Montag, 31. Mai 2010

The flotilla to Gaza

There is going to be an outcry thats for sure. Well, there already is the predictable condemnation of Israel's actions. It appears that the flotilla that set sail in Turkey to break through an Israeli curfew on Gaza was stopped by the Israeli navy. In the course of that, up to 19 people were killed. A spokeswomen for one of the organisations behind this attempt said on CNN this morning that the activists on the flotilla were unarmed and that a baby was among them and that therefore the Israeli action was illegal. I am going to contest that:

1. Israel said all along it would stop the flotilla if necessary by military action. Putting a baby on board such a ship is therefore irresponsible and should not go unpunished, irrespective of what happened.
2. The actitivists were armed. The may not have had guns or rifles, but they were carrying axes, sticks and other improvised weapons. They were wearing life vests, clearly in anticipation and preparation of the Israeli attack. They were deliberately risking a confrontation.
3. As long as Gaza or the Palestinian territories are not a recognised state, the waters off the shore of Gaza are Israeli territorial waters, and Israel gets to decide who is allowed to pass through them. Implying otherwise is undermining the sovereignty of any nation, like it or not.
4. By the way, what the hell is Turkey doing allowing such an attack on Israeli sovereignty being prepared on its soil? The outrage of the Turkish government strikes me as purely hypocritical, letting the flotilla sail, knowing that it would end up in a confrontation with a far superior Israeli navy and afterwards blaming Israel for the unfolding violence is nothing but hypocritical.
5. Even if the siege on Gaza is illegal, which I doubt, who gave the NGOs that organised the flotilla the right or mandate to breach it? I would bet the money in my pocket that these NGOs also critised the intervention in Iraq. Call it a double standard, call it hypocrisy, it surely is one of these things.

What are we to make of that? Thing is, the incident clearly shows that the Israeli side is loosing the PR-war big time. It also shows that the Israeli approach is not sustainable. Over years, the Israelis were not necessarily interested in a peace-agreement, they were interested in security, though  they would prefer a final settlement. They did not aim to resolve the conflict, they were satisfied by managing it, though again they would have preferred to resolve it. This was pragmatic security policy, but it was not very visionary. This is going to have to change.

Samstag, 29. Mai 2010

A Word on the Somalia-story

In past couple of days a story has been making news in German security circles. A self-proclaimed president of Somalia, Dr. Darman, siad that he would return to Somalia with up to a hundred German mercenaries provided by a German Private Security Company called ASGAARD. I was interviewed (here) and later accused of not having made a balanced statement on the matter in the news. So I clarified in a blogpost: Darman is not an important player in Somali politics and that I doubted he and the PMC would make it to Somalia. I did not mention the weapons embargo in this particular interview, only later that day in a different outlet. I did not intend nor did I start a blamegame. I don't think that tagesschau quoted me inaccurately, quite to the contrary, in their first piece on the issue they quite accurately said that I did not believe that Darman was by any means an important player. So here is a claryfing word on the spinning of the story that evolved quite a bit in recent days. I was quoted correctly and accurately but selectively. I was and am fine with that for I don't get to decide what is news and what is not, nor do I get to critise those who do news. I am fan of the German broadcast "Streitkräfte und Strategien" and I am convinced that they are doing a pretty good job. Somalia seldomly makes it to the news anyway and I am happy that the story shed some light on what is happening in that devastated country in the Horn of Africa.

Donnerstag, 27. Mai 2010

Modern Classics in War and Warfare - I

For a while now, I have been thinking about how to give this blog a little more juice. I am a historian and though I find foreign and security policy fascinating--after all that is my daily business--I oftentimes miss working as a historian. The dive into details, the constant search for continuities and fractures, catalysts and obstructions that differentiats historians from simple descriptors of the past. It is, I shall add, also because the analysis of security and foreign policy oftentimes could use some comparison with the past; a closer look at catalysts and continuities could contribute to a broader understanding of the present. So, from time to time I will use this blog to recommend some (modern) classics in war and warfare.

