Tag: NATO (Page 2 of 3)

Russia, Ukraine, and a New Era of International Relations



The U.S. and Russia are not engaged in a new Cold War, but Russia is clearly playing the geopolitical menace du jour. The U.S. and Europe are going to need to up their game to keep Vladimir Putin’s hands off the rest of Ukraine. Beyond this crisis the West needs a new defense posture, as the world just entered a new era of international relations.

Just weeks ago numerous observers dubbed the opening of the Winter Olympics in Sochi “Putin’s Triumph,” when it was anything but that. Russia may have barely edged the U.S. in total medals, but the price for Putin’s orderly Olympics was serious repression, severe environmental damage, and seismic corruption. Then came Ukraine. Continue reading


France’s Re-Emergence as a Major Power


If there is an Obama Doctrine in the realm of foreign affairs, it comprises robust multilateralism—being multilateral when the U.S. can, unilateral when it must. Subjected to scrutiny, however, the Obama Doctrine can only work if the U.S. has capable and willing partners. Yet under conditions of widespread fiscal austerity among western allies—and the political austerity of skeptical western citizens—meeting the challenge of securing their joint interests is formidable. While the U.S. has begun to shore up the security of its allies in Southeast Asia via its rebalance to Asia, despite potentially threatening China in the process, forging renewed partnerships with long-standing European allies is even more essential.

Many commentators in the U.S. have written off its European allies, but a nascent trend to the contrary is now detectable. Britain, France, and others have begun recalculating their own willingness to act in light of the U.S. rebalance to Asia. Contrary to conventional wisdom in Washington, a shift toward greater European military activism may be underway. Indeed, the prominent role played by British and French forces inter alia in Libya and Mali are not isolated events; instead, they may be signs of things to come. In reality, top officials in the U.S. and Europe are making progress on beginning to find ways to usefully partner in order to deal with recurrent threats and unchanged security interests particularly pertaining to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

Despite a serious and ongoing financial crisis cum recession in Europe that in economic terms EU leaders have barely muddled through, on the security side our European counterparts by and large have not reduced their defense spending as much as has been widely assumed. On the contrary, certain potential U.S. partners have actually maintained and/or slightly increased defense spending. More importantly, military capability is a more telling indicator than crude measures of aggregate spending. Even where cuts are underway, as the Libya and Mali operations indicate, there is a growing propensity among certain European allies to act when their interests demand it—even on occasion largely without the U.S. In this regard the debate over intervening in Syria was little more than a sizable red herring, caught up in the faulty intelligence legacy of the Bush-Blair years. The one country that remained ready to act was France.

France has mostly been in the headlines of late for the personal peccadilloes of Dominique Strauss-Kahn and more recently President Francois Hollande, but credit goes to the French public for not being as squeamish as Americans—not only about the personal affairs of their leaders, but more importantly about the increasing propensity of France to project foreign policy power and intervene in a series of recent global crises in both MENA and Africa proper. Continue reading


Syria: Intervening Not Now But Later

Syria2 A full-scale US military intervention in Syria is off the table, as is a no-fly zone. The US decision to provide arms to Syrian opposition forces is nonetheless intended to shift the military initiative away from Assad regime. But the opposition is splintered, which has allowed the Hezbollah-backed government forces to level the playing field. Although the outcome remains unclear, it may be time for Western governments to begin serious planning for potential post-conflict stabilization operations.

At this stage it appears the Assad regime has the momentum, aided in particular by Hezbollah but also Iran and Russia.  US and European efforts to provide direct military aid to the Syrian opposition have been slow to take shape, which in combination with regime gains on the ground have fed the new conventional wisdom that Assad is on course to hold on to power.

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The All New, New Transatlantic Pivot – Trade

This is a guest post by Sean Kay. Professor Kay is chair of the International Studies program and professor of politics at Ohio Wesleyan University.  He is also Mershon Associate at the Mershon Center for International Security Studies at The Ohio State University.  He has written extensively on NATO and Europe, with his most recent book, Global Security in the Twenty-first Century:  The Quest for Power and the Search for Peace (2011).

In a recent Washington Post editorial, David Ignatius reported on a “big idea” that could “revitalize the U.S-European partnership for the 21st century.”  The concept focuses on an “economic NATO” – a US-European Union comprehensive agreement to free up trade in goods, service, investment, and agriculture.  Ignatius reports that this concept is advancing through the American and European bureaucracies while citing a German Marshall Fund study (PDF) showing that a 50 percent reduction in non-tariff barriers could boost GDP by $160 billion in Europe and $53 billion in the United States – higher for the US if all barriers were lifted.

The NATO motif is instructive because the foundations of the transatlantic relationship need new thinking.  NATO’s military utility is increasingly in decline – and pressures are coming for deep American troop reductions in Europe.  Yes, NATO is sending Patriots to Turkey to hedge against Syrian missiles and has embraced an innovative ballistic missile defense system.  But these deployments do not require tens of thousands, or even thousands, of American troops.  A structural legacy of European dependence on American military power was exposed in the 2011 Libya war where even “leading from behind” required a major American contribution to the air war and increased American concerns about burdensharing (already heightened over Afghanistan).

America is rightly pivoting its military priorities away from Europe to save money and focus on other global concerns.  This is logical and should be taken to the next level as part of a new transatlantic bargain.  A clear presidential statement declaring America’s goal to help the allies so they they can fight a Libya-style air war and maintain a Balkans-style peace operation without the United States can facilitate European defense cooperation which better compliments American power.  Limiting America’s role in NATO as a strategic reserve, emphasizing Article 5 collective defense commitments, will keep the foundations of the alliance alive and place Europeans rightly responsible for their own regional security concerns.

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Explaining Russian Opposition to European BMD

Moscow is once again expressing displeasure with US and NATO missile defense plans.

Russia says it is prepared to use “destructive force pre-emptively” if the US goes ahead with controversial plans for a missile defence system based in Central Europe. 

The warning came after the Russian defence minister said talks on missile defence were nearing a dead end. 

Moscow fears that missile interceptors would be a threat to Russia’s security.
But the US and Nato say they are intended to protect against attacks from Iran or North Korea. 

“A decision to use destructive force pre-emptively will be taken if the situation worsens,” chief of the Russian defence staff Gen Nikolai Makarov said. 

Two days of talks opened on Thursday in Moscow between Russia, the US and Nato.
Russian Defence Minister Anatoly Serdyukov said the talks were “close to a dead end”, but Nato said it remained hopeful of reaching a deal. 

Nato Deputy Secretary General Alexander Vershbow told the BBC that Russia’s fears of a European missile defence shield were “based on some flawed assumptions” and did not weaken Russia’s nuclear deterrent.

Vershbow is correct: US-NATO ballistic-missile defense (BMD) plans, now called (apparently) the “European Phased Adaptive Approach (EPAA) cannot undermine Russian retaliatory capability. It cannot, without significant upgrade, take out Russian intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), let alone sea-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). It cannot possibly intercept a sufficient number of Russian warheads to give the United States first-strike capability.

The Russians know all this.

Indeed, Russian concerns are rooted in a number of factors, almost none of which have anything to do with the impact of even a greatly upgraded EPAA on the strategic balance.

  1. The optics of the US stationing elements of a BMD system in a former Warsaw Pact country are extremely uncomfortable for Moscow. The Russians don’t like the idea of any permanent NATO military presence in former Warsaw Pact countries, let alone one that borders Russian territory. The (erroneous) neo-conservative narrative that the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) played a role in bringing down the Soviet Union also has surprising purchase in Russian policy circles.
  2. It isn’t clear how much these concerns really matter to the small cabal that runs Russian foreign policy, but they certainly have domestic resonance in the Russian Federation. Given Moscow’s continuing reliance on stoking nationalist sentiment to discredit anti-regime reform pressures and staving off challenges from the right, such domestic political considerations matter a great deal.
  3. Many in Moscow overestimate the ability of the United States to rapidly overcome technical challenges, particularly in the defense sector. The flexible character of EPAA, which is designed to match the shifting threat profile of middle-tier countries (for now, this means Iran) only reinforces their concerns of some kind of US breakout from limited to comprehensive BMD.

All three of these considerations give Moscow incentives not only to demagogue BMD, but to do whatever it can to strangle EPAA in the proverbial crib. Indeed, a number of important NATO members, not to mention some US officials, place a premium on getting some kind of cooperation from Moscow on missile defense. This state of affairs gives Moscow hope that a combination of intransigence, poison-pill proposals, and a healthy does of strum und drang will satisfy domestic-political needs, delay deployment, get them a better deal, or even cause the most ambivalent NATO members (such as the Germans) to get cold feet.


Editing an Incident

The chasm between Pakistani and Western reactions to last week’s NATO attack on Pakistani forces seems to be growing if official actions/statements, media reports, conversations with friends on all sides, and ad hominem twitter flame wars are any indication.

