Archive for the ‘Security’ Category

11
Sep

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There’s an air of tragedy about President Obama. He wants to chart a new course—pivot to the Pacific, end the long decade of war, do nation-building at home—but the old world’s most derelict, dysfunctional quarters keep pulling him back in. Now, in the cruelest irony, the gusts are pulling him back to the very land where he least wants to set foot again, the warzone that he spent most of his first term leaving: Iraq.“We will not get dragged into another ground war in Iraq,” he insisted in his televised speech Wednesday night. Instead, this will be a war where others—mainly Iraqi soldiers—fight on the ground, while American advisers devise the battle plans and American pilots pummel the enemy with missiles and bombs.Still, one could be excused for feeling a spasm of dread as the speech spilled forth. I wouldn’t be surprised if the president himself heaved a sigh while he wrote it.That said, the policy that he outlined—his strategy to “degrade and ultimately destroy” the terrorist group known as ISIS—is as reasonable, and has as much chance of succeeding, as any that might be conceived.There are two big new elements in this policy: First, air strikes will no longer be restricted to areas where ISIS poses a threat to U.S. personnel. Instead, they can strafe and bomb ISIS targets anywhere in Iraq, coordinating the strikes with assaults on the ground by Iraqi soldiers, militias, or Kurdish peshmerga.

Second, these air strikes will take out ISIS jihadists not only in Iraq but also across the border in Syria. A senior official stressed that this part of the policy is not as open-ended as the speech makes it seem. Obama is well aware that air strikes alone don’t produce victory. They need to be synchronized with ground assaults. And for now, there are no ground forces in Syria that can beat back ISIS.So, at least initially, U.S. air strikes in Syria will be clustered along the Iraqi border, to keep ISIS jihadists from moving back and forth between the countries or from seeking safe haven—in much the same way that drones were fired at northwest Pakistan to deny safe haven to Taliban who’d been fighting in Afghanistan.

However, these air strikes will eventually expand across Syria. Another part of Obama’s strategy (and he did outline this in his speech) is to train and equip the Free Syrian Army, the more moderate militiamen currently being squeezed both by ISIS and Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. (They’ll be trained by special forces on a base in Saudi Arabia.) Once they’re trained and armed, the FSA will return to Syria and—with the help of U.S. air strikes—take back their own territory from ISIS.Obama’s plan also calls for a wide coalition of European, Arab, and Muslim countries to join the fight. ISIS is an extremist Sunni movement, so it’s especially vital to get predominantly Sunni nations involved—to demonstrate that this is not an American war or a sectarian war of Sunnis versus Shiites. (For this reason, Obama is loath to bring Iran or Assad’s Syria—both Shiite regimes—into the alliance. They too deeply hate ISIS, but the Saudis and other Sunni leaders might not enter the fight if it looks like they’re supporting Iran. What arrangements are made with Iran or Syria behind the scenes is another matter.)

Obama, never prone to hype, made clear in his speech that the ISIS jihadists don’t yet pose as big a threat as al-Qaida did 13 years ago, on the eve of the World Trade Center attacks. But they are on a rampage, amassing fortunes, acquiring arsenals, led by competent commanders (many of them Saddam Hussein’s former generals), playing on anti-Shiite (and anti-Western) sentiment among Sunni radicals. If they are allowed to take over Iraq and Syria, it’s fair to ask if Jordan and Saudi Arabia might be next. They are also recruiting European jihadists, who have passports that let them travel across the continent and into the United States. Clearly, they do pose a threat. This cannot and should not be principally America’s fight; but the fact is, America is the only country that can coordinate the coalition—provide the intelligence, logistics, and accurate air strikes—needed to win.So, the cause is just, and Obama’s plan sounds reasonable, even nuanced. What could go wrong? Well, as anyone who’s studied the region (and the cavalier predictions made, time and again, by Westerners who go to war there), everything. Read more…

4
Sep

NATO’s Urgent Challenges

Written on September 4, 2014 by Waya Quiviger in Europe, Op Ed, Security

More than anyone, President Vladimir Putin of Russia has set the agenda for NATO’s 65th summit meeting this week, which could well be the most consequential since the Cold War ended.

Early this year, the alliance was deep into one of its periodic assessments about the future as its role in Afghanistan was winding down. Now Mr. Putin, who has long been eager to see NATO weakened, has forced on it a new and urgent purpose by effectively invading Ukraine and demonstrating his utter disregard for the international system. He seems to delight in taunting the West, including supposedly telling a European official that he could “take Kiev in two weeks,” according to a report in the Italian newspaper La Repubblica.

The question is whether NATO is up to the challenge of pushing back against Mr. Putin’s expansionist tendencies, starting with the need to reassure Eastern European countries that feel most threatened by Russia’s push into Ukraine. While leaders of NATO’s 28 member states are expected to reaffirm the alliance’s core principle of common defense — an attack on one is an attack on all — when they meet in Wales, they have serious differences that could undermine the initiatives intended to deal with Russia and other threats.

