Donnerstag, 23. Dezember 2010

Somalia - Escalation or Entanglement?

The United Nations Security Council voted to increase the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) from 8.000 to 12.000 troops, with Uganda being the likely contributor for the additional soldiers. Kampala has been urging for a more robust mandate for quite a while now and has also maintained that it would be willing to send reinforcements, should someone else pick up the bill (i.e. the US). I am surprised that the move did not get any media attention (then again, its silly season anyway) and that it is being made, although I haven't noticed that we formulated a different strategy or reviewed the existing one. I'll be commenting more on this story in January.

On that note: I am home for Christmas season, so I won't be blogging for the rest of the year. In the meantime: Merry Christmas.

Freitag, 17. Dezember 2010

On Korea - Good Night and Good Luck

Anyone who has paid attention to the crisis in Korea and, well, crises anywhere else, will have noticed that the wikileaks cables did not reveal anything new. And those who aren't interested won't read the cables anyway. Take as exhibit A the cable saying that the tanks discovered aboard the MS Faina, captured a little while ago by a bunch of pirates off the coast of Somalia, were indeed designated for the Government of Southern Sudan. Anyone with a vested interest in the Horn of Africa knew that all along. Or take as exhibit B Chinese government officials referring to Kim Jong Il as a spoiled child that does not know how to behave itself (Hail to the conquering heroes, I've been making that point for well over a year now). But what is interesting to note is that here finally the international community is already on the same terms. In his memoirs Decision Points George W. Bush made the exact same comparison. North Korea behaving like a child that wants attention and in order to get it would occasionally throw its food on the floor (which is remarkable, given that there isn't that much food in North Korea). 

Well, that much is true today more than ever. North Korea has threatened to attack South Korea, should Seoul follow through with its live fire exercises. Sorry, Kim, bummer (go back to visiting factories that produce virtually nothing). Kim Jong Il has overplayed his hand, he has unleashed more acts of war in 2010 than in previous years, sunk a South Korean frigate, shelled a South Korean island and re-engaged his enrichment program. So when former DNI Dennis C. Blair says that South Korea will bomb North Korean targets next time Kim instigates one of his war crimes, he is probably right. There is only so much a sovereign nation can bear and when someone is fighting a war with you only to get some international attention, there comes a point at which you'll have to be hitting back or else loose the little freedom you enjoy. So next years first skirmish is probably going to take place on the Korean peninsula. How Kim Jong Il will respond to a serious counterattack is anybodys guess.

Samstag, 4. Dezember 2010

Some News from Iraq

It is a story that did not attract much attention, though it certainly would have deserved it. Iraqi security forces have arrested Hudhayfah al-Batawi. Who exactly is that, you might ask and to that crucial question the well-informed response is that he has been the leader of the terrorist group Islamic State of Iraq. One wonders why the story has not gained much traction with the media. But truth is that Iraq has not been anyone's foreign policy priority and not in Europe in particular. The opposition to the 2003 campaign against Saddam has largely translated itself in a reluctance to get involved with Iraq now, even though its government enjoys democratic legitimacy and the security situation has improved considerably. But maybe its also due to the fact that Iraqi security forces arrested the previous leaders of the Islamic State of Iraq as well (Munaf Abdul Rahim al-Rawi as recently as March 2010) and killed his successor in April (Abu-Ayyub al-Masri), decapitating – to employ a term that has been the purview of the terrorists – the once so powerful insurgent group. It is also good news for two other reasons: First this group was responsible for the killing of Christians earlier this year. The government and its security forces seem intent to protect religious minorities and they follow through on it. Against all rumours and bets on its demise, Iraq’s democracy might still be fragile but the trend toward consolidation seems to hold.

Montag, 29. November 2010

Is China Really the Key to North Korea?

Its been a game of nuclear blackmail ever since Kim Jong-Il first discovered that having nuclear weapons is a great way of pressuring the international community, South Korea and the United States to throw a lifeline to his ill-fated regime. The usual course of action: Do something truly terrifying, like say test a nuclear device, or fire a missile over Japan, or sink a South Korean frigate or go right at shelling South Korean villages. Surely, every single one of these actions would be an act of war. But since we are technically and legally at war with North Korea anyway, we are willing to pay them off to not do something too provocative (and did so since 1994, handing North Korea aid worth close to a billion dollar or when the United States gave Kim access to his 25 million bank account). So we pay them off to please not hurt anyone. Or at least not all the time. Or at least give us some breathing space in between to figure out what to do.

So what do we do? Not much really, but on this Sunday's State of the Union Senator John McCain made the one remark you'll have heard a thousand times. That the key to North Korea is China. Well, I have a hard time believing that. If China really had any leverage on North Korea they would have made use of it by now. Remember that it was China that supported the IAEA's referral of North Korea to the United Nations Security Council to send a strong message to Kim Jong-Il, at the risk of offending or at least antagonising allies such as Burma or the Sudan. They did so because loosing Beijing is probably the only thing we still can do to frighten North Korea. I might stress a point I've made earlier on this blog: China is pissed off with North Korea. When I visited Beijing last year, members of the Chinese security establishment pointed out that North Korea was behaving like a brattish school child that simply doesn't know how to behave itself. But it struck me that they had no idea on how to bring North Korea to terms with the international community, they were hoping for some sort of reform but had no plan B. So for all the talk we might hear on how China could be helpful, it might be worthwhile to remember that we should not overestimate the influence and leverage that China really holds on North Korea. It isn't that much really. And we should not give in to the illusion that just because China might be a rising superpower it also knows how to deal with Kim Jong-Il.

Sonntag, 28. November 2010

Dumping Diplomatic Relations

I really don't know what Julian Assange and his guys at wikileaks are thinking or perhaps smoking (and until today I didn't care that much). But now they've moved from publishing thousands of documents on the war in Afghanistan (argues wikileaks: we've got a right to know what is done in our name) to dumping thousands of, well, I'd say as of today, formerly classified diplomatic cables (argues wikileaks: we'll change the world and redefine history). I did not like the publication of the Afghanistan material, but this last move provokes serious questions.

First, what exactly is wikileaks mandate? I don't mind people wanting to change the world, but there are democratic principles at stake here. The American government after all is elected by the American people and in representing them has the authority to decide what is to be published and what is to be classified. Not in their own interest, but more importantly, in the interest of the nation. Julian Assange, however, has no such mandate. And disregarding the security interests of military personnel in Afghanistan and Iraq and the security interets of the American people and its alliies is not something to be particularily proud of (you'll certainly notice how I struggle to find modest words here).

Second, could it therefore be legitimate to publish the material? Well, perhaps there is an argument to be made that what wikileaks is doing today is the natural extension of what the regular print media did in the past. Investigative reporting of sorts. However, when the likes of Woodward, Bernstein, and others came up with their stories, they did so after careful and extensive research (well, not always and I am not a fan of our journalists, but anyway). Only after they got all sides of a story did they go ahead with publishing it and when they did, they did so because they believed it was in the public interest. And often enough they withhold a story when they were convinced or let themselves be convinced that there was a national security risk in publishing it. Put differently: Investigative reporters had an ethics code, an interest in the public good. And they acted with responsibility. When publishing a story that was controversial they tried to balance national security with the public interest and most of the time they struck the right balance. Compare that to wikileaks: They simply wreak havoc on the diplomatic relations of the United States and I for one do not believe that this is in anybodys interest (except perhaps that of Julian Assange personally). To sum up: No, this sort of thing is not the modern day equivalent of investigative reporting and no, its not legitimate.

Donnerstag, 25. November 2010

On Iran - Why Containment Won't Work

Your humble author takes an interest in a wide range of security-related issues, as I am sure you know. So my most recent publication deals with Iran and a potential containment-strategy vis-a-vis Teheran and has just been released by the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies (BESA).