It goes without saying that Pakistanis are still in mourning for the death of their soldiers in what is a major national tragedy for a country that has had many national tragedies in recent years. But there is more going on than the understandable hurt and anger that follows a tragic friendly fire incident. This incident appears to be intensifying the sense of humiliation felt by a large number of Pakistanis and the sense of deep mistrust felt by many Westerners after the Abbotabad raid.

There are probably a dozen other reasons why the tension is increasing at this point in time, but one that strikes me is the role of the media in fanning the flames of distrust, particularly as I see the kinds of articles being posted on social media sites by Pakistanis and Westerners.

It is obvious that the national press helps to frame and shape public opinion in any country, what is more interesting is how. (I want to be careful here: I am not making any argument about why this is being done — frankly, I don’t know why; I am not arguing that there is a conscious decision by newspaper editors in Pakistan to fuel greater distrust. I am only stating that selective or careless editing and reporting seems to limit the scope for dialog and create even more misleading impressions, although there is no doubt that the relations between Pakistan and its Western allies have been deeply strained for sometime and not without cause, i.e. some of the strains are not due to misunderstanding but to understanding one another all too well.)

Exhibits A&B: The Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper ran an article on Friday titled “Nato Plans to Quell Pakistan Based Insurgents: Guardian” which was based on the Guardian article, “Nato plans push in eastern Afghanistan to quell Pakistan Based Insurgents.”  Since it was obvious that the Dawn article lifted passages word for word from the Guardian article, I thought it would be interesting to compare what was changed from the original to the version aimed toward a predominately Pakistani audience.  Using the compare document versions / track changes function on MS Word, it is easy to see what the Pakistani edits look like (see below).  Text inserted by the Dawn is underlined, text deleted by the Dawn has a strike through. Here are some initial observations — the document with tracked changes follows afterward:

1. The first and most obvious change between the two version is the different pictures which accompany each article. The Guardian shows a crowd of Pakistanis burning an effigy of President Obama, while the Dawn went with a file photo of General John Allen.  Here the credit goes to the Dawn for not choosing an inflammatory image.

2. An entire paragraph explaining how Western officials had been encouraged by the results of drone strikes in North Waziristan was deleted.  The fact that these drone strikes occurred with the cooperation of the Pakistani military is obviously critical to providing a complex framing of the events.

3. The idea that Pakistan’s army might permit a “free fire zone” in the tribal areas has also been deleted, but perhaps because it is speculative and somewhat absurd to begin with.

4. The possible explanation that NATO might have accidentally thought the fire from the Pakistani side was coming from insurgents is deleted.  This is a serious omission by the Dawn.

5. Evidence that Pakistani officials had cooperated to defuse a similar incident only a few days after the deadly attack is deleted.  Later, the Dawn also deletes the part of the Guardian story which mentions that General Allen had met with General Kayani only the day before last week’s attack to try to coordinate cross-border efforts against the insurgents’ havens in Pakistan.

6. The statistical evidence cited by ISAF which might explain why there will a planned push in the eastern provinces of Afghanistan is deleted.

Obviously, this is only a comparison of two news items in what is by now a massive and growing number of articles on the incident. So there is no way to say anything even remotely definitive. However, this little exercise makes me wonder whether these kinds of omissions in the way the incident is explained are replicated in other Pakistani accounts.  And I also had to wonder what aspects of Pakistan’s side of the story are being omitted in Western narratives…

Nato plans push in eastern Afghanistan to quell Pakistan-based insurgents

 Isaf aims to reduce threat to Kabul by insurgent groups and has not ruled out cross-border raids into Pakistan commanders are planning a substantial offensive in easternAfghanistan aimed at insurgent groups based inPakistan, involving an escalation of aerial attacks on insurgent sanctuaries, and have not ruled out cross-border raids with ground troops, The Guardian newspaper reported on Friday.
The aim of
offensive over the next two years is to reduce the threat represented by Pakistan-based groups loyal to insurgent leaders like the Haqqani clan, Mullah Nazir &and Hafiz Gul Bahadur.

Nato hopes to reducethe level of attacks in the eastern provinces clustered around Kabul to the point where they could be contained by Afghan security forces after transition in 2014.The move is likely to add to already tense atmosphere following recent border post attack by Nato helicopters that resulted in death of 24 Pakistani soldiers.

The move is likely to add to the already tense atmosphere following the recent border post attack by Nato helicopters that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers. On Thursday, Pakistan’s army chief, General Ashfaq Kayani,ordered his troops to return fire if they came under attack again by its ally.
While drawing down forces in Helmand
and Kandahar, the US will step up its presence in eastern provinces bordering Pakistan, bringing the long-festering issue of insurgent sanctuaries in Pakistanthe Pakistanitribal areas to a head. MessageThe message being given to Pakistan military the Pakistani military is that if it cannot or will not eliminate insurgent the havens, US forces will attempt the job themselves, reportthemselves.

Western officials had been encouraged by the fact that a blitz of drone strikes against commanders loyal to insurgent leaders Jalaluddin and his son Sirajuddin in Miran Shah, the capital of North Waziristan, and against forces loyal to Mullah Nazir in South Waziristan, had produced few civilian casualties and no reaction from the Pakistanis. Consequently, an increase in cross-border raids by special forces – and even the withdrawal of the Pakistani army to create a free-fire zone – have not been excluded.

“The Pakistanis may not have the strength to defeat the Taliban and the Haqqanis on their own, even if they wanted to,” a western diplomat
It is unclear to what extent
killing of 24 Pakistan soldiers in Nato air strikes last Saturday will have on the Nato strategy. An investigation is underway into the incident. incident, which appears to have started with an exchange of fire between Pakistani and mixed Afghan-Nato forces, with the latter calling in air support. Nato sent in aircraft believing the fire from the Pakistani side was from insurgents.
As a consequence, Pakistan
closed supply routes used by the Nato-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF)(Isaf)and barred the US from using a Pakistani air base to launch drones.However, Nato officers said that Pakistani forces had been co-operative in a similar incident on Tuesday, helping prevent it from escalating.

Isaf statistics published earlier this week showed a 7% drop in insurgent attacks across Afghanistan in the first 10 months of this year compared to the same period last year. The decrease in the Helmand area was 29%. But in the eastern provinces the figures show a 21% rise in attacks, now the most violent area, accounting for 39% of all attacks.

Isaf commander, General John Allen, said the need to confront the sanctuaries in Pakistan was “one“oneof the reasons we are shifting our operations to the east”.east”.
In an interview in Kabul, Allen, a US marine, did not give specifics of
strategy and said nothing about cross-border operations.The day before the fatal border clash, he had met Kayani, to discuss cross-border co-operation ahead of the eastern surge, clearly hoping the move against the sanctuaries would be a joint effort.

According to The Guardian,
Allen said he did not know what the long-term consequences of last Saturday’sSaturday’sclash would be, describing it as a “tragedy”,“tragedy”,but made clear that the push to the east would continue.

“Ultimately the outcome we hope to achieve in the east is a reduction of the insurgent networks to the point where the ANSF [Afghan National Security Forces(ANSF)] can handle them, reducing them in 2012, if necessary going after them in 2013,”2013,”Allen said.

“I won’twont go into the specifics of the operations but as we consolidate our holdings in the south and as the population centerscentres there in the Helmand River valley and in (Kandahar,)[Kandahar], we will conduct substantial operations in the east … the idea being to expand the security zone around Kabul.

In particular we are going to pay a lot of attention to the south of Kabul,Wardak, Logar, Ghazni, Zabul.

Because in the end if you have a population in the south that feels secure and it’sit’ssecured by the ANSF, and you have a population in the east in and around the centre ofthe gravity of Kabul, and those two are connected by a road so you have freedom of movement, you have a pretty good outcome.”outcome.”


Rumors of His Death Have Not Been Exaggerated

Qaddafi has lost his contest with Hussein and Bin Laden for hiding the longest from US/Allied/Local searches.  Lots of folks will make much of this event, as they should.  I have already seen a great tweet/blogpost by Spencer Ackerman predicting everyone’s responses.

What would my readers predict of me?  Woohoo?  Well, sure.  That NATO made a difference despite being hamstrung by the dynamics of coalitional bargaining within and between countries?  Indeed.  That much of the effort and all of the sacrifices (except for tax $$) were paid by Libyans?  Yes.

What does Libya teach us about NATO that we didn’t know before?  Given that I have spent a few years on NATO at war in Afghanistan, the Libyan experience more confirms my beliefs (confirmation bias alert!) than teaches me anything new.  And experts on Kosovo might say that Afghanistan just made things clearer.

We did see how xenophobia can cause even a fragile coalition government to become more enthusiastic about a military mission–Italy’s increased assertiveness as 2011 went on.  We also saw that an absence of government (Belgium on day 4xx of caretaker government) means that no veto points means assertive efforts, at least here.

