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)

Friday, 30 April 2010

German troops back in France!

At the Munich Security Conference in February 2009, French President Sarkozy and German Chancellor Merkel agreed to permanently station a German Battalion of Light Infantry in Illkirch-Graffenstaden, France, 5km south of Strasbourg. The first German troops arrived beginning of April and by Summer 2010 the Battalion will reach its full strength.

The Light Infantry Battalion 291 (Jaeger Battalion in German) will complement the German component of the German-French Brigade, which so far consists of the Jaeger Battalion 292 in Donaueschingen, the Artillery Battalion 295 and the Tank Engineer Battalion 550. The French component is represented by the 110the Infantry Battalion and the 3rd Hussar Regiment, both stationed in Germany. Last, the German-French Supply Battalion, which is as opposed to the above mentioned units the only truly bi-national unit.

As the only unit of the German Army, the Jaeger Battalion 291 will consist of two Jaeger Companies and one Reconnaissance Company. Supplied with the most advanced weapon systems, such as the Armoured Personnel Carrier BOXER, Light Armoured Reconnaissance Vehicle FENNEK, machine gun MG 4, sniper rifle G 82 and sub-machine gun MP 7, the Battalion is specifically designed for out-of-area missions.

Lessons from Ireland - the bicycle theory

When riding a bicycle, if you stop pedalling then the bicycle falls over. Conclusion - if you want to go somewhere you have to keep pedalling.

The same is true of a process of conflict resolution, according to Jonathan Powell, formerly Chief of Staff to Tony Blair and the latter's main adviser/negotiator on the Northern Ireland peace process.

Powell wrote a book, called 'Great Hatred, Little Room' (from a poem by W.B. Yeats), about his decade-long experience. Aside from being a highly-readable account of personalities and anecdotes, it also provides a few salient points which I would like to draw out for my third and final post on the lessons we can learn from the peace process in Northern Ireland.

- talking is not a reward to be withdrawn but a basic necessity for any peace process. Moreover, to make peace you must talk to your enemies, not just to your friends. That might seem obvious but look at other past or ongoing processes and you quickly discover that this pre-condition is far from a foregone conclusion.

- in that vein, they realised that only extremes can build peace as there is nobody left to outflank them. NB: the original intention was to build peace from the moderate parties in the centre and, while this was enough to reach a settlement, it was not enough to implement it. Only the extremes could do that.

- maintain strategic focus, do not get distracted by tactical games.

- ambiguity in negotiations is complicated and needs careful handling. Although almost always necessary at the beginning, 'constructive ambiguity' must be squeezed out (painfully and over time) as a durable peace cannot rest on an ambiguous understanding.

- widen the focus when you reach an absolute impasse.

- the stage of a breakthrough agreement is exactly the moment to redouble your efforts and try to implement (ie. sell) the agreement to both/all sides.

- dealing with criminality is not easy, as it can be a (local) cultural phenomenon. The trick is to force a divorce between those who opt for crime and those who opt for a political path.

- on hearts and minds, by investing effort/money/jobs into the water in which your enemies swim (metaphor c/o Mao Zedong) you can reduce pressure in a conflict.

Powell is careful to state very clearly that Northern Ireland was a unique, a sui generis, situation and that we should be very careful about drawing parellels with other process of conflict resolution (for example in the Middle East where George Mitchell is now the US Special Envoy just as he was previously in Northern Ireland - see my first post on this subject).

To that end, Powell highlights certain underlying factors which created the conditions for reaching - and implementing, albeit extremely slowly - a peace settlement in Ireland.

- a generational change in the leadership of i/ Irish Republicans, ii/ in London and Dublin and iii/ the 'securocrats' within the British State (military and intelligence) apparatus
- the Celtic Tiger economic boom in Ireland
- 911, which showed Irish Republicans that their brand of physical force was simply outdated
- the US factor (see previous post on the 'out of the box' theory)

Above all, he states very clearly that conflict resolution can only succeed when both/all sides have realised that they cannot win.

However, it is for those reasons that in these three posts I have been careful to consider Northern Ireland as a case study for a 'methodology' (for want of a better word) of conflict resolution, and not a blueprint. Lessons therefore refers to process and I'd be interested to see to what extent people think some of these lessons could, or should, be applied elsewhere.

"Out of Ireland have we come, great hatred, little room, maimed us at the start. I carry from my mother's womb a fanatic heart." (W.B. Yeats)

Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Some worrying developments in the Middle East

It is difficult to assess whether the situation in the Middle East is getting worse or whether it is stable and all current developments are just a smoke screen. Here are some news that combined could lead to a new situation in the region:

Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak went to Germany to get a surgery. He is 81 years, so the question of succession becomes interesting. So far, no successor has been designated. A future president has to meet certain criteria, such as loyalty towards the US, collaboration with Israel, willingness to suppress brutally the population. The most prominent contender for the post is Muhammad Al Baradei, the former head of the IAEA.

