Samstag, 28. Mai 2011

Another Bit of Shameless Self-Promotion

There is a story making rounds that former Blackwater Chief Erik Prince is building a new army of contractors in the UAE. I was asked by Deutsche Welle to comment on it. You'll find the piece here.

Samstag, 21. Mai 2011

Modern Classics in War and Warfare - VIII

In the early 1960s a young congressman from Illinois was beginning to make a name for himself. The freshman, though from the GOP, endorsed civil-rights legislation, was challenging the established hierarchy in the Republican Party and led an effort to install Gerald Ford as Republican leader in the House. He quickly gained a reputation as an ambitious moderate and when he was called to serve in the Nixon administration, he began to question the Vietnam War strategy, gaining a reputation as being a little dovish. When he took the job of leading the Office for Economic Opportunity, despised by many Republicans as an effort of left-wing social engineering, he defended it from attacks emanating in Congress. In only a couple of years the hopeful Representative had a reputation as an unorthodox, perhaps even progressive Republican. 

I am just wildly guessing that not that many people would have recognised the politician described here. In fact, his career is a stark reminder that there is more to American politics than just the partisanship and political divides. Moreover, whenever I am confronted with the rather silly reasoning that is often prevailing in Germany when it comes to the United States (here is a little example of how that reasoning works: U.S. bad, Iraq war very bad, therefore Bush, Rice, etc. evil), I have to explain my different take on American politics. And the politician described in the first paragraph is a case in point. It is, wait for it, Donald H. Rumsfeld. Both the youngest and oldest Secretary of Defense the U.S. has ever had. I realise of course that there are less controversial figures, but I am writing this, well, because he has published his memoirs recently. And, I confess, I've always somewhat liked him and not just for his famous gaffes.

Let's take that in reverse order, shall we? I've spent considerable time studying civil-military relations. The field of civil-military relations in roughly split into two different schools of thought. Rumsfeld would have to qualify as a strong civilian supremacist, meaning that he would define the liberties of a soldier to act politically in very narrow terms. In fact, both terms as Secretary of Defense provide evidence for his civilian supremacist view. During his first tenure, he established hitherto unknown levels of political control, challenging the military establishment head-on. In his second term, this time under George W. Bush, he was beginning to review the promotion procedure and at some point began to inject himself in the promotion process of three and four star generals. The military had always regarded promotions even at that level as its sole purview, Rumsfelds interference was again hitherto unheard of. It was him, who thus brought the 1986 Goldwater-Nichols act to bear on the promotion procedures and hence subjected the Pentagon to the full extent of the reforms intended by Congress. I once took the liberty of asking some of my students, who they thought had a stronger record in exercising civilian control over the military. Most would respond, or more precisely, suspect, Democrats. The student of civil-military relations knows better.

His memoirs, Known and Unknown, are of all memoirs I've read this year (for the record: Blair's Journey and Bush's Decision Points) by far the best written. His book is well structured, which is more of an issue than I would have thought possible. But after having read A Journey, well, let's just say, its an issue. But what is perhaps more important is that Rumsfeld has published an easily accessible book. On many levels his memoirs are also a fascinating political history of the United States from the 1960s onwards. But his book is really fascinating, when it comes to the many failures in the Iraq war. After all, Bush and Blair defended the war, arguing that theirs was the decision to go to war, but that the failures were in executing it. Rumsfeld is having none of that and is passing the blame on. His lines of defence include an attack on Paul Bremer, whom he regarded as a failure (on which he is certainly right). Bremer apparently thought of himself as a viceroy, which indicated that he totally misunderstood his role. Rumsfeld goes on to argue that the CIA, the State Department and Bremer dragged their feet when it came to transferring authority to the Iraqi leadership. His take on Iraq is interesting but not at all times fully convincing. Rumsfeld acknowledges that he has made mistakes but on second thought not that many. His critics often maintain that Rumsfeld had a habit of ignoring military advice. Being the civilian supremacist that he is, he dismisses that particular criticism, but concedes: “Indeed, I thought that a more accurate criticism would have been that I too often deferred to the views, opinions, and decisions of the generals who were in charge.” One might disagree on Rumsfelds political legacy, but he has been a political leader who has led the military and not vice versa. Not too common a trait these days. His book does qualify as a modern classic and for students of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan it surely is a must read.