Once again, the fear that NATO might fail re-energized efforts and commitment so that NATO would not fail (with lots of help from the Libyan rebels).  I ended up making a claim yesterday in class that none of the places NATO has spent heaps of dollars, lives and time really matter that much intrinsically.  Bosnia became a NATO mission not because the US cared about Bosnia but that it cared about NATO.  Folks kept on the Kosovo mission for fear of NATO failure.  Every NATO member showed up to some degree in Afghanistan not because they cared about Afghanistan but because they cared about NATO.  Libya shows that NATO matters in that countries needed NATO legitimacy to participate.  And the US wavering efforts from beginning to end really hinged on how much the US cared about the alliance more so than the lives of folks in Libya.  Which does distinguish Libya, where NATO became relevant, from Syria and Yemen.  Once NATO countries got involved in Libya, the stakes for the US and lots of other countries changed.  France and the UK forced others to get involved via NATO.

And, yes, NATO also matters because the doing of seven or eight months of patrols and strikes and refueling and intel sharing and all the rest requires heaps of military interoperability.  Political interoperability may vary across the alliance, but the practice of coalition warfare requires, well, heaps of practice.  NATO for sixty years has meant that the militaries are more or less in tune with each other.  As we have seen yet again with no stories of mid-air refueling mishaps, for example.

Qaddafi is gone, raising questions about Libya’s future.  I am actually pretty confident that NATO’s future will be … more of the same.


Late Summer Tour of NATO

Happy NATO Day!  Okay, this is not an anniversary of anything NATO-esque.  But heaps of posts a-twitter about NATO, its members and so on.  So, some semi-random shots at some semi-random NATO members and NATO in general.

First, France is the best-est ally ever!  Lots of people linking to this article.  Yes, the Libyan adventure certainly raises France’s profile as an active contributor, assertive military and the rest.  But to be fair to the French (yes, completely out of character for me, given how easy it is to make jokes in my big lecture class), the Libyan crisis is not the first time that the French have been assertive.
       During the Afghanistan war (which, by the way, is still an on-going NATO mission), France moved from being relatively restricted to being quite willing to take risks.  When Sarkozy replaced Chirac, we all got a NATO-friendly (to say the least) President.  Sarkozy moved some and then nearly all of French combat forces from the safety of Kabul to the more dangerous areas of Kapisa.
        Postwar French have never been pacifists–they just have been known for pursuring their own interests.  A lot of those interests were in Africa, with Qaddafi serving as a critical obstacle to French ambitions.  So, the French are so very bold now, taking the lead in the effort, even willing go without NATO.  Still a fun time and an interesting contrast to:

Second, the Germans look more feeble than ever, when the Foreign Minister (for at least a few more days) Westervelle* said that Qaddafi is falling due to economic sanctions.  Now, we have German politicians across the spectrum from Helmut Kohl to Joshcka Fischer saying that Westerwelle is as bad a foreign minister as Colin Powell Condi Rice they can imagine.

*Unless you are Italy, having a Foreign Minister named Guido is always going to raise questions about credibility.

Here is Fischer’s first question and answer:

SPIEGEL: What is it about Germany’s current foreign policy and Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle that bothers you?
Fischer: Pretty much everything. As the former foreign minister myself, the lack of fundamental convictions pains me. This is fundamentally much worse than losing your compass. We are being governed by those who have lost touch with reality and are denying what’s obvious to everyone else.

I am sorry, but Fischer is being oblique.  I really wish he could open up and say what he is really thinking.  Fischer then goes on:

No, the behavior of Germany’s government during the Libya conflict, its abstention in the UN Security Council (vote in March on whether to impose a no-fly zone in Libya), was a one-of-a-kind debacle and perhaps the biggest foreign policy debacle since the founding of the Federal Republic of Germany. Our country’s standing in the world has been significantly damaged.

Okay.  Now, Fischer is being a bit less opaque.  Actually, this entire interview makes me want to vote for the guy.  Anyhow moving on:

Third, I found this on twitter: “Dutch Defence Minister calls for pooling and sharing military capabilities in Europe.”  Sure, smaller means working harder and smarter.  Sharing and pooling would be smart, but we can only pool and share with countries that will release the forces (troops, planes, ships, whatever) to the multinational effort with few conditions.  That is: NO CAVEATS and few requirements for phone calls home for permission.
Maybe it is not wise to write here one of the conclusions for the forthcoming book on NATO and Afghanistan, but one of the implications of the Afghanistan experience (and of the Libyan one and so on) is that countries will rarely give up national control of their militaries even when they are delegated to the most institutionalized, robust, interoperable alliance on the planet.  So, if you build a military so that it can only do certain things and needs to depend on others to fill critical gaps, you have to gamble that when you are deployed, you will be partnered with countries that have pretty loose rules.  Otherwise, you might be asking for, say, helicopters to extract your troops from a battle but the helo pilot has rules about not being close to the battle or it being night-time or whatever.  You cannot pool if the other guy cannot be counted on to pool right back.

No wonder Napoleon apparently said: I would rather fight a coalition than be in one.  On the other hand, he lost to a series of coalitions, right?  So, there is really no alternative for the Dutch or the Germans or the Canadians or, with their latest cuts, the French and the British, to working together.  But don’t expect it to be easy, simple or efficient.

Defense budget cuts make sharing and specialization sensible.  The politics of participating in alliance warfare make sharing and specialization very, very problematic. 


Who Will Arrest Gaddafi? Not It!

On June 27th the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, his son Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, and chief of military intelligence Abdualla Al-Senussi for:

crimes against humanity (murder and persecution) allegedly committed across Libya from 15 February 2011 until at least 28 February 2011, through the State apparatus and Security Forces.

The judges believe there is “reasonable grounds” to attribute criminal responsibility to these three individuals for the deaths of (at least) hundreds of civilians during the protests. There are no allegations of the mass rapes Ocampo publicly suspected were being fueled by the distribution of Viagra, and human rights groups claim there is no evidence to support such claims yet. Ocampo indicated it’s possible that, upon further investigation, allegations of widespread sexual violence could be added to the charges.

So far there are a few issues related to the arrests warrants that are generating debate.

Skeptics of international justice claim that the ICC has complicated peace negotiations, that Gaddafi cannot be deterred, and therefore that the arrest warrants will leave him no option but to dig in his heels. For a typical articulation of this argument see Marc Thiessen’s post here – where he argues that the arrest warrants foreclose the possibility of Gaddafi’s vertical (voluntary) departure. Another variant of the skeptic position questions the timing of this judicial intervention, as Richard Falk criticizes here. He argues there is a political calculus behind the timing of the arrest warrant and essentially suggests that NATO and the ICC are colluding to wage lawfare (i’m not going to stoke the lawfare fire in this post).

Others, like Stewart M. Patrick at the Council on Foreign Relations, contend that these types of arguments present a false tradeoff of peace and justice. Human Rights Watch made a similar statement, which is consistent with their advocacy on international justice. David Scheffer makes the case at Foreign Policy to call of the missiles and send in special ops – to delink military and judicial intervention. Certainly there was never any indication that Gaddafi would negotiate and in that sense the ICC has a null effect. Realistic idealists (yeah – i just made that label up) would argue that no one expects Gaddafi to turn himself in or be deterred. But it is hoped that the ICC’s intervention will delegitimize his leadership and encourage and/or obligate other parties to arrest him. This is the real practical challenge….
States Parties to the Rome Statute are, of course, obligated to arrest Gaddafi if he enters their territory. President Bashir’s worldly travels tell that this option is unlikely. Ocampo’s statement made the most likely options for arrest very clear:

Libya has the primary responsibility to implement the arrest warrants. Libya is not a State Party of the Rome Statute, but it is a member of the United Nations since 1955. Libya has to comply with UN Security Resolution 1970…Gaddafi’s inner circle is the first option: they can be part of the problem and be prosecuted, or they can be part of the solution, work together and with other Libyans and stop the crimes.

Second option, the Interim National Council has expressed its will to implement the arrest warrants…International forces operating under UN Security Council Resolution 1973 have no specific mandate to implement arrest warrants and the Court is not asking for that…”

So there we have it. Except the rebel forces do not have the capacity and Gaddafi’s “inner circle” does not have any incentive (short of assured amnesties) to carry out these arrests. And while NATO diplomatically supports the arrest warrants, its mandate remains only to protect civilians and not to be contracted out as the ICC’s global police force. Maybe this will go the way it did for Gbagbo in Cote d’Ivoire, whereby the opposing rebel forces can grab Gaddafi with the logistical support of foreign forces and avoid a taboo form of regime change.

(Cross-posted at Global Transitional Justice)


Fool Me Once, Fool Me Twice

I would like to be as snarky as Brian, but paying attention to Afghanistan is pretty darned depressing.  In the aftermath of the second (yes, second) prison break at the Saraposa prison, what hope is there for the counter-insurgency effort?  I posted initially on my blog about what the breakdown at the prison says about the effort: the feeble Afghan government, the limited ability of the international community to make progress, and the Taliban’s ability to organize a big event.

