Freitag, 27. April 2012

A Quick Note on Civil-Military Relations - Why Romney Shouldn't Pick Petraeus


Now normally, I find myself agreeing with most of the well chosen words published on Foreign Policy's shadow government. This is partly due to Peter Feaver's brilliant foreign policy understanding, and it is partly due to the fact that I find the foreign policy by the Obama administration uninspiring. But what Paul Miller has put out on the internets got my attention and I find myself wholeheartedly disagreeing with him. The idea that General David Petraeus would be a fine pick for the GOP vice presidential pick is seriously misguided. That is not to say that Petraeus is not a fine officer. He certainly is one of the best military leaders the US military has produced. See this 1986 article on counterinsurgency for example [pdf]. But a thorough understanding of military professionalism would strongly suggest not to pick an officer for a political position, since that would compromise the fine line there is between the military and political sphere and keeping these spheres separate is a distinguishing feature of a modern day democracy, just like keeping church and state separate. Appointing Petraeus as head of the CIA was already a delicate move, since he does not exactly qualify for leading a civilian institution, for that he should have had a civilian professional background. I would actually be surprised if team Romney would even seriously think about the proposal, since a) they don't want to create the impression that Romney would be elected on Petraeus' coattails and b) the Republicans have a better track record in sticking to civilian supremacy. Picking Petraeus would be, forgive me, a coup. But it would not be a good one.  

Donnerstag, 26. April 2012

A Quick Note on the US Response to Syria

While the civil war in Syria continues unabated, the United States finds itself in a difficult and precarious position. On the one hand, they often find themselves accused of meddling in other people's affairs, but when push comes to shove, there is no other power capable of taking the lead and stopping mass atrocities, as Libya reminded us. But Syria presents a really tough challenge to the international community. In contrast to the Libyan situation, there is actually strategic benefit in removing Assad from power, despite stopping a brutal genocide in the making, which obviously should be reason enough. But at the same time, any sort of intervention is likely to face serious opposition by a rather well-equipped army. Even humanitarian safe zones would require a robust military intervention for which no one currently has the resources, let alone the political will. So while the Russian and Chinese intransigence on the Syrian issue is really annoying, the simple truth is that it also hands the international community a cover for not acting, when so few would actually like or be able to act. Joshua Foust recently had a good piece on the dynamics of that.

Speaking at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum on Monday, President Obama outlined a number of policies designed to better deal with genocide and mass atrocities. The formal establishment of an Atrocities Prevention Board, however, leaves me wondering. Designed as a clearinghouse for intelligence, I have to ask: Is providing that sort of intelligence not the job of the CIA? The problem, as Syria demonstrates, is not one of bad intelligence, but of actual policy.


Mittwoch, 25. April 2012

NATO: From the Department of Unpreparedness


While NATO is gearing up for its Chicago summit, the Visegrad states just published a statement that includes some juicy language.

“The upcoming NATO Summit in Chicago will be a good opportunity to clarify mutual obligations on both sides of the Atlantic: a lasting and substantial U.S. commitment to Europe and Europe’s more coherent and visible investment in defence capabilities.”

Courtesy of the US Army on flickr 
The Visegrad group is also submitting a call for basing the upcoming exercises on Art. 5 scenarios, which is interesting in two respects. The first is that the Visegrad countries—and of course the Baltic states—have always been concerned first and foremost about Art. 5 scenarios. In contrast to Western European countries, who like to fancy themselves as being focused on what they ostensibly call emerging security threats. And with the US Asia pivot, they are concerned that a smaller US European footprint will leave a Europe unprepared for any serious contingency and they rightly ask themselves just how much the US is going to remain a European power, when its focus is elsewhere. But there is a second dimension to it. Operation Unified Protector in Libya was an intervention abroad, authorised by the United Nations Security Council. But in its initial phase it was very similar to what an early Art. 5 response would have looked like. And there were serious shortcomings in command and control during the early days of Operation Unified Protector. Twelve years after the Kosovo intervention, one would have to think that NATO had that covered. But the remaining shortcomings suggest that NATO still needs to work on that and invest more resources in enhanced and timely C4ISR capabilities. The most serious Art. 5 scenario would of course be the compromising of territorial integrity of one of the member states. And for most Eastern European countries, the problem is a resurgent Russia, as this thinly veiled reference to a traditional power demonstrates:

“NATO should also discuss the consequences of increased defence spending and acquisition of advanced capabilities by some traditional and emerging powers.”