For a start I choose Richard Overy's "1939. Countdown to War", which certainly qualifies for a modern classic. Overy has been author of a number of authorative books on war and warfare and particularly World War II. His most famous book, "Why the Allies Won", is a masterpiece in history in its own right, but it is "1939" that is the best in terse and thrilling historical wiritng. A classic political history, the book re-examines the last days of August and the first three days of September 1939, before the war in Europe would result in an all out war with the United Kingdom and France. It follows Daladier and Chamberlain on their difficult course to accept that war was inevitable, their disenchantment over Hitler who refused to budge and whom they believed to back down in the end. It describes the back and forth after Germany invaded Poland and how the war that began as war for Poland's liberty resulted in an ultimate struggle for democracy and freedom. It shows that sometimes war is not only inevitable but the lesser of two evils. But more than that, the book concludes with an important observation:

"All aggravated international crises, from the Crimean War to the invasion of Iraq, have generated short-term periods of unstable political interaction and unpredictable circumstance before the onset of hostilities." 

The book makes this case skilfully and aptly.

Montag, 24. Mai 2010

The Swap - Iranian Style

The French would have loved for this story to remain secret. For months, Iranian authorities held a French citizen, Clotilde Reiss, hostage. Upon her release and eventual return to France both governments maintained that there was no backroom-deal made to secure her release. So, in a mere coincidence, I suppose, the French released Ali Vakili Rad, who was imprisoned for assassinating the shah's last prime minister in his Paris residence in 1991. Ali Vakili Rad returned to Iran, where he was being welcomed as a national hero. But dare I say, that taking free citizens hostage on some bogus charge to ensure a prisoner swap reminds me a lot of the sort of blackmail we have witnessed previously by non-state actors, such as the Columbian FARC, or Hezbollah for that matter. There should be an international law against that.

Remember the USS Pueblo? - North Korea's Misjudgement

About five weeks ago I was blogging on North Korea, recommending Barbara Demick's "Nothing to Envy. Ordinary Lives in North Korea" and arguing that the country's collapse is overdue. In the meantime, it turns out that it was in fact a North Korean submarine that sunk the South Korean corvette "Cheonan", killing 46 sailors. I would, therefore, expand the thesis on North Korea's inevitable collapse. It seems to me that the closer North Korea gets to its collapse, the more it tries to gain leverage by using its weapons for some rogue actions that we cannot possibly respond to in kind. Its a punk state, really.

I still wonder why North Korea would decide to provoke the South in such manner. Is it really a lack of attention by the rest of the world? Is it just another round of blackmailing us into feeding its population so that Kim Jong Il can allocate more of his scarce resources to buy weapons? Is it about South Korea at all or is the incident just another part of North Korea's ongoing internal power struggle on who is replacing the "Dear Leader"? Was the sinking of the "Cheonan" deliberately ordered by the North Korean leadership or was it a rogue action by one of his commanders (in a country like North Korea this option is not totally out of the question; we know little about North Korea's current state of civili-military relations)?

In the United States the debate is on: Secretary Gates refused to call the sinking an act of war and the Washington Post is making a big deal out of that. And Republicans call the administration weak in its response, which is true but then again there hardly are alternatives. Now, I do not need to be an expert in the field of international relations to know that the sinking clearly was an act of war. But I also know that calling it an act of war is a bit stupid since legally - and technically, I suppose - we are still at war with North Korea.

The South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, meanwhile, is trying to draw a line. Speaking in South Korea's national war memorial, he said that any further violation would immediately draw a response. That South Korea would vigorously exercise its right of self-defence. So the world is safe for now. On the other hand, again, I do not need to be an expert in international relations to know that the North Korean leadership will certainly try to test the South Korean stance. And the question therefore remains: How much appeasement can we afford?

So all eyes are on the Chinese. And here, finally, is the point where the North Korean leadership is misjudging its position. The Chinese are fed up with North Korea. I was blogging about that before, but I dare repeat what I was writing months ago. I was in China last year, on an international conference on international security problems, organised by the Adenauer-Foundation and the Chinese International Institute for Security Studies, a think-tank of the Chinese defence departement. Now, most of the Chinese decision-makers on that conference were crystal-clear that they regarded the North Koreans as a school-child that repeatedly displays its ill-bred behaviour. In the past North Korea was driving a wedge between the West and China with its behaviour, but with China's rise that has changed considerably. The Chinese haven't figured out what to do about North Korea, but one thing seems certain: The North Koreans might be right thinking that we'll let them get away with this, they are wrong, however, in thinking that the Chinese will allow that to happen forever.