But I was reminded of the bigger picture by a Canadian reporter, Graeme Smith, who reminds us that the real failure of counterinsurgency [COIN] here is not at the prison but outside of it.  Sure, some guards might have been bribed, but the key failure is that none of the folks in the neighborhood tipped off the government or the internationals.  Such a significant operation would have probably been noticed by some of the locals in an area that had seen much investment and had been very much under the control of the government and ISAF.

One of the recurring themes at my blog is that progress is best measured by information that we outside observers cannot really see–patterns in actionable intelligence tips from the people.  Are people betting with their lives?  Do they see the government and NATO as the best option in town?  Or are they intimidated enough by the Taliban not to give the counter-insurgents the info they need?  While there may be classified collections of data to suggest that the US/Canada/NATO/Afghan government is getting more and more good information to target the Taliban and detect roadside bombs and suicide bombers, clearly this prison break is one of those kinds of things that we would want to get info about beforehand.  And we did not.

I always say we have not been doing COIN for eight or nine years, so we have to have reduced expectations.  BUT this is a hunk of land with which the government and the international community have had much interactions and even control for the past several years.  Yet none of the locals warned the relevant folks.  If COIN does not work in the heart of Kandahar City, where there has been an enduring NATO and government presence, it says much about the larger effort.

Now, more than ever, it seems like a decent interval (between when we leave and when things fall apart) is all we can hope for.  This one event (well, the second time) achieved its goal–of sucking all of the optimism about ISAF’s latest efforts out of the country.  The Taliban may be bad at governing and may be bad at marketing itself, but they do a mighty fine job of making the government and its allies look bad.

As always, Afghanistan is the land of bad alternatives.  Which one is the least bad now?


Whither NATO?

Steve Metz concludes a sharp piece on NATO thusly:

It is time for this debate over NATO’s viability to take place. While NATO may serve as an institutional reminder of the shared democratic values of the Atlantic community (and NATO’s not-so-Atlantic new members) and help with interoperability between its members’ military forces, the Alliance, in its current form, has proven it cannot lead and execute complex, sustained operations in today’s world. Three strikes in the Balkans, Afghanistan, and now Libya may not be enough to put NATO out of business, but it certainly should be enough to place the question of its value on the table.

He rightly points out many of the problems when NATO is involved in an operation–conflicting goals, restrictions on the troops (my fave topic of caveats), and so on.  However, while I have raised many questions about the limits of NATO in my blog and in work underway, the question is really not NATO or not but NATO versus what else?  That is, we need to consider what we expect NATO to do, whether it meets, exceeds or falls short of our reasonable expectations, and what would replace it.
So, working backwards, if we did not have NATO and we had countries seeking to do some kind of military operation together, would we still have challenges to unity of command and of purpose?  Absolutely, even in coalitions of the willing where there is no alliance obligation to show up, there are caveats and conflicts over the way ahead.  In Iraq, many of the contributing countries had restrictions on what their troops could and could not do.  These problems of multinational warfare exist all the time, regardless of the institutions governing the effort because countries NEVER just hand over hunks of their military and then do not influence how they are used.*  During WWII, Australia’s Prime Minister rejected the requests of FDR and Churchill when the Aussies were being redeployed back from Africa, insisting that these troops be sent to defend Australia and not to Southeast Asia.  Countries always exert some kind of control, via caveats, phone calls, deliberately limited capabilities (sending only six helos to Afghanistan, for instance), standard operating procedures and the like.  And countries will not have complete consensus on goals, strategies, operations, tactics, etc.  Even the US and UK fall out all the time (see the notable case of Gen. Wesley Clark kindly demanding that the Brits confront the Russians at the end of the Kosovo campaign).

*  The exceptions would be the really small countries that just embed within the US formation like Macedonia. 

These challenges arise with NATO, with the UN, with regional organizations, and with ad hoc operations.  So, one might suggest that the only way to war is by oneself, so Metz may find himself in agreement with Napoleon–better fight a coalition than be in one.  

Ok, the second question is: has NATO failed in its previous efforts?  That depends, of course, on how you define success, but here is the list:

  • Bosnia: NATO intervention stopped a nasty civil war and then enforced a peace that did not have a single significant violation, handing over to the European Union force a pretty settled if not optimal situation.  This compares pretty well to the UN effort which seemed to prolong the war, creating hostages (both the peacekeepers and the residents of the “safe areas”), and helping to enrich the criminals (see Peter Andreas’s book, Blue Helmets and Black Markets).  Yes, there were restrictions affecting how things played out after 1995, especially American casualty aversion, but not a bad outcome.  Ask the Bosnians (especially the Muslims) about the UN and NATO.
  • Kosovo: Ok, holding constant for a second whether it was a good idea or not to support the KLA, NATO bombed Serbia into submission.  Literally.  Despite a variety of self-induced handicaps (again, as much American as NATO–no use of helos, no real ground threat until late in the game), NATO got Milosevic to give up a hunk of territory that was seen as essential to Serb identity.  This ultimately helped to get Milosevic knocked out of power.  Is this a failure? Depends on what you are expecting.  Given that Metz himself has tweeted about impatience, a three month campaign that cost $$ but no interveners’ lives is not a bad outcome. 
  • Afghanistan: I have written/spoken extensively and published not so extensively on the various restrictions that have limited NATO’s effectiveness in Afghanistan.  Of the NATO members and partners, only the Americans, the Danes, the Canadians, the Brits, the Poles, and a few others have been quite flexible in how they are used, and they have paid a price for it.  France joined this club in 2007 once Chirac was replaced by Sarkozy.  But they never had enough folks on the ground to do real COIN.  Is this NATO’s fault?  Or is it Rumsfeld’s?  I like to blame Rummy for everything since it is so fun, but the reality is that the efforts in Afghanistan have faced a variety of significant challenges with NATO restrictions being only one of them (don’t tell the publishers to whom I am flogging my next book).  Poppies, Pakistan and Karzai, along with the American distraction with Iraq have been far more consequential.  Caveats do pose challenges, that NATO countries disagree about how to proceed and are essentially fighting their own wars independent of each other–these are real issues.  But if NATO fails in Afghanistan, the limits of NATO are only part of that story with the US fixation on Iraq, Pakistan and Karzai playing a much greater role.
  • Libya: too soon to really judge.  Yes, there is an uneven distribution of effort.  Yes, US capabilities seem to be needed to carry through with the effort.  But the problems are not so much about NATO as an institution (although as an institution, NATO does public diplomacy/info ops/propaganda very poorly) as much as differences among the countries that are involved and not so much involved.  The basic idea of trying to change a regime from the air with no ground commitment is a problematic one.  If it took NATO three months to get Serbia to give up Kosovo, shouldn’t it take more time to get Qadaffi to give up power?

Thus, the big question is this: what is NATO’s added value?  We are always going to have wrangling among countries (no unity of purpose), caveats (limited unity of effort), and so on, regardless of the institutions involved.  So, what does NATO add?  Besides the technical stuff of interoperability (ammo, communications, etc), there is the software of interoperability–that the military officers at the various levels have histories and relationships with many of the folks they have to work with in the field.  They have learned the limits of their partners (stated and unstated caveats, talents, limited capabilities, etc), and they have some trust with some of the partners.  This means that they can work with each other at sea, in the air and occasionally on the ground.  It does not mean that the are super-efficient, but they are more effective than countries that have not developed these relationships fighting together for the first time.  Just consider how poorly the Americans and British fought in North Africa in 1942.

NATO’s involvement does more than bring in the soft side of trust and relationships.  It makes it far easier for some countries to contribute.  Having a multinational patina makes it easier for the Canadians, Danes, and Norwegians to participate, and most of the time, these kinds of folks do add some military value.  Italy needed the cover of multilateralism to allow their country to be used as a base for Libyan operations.  The US needs multilateral cover or else it looks to be a blundering imperial power.  How long ago was 2003 anyway?

NATO is an inherently inefficient organization.  The need to gain consensus critically constrains how the organization operates–where caveats and their ilk are simply part of how the countries and organization operate.  Any other substitute would have the same problems.

Finally, the real problems in Libya and Afghanistan are that countries simply do not share a completely convergent view of how to proceed.  This is in part due to domestic politics and in part because these are hard missions with very few clear and obvious ways to proceed.  Of course countries will disagree.  The alliance helps to finesse these differences, but these differences will exist nonetheless.

The real alternative to NATO is simply not doing any kind of intervention.  Doing it alone has its costs and doing it with others has costs as well.  Only by refraining entirely will the US or any other country avoid the challenges inherent in intervention.  But whether to intervene or not is another question entirely.


Since there is nothing else going on in the world, let’s talk about Canada!

International politics is such a bore these days, right? Good thing we have Canada to spice things up for us!