Dienstag, 16. November 2010

Modern Classics in War and Warfare - III

As a regular reader of my blog you will almost certainly have noticed that from time to time I quote Christopher Hitchens, whom I regard as perhaps the most impressive mind currently around. He once pointed out that being a good author is basically about being a good reader. He is, I dare say from the limited amount of experience I can call my own, quite right. So from time to time I use this blog to recommend  or review a book, a classic or, more precisely, modern classic that broadens our understanding of war and warfare. And in that regard Military Orientalism, first published in 2009, is (or at least it ought to be) a must read. I got my copy back in July when I attended a conference in Shrivenham at the UK Joint Services Command and Staff College, but it was on my list ever since it first appeared on KoW. The local book seller told me that the book did not sell quite as well as hoped for by its author, Patrick Porter, and after hesistating myself he gave me a copy of David Kilcullens Accidental Guerrilla on top (don't worry, eventually I'll get around to that one as well).

Now its conference season in Germany and I spend most of my days on trains and airplanes and finally got around reading this, shall I say, masterpiece in warfare studies. Military Orientalism picks up todays debate on Afghanistan, Iraq and other small wars but departs from Edward Said's 1978 landmark Orientalism. In his work, Edward Said pointed out that Western orientalists tended to portray the Middle East as static, backward and a distinct other. This conceptualisation of the East helped fuel and perpetuate a sense of superiority in the West that made imperialism possible in the first place. Edaward Said became a doyen of the intellectual left and his book is a must-read in cultural studies and ethnology (and rightly so). Patrick Porter, however, departs from Saids argument in one important respect: His basic argument is that this Orientalist mode of conceptualisation of the East has prevailed only that today it fuels an understanding of the Middle East as an impenetrable, invincible region, removed from modernity and the complexities of the Western way of war (and well, politics). The result being, that the West begins to assume that its wars in the Middle East are lost even while they are being fought and even more problematic that military orientalism actually blocks interventions in the first place. Here (p. 53), he refers to the Bosnian war as an example for how that Orientalism blocks interventions that otherwise would have been called for simply out of humanitarian considerations:

“Lawrence Eagleburger, a US advisor on Yugoslavia, insisted in September 1992 that the Bosnian war was 'not rational. There is no rationality at all about ethnic conflict. It is gut, it is hatred; its not for any common set of values or purposes.' This fatalism helped prevent international military intervention. General Colin Powell, his influence and prestige heightened by the 1991 Gulf war, staked his opposition to intervention on the idea that war sprang from 'deep ethnic and religious roots that go back a thousand years.' Orientalism served not to spur Western interference, but to block it.”

He's got equally strong statements when it comes to the War on Terror or the war in Afghanistan. For now, however, this shall suffice. In a nutshell: I really encourage you to read it (but then again you almost certainly already did).

Mittwoch, 3. November 2010

A Night Without Winners

Midterms went exactly as predicted, so no need to expand on my relief that neither Sharon Angle nor Christine O'Donnell made it to the Senate (though I might add that the margin of O'Donnells defeat merits a closer analysis for all of those people who belief the Tea Party might have a major impact on what is happening in 2012). On the Tea Party let me add this: Now that Rand Paul and Marco Rubio have made it onto the Senate Floor we'll finally be able to witness the flaws and predetermined breaking points in the coming apart of that particular movement. I am just saying Rand Paul and Marco Rubio have as much in common as Bernie Sanders and Lindsay Graham (and though I realise its not going to be the most earth-shattering discovery in the first place, but calling Marco Rubio a Tea Party candidate is a bit of a strech in the first place. After all he has been Speaker of the Florida House long before the Tea Party first saw the light of day - and may I ask this, remember the first Tea Party candidate to enter the Senate? Scott Brown, whos just been accused by Sarah Palin of having turned into a RINO). And now that the Tea Party is supposed to deliver on its promises, we'll also see that it cannot confine and contain the state quite the way its proponents would have liked us to believe.

The biggest bullshit comment on the elections therefore was offered today by the Financial Times that argued that Obama's 2012 election prospects were looking dim. To the contrary, I might add, it just got a whole lot easier. From now on, Boehner as the new speaker will have to bring a party together that is more diverse than ever, with absolutely no coherent line on foreign policy and no idea on where to cut spending. And speaking on foreign policy: More Republicans in both chambers will make it a lot easier for Obama to turn to foreign policy and get what he wants and/or needs on Afghanistan. The first challenge should be to find a new SecDef, who is likeable and Republican. I've got five dollars that say its going to be Condoleezza Rice, in case any of you should be interested in getting me a glass of Johnie Walker Black.

Mittwoch, 20. Oktober 2010

Another Note of Absence

You, my humble reader, may have already become accustomed to it. I'll be leaving for Riga tomorrow to attend a conference on security in the Baltic Sea Region. I shall resume blogging by some time next week.

Afghanistan – Squaring the Two Circles

Perhaps the biggest challenge in Afghanistan is understanding what the heck is going on. Put differently, despite a public debate there is still no real grip on what it is, we are facing. And even to international observers its kind of hard to understand the foreign policy rationale of the Obama-administration when it comes to Afghanistan. To me it seems to boil down to two questions, or, as we shall put for the moment, circles.

First, the Obama-administration has made it a point to start thinning out its forces in July 2011. Undoubtedly that has undermined efforts in Afghanistan, since even the current administration knows that a new strategy fully implemented only since September this year cannot yield tangible results till July next year. This is the most classic circle in the history of international interventions: the conflict between end-dates and end-states. Obama is angling for an end-date, while the military has committed itself to an end-state (that is the Petreaus crowd). Hence Petreaus continued efforts to ease the administration out of the strict timeline.

Second, the strict timeline, the knowledge that tangible results cannot be achieved by July and the failure to lead a real surge in Afghanistan have made it absolutely clear that the administration wants out of Afghanistan. This directly contradicts Obama's claims that the Afghanistan-campaign is a campaign waged out of necessity and that the international community (let alone NATO one might add) cannot afford to loose in Afghanistan.

Needless to say all of this is bad. But what is worse is that virtually nobody in the administration has the slightest idea of how to improve government services in Afghanistan. David Kilcullen, the world's leading expert on counterinsurgency, once pointed out that in this kind of stability operation you are only as good as the government you are supporting. That's saying something. Which is why we have defeated the Taleban twice and they managed a resurgence. And even if we were to defeat the Taleban again, which I might add is still possible, the lack of legitimacy of the government would turn such a victory into a hollow one.

Sonntag, 17. Oktober 2010

And Finally Some Good News

I am a little busy these days and I shall leave another note of absence in a minute. But working on a sunday night (coffee isn't running out just yet) I came across some good news from Iraq. Security still is a problem, but its nice to see that Iraqis are now beginning to enjoy the freedoms that have been denied to them for far too long. And considering that this freedom is a fairly recent one progress is impressive.


Dienstag, 12. Oktober 2010

On Thatcher and Other Impressive Women

Never since I've  first seen Andie MacDowell in four weddings and a funeral have I been so much in love with a person I've never met. But do see for yourself


Donnerstag, 7. Oktober 2010

Obama's Wars

To you, my humble reader, I'll admit that I've read it as well. Tuesday's mail delivered my copy of Bob Woodward's Obama's Wars and I spent the past couple of days reading it. After all the talk, what else was I supposed to do? I could write yet another review saying that it makes for a nice read (which it does), but it might be more worthwhile to add some thoughts to the reviews that appeared in related blogs (Inks Spots here, Abu Muqawama here and the AEI Center for Defense Studies here).

First, there is the title. Obama's Wars suggests that the book deals with more than a single war. Though this book deals with Afghanistan only, the plural seems to stem from Obama's trouble with the national security team and the Pentagon in particular. The president holds Secretary of Defense Robert Gates in high esteem, but the Pentagon's bureaucracy is another matter. The book gives a fine depiction of the growing frustration the president feels toward the Pentagon which he asked repeatedly to provide him with a set of options. But all the Pentagon comes up with are options that really aren't any. Bottom line: there is the 40.000 surge in troops McChrystal advocated and thats about it. Pressed on the matter the Pentagon develops two alternative options, one with an even larger troop influx (yeah thats not going to happen) and another with a minor 20.000 counterterrorism surge (though the military kept saying that a counterterrorism surge without counterinsurgency wouldn't be working, so back we are at 40.000). Plus all the infighting between Admiral Mullen and General Petraeus and narcissism of some players (Holbrooke) and the frustration is all too understandable. 

