Montag, 28. März 2011

Modern Classics in War and Warfare VI

Well, The Bang Bang Club does not exactly qualify as a classic in war or warfare studies. But the book, written by Greg Marinovich and Joao Silva, is a vivid testimony of the final years of the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa and as such makes a fascinating read. Before reading it, I vaguely remembered ethnic tensions between Zulus and ANC-members in the early 1990s, shortly before South Africa was about to elect Nelson Mandela in the first truly democratic elections. But I didn't quite realise that there was some sort of a low-level civil war going on with regular shootings and daily clashes, claiming the lives of hundreds. In fact, only after opening this book did I recall how close the country came to an all out civil war. The Bang Bang Club does not analyse the many faultlines of the various belligerent groups, let alone the motives behind the violence. Instead the authors, photographers themselves, are primarily occupied with describing how they ended up covering the war and at what personal costs. The book's subheading Snapshots from a Hidden War sums it up: This book isn't anything else than exactly that, but it makes for some addictive reading.

Donnerstag, 17. März 2011

Modern Classics in War and Warfare V

When Mary Kaldor introduced the term "new wars" to the security community, she referred to the changing nature of warfare, arguing that traditional conventional conflict was no longer, as they say in Paris, en vogue. So, by the way, argues Herfried Münkler, who magically came up with exactly the same term. I personally found that term to be misleading, after all new wars were not so new at all, once one studied the history of conflict in Africa. New was only to be attributed at the expense of decades of war in Sub-Sahara Africa and I therefore preferred Kalevi Holsti's term "wars of a third kind". Be that as it may, one of the wars subjected under this category is the war of the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) against the Ugandan government. A war that gained momentum in the late 1980s and a war that cost the lives of thousands. The LRA has abused thousands of children, turning them into child soldiers or sex slaves. Its official aims—defending the marginalised Acholi of Northern Uganda and establishing a state on the bible's ten commandments—have been window-dressing for some time now and even in many NGO-circles, the consensus seems to be that only a military defeat will end the war. The war has led to one of the worst humanitarian crises (in the words of Jan Egeland) and has given rise to a phenomenon called night commuting, when children travel tens of kilometres at night, only to find shelter from potential LRA abuse.

Tim Allen and Koen Vlassenroot have now shed some new light on the conflict in their recently released The Lord's Resistance Army. Myth and Reality. I personally found it highly readable, even though many articles were surprisingly short and some authors clearly lacked professional experience in presenting a coherent argument. More than that, some articles are a bit confusing. Sverker Finnstöm, for instance, argues that the LRA has a real political agenda—something doubted by most observers—and argues that this agenda can be found in some political documents, though he fails to quote only from one of them. He has not even engaged the argument that given the track-record of the LRA it might only be some sort of window-dressing in light of mounting pressure. But having said that, Tim Allen's chapters on the “invention of Acholi traditional justice” make a good read and his argument that the churches invented them to foster their own agenda is highly persuasive.

N.B. While taking up an Africa-related subject, I recently reviewed Ian Taylor's new book on the international relations of Sub-Saharan Africa (the review is in German, however).

Mittwoch, 16. März 2011

Egypt – So ElBaradei Is Running

Yes, I know, the world is about to end right now. But I am not an expert on Japan, let alone on nuclear power plants, so I might well stick to what I know and do best: conducting analyses, even though it might well be irrelevant right at the moment. So here's the news: Egypt already has presidential candidates lining up: And ElBaradei is one of the more hopeful ones. Shortly before the revolution in Egypt reached its peak and Mubarak was ousted, Mohammed ElBaradei showed up in the midst of the demonstrators on Tahrir Square. His appearance was remarkable for two reasons. First he joined up relatively late, noteworthy, therefore, was his absence for most of the earlier demonstrations. And secondly, once he did appear, international media was quick to describe the former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as a technocrat who might well be the best deal Egyptians could be hoping for under the circumstances. Since he is now off running for president, one might well ask what his late appearance tells up about what sort of politician he would be and whether he really is a technocrat.