There were two interesting developments yesterday for those living in the northern end of North America. First, it was announced that a Canadian, Maj. Gen. Charles Bouchard, will be heading up the NATO mission in Libya. My first thoughts about this were that the choice represents an interesting compromise. Canada, the (French?) vanilla ice-cream of the Western alliance (normally boring, but safe and reliable) represents a non-American and non-European choice. Yet, since the Americans clearly did not want a high-profile position on the mission, this seems to have settled a rivalry between the UK and France. I suppose Bouchard, who represents a country of both English and French sensibilities (and an ability to speak both languages) was an even better compromise then.

As Olivia Ward at the Toronto Star describes it:

A government source told The Canadian Press that a British general was touted for the job at one point, but added that the United States wanted to see a face that nervous allies — particularly the Turks — trusted. The tipping point came when the French got behind the appointment, senior Canadian officials told CP.
In spite of Washington’s reluctance to front the operation, close ties with the American military may have helped to decide Bouchard’s appointment. Already stationed at NATO’s main command centre in Naples, he has played leading roles at the North American Aerospace Defense Command.

So a chance to lead AND help solve internal NATO power struggles – what could better make for a Canadian’s day? Seriously. This is the kind of stuff that our diplomats dream of when they snuggle under their flannel sheets at night.

There is the larger question as to what Canada will get out of this, of course. Some have argued that the commitment of six F-18s (apparently being referred to in some circles as the Canadian ‘six-pack’) and one warship to the mission is more symbolic than significant contribution. We have been running some air strikes, but clearly this is still an American show (no matter how much the Americans want to deny it.) However, since we’re in Afghanistan, I’m pretty sure we’re a bit stretched right now.

But there is some clear appeal for the government. The first rule of thumb of Canadian military action is that we generally feel safe and happy in a coalition. So check that multilateral box off. This will also give us some international recognition – so that’s also a huge plus. But there are other benefits.

First, I wonder to what extent the government, currently (and controversially) arguing that it needs to spend BILLIONS of dollars on new F35 planes, will use this mission to justify the expenditure? I have not seen a lot in the media arguing this point so I’m not sure. The debate over the F35s may still be tied to a larger discussion over Canada’s role in the world (with this serving as an example).

Second, Canada and the UAE have not exactly been getting along lately. (I’m sure that air base Canada just lost in that country would have been pretty useful right about now.) In this mission over Libya, they will be flying (literally) under the same banner. Apparently everyone is letting bygones be bygones for now:

But this unpleasantness has apparently now been put aside, at least temporarily. Fighter pilots from the two countries may fly combat missions in the same theatre of operations as part of a UN-sanctioned coalition that has ostensibly been designed to protect Libyan civilians from Moammar Gadhafi’s military.

Third, as noted in this editorial, Canada is going to be playing a large role in the mission, despite the UN Security Council snub it received last year. In other words,

The quick decision to provide military support lends credibility to not only the mission, but to Canada itself. In facing down the cruel dictator Moammar Gadhafi, Canada is putting words into action in defence of Libyans fighting for their freedom. Along with other nations, Canada is living up to its responsibility to protect innocents from a brutal regime.

I think this may be making Canada out to be slightly too magnanimous – but there is a point here. We’re engaged in nation building on the ground in Afghanistan and now leading the Libya mission while Portugal, who beat us in the race to the UN final 15, is being pulled into a small dark corner by the European Union and being forced to take a bailout package, in the middle of a government crisis. Right.

As for the second interesting development – while Canada is busy trying to help promote democracy in the Middle East, our own government fell. Election time! This has lead to James Joyner at Outside the Beltway noting that “Canada is leading the operation in Libya but no one is leading Canada.” Precisely. And more on that to come, no doubt.

Edit: See Saideman’s good take on this here.


We’re Sorry

We’re sorry

So, can we be friends?


BMD and NATO not quite BFD, but a step in the right direction

NATO agrees to missile-defense mission. Somewhat paradoxically, this is true even if you’re lukewarm on ballistic missile defenses (BMD) in general, or the Phased Adaptive Approach in particular. Why? The more NATO presents a united front, the more likely the Russians are to cooperate on BMD and BMD-related issues, which not only reduces an irritant in relations but mitigates against some of the potentially destabilizing implications of BMD deployment.

Afterthought: might also help with New START ratification. Harder to argue that Obama is selling out BMD when he’s accomplished something no Republican ever did: convince NATO to make it part of its mission.


Russia’s Return to Afghanistan

The participation of four Russian counter-narcotics agents in a US/ISAF raid on four heroin labs in Afghanistan has left many pundits wondering whether the war in Afghanistan as well as US/NATO/ISAF–Russian relations are entering a new phase.  However, before one can speculate, there are a few misconceptions in news reports that I think should be clarified and corrected in order to place the story into its proper context.

First, several news papers have adopted the narrative that the Soviet military was “defeated” in Afghanistan. The NY Times report (10/29/2010) states,

“The operation, in which four opium refining laboratories and over 2,000 pounds of high-quality heroin were destroyed, was the first to include Russian agents. It also indicated a tentative willingness among Russian officials to become more deeply involved in Afghanistan two decades after American-backed Afghan fighters defeated the Soviet military there.” 

The notion that the mujahideen defeated the Soviet military in Afghanistan is a rather odd interpretation of history. (It seems part of the same myth which claims a decisive role for Stinger missiles while ignoring the neutralization of that technology through the transfer of SCUD missiles to the Kabul regime). The Afghan insurgents never overran a single Soviet military base from 1979 to 1989. And while parts of Afghanistan were not stabilized, it is important to keep in mind that Soviet strategy sought to destabilize and depopulate areas which were firmly under insurgent control. The Soviets did suffer heavy casualties during a nearly decade long occupation, but the decision to withdraw from Afghanistan was part of a larger strategy by Mikhail Gorbachev to gain trust and breathing room from the West in order to restructure the Soviet economy.  In any case, the insurgents were not able to overthrow the Soviet backed Najibullah regime in Afghanistan until 1992, three years after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.  In large part the reason that the insurgents were unable to overwhelm the Kabul regime was evident in the Battle of Jalabad shortly after the Soviets withdrew in 1989 — the insurgents were simply unable to transition form a guerrilla force to a coordinated military force.  If the insurgents (backed by US and Pakistani intelligence) could not even overthrow the Kabul regime, it can hardly be argued that they defeated the USSR.  It is important to realize that the Soviets were not defeated so as to avoid a simplistic narrative arc which portrays the Russian interest in Afghanistan as either vengeful or foolish.

Second, it is worth noting (as several news articles correctly point out) that Russia has been cooperating with US/ISAF for some time by permitting logistics operations across Russian territory. Russian cooperation is obviously shaped by its own interests. Russia’s immediate interests in Afghanistan is quite clearly the need to stem the flow of heroin, which they have not been able to curtail through the demand side of the equation.  In essence, the (alleged) violation of Afghan sovereignty is a means of reasserting Russian sovereignty.  (I am saying that the violation of Afghan sovereignty is “alleged” because I do not accept the explanation by the Karzai regime’s media advisor, Rafi Ferdows, that even Afghans on the raid were unaware that Russians were accompanying them since all “yellow-skinned Angreez” look alike.)  Of course, this individual raid is unlikely to have much impact on the drug (and related HIV/AIDS problem) in Russia even in the short term. From a broader perspective, Russia is also concerned about the stability of Central Asia as a region, and Russia is not merely a passive player in regional security.  Russia has been in discussions with Tajikistan about using the Ayni airbase for the CSTO and beefing up security on the Tajikistan-Afghanistan border.

Third, while the international media tends to emphasize those elements in a story which seem to produce sparks, conflict, and tension between states, there is little reason to accept the notion that Afghans as a people or their government are inherently opposed to Russian involvement in counter-narcotics. Despite denouncing the (supposedly) unauthorized Russian involvement, the Government of Afghanistan also stated that a bilateral agreement might be a possible route to future cooperation in counter-narcotics.  Afghanistan has cooperated with its regional neighbors to close drug labs in the past. The most recent case prior to the Russian raid was a nine month cooperative mission with Tajikistan’s Drug Control Agency which resulted in the closure of 12 drug labs in Afghanistan and the arrest of 50 drug dealers in the first nine months of this year.  In fact, there was apparently some discussion at last year’s SCO meeting of a quadrilateral counter-narcotics initiative involving the “quartet”: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, and Russia. Moreover, President Karzai had indicated only a couple weeks ago that Afghanistan seeks the best possible relations and trade transactions with China, India, and Russia.  Similarly, Azizollah Karzai, the Afghan ambassador to Russia (and Hamid Karzai’s uncle), mentioned a few weeks ago that the two countries share a commitment to fighting terrorism and narcotics.

Placed into context, it is likely that Russian counter-narcotics activity in Afghanistan will probably increase in the future.  However, this activity is not likely to be tense or conflictual (particularly because of something like Soviet era animosity); there are ample mutual interests and diplomatic mechanisms to ensure cooperation between the two countries. Finally, in terms of Russia’s relations with the US/NATO/ISAF, the involvement of Russians in the recent anti-narcotics operation does not seem to be a major deviation away from an already established pattern of cooperation on selective issues of vital interest to all the parties involved.