Second there is the debate. Waiting for options, the debate seems to be nudging along without clear directions for months. But what struck me most about the debate was this: They were spending all this time debating what a "defeat" of the Taleban acutally meant. In the end, they agreed upon avoiding the term altogether, but what got lost along the way was a real debate on what "winning" would have meant and perhaps entailed. 

Third, there is Karzai. After the book was released there was quite a debate on whether or not Karzai was having a depression. But that really doesn't matter (I find his apparent taste for conspiracy theories more alarming). One way or the other Karzai clearly emerges as part of the problem rather than the solution. From the very beginning of Obama's first term the administration was sending signals to Kabul that he needed to get his act together, enhance legitimacy of his government, stop cutting deals that positioned people as regional governors who were clearly unfit to govern, actually delivering basic services and fighting corruption. But nothing changed. Instead he lost basically all legitimacy after rigging last year's election, though Petraeus, McChrystal and others had pointed out that for success of a counterinsurgency-strategy government legitimacy was crucial if not indispensable (after all this war is about outgoverning the enemy). So: why did they refrain from tossing him overboard?

Fourth, at some point Obama is being compared to Spock. His cool analysis is indeed a compelling feature described in the book and he does come off as a commander in chief. But the book clearly shows a president that hates not having options. He simply wants to be able to adapt, align and re-align. All-in simply isn't his style of governing. But that can be (and often is) mistaken for a lack in leadership and resolve. And as the military brass pointed out during the debates, resolve still is some sort of a force-multiplier. Though an all-in might provide more options in the future, Obama is not the president likely to make such a decision. Here finally is a stark contrast to his predecessor, who would have agreed to a revised strategy and an all-in more easily. Both styles have its virtues but in war, the Bush approach is more decisive and decisiveness is something called for in just about any war. Put differently: Bush accepted being a wartime president and acted like it (remember the National Security Strategy he put forward where it said: this is a wartime-NSS?). Obama clearly struggles with that. And thats the final impression: This struggle isn't over yet.

Donnerstag, 30. September 2010

Dirty Sexy Politics - One Sober Voice

Meghan McCain is making some good remarks on the current political climate and I am now motivated to buy her book, but do see for yourself. I am just saying, her line that todays GOP/Tea Party would even think of Ronald Reagan and Barry Goldwater as RINOs (Republicans in name only) is quite convincing and remarkably apt.


Somalia, Afghanistan and All These Wars

Today the guys at SecDef-blog run a nice post on Somalia (I am currently writing a chapter for this year's terrorism yearbook on Somalia, so I cannot help but comment). But more than that: There is now also the first foreign-policy shift by the Obama-administration that I fully endorse (well, on second thought thats not entirely correct. I endorsed the Afghanistan surge as well, but anyway). So here is the deal: Somalia has turned into a major foreign policy headache. Not overnight, of course, we simply began to notice. And I do concur, we need to do more on, in, whatever, with regard to Somalia. The question, however, is, what exactly is there we can do?

First, the major problem is that there has always been a major disconnect between the situation in Somalia and our policy initiatives (and I recently wrote that even the Council on Foreign Relations is getting it wrong). However, last week, Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, announced a policy shift and said the US would seek a second pillar for its Somalia-strategy (the first being the support for the internationally recognised by pretty weak and cornered Transitional Federal Government). Quite correctly, the US now wants to increase cooperation with break-away, democratic Somaliland and the somewhat and literally in-between Puntland. That will certainly help contain the Somali crisis, considering that next to Ethiopia, Kenya and Uganda, Puntland and Somaliand are equally inviting targets for al-Shabaab.

Second, ponder this: The CIA (if that yields any credibility) said a couple of months ago that there are only between 70 and 100 al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan and some wondered, not only therefore, what the hell we were doing in Afghanistan. The number of foreign fighters in Somalia is assumed to be somewhere between 300 and 500 (includeing the 14 Americans of Somali origin who have recently been  indicted by Eric Holder). Of course not all of them belong to al-Qaeda, but they do fight on the other side of this global war. Buttom line: Somalia is an equally inviting magnet for foreign fighters as Afghanistan has been and just as with piracy thats a land-based problem. So enforcing the weapons-embargo (thats something for our flotilla off the coast of Somalia) and trying to figure out a strategy on Eritrea would help us to do at least something. But that of course would require that we do recognise that this has indeed become a front in the war on terror.

Third there is one question I wouldn't know how to respond to. I admit. What are we going to do about the Transitional Federal Government (TFG)? Boosting its credibility by introducing the Sharia didn't help (keep that in mind, Afghanistan-analysts) and even the African Union troops (AMISOM) cannot help it to break out of its corner on the coastal strip of Mogadishu. All training missions did not change the poor morale and discipline of its forces and even the African Union is complaining about TFG-forces regularly abandoning its positions. So, any ideas?

Dienstag, 28. September 2010

Der SPIEGEL on Piracy

Der SPIEGEL, Germany's most important weekly, reports today that British shipowners and insurers are drafting plans to send Private Military Companies to the Horn of Africa to protect commercial convoys. Der SPIEGEL openly tries to create a sensation here, though it reports hardly anything new. British PMCs have offered services off the coast of Somalia for a couple of years. Regular readers of this blog might remember that I attended a conference on security in the Perisan Gulf in Shrivenham earlier this year. In the holy halls of Her Majesty's British Armed Forces Staff College I met one CEO of a British PMC that has run convoy-protection for more than two years now. The only news about the proposition reported is to put eventually newly hired PMCs under EU command. But I am guessing that won't happen. 

What is more is that this report is marked by a lack of serious background checking. Just to give you an example of the sort of thing I mean: The report says that Germany currently contributes two frigates to the mission: the Köln and the Rhön. There are two mistakes in one sentence here: only the Köln is acutally part of the mission, the Rhön isn't even a frigate, but might very well be in the same waters (its actually a tanker and might resupply the Köln but that doesn't make it part of the mission unless otherwise indicated by the German ministry of defence). I am writing this at the risk of sounding petty but this sort of thing has become pretty common for reporting on security policy in Germany.

Mittwoch, 15. September 2010

Somalia: How the Council on Foreign Relations Got it Wrong


I must have been pretty busy in recent months since I am only now reading the Council on Foreign Relations' (CfR) study on Somalia, originally released in March 2010. Constructive disengagement is the strategy Bronwyan Burton advocates as a new approach to the war-torn Horn of Africa nation. Right disengagement, as if the United States or the West for that matter had a real engagement in Somalia, a comprehensive policy we followed through but led us nowhere (If so, I must have missed that as well). 

It is certainly no coincidence that the following sounds a little like the current debate on the ASG report on Afghanistan. In Somalia we can already witness what a Biden or ASG-strategy in Afghanistan would look like: no boots on the ground, but targeted killings via drone attacks (just so that we are clear on that, they did lead to more and not less anti-American sentiment). Apart from the popularity issue we can also witness another weakness of that strategy: al-Shabaab is capable of replacing its killed leaders rather quickly and the drone attacks haven't reduced its military capability, take as exhibit A the ongoing siege of Mogadishu. The Transitional Federal Government is still confined to a few neighbourhoods in Mogadishu and survives barely thanks to the presence of the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM).

