The Military Balance 2021 is published at the end of a year defined by the coronavirus pandemic. While the pandemic affected nearly every country, tackling this common challenge did little to improve relations between states. Conflict and confrontation did not abate, and great-power competition continued to drive some countries’ defense planning considerations and procurement decisions.
The unstable security environment was also manifest in continued strain in defense relations between states – even between allies when it came to NATO – and persistent challenges to the remaining elements of the post-Second World War rules-based order, particularly arms-control arrangements. The United States withdrew from the Open Skies Treaty in November 2020, just over a year after it formally pulled out of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty, in this case similarly accusing Russia of breaching the treaty. Furthermore, the failure of the Trump administration’s plan to include China in a successor to the Russia–US New START agreement left the incoming Biden administration little time to extend the treaty. The Military Balance 2021
Meanwhile, wars continued in Libya, Syria and Yemen. Turkey sent military support to Libya in 2020, backing the recognized government in Tripoli, while opposition forces received support from Egypt, Russia and the UAE. While regional states’ contributions were modest they were nonetheless able to sustain their presence, indicating their developing military capabilities. In Syria’s Idlib province, Turkey’s army clashed with government troops for the first time in February and in late 2020 was mounting joint patrols with Russia to monitor a ceasefire. In Yemen, the Iranian backed Houthis displayed growing military competence through the use of weapons including uninhabited aerial
vehicles (UAVs), long-range rockets and cruise missiles. Conflict continued in Ukraine, and also in Africa, including the long-running war in the Sahel. Fighting in Ethiopia threatened stability in East Africa, not only because of cross border incidents, but also because Addis Ababa had been a significant contributor to regional peacekeeping efforts. In Nagorno-Karabakh, an old conflict re-ignited, with Azerbaijan regaining a swathe of territory. The Military Balance 2021