Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The Coming North/South Sudan Split

I had the pleasure of doing some work Conflict Dynamics (a UN-partner NGO) on the question of Sudanese independence. My boss at the time (Gerard Hughes) was contracted to do some work on alternative models for the South Sudanese independence vote coming in 2011.

(Background: the vote was part of a peace deal ending a 30-year civil war between the predominantly black traditionalist/spiritualist south and predominantly Arab Muslim north.)

In short, there are a number of models out there that exist in a continuous spectrum between "unity state" and "two separate unity states." There are a number of "federal" style unions, including the US, Germany, Russia, UAE, Bosnia, etc, that have varying levels of legal autonomy at the state level, and (at least) unified defense and representation at the central level. The EU represents a union of a number of states, but with free transit/trade across borders, and some collectivization of resources, defense, etc. Other options exist, too. In fact, Sudan already had a semi-federal state where the South was given some legal autonomy.

Ultimately, I left Conflict Dynamics before we finished the work, but the report that came out aimed to help the UN, AU, and North/South Sudanese governments create options besides total unity and total independence. If implemented, the risk was (of course) confusion as to the details of an arrangement, which could make the referendum a disaster.

In the end, the report (and those of us that worked on it) were unable to garner political support for a more complex, nuanced relationship between North and South Sudan, and the referendum is coming, with two options: Unity and Independence (see photo). And last I checked, the measure had over 90% support amongst Southern Sudanese, who see it as an obviously better alternative than growing closer to Khartoum. Let's assume the referendum will pass.

The result is likely to be disastrous. Southern Sudan has most of Sudan's oil. Currently, a wealth-sharing mechanism is in place, but there's no plan in place for wealth-sharing after independence. Khartoum will lose a great deal of money... and Southern Sudan will be land-locked, and will likely have to pipe its oil through Northern Sudan, anyway. Piping costs will be a massive point of contention.

Three regions between Northern and Southern Sudan are in conflict (as to which side they belong). Only one is going to have a referendum on its choice for sides in 2011--the other two have no solid plans as of yet.

Northern Sudan is currently accusing Southern Sudan of supporting Darfuri rebels, and threatening war.

And, generally, there remain many displaced people (from the war) on either side of the border, and where they fall out in the census is questionable.

But ultimately, oil is going to be the big sticking point, and there's likely not a great solution for it that can be built after the referendum. I could be wrong, but the two sides are sufficiently uninterested in productive discussion, and the groups leading the mediation are sufficiently ineffective, that war may be coming. Again. Even if the disputed territories (disputed largely due to being chock-full of oil) are resolved "democratically," neither side is interested in accepting defeat and establishing a status quo out of their favor.

And, in the end, the great powers have very little interest in doing more than making enough noise to look like they're not ignoring the situation. Strategically, war would lead to a number of interesting alliances. Darfur and Southern Sudan would almost certainly combine their efforts (if the JEM is interested in independence, as well), and may even see more support from Chad and Eritria if victory looks possible. Al-Bashir, though, will shore up military support he needs before engaging in war, and may well gain support from Egypt and China, both of whom have a strong strategic interest in political stability and central power in oil-rich Sudan.

It'll be a situation worth keeping an eye on, and one that might begin chewing through one of the few tentative areas of peace in east Africa.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Conventional War Dominance and the Railgun

Loyal Readers,

We're taking a break from the bleak world of WikiLeaks, Afghanistan, the Korean Peninsula crisis to focus on the longer-term picture of the world's superpowers. Here's why:

1) WikiLeaks will actually blow over. Sorry, Assange: one man can't bring down the Westphalian model of international relations.

2) Afghanistan will end. Whether it goes like Iraq (with a quiet, humble, half-victory) or like Vietnam (with a humiliating defeat), it won't have a long-term impact on the behavior (or, frankly, the security--terrorist attacks just aren't a serious threat to the stability of the United States, even if people die) of the major world powers.

3) The Korean Peninsula crisis won't become a war. No country in the mix (Russia, China, North Korea, South Korea, the US, or Japan) can actually gain from the measure, and North Korea knows it won't have Chinese support, and would thus get rolled over quickly. As unpredictable as North Korea is, it's not suicidal.

Anyway, now that you're not worried about any of that anymore, I want to think about the future--the control of the world as we know it, who will hold the reins, and how.

So we'll start out small: let's talk Railguns. My first caveat is that railguns will be horrifyingly expensive for a while, at least until one finds a way to fire a railgun projectile without destroying the rail itself (keep up the good work, engineers!). Some pretty awesome technological/business developments have been afoot (I won't repeat these narratives here).

A quick technical recap (longer, more exciting technical recap by Anton here): Railguns use magnets to launch projectiles at hypervelocity (Mach 7.5 or so). The projectiles have no explosives; the kinetic impact does the damage. Direct fire will lead to a near-instant kill; indirect fire allows travel of a few hundred miles in a few short minutes (the delay being due to the projectile lifting to about 500,000 ft to avoid air drag).

Expensive as they are, they're going to change the future of warfare, in a few ways that we should think about:

1) Even when we start killing each other in space, control of the oceans will remain the ultimate factor in geopolitical strength. When one controls the oceans, one controls international trade and transport. The US currently effectively controls international waters approximately everywhere (rare exceptions include areas near China), and will continue to do so. Russia and China are its biggest competitors for regional waters in the Pacific, but they are not positioned to control the Atlantic, and will end up competing against each other for control over the Pacific (where the US will continue to keep key alliances in South Korea, Japan, and the Philippines that allow it to project significant power in the area).

2) The United States will be "in the lead" in this technology, by a significant margin. Russia and China are not yet (at least to my knowledge) doing any serious work here. Russia has the pesky "Moskito," a powerful anti-ship weapon, but it fires at slower speeds and has a shorter range than a railgun (making it easier to potentially knock out of the sky).

3) Railguns are ultimately offensive weapons. Many weapons on modern US vessels are "defensive," in that they can be launched second and still be effective (modern jet fighter, AEGIS systems, etc). The railgun would win a naval battle with a coordinated first-strike; firing first means the engagement is over early, and firing second would probably just mean mutual destruction. The incentive with a railgun is to fire it first, rather than wait--thus the "offensive" descriptor.

The result of all this is that the world will likely remain relatively US-centric for some time, as it continues to control the seas. But it also means that there will be a new, natural instability in great power confrontations. For indeed, if the first shooter should win (or, at least, if the second shooter should suffer massive losses), then trigger fingers tend to get itchier.

The best example of this is World War I. Europe thought it has offensive technology (it didn't, but that's another story), and thus rushed to mobilize and press forward during a crisis that could have otherwise been spun down. In contrast, in World War II, Europe thought it had defensive technology (except the Germans, who realized otherwise), and thus cautiously appeased Germany while building the Maginot line.

When everybody believes they have offensive technology (they will), they're more prone to attack if they think they can win.

To be fair, China and Russia are unlikely to believe they can win against the US any time soon--the US has naval power projected everywhere and still has the military-industrial capability to start pumping out war machines at a moment's notice. The lesson of Pearl Harbor has been forgotten by no-one.

So what does it mean? If Russia and China see the world accurately, they will actually be less likely to want to confront the US on the seas, as any military confrontations with them will be likely to be even shorter and more decisive than before.

Russia will continue to focus internally and in its regional periphery for some time, trying to rebuild the military-industrial infrastructure necessary to challenge the European continent (where the US has much less military advantage). China, for its sake, will likely focus on regional power and influence, ensuring strong trade relations and security at its borders. Frankly, as much as there's a great deal of Sino-phobia out there, China has so many demographic problems building up that it will be focusing on its interior for decades as it attempts to avoid a socio-economic collapse. World Domination is not in Beijing's plans (though it may be in Moscow's).

So in the long-term, the US will remain the one power that exerts influence anywhere and everywhere, as long as it wants to. It will be able to bring powerful, high-speed offensive technology to bear in a short period, and be unchallenged in open waters. It will continue to struggle on land. It will worry about a Russian "takeover" of Europe (and eventually a German one) or a Turkish "takeover" of the Middle East, rather than Russian or Chinese challenges at sea.

There's more to this prediction than the railgun, but the railgun is the piece of technology that will push the Russians and Chinese to delay any plans to expand beyond their land influence for some time.

