Dienstag, 23. August 2011


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.