Dienstag, 29. Mai 2012

Another Conflict in the Making - The Sad State of Sudan

There is fresh bloodshed in Sudan. The North and South are struggling to get get control of Abyei province, where much of the two countries oil revenues are coming from. One of the underlying themes of the conflict, however, is to do with culture and religion. In many ways, the Horn of Africa is best understood, when considered being a bridge between Africa and the Arabian peninsula. There is only a limited amount of well-written books on the subject [see Hansen's and Twaddle's book for an absolute must-read and Alex de Waal's superb book], so every paper on the subject starts from scratch by lying out all issues that are at stake. That makes most papers on African affairs hard to read for anyone who is already familiar with the issues. And that amounts to the only weakness I can see in Marina Ottaway's otherwise terse analysis on the recent escalation of the Sudanese conflict (see here [pdf]). I have always thought of Sudan as being the one state that does not fail from the inside but rather on its periphery—though that exact relationship deserves a hell of a lot more academic research—in contrast to Somalia, which imploded in 1991 when Siad Barre was finally ousted. And it is indeed remarkable to what extent conflicts within Sudan (i.e. North Sudan) continue to plague the state. Not only is there a looming danger of all out war between South Sudan and Sudan over Abyei, but Sudan itself is facing numerous challenges in Khordofan and Blue Nile, which in fact are the new South of the country (as Hassan al-Turabi seems to have put it). I only mention this, because this conflict does not get any media attention, though it should. South Sudan is no match for Sudan's armed forces and in a renewed confrontation, both sides might hence return to destabilising each other by proxy forces, which could eventually resuscitate organisations like the Lord's Resistance Army. What I am saying is this: this conflict is not small potatoes.

Freitag, 25. Mai 2012

I am pulling an all-nighter tonight, having rather a lot to do and still being a bit jetlagged. Whilst doing that, I also catch up on US politics. Hardball is probably the only show worth watching on msnbc, and this one with Newt Gingrich is really lovely.

Letter from Chicago – A NATO Summit Review

No conference without a bag. The NATO conference
offered a Nato cake and a hand-written note
from a high-school student.

Last weekend I was given access to NATO's summit in Chicago, as part of a delegation of Young Atlanticists, from some 35 countries. Being in Chicago for the NATO summit was, I confess, a pretty thrilling experience, which might have something to do with all the cakes and pastries that were in abundant supply. Then, of course, that sugar was more than needed, since Herman van Rompuy was about to give a speech that bordered on the surreal. Asked for specific successes of Europe's soft power, he said something along the lines that Europe won the Cold War without hard power, but would otherwise refrain from commenting on what he understood as hard and soft power. Also the European crisis is limited. One seriously has to fight the urge to stand up and tell him that the West won the Cold War because there were hundreds of thousands American soldiers on German soil, to make sure we were not overrun by Soviet tank divisions. And whenever someone says the Cold War was won without firing a shot, I really want them send back to high school. Its not only that there were numerous proxy wars, but people were shot at the border itself.

Anyway, I wasn't in Chicago to give van Rompuy a good scolding, but rather to enjoy the city and the summit. I was surprised to hear that the Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen acknowledged that the problem with pooling and sharing was assured access. Put differently, how does the alliance ensure that the pooled resources are available to nations in need. That might be manageable, but what if there is a weapons systems that needs soldiers from more than one country to be operational and a crucial member state objects. On that note, SPIEGEL today ran a story that has the parliamentary speaker saying that any deployment of German Army forces will remain in the sole authority of the German parliament. So much for assured access (I've pointed out to SPIEGEL that there is no new strategic Concept, so that's been taken care of) Which clearly demonstrates the major problem with pooling and sharing: we are not going to share the resources we really deem essential, which means the really expensive systems are probably going to remain national assets or will be shared only with partners that are deemed reliable (and following Libya, that basically means no one is going to share anything important with us). But the major problem is this: pooling and sharing is a fiscal rather than a military initiative. Its a smart way to cut budgets, and not in any way intended to close the capability gaps, NATO clearly has. Look no further than the one project that is being touted as a major success for the entire initiative: In the first 48 hours I spent in Chicago, I heard the Strategic Airlift Command purchase of three C-17 Globemasters by twelve nations being touted as a success of pooling and sharing no less than four times. Mind you, what happens when two or three nations happen to need these planes at the same time, I do not know. And I am guessing that nobody really knows.

On my way out, I got a copy of Colin Powell's latest book—It worked for me—which I really cannot recommend. I always liked Powell, but the book only offers advice along the lines of, work hard, but do not work so hard that you forget what matters like family and stuff. Find a balance. And seriously, 280 pages could have been put to better use (he received a pretty solid scolding at Slate today, not totally undeserved).  

