Freitag, 23. Dezember 2011

Cry Me a River, Transnistria!

Courtesy of the US Army on flickr

Now, to readers of this blog (and there must be some, or so my provider keeps telling me) it will not come as a total surprise that Russian foreign policy is something I can go on about for hours (I've did so here and here). I've recently started preparing a lecture for my second trip to the Caucasus and started to dive into Russian foreign policy (and what a dive it is). In any event, I've already commented on the insane fuss about NATO missile defence and the failure of the CFE treaty due to Russian stubbornness and foreign policy blunders. But Russia (i.e. Putin) is resurrecting a foreign policy that to the historian looks more like the heyday of Brezhnev than détente. And though its hardly being covered in German media outlets, its not that the Russian government is trying to be too opaque. Far from it, the de facto termination of the CFE treaty was only the latest in a whole series of setbacks for Western-Russian relations. For years Russia has had what it calls peacekeeping forces in places like Georgia and Transnistria. At least the more educated know how intensely Russia has been working around both the CFE treaty and the CIS mandate to turn its peacekeeping troops into de facto occupying forces in the run-up to the 2008 Georgian war. And there have long been fears that it might do the same with its peacekeeping forces in Transnistria. Igor Smirnov, the self-proclaimed president of Transnistria, has recently lost an election there (though as of now, it is not clear what is to become of him or the elections), but previously had time to sit down with the nice people of the highly readable and new New Eastern Europe. In this interview the gloves came off (sort of). Transnistria, he proclaimed, has never left the Soviet Union and therefore is part of Russia (to the rest of the international community its actually part of Moldova, but you know, who is Smirnov to care, since he can't travel to Europe anyway). So, Transnistria is one of the lovely places that theoretically do not even exist but will in all likelihood be a hot button issue between NATO and Russia and one of the frozen conflicts to watch out for next year. And yes, I know its only a couple of minutes to christmas, so I've got this off my chest.  

Donnerstag, 22. Dezember 2011

Freitag, 16. Dezember 2011

An Obituary for Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens once said that you do not become an atheist. You just discover that you always have been. As on so many other issues, he has been absolutely right. And in honour of the giant, I relate my own experience, if I may. I was born in Northern Germany where people usually are no longer being baptised. But when I turned seven, my parents moved to Freiburg where I had to enter a public primary school, which, as is common in the Catholic parts of Southern Germany, still taught religion as a compulsory subject. I was then also ill with neurodermatitis, which is a skin disease that leaves an itching pain on virtually all the limbs. Worse still, it doesn't leave you until you grow up, if it leaves you at all. As an non-baptised child I was sent to the protestant class, which to this day I find telling. I was hence subjected to religious classes, in which a priest from a local parish would instruct us in the bible and Christianity. Being ill—and admittedly knowing nothing about the children starving in North Korea or Somalia—and being the social outfit of my class—children can be cruel to one another—I once challenged the priest. Asking him, why god had so apparently treated me differently from all the other children, I was told that it would turn out fine in the end, he would make it just in the end. I was startled and asked how it could ever turn out to be just, when it is not now. I was then further instructed by the priest that god certainly had a plan and that his ways of doing justice were beyond my or his grasp, in fact that the ways of his justice were incomprehensible. I was eight years old and something about the answer did not quite satisfy me, though I could not point my finger at it. Today I know that what was related to me disguised as justice was the very definition of injustice. Once the ways of how justice are being delivered are incomprehensible, there no longer is any justice of any sort. Equality, transparency are missing in god's justice just as much as they were missing and are being missed in places such as North Korea, where, as Hitchens pointed out, people live in exactly that: a theocracy—that is if the trinity of father, son and the holy spirit, in fact, ring a bell.

I was interested in history and politics long before I came across Hitchens' work. As a matter of fact, I have been an atheist my entire life, I came to develop a strong interest in foreign policy and defended the Iraq invasion long before I ever read a book authored by the Hitch. I had a fascination with Marxist historical thought ever since university and found all forms of totalitarianism disgusting. I despised the left for its willingness to abandon its anti-totalitarian legacy in favour of an awkward, ill-defined so called anti-imperialism. And out of the blue, two years ago, I came across a Christopher Hitchens interview on Uncommon Knowledge and found a voice who's been there all along and more importantly long before I had developed any interest in these sort of things. And a voice, who would articulate the thoughts I harboured and expressed so much better than I could ever hope to. I spent the last two years catching up on Hitchens' extended writings and found him the greatest source of inspiration I have come across in recent years. Christopher Hitchens died today, aged 62. And though I am sad that he lost the races against clock and cancer, I remember him saying once that even though Shakespeare is dead, one could always meet him in his writings. Since there Shakespeare would be immortal. Hitchens is immortal in his writings, but he has a greater legacy than that. In the face of totalitarian aggression, Hitch stated that one simply needs to take a stand. Well, he did that.


Mittwoch, 7. Dezember 2011

Bringing out the Bear – Russia Is Getting Testy

Photo courtesy US Army on Flickr
Its always been the greatest nonsense issue around in international security politics. The fuss about NATO's missile defence project. Nobody with any clue on such matters seriously argues that the shield is or could be directed against Russia, but the Putin/Medvedev government likes to play the great fear card to help its citizens rally around the Russian flag whilst ignoring the incompetence, corruption and dismal record of its leaders. So today, SPIEGEL reported that Russia is moving air defence missiles to its border with NATO to maintain a strategic balance, whatever sort of balance they are referring to I do not know, since NATO countries all cut their defence budgets while Russia is actually increasing its own but, you know, anyway. This latest move, however, is not an isolated step toward escalation. In fact, two developments have spurred the escalation in recent months. What most papers, the SPIEGEL included, completely failed to report is that after years of restraint, Russia has again started to refer to the Baltic states as having entered the Soviet Union voluntarily, which obviously these nations take issue with. Dimitrij Rogosin, the Russian ambassador to NATO and among the leading candidates to become the next Russian defence minister, has also made comments in that direction. Interestingly enough, this time the Baltic states refrained from turning it into a larger issue and responded relatively low-key to this sort of falsification of history. The second development is perhaps even more important. Russia has suspended the CFE-treaty in 2007 (that is the Conventional Forces Europe treaty). The treaty originally stipulated a Russian withdrawal from Moldova and Georgia, which Russia of course always declined to do. For years, NATO harboured hopes that Russia would return to the CFE, but after four years NATO, Georgia and Azerbaijan all suspended the CFE as well during the past two weeks. Fact is that the relations between Russia and NATO have hit a new low and for the moment Russia has largely domestic motives for keeping them there.