Monday, November 29, 2010

A Few Interesting WikiLeaks Tidibts

As much as I'm marginally annoyed with WikiLeaks, they have leaked some relatively interesting information. A few tidbits:

-China is distancing itself from North Korea, and considering supporting a reunification under Seoul's command (calling North Korea's leadership a "spoiled child").
-Saudi Arabia asked the US to launch air strikes against Iran's nuclear programme.
-Israel conferred with Egypt and Fatah before attacking the Gaza Strip most recently.
-The US doesn't actually think a European missile defense system will bring real security to Eastern Europe.
-The UAE and Bahrain want Patriot batteries to defend against Iranian ballistic missiles.
-Saudi Arabia staunchly opposes the al-Maliki government in Iraq, worrying that it is an Iranian puppet.
-Secretary of State Clinton asked (perhaps pejoratively) whether the president of Argentina was completely mentally sound.
-Yemen asked the US to bomb Yemeni insurgents--and offered to tell the public that the strikes were carried out by the Yemeni military.

This is a sampling of 272 cables leaked so far. There are a total of over 250,000. Much more is to come--and it won't get prettier.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

WikiLeaks is Being DDoS'd

WikiLeaks, famous/infamous for its releases of classified documents pertaining to the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, is under attack.

WikiLeaks is about to release its largest set of documents pertaining to the US, and this release may be its most scathing yet. The release is likely to cover cables/documents related to nearly every country in the world, and some are likely to be embarrassing. Secretary of State Clinton has already begun a blitz of apologies and preparations for the release.

The DDoS attack may be an attempt by one of any number of US agencies (CIA, NSA, DoS, etc), or any other pro-American group. Certainly, WikiLeaks has made a number of enemies in the past few years, and has even lost the immunity it used to enjoy in a few countries in Europe.

In the end, such a DDoS is far too late. WikiLeaks is an intelligent organization, and has many outlets by which it can share its (backed up many times over) data, including the New York Times and the Guardian.

Thus, I'm not entirely sure what the DDoS is driven by, except as a lash-out or retaliation. WikiLeaks' paranoia means it will require a much more sophisticated attack to have any hope of taking it down.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The American Response to the Korean Provocation

There are a few potential reasons for the North Korean artillery attack on a disputed South Korean island, and a few potential responses. Both are likely more complicated than meets the eye.

Potential Reasons for Attack
1) Kim is trying to re-set the "red line." In order to make sure it can secure a working nuclear weapons and deployment system, Kim Jong-Il might be trying to re-set what behavior actually leads to war (such that the nuclear program won't).

2) Kim Jong-Un is trying to display his power. Kim's successor may be trying to show domestic and international players that he is strong-armed and sufficiently aggressive that nobody thinks the shift in power will lead to a period of "softness" which could be taken advantage of.

3) An anti-Kim faction within the North Korean military may be trying to weaken the regime. After Kim Jong-Il came to power, a purge of military leadership struck fear into Kim's enemies, but also bolstered their sense of cohesion. Worries of another purge--or simply a sense of opportunism with the change of leadership--may be leading such a faction to provoke South Korea and the West into taking moves to weaken the Kim regime, up to war. Such a weakness or chaos might present an opportunity to stage a coup and replace the leadership.

Potential Responses by South Korean and Allies
1) The current response: the US joins South Korea's military exercises. The artillery shelling came during annual South Korean inter-service exercises in the Yellow Sea (which may tell us something about its motivations in North Korea). South Korea's response is measured, but the US has sent a carrier battle group to join the exercises. This serves both as a reaffirming of its commitment to South Korea's security, and also leaves open the option of precision air strikes against North Korea in the near future. Ths risk is that this response may look weak.

2) A tit-for-tat response. South Korea might attempt to show that it won't tolerate unprovoked attacks by reacting similarly: hitting a North Korean base. The risk is that North Korea may choose to escalate to show that it's willing to keep pushing to make sure it has the upper hand.

3) Tough sanctions. The US could rally a coalition for more sanctions against North Korea, but it's running out of options. Already, most countries avoid trading to North Korea in luxury goods (particularly those of which Kim Jong-Il is quite fond, like Mercedes cars). Broad sanctions would hurt an already-starving population, and would likely bolster North Korea's support for the regime, thus presenting a positive feedback to the North Korean military.

4) Significant escalation. South Korea could launch heavy surprise strikes against North Korea, both damaging its ability to wage war, and delivering an unambiguous message that further provocations would lead to destruction of the North Korean military (as South Korea would not make this move without US and Japanese support). The risk here is that North Korea would respond with artillery strikes against Seoul, where 25% of the South's population lives. Currently, North Korean artillery is so numerous and well-bunkered that it would be nigh-impossible to eliminate it before serious civilian tolls were suffered in Seoul.

The Chinese Response
The Chinese response has been intentionally cautious. North Korea as a tenuous ally has proven a liability, but China is largely unable to stop supporting the regime. If the regime collapses partially or entirely, China would be left with a humanitarian disaster and a refugee flood at its border (and under the Geneva conventions, it would be required to give them "reasonable" accommodation). China's current approach to North Korea is to make sure that the regime in power--whatever it may be--is stable. Unfortunately for China, this means supporting a temperamental and unpredictable Kim. At the same time, China will try to keep Kim in line as much as possible.

But Kim knows China is unable to stop its support, so China cannot use it as a serious threat (much like Israel knows the US is unwilling to drop its support entirely, and therefore the US cannot use it as a bargaining chip). China will need to find a way to temper North Korea's behaviour if it is going to be able to keep South Korea as a friend and trading partner (lest it lose South Korea to US/Japanese influence entirely).

Wisdom in the US Response
The US response shows strength and initiative to not only North Korea and China, but to the entire world. This is particularly important in a time when countries like Iran and Russia might see the US as exhausted or resource-drained from its commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. The movement of its carrier battle group reminds potential rivals that its sea and air forces--the primary implements it would bring to bear in any engagement that wasn't a full-scale invasion--are still free, well-funded, and willing to move.

It also shores up South Korea's confidence in the US, which has balked at supporting countries like Georgia, Poland, and the Czech Republic against growing Russian influence and assertiveness. The move has marginally damaged relations with China, but the United States is showing South Korea that such damage is worth it in order to stick to its obligations.

Monday, November 8, 2010

A Petraeus-Style Plan Emerges in Afghanistan

It's being called "Inteqal," which is both Pashtu and Dari for "Transition." It's the NATO / Kabul plan (masterminded by General Petraeus) for a phased transition of military control, by province, to the Afghan military and police force.

The fact that there's a plan doesn't necessarily mean that it will work. Even if it's a good plan, it needs excellent execution to achieve "victory" (where "victory" is a very difficult and vague definition, anyway). But, holy smokes, it's a plan, which is something the Afghan War has seriously lacked for the last 8 years.

The concept very closely maps the Iraqi transition plan (my blog posts in 2008 focused largely on tracking the progress of this transition plan). Similar to Iraq, Afghanistan's map will now be colored red, orange, yellow, light green, dark green (indicating, respectfully: Not Ready for Transition, Partially Ready for Transition, Ready for Transition, Transitioning Within Six Months, and Transition Complete). The idea is that NATO develops capability internally in the "easier" provinces, transitions them, and consolidates its forces to progressively more "difficult" provinces.

This kind of plan has two advantages: first, it gives the Afghan Army and Police (as well as civil administrative) forces "practice" in these early-transition provinces, such that the kinks can be worked out in a lower-risk environment. Second, it gives NATO forces an opportunity to progressively consolidate, which allows them to maintain security forces in more hotly contested provinces, even as the troop draw-down begins. the plan has some merit.

Unfortunately for the sake of my curiosity, Petraeus is not keen on publishing the transition plan right now, lest it arm the Taliban with a document around which to develop a detailed strategy. But we can know a few of the provinces coming soon (like Herat), as well as some of those definitely not being transitioned for a while (like Helmand and Khandahar).

Small outposts and bases have already been transitioned--in part as a trial for the strategy, and in part due to the need to show progress.

The plan is good--though progress may need to be measured with some skepticism. The fact that a province is "transitioned" does not necessarily mean it's secure. With a pullout schedule looming over US forces, Petraeus will be under the gun to move quickly with the transition. The risk, of course, is that the "early" provinces are transitioned quickly in order to maximize security presence in Khandahar, Helmand, and Zabol.

Furthermore, NATO has to define the end-game. The Taliban are not going to disappear before NATO leaves. There is much talk of negotiations, but it's not clear whether those are actually happening.