The summit meeting’s centerpiece is a formal agreement on a new rapid-reaction force of 4,000 troops, capable of deploying on 48 hours’ notice to protect any NATO member from external aggression, which under the current circumstances means Europe’s periphery — the Baltic States and Poland. Wisely, alliance members have decided to abide by the NATO-Russia Founding Act, a 1997 agreement under which NATO pledged not to base substantial forces in Eastern Europe permanently, which could harden the growing divide and make a diplomatic solution to Ukraine, if one is still possible, more difficult.

There are no plans for new permanent bases or deployments, but troops will be rotated to that region for three- to four-month stints. The force will be supported with logistics and equipment, including weapons and fuel, pre-positioned in Eastern European countries closer to Russia. This will be enhanced by more military exercises and air patrols.

All this will take money, which has been a source of friction among NATO members. The United States bears about 75 percent of the alliance budget, while the contributions from most European countries have fallen. That’s partly because of the economic recession and because the United States has always filled any gaps. They are also divided on the threats. For instance, while NATO opposes Russian moves against Ukraine, Eastern Europe feels more directly threatened and determined to act than, say, Italy, which has been more willing to appease Mr. Putin.

The Europeans obviously have to do more, including increasing defense budgets and imposing sanctions on Russia that could finally cause Mr. Putin to reverse his dangerous course in Ukraine. They should use the Wales meeting to make clear they are prepared to back up their words with action.

Even as Russia preoccupies NATO’s attention today, the alliance should not revert to its Cold War role with Russia as its chief focus. The world will also be looking to NATO for leadership on dealing with the Sunni extremists, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Because of other crises, Afghanistan appears to be getting less attention at this meeting. There are still thousands of American and allied troops on duty there, and NATO has to use its clout and aid money to press the Afghan presidential rivals to settle their election dispute so a president can take office.

NATO is strongest when its members are united in a common purpose, and it will take leadership — and not just talk — from the United States, Germany and others to produce a meaningful consensus.

The New York Times Editorial Board, Published Sept. 2nd

22
Aug

On the 636th day of James Foley’s captivity, and roughly the 1,250th day of Syria’s uprising-turned-civil-war, a video surfaced online that claimed to show the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria beheading the American photojournalist, in retaliation for U.S. airstrikes against the Sunni extremist group in Iraq (the militants also threatened to kill the missing American journalist Steven Sotloff, who seems from the footage to be an ISIS captive as well). The Obama administration has confirmed the authenticity of the video, and the Foley family has paid tribute to the slain reporter.

“We have never been prouder of our son Jim,” Foley’s mother posted on Facebook on Tuesday evening. “He gave his life trying to expose the world to the suffering of the Syrian people.”

That exposure is growing fainter by the day. Foley died while working in what is now the most dangerous place in the world to be a reporter—a country where dozens of journalists have been killed and kidnapped in recent years. As the Syrian conflict has grown more indiscriminately violent; as the Syrian government has targeted journalists, censored local news coverage, and barred foreign journalists from the country; as ever-stronger extremist groups have started seizing members of the press (and not even bothering to make demands for their release), news outlets around the world have pulled their staff from the country. Many Syrian journalists and citizen-journalists have been silenced. Freelancers—empowered by the journalistic tools at their disposal, but often lacking the professional experience and institutional safety nets that are invaluable when working in conflict zones—initially helped shore up the coverage, but they too have been deterred by the deteriorating security situation and by risk-conscious news organizations that are wary of publishing their work.

As The Atlantic‘s David Rohde wrote in November, “Syria today is the scene of the single largest wave of kidnappings in modern journalism, more than in Iraq during the 2000s or Lebanon during the 1980s. A combination of criminality, jihadism, and chaos is bringing on-the-ground coverage of the war to a halt.”

The result: The Syrian civil war, which has left more than 170,000 people dead and displaced 9 million more, in perhaps the worst humanitarian crisis so far this century, is grinding on as a dwindling cohort of daring journalists bear witness to its tremendous destruction. It’s grinding on in the background of our churning news cycle. We see its deleterious effects everywhere in the Middle East. But we rarely see it.

The 40-year-old Foley, a graduate of Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and a Teach for America alum from New Hampshire, was abducted in northwestern Syria in November 2012. He’d come to the country as a freelancer after embedding with the U.S. Army in Afghanistan and being captured by Muammar al-Qaddafi’s forces while covering the 2011 Libyan revolution.

