Donnerstag, 22. April 2010

Note of absence

Since your humble blogger has been re-booked, I won't be posting till the end of the month. I'll be in Pakistan and promise to post upon my return.

Fighting Terror in the Sahara

It has long been known that al-Qaeda has turned into something of a franchise. Doesn't really matter whether you report to bin Laden himself, if you generally endorse terror and like killing civilians and western tourists and may call a group of think-a-likes yourself you are free to call yourself al-Qaeda Something. Happened in Algeria, where the former GSPC turned itself into al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). It actually is more a sign of weakness, since it indicated that the GSPC had lost the war against the Algerian government (I like to refer to that as one of the many examples that conventional forces can actually prevail in asymmetric warfare, lets keep that in mind when we talk about Afghanistan).

But now that it refers to itself as an al-Qaeda affiliate, it becomes a matter of international concern. Following 9/11 the U.S. had introduced a couple of initiatives to enhance regional cooperation and anti-terror policies, from the Pan-Sahel Initiative (PSI) to the Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI) to name but a few. All of these have meanwhile been streamlined within the Pentagon's Africa Command AFRICOM.

So it is progress when Algeria, Mauritania, Mali, and Niger (the picture shows a colonel from Niger and me at a conference in Togo last year) begin to establish a common command centre, as the BBC has learned. But problems remain. That these countries embark on such a programme on a multilateral basis is promising, but it is also proof that the regional grouping of the African Maghreb Union (AMU) will remain a papertiger for the forseeable future. The alliance misses Morocco, which indicates that the relations between Morocco and Algeria are still missing crucial improvement. And the turmoil in Niger followign the latest coup is also a serious problem.

Dienstag, 20. April 2010

Staying Probably

Originally I had planned to announce that I won't be blogging for the next two weeks. I was supposed to fly to Pakistan tomorrow. But due to the ash-cloud and the German flight security board your humble blogger will be staying. It really is a shame.

Donnerstag, 15. April 2010

Cold Feet in Pyongyang

Never before did I use this blog to advertise a book. And now that I am doing it for the first time, it isn't even mine. Barbara Demick's "Nothing to Envy" is a very useful and indeed rather frightening account of the state of affairs in North Korea and a valuable insight into ordinary lifes in North Korea. This country seems to be on the verge of collapse and since nobody really knows what is going on in it, its inevitable and in fact overdue collpase will almost certainly come as a surprise. How's that for a dilemma?

Leslie Forgach from the American Enterprise Institute had an interesting piece in which she described the preparations for the upcoming succession battle in North Korea, here is the first paragraph of her article:

"In a move to tighten its grip on the masses, Pyongyang recently renamed two of its security organizations, upgrading the People’s Safety Agency to the People’s Safety Ministry, and the Chosun People’s Guards to the Chosun People’s Administrative Unit. The changes may seem inconsequential, but the writing on the wall tells us that Pyongyang is in fact preparing for greater instability leading up to Kim Jong Il’s succession."

She also says that its actually China that is keeping the North Korean regime alive and she does have a point. When I was visiting China last year the military and political officials were all saying basically the same thing: North Korea is a major challenge and problem. They hoped that Kim Jung Il will soon fade and that his successor will embark on a course similiar to that of Deng Xiaopeng. The only thing that stunned me was that they had no plan B. They are not prepared to deal with a successor in North Korea who would continue the ill-fated policies of Kim Jong Il.

After Iran gets the Bomb

James Lindsay and Ray Takey, both from the Council on Foreign Relations, have produced what certainly is an interesting article in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs. Their argument is simple: Iran is determined to become the world's tenth nuclear power and there is nothing that we can do about it. So let us think about how we are going to deal with a nuclear Iran. Bottom line: It will get ugly, but nothing we can't manage. Only thing we would have to do is to draw some credible red lines.

This is all very well, but I do have one objection: We've already done that. If not allowing a country going nuclear isn't a red line, what is? If we cannot defend this line, what line will be able and willing to defend?

Mittwoch, 14. April 2010

Shifting the Balance

Now, if in fact it is true what the Wall Street Journal published today, we might find ourselves in a very serious dilemma. If it is in fact true that Syria delivered Scud missiles to Hezbollah it would not only have violated a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions, it would also have shifted the military balance in the region. And it would deal a serious blow to Obama's foreign policy strategy of engagement.

