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.