Donnerstag, 24. Mai 2012

Pakistan – Today's Most Revealing Quote on the Internet

Politico's Morning Defense carried a short note on the sentencing of Dr. Afridi. He had helped the United States by disclosing Osama bin Laden's location and was now sentenced to 33 years in prison for treason. That caused quite a stir in Washington, where Senators McCain and Levin quickly pointed out that Afridi should be pardoned right away and in fact be commended for his job.

But to Pakistan that might be anathema, as Morning Defense tells us: “A senior government lawyer tells the Lawfare blog, 'Imagine the tables turned -- that a doctor in the U.S. cooperated with the Iranian Government to provide information that led to the killing of an Iranian dissident in the U.S. by the Quds Force. There's no doubt that this conduct would violate U.S. law.'”

Whoever that government official was, he was right. Even to a greater extent that he was probably aware of. After all, Iran is an enemy of the United States, in fact calls for the U.S. downfall once a week—usually on Fridays—and has killed dissidents abroad. The premise of Pakistan's response is that Osama was a dissident and that the U.S. is an enemy, not an ally. At least they now admit it, after they behaved like it for more than a decade.

Donnerstag, 17. Mai 2012


I am off to Chicago now for a couple of days, being at an event on the sidelines of the NATO summit later this weekend. Stay tuned, I'll try to be blogging. 

Dienstag, 8. Mai 2012

Modern Classics in Politics—Geoffrey Kabaservice's Rule and Ruin

With the primaries in the United States effectively being over and Mitt Romney being the presumptive nominee of the Republican Party, the general election is well under way. But whether Mitt Romney will have a genuine shot at the White House to a large extent depends on his ability to steer to the middle of the road, as he needs to get independents to vote for him in half a dozen crucial swing states. Against that background, the latest book by Geoffrey Kabaservice—Rule and Ruin—is a timely addition to the analyses of this year's election cycle.

The greatest strength of Kabaservice's narrative is also the greatest weakness of the book. Kabaservice's account is unusually rich in detail and the description often exhaustive. Yet, while he is busy developing the narrative, the analysis often falls short. In this way, the book is brilliant introduction for students of American political history, but to the professional academic it offers little new insight. At length he goes into the fate of Advance magazine, the Ripon society and individual moderate legislators. All of that is highly fascinating to read but occasionally one is left wondering what the details contribute to the overall narrative the author is trying to develop.

It is the final irony of his account that he dates the decline of the moderate movement with George Romney's rise and fall, an early stalwart of moderate Republicanism. In his conclusion, Kabaservice practically serves as a medical examiner, proclaiming moderate Republicanism dead. But he does so on the expense of moderate Republicans, who are still alive and plenty. It is no coincidence that George Romney's son emerged as the presidential nominee. And moderate Republican thinkers such as Mike Castle—who lost the now infamous Delaware Senate primary to Christine O'Donnell (oh and watch this)—and a number of former George W. Bush administration and McCain campaign staffers try to reinvigorate the moderate movement by setting up a movement as impressive as no labels, while the Tea Party failed to make a decisive impact on the 2012 primaries. Kabaservice might have spelled his sentence a little too early. 

Freitag, 4. Mai 2012

NATO Missile Defence—Makarov Going all Bonkers

My personal standard response to the status of U.S.-Russia relations is always the same: what reset? In fact, relations between the United States and NATO on the one hand and Russia on the other seem to be deteriorating continuously. The Kremlin does not have much leverage over NATO, but it does seem to think that teasing NATO here and there helps to rally the nation around the flag that might otherwise be inclined to ask: what's next? But the fact that the NATO missile defence shield is still being presented as a project directed not against Iran but Russia itself has always been a bit awkward. But now the Russian Chief of Staff, General Nikolai Makarov, insists on going all bonkers, threatening to act pre-emptively against NATO's missile defence system.

Let me put it simply: the very idea that the missile defence system is directed against Russia is nuts. How do we know? Well, for one thing NATO is intent so declare a preliminary operational capability at its Chicago summit without having invested much in the system so far. Which is easy to explain, since most of the system will simply combine the capabilities NATO already had at its disposal. These are systems that are actually quite old, AEGIS destroyers in the Med and a Patriot battery here and there (note for a moment that the more modern and more capable replacement for Patriot—MEADS—is being scrapped). The only thing changing will be command and control and early detection. The site selected for a new radar site is Izmir, Turkey, which clearly indicates that the real reason for the entire project is located in the Middle East. Unless, of course, Russia is volunteering to scrap all its SSBNs. And provided that its missiles can somehow no longer go over the Arctic to reach the US, which I am guessing some guys would fine surprising. But the bottom line is this: Russia initially declared its willingness to cooperate with NATO on missile defence. I wonder what has changed that they moved from cooperation to declaring it such a threat that they would have to act pre-emptively? The answer, rather tellingly, is not be found on NATO's territory.