Judging upon his performance in his previous job, Al Baradei is unlikely to continue the Mubarak's policy of suppression and compliance. And this would render him an opponent of the US and Israel, who were already not happy with him at the IAEA. It is likely that they will do everything to take him out of the campaign.

However, it seems that the West will loose with Mubarak also its grip on Egypt. The Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmend Aboul Gheit was quoted of calling Israel an 'enemy state'. Although he said that he was misunderstood, this small incident could be a first sign of Egypt moving away from Western domination.

Another problem of Egypt is the Western value of democracy or rather the necessity of dictatorship. So far, the problem doesn't exist because there is no democracy whatsoever. If the West would ask for democratic elections the outcome would very probably be a landslide victory of the Muslim Brotherhood. That would be a problem for Israel, because they could not count on the complicity of Egypt in their fight against the Palestinians. But it would surely also pose problems to the West as a whole, bearing in mind the crucial position that Egypt holds as the most important country of the Muslim world, the Suez Canal, adjacency to the Gaza strip etc.

One positive effect of sticking to Western values and demanding free elections would be that an Egyptian government lead by the Muslim Brotherhood would ease tensions with Al Qaeda and affiliates. Ayman Al Zawahiri, the second in command and chief ideologue, is Egyptian himself. He was very active in the resistance against the Egyptian dictatorship before endorsing the violent international struggle against the "far enemy" that was soon to become the ideology of Al Qaeda.

Israel alleged that Syria supplied Hezbollah with Scud missiles. No other government support Israel in this claim, but it was stated by US and other officials that Hezbollah has an improved arsenal of missiles. Israel and the US said that Scuds for Hezbollah could "turn or disrupt the very delicate balance in Lebanon", as Ehud Barack expressed it. Of course, with "delicate balance" Barack means the overwhelming military superiority of Israel. The US even threatened Syria with its "full range of tools" available to halt any smuggling of Scuds.

May there be Scuds or not, fact is that Hezbollah acquired an organisational structure and military capabilities that bother Israel. So far, Israel regularly violates Lebanese airspace in defiance of UN resolution 1701, but also Hezbollah violates this resolution by acquiring sophisticated weapons. Both sides seem to prepare for the inevitable showdown.

In case of a showdown between Hebollah and Israel, the Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri stated that an attack on Hezbollah would be regarded as an attack on Lebanon. End of February 2010, Hezbollah General Secretary Nasrallah met Syrian President Assad and Iranian President Ahmadinejad in Damascus.

It looks like the coordinated resistance against Israel and its Western supporters is forming. Statements, such as "the next military conflict should solve the Israel question once and for all" or "the next war will be a regional war", indicate that Israel's enemies are confident that they can prevail in a war. The predominant feeling towards Israel used to be the feeling of inferiority - if that changed to a feeling of equality, it could change the tides in the Middle East.

A lot has been written on the rift between Israel and the US. Recently, also France made headlines when President Sarkozy criticised Netanyahu for foot-dragging on the peace process. Although it is unlikely that the Western criticism of Israel will change its attitude towards Israel, it could empower the militant forces in the Middle East.

I think that the situation for many participants is good as long as the conflict is boiling on a small flame. But the accumulation of developments could set fire to the fuse. The EU should start talking about what to do when the situation is going belly up.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Who are the Taliban?

I would like to draw your attention to a study by Anne Stenersen of the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment. She seeks to understand who the Taliban are, what they do fight for and how they see themselves.

There is not much debate going on about the enemy that we are fighting in Afghanistan. Governments and NATO usually refer to ISAF as a stabilisation mission to strengthen the Karzai-Government. But only rarely questions about our enemy are discussed. For instance, the Mullah Omar's negotiation offer and his peace proposal was hardly ever discussed publicly.

But how can we defeat an enemy that we don't understand? Sun Tzu famously said: "Know yourself, know your enemy - a thousand battles, a thousand victories". I think we are falling short of knowing our enemy and that might be one of the reasons why we have a hard time winning. Stenersen's paper sheds some light and explains what we are up against.

"Keep Calm and Carry On"

Nigel Inkster, the former deputy director of MI6, issued some pointed criticism today of what he sees as the United States' continued overreaction to terrorism. Although Inkster's argument is not a new one, his previous position at MI6 makes his opinion both intriguing and significant.

