Afghanistan and the “Balance of Armaments“

Before discussing what Afghanistan has to do with the “balance of armaments” idea, it is obvious that US and NATO forces, with regards to superior weapons and advanced armament industries, have had tremendous advantages over insurgents in the Middle East and Asia. Unfortunately, the production, maintenance, and use of these advanced weapons systems and war technologies have routinely been accepted in the West. How modern war technologies, including their manufacturing and support systems, collectively shaped and changed those involved have rarely, if at all, received any type of criticism, too.

Regrettably, the enormous firepower available to professional armies can easily surpass any ethical or moral considerations in war time. Tense or overenthusiastic soldiers can diminish the rules of war and, instead, learn to depend entirely on excessive weaponry and firepower. For example, in 2005, British defense chiefs had expressed concerns that they had noticed US troops had the attitude to shoot first and ask questions later, and that they displayed a willingness to automatically open up with maximum firepower.(1)

British defense chiefs were not only concerned with the prospect of civilian casualties, but of alienating entire civil populations, lengthening the insurgency for decades, and of not winning the hearts and minds of local inhabitants. Another concern was the immense firepower that was being used in complex insurgency environments. Soldiers had suffered chronic stress and fatigue from continual IEDs (improvised explosive devices) and from RPGs (rocket-propelled grenades).(2) This type of combat stress was often carried into civilian areas, leading to severe consequences and the potentiality of war crimes.

The high civilian casualties in the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq incurred partly due to coalition fire responses. One embed with the US Marines witnessed a mass of armored vehicles outside of Ash Shatrah. Nearby was a hamlet of several buildings. When a soldier spotted a mother and two children “nervously peeping out” from behind a house, a US armored car immediately opened fire with a 25mm cannon. Soon, dozens of other soldiers joined in, despite screams from commanders that civilians were present. It was noted that the woman and her children “disappeared in a cloud of dust.”(3)

Several days ago, thousands of US Marines and NATO forces stormed into Marjah and Nad Ali, both allegedly Taliban strongholds and provinces of Afghanistan. It is estimated that over 150,000 people live in the region. Evidently, booby traps, IEDs and sporadic gunfire have slowed the US-NATO advance. Western commanders believe the Taliban’s strategy is to let US and NATO forces enter. Once operational bases are established in the area, US and NATO sources claim the Taliban will begin launching counterattacks with small-arm fire, ambushes and home-made bombs.

In 1815, after Napoleon’s defeat – in which he forged one of the largest European empires in history by utilizing the latest war technologies, like the rifled firearm, Shrapnel’s airburst shell, amassing massive volumes of artillery fire, all of which were supported by a developing armaments industry – the Congress of Vienna convened. One goal was to try and restore the “balance of power,” so that no country would be a threat to others. The map of Europe was redrawn to contain France’s ambitions and to try and maintain peace. The balance of power concept was again discussed during the Berlin Conference and after World War I and World War II.

With armored Strykers, AH-1 Cobra attack helicopters, unmanned drones, AV-8B Harrier fighter jets, CH-53 Super Stallion transport helicopters and the latest computerized laser guided missiles, all of which are gunning for 400 to 2,000 suspected insurgents in Marjah, should there be a balance of armaments? Already, US and NATO forces have confirmed that 12 civilians were killed when two rockets fired from a High Mobility Artillery Rocket System hit their house. (Recently in southeastern Iraq, ten civilians were killed in a raid by US and Iraqi forces near the village of Ali al-Sharqi.)

During the US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq, a British officer claimed that when he explained British Rules of Engagement to US troops, which were based on the principle of minimum force, the US soldiers just laughed.(4) From personal experience, and during Gulf War I, some US troops could not wait to get to the Middle East and start “blowing people away.” Does a civilization that produces and perpetually uses an imbalance of war technologies and advanced weapons systems become desensitized, even remote and less human? Are armaments industries simply an extension of a cultures values and priorities?

President Hamid Karzai has called on coalition troops to exercise absolute caution and to avoid harming civilians, including avoiding airstrikes in areas where civilians are at risk. He has also called on insurgents to lay down their weapons. Perhaps, the world needs to convene a conference on the balance of armaments, starting in Afghanistan, in which all sides disarm or at least fight with technological fairness. A balance of armaments would also possibly prevent desperate measures, like suicide and car bombings or flying planes into buildings.

Whether it be Napoleon’s Empire or the American Empire, the imbalance of superior-like armaments and advanced weapons systems have cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. Those supporting complex war-making technological systems have subconsciously succumbed to the use of massive military force. It is a state of mind where a society seeks its authorization in weapons, finds satisfaction in war and takes its orders from militarism. The interconnectedness of humanity is not only broken, but destroyed. Would a balance of armaments prevent such a horrible price?

(1) McNab, Chris and Hunter Keeter. “Tools of Violence: Guns, Tanks and Dirty Bombs,” New York, New York: Osprey Publishing Company, 2008. p. 41.

(2) Ibid., p. 41.

(3) Ibid., p. 41.

(4) Ibid., p. 41.