The sovereign can no longer say, "You shall think as I do on pain of death;" but he says, "You are free to think differently from me, and to retain your life, your property, and all that you possess; but if such be your determination, you are henceforth an alien among your people."

(Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1835)

Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Hard questions needed in Brussels

This is an interesting take from the New York Times on the recent Brussels Forum, which I attended. “[The] high-level conference was dominated by European efforts to get Washington’s attention, with promises of new, concerted action that were met with polite skepticism.”

Some of the criticisms of Europe’s performance were not new. For example, the article quotes Nicholas Burns, a former American ambassador to NATO, as saying that most European nations are spending less on defense than they promised and are avoiding the main battles in Afghanistan.

I would seriously quibble with this and I’m sure the European nations fighting in the south and east of Afghanistan would do so too. On issues like this it is important to make a distinction between the performances of individual European nations and the performance of the European Union as an entity.

As regards the latter, Burns has a point here: ‘The construction of the European Union has been a marvel, Mr. Burns said, and Europeans talk about it as a global power. “But can they develop a collective European idea of global power? They talk about it a lot, but they don’t do it.”’

I recentlygave several examples in another post which, to my mind, show that the EU has not yet earned the right to be treated as a global player outwith the realms of trade, commerce etc where it has always been strong and indeed where it found its original raison d’être. In short, not only is the EU not behaving like a global power, it does not even have a firm notion of what kind of global power it aspires to be.

One European analyst at the conference tellingly and accurately described the EU’s attitude to America and the rest of the world as “infantile”, meaning that Brussels demands attention and recognition and gets stroppy when these are not forthcoming.

The European Union (as an entity) currently finds itself at something of a crossroads. The EU is looking inward for specific reasons – ie. the euro crisis – just when there is much to be gained by doing precisely the opposite in the field of security and defence. Moreover, Europe is divided and uncertain on those very issues and that insurmountable fact will very soon see Europe marginalised on the global stage.

The problem is nobody in Brussels seems willing to admit this. Bold speeches at the Brussels Forum are all very well but the European Union has to ask itself some hard questions about the role it aspires to play and its ability to play it.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

"When goods do not cross borders, soldiers will."

Substitute 'soldiers' for 'Taliban' and Frédéric Bastiat accurately foresaw a major factor in the ongoing conflict in Afghanistan... although one might argue that many goods (notably AK-47s) do already cross the Afghan-Pakistani border and that the Durand line is not a real border anyway.

I'm beginning to wonder if there are any problems in the world today that were not caused by bespectacled English civil servants randomly drawing lines on maps from the safety of their dusty offices in Whitehall. However, that's another subject for another day.

It is perhaps with Bastiat's maxim in mind that the G8 have announced further measures to encourage cross-border trade between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The initiative aims to create local employment in the border regions and follows similar projects such as the Dubai Process (which began in January 2007).

I recently attended a conference where Amb. Randolph Mank, Canadian High Commissioner in Pakistan (Canada currently chairs the G8), described the Dubai Process in some detail. Essentially the idea is to bring together technical-level people and ask them what they need. It led to an agreement between Kabul and Islamabad to open their three (legal) crossing points seven days a week, up from the previous five days, as well as further discussions and/or agreements on customs, counter-narcotics, the movement of people and socio-economic development - namely, infrastructure for trade facilitation (road, rail etc) so that trade corridors may underpin reconstruction and reconciliation.

I'd be curious to learn what tangible impact these well-intentioned initiatives have actually had on the ground. It seems to me that such initiatives are not only complimentary but essential to the population-centric approach to counter-insurgency (see Frederik's recent post on that subject).

Moreover, I would argue - as many have before me - that we should not limit our efforts to the Afghan border with Pakistan. I can understand why that particular line in the sand would be the focus of the international community's attention but I think the same principles hold true around the entire perimeter of Afghanistan's territory. Given that country's historical position as a crossroads on the Silk Road, it seems perfectly logical to use geography as a stimulus for economic development. Translation: invest in road and rail links, as well as facilities such as cold storage, which can help Afghanistan become (once again) a major trade hub between Central Asia and/or China and the seaports on the Pakistani and Iranian coast.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Afghanistan: Sustaining West European Support for the NATO-led Mission—Why Counting on Apathy Might Not Be Enough

Since I'm quite busy writing an article for a German magazine, I'll post a link to a document that I haven't read, yet, but surely will as soon as I find time. The CIA document was leaked to WikiLeaks and outlines possible strategies to shore up support for the Afghanistan mission in Germany and France, the third and fourth largest troop contributors.