And he understood the importance of the work he was doing in countries like Syria. “It’s part of the problem with these conflicts. … We’re not close enough to it. And if reporters, if we don’t try to get really close to what these guys—men, women, American [soldiers], now, with this Arab revolution, young Arab men, young Egyptians and Libyans—are experiencing, we don’t understand the world,” he told an audience at Medill in 2011, shortly after returning from his 44-day ordeal in Libya.

He admitted that his motivations were as prosaic as they were high-minded. Asked why he’d decided to travel to the Middle East, he responded, “My brother [a member of the U.S. military] was over there, I guess some kind of romantic notion you have about yourself, too: You want to be a writer, you want to see the world, fiction didn’t work out too well, let’s try the real thing.”

“The honest fact is that when you see something really violent, it does a strange thing to you. It doesn’t always repel you,” he added. “Feeling like you survived something, it has a strange sort of force that you are drawn back to.”

Published by Uri Friedman on Aug. 19 in http://www.theatlantic.com

19
Aug

A century has passed since the start of World War I, which many people at the time declared was “the war to end all wars.” Unfortunately, wars just kept happening. And with the headlines from Ukraine getting scarier by the day, this seems like a good time to ask why.

Once upon a time wars were fought for fun and profit; when Rome overran Asia Minor or Spain conquered Peru, it was all about the gold and silver. And that kind of thing still happens. In influential research sponsored by the World Bank, the Oxford economist Paul Collier has shown that the best predictor of civil war, which is all too common in poor countries, is the availability of lootable resources like diamonds. Whatever other reasons rebels cite for their actions seem to be mainly after-the-fact rationalizations. War in the preindustrial world was and still is more like a contest among crime families over who gets to control the rackets than a fight over principles.

If you’re a modern, wealthy nation, however, war — even easy, victorious war — doesn’t pay. And this has been true for a long time. In his famous 1910 book “The Great Illusion,” the British journalist Norman Angell argued that “military power is socially and economically futile.” As he pointed out, in an interdependent world (which already existed in the age of steamships, railroads, and the telegraph), war would necessarily inflict severe economic harm even on the victor. Furthermore, it’s very hard to extract golden eggs from sophisticated economies without killing the goose in the process.

We might add that modern war is very, very expensive. For example, by any estimate the eventual costs (including things like veterans’ care) of the Iraq war will end up being well over $1 trillion, that is, many times Iraq’s entire G.D.P.

So the thesis of “The Great Illusion” was right: Modern nations can’t enrich themselves by waging war. Yet wars keep happening. Why?

One answer is that leaders may not understand the arithmetic. Angell, by the way, often gets a bum rap from people who think that he was predicting an end to war. Actually, the purpose of his book was to debunk atavistic notions of wealth through conquest, which were still widespread in his time. And delusions of easy winnings still happen. It’s only a guess, but it seems likely that Vladimir Putin thought that he could overthrow Ukraine’s government, or at least seize a large chunk of its territory, on the cheap — a bit of deniable aid to the rebels, and it would fall into his lap.

And for that matter, remember when the Bush administration predicted that overthrowing Saddam and installing a new government would cost only $50 billion or $60 billion?

The larger problem, however, is that governments all too often gain politically from war, even if the war in question makes no sense in terms of national interests.

Recently Justin Fox of the Harvard Business Review suggested that the roots of the Ukraine crisis may lie in the faltering performance of the Russian economy. As he noted, Mr. Putin’s hold on power partly reflects a long run of rapid economic growth. But Russian growth has been sputtering — and you could argue that the Putin regime needed a distraction.

Similar arguments have been made about other wars that otherwise seem senseless, like Argentina’s invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982, which is often attributed to the then-ruling junta’s desire to distract the public from an economic debacle. (To be fair, some scholars are highly critical of this claim.)

And the fact is that nations almost always rally around their leaders in times of war, no matter how foolish the war or how awful the leaders. Argentina’s junta briefly became extremely popular during the Falklands war. For a time, the “war on terror” took President George W. Bush’s approval to dizzying heights, and Iraq probably won him the 2004 election. True to form, Mr. Putin’s approval ratings have soared since the Ukraine crisis began.

No doubt it’s an oversimplification to say that the confrontation in Ukraine is all about shoring up an authoritarian regime that is stumbling on other fronts. But there’s surely some truth to that story — and that raises some scary prospects for the future.

Most immediately, we have to worry about escalation in Ukraine. All-out war would be hugely against Russia’s interests — but Mr. Putin may feel that letting the rebellion collapse would be an unacceptable loss of face.

And if authoritarian regimes without deep legitimacy are tempted to rattle sabers when they can no longer deliver good performance, think about the incentives China’s rulers will face if and when that nation’s economic miracle comes to an end — something many economists believe will happen soon.

Starting a war is a very bad idea. But it keeps happening anyway.

