of one’s opponents.

This does not seem too high a cost for disciplining the sneaky European partners. The Russian counter-response in the Black Sea has been showy but harmless, allowing the US to occupy the forefront and center stage of the conflict. And even offering Putin a face-to-face meeting in a neutral country that would finish off the idea that the EU’s borders with Russia can be defended alone or at least under European leadership.

To sum up, at the current point in time the increased tension between the US and Russia in Ukraine favors China – which can momentarily catch its breath in the face of US pressure -, the US – which uses it to mark the ground and discipline its European allies – and also favors Russia itself, which needs the conflict to reach the recognition of Crimea’s annexation. Everyone wins with Biden’s redrawing of the map of world conflict, everyone… except the EU.

But it does not forget its main objectives

Destroyer USS McCampbell, armed with guided missiles, in the Taiwan Strait one of the hot spots on the map of world conflict.
Destroyer USS McCampbell, armed with guided missiles, in the Taiwan Strait one of the hot spots on the map of world conflict.

Meanwhile Biden, sent former Senator Chris Dodd and former Undersecretaries of State Richard Armitage and James Steinberg to Taiwan yesterday as a personal message of his commitment to the island. China responded by mobilizing the largest air fleet ever placed in combat status by Beijing. Part of Biden’s entourage called for a more forceful response. There are already many in neighboring countries who believe that a war over Taiwan between the two powers would be imminent.

The tension seems unsustainable at times, but we do not think the prospect of war to be imminent. The map of world conflict the US is building with China is not limited to a couple of hot spots. The US is drawing a series of circles of containment around China. Taiwan is an all-important piece of the narrowest circle, but it is only one piece that no one wants to pop too soon.

In fact it is far more likely for both powers to engage earlier in strategic locations farther away from their direct interests. A way to keep an escalation in check ahead of time and contain potential damage.

The Falklands (Malvinas) are back on the map of world conflict

ARA Piedrabuena, one of two reinforcements recently delivered from French shipyards to the Argentine navy.
ARA Piedrabuena, one of two reinforcements recently delivered from French shipyards to the Argentine navy.

Britain’s military reassertion in the Malvinas/Falklands in its new strategic plan and the appearance of US nuclear submarines and warships in Argentine waters -without warning the Buenos Aires government- over the past few months are neither a coincidence nor merely a disproportionate response to the arrival in the South Atlantic of the Chinese fishing fleet. The announcement of British maneuvers with deployment and use of missiles in the southern archipelago -a real provocation for Argentina- is significant of the importance that the British and US governments are attaching to this issue.

The risk that Argentina could be driven into the arms of China is great. The day before yesterday it became known that Argentina and China have been in talks since January to carry out joint military exercises in the area. This is a watershed moment: never before has China conducted exercises or war games in South America. If confirmed, it would mean two things of historical importance: firstly that Beijing categorizes Argentine waters as a potential war scenario; and secondly that Argentina considers China a potential ally in its aspiration to annex the Malvinas. In other words, it would completely change the map of world conflict between China and the U.S.

The Mar de Hoces/Drake Passage and the Malvinas/Falklands are becoming a hot spot in the U.S. military encirclement of China

For the time being Buenos Aires has received in these weeks two ocean patrol vessels -two corvettes in fact- that it has immediately incorporated while reorganizing its old submarine fleet, tendered helicopters for the navy and strengthened the firepower of ships already in service.

In theory, in order to calm the waters, the head of the US Southern Command visited Buenos Aires. His request to the Fernández government was not subtle at all: a US military base in Tierra del Fuego… in response to a possible Chinese base in Ushuaia rumored during the last weeks. Alberto Fernández’s response -in person- to Biden’s envoy was that there will be no foreign military bases in Argentina… which is actually false: there is one already -telecommunications- from two years ago in Neuquén which does not please the US at all.

But of course they are referring to bases with logistical capabilities, which is what concerns them and is important to set the limits of the projection capacity of navies and armies in the new map of world conflict. New bases not seem likely in the short term, among other things because it would escalate the tension with Washington at a time when Argentina prioritizes negotiations with the IMF and would lead to a total rupture with Brazil, which for a couple of years has considered as a conflict hypothesis the possible opening of a Chinese base in Argentina.

But, once again, the situation is volatile and everything seems to indicate that if the U.S. and Great Britain keep increasing the pressure against China in waters that Argentina considers its sovereignty without counting on the Casa Rosada, the matter may destabilize Fernández within the Argentine power… opening the way for the much more belligerent positions of the Kirchnerist wing of the government.

In any case, and not least, the Mar de Hoces/Drake Passage and Malvinas/Falklands are becoming a hot spot in the US military encirclement of China.