Archive for the ‘Regions’ Category

13
May

IT is well that we contemplate the abyss, if only to avoid it. This year we particularly remember the ghastly disaster of 100 years ago, when an almost unfathomable complacency shared by the European elite threw a generation into the fire of the First World War, almost as an afterthought. A century on from the fields of Waterloo, statesmen then assumed a general peace to be the rule, rather than a miraculous exception.

This overly sanguine state of mind seems to be every bit as present today as it was in the fateful year of 1914. Everyone knows that tensions are brewing in the seas around China, as Beijing claims the rights to territorial waters at the expense of most of its worried neighbours. But, says conventional wisdom, “So what? A little muscle flexing is to be expected, given the meteoric rise of Beijing, and its understandable determination to safeguard the sea-based trade routes around its shores. A little sabre rattling is all this amounts to.”

For many analysts, last week’s most recent dust-up – this time between Beijing and Vietnam in the South China Sea – is simply more of the same. A flotilla of Chinese ships have been ramming into and firing water cannon at Vietnamese government vessels trying to stop Beijing from constructing an oil rig 140 miles off the Vietnamese coast. Yes, the Chinese are playing hardball and it’s not very nice, say the gormless analytical descendants of 1914. But after all, Beijing wouldn’t jeopardise the present world order, particularly as they are doing so well by it.

Much the same was said after the assassination of Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo in 1914, that a rising Germany surely wouldn’t risk its improving global standing over an unpleasant – but seemingly peripheral – incident. But if history teaches us anything, it is that states and especially statesmen do not always act in their best interests. 1914 reminds us that sometimes mini-crises ignite powder kegs beneath them.

Perhaps most hauntingly, the outline of the present order in Asia that surrounds these events resembles nothing so much as the supposedly “unsinkable” pre-1914 world. Barack Obama’s America is Edwardian Britain incarnate. For their time, both were easily the most powerful country in the world, while both being in relative decline. Alone among the great powers, Britain and America were omnipresent – both economically and in terms of their first-class navies – while not being omnipotent. Nothing could be done without them, but they alone did not possess enough power to guarantee the global international order on their own.

China fits the bill as the Kaiser’s Germany, a rising economic and military power bristling with nationalist indignation at perceived slights – both real and imagined – and increasingly believing its rise cannot be accommodated by the present order.

If Beijing makes for a worryingly effective Germany, Prime Minister Abe’s Japan is Third Republic France to a tee. As declining regional powers – beset by economic torpor and falling relatively further behind strategically – they were both directly threatened by aggressive neighbours. Both placed their hopes in alliances with the declining hegemon, respectively the UK and the US.

Even the milieu in which the 1914 analogy operates is strikingly similar. Currently, China is exploiting incidents in the seas around it to test the willingness of the US to stand behind its treaty commitments to allies like Japan and the Philippines, just as in the decade before the Great War the Kaiser provoked a series of international crises to see if Britain would really come to the defence of France under the gun. Ironically in both cases, the rising power miscalculated, making a general war far more likely as arms races broke out, wherein Japan/East Asia and France quickly armed themselves to the teeth in response to their menacing foes.

Given the almost exact correlation between the structural worlds of 1914 and 2014, alarm bells really ought to be ringing. It is far too early to give up on the notion of accommodating China’s peaceful rise. However, at the same time as Washington tries to bind China into the present order, it must hedge against Beijing following the Kaiser’s disastrous path. Instead, America must link India, Australia, Japan, Indonesia, the Philippines, and the other East Asian states into a more cohesive system, through free trade or military ties, making the price for China bucking the present order ever higher.

By pursuing this dual strategy, the US can improve the chances that the apocalyptic 1914 analogy fails to come to pass.

Dr John C Hulsman is senior columnist at City A.M., and president and co-founder of John C Hulsman Enterprises (www.john-hulsman.com), a global political risk consultancy. He is a life member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and author of Ethical Realism, The Godfather Doctrine, and most recently Lawrence of Arabia, To Begin the World Over Again.