But the more important parallel to the ASG-debate is this: The CfR report defies logic and is often contradictory. And though the research has been sufficient, its insight remains confined to the sort of analysis being written in the 1990s. More than that, the report is often simply confusing, one example may suffice for the moment: on page 17 the study describes Somaliland as being a potential source of instability, whereas in reality it is the most stable portion not only of Somalia but the entire Horn of Africa. That Somaliland has been threatened by al-Shabaab is not the same as being a source of instability. When the report doesn't refer to Somaliland as a source of instability, it pays reference to Somaliland in an lets-cooperate-but-don't-recognise-fashion. I am just saying that the US is probably recognising Somaliland anyway in 2011 and I may remind Burton that so far the lack of appreciation for the consolidation of democracy in Somaliland is the biggest weakness in the current US-strategy toward Somalia. The report goes on to describe al-Shabaab as a coalition by fortune. Though that was certainly true a couple of years ago, the challenge would have been to describe its evolution since its success in forcing an Ethiopian withdrawal.

And there is faulty logic at work, too: On the one hand the cost of the current strategy runs high, the report argues, because so many people are fleeing the violence in the country. On the other hand Burton believes that leaving Somalia altogether--and that is after all the strategy she keeps advocating--would lead to a re-emergence of conflicts between different clans. That of course would lead to even more refugees, since there are large parts of Southern Somalia that currently are relatively quiet. 

More to the point: While the report argues for leaving Somalia largely to itself, it openly admits that the success of drone strikes would be more difficult to evaluate, since the US would not have access to intelligence on the ground. Without ever addressing the problem again the study nonetheless argues for such a strategy, HUMINT problems notwithstanding. I did mention AMISOM somewhere and in fact I should return to the African Union for a moment. The report does mention that AMISOM is carrying the brunt of the current strategy but the report does not even raise the question of what repercussions a shift in strategy would have for the African Union (Needless to say that Burton does not advocate to coordinate a shift in strategy with the AU). The Peace and Security Architecture, perhaps the most important project of the African Union, would be wrecked by such a shift without accomplishing anything in Somalia itself. Finally, don't get me started on the faults of a containment strategy in principle...

I realise of course that producing a report basically suggesting to stay course isn't necessary what gets you published in the first place and the current Somalia-strategy is certainly everything but a success. But this study does more harm than good, the policy prescription is simply in-comprehensive and irresponsible and the level of analysis is superficial at best. As with the ASG-report, this study falls short of describing a real alternative to the strategy currently in place.

Sonntag, 12. September 2010

And Yet Another Nuclear Site?

The German SPIEGEL reported yesterday that the People's Mujaheddin of Iran found evidence of another nuclear site in the Islamic Republic. The organisation says that a secret nuclear installation exists in Abijek, called "311" , which is probably used as part of the Iranian nuclear enrichment programme. It is important to note that the existence of this facility has not been independently verified, but the People's Mujaheddin have been crucial in detecting the facility in Natanz in 2002. But it certainly would not be surprising if the installation were to be part of the programme. It would also raise the number of recently detected nuclear facilities to three, the first two being Natanz and Qom, none of which was disclosed by the Iranian regime. The report comes only days after the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported that Iran is not acting cooperatively with the Agency and is still in violation of crucial IAEA-regulations and UNSC-resolutions (William Tobey provides a comprehensive account on shadow government). The extended hand was a nice move but it certainly failed to motivate Iran to change course. If the installation does indeed exist and is part of the programme, it would deal a serious blow to Obama's Iran-strategy, but more importantly it would prompt a fresh look on all options currently on the table. On that point, its time to have a real debate on the merits of both a war and containment.

Donnerstag, 9. September 2010

A Costly Failure - Obama's Foreign Policy

For days now, Chris Matthews of MSNBC's Hardball is floating the idea of a major shake-up in the Obama-administration. In particular a transfer of Hillary Clinton to Secretary of Defense would be a necessary step to achieve "greatness", as Matthews put it. Since Matthews is repeating this idea I am beginning to to get the impression that Matthews might indeed be serious about this. Well, I beg to differ. I agree that Obama's foreign policy is everything but a success, but a transfer of Hillary Clinton would create more problems than it would solve and here is why:

First, I don't get why the MSNBC-people don't like Robert Gates. He has axed so many programs that he can hardly be described as a failure. It was Gates who terminated the future ground combat system, an expensive program to introduce a whole new family of tanks, APCs and howitzers to the US army. He opposed a second engine for the F-35 and sent a clear message to the navy that the number of its ships would shrink even further. Imagine a democrat in that position? Exactly. Its not really the time to give the Republicans even more to quarrel about.

Second, the foreign policy failure is not so much a failure of nominations but a failure in strategic thinking. The obsession with the withdrawal from Iraq has distracted the Obama-administration from a more important question: How to turn the recent gains in Iraq into a lasting and sustainable success? And while everybody is watching the economy, may I ask what did happen to Obama's extended hand towards Iran? I could have raised China, India, Africa and Russia. But for now, even the most basic challenges to the US are not being addressed.

Montag, 23. August 2010

The China Conundrum

Well, finally the Pentagon lived up to its obligation and did report to Congress on the state of China's military. DoD quickly drew criticism for its handling of the report; it came too late to inform the latest round of budget negotiations and some suspect that this motivated the Pentagon to delay publication in the first place. Once published it drew additional criticism for its "on the one hand, on the other"-attitude that is indeed prevalent through the entire report. 

When I finished reading it, I realised that I couldn't recall how many times President Obama is being quoted saying "But the notion that we must be adversaries is not pre-destined." So, I won't recall what the report is saying since the overall impression really is that it is, somewhat reluctantly, the United States that is the driving force for more transparency and closer military cooperation between the two powers. 

The report is indeed more interesting for what is being omitted. So here is my líst of issues that should have been addressed but, somehow, are not:

1. In what way does the current development and the envisaged build-up of Chinese military forces increase insecurity of crucial U.S. allies, most importantly Japan, South Korea and the Philippines?

2. In which way is the current development altering the balance of power in the region? The report does address the situation in the Taiwan-Strait, it fails to address the overall picture.

3. In case of military conflict: In what way could the Chinese military threaten U.S. military installations, most importantly Guam, which is located precisely on the perimeter of the second island chain?

4. As in many other formally communist states it is the Communist Party and not the state that is in charge of the military. The same holds true in the People's Republic. In what way does that outdated civil-military relationship influence or hamper military effectiveness?

5. Again as in many other communist states the military is relying heavily on infantry forces. That is changing, the Navy is apparently at the forefront of current modernisation-efforts. But what is the state of the ground forces? Except mentioning the introduction of new tanks and weapons the report fails to address the Chinese army in any meaningful way.

Sonntag, 22. August 2010

Too Many Chiefs, Not Enough Indians

The planned elimination of Joint Forces Command in Virginia has drawn heavy criticism (for that watch the debate on PBSO's News Hour). The criticism of the state's governor was to be expected. The criticism of Jim Webb, however, is more serious in nature. Not because of its merits, but simply because he is the Democratic Party's most respected heavyweight on defense. But was has gone by largely unnoticed is that Gates is also planning to cut quite a number of admiral and general-positions. And here, Gates is absolutely right. All Western armies suffer from the big-head syndrome. That there simply are to many commanders, a problem that had previously affected third-world-armies on a much larger scale.




Dienstag, 17. August 2010

The Afghanistan Drop

To the gentle reader of this blog it will come as no surprise that I am an ardent supporter of promoting democracy everywhere and that that would have to include Iraq (somewhat successful) and Afghanistan (not quite, but then again it wasn't my idea to allow the rather apparent vote rigging in last year's presidential election). On saturday I've argued in the German weekly die ZEIT that the debate over the war in Afghanistan in Germany is characterised by some myths that needed debunking and, altruistic as I am, I  attempted to do just that. I've since received many emails and comments. Don't worry, I spare you the details of exactly how I am supposed to be "in" on an international conspiracy to subjugate the Middle East to neo-imperial U.S. rule. (Though I'd like to point out that as a historian I've to work with actual evidence, i.e. documents, and not with crazy conspiracy theories in which any document indicating otherwise is simply dismissed as being part of the cover-up. I am just saying). Anyway a good friend of mine directed me to the following website offering some help in the cause. So for the lighter side of the debate pay a visit to the pneumatic parliament.