Dienstag, 29. November 2011

Modern Classics in War and Warfare - XII

When a couple of weeks ago, the United States Attorney General announced the indictment of various suspects who were allegedly planning to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States, many if not most felt that such a brazen plan could hardly enjoy the endorsement of the Iranian leadership. Too dangerous, too risky, and too belligerent a move that the always careful Iranian theocracy could have possibly ordered it. One is well advised, however, to take a step back and remember that the Iranian leadership—and I do mean this Iranian leadership—is responsible for a whole number of politically motivated assassinations and terror plots. In the 1990s, shortly after Ali Khamenei became Supreme Leader, Tehran was going on the offensive. In 1990 a plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Sweden had failed and shorty thereafter exiled opposition leaders were murdered in Vienna. But my own country has seen one of the most brutal plots the Iranian leadership had mounted. In 1992 exiled opposition leaders from the Kurdish region of Iran were meeting at a Berlin restaurant, the Mykonos, when gunmen entered and killed four of the politicians gathered. Thus, on the soil of Germany, state-sponsored terrorism had been carried out a mere two decades ago. I can write that with all certainty, because it is not just an allegation, it has been proven in a court of law. In 1996 a German court sentenced the gunmen carrying out these attacks. But it also ruled that those who ordered it, were sitting in Tehran and could not stand trial, the most important of them former Iranian intelligence minister Fallahin, who is today serving on the Expediency Council, one of Iran's most important political bodies, responsible among other things, for choosing Iran's Supreme leader. Such is the leadership of a state that is now developing nuclear weapons. The story is being told in a book that has hit the shelves in a rather timely fashion: Roya Hakakian's Assassins of the Turquoise Palace.

It is indeed an entertaining book that takes the reader through the events of 1992 and the subsequent trial in Berlin in a rapid pace (at times, however, a little too rapid). Roya Hakakian had the lovely idea of ridiculing the theocracy while describing their heinous acts by starting each chapter with a quote from an Iranian satirist, the very people the regime was and is waging war against (to give you an idea, yours truly feels obliged to give you an example: “Nietzsche's famous Thus Spoke Zarathustra finally cleared the censors at the ministry of culture when its title was changed to Thus Spoke the Ayatollah.”). But the point really is that the Iranian theocracy has had an extensive programme with which it tried to assassinate no less than 500 political leaders, writers, and intellectuals in exile. We do not yet know whether the culprits of the botched assassination plan in the United States were acting on orders of the Iranian regime. The trouble for Tehran, however, is that it would fit a pattern. A pattern most have forgotten but that Roya Hakakian reminds us of.

Dienstag, 22. November 2011

In Defence of Foreign Aid

The final quarter of a year is always when things are getting really busy, though I have no earthly idea why. Rushing from one commitment to another, I have little time to digest daily news. But what former Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee and Norm Coleman put out on politico is worth reading and, well, noting. This year's presidential debates have shown a bunch of Republican candidates largely out of touch with international affairs. With the notable exception of John Huntsman, they hardly seem to have a grasp on what is going on, in a world where knowing what that sound is, has become more important than at any other time before. One simply has to feel flabbergasted when most of them, even the serious ones like Rick Perry, suggest that cutting back on foreign aid is a particularly lovely idea to save the budget. Increasing foreign aid was one of the most important successes of the Bush-administration and having a group of presidential contenders running away from such a legacy is really dispiriting. But then again, of the current crop, I'd have to endorse Huntsman. Though I've got the vague feeling that that doesn't carry much weight in New Hampshire.   

Donnerstag, 17. November 2011

The U.S. in Asia - Not That Much of a Shift, Mind You

The leading political paper in Germany is—as one might recall even outside Germany—Der SPIEGEL and I remember vividly that when I first developed an interest in politics some two decades ago, I took to the weekly for my insight into the world. But in recent years, the weekly cannot really pride itself in its journalism. Instead it has often taken an alarmist tone, even when that would defy reality. Commenting on President Obama's visit to Australia, the paper ran an article today called Obama provoking the red leaders, characterising Obama's policy in the Pacific as a fundamental re-orientation of the United States' foreign policy. That is quite a strong statement, considering that the Pacific ocean and the South China Sea have been a focus of international security policy for more than a decade now, with the U.S. being involved in it to a larger extent ever since George W. Bush managed a rapprochement with Vietnam in the early 2000s. And sometimes the paper is getting outright absurd in its coverage, arguing today that the U.S. is not only about to permanently station U.S. Marines in the North of Australia but also warships and fighter jets in a move to encircle China. Even though up to 2.500 Marines will permanently rotate through Australia, the part on the increased presence of fighter jets could not possible be more off the mark. What the agreement does say is that the United States will be allowed to use the facilities of the Royal Australian Air Force for its own planes, which is quite different from establishing a permanent base for fighter jets (which would be nonsense anyway, since no jet in the U.S. arsenal could do much about the South China Sea from a base in Northern Australia, you know, the stuff about range, refuelling, overflight rights, etc. I am just saying...).

Is this really provoking the Chinese? Well, in a sense, certainly. But not because Chinese interests are really threatened. The People's Republic has replaced its long-standing foreign policy rationale of a peaceful rise with a more assertive stance in the South China Sea. A sense of entitlement to predominance in an area, where other sovereign states have just as legitimate interests (Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia). Beijing can hardly be surprised that its military build-up is being met with these powers having an interest in an American counterbalance. And in that sense, its China that really invited the U.S. But 2.500 Marines and access to some air force and naval facilities are not going to change the military balance in the region and given China's recently made gains in anti-ship and area-denial systems, even an additional U.S. carrier group would not tilt the balance more in the U.S.' favour. What is missing in the picture presented not only by SPIEGEL is that China's neighbours are investing in their armies and navies as well, investments that are far more important than a slightly increased U.S. naval presence—even though that remains an important stabilising factor in the Pacific.  

Montag, 14. November 2011

The Indian Bid for Fresh Fighter Jets Revisited


Now, as some of you may recall, I've recently lambasted the gifted colleagues of the American Enterprise Institute for arguing that the Indians were truly making a mistake by not buying F-18s and instead focusing on possible procurement of the French Rafale or the Eurofighter Typhoon. I feel largely vindicated by Michael Mazza's latest post, in which he welcomes the possible sell of F-35s to India. Just as I've argued, its about getting the right amount of bang for a particular amount of bucks. And as a matter of principle, selling the F-35 is actually an idea that appears to be more attractive from the view of India's security environment as well. It'll piss of the Pakistanis, of course, but then again, Tom Ricks had a rather valid point on that recently: "Pakistan is now an enemy of the United States." More on that to come.

We better stop, hey, what's that sound - A new War in Sudan?

As Buffalo Springfield once wrote: there's something happening here, what it is ain't exactly clear. If what the press is reporting is true, the formation of a new Sudanese rebel group—the Sudanese Revolutionary Front—is a remarkable new development in the war-torn country. After all, the secession of South Sudan earlier this year has brought one of Africa's most devastating civil wars to an end. Or so it seemed at the time. In the end, the Sudanese Revolutionary Front brings together the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the SPLM-N. In all those cases, the question really is, whether the formation of a new conglomerate of rebel movements is a sign of weakness or strength. Overcoming splits and different agendas speaks to the latter—the new movement has already laid out an agenda of overthrowing Omar al-Bashir, Sudan's current leader—whereas the formation itself can also been seen as the result of struggling movements under intense military pressure. And this is certainly true for JEM, which has been hit hard by the government in its area of operations, Darfur. Not coincidentally, JEM has long been the platform used by Hassan al-Turabi to get back at his one time political ally Omar al-Bashir. By the way, the conflict has led to renewed calls for a no-fly, though I spare you the feasibility-debate on that particular issue. As far as SLA and SPLM-N are concerned, these groups are basically leftovers of the SPLM/A, the liberation movement that succeeded in its secessionist bid with the formation of South Sudan. Put differently, there are strong indications for both interpretations.

Which also leaves me asserting this. Though state failure has received a lot of attention in the wake of the Somali, Yemeni and Afghan conflicts, what is less analysed is the nature of state-failure. Somalia and Afghanistan basically imploded, whereas Sudan seems to be failing on its periphery. I'll get into this another time. But what we do know is this, if I may put in terms, that might sound familiar. There's a man with a gun over there. Its Bashir and its time for him to go. 

