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.