Before taking up his current post at IISS, Inkster was being groomed by Sir Richard Dearlove (the former head of MI6) as his potential successor. In the end, Inkster was passed over by Tony Blair's appointment of John Scarlett, the former Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee. Although Scarlett had previously been an MI6 officer, and Moscow station chief, his selection as head of the service was seen as a reward for providing political cover to Tony Blair's decision to join the Iraq invasion.

Some may claim this episode has left Inkster a wounded animal, but there is no evidence to support this assertion. Instead, his critique of U.S. policy should be seen as a sensible assessment from a man that previously served on the front line in the fight against terrorism.

Monday, 26 April 2010

Ron Paul speaks out against the sanctions bill on Iran

Congressman Ron Paul from Texas is one of the few that publicly criticise the US Iran policy from within the US political system.

Last Thursday, the Congress passed the 'Comprehensive Iran Sanctions, Accountability and Divestment Act', which effectively prohibits US firms to trade with countries that trade with Iran. Listen here to his 5 minute intervention, in which he compares the current developments regarding Iran with the build up to the war with Iraq in 2002.

Friday, 23 April 2010

Why I would vote for Clegg

  1. Clegg questions US ties. I think it's about time that the UK emancipates itself form the US. As should all the rest of Europe, by the way. It is hard to understand that the relationship to the country that brought down the mighty British Empire is considered to be 'special' to begin with. Clegg said that the Iraq invasion "was a war about Tony Blair and Gordon Brown doing America's bidding". I couldn't agree more.

  2. Clegg speaks out against the "like-for-like" replacement of the Trident submarines capable of carrying nuclear ICBMs. During the first of the leaders' debates Nick Clegg repeatedly asked how Gordon Brown or David Cameron "could justify or afford £100bn over 25 years on a nuclear missile system, which was designed specifically to flatten St Petersburg or Moscow", and said "the world has moved on and I think you two need to move with it". I think that is a valid point. Furthermore, I would argue that capabilities such as nuclear deterrence as well as aircraft carriers should become EU assets anyway.

  3. On the Middle East, Clegg said: "On Israel, my view has always been that whilst the ideology of Israel's enemies in Hamas . . . is odious, and the use of terror . . . unacceptable, I also feel that it is simply not in Israel's long-term interests to have 1.5-1.8 million people in a state of wretched grinding poverty in a tiny, tiny sliver of land in Gaza seething with ever greater radicalism, extremism and hatred right on your doorstep and that the military methods used in Operation Cast Lead were disproportionate." Making peace in the Middle East is simple: total withdrawal of Israel to the borders of 1967, Jerusalem capital of both Israel and Palestine and compensation for the refugees. Time to put pressure on the parties to get their act together.

  4. He is a graduate of the College of Europe.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

"We honour the commisars and we condemn the dissidents"

Sometimes it just happens that I read someone's ideas and I think that this idea is pretty obvious and plausible - why didn't it come to me myself? Well, here is another of those examples, this time in an interview with Noam Chomsky. In line with the basic idea of this blog and the quote on top, two ideas struck me most:

Firstly, Chomsky speaks about the reasons why he was never invited to a popular talk-show called 'Nightline'. The reason is, he explains, that he lacks concision. If you want to repeat the mainstream opinion, you can do that between two commercials. The kinds of things that Chomskey would say cannot be said in one sentence, because they depart from standard mainstream. If you want to question the mainstream you are expected to give evidence, which is per se good, but too time consuming for talk-shows.

It's terrific technique of propaganda. To imposing concision is a way of virtually guaranteeing that the party line gets repeated over and over again, says Chomsky.

Breaching this 'censorship' is difficult but separates the intellectuals from the courtiers. When it comes to our enemies, such as the Soviet Union, we understand this principle easily: we honour the dissidents and condemn the commissars. When we turn around at home, we honour the commissars and condemn the dissidents.

Secondly, Chomsky speaks of double standards. We accept those because we lack knowledge of particular issues. He outlines the examples of Iraq (the interview was recorded in 2002), South-Eastern Turkey, Kosovo and Indonesia. We support dictatorships, such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi-Arabia, who commit atrocities against their own people, and agitate against Iran, or Iraq at the time, blaming them that they commit atrocities against their own people.

Apart form corrupting our moral and integrity, I believe that this hypocrisy does not do us any good. It will come back to us and haunt us. And it doesn't do any good to the countries that we uncritically support. We deprive these people of their chance to choose their own fate and antagonise people who will in return seek revenge. In order to continue with this policy we have to accept that it requires a massive military power and the suppression of the majority of the people of the world who do not have the privilege of having be born in the West.