Friday, 26 March 2010


I just came across a lecture by Gen. McChrystal called the "8 imperatives of COIN" (Counterinsurgency). Good effort by ISAF to explain what the strategy is, although the attention of the public has some room to improve (the lecture had between 250 and 300 viewers on youtube).

McChrystal explains what COIN is all about. A lot of it sounds like he lectures about a basic human emotion that should not be needed to be lectured at all, called empathy. It might come as a surprise to some but Afghans do have a family, insurgents have a reason to fight and winning the war means taking care of the local population. Killing an insurgent very likely produces more insurgents instead of reducing their number; 10-2=20, as he explains it.

However, it is quite disturbing that the lecture of the Commander of the coalition forces is all about the need to acknowledge the humanity of the people in Afghanistan. However, CENTCOM Commander Petraeus and McChrystal seem to have understood that COIN requires more than killing the enemy. Having said that, the question remains whether this approach can trickle down the ranks to the gunner behind his .50 cal patrolling the roads in an MRAP.

What makes insurgencies so successful is the understandable reaction of frustrated soldiers on the ground, harassed by IEDs and ambushes and unable to get a hold of the evading enemy. They tend to perceive and consequently treat the entire population as hostile. And that in turn will antagonise the population.

The warrior's creed of the US Army introduced in 2003 is surely not helpful to induce a decent behaviour of US soldiers towards the population, which they are supposed to respect. It reads:

I am an American Soldier.
I am a Warrior and a member of a team.
I serve the people of the United States, and live the Army Values.
I will always place the mission first.
I will never accept defeat.
I will never quit.
I will never leave a fallen comrade.
I am disciplined, physically and mentally tough, trained and proficient in my warrior tasks and drills.
I always maintain my arms, my equipment and myself.
I am an expert and I am a professional.
I stand ready to deploy, engage, and destroy, the enemies of the United States of America in close combat.
I am a guardian of freedom and the American way of life.
I am an American Soldier.
In contrast, here is the older pre-2003 version:
I am an American Soldier.
I am a member of the United States Army -- a protector of the greatest nation on earth.
Because I am proud of the uniform I wear, I will always act in ways creditable to the military service and the nation it is sworn to guard.

I am proud of my own organization. I will do all I can to make it the finest unit in the Army.
I will be loyal to those under whom I serve. I will do my full part to carry out orders and instructions given to me or my unit.

As a soldier, I realize that I am a member of a time-honored profession--that I am doing my share to keep alive the principles of freedom for which my country stands.
No matter what the situation I am in, I will never do anything, for pleasure, profit, or personal safety, which will disgrace my uniform, my unit, or my country.
I will use every means I have, even beyond the line of duty, to restrain my Army comrades from actions disgraceful to themselves and to the uniform.

I am proud of my country and its flag.
I will try to make the people of this nation proud of the service I represent, for I am an American Soldier.
History shows that a decent conduct of soldiers towards the local population and restraint in applying force greatly improve chances to pacify an insurgency. When McCrystal does not succeed to get this message across to his soldiers, a success of its COIN strategy could be unlikely.

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

'You have the watches, we have the time. We are born here. We will die here. We aren't going anywhere.'

Turning to counterinsurgency, I would like to draw your attention to an essay by Lieutenant Colonel Ehsan Mehmood Khan, published in the Small Arms Journal. In this essay Khan compares the strategy of the Taliban to the theories of Von Clausewitz, Mao Tse-tung, T.E. Lawrence, David Galula and Querine Hanlon.