In the end, this plan needs to be able to pose the following threat: "The Taliban cannot reach a sweeping victory after NATO leaves. A continued civil war will be a bloody stalemate." If such a threat is credible, negotiations can begin in earnest. Therefore, while Petraeus cannot divulge the details of the transition plan, results and progress will need to be publicized impressively, to put the Taliban in a position where it makes sense to seriously consider collaboration.

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Pessimistic View of the War in Afghanistan

General Petraeus is painting a relatively rosy picture of the path forward in Afghanistan. US intelligence agencies are saying somewhat else. It can be summed up thus (By Strafor):

"As U.S. Col. Harry Summers so clearly articulated, negotiation is achieved militarily when military power is applied in such a way as to impose upon the enemy a choice: negotiate on American terms and on American timetables, or be destroyed. Negotiation with the Taliban must be understood first and foremost as lacking that latter possibility."

If the Taliban do not actually see their position weakening over time, effective negotiations will not occur--they may be willing to humor negotiations at the last minute as NATO leaves, in order to avoid a civil war, but the NATO bargaining position at that point will be nearly zero.

The question that's not yet clear to me is this: how strategically effective is the US "Surge" in Afghanistan? How effective are the attacks on senior leadership and the counter-insurgency movements on the ground? I just don't know.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

What the Afghan Endgame Looks Like

The Taliban don't want a protracted civil war in Afghanistan. This seems difficult to comprehend, given the last 30 years or so of fighting.

But it should be made clear right away--fighting an invading power is much different from fighting a full-on internal civil war. Defeating an occupying power requires great patience, but the Taliban can largely avoid losing major resources and manpower by avoiding a NATO army that is not large enough to cover the entire country.

Fighting a civil war is much different. No waiting will do--fighting against the central government and its own Warlord allies will be a knock-down drag-out war of attrition, and one the Taliban may well not win, if US intelligence and drone attacks remain on Kabul's side. Such a civil war would be devastating, even if the Taliban won.

This scenario is very unlike the complete power vacuum left when the Soviet Union withdrew--the Soviets had not conducted in massive, extensive state-building that NATO has. The central government may not have driven the Taliban out of much of the country, but it does not mean the Taliban is close to secure.

The other point worth keeping in mind right now is that a player in a war or other disagreement wants most to negotiate when its relative advantage is peaking--that is, the point that it's going to be able to squeeze the most out of the other side. After peaking, time erodes the advantage, and less can be won.

Thus, the Taliban are coming to negotiate. Not the big-wigs (like Mullah Omar), but some of the elite near the middle that are feeling the pinch and the pain. Omar himself can't afford to appear to be willing to negotiate with an occupying power for an instant--too large a proportion of his followers (as well as is Pakistani ISI patrons) oppose such negotiations, and are likely to outright kill him if he becomes a collaborator.

The same risk applies to the leaders coming to negotiate. That said, they are not nearly as safe as they used to be in Pakistan, given the uptick in the frequency and success of US drone attacks against leadership of this level.

NATO is doing an excellent job of promising and reliably giving safe transport and harbor to those coming to negotiate--it might be personally safer for many of these leaders to come to talk, rather than hide in Pakistan.

But, ultimately, the top Taliban leadership is not declaring any readiness to negotiate--even if they may be leaning towards it. But in the end, the Taliban will not be able to sweep through Afghanistan and claim victory as NATO leaves. There will either be a negotiated settlement or a crippling civil war, and the former is more likely.

The biggest deciding factor for the top Taliban leadership will be whether they actually think their advantage is going to grow into the future. If it becomes obvious that their bargaining position is declining, the hard line against negotiations from the top will begin to soften--and many of the middle-level elite leaders will already have the initiative in talks.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Fascinating CIA-Army Campaign in AfPak

As the US looks to spin down its campaign in Afghanistan (looking towards draw-downs in 2011), it has two current objectives towards which it is racing:

1) Eliminate and prevent the resurgence of al-Qaeda links in the AfPak region that can contribute to worldwide terror attacks.

2) Sufficiently reduce the influence of the Taliban that it cannot take hold and later become a stable harborer of terrorism / Global Jihad.

Unfortunately, these two objectives stand in some conflict, particularly where Pakistan is concerned. Pakistan largely lacks the capacity to hit al-Qaeda targets in its northwest on its own, so the United States has been sending "covert" drone attacks over the border to eliminate them. This alone seriously increases tensions, but worse was that a drone attack recently killed 3 Pakistani soldiers by mistake--US-Pakistani relations are often strained, and should they break the US would lose what intelligence and military support it has against militants in northwestern Pakistan, which serves as a "safe zone" for the Taliban to retreat, regroup, reorganize, refresh, and re-enter Afghanistan anew.

The US is pursuing its two objectives with two very interesting campaigns.

The first: Petraeus is launching a full-scale Counterinsurgency campaign, actually much different from the combined COIN/civil war stabilization/insurgent-hunting programme used in Iraq. The strategy is a full "take-and-hold" style campaign, in which the US simply "moves in" to Taliban-heavy areas and tries to install a local government and security force--area by area (rather than seeking out and killing the Taliban). The campaign has met limited force-to-force resistance so far, mostly because full battles against NATO forces fare poorly for the Taliban--they continue to use hit-and-run or booby-trap tactics to wear down NATO as NATO tries to win hearts & minds with security & handouts.

The second: The CIA (with the President's go-ahead) has stepped up drone attacks on Pakistani soil to new highs--in its most recent publicized attack, the CIA killed 5 German militants, just after news broke that European citizens were part of a planned string of Mumbai-style attacks in Europe (this particular attack not only disrupts al-Qaeda in Pakistan, but likely does well to partially shore up confidence from the US' European allies that its presence in the AfPak region has the potential to make them safer). This campaign is likely tactically very effective--it is diplomatically extremely costly, and would be an unlikely direction for the Obama administration to take if it didn't seem to have a military effect.

To be fair, Pakistan is still looking towards a full campaign into the Waziristan area (after a relatively successful campaign in the Swat area), but it is not ready. Floods throughout the country have tied up much of its military (in relief efforts) and drawn attention away from the Taliban threat. If-and-when Pakistan moves north towards the Taliban strongholds in Waziristan, the tide of the battle may turn. Sadly, I've been saying this for a long time.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Struggle Between Two Bad Options in Afghanistan

The Tension of Two Bad Options in Afghanistan

The War in Afghanistan remains in a frustratingly ambiguout state; the US is neither decisively winning, nor losing.

Colin Powell says that he is "not sure" whether the US is winning or not. General Petraeus is fighting a number of "soft" offensives, attempting to take-and-hold Taliban-dominated regions and build an Afghani security presence, rather than attack and decisively defeat the Taliban (which may not even be necessary, if they maintain a large political base).

Of course, success depends in part on Pakistan's ability (and willingness) to contain the Taliban on its side of the border. Islamabad's inability to recover from the floods in the Northwest not only strengthen the Taliban's presence there, but have brought murmuring rumors of a military coup.

Afghanistan remains in a bad, but ambiguous state.

This is one of the more politically difficult situations a leader can be in--the President can be blamed either way given a decision. If the US "doubles down" and commits heavily to Afghanistan, it might become a classic "quagmire," and will smear him (and would be a more costly defeat).

Unfortunately, politics are getting in the way of what might be the right decision (This being Bob Woodward's "Obama's Wars").

Obama's military aides have been pushing for a larger, longer commitment--one of the risks identified is that if the US nails down a withdrawal deadline while the Taliban are strong, then there's no incentive for the Taliban to deal--only to sit back and avoid major conflict until the US departs (along, surely, with the rest of ISAF).

Obama's tenuous political position has brought out some (if accurate) potentially damning quotes about his motivations behind his strategy, including:
"I have two years with the public on this," and
"I can't lose the whole Democratic Party."

Domestic motivations in a war effort are nothing new--indeed, they're often the primary motivator in many war decisions (unfortunately), including staying in Vietnam (where there was no real threat to the United States' national security). Interestingly, it may be domestic politics that will drag the US out of Afghanistan.

The infighting amongst Obama's aides and the power of domestic politics in war strategy will be a boon to the Taliban. This is a classic case of the "war burnout" from which many Democracies suffer.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Israeli/Palestinian Talks--Maybe Not Quite Derailed

Well, my faint sliver of hope has grown a teensy bit in size with Barak's recent comments.

He's claimed (though Netanyahu hasn't yet backed up) that Palestinian-dominated parts of Jerusalem would be part of the Palestinian state, and further, that the holy sites would be governed by a special body, rather than either country.