Transnistria: From the Department of Nothing Left to Loose


Russia meanwhile appointed Dimitry Rogozin not only as Deputy Prime Minister, but also as “Russian presidential envoy for Transnistria” and as the Russian head of the Russia-Moldova intergovernmental cooperation commission. These steps are really lovely moves, since Russia previously only had special envoys for South Ossetia and Abkhazia. What this amounts to is nothing less than an implicit endorsement of Moldova's partition. Russia is moving quickly to establish more direct relations between Moscow and Tiraspol, Chisinau increasingly finds itself bypassed or over-ruled. As if this would not be enough, Russia has also signalled that it will introduce new and better equipment to its forces in Transnistria, a move that would normally need the host nation's consent. That of course would be Moldova and the government in Chisinau would surely reject any such permission. But Moscow is unlikely to even ask. And in contrast to South Ossetia and Abkhazia, Moscow is not on route to recognise any sort of independence. In fact, Rogozin is a strong nationalist and just like his new boss, Vladimir Putin, he regards it as the Kremlin's duty to protect all citizens of the former Soviet Union and that includes Transnistria. During the last presidential elections, Moscow had opened 24 polling stations in Transnistria, again without seeking Moldova's approval. Rogozin explicitly stated that in order to resolve the conflict, Moldova should recognise Russian authority over the region and refuse the participation of what he calls non-involved powers, a not so subtle hint at the European Union and the United States.

The Kremlin obviously does not mince words. And in a way it does not have to. If Moldova does not obey Russia's suggestions, or seeks membership in the EU or NATO or wants to become part of Romania, Russia might always move to recognise Transnistria. And if Moldova does not move, so won't the Kremlin. The status quo, after all, benefits Russia more than it does any other country. But it is also indicative of a foreign policy, in which Russia tries to re-assert itself. The message its sending is clear: It feels entitled to predominance in the CIS space and sooner or later that sense of entitlement will clash not only with the EU and NATO, but with the independence and sovereignty of the states in the former CIS space. Some will acquiesce to Russian pressure, but others might look to the West for protection. We better brace for impact.   

Samstag, 21. April 2012

Modern Classics in War and Warfare—XIV


Andrew J. Bacevich' 2005 The New American Militarism was perhaps one of the earliest accounts of an academic trying to come to grips with the foreign policy of the Bush administration. It was also an attempt to deliver a devastating critique not only of would eventually be Bush's foreign policy legacy, but with American foreign policy itself. Bacevich openly argues for a smaller U.S. footprint overseas and—in general terms—would like to see a more realist foreign policy being enacted. There are many such books on the market and only few of them are worth reading (see the latest by Brezinski for a monumental waste of time). But this one, even if it is not always convincing, is among those that are worthwhile. One caveat up front: Bacevich takes issue with the religious underpinnings of George W. Bush's Wilsonianism. That in itself is a legitimate argument to make and I confess I feel a little unease about the importance of religion in Bush's weltanschauung myself. That being said, Bacevich, in a rather telling instance, describes Bush's religious outlook as an aberration of the normal role of religion and what he seems to think is the true importance and meaning of religion and/or god. For a European scholar such attitudes are always a little disconcerting and Bacevich could have made a far more persuading argument had he realised that there is no right or wrong interpretation of any religion.

Having said all this, the most fundamental problem with Bacevich's book is that it often rests on misleading comparisons and arguments. This is not a small point to be directed against a book, so I feel inclined to give an example for that sort of problem. Right at the outset, Bacevich argues that the new militarism is evidenced not least by the fact that the U.S. spends more on defence than the next ten countries combined. Which is true, but somewhat misleading. For one thing, the U.S. is the world's economic powerhouse, larger than virtually any other economy on the planet. The result being that once you look at defence spending as part of GDP a far more accurate picture emerges, in which the US only ranks fifth, with roughly five percent of GDP being allocated to defence expenditures. But even that is still not too useful a picture. The really important question after all is, what does it buy and what does it get for its money. It does not need a professional background in military affairs to realise that the individual soldier in the U.S. armed forces is one of the best equipped in the world, receiving a decent pay and the security that comes with an expensive health care system for soldiers and veterans alike (Tricare). And that stuff costs real money and is the envy of servicemen in many a European army. Bacevich continues to compare the size of the Marine Corps to that of the entire British Armed Forces, concluding that the Marine Corps alone is lager than the entire army fielded by the United Kingdom. Again, on the face of it, that is correct and yet again, it is also misleading. For one thing the United Kingdom is considerably smaller, has less interests and can rely on a really well-equipped ally, which allowed for rather unreasonable cuts in the British defence budget in the first place. But the size of the Marine Corps does not present itself as a reasonably fitting counterpart for the sort of comparison Bacevich intends to draw. The Marine Corps was significantly expanded following 9/11, but it will also be drawn down in number once the war in Afghanistan comes to a close. The U.S. after all is a country that fields a navy in peace-time and raises an army in war-time. It has done so in all wars, so the abstract size of the Marine Corps is only a snapshot of a nation in war-time. But Bacevich argues that the size of the Marine Corps is indicative of the US government to resort to military solutions, instead of diplomatic ones. But for that to be true, he should have looked at the size of the Marine Corps on 9/10. What he is presenting here is nothing more than a circular argument.