The key points:

  • "the tradition of Pashtunwali, the Pashtun Social Code, has been combined with Jihad thereby forming a formidable war ideology. This is serving as the nucleus around which everything else is knit and is thus the Centre of Gravity for Taliban Warfare. The constituents of operational environment may seek variants and may witness dip or rise in magnitude but till such time their ideology remains unbeaten, they may continue to fight."
  • "David Galula puts it that the counterinsurgent will not be able to rally the bulk of population so long as the population is convinced that the counterinsurgent the will, the means and the ability to win. This denotes that the population supports the one who will win.25 I think there are three more notions that the population may have to support a given side: who is ours; who will stay; and who is neither ours nor is to stay but supports rather than hurt our interest."
  • "What Mr. Henry Kissinger wrote at the end of the Vietnam War is relevant to the situation in Afghanistan today. He noted, “We fought a military war; our opponents fought a political one. We sought physical attrition; our opponents aimed for our psychological exhaustion. In the process we lost sight of one of the cardinal maxims of guerrilla warfare: the guerrilla wins if he does not lose. The conventional army loses if it does not win. The [North Vietnamese] used their armed forces the way a bull-fighter uses his cape – to keep us lunging in areas of marginal political importance.”
Khan also gives following facts:
"According to a new map of Taliban presence in Afghanistan (Figure-1) issued by the London-based International Council on Security and Development (ICOS) in October 2009, Taliban have now permanent presence in 80% of Afghanistan, up from 72% in November 2008, According to ICOS, another 17% of Afghanistan is seeing ‘substantial’ Taliban activity.2 NATO’s unclassified briefing gives even clearer picture. Taliban have a shadow government in 33 out of 34 provinces of Afghanistan. Figure-2 shows the how Taliban Movement in Afghanistan moved from sway on 11 provinces in 2005 to 33 in 2009.3 In the words of Admiral Michael Mullen, Taliban [are] getting pretty effective at it [governance]. They have set up functional courts in some locations, assess and collect taxes, and even allow people to file formal complaints against local Talib leaders."

Progress in Pakistan?

This article from the Christian Science Monitor, which coincides with the vist of Pakistani army chief Ashfaq Kayani to Washington, suggests that Pakistan has finally started to take effective action against Al Qaida and Taliban militants based in its territory, from which they launch attacks against international forces in Afghanistan.

On the surface, this assertion appears to be true. The sustained military campaigns against militant strongholds in northwestern Pakistan last year have been followed up by the recent arrests of almost half the Quetta Shura, notably Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, the alleged commander of Taliban operations inside Afghanistan.

However, if you scratch the surface then some important questions have to be raised about Pakistan's efforts.

Firstly, as regards the arrests of seven members of the Quetta Shura: last week Kai Eide, until recently head of the United Nations mission in Afghanistan, criticised the arrests on the grounds that they brought the 'secret' Dubai talks between the UN and the Taliban to an abrupt halt.

Question - did the Pakistani authorities simply make a tactical blunder? Or was the ISI removing Taliban leaders they no longer controlled in order to replace them with people they can control?

Both of those possibilities rest on the assumption that Eide's statement is true but, even though a number of his recent public statements seem to be an attempt to defend his performance as head of UNAMA, I can think of no reason why this wouldn't be the case. Be that as it may, given the track record of the ISI, I think we can be excused a certain degree of cynicism when analysing their actions. In other words, I remain to be convinced that these arrests truly reflect progress, beyond a marginal (and temporary) disruption of Taliban operations in Afghanistan.

Secondly, the CSM article cites Pakistan's moves against al Qaida operatives in the border areas as proof of Islamabad's (or Rawalpindi's) new-found vigour in assisting international forces. As hopefully most people have figured out by now (except the CSM apparently), the counter-insurgency campaign in Afghanistan has little to do with al Qaida. More ominously, in the early years of the international presence in Afghanistan (2001-2004/5), a clear modus operandi of the ISI emerged: they would win international (primarily American) support and extract financial and material rewards by moving against al Qaida strongholds in FATA, for example. All the while, they continued to actively arm, train and support homegrown militants in the region of Quetta, which the latter would use as a springboard for their operations in Afghanistan. In other words, hand over the Arab jihadists, keep the Americans sweet and continue to support the Pashtun Taliban as part of Pakistan's ongoing geostrategic game.

