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."