While there will be a great deal of opposition in both countries, the balanced perspective that Barak brings to the bargaining table suggests a genuine desire for a solution, rather than simple political posturing.

That said, the vast Israeli settlements in the West Bank will be even harder to withdraw than those in Gaza. Geopolitically, a 2-state solution is far-fetched. But, as they say, "Only Nixon could open China." Netanyahu might just be the man for the job.

But don't get too excited yet.

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Incoming Israeli/Palestinian Talks--Derailed?

There was a sliver--however slight--of a good set of talks coming up in the Middle East.

An assailant attack that killed 4 Israelis near Hebron has probably undermined that entirely. The trick here is not that it will necessarily outrage the Israelis into quitting the talks, but that it will call into serious question Abbas' credibility in promising to handle his own security situation--this happened even with Israeli troops nearby.

Security, obviously, it Israel's biggest concern in the talks, and a number of more extreme-leaning groups (including Hamas) want to make that a tougher point during the talks. The emergence of a weak Palestinian state with Israel in a comparatively strong position would be a failure to the real revolutionaries.

In short: don't get your hopes up for these talks. Frankly, they were probably mostly a political maneuver anyway.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

US Flood Aid to Pakistan: PR Success.

The US continues to directly aide Pakistan's flood victims (and, by the way, is expanding the operation), just as UN officials decry the rest of the world for not helping more.

It's a crucial part of the fight against the AfPak Taliban. With the Pakistani government struggling on its own to send aide, the Taliban might well be the primary provider of aide were it not for the US intervention.

Now, many northwestern Pakistanis are seeing US troops and Pakistani government officials / Army troops distributing aid and rescuing flood victims. It's going to have huge PR impact, and reduce the legitimacy of the Taliban, and win more "swing voters" over to the pro-Government side.

It'll also help perceptions of the US, which will make it much, much easier for Washington and Islamabad to work together against the Taliban in the future.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

US Seizing an Opportunity in Pakistan

The Pakistani floods have given the US army an opportunity to counter the Taliban's influence in the Northwest (and bring increased legitimacy to US operations in the area).

US troops are dropping emergency supplies and evacuating civilians with military helicopters--with Pakistan's blessing.

It's a good PR opportunity, and a great way for the US to work together with the Pakistani Army. Furthermore, it gets US troops in the region--no doubt spies and commandoes have been dropped into the region to learn as much valuable intel as possible.

It's unlikely the US will use the opportunity for any immediate offensive or disruptive operations, but odds are good this opportunity will influence future plans for either US commando/spy forces, or for cooperation with the Pakistani Army against the Taliban.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Regime Change Coming to Venezuela?

Long have I thrown my wagers behind a total economic collapse in Venezuela (and a regime change). The short point is this: as the central government over-spends and mis-manages the public sector, it has progressively nationalized more industries (after fabricating reasons to do so) in order to keep the public economy afloat. This has been a downward spiral for the Chavez regime and, unfortunately, for the people of Venezuela.

The current economic crisis includes electricity shortages, food shortages, and gross stagflation (the miserable condition when both unemployment and inflation are high). Chavez' reaction has been tighter money control and market crackdowns, leading to greater economic stagnation.

It's tough to tell what Chavez' popularity is right now. Tight media control in Venezuela has permitted Chavez to blame most economic turmoil on the United States so far, but enough news may be leaking in to suggest otherwise to a large portion of the population.

A parliamentary election is coming in September that could spell the effective end of Chavez. What will be interesting to watch is whether Chavez' regime goes to anti-democratic extremes in order to keep some semblance of legislative power. But either way, if the vote suggests that Chavez has lost popular support in Venezuela, then his ability to drum up anti-American sentiment in other parts of Latin America will be greatly crushed.

Chavez has, for a long time, over-inflated his sense of influence over Latin America, but he's certainly had some. As the economic crisis worsens, whatever influence he had is likely to evaporate.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Possible Hezbollah Connection in Israeli-Lebanese Border Skirmish

Stratfor thinks there's a lot of good reasons that Hezbollah has its hand in the recent Israeli-Lebanese border skirmish. Quick summary:

1) Hezbollah has control of a large portion of the lower ranks of the military.
2) The UN is probably going to indict a number of high-ranking Hezbollah in the murder of the Lebanese Prime Minister.
3) Hezbollah wants to show Lebanon that it's a valuable/necessary force by making Israelis look like aggressors against Lebanon.

My worry is that it will actually work.

(Stratfor below)

August 3, 2010


Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah said in a speech Aug. 3 that his organization will "not stand silent" on the border clash between Lebanese and Israeli troops that resulted in the deaths of three Lebanese soldiers earlier in the day. In a line reminiscent of many Iranian speeches, Nasrallah said "the Israeli hand that targets the Lebanese army will be cut off." He also offered his organization's support to the Lebanese military, saying that the "smartest thing is to behave how we behaved. We told the Lebanese military -- we are prepared, we are with you, and we will help if needed."

Rumors are circulating that Hezbollah fighters were on the scene of the border clash and intended to escalate the situation. STRATFOR sources in the Lebanese military do not believe Hezbollah fighters were directly involved in the skirmish, but there is reason to suspect the group was behind the instigation of the fighting. Hezbollah has significant influence over and an established presence in the already weak and fractured Lebanese army. The organization makes it a point to discharge a portion of its recruits after they serve two years in the military wing and then enlists them in the Lebanese army. This allows Hezbollah to both control the composition of the army's ranking officers and influence specific operations. This latest border skirmish could be an illustration of Hezbollah's influence over the Lebanese army.

Given that the Lebanese army typically refrains from confronting Israel Defense Forces (IDF) personnel during routine activities, such as maintenance and repair work on the security fence and perimeter, the decision by the Lebanese army patrol to fire on the IDF forces is anomalous, suggesting that the move was preplanned and perhaps driven by Hezbollah interests. The chief of Israel's Northern Command, Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot publicly described the incident as a "deliberate ambush."

Hezbollah -- and its patrons in Iran -- have a strong interest in raising the threat of a broader military confrontation, but Hezbollah has little desire to escalate the situation further and provoke an actual fight with the IDF for fear of incurring massive losses. Hezbollah is already under fire in Lebanon over a Special Tribunal probe into the 2005 assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al Hariri that is expected to indict Hezbollah members. The group is attempting to deflect blame and attention away from this probe and is using the incident to justify its existence as a resistance movement since the Lebanese army is incapable of defending itself on its own. The Lebanese army chief, as one source earlier indicated, could have also welcomed the border distraction to divert attention from the crisis over the tribunal (the army has no interest in confronting Hezbollah in such a domestic crisis and would rather have the focus shift to the Israeli threat). Meanwhile, Iran is attempting to use a crisis in Lebanon as a flashpoint in its negotiations with the United States over Iraq and the nuclear issue by illustrating another hot spot in the region where it holds the cards to cause trouble should Iranian demands go unfulfilled.

Though a number of political motivations appear to be in play with this border skirmish, and Iran can be expected to continue prodding Hezbollah, there is little indication so far that either Hezbollah or Israel intends to escalate the border clash into a more serious military confrontation.

Copyright 2010 STRATFOR.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

US Attack Plan: Posturing with Iran

Joint Chiefs of Staff Chariman Adm. Mullen said today that the United States has a plan of attack for Iran in order to prevent it from acquiring nuclear weapons.

Such a declaration is an incredibly important (and unsubtle) part of a US intimidation/containment strategy with Iran in order to prevent such an acquisition from happening.

By announcing these plans, the US is publicly showing that, despite its draining presence in Afghanistan, it is willing to commit to striking Iran's nuclear infrastructure and dealing with the painful consequences. In short, it made it clear that a nuclear Iran is a worse scenario than a war with Iran.

With that clarity, of course, Tehran must try to guess whether the US is bluffing, or if it's serious. If it's serious, Tehran must seriously begin re-thinking its decision to pursue nuclear weapons.

The US air force and navy are minimally committed in Afghanistan, and have bases all around Iran (and can invade the Persian Gulf very easily). Iran's anti-air infrastructure would probably quickly crumble, allowing the US air forces to move with relative ease throughout Iran, and blockade the country from oil experts.

The most negative consequences for the US would likely be unconventional:
-The Chinese and Russians have strong economic/oil ties to Iran, and would protest furiously, if for no other reason than to make sure the oil keeps coming.
-Iran has a lot of power over Hezbollah, Hamas, and groups in Iraq and Afghanistan. No doubt, it could make life very difficult for the United States.
-There is some risk of alienating the anti-Iranian coalition, but odds are good that Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey would be, generally, in support of such action. Jordan and Syria would be the toss-ups.
-The Revolutionary Guard could actually be highly disruptive in Iraq, although if the US is able to bomb out roads heading towards Iraq, it could mitigate such issues.