I have no inside knowledge as to whether or not this continues to be the case - although the fact that, as highlighted in the article, Pakistan now wants something in return (ie. a civilian nuclear deal, just like India's) could point to a repetition of the same pattern. I would merely point out that for Pakistan to truly support international efforts in Afghanistan would require an unprecedented seachange in the deeply entrenched mindset(s) of the Pakistani military and intelligence community, not to mention an equally unprecedented degree of civilian control over the machinery of the State. The arrest of a few guys along the border doesn't prove anything.

NB: For an in-depth - and startling - analysis of Pakistan's policy towards and actions in Afghanistan, see 'Descent into Chaos' by Ahmed Rashid.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

Brzezinski on Israel/Iran

In this interview with the Real News Network, Zbigniew Brzezinski underlines that an Israeli attack on Iran would be neither in the interest of Israel nor of the US. An attack would drive out the US of the Middle East and leave Israel without its most powerful ally.

Far from being a "peacenik", Brezezinski admited in this interview with the French Le Nouvel Observateur that the US engaged the communist government in Afghanistan even before the Russians invaded in 1979. Although he denied this revelation in later interviews, he wholeheartedly supported the support of the Taliban against the Russians ("Qu'est-ce qui est le plus important au regard de l'histoire du monde ? Les talibans ou la chute de l'empire soviétique? Quelques excités islamistes ou la libération de l'Europe centrale et la fin de
la guerre froide?"). See a transcript of the interview in English here.

NB: Regarding missile defence, Brzezinski said in another interview that the "missile shield proposal was based on a nonexistent defense technology, designed against a nonexistent threat, and designed to protect West Europeans, who weren’t asking for the protection." Nothing to add.

Some (different) thoughts on NATO - Part II

As promised, some more thoughts/responses on NATO and more specifically the bigger picture, notably relations with the EU.

It is undeniable that some Allies (more than just the US and Britain, incidentally) want the NATO mechanism to become better suited to expeditionary missions, whereas others (primarily new members) joined for the purpose of territorial defence (yes, against the Russkies). I would caveat that by suggesting that new Allies’ perceived reluctance to contribute greatly to the Afghan mission, for example, may have as much to do with issues of domestic defence reform as with doubts about the mission. In other words, they simply may not have the assets/capabilities to contribute as much as they or others would like.

Having said that, the likes of Poland, Romania and Estonia – who have punched well above their weight in Afghanistan (check the figures!) – would undoubtedly and justifiably take offence at the suggestion that they are not really interested in expeditionary missions.

Right now, common ground is reflected in the common realisation that NATO is the best and the only place in which all these considerations (also including the High North, on which still more Allies would like to see increased focus) will be addressed. Granted, not always to the extent which they may wish but surely that also applies to other organisations of which these nations are also members?

You will find gaps that are hard to bridge in any association that groups together 27 or 28 members. That is a simple fact of life and to question NATO’s relevance purely on that basis simply does not stand up to reason.

To say that NATO clearly does not work very well in overseas operations is unfair for reasons I expounded in a previous post. Moreover, it fails to take into account the relative success of previous out-of-area operations, notably in the Balkans. Above all, it does not address the question I asked yesterday – if NATO will not do this, then who will?

The European Union currently seems to be labouring under the serious misconception that the Lisbon Treaty will provide the tools necessary for its own overseas missions. Firstly, on this issue, the EU is simply a mechanism, just like NATO, which members may choose to apply to a particular situation. Given that 21 nations are members of both organisations, simple logic dictates that the EU would experience exactly the same problems in, notably, force generation as NATO does.

Furthermore, recent experience shows this to be absolutely true. EUPOL in Afghanistan has a maximum ceiling of 400 personnel, which is embarrassingly unambitious in itself but even more so when you consider that this figure has never been reached. The current deployment stands at around 225 I believe. It took the EU six months to find 16 helicopters for Chad. In counter-piracy, NATO’s standing assets had to fill the gap for six months in late 2008 while the EU mobilised its own fleet (and Ban Ki-Moon’s request to NATO to deploy its naval groups pretty much said exactly that). Even then, while NATO has consistently maintained a permanent presence of 4-5 ships off the Horn of Africa, the EU deployment has fluctuated from 8 to a mere 2 over the Christmas holidays.