The first question is relatively easier to answer. We don't know. He has never held public, let alone elected office. Running for the big gig is a bit difficult in the first place, since no one really has any idea of whether or not he would be an effective leader. But this largely holds true for all other possible contenders, the only exception perhaps being the Arab League's Secretary General (and only as a short sidekick: this might well explain why the same crew now off “intervening” in Bahrain to protect a minority rule, called for a no-fly on Libya, where the majority wants a new system). But if his late show up for the revolution is indicative of anything than that he in all probability is a rather wavering sort of political leader.

The second question is a little more tricky to come by. The consensus in international media seems to be that as the former head of the nuclear watchdog IAEA he is sort of technocrat, good in enforcing rules and regulations. And given that Egypt badly needs a more effective government and a government that focuses on job creation he might be the sort of a person that would fit Egypt right now. Well, I am not sure that that is an accurate depiction. For one thing, when he joined the Egyptian protests, the media jumped on the story, but support from the international community for him as a potential interim leader was lukewarm at best. The reason for this rather hesitant approach certainly is to be found in his legacy as the head of the IAEA. Even tough he and the IAEA received the Nobel peace prize, the leaders in the West were not exactly pleased. In his memoirs Tony Blair describes former IAEA inspector Hans Blix as someone who assessed his job in Iraq as one in which he would have to decide over peace and war. ElBaradeis attitude war largely the same. But Tony Blair rightly points out that that wasn't quite the job Blix had. He was simply to assess whether Iraq had lived up to its obligations under various UNSC resolutions. The decision over war and peace clearly wasn't his. When it comes to ElBaradeis legacy on Irans nuclear programme the picture is not that different. Again ElBaradei perceived his task not strictly as technocratic one, but rather as a political one. His assessments were not simply based on UNSC resolutions and the NPT but also on whether he thought there was improvement in Irans behaviour. Only again the latter wasn't his job. He even postponed the referral of Iran to the UNSC on the off-chance of improvement in Iran's cooperation catalysing Teheran's rather flexible interpretation of its NPT and UNSC obligations. In sum, he clearly was more politician than technocrat. What does that mean for his presidential run? Well, this is a long way round to saying: we'll have to see. Just don't get carried away.

Samstag, 12. März 2011

The King Hearings Aren't McCarthyite – They are Simply Irrelevant

Now that the first round of hearings is over, it might be time to assess what sort of an impact they had and whether or not the criticism was right. Needless to point out, criticism has varied considerably, from Chris Matthews, host of MSNBCs Hardball, who called the hearings a witch-trial and Abu Muqawama, who has argued that it might undermine counter-radicalisation efforts. I take a somewhat different stance.

The problem with the King hearings is not that they single out a specific group of people. I still find that criticism sort of ridiculous, after all most terrorist activities are not emanating from some Buddhist sect or those strange Catholics who really think that the pope might be gods temporary emissary to earth. And its not that Islamist inspired terrorism should be compared to the horrific crimes committed by Timothy McVeigh. The latter was an individual, perpetrating a terrorist act out of some lunatic conspiracy theory. The problem within the Islamic community is of an apparently, or obviously different nature. There is and should be some concern, when a lone wolf terrorist kills two U.S. airmen at Frankfurt Airport, when 14 Muslims of Somali origin disappear in Minnesota to fight alongside al-Shabaab in Somalia, you get the point.

The issue also is not Rep. Peter Kings apparent hypocrisy, when talking about al-Qaida and Islamist terrorism on the one hand, and the Irish Republican Army on the other. That is appalling enough in itself but not a sufficient reason to argue that Congress should not conduct hearings. Which is my larger point: Congress is well within its rights to conduct these hearings and I find it somewhat troublesome that the issue being debated is that of a community. It should be debated whether or not Congress should really be held from debating such an issue. After all this is the representation of the American people and they have right to conduct whatever hearings they damn well please. I am just saying, you cannot on the one hand argue that the Islamic community has a right to build a mosque near Ground Zero (which they clearly have) and than on the other argue that there are specific topics Congress better not discuss. Which brings me to my point: There is some hypocrisy coming from the left as well.