The same holds true for another argument he is making, namely that during the Cold War, the United States staged a mere six interventions, whereas following the end of the Cold War it has already been up to nine, in which he includes quite a number of smaller operations. But that is again a gross distortion, for he fails to do the same for the period till the end of the Cold War and the number increases considerably, for it would then have to include missions such as the botched 1980 Iranian hostage rescue attempt ordered by Jimmy Carter, the Tanker War, the 1975 operation to free merchants in Cambodia that were taken hostage by the Khmer Rogue. By now, one gets the picture. But even if the number did increase, its more related to the fallout of the Cold War and the US being the sole remaining power that often had to deal with the consequences because it had to, not because it wanted to (the thing about the power vacuum left behind by the Soviet Union's demise and all that). After all, the US was not exactly keen to stop the genocide in Bosnia and did so only after it was becoming apparent that the Europeans could not do so themselves. One does not need to come to these conclusions, but making an argument for some sort of abundant militarism, one should at least engage this kind of argument.

Why oh why, then, did I add this book to the classics, the beloved reader might rightfully want to inquire? Well, for one thing, I have added books that are classics in their own right to this list before and Bacevich would have to be on the list of anyone who is seriously interested in civil-military relations. And that is precisely what Bacevich is good at. Wherever and whenever he takes issue with the demise of the citizen-soldier, he is at his best. His criticism of Colin Powell as a JCS chairman is among the best I've read and pretty solid in argumentation. This second chapter of his book is also by far the best of the entire book, the rest of it pales in comparison. The remaining chapters of the book are in fact somewhat of a disappointment. For one thing, his argument rests on the case that every single group he is looking at underwent some sort of militarisation over the past decades, the religious right, the Democratic Party, the economy, the cinematic culture, the intellectuals, etc. But there are two problems with that argument. On the one hand, I remain deeply sceptical that an entire society was militarised by its own doing. But secondly, Bacevich himself argues that much of this is a correction to the fallout of the Vietnam War that left large parts of the country critical of the military. If that is true, which I personally suspect it is, than this is not testimony to an overall militarisation of American society, but rather a return to pre-Vietnam level of support for the military and the role of the military in U.S. foreign policy.  

Dienstag, 17. April 2012

The Great 2012 GlobSec Review

As one or two of you might already know, I spent a couple of days in Bratislava at this year's GlobSec, a marvellous conference organised by the Slovak Atlantic Commission. And I promised some impressions from the event, so while still being in self-imposed exile, here is what I took away from the summit.

1. We are screwed
The most candid assessment on NATO's current state from an elected official came, as might have been expected, from the Norwegian minister of defence. To put it all in proper context, some might recall that in the early 1990s the challenge for NATO was to find a new consensus on where to go (actually that challenge was never really resolved and NATO still disagrees on where to go exactly). But one sentence came close to formulate the little consensus that was there: go out of area or out of business. The reasoning was that with the Soviet Union imploding and a power vacuum all around NATO's territory, military conflicts at NATO's periphery went unchecked. NATO had to leave its own area and take the lead in responding to these conflicts, because no one else could or would. Would it not have reacted, NATO would have been a mere paper-tiger and when it finally rose to the occasion, it ended it bloody civil war in Bosnia that the United Nations were unable to respond to firmly. But that was in the old days, when NATO states still had impressive armies. These days, as one might have noted, are gone. NATO as a whole is trying to get through a difficult time of general austerity and only a mere five of its members spend the two percent of GDP on defence the alliance has agreed upon as being necessary to sustain at least some of its capabilities. But while the alliance cuts its defence spending to the bone (and cracks some while doing so), symmetric warfare becomes more feasible again and the Norwegians rightly wonder, how we ended up in a situation where the alliance has not done anything in contingency planning for some its members for years. That is a very Norwegian position, of course, since Norway finds itself confronting a resurgent Russia from the first row. But to put it differently: Now the challenge is to be in area or in trouble.