Samstag, 14. August 2010

Freitag, 6. August 2010

The S 300-Story

This story somehow did not make big news, though it certainly should have. One of the most debated issues when it came to the latest round of sanctions against Iran was the planned sale of the S-300 air defence missile system to Teheran, a particularly thorny issue. It took a while to win the potential seller over: Moscow. Moscow was planning to go forward on the sale but ultimately withdrew. The general feeling of course was that the sale would ultimately boost Iran's ability to defend itself against a still possible airstrike on its nuclear installations. Now it looks like Belarus did sale the system to Iran in which would certainly be bad news. The general problem being that states like North Korea, Belarus, Burma are generally likely to sale such systems despite UN sanctions. This is a new development to a certain extent, since during the Cold War era only the major powers were capable of producing sophisticated weapons systems, and the Soviet Union had control over the potential sale to third parties. Now minor powers like North Korea, Burma, Belarus can copy some of the systems and make a small profit on them. But there has not been major research on this, let alone political action. But this isn't an isolated issue, we might face it somewhere else in the future, I am just saying.

Donnerstag, 5. August 2010

A Note on Iran and the Quote of the Day

This has been a busy week, although officially at least we are supposed to be in the silly season. Though thinking about the nonsense debate on repealing the 14th amendment this might well be where we are. David Ignatius had an interesting piece in the Washington Post in which he argued that Obama was right in giving diplomatic talks with Iran another try. Which indeed he is. The best reponse to the David Ignatius op-ed was delivered by Peter Feaver at Shadow Government that made a wonderful argument on the different schools of thought when it comes to negotiations with Iran. Describing the first school as the school of non-believers in any diplomatic overture to Teheran, the second school was equally naive: 
The second school thinks that diplomatic engagement is hard but doable, provided that the United States faithfully makes ever larger concessions and offers ever larger carrots. This school believes that the Iranian regime has several times made sincere offers that belligerent Bush officials foolishly ignored or rejected. This school wanted Obama to reset Iranian relations and pursue an approach that began with unconditional carrots and only threatened vague and imprecise sticks should the Iranian regime reject U.S. concessions. The problem with this school is that it offers no hedge against Iranian negotiators pocketing the concessions, moving the bargaining space accordingly, and stringing out the negotiations while the Iranian nuclear weapons program inches ever closer to a fait accompli. Like the quest for the Holy Grail, the quest for Iranian moderates who would cut a deal was tantalizing and never-ending. Not surprisingly, this school ends up consistently arguing against applying sanctions, and instead proposes new concessions as the way out of diplomatic impasses. The best gimmick this school has in this regard is pretending that sanctions are the alternative to diplomacy rather than acknowledging that they are part and parcel of a robust diplomatic approach. Thus, second school apologists consistently argue "let's give diplomacy a chance and not pursue sanctions just yet," which is sort of like arguing "let's try to swim the English Channel but let's not use our legs just yet, let's wait until we are drowning first."
All of this, of course, is Feaver's way to introduce a third school that takes sanctions as part of the diplomatic approach. And here I would agree. However, I do remain sceptical when it comes to the feasibility of talks with Teheran. All things being equal I have seen no evidence in any piece today that would make the case for the Iranians seeking substantive negotiations. I might be pessimistic on this, but there are a couple of issues unresolved, so I might as well raise the questions: Whom are we going to talk to? Khamenei might be a political ally of Ahmadinejad in domestic affairs, but it gets murkier when it comes to foreign affairs. There the two Iranian leaders don't always appear to move in lockstep. Second, yes, the sanctions might have an impact on the Iranian economy. But with negotiations the Iranian leadership would have to give away a couple of things it needs more than the lifting of sanctions: a claim of legitimacy that it currently only gets from its firm stance on the West. So, yes, Peter Feaver, it might be too late. But then again, it might have been to late for thirtyone years now.

Khamenei

Dienstag, 27. Juli 2010

Gary Faulkner - The Hunter

I had no idea that Gary Faulkner looks like the dude, or the Big Lebowski himself. But the comparison to Rambo is to good to be missed.


Montag, 26. Juli 2010

Brothers in Arms - The Fighting in Somalia Continues

When Somali militants bombed two sites in Uganda's capital Kampala, few would have thought that the terrorist attacks would have bolstered the AU's determination to quell the fighting in Mogadishu. However, precisely this seems to have happened. Instead of talking withdrawal, more African countries are now seriously considering to send forces to Somalia, the latest being Guinea that pledged an entire batallion

This development is interesting for two reasons. First of all, it shows that al-Shabaab's reasoning to bomb Uganda and Burundi into withdrawal is flawed. Instead, African countries are increasingly determined to shoulder the burden of regional stabilisation. Second, and perhaps more importantly, it signals that the AU mission to Somalia (AMISOM) is turning into a truly pan-African mission. With Burundi and Uganda the initial AU forces were all from Eastern Africa and Eastern African nations have an increasing interest in putting an end to the fighting in Somalia. Guinea, however, hardly has a purely national security interest in Somalia (note, however, that al-Shabaab won't be able to plan and execute terrorist attacks in a West African nation as easily), though it might gain some international goodwill in return, following the recent spate of coups d'état and counter-coups.

Welcome as the new brothers in arms are, they will hardly make a difference on the ground. Logistics, training and equipment aside, what is still lacking is a political process and on that particular front there is even less progress.

A Bit of News - Or Not

Returning home from a conference the first news I read was in todays issue of Der Spiegel on the 90.000 pages of classified documents leaked to WikiLeaks. Meanwhile virtually no news outlet has missed to report that the leaked documents are either spectacular, breathtaking or at least sensational. I don't know if that is really true, in any event, I am not convinced that any of the reporters or journalists really read all the 90.000 pages. As matter of fact, I don't think they have (I'll be taking a look myself over the course of the week) or are at least qualified to put them into perspective. But I couldn't agree more with  Fred Kaplan, who argued that the supposed sensationality is overblown.

I was also startled by a reporter from the Times who claimed on msnbc that the leakage is not tied to any political agenda. This I really doubt. There are three possible explanations for this massive leakage and, by the way, for the fact that the documents are covering the period to the end of last year and not beyond. First, the source might simply have lost access at the end of last year. Second the leakage might be designed to cover the process of withdrawal even if the situation does not improve by this time next year, the reasoning being that the war was lost under the previous administration. Or third, there really is no political agenda behind the move and the leakage simply is an act of insubordination, corruption or betrayal. We probably won't know for some time to come - lets not froget that up to 850000 people have clearance for highly classified material. But it will also take a while before we can really say what sort of impact is to be expected and what the documents really do disclose.

Montag, 19. Juli 2010

Another Note of Absence

Your humble servant will be flying to the United Kingdom today and won't be blogging for the next couple of days. So, no news digest till next weekend. Having said that it might interest you to know that I am not only on holidays but that I will be attending a conference at the Royal Services Academy in Shrivenham, dealing with security in the Persian Gulf. Anything noteworthy and perhaps terribly interesting will be reported. I promise.

Montag, 12. Juli 2010

Most Recent Publication

And another small advertisement strictly in self-interest. In October 2009 I have been invited to deliver a presentation at the annual conference of the Intelligence History Association at Bar Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel. I was working on the topic of security sector reform for quite a while and focused on intelligence services in particular. So, here now, is my most recent article on security sector reform and intelligence services in Sub-Sahara Africa, which appeared in the current issue of the African Security Review. I am still working on the topic and shifted focus a bit: I am particularly interested in the impact of African socialism on the armed forces in Sub-Sahra Africa and superpower involvement during the Cold War. So there might be more to come.

And Now: The Spillover

On Sunday 64 people were killed in a suicide bombing in Kampala, the capital of Uganda. Authorities assume that the bombing was carried out by a Somali terrorist, probably close to the al-Shabaab militia. Al-Shabaab is currently fighting the weak Somalia Transitional Federal Government (TFG) and has threatened for quite a while to attack countries that send peacekeepers to Somalia. They have targeted a group of people watching the world-cup. That certainly is not a coincidence, al-Shabaab has banned watching the world-cup in Somalia as well. Looks like soccer is following sex on the list of evil Western ideas.