Attacking Iran would be seriously costly in a number of ways, but if the US is actually committed to it (it likely is--the US has never been caught bluffing since the Bay of Pigs and the anti-Soviet Hungarian Revolution).

This could be a game-changer in the Iranian nuclear contest.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Potentially Negative Repercussions of the Wikileaked Afghanisan Logs

Disclaimer: I haven't even started to pour through these. That said:

There can be a lot of debate over certain leaks--a good example is the video of an attack helicopter mistakenly gunning down a group of civilians in Iraq. Whether that's good for the country or morally sanctioned is a bit of a back-and-forth game.

I don't think the Afghanistan Logs (or at least some portion of them) fall into such a gray area. The biggest issue: Anti-Taliban informants have been compromised. The Taliban has begun hunting them down.

This is going to seriously discourage future cooperation in any areas that aren't under full Afghan government control. It's a major setback for the war that we're already losing.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Signs of a Balancing Force Against Iran

Syria often uses its relationship with Hezbollah to exert influence in Lebanon. It's a strange alliance, and it caused Syria to be close to Iran for a long time.

But Syria and Saudia Arabia recently jointly showed up to Lebanon to make it clear that Hezbollah would have no support during the UN investigation of the 2005 assassination of the Lebanese Prime Minister. According to STRATFOR, it's likely that a number of Hezbollah agents will be thrown to the wolves.

The Saudi-Syrian cooperation has been rare in the past few decades. But that it is starting back up (and that Syria is working with Turkey to try to make peace with Israel) is a sign that Syria is joining a small-but-growing anti-Iranian coalition.

The Iranian-Syrian relationship was always strange. Syria is primarily Sunni Arab; Iran is primarily Shiite Persian. A Saudi-Sryian-Egyptian relationship is much more natural (in the 1960's a Pan-Arab state was discussed, which would include Iraq, as well).

This is good news for the US, which wants enough pressure around Iran to keep it in check. In an Iran versus Israel/US world, the US would struggle. But if Iran is sufficiently isolated, there isn't too much it can do.

The long-term risk, of course, is a Turkish-Arab major coalition. It would start looking like the formidable Ottoman Empire. Subverting such a coalition is the primary reason the US wants Turkey to join the EU.

Frustrations of the Westphalian Model of Sovereignty

President Karzai expressed some frustrations with the Westphalian model of sovereignty in dealing with the Taliban:

Afghan Pres. Karzai asks at news conf: Why is NATO unwilling to hit Taliban bases in Pakistan?"

In the AfPak region, Westphalian Sovereignty is, frankly, no more than an abstract concept. Tribalism, ethnic territorialism, and warlordism cut up the landscape. The line between Afghanistan and Pakistan is very arbitrary (see the ethnic map and map of "Pashtunistan").

Karzai wants NATO to take the fight to the Taliban, and believes the most effective military targets are in Pakistan (which makes sense--the Taliban keep more secure bases in the relatively safer region). Karzai is actively challenging the Westphalian model.

He's not the first to do it. Woodrow Wilson challenged the old European concept of territorial stability by suggesting that "a people" should have autonomy (though what defines "a people" is a vague concept, at best). The Israelis have constantly struggled in Lebanon where they have an enemy of extremist Hezbollah, but attacking Hezbollah in its own base means going to war with "Lebanon," where there are many neutral parties and even some allies.

Many Pashtuns want a "Pashtunistan," and many Baluchis want a "Baluchistan." Creating these areas would re-set the Westphalian territorial boundaries in the Afpak region to something more ethnically sensible, though obviously Pakistan and Afghanistan have little interest in giving up these large territories (unless they become so troublesome to hold onto that they are let go). The geopolitical need to hold onto them is relatively powerful, especially for Pakistan.

The Western dedication to the Westphalian Model may become a big contributor to the fall of the Afghan state, should it fall. But right now, the West has few alternatives. There is not another viable alternative to take Westphalia's place.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

India's Military Purchases: A Sign of Relationship Strength

India recently made a significant military purchase from the UK, according to Breaking News:

British official: India agrees to buy 57 Hawk jets worth about $800 million from Britain - AP"

The Hawk serves either as a low-cost combat aircraft or as a trainer.

India often moves back and forth between buying Russian and Western military equipment. That it continues to buy UK equipment is a good sign for Indo-Western relations, despite the tensions in the region caused by the continuing Afghan War.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

US & UK Split on Gaza

Cameron took a tough stance against the blockade of Gaza today in a speech calling it a "prison camp."

Not only does it signal more pressure on Israel, but a break from the US. I'm a bit surprised, given that a more Euroskeptic Conservative party should be pushing the US and UK closer together. It's something to keep our eyes on.

Monday, July 26, 2010

A Thought: A Separate Peace with the West Bank

A thought I want to share with the readership:

Is a separate peace possible with the West Bank? Could a shrewd Netanyahu or a moderate Livni work with Abbas to grant full, secure statehood to the West Bank (and deal with Gaza later)?

Here's what I'm thinking:
1) The Hamas takeover of Gaza makes it a Fatah enemy. Abbas currently bears little responsibility for Gaza's actions.
2) Israel treats the two regions as two separate areas, to be honest.
3) A blockade is really not necessary for the West Bank if Jordan will agree to reasonable border control (it will).

Possible benefits:
1) The West Bank and Israel could work together on a plan to get Gaza under control.
2) Israel could turn its focus away from Gaza.
3) Israel would gain tons of legitimacy in its struggle against Gaza by showing that it's willing to play ball with the West Bank.
4) More reasonable Palestinian insurgents in the West Bank would set down their guns (no, the crazy hard-line anti-Semetic fanatics won't).

The hang-ups:
Most people will think "security" pretty quickly on the issue, but it's really not a major issue. Israel has shown that occupying Palestine doesn't stop occasional rockets from being fired out into Israel, and there's no reason to think it will enable the West Bank. Most Palestinians in a free West Bank have no intentions of using minor irritations of Israel to put the West Bank's freedom at risk, and won't give the hardliners a place to maneuver.

The big hang-ups are territory:
1) Both sides have a strong religious attachment to Jerusalem.
2) Settlements: Israeli settlements are scattered all over the West Bank, and growing. Reversing this would be extremely difficult. It did work with Gaza. There are many, many more settlers in Palestine (and the Israeli government is currently building more).
3) The Wall. Currently, a massive all lies deep in West Bank territory that would have to be torn down and moved back to the Israeli/Palestinian border. This is mostly a logistical issue.


Sunday, July 25, 2010

North Korean Nuclear Brinksmanship

North Korea threatened nuclear war over US/South Korea wargames off the Korean peninsula. A few readers asked if this was at all legitimate.

The threats are vacuous--North Korea doesn't have any serious deployment capability. Their nuclear testing in the past has been technically successful, but not particularly impressive.

Frankly, the most damage they can currently do is rolling out a bunch of artillery and shelling Seoul into the ground. It would take a few hours at most.

This new brinksmanship is two things:
1) A litmus test to see if the US/South Korea will play more cautiously than North Korea. Turns out the answer is no, which is probably a good thing (or the precedent will be set that the US/ South Korea will retreat at threats).
2) Pump up domestic support for the nuclear program as North Koreans starve.

More interesting is the fact that Beijing's protests to wargames in the Yellow Sea caused the US & South Korea to move to the eastern shores of the peninsula. China is being particularly tough-nosed about the South Korean response to the sinking of the Cheonan, and I'm not yet sure why (unless, again, it is a part of propping up the Kim regime to keep stability strong).

Ultimately, North Korean brinksmanship will push the US and South Korea closer together. Any threats to North Korea's stability will push China and North Korea closer together. It may be the biggest foreign policy area over which China and the US will spar (barring, perhaps, American trade protectionism) now that Taiwan's Ma has taken the middle road approach to China.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Iran's Push to Bring Legitimacy to its Nuclear Program

Iran announced today that it is working on a nuclear fusion program.

Frankly, this is probably more posturing than anything. Iran is not going to be able to seriously compete with joint Western efforts in France to develop viable fusion technology. If it starts pouring money into this endeavour, it will be a waste.