Montag, 7. November 2011

Loosing China's Soft Power

Photo courtesy of US Army on Flickr

It is now well known that China's somewhat inevitable rise to being one of the world's most powerful nations is creating some backlash among its Asian neighbours (take a look at all the China stuff I put out on this blog). But what is hardly covered is the full extent of this sometimes painful relationship. With its newly gained prominence, the Chinese leadership is often finding itself abandoning its long-held philosophy of a peaceful rise and is instead bragging about, what it calls, its anti-imperialist legacy. Neighbouring nations are often fringing at the imagery China employs. Vietnam's elite—Vietnam is of course itself a rising power—has seen its record in fighting American and South Vietnamese forces during the Vietnam war called into question by largely inflated claims by China's elite about its role in the fight. It might indeed be one of the reasons why the Vietnamese elite, despite the Vietnam war, is trying to forge a close alliance with the U.S. I am currently reading Andrew Wiest's highly readable collection of essays in Rolling Thunder in a Gentle Land and came across this short piece written by Bui Tin, himself a veteran of the Vietnam war whilst serving in the armed forces of the North:

“The Chinese inflated their importance when they claimed that 200,000 to 300,000 Chinese troops had fought in the American air war. In truth, the Chinese supplied about 40 gun squads, belonging to 12 battalions, and four regiments of air defense, along with several corps of army engineers and various transportation, communication, logistics, and medial units. These rotated through the country in two-to-three-month cycles, from 1966 until 1972, when they were recalled. They were stationed north of the Hong River, at the request of the People's Liberation Army of China, who wanted their troops 'to get combat experience suited for modern warfare and learn about the activities of the American Air Force.' At Vietnam's request, the Chinese soldiers lived in the jungle away from Vietnamese population, to avoid trading between the two peoples and the formation of relationships between the Chinese soldiers and local women. The local Vietnamese disdained the Chinese for being on a 'wild turkey shoot.' The Chinese expended great amounts of ammunition, shooting skyward while reciting Mao's slogans and waving his little red book over their heads, but they never downed a single American aircraft.”

Freitag, 21. Oktober 2011

Taking Out Joseph Kony and Ending the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA)

The war the Lord's Resistance Army is waging against the civilian population of North-Eastern Congo, Northern Uganda and parts of South Sudan and the Central African Republic has never really received any media interest. But now that U.S. President Barack Obama has ordered the deployment of about 100 soldiers to the region as force enablers, it is finally getting some attention. I've actually written about the conflict before on this blog, when reviewing The Lord's Resistance Army. Myth and Reality. But I recently also had the pleasure of moderating an expert group meeting with the Special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Roger A. Meece. And what emerged from the meeting is that the LRA is having a disproportionate impact on the security situation in the Kivu provinces of the DRC. The LRA is responsible for the death of some troops belonging to the United Nations Mission in the DRC, even though the LRA probably does not field more than 200 core fighters and its leader Joseph Kony is probably somewhere in the Central African Republic. Putting an end to the nihilistic insurrection is hardly controversial.

One should, however, expect that a mission tailored to take out its leader would trigger some sort of debate on targeted killings. That it does not is probably due to the consensus that has emerged over the past decade that the only way to put an end to the LRA is the killing of its commander Joseph Kony. It is a consensus, one might add, that even humanitarian relief organisations, non-governmental organisations and high-ranking United Nations officials share. I warmly welcome Obama's decision to commit his administration to this mission. It ends three year's of neglect toward the Sub-Saharan African region.  

Donnerstag, 13. Oktober 2011

DER SPIEGEL—Most Ridiculous Media Bias of the Day

The leading German weekly Der SPIEGEL ran a story today with the somewhat revealing title USA räumen Ungereimtheiten bei Iran-Komplott ein, which roughly translates to “United States concedes to inconsistencies in Iranian assassination plot”.

Its media bias because:
1) The article makes it look as if the U.S. presented a case that it now has to walk back, acknowledging to faults when it first presented the case. That is simply false. The entire affair was made public when Attorney General Eric Holder held a press conference. Anyone watching it had to realise just how careful he was not to make it sound like the political leadership of Iran knew about the plot. He repeatedly said, I am paraphrasing here, that the plot was supervised by an entity belonging to the government of Iran (i.e. the Quds forces). He never said that it was ordered by the Iranian government, by Ahmadinejad or Khamenei. In fact, when he was pressed on the issue, he repeatedly pointed out that that was beyond the scope of the investigation. There, my dear editors from Der SPIEGEL, is nothing to walk back upon.
2) Der SPIEGEL quotes an unnamed expert as saying that it is a rather unlikely pattern to have come from the Iranian Revolutionary Guards. I have no idea, who they are quoting here, but it sounds like the exact translation of what Evan Kohlmann said on MSNBC's Hardball last night. But he never doubted the case the government has made so far.




Mittwoch, 12. Oktober 2011

Reasonable Expectations – Analysing the Romney Foreign Policy Package

Remember the lovely Hitchens-Rushdie anecdote on books that did not quite make it? The Good Gatsby, Reasonable Expectations. One can spend an entire day going through one's own book shelves, extending this little experiment (I've just come up with Anthills of some Savannah, Some Kind of Traitor, Conditional Surrender, A Tale of Two Villages). Or one can study the policy papers that did not quite have had an impact. Paper that did not quite make it of the week: Mitt Romney's foreign policy white paper, released a couple of days ago. So far, most candidates running in the GOP primaries have first and foremost commented on domestic issues and would it not be for Congressman Ron Paul, we would have hardly seen anyone with a consistent foreign policy message. But Paul's largely isolationist stance has always been his major political weakness and though he has been remarkably consistent on that, it will always lead to certain defeat at the polls. I don't agree with any of his foreign policy prescriptions, mind you, but he commands respect for being consistent. That being said, most observers would have to wonder where the current GOP's frontrunner would take U.S. foreign policy. Where would a Romney foreign policy be headed? After all, most of the traditional conservative and neoconservative foreign policy pundits have shied away from taking sides thus far and most must have harboured hopes for a Chris Christie run. But with Christie out of the race, the field is largely set and its time to take sides and shape ideas.

Mitt Romney is the first to come out with a real foreign policy blueprint. And while MSNBC's Rachel Madow is already starting to portray Romney as a come-again neoconservative Bush light, it might well be worthwhile to take a look at the actual piece and not only the names on his foreign policy advisory board. Though having said that, there are some impressive names on that particular list. Eliot Cohen, for instance, is the pre-eminent scholar in the field of civil-military relations and has written a foreword summarising from which parts of the Obama foreign policy a Romney administration would have to depart. Its certainly no coincidence that the first thing Cohen is alluding to is the phrase most conservatives now associate with the White House foreign policy stance: “leading from behind”. And indeed Romney's plan rebukes some of the less successful parts of the Obama foreign policy legacy. He summarises the shortfalls of the Obama administration rather tersely: He thinks, quite rightly, of the reset-button for U.S.-Russia relations as a gimmick that led nowhere; he treats the idea of global-zero as what it is, an utopian illusion and criticises the president, again correctly, for wavering on a number of free trade deals. What got the most traction for obvious reasons is that he attacked President Obama's arbitrary withdrawal date from Afghanistan. In similar vein, he criticises Obama's ill-fated outreach to Syria.