However, the incident is a clear indication that the international community's current strategy for Somalia is not working (that is if one is bold enough to call it strategy). The TFG clearly wouldn't survive without the presence of Ugandan AU forces. On the other hand, there is absolutely no progress in finding a more integrative political solution to the situation. Where does that leave us? Well, someone should better start thinking about how to contain the mess (and please withstand the temptation to call in the Ethiopians). A decent place to start would be Somaliland. If we can't build a government in Mogadishu, maybe its time to recognise those that have managed to do so themselves in the country's Northern part.

Freitag, 9. Juli 2010

Obama and the Military - An Uneasy Relationship?

With McChrystal fired and the repeal of don't ask, don't tell well under way, maybe its time to say a word on the relationship between President Obama and the military. Why now? Well, because the Pentagon started sending out 400.000 questionnaires to troops all around the world, asking how they would feel about a repeal of don't ask, don't tell. Though I think that the President handled the McChrystal-affair rather well, this latest move is a really bad one.

I totally understand the reasoning behind it, the ultimate nightmare of any Democrat: being soft on national security. Or more precisely: being perceived to be soft on national security. And asking for the input of soldiers is supposed to remove any doubt that the Obama-administration may not take these matters serious. I am guessing that sort of reasoning also led the president to appoint Patreaus to head the war-effort in Afghanistan. Though a point could be made that this reliance on a single general might also show a certain weakness. Anyway, asking the military for input on such an important issue is, nonetheless, not the way to go, its only making the problem worse. If the Commander in Chief issues an order, the military has to salute and carry it out. Starting a debate over an order the President is going to give anyway might be wise politically (though I doubt it is), but it is not a good idea in terms of civil-military relations. Do Democrats really don't remember how Rumsfeld waltzed into the Pentagon in the first days of his term as SecDef and re-assert civilian leadership? You simply don't take an officer out for an ice cream cone and ask whether he would feel fine to carry out your orders. The troops may or may not like it, but meanwhile, the President outranks them. He has got to make this real or Democrats will never get over their soft-on-national-security-fetish. Because this is actual weakness on national securtiy.



Sonntag, 4. Juli 2010

Quote of the Day - The Small Things in Ethno-National Conflicts

If there is one region I haven't travelled to, it is Central Asia (I haven't been to Latin America either, but we won't tell anyone, right?). So I am puzzled, when I learnt that two ethnic groups clashed so violently in Kyrgyzstan that to me appeared so much alike. An act of violence that seems to be totally random, to say the least. On the other hand most ethnic conflicts seem to be concerned with nonsense-issues. I've been to Georgia in early 2009 and would have had trouble to point to a difference between Georgians and South Ossetians and I would bet that peacekeepers in Bosnia in the early 1990s faced the same difficulties when trying to protect the Bosnian cities, the UN had declared to be UN Protection Zones. Well, in Slate, Christopher Hitchens tries to come up with an answer. So here is the quote of the day:

Reviewing the sudden spasm of violence between the Uzbek minority and the Kyrgyz majority in Kyrgyzstan recently, many commentators were at a loss to explain why the two peoples should so abruptly have turned upon one another. Explanations range from official pandering to Kyrgyz nationalism, to sheer police and army brutality, to provocations from Taliban-style militias hoping to create another Afghanistan, but none go very far in analyzing why intercommunal relations became so vicious so fast. As if to make the question still more opaque, several reports stressed the essential similarity—ethnic, linguistic, cultural—between the Kyrgyz and Uzbek populations.

But that in itself could well be the explanation. In numerous cases of apparently ethno-nationalist conflict, the deepest hatreds are manifested between people who—to most outward appearances—exhibit very few significant distinctions. It is one of the great contradictions of civilization and one of the great sources of its discontents, and Sigmund Freud even found a term for it: "the narcissism of the small difference." As he wrote, "It is precisely the minor differences in people who are otherwise alike that form the basis of feelings of hostility between them."

Samstag, 26. Juni 2010

Afghanistan - Still Ill-equipped?

This is a debate going on for quite a while now and DER SPIEGEL is adding the latest news on this part of the Afghanistan war-effort: The German Army still operates insufficient equipment in Afghanistan. On April 15th four German soldiers were killed in a firefight with insurgents in the Northern part of Afghanistan, partly due to insufficiently armoured vehicles (the vehicle in question being the YAK).

The YAK is a vehicle often being used by German medics and belongs to the more recent equipments that made their way to the German Armed Forces. One of its virtues is its light armour in contrast to the lighter UNIMOG the army had used as an emergency vehicle before - though the YAK would still qualify as a truck and not an APC. I remember a colonel from the medic rapid reaction force telling me a year ago at a panel I have had with a couple of parliamentarians that the YAK was a pretty good vehicle and that he believed the troops under his command would be well protected by it. Apparently though, the truck needs some improvement. However, it will never protect its crew against RPG-fire.

What we need to keep in mind is this: there will always be a trade-off between armour and protection on the one hand and deployability and weight on the other. In this case insufficient equipment is not due to a lack of effort. The YAK was introduced precisely because the medics needed upgraded protective vehicles. The disturbing news is something else: Medics have become a target, I've heard officers complain that they had to camouflage the red crosses on the trucks - they were attracting deliberate Taliban fire.


Donnerstag, 24. Juni 2010

And Now: The Fallout

Well McChrystal is out and that's probably a good thing. Meanwhile, John Hudson at the Atlantic is afraid that the second casualty of the Rolling Stone-article is the access of the press to the military in Afghanistan. He is probably right in suggesting that the military will be more cautious with whom it is giving access and to what extent. But the suggestion that this is something bad does not at all convince me. First, the journalist's job is not supposed to be easy - there is a reason they call it investigative journalism in the first place. Second, lets not forget, there is a reason the military lets journalists in - to get their side of the story across. Shutting journalists out will have an even more damaging impact than the Rolling Stone-article. So don't you worry.

Meanwhile I've taken the time to watch Obama's announcement again and I have to say, I like him when he is angry. He looks more determined, certain and straigtforward and he surely is. I have to say, I am afraid, that I do not garner much hope to see him so much on the offensive in the future. But its the first time he looked really presidentual to me. Though: I still would have fired McChrystal for cause.

Mittwoch, 23. Juni 2010

And Out He Is - Goodbye to McChrystal

I would not necessarily have loved, but I would, nonetheless, have wanted to be a fly on the wall of that particular meeting in the Oval Office. Well, I wrote last night that Obama would have to fire McChrystal - and indeed out he is. However, though I liked part of Obama's announcement, I would have expected the President to a bit more determined. For instance, I would not have accepted McChrystal's resignation. I would have rejeceted it and than fired him. Would that not be a little harsh, you ask? No, by all means, I am rather unemotional on this one. There is plenty of reason to fire McChrystal for cause:

Last night I wrote that there are parallels to Douglas MacArthur, but throughout the day I have had a different thought. I had to think of Colonel Kurtz, the U.S. field commander, who was to be assassinated by a U.S. captain in the great movie Apocalypse Now. Like Colonel Kurtz, it seems that McChrystal has surrounded himself with officers loyal only to him and not the administration they are supposed to serve. Like Colonel Kurtz, he has taken shortcuts whenever that seemed to have helped him get what he wanted. And finally, like Colonel Kurtz he has had a peculiar relationship with the people he was supposed to protect. Instead of letting the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan or ambassador Holbrooke take the lead when dealing with the Afghan authorities, he did it himself, trying to enhance Karzai's credibility but in reality breeding another sort of strange loyalty.

Back to the real world, McChrystal has also undermined a core principle of democracy: civilian leadership. He has ridiculed the French, who after all have had to suffer more than forty casualties. To put it differently, letting him resign was a sort of gratitude, but it would have fitted the authority of the office of the President had he fired him.