Zombie NATO? Or, the Poverty of Realism

A great many bloggers and policy wonks, motivated by the upcoming Lisbon Summit, are weighing in on NATO’s future. NATO faces a number of challenges and difficult issues, including:

While opinions differ over the health of the alliance, I’ve been particularly struck by the weakness of Steve Walt’s arguments for why NATO is headed for membership in the society of the walking dead. He isolates three major reasons for his negative assessment: Afghanistan, defense cuts, and Turkish foreign policy.

Today Walt reported the results of a debate he held in his MA international relations class (“NATO Lives!”), but reiterated his belief in NATO’s growing irrelevance:

Here the three big wild cards are 1) The effects of the latest round of European defense cuts (which will make out-of-area actions even more difficult in the future), 2) The lessons that NATO draws from the Afghan War, and 3) The rising importance of Asia. If Afghanistan is eventually seen as a successful operation that produced a positive result, then NATO’s value will appear to be reaffirmed and support for it is bound to continue. If the Afghan war ends in a defeat or even some sort of messy compromise, then more people will ask if the Alliance ought to be in the nation-building business at all. And if it’s not performing some sort of global policing duties, then what is it for? Finally, as the Asian balance of power starts to loom larger in everyone’s consciousness, NATO’s relevance will almost certainly decline even further. NATO may be willing to give the United States some modest assistance in the Gulf or in Central Asia, but it is hard to imagine Europe doing much of anything in some future conflict over Taiwan or the South China Sea. Indeed, they’d be more likely to stand aloof and trade with both sides.

As Walt himself notes, he’s been beating this drum for some time; indeed, realists have been proclaiming the death of NATO since at least the end of the Cold War. Their fundamental reasoning lies in an understanding of alliances as balancing coalitions; with the passing of the Soviet threat, NATO’s purpose disappeared. Since then, NATO has searched for a rationale: policeman of Europe’s turbulent frontiers (e.g., the Balkans), democratic security community, global rapid reaction force, etc. Realists are predisposed to view each of these purposes with suspicion anyway, and every piece of evidence that they’re fraying provides, for realists, another nail in NATO’s coffin.

None of these arguments are ridiculous. NATO has significant problems. The contemporary shift of power from Europe to East Asia does, in some respects, make NATO less important to global politics than it was during the Cold War. And nothing lasts forever–at some point not only will NATO disappear, but so will most contemporary political institutions.

At the same time, Walt’s reasoning seems a bit off.

First, Turkey. I simply cannot understand why he places so much weight on recent Turkish overtures in the Middle East. After discussing disagreements over Iran and Israel, he writes:

Rising Islamophobia in both the United States and Europe could easily reinforce these frictions. And given that Turkey has NATO’s largest military forces (after the United States) and that NATO operates largely by consensus, a major rift could have paralyzing effects on the alliance as a whole.

Walt doesn’t explain why the size of Turkey’s military matters. For what it is worth, Turkey currently contributes less than two percent of ISAF’s total forces. Its contributions to other operations–e.g., IFOR, SFOR, and KFOR–have varied widely, but none of these NATO missions depended on a Turkish military presence. But even putting aside Turkey’s significance in recent NATO operations, it isn’t at all obvious why the size of Turkey’s military makes Ankara’s dispositions more important to NATO cohesion than, say, London’s, Paris’, or Berlin’s.

Obviously, NATO would face additional problems if major rifts opened up with Turkey on issues of substantive importance to the alliance. Indeed, Turkey does disagree with other important members over tactical nuclear weapons and conventional arms control. But it isn’t at all clear what kinds of NATO actions a more “neo-Ottoman” foreign policy would preclude. If the US strikes Iran, it won’t be as part of a NATO operation. If the US deploys forces in support of Israel, it won’t be part of a NATO operation either.

Second, ISAF and defense cuts. Walt’s arguments on both these fronts reduce to the same claim: the future of NATO out-of-area operations looks grim, and thus NATO will be deprived of a key rationale for its continued “vitality.”

In fact, current defense cuts make clear NATO’s ongoing importance to Europe. By co-binding virtually the entire Atlantic and European Community, whether through direct NATO integration or the Partnership for Peace (PfP) program, NATO has created an unprecedented security community. Every major power (save one) on the continent has interoperable military forces linked together via multiple consultative and coordinative mechanisms. As Walt’s students correctly noted, NATO has greatly diminished the likelihood of security dilemmas, arms races, and military instability within its borders.

NATO not only plays a key role in mitigating the pathologies realists associate with anarchy, it also continues to serve a deterrence function–most notably with respect to the Russian Federation. NATO membership, or lack thereof, makes a major difference to the strategic environment faced by former members of the Warsaw Pact and the Soviet Union. Moscow would, for instance, enjoy significantly more influence Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania if the three had remained outside the alliance.

NATO security guarantees also structure, for the better, current European and US engagement with Moscow. They have done so not only by, for all intents and purposes, eliminating the threat posed by Russia to the most forward-looking NATO advocates of extensive political-military engagement with Moscow (e.g., Germany and France), but also by reducing Moscow’s ability to play divide-and-conquer games in Europe. It isn’t so much that Moscow doesn’t play those games now (it does), or that it hasn’t enjoyed important successes in doing so (it has). Rather, without NATO’s co-binding institutions and practices, Moscow’s wedge strategies might well be pulling Europe apart.

Although it may seem somewhat paradoxical, this state of affairs has been a net positive for the Russian Federation. A more realpolitik environment in Europe, even one driven, in part, by Moscow’s power-political influence, would greatly undermine Russian military and economic security. Indeed, Russia’s long-term ability to meet the challenges posed by a rising China depends on stable, predictable, and friendly relations with its major western neighbors.

Yet Walt’s line of reasoning reduces all of these effects to little more than the shamblings of a Zombie. If NATO fails to send expeditionary forces abroad, cannot come to a consensus on Iran, or plays no role in a future Taiwan straits crisis, then it is “irrelevant.” What could possibly account for such an assessment?

The answer lies in Walt’s theoretical commitments–in particular, realism’s jaundiced view of international structure. By this I do not mean, as most constructivists argue, that realists pay inadequate attention to culture. Rather, realists lack adequate appreciation for the ways in which political and social ties–including alliances–texture international relations. They see international politics as patterned by “anarchy” and “the distribution of power.” All the rest is merely “process.” But it should be obvious that NATO profoundly structures Eurasian political and military relations, and will still do so even if its ability to act collectively further declines. Whether or not one agrees with my assessment of how NATO structures Russia’s strategic opportunities, it strikes me as difficult to argue that NATO’s impact on western Eurasia has no significance for the future of East Asian security relations. At the very least, it does so not only by shaping the political, military, and economic environment confronting Moscow, but also that of policymakers in Washington, DC.

Perhaps, then, it would be most accurate to say that whether the future includes “live NATO” or “Zombie NATO,” NATO will hardly be irrelevant to global politics.


“Courageous Restraint” Medal

NATO is considering a medal for soldiers who display “courageous restraint” in their use of lethal force to save civilian lives. According to CNN,

“Although no decisions have been made on the award itself, the idea is consistent with our strategic approach,” Sholtis said. “Our young men and women display remarkable courage every day, including situations where they refrain from using lethal force, even at risk to themselves, in order to prevent possible harm to civilians. In some situations our forces face in Afghanistan, that restraint is an act of discipline and courage not much different than those combat actions that merit awards for valor.”

The idea is controversial among some conservatives who believe it will send confusing signals to the troops and embolden insurgents. It is also unclear how a medal for a non-event/inaction would be judged. However, given the increasing frequency of tragic incidents in which occupying forces have opened fire on civilians in Afghanistan, the medal seems to be an attempt to incentivize a more a cautious and “population-centric” approach. The ultimate aim, of course, is to minimize the restment toward foreign forces that builds after each tragic incident (and may in some cases lead to shifting support toward the insurgents).

While I do not think this particular idea is practical, the thinking behind the concept is laudable as it recognizes the heroism and personal risks taken by many soldiers on a daily basis. A “population centric” counter-insurgency strategy naturally requires shifting risks borne by the civilian population to professional soldiers.

Those who argue that soldiers should not have to bear additional personal risks are essentially in denial about the nature of the occupation and insurgency. The official counter-insurgency policy recognizes that there are limits to the use of lethal force. Beyond a particular threshold the use of deadly force, particularly if it results in the loss of innocent lives, hinders the long term success of the occupation and saps the already anemic popular legitimacy of the Karzai regime. (I am not arguing that NATO’s counter-insurgency strategy will work, but the unrestrained use of force is unlikely to pacify this population if recent incidents are a reliable guide).