Mittwoch, 18. Mai 2011

Germany's New Defence Posture

Today, the German government released its defence policy guidelines (Verteidigungspolitische Richtlinien, VPR)—Germany's version of the QDR—and for the past fifty minutes I have been shifting through the twenty or so pages, looking for the more juicy stuff. Here is what I would make of it:

Challenges, the government still maintains, are likely to come from terrorism, piracy, state failure, and destabilising influence of dictatorships and criminal networks and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. What is interesting, however, is that the government concisely concludes that against this background developments on Europe's periphery and farther away could actually amount to serious challenges for Germany's security. It is here that the need for some sort of force projection capability is clearly enshrined. Even more so, in the VPR the government finally concedes that not even an illusion of territorial defence needs to be maintained. That's both bold and new.

Speaking of force projection: against the background of pending austerity measures and a further reduction in the number of active duty soldiers from roughly 220.000 to 175.000 the German government defines relatively modest goals in capabilities. The armed forces should have the capability to lead an international mission and be ready for combat. Roughly 10.000 soldiers, the VPR argues, have to be deployable in continuing operations at all times. On the one hand, 10.000 troops really aren't that much. Remember that at the eve of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 the British—an all-volunteer force after all—were able to muster some 40.000 troops for a combat mission, whilst maintaining a sizeable presence in Afghanistan. But given that Germany's armed forces struggle to maintain even 7.000 soldiers abroad, such a number has to be considered as quite ambitious.

Moreover, and here is some juicy stuff, this number can only be maintained, when Germany's reserve forces are being brought in from the cold. And the VPR are at least showing that the German defence department is starting to think seriously about making more and better use of its considerable reserve forces (full disclosure here: I would welcome that, having been a reservist myself). More importantly perhaps, the VPR establishes the need for reform in defence procurement. Note that the ministry of defence will be focusing less of development and of new systems and instead revert to buying systems based on market availability. If followed through that should enable the department to make significant savings. At the same time, however, defence procurement will be driven by the needs of the armed forces and less on the specific interests of and developments already made in the defence industry. Or as the VPR put it: “She [the defence industry] has to serve the armed forces.” That might sound obvious, but everyone who has some experience in defence procurements knows that the exact opposite has been the case far too often.

Equally fascinating, the VPR gives some guidelines as to German interests, goals and values in security policy. So here are a number of points made by the VPR that might be interesting when read against the background of Germany's abstention in United Nations Security Council vote on resolution 1973. It states that Germany's security policy goal is the service of international political responsibility. It hence has an interest in reinforcing the European and transatlantic partnerships. Contributing to NATO missions and helping NATO allies is part of Germany's reason d'etre. Moreover, Germany has also an interest in reinforcing the position of the United Nations. In living up to these broad goals, Germany wants to contribute United Nations peacekeeping and peacemaking missions. Which of these boxes could we check after the UNSC voted on UNSR 1973? My point exactly.

Speaking of living up to promises, when addressing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the review establishes the need for prevention and deterrence, which begs the question what the German government is actually willing to contribute to that sort of deterrence. After all Berlin's position on Iran and North Korea hasn't exactly been characterised by steadfast resolve. All told, the VPR are an ambitious start, the tough part is yet to come.

From the Department of Seriously Bad Timing

George Mitchell's resignation leaves the Obama administration without a Middle East envoy at the worst possible time. The Palestinian Authority is slowly moving towards declaring statehood even without Israeli consent and an increasing number of states is considering to grant recognition should such a move be made. Now, some have interpreted Mitchell's resignation as another reminder of the difficulties prevailing in the Middle East. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell gave a voice to that sentiment when he argued that Middle East peace seems unattainable at the moment.