Dienstag, 22. Juni 2010

McChrystal Going? - It Isn't Just a Turf War

Stanley McChrystal might be leaving his post very soon, perhaps it is only a matter of hours right now. President Obama is simply going to have to fire him, as a matter of principle and to protect the authority of the Oval Office. Because, well, when you serve at the pleasure of the President of the United States you have a constituency of one. From watching Robert Gibbs' press briefing today one gets the sense that the White House is pretty pissed about the story (The Runaway General) published by the Rolling Stone. Thats saying something, because Gibbs is an uncharacteristically cautious Press Secretary. But this particular story is not the entire picture. McChrystal was strongly criticised for quite a while now; he has been accused of letting his troops fight with one hand tight behind their backs, most prominently by war correspondent Michael Yon, who lost his post as an embedded journalist in Afghanistan probably due to McChrystal's interference. And bloggers on military affairs were not exactly excited about McChrystal from the very start. Moreover, it seems that the initiative that could have come from the surge in troops ordered by President Obama has been lost to infite delays in Marjah and Kandahar.

The opening salvo is devastating enough, here is the first quote of the well-written article by Michael Hastings:
McChrystal is in Paris to keep the French, who have lost more than 40 soldiers in Afghanistan, from going all wobbly on him. 
"The dinner comes with the position, sir," says his chief of staff, Col. Charlie Flynn. 
McChrystal turns sharply in his chair.
"Hey, Charlie," he asks, "does this come with the position?"
McChrystal gives him the middle finger.

But what is far worse is not so much McChrystal's stance on the administration, it is the impression one gets of the administration itself. Here is another part of the article that leaves some questions about the process by which McChrystal was picked. Here, Hastings recalls the first meeting between President Obama and McChrystal in the Oval Office:
"It was a 10-minute photo op," says an adviser to McChrystal. "Obama clearly didn't know anything about him, who he was. Here's the guy who's going to run his fucking war, but he didn't seem very engaged. The Boss was pretty disappointed."
It is more than that, however. Hastings makes pretty up to the mark observations. Following a description of McChrystal's staff getting drunk in Paris, he observes:
The assembled men may look and sound like a bunch of combat veterans letting off steam, but in fact this tight-knit group represents the most powerful force shaping U.S. policy in Afghanistan. While McChrystal and his men are in indisputable command of all military aspects of the war, there is no equivalent position on the diplomatic or political side. Instead, an assortment of administration players compete over the Afghan portfolio: U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry, Special Representative to Afghanistan Richard Holbrooke, National Security Advisor Jim Jones and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, not to mention 40 or so other coalition ambassadors and a host of talking heads who try to insert themselves into the mess, from John Kerry to John McCain. This diplomatic incoherence has effectively allowed McChrystal's team to call the shots and hampered efforts to build a stable and credible government in Afghanistan. "It jeopardizes the mission," says Stephen Biddle, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations who supports McChrystal. "The military cannot by itself create governance reform."
This is not simply confusion, it is even more than a turf war. There apparently is a lack of civilian leadership in the Afghanistan-effort. There are two many chiefs on the civilian side, the result being that McChrystal is conducting a strategy that might work, but that does not have a civilian equivalent. Moreover, U.S. ambassador Eikenberry and McChrystal are at loggerheads and work to undermine the authority of the other. The more one reads of this and recalls all the blunders of the past twelve months, the more one wants to toss the entire band overboard (There is already some speculation on who might replace McChrystal).

There is an interesting historical precedent: Douglas MacArthur was a hero after his successful landing at Incheon in the Korean War. But after his initial success he was making mistakes of historic proportions, to say the least, and was famous most for his insubordination. There are some remarkable parallels between MacArthur and McChrystal, only that McChrystal might not have a military triumph such as MacArthur's at Incheon. Nonetheless, for the Obama administration this controversy over McChrystal's eventual departure might be an opportunity to drop the nonsense-deadline for the beginning of the withdrawal from Afghanistan. The Obama-administration will have to take the opportunity anyway: Obama has repeatedly stated that Afghanistan is "his" war, this now might be the time to get things right: a new leader for the war effort in Afghanistan would need time for his strategy to work, even if it resembles the current COIN-strategy (There were signs that the timeline will be eased since tuesday, even without the current controversy over McChrystal). By the way, when MacArthur was finally sacked by President Truman that move sealed his presidency and his numbers drooped to historic lows. For Obama, it will take a little more effort to avoid the same fate.

nota bene: Ink Spots has the best comment on why McChrystal needs to leave.

Montag, 21. Juni 2010

Breakfast of Champions

Well, I do realise that this week is still a very young one, but I will be spending another night writing on a book project of mine. I am writing a recollection of all the travels I've made in recent years to absurd places and I remember quite vividly a warm and sticky October night on the terrace of the Ibis-hotel in Lomé, Togo, close to the beach of the Gulf of Guinea. We were having a dinner-party hosted by the Chief of Staff of the Togolese army and I had a good glass of Johnnie Walker Black, a blend that has accompanied me ever since and here is why, as a little tribute to you (and more so to myself, to be honest) - the words of the great Christopher Hitchens:


Sonntag, 20. Juni 2010

Obama's NSS - How We Are Going to Do Anything and Everything All at the Same Time

"Our strategy goes beyond meeting the challenges of today, and includes preventing the challenges and seizing the opportunities of tomorrow." No, this is not from my poetry-album. This cookie-fortune strategic wisdom for the future is from the 2010 National Security Strategy (NSS) of the United States. I realised today that I have written a couple of times about just how much I anticipated Obama's NSS and that now it is published I haven't lost a single word about it. So this might certainly not come as a surprise to you, but your humble blogger was a bit disappointed by it. And here is why:

1. I do know that the NSS is an official document by the White House and will openly be scrutinised. So I do not expect a document totally about stratgy. But the NSS is not even attempting to formulate a strategy. It is not even a statement of principles. It openly advocates an utopia. It is not even about the priorities the United States have. It is about the United States being the most important global power and remaining just that by, well, by doing things. 

You might ask for an example. Well, how about defeating al-Qaida, which by the way is the only moment where the NSS at least tries to be specific. So here we go: "We will disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al-Qa'ida and its affiliates through a comprehensive strategy that denies them safe haven, stengthens front-line partners, secures our homeland, pursues justice through durable legal approaches, and counters a brankrupt agenda of extremism and murder with an agenda of hope and opportunity." How will that work, you ask? Well, among other things, we will be "establishing new practices to counter evolving adversaries." Will we always be looking for a United Nations Security Council-mandate when we do so, you want to know? Maybe, because our position is that we will be seeking broad international support by "working with such institutions as NATO ad the U.N. Security Council."

Let us shift back to President George W. Bush for a moment, who was more outspoken when it came to the underlying rationale of his NSS. Claiming that "America is at War", the Bush-administration put forward a strategy that claimed to be in line with the legacies of Ronald Reagan and perhaps more importantly Harry Truman. In his strategy Iran, for instance, was not simply following a different path, which it could abandon easily and at any time. Bush understood that Iran threatened U.S. interests not only because of its WMD-programme, but more so because it was a tyranny. The 2006-NSS clearly stated that the survival of liberty at home increasingly depended on the survival of liberty abroad. In doing so it recognised that the ultimate liberty was freedom and it was in that notion that the GWOT was a war of ideas. One does not need to agree with that, but it was in itself a comprehensive understanding of what drove the world and its conflicts.

2. The NSS is wishful thinking at its best. It is not before page 43 that the relationship with China is explicitly mentioned. Which is fascinating since much of the first fourty pages were spent describing the "World As It Is". Well, in the perception of the White House, the world as it is, is not really about the rise of others, as Fareed Zakaria once put it. Instead it is about the US underpinning the international order. How that is supposed to work when China is the world's leading exporting nation is a question you might want to ask. But do not look for an answer in the NSS.