Montag, 17. Mai 2010

Bring on the Pundits - Iran

This debate was held back in 2009 and it brings on the usual suspects on international relations (that is international relations as in reality not theory). I don't agree with everything being said, but there was one funny line by Karim Sadjadpour: "Iran is to the Middle East, what Rush Limbaugh is to the US." True, however, Sadjadpour maintained that bombing Iran would be a bad decision and would inevitably lead to a ground campaign in two to three years time. I don't agree with that but more importantly, he failed to draw the right conclusion from his own comparison. If the case of Rush Limbaugh teaches anything then it is that there are actors that can neither be deterred nor contained. By the way, containment of Iran did not exactly work ever since 1979 or when Clinton came up with dual containment in the 1990s. Why containment is supposed to be working once Iran is a nuclear power is a question so far unanswered.

Sonntag, 16. Mai 2010

Zitat des Tages: "Verhandelte Revolution"

Schon länger wird die Revolution, die 1989 den Osten Europas erfasste, umgangssprachlich gerne als "Wende" bezeichnet und ich hatte immer Probleme mit dem Begriff. Gleichzeitig schien der Begriff der "friedlichen Revolution" keineswegs die Ereignisse des Jahres 1989 wiederzugeben. Philipp Ther hat in der letzten Ausgabe der Zeithistorischen Forschung daher einen anderen Begriff geprägt, den von der "verhandelten Revolution". Nun hier der entscheidende Ausschnitt aus seinem Artikel.

"Die fehlende Gewalt hat in der wissenschaftlichen und der gesellschaftlichen Rezeption die Frage aufgeworfen, ob es sich bei 1989 überhaupt um eine Revolution handelte. Oft spricht man von einer „Wende“, in verschiedenen slawischen Sprachen vom „Wechsel“ (z.B. polnisch „zmiany“). Doch der populäre Sprachgebrauch kann kein Maßstab für die wissenschaftliche Betrachtung sein. Entscheidend für die Anwendung des Revolutionsbegriffs sind neben der unstrittigen Mobilisierung der Gesellschaft und den massenhaften Protesten im Herbst 1989 die tiefgreifenden Auswirkungen auf die folgende Epoche der europäischen Zeitgeschichte.



Man muss nur einen Blick auf die Landkarte Europas werfen, und schon offenbart sich der revolutionäre Charakter von 1989. Die Beseitigung der Teilung Deutschlands und Europas und damit der Nachkriegsordnung ist eine offensichtliche Folge. Um die bleibende Bedeutung von 1989 für die europäische Geschichte zu erfassen, muss man fast ein Jahrtausend zurückblicken. Erstmals seit dem Schisma von 1054 reicht ein politisch und auch in seinen Werten weitgehend vereintes Europa so weit nach Osten. In Rumänien spricht man von einem Europa vom Atlantik bis zum Schwarzen Meer. So geographisch umfassend waren im Ereignis und seinen Auswirkungen weder die europäischen Revolutionen von 1789–1794, von 1848/49 noch die von 1917–1920. Außerdem reicht die ideelle Ausstrahlung der Revolution und des anschließenden Zugewinns an Freiheit und Wohlstand weit über die heutige EU hinaus. Die Ukraine wurde bereits erwähnt; die russische Regierung hatte lange Zeit große Sorge vor einem Übergreifen der Orangenen Revolution.


Die sozialen Auswirkungen von 1989 waren im Vergleich zu früheren Revolutionen weniger tiefgreifend, was in der Logik der Gewaltfreiheit liegt. Die alten Eliten wurden 1989 zwar politisch entmachtet, aber in der Wirtschaft gab es oft große personelle Kontinuität. Manche Kader der kommunistischen Parteien kehrten in den 1990er-Jahren auf die politische Bühne zurück. Dies hat dazu geführt, dass vor allem in Polen und Ungarn wiederholt versucht wurde, die Art und Weise des Machtwechsels von 1989 zu delegitimieren. Auch westliche Sozialwissenschaftler reagierten oft enttäuscht. Sie konstatierten eine konservative Revolution oder, wie Jacques Rupnik, sogar ein „Anti-1968“. Aber historisch betrachtet besteht kein Zweifel, dass in der Gewaltfreiheit die Innovation und das politische Vermächtnis des Jahres 1989 liegt. Es war – mit wenigen Ausnahmen wie in Rumänien – die erste verhandelte Revolution in der modernen Geschichte."