But the failure to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations is also a failure of leadership. The delegation of the negotiations to a special envoy is part of the problem and not the solution. Mitchell's resignation is at least a chance for Foggy Bottom or the White House to take some leadership on the issue. Even if Middle East peace isn't easy to come by, it certainly isn't unattainable. If it is American leadership that ultimately will have to be relied upon in fostering that sort of lasting and sustainable peace, it might be more helpful to break the habit of concentrating on the peace process only after all political capital has been spent elsewhere. Mitchell's departure as Middle East envoy, after all, was hardly noticed. Not least because he hasn't been doing too much.

Sonntag, 15. Mai 2011

In Syria New Dawn Fades

It certainly would not be an overstatement to argue that political science has not only failed to predict the Arab Spring but that political scientists even quite recently maintained that Arab regimes were stable and that any opposition would have been unlikely to succeed. I am currently working on a paper trying to come up with a more sustainable explanation for regime failure and the success of popular uprisings (as I am sure hundreds of colleagues will also be doing), while the Arab Spring meets its most serious challenge as of yet. It is in Syria that president Bashar al-Assad has apparently decided to do what his father had done once. Quell resistance by a brutal military crackdown and without decisive action by the international community, the new dawn of the Arab Spring might well be fading. The Syrian regime has cut off entire cities, Homs, Deraa, Banias, and began shelling them with tank grenades, which will certainly lead to indiscriminate killings of civilians. Opposition groups claim that government forces have so far killed between 600 and 900 demonstrators, with even the United Nations saying that 850 deaths sound about realistic. Al-Assad is fully aware that the demonstrations are a make or break moment for his regime, which is based on the very small Alawi community and has never managed to come up with a cohesive vision for the state. While the conflict is escalating, there seems to be some sort of revolution fatigue in Europe, where Libya, Syria, Yemen, and Bahrain are slowly dropping out of the news cycles. But the question remains, and I for one shall volunteer to raise it: What are the strategic implications of the Syrian crackdown? Here is my take, which will almost certainly turn out to be a bit premature.

  • The various attempts to foster some sort of rapprochement with the Syrian regime (the latest attempt was made by the Obama administration) did with certainty fail. The uncomfortable truth is that the regime in Damascus never really could move to a more cooperative position. Illegitimate regimes without broad-based popular support such as the Syrian need external conflicts to deflect domestic opposition. The Syrian regime needed the conflict in Lebanon and was therefore never really willing to abandon its most important proxy, Hezbollah. It is against this background that the Syrians repeatedly stalled negotiations with Israel on a peace treaty.
  • Perhaps the most interesting reaction to the Syrian uprising is coming from the government media in Iran. They simply do not cover it at all. While Iranian media was quick (and for that matter intentionally wrong and misleading) to assert that the Tunisian and Egyptian uprising were fuelled by an anti-American sentiment, the Syrian uprising cannot possibly be interpreted in such manner. The pure fact that Tehran's most important regional ally is facing such a widespread rebellion is making leaders in Tehran uneasy.
  • Which raises the question, whether Syria can remain part of the so called resistance group, even if its regime manages to remain in power, when even Palestinian organisations have already voiced stark criticism of the Syrian regime. Turkey's prime minister has already said that Syria increasingly resembles Saddam Hussein's Iraq (and that's quite a terse statement coming from Erdogan), even though there has been some rapprochement between Syria and Turkey in recent years and even Qatar is now trashing the Syrian regime. And rightly so, one might add. 

  • While entire families are being detained in Syria, the opposition movement did not break down. The Syrian regime is apparently is copying the crackdown of Iranian militias on its democratic opposition in 2009. But so far, protests have widened and not died down. And while I suspect that even some Western governments quietly thought that the protests would flame out, it is now clearly time to do something a little more effective than just condemning violence.

Freitag, 13. Mai 2011

A Bit of Self-Promotion

Since Blogger was down for nearly a day (and in the internet-era thats basically forever), I haven't had a chance to post this last night, but I'll do so today. I've been critical of Germany's position on the Libya vote in the United Nations Security Council, as many colleagues and friends well know, and commented on it in a little more detail over at the Atlantic Community.

UPDATE (May, 15th): I've also reviewed Stephen Chan's highly recommendable book on conflicts in Southern Africa (the review is in German, however).