By Paul Krugman, published on Aug. 17 in the http://www.nytimes.com

17
Jul

In her fascinating book A History of God, Karen Armstrong posits that the reason people believe in God is because God “works for them.” That is to say, God is compelling because the idea of a divine being serves a useful purpose in people’s lives. That utilitarian argument may be masked beneath a deep layer of spiritual devotion — but it’s a pragmatic decision all the same.

The same logic works, to a large degree, in explaining the motives and interests of Israel and Hamas toward one another. As the current Gaza conflict proves once again, these two actors — in a perverse way — need each other.

That’s not to deny the enmity that marks the ties between Hamas and Israel, or the existential rhetoric that drives the tone of their public accusations. It’s perfectly reasonable to assume that if Israeli and Hamas leaders had one wish, it would be to destroy the other. But in the practical world of Israeli-Palestinian politics, getting rid of one another is neither achievable — nor perhaps even desirable. Indeed, because it’s not an option, Israel and Hamas have not only made do with each other’s existence, they have tried to figure out how to derive the maximum benefit from one another.

The Israeli-Hamas bond goes back to the very inception of the Palestinian Islamist organization. Israel didn’t create Hamas in 1987, but in an effort to counter the more secular Fatah and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in the 1970s, it gave a variety of Islamist groups political space and leeway. It even granted an operating license for an organization created by Hamas’s founder, Ahmed Yassin. Paradoxically, Hamas’s very reason for being depended on the existence of Israel — even though its main aim was to destroy it.

One way to look at this is as a Middle Eastern form of mutually assured destruction. Hamas cannot destroy Israel, and Israel knows that it cannot reoccupy Gaza and eradicate the Islamist organization at a cost that it is willing to bear. So each actor uses the other for its own purposes.

For Israel, Hamas is a convenient address to achieve many of its short-term goals. In the strange world of controlled military confrontation, when it wants a ceasefire, it goes to Hamas, not to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. When it wants Israel Defense Forces soldier Gilad Shalit released from captivity, it goes to Hamas, not Abbas. And when it needs to strike out in response to the brutal murders of three Israeli teens in the West Bank, it cracks down on Hamas — whether or not the movement’s leadership authorized the action. Hamas is a convenient target of attack — and having applauded the kidnapping of the three boys, it is probably deserving as well.

Aaron David Miller is vice president for new initiatives and a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. His forthcoming book is titled The End of Greatness: Why America Can’t Have (and Doesn’t Want) Another Great President

Published on 16 July in  http://www.foreignpolicy.com

Second, Israel needs Hamas in Gaza. Of course, it doesn’t want a militant terrorist organization launching rockets at its cities and citizens. But a Hamas that maintains order there and provides a hedge against even more radical jihadi groups is preferable to a lawless vacuum. Indeed,fewer rockets were fired from Gaza in 2013 than in any year since 2001. I’ve often pondered why al Qaeda has never been able to set up shop in an effective manner in Gaza, or undertake a terrorist extravaganza in Israel. The absence of an al Qaeda presence is not only a result of the Israeli security presence — it’s due to the determination of Palestinians not to allow the jihadists to hijack their cause.

The last thing Israel wants is a vacuum in Gaza. In fact, Giora Eiland, former head of Israel’s National Security Council, argues that it’s in Israel’s interest that Gaza be stable, with a strong economy and central authority. Indeed, Eiland argues, a state-like structure can be held responsible in the event of a confrontation: Israel could attack national infrastructure, not just rocket launchers.

Third, Hamas presents a wonderful bogeyman for those Israelis looking to avoid dealing with the questions of how to make the two-state solution a reality. Hamas’s hostile and frequently anti-Semitic rhetoric is a gift to Israeli right-wingers, and providing them with any number of talking points about why Israel can never trust Palestinians.

The problem posed by Hamas is not just a piece of propaganda by the Israeli Right. The fact is that the absence of a monopoly over the organized use of violence in the Palestinian territories poses a legitimate threat to a two-state solution. What Israeli is going to make what are regarded as existential concessions to Mahmoud Abbas — a Palestinian leader who lacks the power to silence all the guns and rockets of Palestine?

Finally, Hamas — particularly its military wing — also thrives on the existence of Israel. Hamas’s very legitimacy is derived from an ideology and strategy steeped in confrontation and resistance. However self-destructive the ideology may be, the movement represents to many Palestinians an effort to preserve their national identity and to resist Israel and its ongoing occupation. Abbas has his peace process — or what’s left of it — and his international campaign to drum up recognition of Palestinian statehood. Hamas has its resistance. It’s in the nature of its very reason for being.

There is a good chance that the Israeli-Palestinian confrontation is going to escalate, perhaps to include an Israeli ground incursion as well. But even if that’s the plan, the odds don’t favor Israel’s success in breaking Hamas as an organization or ending its control over Gaza. More than likely, it will only mark another bloody phase in a long struggle between two parties who can’t seem to live with one another — or apparently without one another either.

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