Freitag, 14. Mai 2010

Folding Afghanistan into its Region

Tim Sullivan of the American Enterprise Institute usually is contributing some valuable comments. On AEI's Center for Defense Studies he recently argued that getting Pakistan to abandon its idea of "strategic depth" in Afghanistan is one of the major hurdles in formulating a regional approach:

"But in truth, there is little India — or the United States, for that matter — can do to dissuade Pakistan’s national security establishment that Afghanistan remains a critical source of “strategic depth,” or that India’s engagement in the country — which has taken the form of a broad but low-profile "soft power" campaign — is anything other than an effort to encircle Pakistan."

He is right in as much as that there needs ot be a regional approach. But strategic depth has not been such a persistent issue as he seems to believe. On a recent trip to Pakistan I spoke to a couple of people of the Pakistani national security establishment, consensus being that the idea of strategic depth was no longer serving Pakistans national interests. His description was perfectly fine for the situation a year ago, but what he misses is that the security elite in Pakistan has already realised that the most urgent threat is the Taliban. Though it took them some time, Sullivan is preaching to the choir.

In the Making Somewhere?

President Obama is well into his first term but his foreign and security policy still leaves observers wondering. We are still waiting for his National Security Strategy, which would not be such a big story would there be no war or an adversary that would challenge the West. But there is and we are in the midst of a major war in Afghanistan. On the other hand: Since he seems to continue much of his predecessors foreign policies a new National Security Strategy would exactly qualify as a big departure from Bush's foreign policy. To me that would be a relief, but I am guessing that most observers would not exactly be pleased to read that change isn't coming just yet. Rambling on for a more than a year, however, has left the administration seemingly without a compass. But there are daunting challenges:

Once the drawdown of troops in Iraq is completed and begins in Afghanistan the question is, how much of a footprint does the US want in the Middle East. Is it going to maintain bases in the Middle East or return to an over the horizon-strategy, as Eugene Gholz and Daryl G. Press argued in the latest issue of The American Interst.

Once the Middle East issue is being tackled, what is the Administration going to envisage as a strategy in Somalia and Yemen. So far, no strategy has been implemented. But in 2011, with independence for South Sudan coming, there is an opportunity for a new approach.

And when it comes to Asia, there is still no strategy at all. Bush did a good job with regard to China and India, will the Obama-administration be able to continue on that path, so far it doesnt't look like it.

On a more fundamental level, the Bush NSS states that increasingly our freedom depends upon the availability of freedom elsewhere. So far, Obama seems to continue this crucial element of the Bush doctrine. A more fundamental turn is rather unlikely to unfold, it would simply contradict what Obama has been doing over the past year.

Montag, 3. Mai 2010

Pakistans Security Conundrum

In analysing a region its best to have spent some time there. At least that is often being said and rightly so. Well, I spent the past couple of days in Islamabad, Pakistan and here are some of my preliminary observations:

First, Pakistan is not a failed state. Most Pakistanis, particularly in the Pakistani elite, are afraid that Pakistan is being portrayed as a second Afghanistan. And they do have a point. However, its capital is relatively secure and you can walk down the streets without fear.

Second, Terrorism is still a threat. But not the major one. You may find a checkpoint every three hundred yards or so but Europeans get easily through anyway. The Marriot, target of a devastating bombing in September 2008, is now surrounded by a concrete wall and has an impressive security perimeter. Security of course is illusionary, most streets are guarded, but guards have a natural inclination to fall asleep at night. But nonetheless, though terrorism is a danger, Pakistan takes the threat serious.

Third, during the past year, Pakistan's elite realised that the major security threat are the Taleban and not India. Privately, most Pakistani academics and politicians acknowledge that the border in Kashmir will not be redrawn and they take détente with India as a promising start for better relations in the future. What is missing, however, is a vision of where India-Pakistan relations are to be headed.

All in all, the shifts in Pakistan's security perceptions are serious and they created some breething-space for the country. It remains to be seen, whether Pakistan will use it effectively.