Columbia International Affairs Online: Working Papers

CIAO DATE: 05/2008

NATO and 21st Century War

Samuel Grier

October 2007

NATO Defense College


There is an expectation that the West, and the United States in particular, faces catastrophe in Iraq and Afghanistan. Confronted with significant casualties arising from the employment of asymmetric warfare by determined adversaries, the United States and its NATO and Coalition partners have found decisive solutions to both conflicts elusive. Similarly, the challenges confronting Iraqis are daunting, and according to the recently released declassified Key Findings of the U.S. National Intelligence Estimate, dependence on Coalition forces as an essential stabilizing element in Iraq will continue.

But there is also evidence that the insurgency in Iraq is splintering and the situation in Afghanistan is improving. The virulent manifestation of political Islam found in both Iraq and Afghanistan has failed to convince their populations to abandon the democratic political process and the hope for a better life in favour of a new brand of puritanical and legalistic fundamentalism offered by a resurgent al Qaeda and its allies.

A revolt against al Qaeda’s presence in Sunni provinces is spreading to Shia communities in the South and now affects 40% of the country. Atrocities by al Qaeda against uncooperative tribal elites ignited the uprising, and the widespread belief that Iran is funding al Qaeda has contributed to its intensity. Security in many areas has dramatically improved, and overall attacks are far below historical trends.

In places like Ramadi, long a hotbed of unrest and formerly part of the notorious “Sunni Triangle”, the number of exploded car bombs, exploded roadside bombs, rockets fired, grenades fired, and shots fired since June are all the same: zero.