Published on 12 May in http://www.cityam.com

12
May

Everyone wants to do something about Boko Haram.

That’s fine. Nevertheless, as I argued on Wednesday, Twitter hashtags won’t recover these girls. Even apart from that, what has happened is only the symptom of the larger Boko Haram disease. Absent a strategy that exerts significant military pressure on the group, it will simply keep doing what it’s doing.

After all, these are extremists made from three toxic ingredients: fanatical Islamist medievalism and the ramblings of two psychopaths: Mohammed Yusuf andMohammed Marwa. In practical terms, this means that Boko Haram has little interest in compromise or peace.

Unfortunately, as we’re seeing, the Nigerian government is little better. Beset by corruption and weak leadership, it has allowed Boko Haram to wreak its chaos. Additionally, the Nigerian military is variable in professionalism and limited in capability. It also lacks the popular trust of many Nigerians. So what should America do?

Well, first, we need to admit what we’re unwilling to do. A major U.S. ground deployment is clearly out of the question. American public support would disappear in the face of more than a few American casualties. After Afghanistan and Iraq, the country is sick of war. Moreover, in an election year, the already hyperpolitical Obama White House will be paranoid about the appearance of another Somalia.

How about the much-vaunted Special Operations Forces (SOF) option?

Again, easier on Twitter than in reality. Not only does Boko Haram operate over a vast area, its stronghold in northeastern Nigeria shares borders with three other nations. Correspondingly, any SOF task force would need three things. First, it would require significant troop strength. The U.S. could send elements from the Special Forces Groups (“Green Berets”), but with the direct-action, hostage-rescue capabilities needed here, Special Mission Units (SMUs) would also be needed. More specifically, I believe the U.S. would have to send at least two squadrons (about two hundred men) from either Delta Force or the United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group, or DEVGRU, better known — at least since 2011 — as SEAL Team Six. To enable their effectiveness, those forces would have to be accompanied by aviation, intelligence, logistics, and command-support personnel. The White House would also have to procure military operating authorization from Nigeria, Niger, and Cameroon (perhaps also Chad and the Central African Republic). AFRICOM is a smaller combatant command of the U.S. military, and even with credible SOF support from other nations (the UK seems interested), it would take major resources to make this work..

A focused SOF mission also presents two other obstacles. First, whatever Zero Dark Thirty might suggest, special forces are not omnipotent. Many SMU operators have been wounded or killed since 9/11; their adversaries are highly dangerous, and Boko Haram is no exception. Second, a major SOF deployment to Nigeria would require some tough choices over priorities. For a start, the Special Forces Groups are stretched by their heavy commitment to the ongoing war in Afghanistan. Similarly, while emergency standby squadrons from Delta Force and DEVGRU could be deployed to Nigeria, doing so would limit U.S. contingency options. Of course, American SOF already operate out of East Africa against the groups al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (which recently released a video) and Al-Shabab (the Nairobi mall massacre). As such, a scout team was probably sent to Nigeria a couple of weeks back. Still, that would have been a small team.

big Special Forces option would be doable, but very messy. And that conclusion brings me back to the hashtag I floated on Wednesday: #HellfireBokoHaram (that is, strike them with drones).

As I see it, drones offer three unique benefits as a prospective tool against Boko Haram. Most obviously, drones are drones. They don’t put U.S. military personnel at risk. Second, the drones offer a symbiosis of intelligence collection and military lethality. In short, they would enable the U.S. to covertly monitor Boko Haram formations over long periods of time and then incinerate some of them with Hellfire missiles. Third, the drones double as a psychological weapon. The experience of al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and Co. in the Pakistan FATA (federally administered tribal areas) proves that the drones don’t simply wreak havoc upon the enemy’s command-and-control apparatus; they deny freedom of movement and induce paranoia. Helpfully, the U.S. already has a drone base in nearby Niger. This is the foundation from which we could slowly bring Boko Haram to its knees.

Put another way, it’s time to #HellfireBokoHaram.