Take an hour and watch the interview!

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

Ramzan Vs. Dmitry?

Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic, has long been known for his harsh and often brutal counter-insurgency policies. As a result, many have wondered how the relationship between Kadyrov and Dmitry Medvedev would evolve. This article in Radio Free Europe gives an indication that the two men have differing perspectives on what direction security policies in the North Caucasus should take.

Following the recent bombings on the Moscow metro system Medvedev offered a five point plan for countering militancy in the region:

1) Strengthen the police and security forces
2) Continue to hunt down and eliminate terrorists
3) Provide material aid to militants that lay down their arms
4) Address the socioeconomic problems that are facilitating the recruitment of young men and women to militant groups
5) Enhance the role of the Muslim clergy

While hunting down and killing militants is nothing new, placing a greater emphasis on the socioeconomic problems perhaps is. This 'emphasis' may create divisions between Medvedev and Kadyrov with the latter prioritising the catching and killing of militants while the former favours the provision of social programmes and material support.

If a rift between the two does begin to emerge then Medvedev will be faced with a dilemma: socioeconomic problems are perhaps the root cause of North Caucasian militancy and this has to be addressed, but at the same time Kadyrov has presided over a normalization of the Chechen security situation - something that Medvedev will not want to risk unraveling. There is also the question of Vladimir Putin, whose meteoric rise to power is partly explained by the role he played in orchestrating the Second Chechen War. Is the North Caucasus one area where Putin's word will always reign supreme?

Israel, Bin Laden and Alaskan rabbits

Michael Scheuer, a retired CIA agent, didn't pull any punches during his speech to a town-hall meeting this week, raising a considerable number of questions.

The main thrust of Scheuer's speech was that the United States should return to the Founding Fathers' foreign policy (ie. self-defence) which, in practice, entails withdrawing from the Middle East "to the greatest extent compatible with our national interest."

The two questions here are i/ what is the greatest extent possible and ii/ how can this withdrawal be achieved in practical terms?

On Israel, Scheuer doesn't miss the mark either. "The idea that 300 million Americans are bound to bleed because God gave a group of people a deed to a plot of land 3,000 years ago is quite mad."

Given recent and ongoing debates, one wonders if either a growing number of people share his view or, alternatively, people always thought this way but now feel able to speak out. The question in both cases is why is this and what will it mean?

On Bin Laden, Scheuer says there is next to no chance of ever catching him - a particularly striking comment given that Scheuer was previously head of the CIA unit charged with hunting him down. The question here is would it really make much difference if Bin Laden was ever caught?

On Afghanistan, defeat is not an option but the means (ie. troop numbers) to win are not there. On Iran, a first-strike would only provoke terrorist attacks on US soil.

Finally, the US must achieve energy independence or face going to war for oil (I thought they already did) and must prioritise this over other considerations. In simple terms - "Demands for protection for Arctic rabbits, Gulf shrimp or the sunny beaches of California at the cost of dead Marines or soldiers should be ignored."

Monday, 19 April 2010

A Mudjahideen's tale

The Taliban complain for quite a while now that the narrative of the war in Afghanistan is dominated by the interpretation of Western media outlets. In order to counter that trend, some Mujahideen started their own history writing project. This piece (part I, part II) is the first product of the effort that I'm aware of. It tells the story of Jalaluddin Haqqani and his emergence as one of the most prominent isurgency leaders in the pre-Soviet and Soviet phase of the Afghanistan war. Today, he is the leader of the Haqqani-Network that is loosely affiliated with the Shura Council of Mullah Omar. Well, nobody really knows how close the ties between these two organisations are. Anyway, it's a fascinating read for everybody who likes legends - and beyond that for everybody who seeks to understand what the Taliban think of themselves.

Medvedev's speech in the U.S. highlights his personal qualities and practical approach to policy

President Medvedev's speech at Brookings last week demonstrated that the Russian leader has three significant characteristics: candour, humour and foresight. All of which appear to have laid a strong foundation for the effective working relationship that he has developed with Barack Obama. But between the quips about texting the U.S. president, and honesty over being shocked by the economic crisis, Medvedev's comments at Brookings highlighted the practicality and vision that informs his political thinking. This was evident in the straight answers that he gave with regards to the Russian economy, Terrorism and Iran.