The announcement probably comes for two reasons:
1) To try to bring a sense of legitimacy to its nuclear program, and paint Iran as a brave martyr/victim of Western anti-Islamic prejudices. If it's being sanctioned for a noble and honest energy development program, then it certainly does appear the victim. This will help Ahmedinijad's popularity.

2) To make Iran look like it's modernizing. Again, this is mostly a domestic ploy. If Iran is able to appear to be modernizing and pressing forward technologically, it can alleviate some of the pain of the sanctions, which are felt by consumers. It's much easier to "sacrifice" for the state if progress is being seen.

For the West, careful PR will be the game, to try to keep the Iranian people disgruntled with their own leadership, rather than the Western Devil.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

STRATFOR's Take on the ICJ Decision in Kosovo

STRATFOR takes a more regional view of the potential consequences of the ICJ decision.


A July 22 ruling from the U.N. International Court of Justice affirmed the legality of Kosovo's declaration of independence from Serbia. The Kosovar government will use the ruling as a mandate to strengthen its sovereignty over the whole of the country, while the government in Belgrade will attempt to continue its diplomatic fight for Kosovo in the United Nations as a way of winning over nationalists in the country's electorate. These moves will lead to increased tensions -- and possibly violence -- in the region.


The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the highest U.N. court, has issued a nonbinding opinion July 22 stating that Kosovo's February 2008 unilateral declaration of independence from Serbia "did not violate general international law." The court's interpretation of the question was narrow, only addressing the legality of the declaration and not of Kosovo's perceived status as an independent country.

The ruling is a blow to Serbia, but it does leave the country an opening. Belgrade can claim the narrow ruling means Kosovo's status is still an open question, one Belgrade wants the U.N. General Assembly to take up in September. But it presents a public perception problem, since the United States and most of the West are already interpreting the decision as supporting Kosovo's independence and thus ending discussion on the issue.

The West remains unconcerned about Belgrade's complaints on Kosovo because of Serbia's stated goal of joining the European Union. As long as Serbia seeks EU membership, its continued indignation on the matter will have no real repercussions and will be something the West can continue to ignore.

(click here to enlarge image)

However, there are indications from the European Union that Serbia may have to wait until well into the 2020s to join. The question then becomes whether Belgrade's current pro-EU government will continue in power or whether it will be replaced with a more nationalist one that is less inclined to preserve Serbia's self-imposed limits on response options to Kosovo's independence.

Thus, whether or not Belgrade's efforts at continuing the discussion on Kosovo are successful, Serbia's government has a domestic political logic for continuing the fight, as Serbian leaders see the continuous diplomatic effort on Kosovo as a way to establish credentials with the nationalist side of the electorate.

For Kosovo, the ruling is a sign that it can begin exerting its sovereignty more forcefully over the whole of the country. Pristina has had to temper its attempts to press its sovereignty north of the river Ibar, where a substantial Serbian minority -- roughly 70,000 -- remains. Even very limited efforts by Pristina -- such as cutting Serbian lines of telecommunication or establishing a government office in the Serbian part of the divided town of Mitrovica -- have elicited violence.

STRATFOR therefore expects to see the decision embolden Pristina and raise tensions north of Ibar, potentially leading to violence. This will force the Serbian government to reconsider its position of using only diplomacy and potentially force Belgrade to begin considering non-diplomatic ways to support Serbs in Kosovo. Ultimately, the impasse over Kosovo could force President Boris Tadic's government to reconsider its pro-EU stance, especially if the electorate decides EU membership will have to wait a decade, or potentially longer.

Copyright 2010 STRATFOR."

Lasting Implications of the ICJ Kosovo Ruling

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling on Kosovo is much bigger news than we're currently getting from the media. The ruling is likely to have longer-lasting geopolitical consequences than the outcomes of the Iraq or Afghanistan wars.

Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in December 2008. The UN General Assembly asked for the ICJ's opinion on whether the declaration of independence was "legal" in terms of international law. The ICJ ruled that it, indeed, was.

What's likely to happen in the immediate future is that more "neutral" countries on the Kosovo issue will likely begin to recognize it as a state, and establish diplomatic relations. If the last 5 EU countries (that don't yet recognize it) begin to recognize it, talks can begin on admitting it to the EU (something that Kosovo very much wants). It might even become a NATO member. "The West" will be very pleased to have a new ally in the region. Like Albania, it's the kind of country that will place huge welcome banners for Obama, Sarkozy, Merkel, Cameron, or other big-hitting Western leaders if they come visit.
But that said, Kosovo is a small country. It's not going to shift the balance between The West and the Russian bloc. What it is going to do, though, is set a powerful precedent.

Between Westphalia and World War II, there was a very Realpolitik stress on national stability. Balance of Power was the game, and all the European heavy hitters had a strong interest in preventing destabilizing independence movements from taking hold.

The United States became the dominant world power after WWI, and had a different approach. Due to its revolutionary and liberal-democratic zeal, it encouraged new independence movements. Post WWI clout gave Wilson the power to drive the principles of autonomy and liberty into the foreign policy discussions of Europe, as they hadn't been before. After WWII, the US generally pried its European allies into letting go of their colonies (except the French... long story.), and drove independence movements in USSR-occupied areas like Hungary and the Czech republic. Yugoslavia broke up. The USSR broke up.
All this led to massive Balkan and Central Asian instability in the 1990's. Without the Soviet fist, Central Asia became a warlord-ruled drug-route. The Balkans experienced multiple wars and genocides.

A precedent of legal regional declarations of independence is dangerous. What if Chechnya, Dagestan, Abkhazia, South Ossetia, Kurdistan, Xinjiang, and all sorts of other regions begin to think they can declare independence and have the moral highground to seek UN Assembly recognition? It might be tough to manage. The permanent UN Security Council members probably have a strong enough interest in preventing such a precedent that we can expect a Security Council resolution to come out in the near future. For now, it's something that even the evangelical United States will agree to--their plate is too full at the moment to start trying to manage worldwide national shuffling.

P.S: Those flags are all Albanian flags. I think this is mostly due to the fact that 1) Most Kosovars are of Albanian descent and 2) there was not a large Kosovar flag stockpile during the independence declaration.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

British Coalition Partners Slipping on Foreign Policy PR

Nick Clegg (Deputy Prime Minister) and David Cameron (Prime Minster), the leaders of the current British ruling coalition, both made a pair of rather major faux pas on the topic of British foreign policy and warfighting.

Clegg's gaffe
: Railing on the Iraq War and calling it "illegal" alongside senior Conservative party members that all voted for it.

Cameron's gaffe: Calling the UK the "Junior Partner" in the Alliance against fascism in 1940.

Now, I don't want to bring this up just to give these poor gents a hard time (they don't need my advice that they need a bit more pampering from their PR folks before they open their mouths). There may be real repercussions here.

The first and most immediate is that the Conservatives have traditionally had more pro-war clout than the Labour party (Churchill, for example, was a Conservative during the war... and, just for added punch, a Liberal earlier on), and this would typically be of great assistance as the unpopular Afghan war effort drags on. While these gaffes may seem small, British media are even more prone to hype up such slips than American media. It could potentially be quite an issue in Parliamentary debates, and the Coalition might face a surge of pressure against the Afghanistan war (with Clegg and Cameron being seen as "out of touch" on how Britons think of war and the sacrifices therein).

Second, it could begin to send fissures into a coalition once thought strong. The Liberal Democrats and Conservatives came out of their coalition talks looking surprisingly unified and strong--both sides were pleased to see themselves in office at all, especially the Liberal Democrats. But alternatives do exist--the Liberal Democrats, Labour, and a few other small left-leaning parties could potentially make their own (even less stable) coalition.

Britain has a strong tendency towards government instability when coalitions form. If comments like these persist, tensions between the Conservatives and Lib Dems might grow. If so, the Lib Dems may become increasingly frustrated with the Conservative government. And, interestingly, the only party that is nearly guaranteed a spot in any governing coalition is the Liberal Democrat party (because Labour and Conservatives will never form a coalition with each other). If enough Liberal Democrats defect, they could enter coalition talks with Labour and other smaller parties, and then hold a vote of no confidence.

Now, this is a bit of a far-fetched scenario from just a few comments, but it's something that must be taken with sufficient gravity in the British political world. If comments like these are not minimized and well-controlled, instability may form in the UK coalition government, allowing anti-war sentiment to become a rallying cry for the Labour party to take power. The very fate of the Afghan war would be at risk.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

An Afghan Exit Strategy

A conference in Kabul was held today about the international exit strategy from Afghanistan. A few things came out of it:

1) There's a goal date for Afghan Army leadership of every province in the country for 2014. Karzai and international forces are agreed on it (though it's non-binding).
2) The US will still keep drawing down forces in 2011. It will probably start slow--it's not the optimal time to draw down, but Obama has domestic promises he'll need to keep.