But the real question is: where to go from here? What Romney comes up with is a list that is sometimes murky, sometimes surprisingly specific and at other times quite revealing. Quoting Lincoln—The United States being the 'last best hope of earth'—always is a winning line for anyone who believes in American exceptionalism. But being the last best hope entails having the means available of actually doing something. One of the most noted indicators of the U.S.' declining military posture is the number of ships in the U.S. Navy. The size of the American fleet has shrunk to 284 ships in service today, the lowest number since 1916. Romney makes boosting the Navy's capabilities a key pillar of his foreign and security policy plan. But whether it is really financially feasible to increase the number of ships build annually from nine to fifteen is an entirely different story. Now, you don't need to have prophetic powers in order to realise that even a Romney administration will not push the number of naval vessels build annually up to fifteen. As this example illustrates, campaign documents are better treated with great care. Yet boosting naval capabilities ranks so prominently in the paper that some initiative on the matter might indeed be foreseeable.

But Romney's foreign policy sticks to more general terms when it comes to the pre-eminent challenge to U.S. supremacy: China. The plan does entail a more assertive stance by the United States in the face of China's military build-up. The transfer of more capable weapons systems to Taiwan and the introduction of radar and detection technologies and early warning systems for what the plan dubiously calls “disputed waters”, a not so subtle reminder of the territorial conflicts in the South China Sea, is pretty bold. A more assertive stance coupled with an increased presence might indeed lead to a more nuanced approach to the conflict by Beijing. Finally, Romney is offering a sweet carrot as well, the creation of what the plan calls a “Reagan Economic Zone”, a free trade area open to all Asian nations, including the People's Republic. And I admit that I was terribly pleased to see an entire paragraph devoted to human rights in China—the Romney campaign is making defending dissidents in the People's Republic and engaging its civil society a pillar of its foreign policy approach. Surely, not all of that will survive the realities of sitting in the Oval Office, but its finally a plan worth studying. And it is true, Obama has sometimes been lukewarm in his support for human rights abroad.

The recently uncovered Iranian state-sponsored terror plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States on U.S. soil makes a look at Romney's proposed Iran-policy all the more interesting. The first step envisaged by Romney would be an increased military presence of aircraft carriers groups in both the Eastern Med and the Persian Gulf, coupled with a new round of major sanctions. But Romney shies away from discussing the ultima ratio, military action. His plan looks a little like he's contemplating a containment and deterrence strategy vis-à-vis Iran. Accelerating the building of ballistic missile defence hints in the same direction. This leaves me wondering whether that really is a practical approach, though its certainly one of the more revealing parts of the document.

I am not going to comment at length on the Israel part—but one quote is noteworthy: “The key to negotiating a lasting peace is an Israel that knows it will be secure.” He is certainly right on that. Israel's security environment today looks less like the environment established following the Oslo accords, but rather resembles the tense situation of 1973. But Romney's plan is remarkably murky when it comes to the real challenge. How to foster a situation in which Israel regards a lasting settlement as beneficial to its own security perceptions? It is here that the white paper is a real disappointment.

I'll comment on Afghanistan in a different context, but two other ideas are noteworthy as well. For quite some time, State Department officials joked that “you can do anything in Latin America, except think about it.” Well, Romney's foreign policy advisory board devoted some of its energy towards Central and Latin America and came up with the idea of a Campaign for Economic Opportunity in Latin America (it already has an acronym [CEOLA], which indicates that they are somewhat serious about it), to offer a credible alternative to Hugo Chavez' regional hegemonic policies. With regard to the drug war in Mexico, Romney advocates reciprocating the strategies that worked in Colombia, which does not exactly stand out as too imaginative. The basic conundrum being that there is hardly enough time for these strategies to work.

Rather surprisingly, the Romney advisory board decided to go with some tough language on Russia. The white paper states in clear terms: “Russia is a destabilising force.” Disillusioned with Russia, the paper calls for a full review of the implementation of the New Start treaty, which is interesting since the cooperation between NATO and Russia already suffers severe setbacks. Moscow stopped to inform NATO on troop movements as called for in the Conventional Forces Europe Treaty (CFE) a couple of years ago, NATO is going to suspend its notifications at the end of this year (which is quite a bombshell in itself). The Romney campaign instead moves to a far more assertive stance toward Russia, announcing support for the Nabucco pipeline that circumvents Russia's transport monopole on natural gas to Europe, while at the same time staying remarkably quiet on what the next steps would be with regard to the Ukraine and Georgia. Nonetheless, the campaign outlines the development of a new soft power approach vis-à-vis Russia, calling for more civil society support and expanded exchange programmes. That might make for a good start, it does not, however, make for a real strategy.

Establishing a regional directorate to coordinate democracy promotion and stabilisation programmes for Egypt, Libya and Tunisia is a lovely idea and could have come as easily from a democrat. I am guessing that his ideas on reforming the foreign policy apparatus will be far more controversial. Restructuring the State Department along regional directorates similar to the Pentagon's combatant commands won't go over easy with the State Department. But he is certainly right that the Congressional Authorization for Use of Military Force needs to be revisited to clarify against what groups force can and should be used. As in other cases, its also interesting to note what the 44-pages white paper does not touch upon: Notably absent from the Romney foreign policy blueprint:
  1. Europe
  2. India
  3. Japan
  4. Africa
  5. NATO
Also missing are thoughts on restructuring the Pentagon. He is certainly right that State needs reform, but its hard to imagine anyone seriously arguing that the need for Pentagon reform is actually smaller than the need for reform at Foggy Bottom. There is certainly some work left to be done. But so far, I am reasonably impressed.

Freitag, 7. Oktober 2011

The Sclerotic State of Russia


Today marks the fifth anniversary of Anna Politkovskaya's murder, or shall we say execution in Russia. Her death was only a small step in curbing freedom of the press in Russia, but it demonstrates just how far the country has come under Putin and Medvedev. The unchecked authoritarian tendencies of its leadership have produced a society of fear of nearly Orwellian character. So, to mark the day, I've come up with a short commentary on Russia sclerotic state of affairs

Freitag, 30. September 2011

Getting Back to United Nations Peacekeeping Missions – The case of MONUSCO in the Democratic Republic of the Congo

A couple of days ago I had the great pleasure and honour of moderating Roger A. Meece, who is the Special Representative of the Secretary General of the United Nations and the head of the United Nations Organisation Stabilisation Mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, at an expert talk convened by the German United Nations Association. Roger A. Meece, a former U.S. diplomat and ambassador to countries like Congo, the DRC and Malawi was truly impressive and there are some points I've taken away from the evening that are worth sharing, at least for foreign policy nerds like me.

For a start, one issue constantly raised during the evening was, somewhat unsurprisingly, the inadequate resources at the mission's disposal. Normally, when talking about blue helmet missions, observers point out that most contributors are not equipped for such complex missions since the largest contributors are states like Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal, etc., states that do not exactly maintain the most professional of all armies. But there are tactical issues that are often overlooked. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), for instance, the equipment most needed are transport helicopters. But the withdrawal of attack helicopters has left the mission, interestingly, without a major deterrent to warlords. So far, I've never seen a single paper studying the role of attack helicopters in UN peacekeeping missions. Getting into that now entered my to-do list.