With regards to the Russian economy, Medvedev's remarks showed that the economic crisis has focused his attention on the urgent need for diversification. He went as far as to say that it "was outrageous [. . .] how our economy depends on raw materials." But, perhaps more importantly, he discussed in some detail the need to address the current woeful state of bi-lateral trade with the United States, which amounts to only 5 percent of that which is currently being traded between Washington and the Netherlands. It was the emphasis that Medvedev placed on this issue, as opposed to security concerns such as missile defense, that was important. Reading daily news reports will lead many to believe that missile defense and NATO expansion are the defining issues for the bi-lateral relationship. Well, while these issues certainly raise tensions, Medvedev appeared to convey that the best way to solidify a 're-set' in the U.S.-Russian relationship is for both sides to make a greater effort to boost trade. Encouraging? Yes. Why? Because a greater concentration on economics, as opposed to strategic defence, may help take some tension out of the relationship.

Medvedev's comments on terrorism, brought about by the recent bombings in Moscow, were restrained and measured. He steered away from the 'over-the-top' language that Vladimir Putin has used in the past and instead focused on how it can be difficult to push back against public pressure (when Russian citizens are calling for revenge). This is reflective of the way in which the Kremlin dealt with the recent attack. They have been criticised for diproportionate responses in the past, but perhaps a greater emphasis is now being placed on law enforcement as the first line of defence - as opposed to the military. The problem, however, is that 'law enforcement' has been responsible for many of the arbitrary sweep operations and kidnappings that take place in the North Caucasus on a daily basis. So while there may be a change in the presidential rhetoric, this is unlikely to have any impact on the situation on the ground in Ingushetia and Dagestan.

It may be Medvedev's comments on Iran that please Americans most. While he did not accept the premise of the question that his government is "on the same page when it comes to sanctions", he did make it very clear that Russia is becoming increasingly frustrated with Iran's inability to prove its innocence. This may be a sign that they will back sanctions if Iran doesn't make any concilliatory moves before that time comes.

So what does all this mean? Well, it could all change, but at the moment it seems that the relationship is on a trajectory that will continue to produce concrete results. An improvement in economic relations could be on the horizon and the U.S. should do its utmost to makes this happen. Furthermore, the election of Yanukovych in Ukraine appears to have taken the sting out of NATO expansion - something that may have been welcomed in Washington for this very reason.

One question that the Brookings speech raises is just how much this cordial relationship is down to the personalities of the U.S. and Russian Presidents? Another interesting point to consider is how different things would be right now if the 2008 war in Georgia had taken place twelve months later?

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Fighting an enemy who does not exist

In this article, Michael Scheuer, former head of the CIA's Bin Laden unit, turns against the perception in many Western media outlets that Al Qaeda attacks us because they hate what we are and what we stand for. "This contention is a fantasy." This simplistic interpretation of the motivation of terrorists would not be accurate and misrepresent the intentions of the enemy we are fighting all over the world.

Al Qaeda and affiliates have a clear motivation for their attacks on our societies. They are: unconditional support for Israel, the presence of Western troops in Muslim lands and the continuous killing of Muslims all over the world.

Those reasons have been identified by the 9/11 commission and various experts on terrorist groups. Sending our troops into battle against an enemy who irrationally hates us is misleading our soldiers, writes Scheuer. Furthemore, "the current slate of U.S. foreign policies toward the Islamic world generates the basic and most compelling and uniting motivation for our Islamist enemies." Here, European foreign policy could easily be added.

"If we fail to understand that motivation, America cannot shape a war-fighting strategy to either defend those policies or defeat the tenacious, talented, religiously motivated, and growing foe our soldiers, Marines, and CIA officers are now losing to in the field."
We send our troops into war against an enemy that they do not only not understand, but we keep deceiving them about the nature of this very enemy. By doing so, we do not only shed our blood, or Muslim blood, we do also embark on a mission that we cannot win.

Wednesday, 14 April 2010

Inside a suicide bomber training camp

I just came across a very interesting description of training camps for suicide bombers in Waziristan. Published in the March edition of the CTC Sentinel, the article outlines the motovation, background, and training of future suicide bombers.

Particularly interesting is the fact that the compensation package for the family of a suicide bomber is apparently a myth.

In this context, don't miss the Asian Times Online recount of the failed suicide operation against the CIA HQ in Pershawar on April 5.

Monday, 12 April 2010

Lessons from Ireland - the 'out of the box' theory

Arguably the most interesting lesson from the Northern Ireland peace process is the role of the United States as an 'out of the box' player, a deus ex machina.

Whereas previously the US had been little more than a place for the IRA to procure high-grade weapons (both legally and illegally), when Bill Clinton was elected President in 1992 this changed - for two reasons:

Firstly, as the first non-veteran to become President since 1945, Clinton brought a post-Cold War vision in which the State Department's hands-off policy on Northern Ireland - in deference to Britain's role as America's most important military ally - no longer held sway.