In short, the EU mechanism is only as good as the sum of its parts, just like NATO.

To argue that NATO should only focus on what it is good at and drop the rest seems very strange to me. If NATO, or any other organisation for that matter, were to ignore its deficiencies then wouldn’t that equate to simply ignoring emerging threats and challenges? It is undeniable that the global security environment has changed radically since the end of the Cold War so it stands to reason that the organisations and insitutions which we set up during that time must also change. Translation: NATO has no choice but to change and must simply improve in ways which were not previously envisaged. Again, if NATO doesn’t then who will?

As for the Russian proposal of a European Security Treaty, how exactly was NATO supposed to respond? NATO does not have a legal personality and cannot therefore sign a treaty itself. NATO can only be a forum for discussion among Allies. Again, I think we’re attacking the puppet here, not the puppeteers.

I would agree that we – Europe – are indeed missing a chance to team up with Russia against common threats. However, I think Russia takes a fair measure of the blame for that. Leaving aside minor incidents like the invasion of Georgia, it is an established fact that Russia cleverly exploits differences between European nations precisely in order to prevent them uniting and making a common front with/against Russia (see the ECFR power audit of EU-Russia relations from November 2007.)

As regards mindsets/mentalities, it might be true to say that some NATO officials have been indelibly marked by their Cold War experiences – to state this as a "matter of fact" is stretching considerably though. However, I firmly believe this is too often drastically exaggerated as many NATO officials consistently make a strong case that NATO must change and has changed, for example in leading out-of-area expeditionary missions. It seems to me that it is a basic contradiction to criticise NATO for undertaking such missions, which the Alliance never did during the Cold War, and then criticise it for remaining fixed in Cold War mindset.

Moreover, I don’t believe that the Turkey-Cyprus issue is the only reason why NATO and the EU will never have a healthy relationship – although I do agree with the latter part of that statement. The European Union, and their innumerable bureacrats in Brussels, by and large represent a constituency that represents a certain strand of anti-Americanism in Europe and, moreover, that regards any ‘Cold War institutions’ as a means for the projection of American hard power. It is through this lens that NATO is perceived in Brussels and this is a factor which must be considered because it greatly distorts any discussion over the duplication of labour.

For example, why should America, Britain or anybody else simply accept that the EU build up its own capabilities at the expense of others? When the EU has proved itself capable of undertaking expeditionary operations (which it hasn’t, as I’ve illustrated above), then and only then can this issue be properly discussed.

Even if I were to accept the basic premise that NATO is a constituency with a Cold War mindset (which I don’t because i/ it isn’t true and ii/ because NATO is merely a mechanism, not an institution in the fashion of the EU) I would nonetheless maintain that the biggest obstacle to healthy NATO-EU cooperation – at least at the strategic level – is the mindset of EU officialdom.

This post has become a discussion about the EU as well as NATO but I think that simply reflects the reality of today. However, for all the reasons expounded above – and many more besides – the famous EU vs NATO debate is far from over.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Hezbollah's strategic thinking

In this piece, Nicholas Noe analysis the strategic thinking of Hezbollah. After the percieved victory in the July War of 2006, Hezbollah and its secretary general Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah are confident that the next military confrontation will lead to the destruction of Israel. This confidence brings Nasrallah to say that Hezbollah "craves war but we do not want it".

The proliferation of military technology enables weak states and organisations to challenge states far more powerful than themselves. By investing in anti-air, anti-ship, anti-satellite and cyber-war capabilities, those states and groups seek to restrict the freedom of movement of the superior armed forces. This access denial strategy could restrict the movement of dominant military powers to a point, where the military superiority becomes irrelevant, because the strike capabilities cannot be brought to action. The Chinese call this strategy the "assassin's mace" or shashaojian, where cyber attacks, missile barrages of supersonic anti-ship ballistic missiles and submarines deny potential aggressors access to the Chinese sphere of influence. Iran trains its navy in the swarm tactic, where dozens of small boats overwhelm the defence systems of enemy vessels by their sheer numbers. India just successfully test-fired the world's first super-sonic anti-ship cruise missile. And Hezbollah acquires sophisticated anti-tank and surface-to-surface missiles that challenge any Israeli military superiority.