Lets deal with the less important stuff first: President Obama's stance toward Syria and his foreign policy in general. He wanted to replace the Bush administrations set of strategies with a more active strategy of engagement (And he did receive some intellectual support by Charles Kupchan recently). I've always been critical of his approach, but I was willing to follow him in the case of Syria. To me it always appeared that Syria had the least incentive of all pariah actors in the Middle East (including Iran) to stay on its current course. It would profit enormously from easing tensions with Israel and the West. Closer relations with the European Union would have been possible and certainly would have produced some economic windfall. It could have regained the Golan hights--something of a fetish for Syrians--and eventually gain an important mediator role in the conflict over Iran's nuclear programme. Moreover its internal composition suggests that Bashar al Assad should have a genuine interest in easing tensions anyway. So why on earth would he do something as dangerous as that? Precisely at a time, when President Obama was fighting for confirmation of his ambassador to Syria, the most serious diplomatic overture by the U.S. in a decade, placing the entire foreign policy approach of the Obama administration in jeopardy? Has Assad been fed-up to see all the sweet deals being offered to Theran and not to him, someone, who should have been so easy to flip? Anyway, if it is true, it would seriously harm Obama and his foreign policy team.

Why is it that the less important issue? Because here is the important part: The threat of a new war between Israel and Hezbollah has been looming for quite a while now. As a matter of fact, it was a question of time anyway. But with these missiles in Hezbollah stockpiles, Israel would have to react. It has always maintained that a shift in the balance between Hzebollah and Israel would make some military action inevitable, to put it differently: this is a casus belli, and it might very well be the tipping point.

So, who is to blame? Well, its partly us. The international community has stunningly failed to implement United Nations Security Council resolution 1701. Nearly four years after the last war in Lebanon the stockpiles of Hezbollah are larger than before the last war. Lets recall that the goal of 1701 was to entirely disarm Hezbollah and turn the territory over to the Lebanese army. We've failed. And that really is a shame.

Africa and Globalisation

The ISS is perhaps the most important think tank on developments in Africa and it has a new publication: the African.Org. Jakkie Cilliers, known to the interested reader by her recurrent articles on Africa's security, has contributed a short piece on Africa's development and the global distribution of power that is largely shifting eastwards.

I hope I find a little more time for an extended post on the issue, but I do think that Africa is a very good example of globalisation's generally positive impact (I did make that point earlier in a German publication). It has always been something of a misperception that globalisation produces winners and losers. What it in fact does produce is different kind of winners, some win simply more than others. I hope, I'll manage an extended piece on this in May. So do stay tuned.

Sonntag, 11. April 2010

Der Iran auf der Zielgeraden?

Mein letztes Briefing zum Iran ist diese Woche von der Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung publiziert worden. Zugang zur pdf-Datei findet sich hier.

Pakistans Newest Province

This is just another good example of how the mainstream media misses an important story. Legislation in Pakistan passed a couple of day ago that introduced some major changes in the political constitution of the country. The legislation includes a significant change in the authority of the president's office and leads to a more entrenched division of powers in Pakistan. Oh and they changed the name of the North Western Frontier Province (NWFP) into Khyber-Pakhtoonkhwa. No kidding. Though I do suspect the problems won't go simply because no one can utter the name of the province correctly.

Mittwoch, 7. April 2010

A National Security Strategy - Somewhere

More than a year in office the foreign and national security policy of his predecessor George W. Bush is still very much in place. Some minor changes notwithstanding the Obama administration is still looking for a way to leave its mark on U.S. foreign policy other than rhetorical. The most important step in doing so is the formulation a National Security Strategy. So far, none is being formulated. So this is a story worth following.

The GOP in disarray?

Interestingly enough it does look like President Obama has successfully hit the reset button on his presidency. Though I would like caution hopes and expectations, his foreign policy is still a mess and there is a lot more on his plate domestically - one should perhaps remind people that unemployment still hovers around 10%. But it does look like he now enjoys a headstart on his Republican opponents: He has made a couple of recess appointments and has flown to Afghanistan, showing that while the Republicans are still whining over health-care he is getting things done. But what is more, the GOP has problems too: There still is a leadership crisis in the GOP, on public display after a recent scandal involving the two most important ingrediants: sex and money. And Michael Steel has not exactly materialised as the biggest talent in Republican politics since Ronald Reagan. Bottom-line: Midterms this year are going to be fascinating.