I think most will agree that it is as courageous to show restraint and save innocent lives as it is to fight with valor and kill armed combattants. As there are punishments for the abuse of lethal force, there should also be rewards for restraint. The issue is how to reward that risk taking in a way that does not create confusion about the rules of engagement or embolden the enemy. I don’t have a solution, but I commend NATO for trying to come up with a way to recognize alternative forms of heroism and to address this incentive oversight.


Brutality and Counter-insurgency

Recently, while discussing the war in Afghanistan with a conflict studies program in the mid-west, I had a rather odd debate with a leftist professor who was devil’s advocating what he claimed was a “neo-conservative” position (based on some of his recent interaction with naval officers and RAND researchers).

His main argument revived the “stabbed in the back” hypothesis from the Vietnam era. The argument essentially posits that counter-insurgency is a cumulative body of knowledge first pioneered by the Britons. According to this position, Americans have been remarkably successful at applying and refining this knowledge to defeat insurgencies from Vietnam to Colombia. The main problem (again according this narrative) is that squeamish liberals have too often helped to undercut support for the US military just as it was on the verge of “winning” or defeating the insurgency.

Specifically in regard to Afghanistan, he argued that the US is not making repeated mistakes when it botches night raids, shoots civilians at checkpoints, or strafes a bus load of civilians on the highway. He reasoned that the real purpose of US counter insurgency was to terrorize the Afghan population.

Honestly, I was not quite sure what to make of the argument since I am not a military strategist or an expert on the history of counter-insurgency, particularly as that strategy was applied in Southeast Asia or Latin America. So I simply asked what the purpose of terrorizing the population would be. Initially, he evaded the question by describing the effects of a brutal occuption (e.g. widespread panic and fear in civilians). I continued to repeat the same question several times. Finally, he stated that the use terror was obviously to pacify the civilian population.

(It should be noted that the argument therefore defines the purpose of counter-insurgency as restoring order rather than facilitating a political solution to a violent conflict. In many cases, this would seem to change the yardstick for defining a successful operation.)

While I have no doubt that brutality can occasionally pacify a civilian population, I expressed my sincere doubts that this was the actual policy of the US/ISAF in Afghanistan. If terrorizing civilians is the intentional underlying goal of the counter-insurgency strategy, then the US/ISAF would probably be guilty of perpetrating war crimes. As a professional set of military institutions, ISAF is highly unlikely to endorse such a Machiavellian strategy.

Moreover, I argued that even if this were the actual policy of the US/ISAF in Afghanistan, it is not working. There have been repeated protests, some of which have been violent, against US/ISAF. In other words, the killing of innocent civilians in agitating, not pacifying the population.

Although I found the argument absurd, racially tinged (i.e this is a version of the “they only understand brute force” argument) and reliant on deference to military authority, I began to wonder how a rational person might come to believe such an argument. I assume that proponents are simply unaware that the Afghan population has not been “pacified” because they have limited access to news reports. In other words, the perception of non-events in response to the killing of civilians is thought to support the hypothesis that terrorizing civilians leads to pacification.

In case there are individuals who believe that terrorizing the Afghan people is pacifying the population, here is a basic summary of public protest demonstrations in just the last two years which may have been missed by those who are not following the news carefully. This list is not comprehensive, but I think this adequately makes the point. I should note that most of these accounts are covered in the UK press, but only infrequently in the US press, for reasons that are not entirely clear to me…:

13 April 2010 – Approximately two hundred protest after NATO convoy opened fire on a bus load of civilians killing four and injuring eighteen. Protesters chanted “Death to America.”

12 April 2010 – Hundreds protest in Kandahar blocking the highway to Herat after four civilians were killed by foreign forces.

29 January 2010 – Brief protests in Kabul after a local Imam was shot by a military convoy which had (apparently) mistaken the imam for a suicide bomber. Brig. General Tremblay of NATO apologized for the incident.

12 January 2010 – Six to ten protesters (varied accounts) were killed and approximately 25 wounded when Afghan forces opened fire on a large demonstration of several thousand people. Protesters were angry about the killing of three civilians by foreign forces during a night time operation in Helmand Province. There were also wild rumors (perhaps instigated by Taliban representatives) that American forces had abused a woman and desecrated a copy of the Quran during a night raid.

9 January 2010 – Approximately five thousand individuals protested the 7 January incident (see below) in Nangarhar along the Kabul – Jalalabad highway. Protesters chanted “Death to Obama” and burned him in effigy.

7 January 2010 – An IED exploded while American troops were handing out candy to children in Nangarhar province. Five Afghans were killed (including two school children) and nine US servicemen were wounded in the explosion. The deaths sparked angry protests, as crowds accused the Americans of deliberately setting off the explosion.

31 December 2009 – Protests in Kabul and Jalalabad over the killing of civilians in Kunar province on 24 December. Protesters chanted “Obama, take your troops out!” General McChrystal meets with President Karzai in response to growing protests. ISAF denies the claims that those killed were civilians, the UN supports the Afghan account that

30 December 2009 – Students and faculty in Nangarhar province protest the killing of civilians in Kunar province.

28 December 2009 – MPs representing Kunar province staged a walkout in protest of the killing of four to ten civilians (allegedly mostly young students) by coalition forces four days earlier.

9 December 2009 – Another mass demonstration in Laghman to protest the killing of protesters by Afghan soldiers the day before.

8 December 2009 – Afghan soldiers opened fire on protesters in Laghman province. The protesters had denounced President Karzai and foreign troops. Protests had been sparked by news of the killing of between six to thirteen civilians (including women and children) by coalition forces. One or two protester(s) were killed – accounts varied.

25 October 2009 – Small student protest in Kabul against the killing of four civilians in Kandahar and the alleged burning of a Quran. The students called for an end to foreign occupation. Demonstrators were beaten by the police and one student was wounded as protests turned violent.

12 July 2009 – Anti-US demonstrations took place in Kunar province after coalition troops killed and injured several members of a family during a firefight with insurgents.

10 May 2009 – Students in Kabul protested near Kabul University against the apparent killing of over 100 civilians in Farah province by foreign forces a couple days earlier.

8 May 2009 – Hundreds protest in Farah province after coalition air strikes kill over 100 civilians. Protests turned violent and four protesters were wounded. Protesters shouted “Death to America” and “Death to the Government.”

10 April 2009 – The Khost, Laghman, Logar, and Zabol provincial councils close in protest for one month after five civilians (including three women and one newborn) are killed by coalition forces. Two days later, a number of Afghan senators also staged a walk out in protest of the same incident.

22 March 2009 – Hundreds protest the killing of the Mayor’s staff and security guards by coalition forces in the Imam Saheb district of Kunduz province.

17 March 2009 – More than one hundred protesters paraded three of the five bodies of civilians purportedly killed by US forces near Kandahar.

14 March 2009 – Hundreds stage a demonstration in Loghar province after five civilians are killed in air strikes. Protesters attempted to break into the district headquarters. Two protesters were wounded by police attempting to disperse the crowd.

8 March 2009 – Protesters in Khost block a US military convoy and throw rocks at it after an overnight raid kills four Afghans.

27 February 2009 – Thousands protest in Ghazni at the alleged desecration of a mosque by a US soldier who reportedly opened fire in a mosque. There were also rumors that copies of the Koran were desecrated. Afghan security forces fired bullets and tear gas to disperse the crowd.

24 February 2009 – Villagers chant “Death to Canada” and parade the bodies of two children apparently killed by Canadian shelling in Kandahar.

21 February 2009 – Two thousand demonstrators (some armed) staged a “massive protest” (which closed the highway for six hours) in Loghar province against foreign forces after one villager is killed and five others arrested in a night raid. Protesters threw rocks at the local police.

26 January 2009 – Thousands protest the killing of 16 civilians.

9 January 2009 – Protest in Laghman province after 17 to 23 civilians are killed in an airstrike.

27 December 2008 – Protesters block Kandahar to Herat highway after 8 militants and 4 civilians are killed in a raid by coalition troops.

17 October 2008 – Protestors bring the bodies of 25 to 30 civilians (including a 6 month old baby) killed in a NATO airstrike in Lashkar Gah to the provincial governor’s compound.

5 September 2008 – National day of mourning called for the civilians killed in Herat on 25 August.

1 September 2008 – Small protest in Kabul at the killing of four men by coalition and Afghan forces. The bodies of the killed were brought to the protest.

25 August 2008 – Massive protests occur. Local protestors set fire to vehicles and chant “Death to America” in response the killing of 90 civilians (including 60 children) in a village near Herat by US forces.

20 July 2008 – Protests in Badakhshan province against the slaughter of civilians over the previous two weeks.

24 June 2008 – Hundreds took to the streets in Jalalabad to protest the alleged killing of a father and son by coalition troops.

15 June 2008 – Hundreds protested NATO airstrikes in Paktia province which killed 20 civilians. Afghan security forces opened fire on the protestors, 2 were killed and 13 wounded.