But that does not mean the hearings are a brilliant idea. My problem with the hearings is this: they won't reveal anything even remotely new. After watching the first round of hearings, I am rather surprised to listen to Rep. King on CNN explaining that the hearings were exceptionally educational. What sort of a nonsense is that? Even to someone only superficially familiar with radicalisation and extremist thinking and Islamic fundamentalism, the hearings must have been a complete waste of time. Are we to assume, I might humbly ask, that Rep. Peter King, is not familiar with the debate or for that matter the patterns in radicalisation? Because, quite frankly, that is the only conclusion that presents itself here.

Sonntag, 6. März 2011

And now to you, Khamenei

While Qadhafi is battling the opposition with military forces, the Saudi Kingdom tries its luck with a pre-emptive payout of some 36$ billion to buy itself some time and Salih in Yemen is trying to deal with protests by making a concession each and every day, the Iranian regime thought it appropriate to come up with preventive action itself and took opposition figures Mir Hussein Mussawi and Mehdi Karroubi hostage in what it calls an “arrest”. They also took their wives and this episode comes on top of newspapers close to the regime calling for sentencing the opposition leaders to death for their disrespect of the state and its system.

I mention it because I've only recently attended a conference at which it was lectured that while Iran is some sort of a democracy, at least a state with “democratic elements”, Iraq clearly is not. I was flabbergasted and readers of my blog know that I consider Iraq being a democracy with some serious problems, whereas I've pointed out time and again that Iran clearly is an authoritarian dictatorship. The June 2009 “elections” clearly removed any doubt that even the democratic elements have been removed.

A No-Fly for Libya

Returning from a longer trip to Geneva, I thought I start off by making some comments on a potential no-fly over Libya. With the stand-off between opposition forces and the ailing regime of Colonel Qadhafi continuing, a no-fly zone over Libya is still being debated as a potential way for addressing the increasingly brutal crackdown of Qadhafi's regime.

Looking at the means available, we should be able to pull it off. The U.S. sixth fleet is in the Med anyway and the USS Ponce and USS Kearsarge are already off the coast of Libya, the latter being able to field some combat aircraft and helicopter gunships. But to properly enforce a no-fly, it would need at least one aircraft carrier and US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has already explained that the USS Enterprise will remain under CENTCOM command, meaning it won't be available for AFRICOM/EUCOM, which in all probability would be tasked with executing the no-fly. The Americans are understandably reluctant given that Libya is a European neighbourhood and one might well ask, why the is no French or British aircraft carrier in the vicinity and why so far European partners have failed to deploy fighter aircraft to Sicily.

But even though there is the material necessary and an increasing willingness in the international community to consider a no-fly, there are some problems that need to be addressed:

1. Even though a no-fly would give the opposition some breathing space, it would leave the military forces of the regime intact. And even though Qadhafi's forces have lost considerable power through defection and low morale, they still have a military edge in the fighting. A no-fly would have largely the same effect as a weapons embargo, for now it would only perpetuate a balance of power that favours the regime.

2. That feeds directly into problem No. 2. Even tough the no-fly is largely a military matter, public perception is as vital. The no-fly and the existing imbalance of forces could create the impression among opposition forces that the West has left them out to be slaughtered, even tough we control the skies. We would need a plan B, should a no-fly not contribute to the toppling of the regime in a timely manner.

3. On speaking of military matters: We could blow any Libyan fighter jet out of the sky, but Libya does have some surface to air defence systems that are close to being state of the art. We simply do not know, whether their current condition allows the regime to deploy actual countermeasures to a NATO enforced no-fly, but it remains safe to say that we need some sort of suppression capability, meaning we would have to be able and willing to bomb Libyan military units and installations.

4. Finally and most importantly, the stand-off between Qadhafi and the opposition could continue for some time, the question therefore is, what are we willing to do, should the regime be able to re-assert itself?

That brings me to the most important question of the day: Even though I would recommend a no-fly for the moment, are there not things we could be doing additionally? In short, there are. For instance, it seems apparent now that Qadhafi has filled his ranks with African mercenaries from Mali, Niger and some other countries. This highlights the need to freeze all his assets. But it also gives us a new angle to weaken his regime: since Mali, Niger are all allies in the war on terror and recipients of development and military assistance, we have means available to pressure these countries to stop allowing mercenaries to cross their borders. All of that could have been done a week ago, time to speed things up a bit.