But the major issue with which MONUSCO is currently preoccupied are the national elections coming up in November. The outcome of national assembly elections are difficult to predict, but it stands to reason that a number of parliamentarians are about to lose their seat. The elections are a major challenge to MONUSCO and the government. While in 2006 50.000 polling stations were set up across the country, this years' elections will see 62.000 polling stations up and running. With the increase in polling stations come large scale logistical challenges. While there are less candidates running for president in 2011—eleven candidates are registered, whereas in 2006 33 candidates were running—the number of parliamentary candidates has significantly increased. The drop in number of presidential candidates is partly a product of the success of the 2006 elections. Most candidates then running were surprised to find that the elections were taking place at all and initially registered only to be part of an eventually negotiated settlement of the elections.

The 2011 national elections are going to be particularly challenging when it comes to the national assembly. There are now 19.000 candidates running for 500 seats. In all probability the elections will set a world-record in ballot size, with some 1.500 candidates competing for a single seat. However, the larger circumstances of the elections are somewhat more promising than in 2006. In 2006 three belligerent factions made conducting elections difficult, whereas today there are no armed factions threatening the larger area of the DRC. The major security threat in the 2011 elections, by contrast, are demonstrations. Although they could have an impact on the local level, they should be manageable. Overall it needs to be stressed that the elections will in all likelihood not lead to a new Côte d'Ivoire situation and instead can be expected to run rather smoothly.

Mittwoch, 28. September 2011

The Drug War – A Truly Silly One

While on a train from Berlin the other day (I was moderating a lecture by His Excellency Roger A. Meece, the current head of MONUSCO), I've had a chance to look into the current issue of the Foreign Affairs. Now, I am not among those who oppose any war out of some weird and misapplied principle, but I do oppose silly wars. And yes, I am still supporting the war in Iraq, so you might be wondering which war I find myself opposing? Its the war on drugs; a war that no one will ever win and that will never end, so maybe stop calling it a war is a pretty good idea for a start. But that isn't it. In the current Foreign Affairs' Mark Kleinman is making a rather persuasive argument calling the decades old war a failure. Instead of having been able to curb the influx of drugs, the supply is so plentiful that prices even for hard drugs have dropped by 80 to 90%. And even though the profits that can be made in the drugs business have dropped as well, the U.S. government is today imprisoning more people on drug-related charges than at any other time since prohibition. Kleinman is reaching the most important and convincing part of his case when talking about Mexico by making a small, but decisive note. Mexico, he argues, is fighting a war in which it has absolutely no stake. The war in Mexico, after all, is nearly entirely driven by the high demand on the North American illicit drug market. Would that demand drop or would the border indeed be fully secured, the violence in Mexico would be reduced or should the drug trade follow different routes, Mexico would become less important to the drug cartels virtually overnight. The war is threatening the foundations of the Mexican state, even though Mexico itself is neither the market nor the producer of the drugs. But the solution Kleinman is proposing is somewhat less compelling: he argues that instead of fighting the drug cartels altogether, the U.S. and Mexican authorities should introduce a scoring system and go after the most dangerous and violent cartel only. That strategy would reduce violence, he argues, because it deters drug cartels from fighting each other and killing innocents. I somewhat doubt that that is what would happen. It appears to me that drug cartels would play that system just as much as they have played any system so far. It only takes the first season of the Wire to realise just how futile that would be.  


Samstag, 24. September 2011

Putin's Sclerotic State of Mind

Whoever had time to watch the FOX/Google presidential debate was most certainly spending the next day dissecting just how much of a lacklustre performance Texas Governor Rick Perry delivered and how Mitt Romney succeeded in re-establishing himself as the GOP's best bet to beat Barack Obama in 2012. There are those who find the entire enterprise tiresome and prefer not to spend a regular night listening to nine Republicans harbouring largely similar ambitions. But one is well-advised to remind oneself of the marvel of having such a beautiful process in the first place when compared to the tedious predictability of Russian politics. President Medvedev today nominated Vladimir Putin to serve as Russia's next president. I am not guessing that anyone doubts that Putin will be 'elected'. Not just because Putin is so incredibly popular, but also because anyone daring to challenge him in a serious manner will find himself constrained by two rather daunting hurdles. On the one hand the regime has established a system that favours the government party in ways unthinkable a mere twenty years ago. The press is gutted and the society mobilised in ways that are Orwellian in character. Should a journalist dare to live up to the promise of his profession, he can be certain to face what the state media will term an accident. Then on the other there is the constant danger that too successful a challenge will inevitably lead you to spend the remainder of your life in prison, as Kasparov can attest to.

For many years Western observers made themselves believe that there is a secret struggle between Putin and Medvedev as to who is going to run for president next. And there is a decent chance that such a struggle did indeed take place. But in hindsight Medvedev, despite his moderate leanings, has always been too soft and indecisive as to mount a serious challenge to the Prime Minister. He has been overrun by the Putin time and again and even whilst Medvedev was president, it often looked as if it was Putin who was really in charge. Some observers have suggested that Putin brings stability to Russia and is therefore not the worst thing that could happen to the country, while others have suggested that Russia is on a pathway to again become a Tsarist system. There is some truth in all of that, but one should not forget that Putin is first and foremost a populist; the sort of chap that would sport a little war to manifest himself favourably in history (one might remind oneself for a moment of the 2008 August war). The one thing he will not do is to reform the system of the Russian state, a state that has—as today's news again demonstrate—become literally sclerotic.

Freitag, 23. September 2011

Like a Grown-Up Überpower – The Chinese Attitude Toward the Military-to-Military Dialogue

Becoming a superpower and acting like one are two very different things, as the beloved Chinese seem keen to demonstrate again. In the face of the U.S. administration preparing a major arms sale to Taiwan, Beijing reacts outraged and threatens all kinds of things, most notably the suspension of direct military talks between the United States and the People's Republic. "Rather than working with China to consolidate and expand the positive growth of bilateral military ties, the United States again announced its plan to sell arms to Taiwan, which will create severe obstacles for normal military-to-military exchanges," opined Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng. (By the way, one really has to admire how Xinhua can give a fully biased picture without blinking once)

Its not that the Chinese government should not raise its concerns. But the constant outrage displayed over U.S. arms sales to Taiwan is becoming preposterous. One might very well argue that the selling of arms to Taipei is tantamount to meddling in China's internal affairs, but then again, the Taiwanese are enjoying a freedom that is under constant siege. The latest Pentagon report on China found that between 1200 and 1400 ballistic missiles are currently aimed at Taiwan, while 400.000 soldiers and 500 fighter jets are positioned in the military districts on the Chinese side of the Taiwan-strait. Most importantly, the reports conclude consistently that the military balance in the Taiwan-strait is tilting in favour of the Chinese. The U.S. arms sale is not going to alter that trend, so its not that big of a deal in strategic terms.

But being a superpower is also about understanding your rivals. And the U.S. does not have that much of a choice. Ever since 1979 the U.S. administration is legally obligated to help the Taiwanese to defend themselves. Not that will ever come to that, hopefully. But all politics is local and the Chinese regime could at least try to understand the constraints placed upon the administration. But that is not to say the Obama administration could not handle the situation better. The Bush administration cleared the way in its relationship with China in the first year of being in office, pushing through a major arms package and leaving it with seven years in which it could focus on Beijing. That earned Bush rare praise even from liberals like Fareed Zakaria.