In times of tight financial budgets, the development of protection-measures to undermine the access denial strategy could prove to be too expensive. In consequence, a superior military could not guarantee power projection capabilities any more. States will have to find other ways than military force alone to protect and enforce national interests. For Hezbollah, the consequence is that it perceives itself as equal to the Israeli armed forces and ready to engage them. And that means that there is no need for Hezbollah to carve in or accept any compromise but fight until their goals are achieved.

Some (different) thoughts on NATO - Part I

I’d like to address my friend’s comments on NATO, both by responding to some of his specific points and also by providing some thoughts of my own. For the time being, I have responded only on Afghanistan-related points. I’ll respond on the rest at a later time.

It simply is not true to say that more and more European Allies are pulling out from the mission in Afghanistan. The only Ally to have confirmed it will pull out is the Netherlands and that is as much down to internal political reasons as to the mission itself. Canada is planning to pull out in 2011 but that remains to be confirmed and, in any case, the reference was specifically to European Allies. Before the Dutch decision, last country to pull out was Switzerland in 2006 because ISAF’s expanded mandate was incompatible with its very specific form of neutrality.

In fact the opposite is true – not only are more nations (Europeans and others) joining ISAF, those already there have boosted their contingents quite considerably. It was at the Bucharest Summit in March 2008 that the clarion call went out for NATO to drastically expand its presence in Afghanistan. At that time ISAF numbered 50,000 troops of which 22,000 were American and approximately 25000 European. Today, ISAF numbers 88,000 and – far from pulling out – the European contribution has almost doubled over the past two years.

ISAF itself now comprises 44 nations with more soon to follow. The United States already did operate its own coalition of the willing in Afghanistan under Operation Enduring Freedom. In his dual capacity as COMISAF and COMUSFOR-A, General McChrystal has taken measures to move as many troops and assets – Americans and other nationalities – as possible from OEF to ISAF. Indeed, there will soon be very little remaining of OEF in Afghanistan. Surely a vote of confidence in NATO?

To say that NATO has proved to be inefficient for overseas contingency operations and then, on that basis, question its utility and/or relevance requires a considerable stretch of the imagination. The real question is this: if NATO should not do that job then who else is there?

Nobody. There simply is no one else. NATO is the only mechanism that can fulfil those tasks. I use the word mechanism very deliberately. The Alliance is a mechanism, or an instrument, that its members can choose to apply to any given situation, or not. As such, NATO is only as good as the sum of its parts. In other words, the mechanism will only work if there is the necessary political and popular will to provide the necessary military, civilian and financial resources to accomplish the mission and that has never been the case.

It is probably accurate to say that the mechanism is inefficient (or less than optimal) for this kind of operation but we have to realise that we have never seen the likes of this operation before, both in character and in scale. If the mechanism remains inefficient (and I’ll take issue with that shortly) then national capitals have to assume responsibility because it is they who make the decisions. To lay the blame at NATO’s doorstep is to blame the puppet, not the puppeteers.

To say that the war has entered its tenth year and is still going badly also requires a considerable stretch of the imagination. Nobody would argue that there are major difficulties and that ISAF did not imagine that it would be in this situation in 2010. However, we should remind ourselves of certain basic facts here.

NATO only assumed control of ISAF in August 2003 and with a very limited mandate. In certain parts of Afghanistan – the south and east – NATO had no presence until late 2006 and even then did not have the necessary number of troops on the ground until last summer. Until then, there were only half-measures. The international community was too long distracted by the fiasco in Iraq (which had nothing to do with NATO) and either ignored or misjudged the serious problems growing in Afghanistan.

This is not the tenth year of the war – it is the first year of a new counter-insurgency campaign. Be that as it may, the international community – of which NATO is only one element among many, most of whom are simply not doing enough in Afghanistan – has left itself very little time to get the job done. Generals and politicians from Allied nations have made no secret of the fact that the tide must be turned this year.

