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.

The Attacks on Norway - UPDATED

Apparently, Norwegian police now thinks that there is in all likelihood no connection between the terrorist attacks and al-Qaeda or al-Qaeda affiliate. So my first impression was wrong, to me it looked like an al-Qaeda inspired one (and you'll find why below). And I thought I leave the post as it stands with this clarification on top. As Special Agent Gibbs said in rule #51 Sometimes - You're Wrong.

I was working on a post on Pakistan when the bomb struck the capital of Norway. And though it is still unclear who is responsible for the attack, it is becoming increasingly clear that the attack is bearing all the hallmarks of al-Qaeda or an al-Qaeda affiliate. Let me briefly explain why.

First, there is the modus operandi of the attack. Al-Qaeda has always attempted dual attacks on separate targets largely at the same time (which is why it is a good idea to look for further bombs). The bombing is a more traditional approach, the Utoya-attack seems to be inspired by the Mumbai-attacks, though the Utoya youth camp presented an even softer target than the Mumbai hotel. European terrorist organisations (both left and right wing ones) have always been satisfied with a single strike.

Second, both attacks were designed to kill indiscriminately. Again European left and right wing terrorist organisations usually do not aim at an indiscriminate killing, they aim for specific targets, a symbol of the state or the financial sector. The attack on Utoya is in stark contrast to these comparatively limited aims of European terrorist organisations.

Third, the attack might well be a retaliation for the killing of OBL and might be a way for Ayman al-Zawahiri to demonstrate that he is now calling the shots. It might have been a demonstration of power to two separate audiences. The West (“The war isn't over”) and al-Qaeda affiliates (“Someone is calling the shots here”). Timing would fit that explanation, since, after all, it takes some time to come up with planning and preparation for such a sophisticated attack. Ten to twelve weeks since Zawahiri is in charge sound about right.

It could have been a copycat, but that's highly unlikely. It seems highly likely, however, that its been either al-Qaeda or perhaps even more likely that its been an al-Qaeda affiliate that ultimately has some links to al-Qaeda and has sworn its allegiance to Zawahiri. 

What does that mean? Good question. Norway has been a steadfast NATO ally, it has contributed to the Libya mission and al-Qaeda might hope for another Spain-style success (after the Madrid bombings, Spain pulled out of the Iraqi coalition). But that is in no way assured. The Kampala-world-soccer bombings have not triggered a Ugandan withdrawal from Somalia, to the contrary. The Ugandan resilience has been surprising and astounding and turned out to be a real problem for al-Shabaab. Terrorism can be self-defeating. But today I close simply by saying: I dag er vi alle norske.

Montag, 11. Juli 2011

Random Thoughts on: Syria, Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia

Lumping these states together is all sort of a coincidence but it does sound rather nice. But in fact, I am going to comment on two totally different challenges. First, Syria. Second, secessionist movements in Africa.

1) Before we even dive into the question of what to do in Syria, it might be wise to establish what is happening in that country and Amnesty International has made some efforts to find out. In Tell Kalakh Syrian security forces surrounded the city, shelled it with heavy artillery and than ordered snipers to shoot at the fleeing civilians. In order to coerce more civilians into fleeing, the security forces were ordered to sabotage the city's water supply. Civilians that were apprehended were regularly tortured, including boys aged less than 18 years and seniors. Men and women are being separated. Sometimes the bus-loads of arrested men were brought to cities known to be loyal to the regime, where they were than mistreated by the people of these cities and than brought to further interrogation and torture to Damascus or Homs. Detainees were beaten on their wounds and regularly abused. So I would join Amnesty International in its call on the Syrian security forces to end the abuse, though I have the vague feeling that that won't take us anywhere. The conduct of an apparently vicious dictatorship is not going to change, just because we would really like that to happen. Sometimes it is a terrible sentencing to say that politics (and its final extension in form of war) is the art of the possible. So it is unfortunate that our hands are tied in Libya, when the people of Syria clearly need help (though we are still doing the right thing in Libya). But in the meantime, why not at least do, well how is it put in the world of politics, ah, what is possible? Put pressure on Libya in two ways: 1) Let us recall our ambassadors to Damascus, and 2) let us put more pressure on the Syrian-Iranian alliance by making a more concerted effort to interfere with the weapons-smuggling to Hezbollah.