The Chinese attitude is all lovely for a moment but using the military-to-military dialogue to voice its concerns with Washington is simply immature for one single reason: The expanding Chinese military is inexperienced in operations outside its own territory. Chinese aircraft and PLAN submarines are now encountering American Navy vessels and U.S. military aircraft more often than at any other time. The close passes of American and Chinese aircraft increase the likelihood of lethal incidents like the Hainan island incident. The military-to-military dialogue is becoming more important in that context and is turning into an indispensable instrument in trying to avoid bilateral tensions emanating from such incidents. Beijing should start looking for a different pressure valve or else it will remain an immature superpower.

Modern Classics in War and Warfare – XI

It isn't often that one finds a page-turner that can be read on a single day, but Denis Johnson has written just that. A highly readable and recommendable account of his travels to Africa, Seek is a masterly written book. Johnson has always been fascinated by the despondency and exotic surroundings one finds abroad and his first book—Tree of Smoke—was a marvellous story of the onset of the Vietnam War. The short stories collected in Seek, however, are not an effort to create a narrative of the warzones he was visiting. For that he had no time, since he spent most of his time getting to where he was supposed to be working. Instead, all stories are roadtrips, Bukowski going to Africa of sorts. The most disturbing encounter took place in Liberia, which he visited twice during the 1990s. Once meeting Prince Johnson, a notorious warlord who tortured and killed Samuel Doe and showed the footage of the so called “interrogation” with pride to journalists and the esteemed writer. When re-visiting Liberia a couple of years later, he is supposed to meet Charles Taylor but is instead shuffled through the country, meeting only drugged fighters and drunk generals. But what emerges is a picture of the intractable nature of the conflict raging in Liberia at the time.

I am just realising that this is probably the fourth or fifth book in a row that could not possibly be summarised as a classic study in war and warfare. But sooner or later I shall come up with a reading list on military affairs and since well-written accounts of Africa's military are hard to come by, this might well qualify. Its a good read in any event. 

Montag, 5. September 2011

Modern Classics in War and Warfare – X

Anthony Feinstein's Battle Scarred. The Hidden Costs of the Border War is not exactly a classic in military history. For one thing, its been published far too recently. For another, Feinstein does not even attempt to write a historic account. The war, which in various forms lasted from 1966 to 1989, remains one of the least studied episodes of the Cold War, though it has everything in it to make it an attractive research topic (Chris Saunders gives a good introduction here). A hot and devastating proxy war in the midst of the Cold War, in which even the Cubans thought it wise to intervene (and in doing so forced a reluctant Soviet Union to get involved as well, straining the Soviet Union's patience with its Cuban ally). Feinstein, a former conscript and doctor in the South African army, is a veteran of the war himself and has now turned his first-hand experience into a well-written and fascinating page-turner, easily read in the course of an afternoon or a long flight over the African continent. His book is one of the few really good personal accounts of the war. Joining the army for his tour of duty, he is asked to give a specific field of medical expertise. He sits down and scribbles plastic surgery on the note and is later surprised to find that the army has given him psychiatry instead. Asking his superiors what on earth had happened, he gets an answer that will somehow sound familiar to anyone having the slightest bit of military experience. In the alphabet PS follows PL.

But Feinstein quickly adapts to military life and finds himself on the front lines, dealing with patients who are unprepared for or devastated by military action and civilians, who can no longer carry the burden of constant conflict. The military historian, however, will find the last 50 pages the most interesting. Here, the author takes the reader on a tour through his small unit, which is deployed on the front lines and has more than one enemy encounter during the war. But an ambush leaves the unit in disarray. Following the attack more than one soldier is haunted by what he has experienced and even the unit's captain is having nightmares. The unit, having lost confidence in its leader, is beginning to fall apart. The book is a powerful reminder not so much of what the hidden costs of the border war are—they are easy to notice—but that unit cohesion is among the things in war that cannot be ordered and even less easily be explained. Feinstein could have put a little more effort in contextualising the whereabouts of his deployment and given more details when it comes to the role his unit had in the overall South African war effort. But having said that, the book should certainly be on everybody's military reading list.

Dienstag, 23. August 2011

Hiatus

I'll be leaving for South Africa today and shall resume blogging sometime next week. I've got half a dozen unfinished pieces in the pipeline and hopefully will have an avalanche of posts upon my return next week...

Freitag, 12. August 2011

Somalia – Yet Again


The pitiful state of much of the Horn of Africa is indeed a stark reminder that protracted civil war tends to destroy the livelihoods of entire peoples. But not only have the famines been recurring, they are also inevitable as long as much of Southern Somalia remains a war zone. Virtually every BBC news article on Somalia ends with a sentence informing the daring reader that Somalia is in chaos since the government of Siad Barre was toppled in 1991. This leads to the generally ill-informed assumption that the current violence started about two decades ago and that ever since Somalia is a so-called failed state. In itself correct, the seeds of the country's failure can be traced back to 1975 and two years ago I've done a larger study on land and war in Somalia. The issue of land and war in Somalia does not get much media attention these days, but it is in fact crucial, so for a moment of sheer vanity, I shall recommend my own paper. Having said that, there is another issue that the international community needs to deal with: the recognition of Somaliland as an independent state.

Montag, 8. August 2011

Comments on Germany's Soft Power



Never getting tired of my own vanity, I'd like to make this little announcement. Every now and then, I am invited to write a short piece for a website, and sometimes I do. The Young Transatlantic Conservative Alliance now has a page up and running and I always wanted to write a couple of sentences on Germany's soft power.

Samstag, 6. August 2011

A Turkish Limbo

What the Turkish government has been up to in recent years is leaving virtually all experts guessing and in fact, its quite a sobering dilemma. A guardian paradox that is literally without parallels in recent times. The Turkish government's success in curbing the military's influence is, generally speaking, a positive development. One does not need be a civilian supremacist as Peter Feaver, Donald Rumsfeld or your esteemed author to recognise that any military that intervenes in politics is overstepping boundaries that are crucial to the very definition of democracy. On the other hand, the Turkish military has always had a special role that went well beyond that of any other European military. It was the bulwark against all attempts to undermine the secular foundations of the Turkish state, and its coups often had been last resorts when it thought the very foundations of the state were in jeopardy. Moreover, the current government's stance on the secular underpinnings of modern Turkey haven't always been exactly reassuring and the case against the military's leaderships supposed Ergenekon network smells a bit funny.

Erdogan's government has in fact dismantled much of what made Turkey such a steadfast ally in recent decades. Its surprising overtures to Iran, particularly the ill-fated enrichment swap deal negotiated with Brazil at a time the US was putting together a coalition for tougher sanctions on Tehran, have backfired and left much of Turkey's new foreign policy in shambles. For one thing, the Iranians played the Turkish more than Erdogan's government seems to have been aware of. In light of the new foreign policy approach Ankara made steps to increase its standing in Damascus, but quickly and rightly backed away from that, when the Syrian government began to curb domestic opposition. The quickly deteriorating bilateral relationship between Turkey and Syria has already led Ankara's new friends to call on Turkey to make a decision. Meanwhile Erdogan's government has ruined the long-standing Turkish-Israeli alliance without anything to show for it. And the West is increasingly concerned that Turkey might be drifting out of its camp. Certainly, part of that is a self-inflicted wound by the EU's refusal to put its wallet where its mouth is. Turkey should have entered the European Union years ago, but that notwithstanding, Erdogan's government has pursued its foreign policy realignment at a reckless pace with meagre results at best.