In the meantime, I think it would behoove us Europeans to reserve judgement on the counter-insurgency campaign – and on NATO’s suitability as the driving force for that process – for the next 6-12 months. Then and only then will facts on the ground allow us to respond to these questions with some degree of authority.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Who wrote the Bible?

Here is a documentary about the origins of the Bible, both the new as well as the old testament. The message of the documentary is basically that the Bible is no witness account. The history as it is described in the Bible does not match the archaeological evidence. Written many decades or in some cases centuries after the actual events, the Bible can therefore not be read literally.

Some remarks about NATO

A friend asked me to come up with some questions for a panel discussion that she was asked to moderate. The panel is about resetting NATO. I thought I'd post the result of my first brain storm:

NATO has difficulties in achieving its goals in AFG. Ten years into the war the country is still in shambles and no end in sight. More and more European allies are pulling out and sooner or later the US and the UK will find themselves alone. So general question: if NATO proved its inefficiency for overseas contingency operations, what is NATO good for at all?

Obviously, the US and UK wants NATO for expeditionary missions, whereas Eastern Europe wants it as defence against the Russians. Clearly a gap that is hard to bridge. Where else is common ground?

The US needs NATO as a self-financing foreign legion. Europe doesn't feel at ease with the US foreign policy. So whey does the EU not leave NATO? Or why does the US not leave NATO, since it operates with coalitions of the willing under US command anyway?

Why did NATO not consider the Russian proposal of an European Security Treaty? As a matter of fact, many senior NATO officials and officers are still in a mindset of the Cold War. Are we not missing a chance to team up with Russia against our common threats?

NATO works very well in the field of standardisation and organisation of the armies of Allies. It does clearly not work very well in overseas operations, perhaps with exception of the counter-piracy operation. So why not focus on what NATO is good at and drop the rest?

NATO and EU will never have a healthy relationship, because of the Turkey-Cyprus-Greece deadlock. Now, the EU considers to set up an operational headquarters, a clear duplication of capabilities. It's easy to imagine that this is only the first step in a process of more duplications to come. Hence, instead of fighting duplication, the US and UK should accept realities and support the increase of EU capabilities.

Missile defence will become a NATO asset. This decision has already been taken, rumours have it. But: why do we need it? On which threat analysis is this need based upon? Iran? North Korea? Why would either of those states bother launching a missile to Europe or the US? They are not many indications nor evidence for that! So, Russia and China, I suppose... Is that really the right way forward, to threaten the balance of power/balance of possible mutual destruction? It is very expensive, so far the tests were mostly unsuccessful, but instead it antagonises powers with which we should cooperate - so where is the added value? It only makes sense if you predict a military confrontation with Russia or China in the future. This scenario might be a threat for some in the alliance, but "Old Europe" does not see this scenario as very likely. So, nations that are interested should share the burden but NATO as a whole should not step in to share the bill.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Iran proposes new nuclear swap deal

The Kuala Lumpur News report:

"The head of the Iranian atomic energy agency, Ali Akbar Salehi, has told local television the country will make concessions to the West by exchanging Tehran's low-grade uranium for highly enriched uranium that it needs for its medical research. Salehi said the new proposal for a nuclear deal could involve 60 percent of Iran's low enriched uranium being shipped to the West, all in one batch directly from Iran.

Iran failed to accept a draft nuclear deal by the West last November. Part of Iran's low-grade stockpile was to have been sent to France and Russia for further enrichment before eventually being sent back to Iran. Eventually, Iran made a counter-offer calling for the exchange to take place gradually in 400 kilogram batches.

Atomic energy chief Salehi has now said Iran will be willing to deliver the total amount of fuel in one go, on the condition that the exchange take place inside Iran and simultaneously. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad announced in February that Tehran would produce around 20 percent of highly enriched uranium fuel itself."
This proposal is similar to Iran's last proposal. The only differerence is that Iran proposes to swap all material it needs at once. Iran still insists that the exchange of the material is done on its own territory. The US offered to do the exchange outside of Iran, which was unacceptable for Iran. The Iranians simply do not trust its antagonists that they will abide to the deal.