That said, let's think about the strategy itself.

First, what's the minimum goal of ISAF? To prevent an al-Qaeda (or other anti-Western international terror force) from taking hold. Certainly, if the Taliban takes over Afghanistan (or controls a large portion of it in a stable way), the risks of this will be very high--the war will be a failure.

The more control that the Kabul government has over Afghanistan, and the weaker the Taliban is, the higher the chances a pro-Western stable equilibrium will arise. Thus all the focus on state-building.

But at the end of the day, Afghanistan does not even have to be as strong and stable as Iraq to be a "success." That said, they're very different situations--Iraq was mostly a sectarian civil war, and Afghanistan is mostly an ideological insurgency (a la Vietnam, as much as that's a scary thought).

The strategy suddenly sounds a lot like the Petraeus strategy in Iraq. It includes:
1) Get the troops out onto the ground. Have them standing side-by-side with Afghani soldiers as patrollers in the streets. This not only trains the Afghani soldiers, but helps keep NATO soldiers looking like the good guys.
2) Focus on handing over one province at a time. Kabul will need to slowly and gradually develop its statecraft. Readers from 2006/2007 may remember Foggofwar's close tracking of the progress of province handover. I continue to believe this will be an important performance indicator. The strategy will allow NATO to continually consolidate troops into more and more troublesome provinces, as "easier" provinces are taken by Afghani troops. The "easier" provinces will provide areas to build experience for the Afghani Army, so that veterans can be cycled to "tougher" provinces that fall under Afghani control after stints in these "easier" provinces.
3) A focus on aggressive raids. The trick here will be to continually deny safe haven to the Taliban. Special forces should be employed at night to make it as scary for the Taliban to sleep as it is for pro-Western collaborators. Constant raids in Iraq against al-Qaeda and other insurgent groups went a long way in eliminating the actual insurgent part of the war.

Some new parts of the strategy:
1) A high reliance on Pakistan. The US needs to continue to be very diplomatic with the Pakistani people. Luckily for the US, it has managed to make drone bombings in northwest Pakistan enough of a status quo that it doesn't seem to be making the Pakistani people angrier. The US will almost certainly be sending special ops to assist Pakistan in offensives in Northern Waziristan and other hot spots to deny the Taliban cross-border support and organization. We'll continue to stress here at Foggofwar the importance of making sure there aren't "safe zones" for the Taliban to fall back, regroup, heal, resupply, organize, command, communicate, etc. It must be made into a fractured and confused force if it can be broken.
Pakistan also has a fair amount of success in breaking the Pakistani Taliban, though the Pakistani Taliban is generally considered to be "softer" and less experienced than its Afghani counterparts (who have been fighting a tough guerrilla war for most of the last 25 years). That said, lessons can be learned by the thoroughness of the Pakistani offensives.
2) Dealing with supply problems. Iraq really had few supply problems for the US. Basrah, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia all provided easy entry points for supplies. As news of attacks on NATO supply convoys in Pakistan/Afghanistan suggests, NATO must sometimes operate with fewer supplies than it would like. This can easily hamper offensive efforts.

That said, conditions in Afghanistan are currently terrible. Roadside bombings in Q1 2010 are double those in Q1 2009. June was the deadliest month in the 9-year war for ISAF forces. A previous post of mine suggests that this may be a better sign thatn one would immediately think, but it does indeed still risk running ISAF (or parts of it) out of Afghanistan. For every country that breaks and peels away, the Taliban strikes a victory.

They also have control of most of the southwest of the country--it's a big territory with a fair number of people. Getting potential sympathisers to work with the Afghan government will require such a massive and sustained disruption of Taliban operations there that they cannot hunt and kill the sympathisers at night--one of their most effective terror tactics.

Going forward, NATO will have to keep drone missiles, special ops, and the occasional small offensive in the Pashtun region (along with brilliant cooperation with Pakistan into the north) as it consolidates northern provinces under Afghani government control, in order to prevent the Taliban from mobilizing into a full offensive itself. As the Afghani Army grows, NATO will need to prepare a full invasion force--prepped by special operations, spearheaded by the Marines & Army, and then garrison by massive numbers of Afghani police and army, to take control of the Pashtun region. It will need to be huge, swift, and incredibly costly.

The exit strategy is a tough one. This is a much more difficult war than Iraq ever was. Ultimately, it will depend on being able to win over parts of the Taliban, and breaking the top-level leadership to prevent sufficient collaboration by the various Taliban factions for a full takeover.

Monday, July 5, 2010

Komorowski's Win a Polish Westward Entrenchment

Whether the Poles voted for Komorowski for his foreign policies is not yet clear to me, but his victory is significant in the long-term shaping of the European landscape.

Komorowski's pro-EU (and Berlin-friendly) stance is likely a minor blow to Russian hopes for a friend along the plains of Europe (and a friend strategically positioned to surround the Baltics). The win is a sign that at least a majority of Poles resisted the charm offensive from Moscow after the tragic plane crash of April that killed a large swath of Polish leadership.

The win is also a sign that the EU and US may have dodged a bullet after allowing a perceived "sympathy gap" to form between themselves and Russia after the plane crash.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Afghan War Intensity Up--A Sign of Hope?

100 ISAF servicemen died in June--the most since the Afghanistan war began. it's a terrible number and a tragedy, absolutely.

But: there is a sign of hope in the increased intensity of the Afghan war.

The Taliban is increasingly on the offensive--bold (and sometimes reckless) attacks against American and Afghani targets are well on the upswing.

What's this mean? Why the change? The easy answer is to say, "they're getting stronger, and want to deal a finishing blow." This is, certainly, what the attacks are meant to imply.

But the story is more complicated.

The question to ask is: what is the Taliban's winning strategy?

The answer, by the way, is to wait out the US. The US will leave eventually. It will not stay there forever. If the Taliban can slowly swell its safe base of operations, it will win, as the US will eventually grow tired and fade away.

Three series of events are happening in parallel:
1) The US is stepping up drone/special operations in Taliban strongholds in Southern Afghanistan (like Helmand).
2) Pakistan is stepping up full-scale military assaults in Taliban strongholds in northern Pakistan (like Swat and Northern Waziristan).
3) The Taliban is stepping up bold offensives against the Pakistani Government, the Afghani Government, and ISAF.

I think you might be able to see where I am going.

Why the boldness, if the Taliban wants to wait for the US to leave?

The obvious guess is that the wait-it-out strategy is not currently viable.

ISAF and Pakistan are working together on an offensive. As we saw in Iraq, offensives cost lives. They hurt, the numbers look bad, and the American public grows quickly impatient.

But, potentially, they work. Certainly, a lack of offensives will fail. Preventing at all turns a stronghold for the enemy is a necessary (though not sufficient) part of COIN. It seems like this costly measure is starting to pay off: bold Taliban attacks on ISAF sites imply that there may be a desperation on the part of the Taliban to pressure NATO out of Afghanistan quickly. If that's the case, then the Taliban thinks that waiting is no longer in its favor.

The alternative hypothesis is that the Taliban is so strong that it's trying to deliver the "final blow." First, this doesn't make particular sense, strategically--the Taliban is traditionally quite terrible against ISAF in straight-up gun battles, as the past month has shown. If the waiting-game is a winning strategy, then there's no reason the Taliban would grow impatient and start putting its fighters at higher risk. It's been fighting a 25-year war for Independence. Its time horizon is much longer than a few months.

Second, the US is already scheduled to start pulling out of Afghanistan--there is no particular need or reason to try to "hurry" them. This is the perfect situation to, if possible, keep the "wait-it-out" strategy going.

If the Taliban is on the offensive, it's because it can't be on the defensive. Its strongholds and safe areas are being threatened and broken up. For sure, we know its lines of communication are being disrupted--making its attacks decreasingly coordinated and effective.

There is hope. There is a whole lot more to do than disrupting the Taliban's footing in the AfPak region to ensure victory in Afghanistan. But it is necessarily the first and most important step in winning the war (creating a stable, functional, credible central government to take its place is another story altogether).