All that is begging the question: Is the confrontation with the former senior leadership of the military just another step to dismantle the Turkish system? Much depends on who is going to replace the military leaders. The next in line for promotion share their older comrades convictions and beliefs in a secular state. Should the government intend to alter the very system of the state, it would have to sideline an entire generation of officers and promote soldiers of a much younger generation, who have not had the same experiences as the just retired generation. But the current uncertainty has left the country in a dangerous limbo and that is partly a price we pay for a wavering policy towards Turkey.

Donnerstag, 4. August 2011

The Chinese Threat – Finally Real?

This entire thing has been cooking for quite some time now. But while the U.S. Congress is cutting the budget, Beijing had its coming out. Finally, the old Varyag has been re-christened and will indeed serve as the People's Republic first aircraft carrier. And since Beijing is obviously constructing its first indigenous one based on the Varyag's model and is likely to build a couple of additional ones, it is high-noon for all those who previously excelled in missile-counting and of course for the media that likes nothing more than a strictly ill-informed debate on military matters. It is no surprise therefore that all sorts of people are already beginning to compare the number of aircraft carriers the U.S. and China can put to sea. And that is more than enough motivation for me to call for a time-out and make some serious remarks on the entire affair. And generally speaking this is going to be a cautionary tell.

Rule of the day, don't panic. This doesn't come as a surprise. The annual Pentagon report on China's military released last year already warned that such steps are highly likely. But: The first Chinese aircraft carrier is of Soviet design and Soviet aircraft carriers were comparatively small ones (not to mention old). And that is important for a simple reason. An aircraft carrier is nothing more and nothing less than a rather expensive floating flight deck. Having a carrier gets you exactly nowhere. Its military weight is determined by two factors:

First: What you've got to put on it
So, when a U.S. carrier shows up in a theatre, it brings something with it. And in terms of offensive capabilities, that basically translates to some 70 fixed wing aircraft, a threatening number of F 18s. Now, the F 18 is still an impressive fighter jet and unless its supposed to fight against a Eurofighter Typhoon, there is virtually no jet in the world that can take an F 18 on. Even if the Chinese had an equally capable jet (which despite all the fuzz over the J 20, they don't—because they suck in terms of avionics to name just one disadvantage), they had nowhere near the same number of these fighters on their carriers. Having said that, the jet on such a ship needs cover, mid-air refuelling, reconnaissance´planes to go with it, etc. U.S. carriers got all that, they don't just put a fighter jet in the air, they put an entire fleet of planes in the air that taken together is becoming a formidable force. The Chinese might have a carrier, but they are light years behind in terms of jets and jet composition. Not to mention, training, exercises, etc.

Second: What sort of ships you've got to sail with it
Now, even though you might have an impressive ship and a number of jets to go with it, the ship itself is still vulnerable. In order to protect it, you need a whole number of ships to go with it—subs, destroyers, cruisers, you get the point. And even though the Chinese are making inroads in the expansion of their navy, only about 30% of the Chinese navy is currently considered state-of-the-art. But even the most advanced destroyers and cruisers of the Chinese naval forces are nowhere near being a match for an American AEGIS-destroyer or cruiser. The notable exception being subs. But there is a point here and that is: There is a reason the U.S. sends its carriers in a carrier strike group. Because the floating deck in itself is use- and defenceless.

And you Chinese, don't get carried away just yet
Because on the face of it, this might appear to be about numbers and capabilities. But that is only part of the story. And since expertise in military matters is not exactly a common trait these days, there is a bigger picture, I'd like to introduce. Two points on that: 1) A force might have all the power you can think of, but it needs doctrines to be effective. And the Chinese doctrines are strictly Mao-mass-infantry-attrition-like. They are beginning to look at it, mind you, but they don't have much experience in it and that has partly to do with how the military is structured in communist states. Because, well, in communist states, its not the state that is in control of the armed forces. Its the communist party. And that's not exactly ideal in terms of civil-military relations. 2) An aircraft carrier has a lifespan of about 50 years. But: the era of carriers is nearing its end anyway. With more effective area-denial weapons entering the market, these ships are becoming really vulnerable again. What is more is that the F 35 JSF might be the last jet developed that still requires a pilot. Drones are simply much cheaper to procure and operate. Prompt Global Strike has been resuscitated by the Obama administration and might lead somewhere (though I have no earthly idea where). Put differently, having a carrier is impressive. But its also becoming less relevant.

Mittwoch, 3. August 2011

Entering the Somalia Debate Without Looking Back

Today, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung reports that over the weekend Klaus Töpfer (now vice-president of UNICEF) called for an international humanitarian intervention in Somalia to help distribute aid and in doing so use force against al-Shabaab if necessary. Is it just me or is anyone else having a deja-vu moment right now? Well, for the moment, its just me. Not that many people have actually studied Somalia. But in recent years I've written more than a dozen pieces on Somalia [you'll get one of my latest here] and hence feel compelled to make a couple of remarks.

Its not that there isn't an intervention in Somalia. There is. Its called the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and they have recently gained control of roughly 70 percent of the city, which is quite remarkable. It is that area that is now being flooded by refugees. About 1.5 million people have come to AMISOM-controlled areas in recent weeks and they desperately need help. But, in order to get help to these people, no additional intervention is necessary. And needless to say having the recently gained quarters of the town flooded with civilians is not exactly what one would hope for in military terms.

Moreover, the United Nations estimates that about 12 million people in total need some sort of food relief. But that's in no way certain, because the Somali government hasn't exactly had the time or liberty for a census. So most of the affected live in areas in Ethiopia and Kenya's Northern Frontier District. Areas that are accessible right now. The people in demand of relief living in Somalia could easily vary between some three and six million.

But what is even more striking, however, is in how close this debates comes to the one we had before entering Operation Restore Hope in 1991. Back in the days, George H. W. Bush had already lost the elections but was still in the White House and it would be months before Bill Clinton would be inaugurated. In light of the famine, Bush senior decided that nobody should suffer from hunger on Christmas in 1991. Armed gangs and militias had already begun to regard food as an equivalent to money and took a huge part of it away from the famine relief programmes. In fact, the food relief was already fuelling the war in Somalia and George H. W. Bush thought that shortly after the end of the Cold War such disasters could and should be stopped by the world's sole remaining superpower. Operation Restore Hope was a huge success initially (lesson here, do not believe media stereotypes). The operation saved the lives of some 300.000 Somalis. But: In the world we live in, we don't just leave after having dealt with the worst part of the suffering. We stay to create conditions that make it less likely that we have to deal with the situation again. So when the United States intervened as the spearhead of UNITAF it was only the first step to a major intervention by the United Nations (UNOSOM I and later on UNOSOM II) and from the beginning there were problems: The United Nations under the leadership of Boutros Boutros Ghali wanted to rebuild the war torn nation, whereas the Bush senior wanted out as quickly as possible (after all, it was part of a legacy-shopping effort and he had no intention to leave Clinton with a costly quagmire). While that disagreement was brewing, forces on the ground had their very own problems. UNOSOM missions were planned and executed long before the United Nations came up with robust mandates. And the mission never had the troop numbers necessary to deal with the violence. Worst of all, the had no strategy.