Since the US and its Western allies did not even discuss Iran's last proposal, it is very likely that they will disregard this offer as well.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

"This is starting to get dangerous for us"

In case you missed Marc Perry's report on Gen. David Petraeus briefing of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Michael Mullen on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in December, here is the link.

Petraeus outlined that "America was not only viewed as weak, but its military posture in the region was eroding" and that "Israeli intransigence on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was jeopardizing U.S. standing in the region". Mullen's and Biden's trip to Israel have to be seen as efforts to urge Israel to put their issues in the wider perspective of the region, argues Perry. After the announcement of the construction of more houses in the Occupied Territories, Biden then came to tell Netanjahu that "this is starting to get dangerous for us. What you're doing here undermines the security of our troops who are fighting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan." Perry quotes here an article in the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronot.

Perry sums up: "America's relationship with Israel is important, but not as important as the lives of America's soldiers. Maybe Israel gets the message now."

UPDATE: John Mearsheimer published an article on the issue.

Pertaeus further requested that the the Occupied Territories would be made part of his area of responsibility (CENTCOM), which was denied by the White House and subsequently also by Petraeus himself. Currently, Israel and the Occupied Territories are part of European Command (EUCOM). This change would have big implications, because the US training mission of the Palestinian Authority (PA) under Gen. Keith D. Dayton would then fall under Pertaeus command. Noam Chomsky compared this training mission with the population control efforts that the US so successfully implemented during the US occupation of the Philippines. A proof of the success of the mission could be the lack of any kind of demonstration in the West Bank during the Israeli operation "Cast Lead".

Speculation about Iran war preparation

Three days ago, the Scotland's Sunday Herald published an article about a weapons shipment from the US to the US/UK airbase on Diego Garcia. "According to a cargo manifest from the US navy, this included 387 “Blu” bombs used for blasting hardened or underground structures. [...] Crucially, the cargo includes 195 smart, guided, Blu-110 bombs and 192 massive 2000lb Blu-117 bombs." The article concludes: "Experts say that they are being put in place for an assault on Iran’s controversial nuclear facilities."

Whoever those "experts" are, this news could indicate that a strike on Iran is in preparation. This would not come as a surprise, bearing in mind the continuous threat of the use of force by the US and Israel against Iran. On the other hand, a quick Google search reveals that Blu-110 and Blu-117 are not exactly what you could describe as bunker busters. They are mainly used as precision-guided bombs for all sorts of targets. Hence, they could be tagged for Iran as well as any other of the many places the US decided to bombard on a regular base.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Patrick Kennedy's bashing of US AFG policy and US media

On 11 March 2010, the US House of Representatives debated a resolution sponsored by Congressman Dennis Kucinich (D - Ohio) that requested the House to order the US president to remove all US troops from Afghanistan within 30 days. Interesting to note that this was the first time that the House debated the issue - ten years into the war. Needless to say that the resolution was rejected with 356 to 65 votes.

In a very true as well as entertaining intervention, Congressman Patrick Kennedy (R - Rhode Island) embarked on a bashing of the US AFG policy as well as the US media that highlighted a disturbing reality: there is no public debate about whether the mission in Afghanistan is good or bad for us - neither in the US nor in Europe.

In fact, even in national elections this issue is not up for controversy although it potentially has fundamental consequences to our security here in Europe. In Germany, the only party that demanded the immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan during the national parliamentary election campaign was the communist party Die Linke. When polls suggested that they might have a chance to enter a coalition with the Social-Democrats SPD and the Greens, the party leadership corrected its stand and demanded a withdrawal "as soon as possible", meaning at earliest in a year.

The question is: what information do politicians get that they all come to the same conclusion that being in Afghanistan is the best thing to do?

And a follow-up would be: where can I get this information?

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Sec&Def Europe sees the light of day

We started this blog to comment and discuss current developments in the field of security and defence. Our focus will be on basically everything that is related to military history, insurgencies and counter-insurgency, military in general, geopolitics and geostrategy.