Secondly, Clinton the uber-politician was very aware of the unavoidable influence of Irish-America at the polls.

It was in that context that a number of prominent Irish-Americans launched an energetic lobbying campaign. One of their number, Jim Reilly, a former top executive with IBM, is credited with the 'out of the box' theory which best sums up US involvement in Northern Ireland during the 1990s.

According to Reilly, all the parties to the conflict in Northern Ireland were frozen in the same box and any move was immediately countered by a check-mating move from the other side. The introduction of an 'out of the box' player would completely change the dynamic inside the box.

So it proved. Without going into the finer details here, constructive US involvement - notably granting visas to Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and veteran IRA member Joe Cahill - showed the republican movement that politics could open doors and subsequently led to IRA ceasefires in 1996-96 and from 1997 onwards, ultimately leading to the Good Friday Agreement in 1998.

I must add a caveat at this stage. London and Dublin had increasingly worked together over the previous years, even decades, to build a conflict resolution process and the triangular Belfast-London-Dublin dynamic was already an improvement on the confrontational IRA vs London dynamic. So while Washington's involvement helped to change the dynamic and open up new possibilities for political settlement, this was only possible thanks to the solid foundations which had already been laid over many years in Belfast, London and Dublin.

American involvement in Northern Ireland, although partly motivated by genuine good intentions, was not entirely devoid of the interests of national security. Many US policy-makers were concerned about the implications of the resources that Britain committed long-term to the north of Ireland. In simple terms, they wondered how long Britain would be able to endure the conflict without compromising its commitments elsewhere.

However, self-interest is to be expected. Interests - be they strategic, economic or whatever else - have to be accounted for when considering to what extent the 'out of the box' theory is applicable to other conflicts.

An obvious question is why American involvement elsewhere during the Clinton administration - or since - did not necessarily result in similarly positive effects as in Northern Ireland. Much of that has to do with the long-standing connections between America and Ireland, between America and Britain and, above all, the efforts and intentions of the Irish-American lobby. Much of that also has to do with the American interests at stake in other given situations.

Conclusion - if the US role as an 'out of the box' player in Northern Ireland is to serve as an example for a potentially successful approach to conflict resolution elsewhere then two key pre-conditions must be established:

i/ the 'out of the box' player is ideally regarded as impartial and reliable, or at the very least each party to the conflict must believe it to be in their best interest to cooperate with the 'out of the box' player;

ii/ that the 'out of the box' player sees a peaceful resolution to the conflict as being in its own best interests.

Friday, 9 April 2010

The Afghan patient

"Rather than describing Afghanistan with the language of war and battles, we have come to think of the country as an ailing patient - in many ways analogous to a weakened person under attack by an aggressive infection."

General Caldwell, commander of the NATO Training Mission in Afghanistan, and Captain Hagerott make novel use of medical terminology to describe the current situation in Afghanistan.

In a nutshell, the doctor (ie. the international community) misdiagnosed the patient, didn't administer strong enough medicine, the infection grew stronger and now we need to administer a very strong dose of medicine to combat the infection and allow the patient's immune system to build up its strength.

Full article in Foreign Policy.

NB: Interesting to see another NATO and/or US official going outside the official channels for an on-the-record statement about the war in Afghanistan. This article can't be compared with Maj-Gen Flynn's CNAS report on intelligence failures in terms of content and repercussions... but is this now a recurring pattern/tactic in the war for public opinion?

Wednesday, 7 April 2010

The ongoing Debate in Germany

On Friday, three German soldiers have been killed and 7 wounded in a day of intense fighting with insurgents 40 km south of Kunduz. Here is an account of what we know so far about the events:

At 13.04, a patrol of the 1st Company, 373 Airborne Battalion, stopped to clear the road of IEDs in the Chahar Darreh district. It turned out to be an ambush by 30 to 40 insurgents (Al Jazeera spoke of 200) who opened fire. Until the end of the fighting at about 1700, seven German soldiers were wounded.

At 14.50, the reinforcements sent from the camp in Kunduz suffer an IED attack that leaves four soldiers wounded. During the ensuing gunfight, US helicopters evacuated the wounded. It was reported that one of the dismounting soldiers triggered the IED and the others were wounded during the dismounting operation.

At 15.35, the insurgents launch an attack on the police station of Chaher Darreh, which lasts until 1640. No German troop involvement in this fighting.

The 2nd Company, 372 Airborne Battalion, reinforced by 'Marder' Infantry Fighting Vehicles (IFV), is sent to replace the 1st Company. On the way, a unmarked car approached the convoy. After the car failed to stop and warning shots were fired, one 'Marder' engages the car with its 20 mm cannon and kills all five or six (?) passengers. As it turns out, the men in civil were Afghan National Army soldiers.