— Tom Rogan is a blogger and a columnist for the Daily Telegraph. He is based in Washington, D.C. Published on 8 May in http://www.nationalreview.com/article/377605/hellfirebokoharam-tom-rogan

30
Apr

Iraq election campaign

Iraq holds national elections on Wednesday, its first since the US left in December 2011. Relations between its Sunni and Shia communities have deteriorated and the country is on the brink of civil war as well as territorial disintegration.

The elections are likely to sustain and exacerbate these problems. The country has struggled to contain domestic instability and regional volatility since the US withdrawal, to the extent that many believe it is no longer a question of if, but when, the 2006 sectarian civil war is repeated. That conflict, also between Sunni and Shia communities, took the country to the brink, claimed thousands of lives and divided Baghdad along sectarian boundaries.

Iraq is also facing the resurgence of al-Qaida and other Islamist groups, who have been emboldened by the civil war in Syria and who last December took control of a province in the Sunni-dominated north.

Various Sunni Arab actors from both Iraq and Syria developed cross-border ties as part of the post-2003 Iraqi insurgency, particularly in the Sunni north-west areas that separate Iraq and Syria. Sunni Arab militants from Syria fought alongside Iraqis during the insurgency; Iraq’s Sunnis have returned the favour during the course of the Syrian civil war.

The overlap between sectarian conflict within Iraq and the regionalised sectarian war unfolding in Syria has, therefore, given militants in Iraq a fresh momentum.

Fearing that Bashar al-Assad’s downfall would allow Syria’s Islamist-dominated opposition to intensify its support for Iraq’s militants, Iraq’s Shia-dominated government has in turn allowed Syria-bound Iranian cargo flights to use Iraqi airspace. It has also turned a blind eye to Iraqi Shia militias entering Syria to support the Syrian regime. These militias have ensured the survival of the Assad regime alongside other Shia actors such as Hezbollah.

As a result, sectarian conflict is unlikely to abate. As usual it will be Iraq’s Shia parties who will continue to define and dominate the Iraqi state. As usual, few of Iraq’s Sunnis will be convinced the Shias are willing to share power and treat them as equals. At the same time, Iraq’s Shia community fears a return to the past when it suffered heavily under Saddam Hussein and a Sunni-dominated state.

As with previous elections it will be Iran that emerges as the ultimate winner and decision-maker – the country exercises considerable influence over Iraq’s Shia parties.

In little over two years since the US withdrawal Iraq has lost full control of its biggest province, Anbar, and is facing growing demands for a Sunni autonomous region similar to Kurdistan in the north. The ultimate victim of the growing sectarian polarisation could soon be the Iraqi state itself.

By Ranj Alaaldin; Published on 29 April in http://www.theguardian.com

28
Apr

At last, a ray of hope for Afghanistan

Written on April 28, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Asia, Democracy & Human Rights, News

Afghan presidential candidate Abdullah Abdullah, front-runner to succeed Hamid Karzai.

Provisional results from the first round of Afghanistan’s presidential election look as if they will stand the test of tortuous fraud checks and complaint processes. Decisive margins make them robust. AlthoughAbdullah Abdullah, who emerged in the lead, has raised serious concerns about fraud, the first round should leave him facing Ashraf Ghani, a former finance minister, in a run-off.

Both Abdullah, a veteran of the anti-Taliban Northern Alliance, and Ghani say they are ready for the second round, as electoral law requires. But a winner-takes-all contest is not the only way this contest could end. Abdullah set a precedent in 2009 by pulling out of the second round. That allowed Hamid Karzai to be declared elected unopposed. This time, many Afghans expect a deal between the two leading candidates to form a unity government and avoid a second round. This would entail Abdullah and his running mates taking the presidential and vice presidential slots but drawing on the other campaign teams to form the new administration.

There are powerful reasons why a hybrid administration might be best for Afghanistan. It would be a case of collectively quitting while you are ahead. The Taliban, after failing to disrupt the first round are delighted to get a replay in which they can inflict more damage. Countless election workers and security personnel will pay with their lives if Abdullah and Ghani fail to reach a deal.