2) Speaking of Syria, another rogue state has seen part of its territory secede in recent days. So, a warm welcome to South Sudan, the most recent addition to the club of nations. One of the fears usually associated with the secession of territory and the foundation of new states in Sub-Saharan Africa is that it will bolster the call for independence by other secessionist movements that would challenge the borders inherited from the period of colonialism and imperialism and hence ultimately challenge the entire composure of the African continent.

But the truth is that this is a fully overstated case. The last African nation to gain independence was Eritrea in 1993. And in Eritrea's case no colonial border was altered. To the contrary, a state was merely resurrected within its former colonial borders. Though the exact demarcation of its borders has triggered wars with nearly every single neighbour state and Eritrea is on the verge of becoming a failed state (more to the point, Eritrea should be one of our most pressing worries, once we've dealt with, I don't know, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Saudi-Arabia, Sudan). But nonetheless, no secessionist movement gained any momentum from Eritrea's independence. There is another de facto state that should in fact be internationally recognised and that's Somaliland. And since Somaliland would gain recognition only in its previous colonial boundaries (the boundaries of British Somaliland), another state would be recognised in what effectively, though not intentionally, amounts to strengthening the colonial border system in Africa. So don't get your hopes up, Biafra, is all I am saying and don't let the media fool you. There is not going to be a wave of secessionist movements in Africa plunging the continent in chaos.

Donnerstag, 7. Juli 2011

The Strenuous Business of Defence Procurement

Everyone with some familiarity of the military knows how much patience is needed when it comes to defence procurement. Think about the Eurofighter Typhoon, a fighter plane that was originally scheduled to enter service in the early 1990s (and was hence originally known as the Jäger 90 in Germany). The plane was nearly two decades late and when it finally entered service it provided a fixed-wing aircraft-capability to gain air-superiority precisely at a time when air superiority had become virtually irrelevant, because, well, it is rarely contested. In the past R&D in fixed-wing aircraft was overlapping, meaning that the R&D process for the successor of the Tornado bomber would have had to start once the Typhoon would begin to enter service. As the Libya operation demonstrates, it is here that European NATO allies lack capabilities most and were hence particularly upset when the United States withdrew its AC 130s and A-10 Thunderbolts (more commonly known as warthogs) from the theatre. But given the lack of financial resources and the desire to cash a peace dividend that simply wasn't there, no bomber is being developed to replace the ageing fleet of the Tornadoes. The result being that we are largely stuck with a fleet of aircraft we don't need (Germany would love to axe around 80 Typhoons from its original order but simply cannot do so) and a lack of ability for the sort of operations we are now conducting for more than a decade.

All of that is a long way to introduce the following thought: When Secretary Gates complained on his final European tour [pdf] that most European nations do not live up to their defence commitments, not only was he right, he was actually understating the issue. Because not only have we reduced our spending, the money we do spend is often being used to finance and maintain weapons-systems not relevant for today's missions. A Typhoon for instance needs costly maintenance, trained pilots, fuel, a logistical network, etc. At the same time personnel costs are climbing and the money available for the sort of adaptation the wars we actually are fighting is calling for is declining. So, why is it, you might ask, that it takes two decades for an advanced weapons-systems to enter service. Well, for one, we have always underestimated cost. But before a system actually enters service, there is no way to sincerely tell how much a system will cost in the end. So when costs go up, what they inevitably do, we spend more or buy less. Which is why we are buying fewer A 400 M military cargo planes than originally planned and are still needed and the full amount of Typhoons that we certainly won't need. Second is that these things have always taken more time than anticipated. Its the nature of the beast. But third and more importantly, we have always gone back to the manufacturers and changed parts of the contract, made additions to the envisioned capabilities and called for other costly changes. One of the ways to tackle that problem, many thought, was to buy off the shelf. That way, manufacturers would stick to costs, because the price was set in the procurement contracts. On the other hand, we would hardly be able to change the specifications of the system in line for procurement. There is only one problem. That is not working either. The US Navy is trying this approach for its Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and is already running into huge problems with the first two ships commissioned. And the five newly acquired corvettes for the German Navy have not left harbour for two years.