By chance an army camera team was present during the fighting. Here is the clip.

In Germany, the war in Afghanistan is very unpopular. According to the latest poll, 70% of the Germans oppose the war. After such a bloody day, politicians, pundits and ex-officers rush to comment on what is wrong and how the situation for the troops could be improved. The government declares unisono that the mission in Afghanistan is crucial to German interests and that Germany will not pull out any time soon. In fact, there is no political party that demands an immediate withdrawal. See an earlier post of mine on this issue.

The criticism is mainly about the lack of 'Dingo' Armoured Personnel Carrier (APC) for training purposes in Germany. This issue came up because it was reported that three casualties were wounded during the dismounting, which could not sufficiently be trained during the pre-deployment training in Germany. With my personal experience I would argue that dismounting of any vehicle is pretty similar, provided that the hatches are at the same side. Of course it is a problem that the army doesn't have the funds to 'train as you fight', but I doubt that the casualties would have been avoided if the 'Dingos' were available in Germany.

The incoming Wehrbeauftragter des Deutschen Bundestages, something like the rapporteur of the armed forces to the German Parliament, asked for 'Leopard' Main Battle Tanks (MBT) to be deployed. His reasoning is that the big gun would scare off insurgents and provide better force-protection. Well, this demand has been rejected by the armed forces and I totally agree. MBTs are not suited to fight an insurgency and their vulnerability against IEDs can thoroughly be studied on youtube.

However, I agree with the need for combat helicopters. Currently, the Germans only have some eight transport helicopters in Afghanistan and, therefore, rely entirely on US close air support. However, after the recent incident that left between 40 and 120 Afghans killed when to trucks were bombed, the German officers shy off from requesting air support. The fear of ending up in jail back in Germany would probably hinder ground troops to call for gunships and hinder gunship pilots of engaging targets on the ground. This dilemma calls for a solution. I will address it in a future post.

There is also a shortage of drones and other surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, as the former Generalinspekteur der Bundeswehr, something like the chairman of the joint chiefs of staff, pointed out. He also said that the politicians in Germany have no clue about the conditions the army operates in. I think that this statement is pretty undisputed.

In defence of surging?

Abu Muqawama argues that the surge in Iraq worked, contrary to the seemingly widely-held opinion that it succeeded tactically but failed strategically. He bases his opinion on the following definition of the objectives of a military intervention:

“We intervene in … a conflict in order to establish a condition in which the political objective can be achieved by other means and in other ways. We seek to create a conceptual space for diplomacy, economic incentives, political pressure and other measures to create a desired political outcome of stability, and if possible democracy.” (General Rupert Smith)

In other words, a military intervention (surge included) can only create the conditions for the successful establishment of an indigenous political process. A military intervention can not and should not successfully create the political process itself. Therefore an imperfect political process does not mean the surge in Iraq did not work.

In that light, what conclusions can we draw on the ongoing 'surge' in Afghanistan? I stress ongoing because let us remind ourselves that not all of the extra 37,000 ISAF troops have actually been deployed yet. Very far from it.

It is very, very early to draw any meaningful conclusions given that the 'clear' phase of Operation Moshtarak has barely been completed in Helmand and has not even begun in Kandahar. However, time is short and some questions must be asked now.

Perhaps Smith's definition serves as a timely yardstick for what we should realistically expect from ISAF this summer? Perhaps it also could serve as a timely wake-up call to other international actors to get their act together and do their bit to fill the newly-created conceptual space?

Alternatively, perhaps even these objectives are too ambitious in the context of Afghanistan? Perhaps the international community simply does not agree on a common definition of the conceptual space? Perhaps Smith's definition is faulty or just plain wrong?

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Lessons from Ireland - key principles

I have long opined that the process of conflict resolution in Northern Ireland provides certain lessons which can be applied to other conflict situations elsewhere in the world - nonetheless taking into account the simple truth that each situation is unique and specific. There are many facets of the Irish peace process that I could highlight but, for now, I'll focus on the basic principles that must exist, according to US Senator George Mitchell, for any settlement to work.

Mitchell, the former Democrat Senator for Maine and House Majority Leader, was nominated in 1999 for the Nobel Peace Prize as a result of his work in Northern Ireland. Appointed in 1996 by the British and Irish governments as an impartial referee, Senator Mitchell chaired multi-party talks and set a deadline for 9 April 1998 for reaching an agreement. At the start of the final session, he said that they would not be leaving the room before without an agreement. Although the talks over-ran by 17 hours, the negotiations were successful and the Good Friday Agreement came into being in April 1998.