The purpose of the election was to allow Afghans to choose a legitimate successor to Karzai. If Ghani endorses Abdullah, together they can claim the support of 75% of voters, far more than any sole candidate will ever obtain. There is a pluralism argument also. Afghanistan has four main ethnic groups, the Pashtuns, Tajiks, Hazaras and Uzbeks. Both candidates deserve credit for campaigning in all regions, seeking cross-community support and articulating reform programmes. But on polling day, broadly speaking, Tajiks and Hazaras backed Abdullah and Pashtuns and Uzbeks backed Ghani. A run-off would become more divisively ethnicised, with Ghani obliged to rally the Pashtuns, undermining the idea of an inclusive administration with which all Afghans can identify.

Either candidate has the right to insist on the run-off – Ghani because he believes he can win or Abdullah to avoid coalition politics. Abdullah would start favourite. On a similar turnout he would need under 400,000 extra votes, attainable by attracting the supporters of either the number three or number four candidates. Ghani would need one million extra votes, equivalent to the total of both numbers three and four. For either of them and for the country as a whole, round two is a gamble.

Whether the election ends with a deal or after a run off, the six million votes cast this month constitute a powerful mandate. The voters’ message contrasts with the bigotry underpinning recent violence. All major comunities of the country want to be represented in the Kabul-based political system but want it cleaned up and reformed. They rejected the insurgents’ authoritarian alternative and showed little interest in those hardline Islamists who stood. They want to keep Afghanistan’s link to the west and an end to baiting its allies.

This calls for significant changes in how the country is run. But there will be tough bargaining within the Afghan elite before we see who gets to exercise the mandate. And the five British soldiers’ deaths in Kandahar over the weekend are a reminder of the high cost of the security umbrella which that elite has required to get this far.

Published on 27 April in the Guardian http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/apr/27/afghanistan-voters-presidential-election-islamists

25
Apr

It’s probably smart to view yesterday’s deal between the leading Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas—in which the two groups agreed to create a consensus government and hold elections later this year—with some skepticism. Announced with similar fanfare, accords in Cairo in 2011 and in Doha in 2012 went nowhere, with neither side believing it had more to gain than lose from agreeing to share power.

There are reasons to believe this time is different, though. It came after the first delegation of Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) leaders sent to Gaza since the brutal 2007 Fatah-Hamas civil war. The agreement was signed in Palestine—in Gaza City, to be exact—rather than a foreign capital. What’s more, reconciliation remains hugely popular amongst Palestinians. In March 2011, with anti-government protests spreading across the region, tens of thousands turned out in Gaza and the West Bank to call for an end to the division. An April 2013 poll by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center found that over 90 percent favored reconciliation between the two factions.

It’s important to recognize the extent to which internal Palestinian political dynamics have driven the move, with both factions under enormous pressure. Amid what its leaders proclaimed an “Islamic Awakening” in the region, Hamas had taken a bullish view of its prospects, assuming it would benefit from the coming wave of Islamist-dominated governments in the region. But it has seen its fortunes turn sharply over the last year. The July 2013 Egyptian coup removed the supportive government of Mohammed Morsi, dominated by members of the Muslim Brotherhood (Hamas was founded as the Palestinian branch of the Brotherhood). Egypt’s new military government has closed down the majority of the smuggling tunnels along the Egypt-Gaza border, severely diminishing the blockaded strip’s access to the outside world and removing a key source of revenue for Hamas, which levies taxes on the tunnel trade

With the negotiations with Israel (which he entered against the wishes of the majority of his own party) now on life-support, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas clearly sees reconciliation as something to boost his flagging popularity and at a time when he is in a relatively stronger position vis a vis Hamas. One question is whether he sees this move as something to enhance his position in negotiations with Israel, as a substitute for those negotiations, or possibly both—the latter in case, the former completely collapses. Read more…

Matthew Duss is a foreign policy analyst and a contributing writer for the Prospect. Published on April 24 in http://prospect.org

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