Montag, 9. Mai 2011

Modern Classics in War and Warfare VII

Terrorism, Christopher Hitchens once famously said, is to demand the impossible and demand it at gunpoint. He has produced the most useful definition for modern-day terrorism and following that definition quite a number of organisations would inevitably qualify. In his new book, The Road to Fatima Gate, Michael J. Totten is describing how Hezbollah is holding Lebanon hostage, literally at gunpoint. Now The Road to Fatima Gate would not necessarily qualify as modern classic of war and warfare, since it does not deal at all with the theoretical approaches to war or pays any respect at all to the literature on asymmetric war. But what Michael Totten is presenting in his first book is nothing less than the perhaps most accurate and detailed analysis of the 2006 Lebanon War and it is against this background that the book is highly recommendable. Totten is up to something when he asserts that would it not be for Hezbollah, nobody would any longer fight Israel and would it not be for Israel nobody would be fighting Hezbollah. The thing being, of course, that Hezbollah is not only the major obstacle to peace in the Middle East, but also to peace in Lebanon itself. Indeed, without Hezbollah or the Syrian overlordship of Lebanon, Lebanon would have been among the first states to sign a peace treaty with Israel.

But the book does not only cover the 2006 war in Lebanon, it also gives some answers to equally pressing questions. It was the 2005 Beirut spring that looked as if it was the inevitable consequence of the liberation of Iraq and in many ways it was the necessary prerequisite for the Arab spring that commenced earlier this year. The question, however, is why did the Beirut spring not last? Why was it that the perhaps most promising revolution in the Middle East did not gain traction in 2005? And the answer, put simply, is that the forces of freedom in Lebanon were bullied, by Hezbollah as much as by Syria. Michael Totten puts it rather aptly: “I thought I had an idea what Lebanon would feel like if these guys ruled it. Lebanon in 2005 was a libertarian's paradise. Under Hezbollah, though, it would be a bigoted, authoritarian, gender-segregated, micromanaging bully state.”

Sonntag, 1. Mai 2011

From the Department of Serious Overstatement

Now, most of you won't be surprised to learn that, generally speaking, I am inclined to agree with the American Enterprise Institute's fine scholars. But from time to time, I have to call them out, disagree with them publicly and, if your humble servant is allowed to put it like that, say it like it is: Guys, don't be silly. On its Center for Defense Studies, Michael Mazza has argued that the Indian decision to not buy the F-18 or F-16 but to instead shortlist the (Eurofighter) Typhoon and French Rafale for procurement is a rebuff to a closer Indian-American strategic partnership.

And in a nutshell, it simply is not. The Typhoon and the Rafale are simply of a more recent generation of fighter planes and give the Indians simply a little more capability, or put in a rather old-fashioned way, more bang for the buck. Had the U.S. really wanted to use its foreign weapons sales as an avenue for fostering a closer partnership with India, it wouldn't have offered the F-18, but the more recent and far more capable F-22 Raptor. And lets be honest here, if there is any democracy in the world that could use a fighter plane designed for air superiority with stealth capabilities and air-defence suppression capabilities, its the Indian. So, might I be allowed to contend, there is hardly reason to be surprised that New Delhi is not buying a weapons-system that has had its peak in the 1990s.

That's all nice and easy, but where Mazza really gets off the mark is when he suggests that the only other nation with largely similar interests vis-à-vis the Chinese are the Americans. In a conflict between India and Beijing, the United States is hardly likely to, forgive me, land on the Indian side because New Delhi has bought a couple of F-18s. I am sure, Parag Khanna and Fareed Zakaria, will all come out sooner or later and tell you, what I am going to argue right now: The close bilateral partnership will be formed no matter what planes the Indians are buying, because foreign policy interests in both Washington and New Delhi simply dictate it.

More to the point, the real dilemma is of entirely different nature. The Bush administration has done terrific work in Asia (as two particularly smart Germans suggested a little while ago) and the only reason that there currently isn't the progress in U.S.-Indian ties I and many others hope for is plainly that the American administration isn't paying any attention to it. Would President Obama be a more visionary leader, he would take the partnership a step further, but I am afraid that will be left for the next president. May I say so, dear fellows of the American Enterprise Institute, do choose your target a little more carefully.