Senator Mitchell has stated that while all societies and all conflicts, like all humans, are distinct and that there is no magic formula for conflict resolution, certain principles arise from the story of Northern Ireland.

1/ All conflicts are created and sustained by human beings and thus all conflicts can be ended by human beings.

2/ There must be a clear and determined policy not to yield to violence. Specifically, there must not be a pre-condition that negotiations will end if violence flares up, as this simply invites men of violence to wreck attempts at a peaceful resolution.

3/ There must be a genuine willingness to understand opposing points of view and enter into principled compromise.

4/ It must be acknowledged that implementing an agreement is as hard as, if not harder than, reaching an agreement (as subsequent developments in Northern Ireland demonstrated all too plainly) and that this must be accepted, prepared for and dealt with accordingly.

It would be interesting to examine to what extent these principles hold true in other conflict situations, notably in the Middle East, where the same George Mitchell is currently the US President's Special Representative, and in Afghanistan and Pakistan where reconciliation and reintegration are currently high on the west's agenda.

Sunday, 4 April 2010

Hard question needed in Brussels: are you sure?

As a reply to Patrick's post I would like to make some comments regarding the 'EU-global player' debate. I just wrote an article about this issue but it's in German so I won't post it here. But here are the main points:

The EU consists of Member States (MS) with totally different foreign policy goals and priorities: some Eastern European MS are still worried about their territorial integrity, particularly after the Russia-Georgia crisis. The UK tends to follow the US in matters related to foreign policy. And other MS would like to deepen the relationship with Russia for energy reasons and are generally hesitant to engage in out-of-area operations. I think it is fair to say that it is very unlikely that those divers interests can be captured in a consistent foreign policy agenda. To prove my point: the European Security Strategy offers a great analysis of the current geopolitical situation. But it falls short of developing a strategy, identifying geoplitical goals and targets and where the EU wants to be in 20 years.

Foreign policy issues the EU will probably not manage to formulate common interests. As Patrick pointed rightly out, in trade and commerce realted issues, those common interests have alreday been formulated. Not shy of taking on the mighty US when it comes down to Bananas, steel or distorting practices of US companies, the EU has an agenda and uses its weight to defend its interests. This indicates that in fields where the EU has stakes, they will act. It does not act in fields where the common interests are not identified.

Apart form the diverse interests there is also simply no need for the EU to get its acts together. That is because the US persues a foreign policy that is to a large extent in the EU's interest. And since the US bears the burden and the European voters are reluctant to spend money on defence or military operations, the EU MS keep the US more or less happy with small troop contributions to its operations.

Although the defence expenditures increased in absolute numbers between 1999 and 2009 from 163 billion US $ to 210 billion US $, it actually shrank as percentage of the national budgets from 2,1 % to 1,7% in the same period of time. The effects of the financial crisis on the national bugets will further decrease these numbers.

To sum up:
The EU will not beef up her power projection capabilities because

  1. the EU couldn't agree on what to do with it anyway
  2. there is no need because the US will continue to bear the burden and defend our interests anyway
  3. the voters in the EU are not convinced that we are threatened and therefore will not vote for an increase of the defence budget
I think the hard questions are not needed in Brussels but in Washington.

Thursday, 1 April 2010

DNI report: "We do not know whether Iran Tehran eventually will decide to produce nuclear weapons."

The Director of National Intelligence, who heads the 16 US intelligence services, published it's annual report to Congress on WMD developments in foreign countries. It contains some interesting information on what we know about the Iranian nuclear programme. Here we go:

"We continue to assess that Iran is keeping open the option to develop nuclear weapons though we do not know whether Tehran eventually will decide to produce nuclear weapons. Iran continues to develop a range of capabilities that could be applied to producing nuclear weapons, if a decision is made to do so.

During the reporting period, Iran continued to expand its nuclear infrastructure and continued uranium enrichment and activities related to its heavy water research reactor, despite multiple United Nations Security Council Resolutions since late 2006 calling for the suspension of those activities. Although Iran made progress in expanding its nuclear infrastructure during 2009, some obstacles slowed progress during this period."
The report goes on with the description of technical details of the Iranian nuclear activities.

So, what do we learn?
1) Iran acts in violation of several UN SC resolutions.
2) Iran has not yet made the decision to build the bomb.
3) We do not know whether the decision to build the bomb will ever be taken.

Well, that means that Iran is not building the bomb, I guess.

I think once that is clear, we can stop threatening Iran with sanctions or military intervention.