And why is all of that important? Because the very same problems already haunt AMSOM. Like the mission in the early 1990s and the current allied effort in Afghanistan, there is no clear strategy guiding military efforts. And worst of all, there are territorial disputes that need to be dealt with—The international community still has no idea on how to deal with Somaliland's bit for independence [though I personally suggested a long time ago that it needs to be recognised as a state]. So before anyone should advocate intervening in Somalia, let them have a strategy first.

Mittwoch, 27. Juli 2011

Is Cutting Aid to Pakistan a Good Idea?

Once the question is raised one might feel inclined to ask, whose foreign aid might be cut here? As so often, the debate is an American one, for once because its the only one that matters in terms of size of the aid and second the US is the only country having that debate. By the way, since these things usually are being debated in the US and the US is the larger donor here one might well challenge the commonly held assumption that we Europeans are somehow stronger in the soft-power domain...

On the one hand the case for aid to Pakistan should be relatively easy. Its a poor country and clearly a front-line in the war on terror. And indeed, if there only would be some momentum to an economic reconstruction or revival of the country much of the legitimacy of the different Taliban-networks in Pakistan would crumble. Or perhaps even crater. So fuelling that sort of economic growth and perhaps giving the Pakistani military a hand in defeating the militants should be an easy sell.

On the other hand, the budget needs to be cut somewhere and in light of what happened following the bin Laden raid—the arrest of those who actually revealed to the US where bin Laden was hiding, an FBI investigation into the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) efforts to lobby the US on Kashmir and bilateral relations that have hit rock-bottom despite the massive US aid—it looks like Pakistan is receiving quite a lot of cash for not so much and in fact declining cooperation, from a state who hasn't always been the steadfast ally one would wish for in the first place.

The Foreign Relations Authorization Act—which is where US foreign aid to Pakistan is being found—now has some language added to it that conditions aid to Pakistan on their willingness to really cooperate in the fight against Islamist militias (though its anyone’s guess how that is supposed to be verified). The US has already hold off $ 800 million in assistance for military operations for a lack of conditions being met. And in that particular case conditions were not defined in such politically astute ways of, lets say, no double-dealing with the Islamists you're secretly nurturing for your not so secret but insane rivalry with India, but for inconsistencies in their reimbursement claims. And the funny thing is this. Just the other day I trashed Dov Zakheim's new book, but he was at least outspoken on this. Ever since 9/11 the US wanted to reimburse Pakistan but had no earthly idea on how to do that. In fact, Pakistan could simply claim a sum and would get it, no receipts being asked for.

And more than that, when offered help in the fight against terrorism, the first thing Pakistan asked for were F-16s. The implications being that Pakistan used the war on terrorism as pretext to continue its preparations for the nonsense rivalry with India. Exactly the sort of behaviour that no one should have in interest in fostering. But in more general terms the amount of money funnelled to Pakistan is now so big that it hardly needs much imagination to think that the Pakistanis have a vested interest in keeping it going. And virtually every observer noted that it is the Pakistani government that has really mastered the diplomatic game of playing off partners against each other. Pakistan has played the China card whenever cutting aid was threatened and at the same time blocked any attempts to bring India into helping rebuilding Afghanistan. Cutting aid is actually a good idea. Not generally, of course. But in Pakistan's case. The double-dealing and awkwardness of the Pakistani government's behaviour is more than troubling. And as in any other case it might be worthwhile to ask what you're getting for your cooperation and aid (after all, if Gates can raise that issue with such allies as Germany and Poland it might be feasible to do the same with even more crucial partners in the war on terror).

Freitag, 22. Juli 2011

Modern Classics in War and Warfare – IX

It might well be excusable for an American author to, when talking about the capitals of two rather important European nations, casually refer to them as Paris and Bonn. It might even be excusable in a book that has been published in 2011. It might, however, be deemed debatable whether it is equally excusable to publish a book with a largely misleading subtitle, as Dov S. Zakheim, has recently done. Zakheim, one of the early picks of Governor George W. Bush to prepare his presidential run in 2000, has now put forward a book with the somewhat intriguing title A Vulcan's Tale. How the Bush Administration Mismanaged the Reconstruction of Afghanistan. It is, unfortunately, everything but. In fact, a more concise subheading would have been something along the lines of “my constant quarrels with OMB and other random rumblings on whatever else crossed my desk.” 

Having been part of Bush's presidential advisory team, Zakheim ended up serving in the administration, as chief comptroller of the Department of Defense and later on as the Department's point-man on Afghanistan reconstruction. And even though that gave him a unique insight into the administration, though without having a specific policy position, he is hardly making use of it. Indeed, it is hard to follow him when reading his account. His bottom line—no surprises here—is that the United States had a real chance to pacify Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003 but blew it when it instead began to focus on Iraq. And since the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) constantly immersed itself into decisions that had exclusively to do with the development of policy positions whatsoever and insisted on a level of micromanagement that made it virtually impossible to execute two post-conflict strategies at the same time, taking the eyes of the ball became all the more easy. The role played by OMB is certainly an addition to the picture (In his memoirs, Rumsfeld mentioned OMB only in passing) and still needs to be analysed in greater detail. But Zakheim clearly had an issue with his OMB counterpart, Robin Cleveland. Or more precisely he must have hated her breathing guts. But his book is also an account of how he failed to tackle the OMB issue for good. And it is at times hard to digest his rumbling account. Unfortunately not for the insight he is willing to share—there is hardly any—but for the useless details he volunteers to his readers. Sure Afghanistan is hot and the sand penetrates everything. But is that important, because you've got exclusive access to a shower, as Zakheim goes on to tell us, or might it be important because some allies cannot fly their helicopters in such a hostile climate (yepp, Germany), as Zakheim either does not know or does not find particularly interesting?

The Vulcans, by the way, were a team of intellectuals assembled for the first time in 2000 by Condoleezza Rice, when she began advising Governor Bush on matters of national security and foreign policy, when he began planning his run for the White House and the term is sometimes being used interchangeably with neoconservatives. The initial group of advisers, however, had no clear ideological direction (and in that they had something in common with the president-elect himself, who was initially more inclined to take an isolationist rather than interventionist, let alone neoconservative position) and Dov Zakheim was among the outspoken realists, generally opposed to interventions overseas. Rice herself was initially inclined to share the realist position, with Paul Wolfowitz, aware of his Straussian roots, being the most vocal neoconservative in the group of Vulcans.

James Mann, on the other hand, prefers to define the group of Vulcans very differently. Though aware of the origins of the term, he thinks it more useful to qualify Cheney, Powell, Rice, Rumsfeld, Armitage and Wolfowitz as Vulcans and explains why he does so in his outstanding masterpiece Rise of the Vulcans. The History of Bush's War Cabinet. He rightly points out that the final make-up of Bush's national security circle was somewhat of a surprise and picking Rumsfeld as SecDef was particularly unexpected (Rumsfeld was Bush's second choice). But Mann traces the origins of this entire generation of policymakers to the Vietnam war and their desire to rebuild American strength in its aftermath. Mann is at his best when he explores the intellectual and ideological origins of the neoconservative movement and describes the development of that movement from Kirkpatrick's famous 1979 Commentary article [pdf] to the full embrace of the democratization agenda following the Reagan administration's success in easing the regime of Ferdinand Marcos out of office. He describes the many fault-lines within this exceptional group of politicians, their intellectual quarrels and their common goals. It is all the more remarkable considering the fact that the book was first published in 2004. It still is the landmark volume on Bush's cabinet. And it is quite unfortunate that Dov Zakheim had so little to add to the picture.