3. To top it all: now that the United States is about to do anything everywhere, the White House considered it to be a good time to talk about spending. Because, well, with such a deficit U.S. power will not underpin the international order forever. So, we are going to cut spending. It is here, where the reader finally has to realise that this isn't so much a strategy as it is one of Obama's lofty speeches. Which might also explain why all of a sudden expanding health care is part of the national security narrative. Next time, let us do something really bold: let us establish world peace. Since proclaiming it is the better part of valor, we can do that, right?

Freitag, 18. Juni 2010

Most Recent Publication on Somalia

It appears to me that I haven't yet written a short advertisement on my most recent publication on Somalia. Well, here we go: In the first issue of this year's African Security Belachew Gebrewold and I have contributed a piece on Somalia and Regional Security Complex Theory, arguing in a nutshell that the concept of state failure doesn't help us to understand the situation in Somalia at all and that the concept should hence be abandoned when trying to analyse Somalia. Instead we focus on an order beside the state. The bottom line of our argument is this: The challenge for social and political sciences is to describe the order that unfolded after state collapse in Somalia, whereas the concept of state failure only allows for a description of the situation by referring to a period that ended in 1991.

Mittwoch, 16. Juni 2010

"Misunderestimating" the Reading on Iran

On his blog Sec&Def Europe Frederik has taken the opportunity to write a little more on Iran and the coverage of events there following the presidential elections of June 2009 and that certainly is a good opportunity to poke him a little (that we seem to make a habit). His point of departure is an article by Flynt Leverett and Hillary Mann Leverett in today's Foreign Policy, in which they accuse many if not most writers to get the situation in Iran wrong—and here Frederik concurs—because they let themselves be driven not by facts but by their personal political agendas. The exception of course being the Leveretts themselves, who modestly claim to have given an accurate picture of the events and the situation in Iran—by the way, how did I miss that?

I always marvel such accounts for I have often believed that it would be a pretty big challenge to top my own arrogance in claiming to have given the best analysis. You might imagine that it is always a relief to find someone has managed to do just that. Though I am willing to admit that there has to be more than one sheriff in town, I am nonetheless afraid that I have to profoundly disagree with the Leveretts and Frederik on two fundamental points, even on the point that I might loose whatever modesty I may still be able to claim myself.

First: Are the Leveretts really implying that there can be objective coverage of events anywhere in the world? Are they really trying to tell me that they have mastered to relinquish all personal believes and experiences when reporting and analysing a situation? Now this is of course a ridiculous claim, it is also, I dare say, a frightening one. Why should it be desirable that someone who, let us say for the sake of the argument, has spent years in North Korea and has watched North Korean society, ditches his entire knowledge and tries to report objectively, that is without any personal contextualisation or any contextualisation at all? Not only would that reporting be sterile, it would simply be impossible since clearly we are—if we recall our modesty for a moment—incapable of escaping our past, education and experience and luckily so. The challenge is not, as the Leveretts want us to believe, to report in a non-selective manner—that I might remind them is impossible—but to report in a way that allows others to disagree and to check your reading and come up with a counter-narrative. This is a matter of principle and the Leveretts fail utterly in this respect.

Second: Claiming, as the Leveretts have, that the allegation of electoral fraud in last years presidential elections is based largely on a Chatam House report and not on a broad base of academic research and opinion is simply false. I remember quite vividly an e-mail I received a couple of hours after the first election results were in, in which one of the experts on Iran laid out his “reading” on the elections. I won't go through his points in detail, suffice it to say, he was absolutely certain that a massive fraud had taken place. His name was not Ali Ansari. His name was Juan Cole (who by the way has a brilliant blog himself), hardly someone who is suspicious of feeding a neo-conservative reading of Iranian politics. The point is this: The Leveretts do not need to agree with my line of argument or that of many others as much as I do not need to agree with their reading. Suggesting, however, that theirs is right and ours isn't because they've got the facts and we haven't is a bit silly, really. Or, if modesty is to prevail, it is an approach that lacks scholarly education. Narratives and counter-narratives are a vital part of getting the picture straight.

"End of Claims - End of Conflict"

The President of the Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas is not running for another term and that certainly is a setback for the Middle East peace process. In his recent visit to the United States he explained in great detail the agreements he has reached with Ehud Olmert, when both were in serious negotiations over a final peace settlement (mind me, does it need to be said that of course these serious negotiations—perhaps the most promising in the past ten to fifteen years—took place on the watch of the Bush-administration? I am just saying). He even agreed to have a third party under the leadership of the United States present to implement such accords. So I am not exactly thrilled that he is leaving the scene and that for once the settlement seems to fail over Israeli politics and the idea that the conflict could best be managed rather than solved comprehensively.

Sonntag, 13. Juni 2010

Modern Classics in War and Warfare - II

Victor Davis Hanson is one of the most prominent American military historians of our times, he has written more than a dozen books in this noble occupation and contributed to the understanding of war and warfare like only few others have. This is all the more outstanding since Hanson is a classicist and came to study war only by coincidence. He draws huge lines in history, frequently comparing the many struggles of ancient Athens with the United States fighting the war on terror. In an earlier, equally fascinating book ("An Autumn of War"), he argued that not fighting Iraq's dictator in 2003 would have been tantamount to refusing to fight Hitler once the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Clearly being one of the staunchest supporters of the Bush-administration's foreign policy, he reminds us in his most recent book "The Father of Us All" that the most serious threat to the United States does not emanate from foreign powers. Arguing that ultimately it is the American ingenuity that enables the United States to prevail in wars, he warns that it is the retreat from liberalism that would undermine U.S. supremacy in the world the most, that giving in to religious demands on curtailing research and development would be a bigger threat than an aggressive North Korean posture or an amassed Middle East army. Needless to say, he is right, when ultimately concluding:
"Innovative military technology, then, is not so much a catalyst of change as much as a symptom of a dynamic military that understands that new weapons still operate within the eternal laws of conflict."

Mittwoch, 9. Juni 2010

China - The "Über-Realist Power"

In the current issue of Foreign Affairs, Robert D. Kaplan, contributes an interesting piece on China's rise, arguing that its geography will make it both a land and sea power. He of course is right, but then again this is by no means anything spectacularly new and it is hardly an impressive analysis. His piece, however, gets more problematic where Kaplan draws conclusions from his reading of Chinese policies. Characterising China as an 'über-realist power', he argues that China primarily aims to deny the U.S. navy easy entry into the Western pacific and that against the rising profile of Chinese naval power, Japan, South Korea, the Philippines and Australia are bound to counterbalance China's rise (The guys at "War is Boring" follow this very closely):
"This is why U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's rejection of balance-of-power politics as a relic of the past is either disingenuous or misguided. There is an arms race going on in Asia, and the United State will have to face this reality when it substantially reduces its forces in Afghanistan and Iraq."
So far, so good. So, what is his basic idea to counter that? Well, withdrawal of major U.S. military assets to the Oceanic islands, like Guam, creating basically a not-so-much-over-the-horizon force and increase aid to allied states in the region:
"Strengthening the U.S. air and sea presence in Oceania would be a compromise approach between resisting a Greater China at all cost and assenting to a future in which the Chinese navy policed the first island chain."
Which is where problems really begin, U.S. allies won't respond well to the U.S. giving in to an  as of yet merely theoretical Chinese naval presence. Such a strategy would seriously undermine U.S. credibility, but more than that: Kaplan himself argues that China is not preparing for eventual war with the United States. Beijing, in his reasoning, simply wants to increase its military posture in order to avoid a confrontation, hence the 'über-realist power'. So, why in the world, should the U.S. cave when it isn't even being seriously challenged with eventual war? More importantly, however, such a strategy would seriously harm U.S. interests. Chinese-U.S. relations are in relatively healthy shape, though they have suffered a bit since Obama took office in the White House. But Obama's predecessor had left him a good legacy and improved relations with all Asian countries, including the People's Republic. Obama should continue this policy, not least because it has worked remarkebly well under George W. Bush.