2. We Germans screw all the rest, really
Which leads me to comment on Germany's role. Germans in general do not seem to be overtly interested in security and foreign policy, but even when they are they are not very likely to see Russia as a challenge. And fully satisfied with their piecemeal contribution in Afghanistan, they are willing to go back to the early 1990s, when they could write checks instead of marching orders. But every-time a Polish defence minister challenges his German counterparts by pointing out that they are not spending enough on defence, you know you're in trouble. And while the Germans were hard-pressed to explain the precise amount of their cutbacks in defence, the Polish are wondering how they ended up having more than twice as many main battle tanks than Germany in their arsenal. In fact, Germany is so radically and rapidly getting rid of its military assets that it is hard to imagine what Germany's contribution to NATO's core mission—territorial defence—would actually look like, should it ever come to that.

3. And before I forget, we do not have a plan. Really, we don't
So Germany came up with a plan. Berlin introduced, what in NATO jargon is sometimes called smart defence or pooling and sharing. Its not that we had stupid defence, before someone came up with smart defence. Its that NATO, as its Secretary General likes to point out, wants to do better with less. That is as lovely a notion as it is laughable. Not doing worse with less would be a challenge hard enough to accomplish. But alliance members want to spend even less on defence then they are already spending, so pooling resources might be a sensible proposition. Germany for instance is taking a leadership role in pooling and sharing of airborne maritime surveillance capabilities. As sensible and promising as this initiative is, pooling and sharing is coming dangerously close to finally pressing Europeans to come up with a plan on what to do when half the nations that have pooled want to go into action, and the other half does not. And what when more than one country, because of a natural disaster, suddenly need the same capabilities? At the same time, pooling and sharing is a pretty good indicator of the alliance's overall problems. It is finding and building of niche-capabilities by default, not by design. Or is anyone seriously thinking that the good people of NATO, the German defence ministry and other states sat down, took a hard look at the last Strategic Concept and the overall threat environment and then concluded that what we really needed more of is airborne maritime surveillance capabilities?

Bottom Line: Did I mention that we are screwed?
NATO might be considered—as it is by some—as a force multiplier. But in order to multiply, there needs to be a force. And there is less of that today than at any other time of the alliance's rich history. Operation Unified Protector in Libya is yet another interesting demonstration of NATO's continuing problems. After all, as the Norwegians try to point out, the initial phase of the Libya campaign was not that different from an early phase of an Article 5 NATO mission. And against that background, the shortcomings in command and control, target identifying and intelligence capabilities—a full twelve years after NATO's mission in Kosovo—have to be really scary. At least for anyone who is seriously thinking that NATO might be able to defend you. In a world where symmetrical warfare is becoming a more realistic prospect again, that is not exactly reassuring news.  

Montag, 9. April 2012

Being Busy like a Bee

I wanted to get back to my desk and comment on the prospect of war with Iran (or lack thereof), the Grass-debate, the American primaries, Chinese military developments and coups in Sub-Saharan Africa among, you know, other things. But for the moment, I am still traveling and am now off to Bratislava, where GlobSec 2012 is taking place. I hope to put some of the impressions into writing and blog them as soon as possible. And I will be back with some reviews soon. I don't know whether one still uses that in internet-era, but in any event: stay tuned. In the meantime, you might be interested in what a couple of put out in writing on the coup in Mali here.  


Montag, 2. April 2012

Short note on a foreign policy that is not as good as you might think

President Obama is a successful foreign policy maker. Or so MSNBC keeps telling its audience. It was, after all, Obama who had ordered the daring raid on bin Laden's compound in Abottabad, Pakistan (Andrew Sullivan offered a similarly unconvincing argument in defence of the president and stirred up quite a controversy with it). There are many things wrong with this talking point in the specific circumstances of the Abottabad raid, though one might well think of it as a daring endeavour. But I do wonder how a president, who was elected on the promise of hope but has subsequently failed to come up with a vision for American foreign policy in general and who's foreign policy in the front lines of the war on terror rests nearly entirely on an expanded drone programme, yet falls short of providing meaningful support for opposition movements in the Arab world, is considered an overwhelming success by, of all people, the left. It is certainly not an exaggeration to assert that the Obama administration's relationship with Congress is also a problematic one, but as a civilian supremacist I am also slightly concerned with the president's administration not complying with the laws set by Congress. And so, rightly, is John McCain