22 May 2008 – Approximately one to two thousand Afghan protesters attacked a NATO base run by Lithuanians in Ghor province after reports surfaced that an American soldier in Iraq had used the Koran for target practice. Protesters were chanting anti-American slogans. Two civilians and one Lithuanian soldier were killed during the protest. The Afghan Parliament also walked out in protest of the actions by the American soldier in Iraq.

11 May 2008 – Protests were staged against the killing of three civilians by coalition forces in Nangarhar Province. Police opened fire on the protesters, killing one and wounding three. ISAF rejected the allegation that civilians were killed but local police confirmed that three members of the same family were killed.

To conclude, if a goal of counter-insurgency is to use Machiavellian tactics to subdue a civilian population, then by Machiavelli’s own standards the current counter-insurgency strategy in Afghanistan is failing as violence is being applied repeatedly and only enraging the civilian population.

[Cross-posted from my Afghan Notebook]


Battling a Straw Man and Still Losing

[I don’t mean to rail on the Washington Post’s coverage of the war in Afghanistan two posts in a row, but the coverage is honestly a bit dismal this week. In my last post, I showed why Rajiv Chandrasekaran’s article “At Afghan outpost, Marines gone rogue or leading the fight against counterinsurgency?” completely misunderstood the strategic importance of the town of Delaram from which the report was written.]

An Op-ed article in yesterday’s WaPo by Michael O’Hanlon and Hassina Sherjan, “Five Myths About the War in Afghanistan” poorly argues the case for “toughing it out” in Afghanistan. Since my time is limited, let me just tackle the first myth they seek to refute (i.e. “Afghans Always Hate and Defeat their Invaders”). Even though I substantively agree with what they are arguing in this section, the way they argue is objectionable for the following reasons.

First, in seeking to dispute a crass Orientalist straw-man argument that Afghans “always hate and defeat their invaders,” the authors note,

“The Afghans drove the British Empire out of their country in the 19th century and did the same to the Soviet Union in the 20th century. They do fight fiercely; many American troops who have been deployed both in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent years have asserted that the Afghans are stronger natural fighters.”

Natural fighters? I am not quite sure what is meant by this phrase or why the authors would even concede to this notion.

Al Qaeda and the Taliban are not “natural fighters.” These groups have studied and carefully adopted tactics from the US and other countries. As Patrick Porter argues, Al Qaeda’s doctrine of “Long War” is partly inspired by Clausewitz (Porter 2009, 62). Copies of Clausewitz’s writings have been found in Al Qaeda safe houses in Afghanistan. In addition, Al Qaeda fighters in Afghanistan are known to use manuals from the US and UK special forces as well as a collected anthology of asymmetric strategies from China and South America.

The Taliban has benefited from its interactions with Al Qaeda, in addition to the strategies and tactics imparted to the mujahideen in the Soviet-Afghan War. In any case, since the Taliban have shifted tactics and strategies (e.g. to include suicide bombing which was once alien to the Afghan conflict), it is incorrect to state that they are “natural fighters.”

Second, O’Hanlon and Sherjan cite highly dubious survey data to support their case:

“Afghans are far more accepting of an international presence in their country than are Iraqis, for example, who typically gave the U.S. presence approval ratings of 15 to 30 percent in the early years of the war in that country. Average U.S. favorability ratings in recent surveys in Afghanistan are around 50 percent, and according to polls from ABC, the BBC and the International Republican Institute, about two-thirds of Afghans recognize that they still need foreign help.”

When this survey was first published, I (and many others who are monitoring this war) posted some reasons why we should be highly skeptical of this particular study, which claimed that 70% of Afghan respondents believe that “things” in Afghanistan are heading in the right direction (up from 40% the year before!).

The point that O’Hanlon and Sherjan want to make could be done without the use of such questionable survey evidence. In fact, as a general rule I think that surveys conducted in war zones should be considered as inadmissable evidence in an argument.

Third, they attempt to paint an image of a small Taliban force (25,000) relative to the mujahideen (250,000) who ousted the Soviets. My problem here is that any estimate of the size of the Taliban should indicate a range of the estimated size. Estimates that I have seen range from 30,000 to 40,000 for this year. So the authors seem to be low balling the estimate to suit their argument. Nevertheless, it is true that the current Taliban forces are much smaller than the estimated number of mujahideen in the Soviet-Afghan War. However, it should be noted that the mujahideen never overran a Soviet base, something which the current Taliban can at least boast (although US/ISAF completely disputes the Taliban’s characterization of events).

Fourth, they argue:

“Finally, though U.S.-backed Afghan forces overthrew the Taliban after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, today’s international presence there does not amount to an invasion. Foreign forces are present at the invitation of the host government, which two-thirds of Afghans consider legitimate, if somewhat corrupt.”

The idea that ISAF troops are present at the invitation of the host government is about as ridiculous as the same claim by the Soviets during their occupation of the country. The current head of state, Hamid Karzai, has been a crony of the CIA since the late eighties. Even he does not dispute the label of “puppet” to describe his regime. It would be more honest for O’Hanlon and Sherjan to acknowledge that this is an occupation but one that is not detested to the same degree as the Soviet occupation.

[Cross-posted from my Afghan Notebook]


Operation Moshtarak

Operation Moshtarak (“Together” in Dari), which is slated to move into a more active phase any day now, has been billed as the largest ground battle in Afghanistan since 2001 and the largest air assault since the Iraq War in 1991. The planned attack, which will be centered around the towns of Marjeh (Marjah) and Nad-E’ali (Nad-e-Ali) in Helmand Province, was announced in a press conference by the Pentagon last week. Villages have been leafleted and village leaders have been informed of the coming attack.

It is not uncommon to advertise a planned offensive in the Afghan war, but the usual objective has been to encourage the Taliban to vacate the area so that ISAF troops could move in to protect and build relations with civilians. For Operation Moshtarak, ISAF wants the civilians to leave but a perimeter has been established in the hopes of preventing Taliban fighters from sneaking out with the civilians. Not surprisingly, many civilians have packed up their meager worldly possessions and they are leaving their homes for the wretched displacement camps. It is still unclear whether the Taliban insurgents will stick around for a head on confrontation against staggering odds instead of just melting into the civilian population as they have done in the past.

If they stay, ISAF plans deploy roughly 15,000 troops with massive air support against (at best) 1,000 to 2,000 Taliban insurgents.

So what is the point of this operation? I would venture that the main point is theatrical. ISAF forces are desperate for the kind of publicity that will justify a wind down of the surge on the predetermined timetable. Generals have promised politicians results from the surge by December 2010. The goal is also to show that the Afghan National Army (ANA) and Afghan National Police (ANP) is ready to take “ownership” of their country. Of course, as a massive joint operation, it will be difficult to tease out the impact of the ANA and ANP on the success or failure of this operation.

The question that seems to be going unasked is why Operation Moshtarak is necessary after last summer’s Operation Khanjar and Operation Panther’s Claw in nearly the same area of the province. One argument that I’ve seen given to gullible journalists is that the towns of Marjeh and Nad-E’ali are the last two areas which remain uncleared from the previous campaign. This argument is misleading since the Britons attacked Nad-E’Ali late last summer and Marjeh fell to coalition troops in May of 2009. In reality, the previous attempt to clear and hold succeeded in clearing but failed to hold the province.

I would argue that this campaign is just as poorly planned and unlikely to meet its strategic objectives as the operations of last summer — although there are more troops this time.

First, the extension of the fighting season into winter time is certain to increase the misery of internally displaced Afghan civilians. If the goal is to win over the civilian population, then bombing their homes to rubble and sending them to huddle in mud-soaked tents where the temperature drops below freezing at night is unlikely to do the job.

Second, the failure to secure Pakistani cooperation for a major offensive on the other side of the Durand Line means that the back gate will remain open for any high-level Taliban who want to winter in Pakistan’s FATA this year.

Third, it is unclear how ISAF troops will hold these towns after the surge winds down in 2011 (and they certainly won’t have the full cooperation of the poppy-cultivating civilians who were displaced). No one really believes that the ANA or ANP have sufficient numbers or experience to hold the province by themselves when the Taliban return. There has been talk of a “civilian surge” to help hold and build territory, but these foreign advisers are not a long-term substitute for a capable and competent Afghan state which has not been built and needs at least a decade to achieve.

Fourth, very few people in the US or Europe who do not have a loved one in the fight care about this operation or the war more broadly. Hence, the propaganda value of this battle is dubious.

Finally, the fighting is not intended to make room for a particular political solution. In contrast to the previous campaign in Helmand which was at least designed to stabilize the province in time for the presidential elections, there is no stated political objective of the operation from what I’ve read. Even if all of the estimated 2,000 Taliban are slaughtered in these towns there are an estimated 38,000 more Taliban in the rest of Afghanistan and across the border. If the political goal is eventual reconciliation and reintegration with the Taliban, it is unclear how this battle will encourage Taliban to lay down their arms since they know the foreign forces are leaving soon anyway.

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