Keep your eyes up in the next few months for Petraeus to continue to apply his modified strategy from Iraq--potentially successfully.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

The McChrystal Pinch

McChrystal's comments to Rolling Stone are unacceptable in a General of the Untied States Army. Period.

Now that that's out of the way:

Life is not quite so easy for President Obama as firing McChrystal. One of the hero-geniuses of the US pulling the Iraq War from the brink (just behind Petraeus), McChrystal is an extremely valuable military asset to the US Army, and would be tough to lose.

After his recent successes in Iraq, he has an incredible loyalty in US troops. He's one of a very few people who has Karzai's trust and respect. And, generally speaking, he commands extremely competently.

The risk of canning McChrystal is that the Afghanistan war could, quite really, fall apart at the seams without him. Like Petraeus for Bush, McChrystal may be President Obama's last best hope at winning this war.

The risk of not firing him, of course, is that President Obama would be allowing an insubordination in a General not seen since MacArthur. He would appear weak domestically and abroad. He would set a terrible precedent in the future. McChrystal clearly lacks respect for the current civilian executive branch of the United States--does that make him less effective? Will his subordinates be less effective for knowing it?

But what's more valuable? Which price can the United States afford to pay for McChrystal's comments? President Obama has been stuck with many unenviable decisions in the last year and a half. This may be his toughest.

(For what it's worth, I'm not sure what my recommendation is.)

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Nationalist Spike in Europe

This is more an observation than a strict analysis, but very interesting, nonetheless.

Nationalism seemed to die in much of Eastern Europe towards the end of the 20th century as Europe reeled from centuries of war. It seemed unlikely to many that it would return soon. But, of course, geopolitics marches on. Nationalism is back in Europe, and back in a big way. A few examples of interest:

Germany: The Germans have pushed for a leadership role in Europe with the onset of the Greek crisis. Rather than an isolationist nationalism, Germany seeks to exert its will over Southern Europe, lest the debt crisis bleed it dry. The Germans are likely to come out of the debt crisis with a considerable amount of power in Europe--which is the only way they can make the EU work for them. Otherwise, they will consider leaving--the EU will only be a deal the Germans will tolerate so long as it is not one that tears them down.

Hungary, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Austria: Right-wing (sometimes seriously so) nationalist parties have made huge gains over the past two years. Much of this is in response to the Russian resurgence (where the options are to fight or join). But this resurgence makes for a potentially rivalrous situation in Eastern Europe. Territorial squabbles may arise and prevent Eastern European unity against Russia.

Denmark, Switzerland, France, and Holland: Right-wing and largely anti-Islamic parties have made great gains in Denmark and Holland in their last elections, signaling a reaction against growing Muslim influence in much of Europe due to massive immigration. France has banned burqas, and Switzerland has banned minarets. Anti-Islamism has become a relative European hallmark. Europe is set for a strong showdown with the Islamic world, but one very different from that of the US.

Belgium: Perhaps the most interesting of the nationalist movements, the Flemish movement has made big gains in Belgium, capturing 20% of seats (far more than any other party). Unlike previous separatist movements, this independence party is largely mainstream (rather than right-wing), and hopes to see a gradual dissolution of Belgium into Flanders (a Dutch region) and Wallonia (a French region). Belgium is probably closer to its end than ever before.

The return of Nationalism to Europe will make it a geopolitically interesting continent once again (after two decades of relative calmness, saving the Balkans).

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Turkey Moves East

The EU's rejection of Turkey as a member (which was not an outright rejection, but a bureaucratic stagnation to death) has pushed Turkey towards the Arab world, away from the West. The latest evidence is in its decision to lead the Arab Free Trade Zone.

The implications are potentially large. Turkey has the potential to lead the Middle East and, as I spoke of before, unite it.

Turkish ascension to the EU probably made geopolitical sense, from a strictly national power perspective. It's not clear whether anti-Turkish racism in central Europe was the primary driver to keep Turkey out, or whether it was simply a European implosion over issues like the financial crisis.

But either way, the shift in rhetoric and action by Turkey likely suggests a long-term drift away from the West, and towards the Middle East.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Israel's Risk to US Interests

If you're a reader of George Friedman (or other realist geopolitical academics), you'll tend towards the idea that one of the United States' paramount interests is to prevent a single geopolitical entity (or coalition) from amassing enough economic and military power to challenge it (this has been true since about the turn of the 20t century, when the US became the foremost power in the world). This was why World Wars I and II were important to the US (to stop Germany from conquering the continent), and why the Cold War was so critical (to prevent the Soviets from doing the same). Once a force amasses enough military power, it can potentially challenge US trade dominance, or even cross the ocean and challenge the US near its borders.

The US is further interested in preventing unity in the Middle East. If the Middle East united in a form similar to the Ottoman Empire, it might be powerful enough to potentially challenge the US. Not only would it be highly populous, but it would have vast oil resources and central trading position (between Europe & Asia). It would be a great strategic threat to US hegemony.

Israel, whether or not it has the moral upper-hand in the Middle East conflict, is becoming a risk to US interests due to Middle Eastern perceptions of its behavior as of late. For decades, the states of Egypt & Turkey (in particular), as well as Jordan, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia, have recognized Israel and, generally, supported its existence (despite their populations' general distaste for the Israel/Palestine situation).

But the past few months have made these governments' support of Israel a politically risky gambit. Public outrage towards the deadly pre-election Gaza offensive, settlement-building in Jerusalem, and the recent raid on a supply flotilla trying to break the Gaza blockade have further soured perceptions of Israel. Its image as an aggressive, revisionist state is growing somewhat stronger.

The US must play carefully. If it comes out to support Israeli action, it may encourage the Arabs to unite to deter Israel from further action in Gaza, the West Bank, southern Lebanon, or (potentially) Iran. If these states united against Israel, they might start feeling strong enough to oppose the US (rather than begrudgingly embracing it). The United States' interest is in keeping the Middle East divided and internally distracted--not united and outward-looking.

If the Israeli government does not change the tenor of its policies, it may begin to become a liability to the US. The US, in response, would try to distance itself publicly, while placing pressure on Israel to move towards peace negotiations.

In the near future, look either for a major shift in Israeli policy towards Gaza and Jerusalem, or a gradual (but noticeable) distancing of relations between the US and Israel, as the US tries to prevent a unity coalition from arising in the Middle East.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Untangling the Korean Peninsula Conflict

Mystery shrouds the current Korean Peninsula conflict about as much as it shrouds the North Korean government itself. A few readers have asked me, "what the heck is going on up there? Why the heck did North Korea attack South Korea?" Good question! It had me thinking & reading for a bit.

Why did the North Koreans sink the Cheoan?

There's no clear answer for this. The government officially denies doing it (which is not surprising), but it seems a relatively irrational thing to do. To understand the most likely possibility, one must understand the politics of North Korea. At least a bit.

Like most dictatorships, North Korea's government is propped up by elites (in this case, primarily military elites). And, like all governments, they faction. Long story short, Kim is old & frail, he's picked a potentially weak successor, and an opposition faction is likely trying to make a play for power. If South Korea had retaliated, chaos would ensue (North Korea would be caught unprepared for a war), and an opposition faction would have a much stronger opportunity to seize power from Kim (and likely quickly declare an end to the war by being a new regime).

As such, the coup likely failed. Whether there has been a purge is probably going to be unclear, but North Korea's lack of followup to the attack (and lack of military readiness at the time of the attack) both indicate that it was not an order from the top, but rather an order from much lower on the chain of command--likely meaning some attempt at insubordination.

What the heck are the Chinese doing in response?

Another good question! China's response seems to be arbitrarily contradictory. By inviting Kim to Beijing (and leaning towards "no" on international reprimand in the UN Security Council), China is taking a major international hit... in particular with South Korea and the United States, two of its biggest trading partners. China seems to be encouraging North Korean aggression.

But after a conference with China, Secretary of State Clinton came out speaking surprisingly rosy about China. Why?

Again, we must think of Chinese politics. In a Korean Peninsula war, what does China have to lose? It cannot and will not send troops or supplies to assist North Korea, and with the help of Japan and the United States, South Korea would rout the North Korean army (though Seoul would likely take serious damage in the meantime). China would be stuck with a collapsed North Korea, and an angry (and rather economically devastated) South Korea. The collapsed North Korea would send millions of starving, brainwashed refugees into northern China--a disaster that China is not prepared to face.

China's greatest concern in Korea is stability. It cannot afford a collapsed regime. This explains its stance--first, by inviting Kim to Beijing, China makes it clear to any opposition that Beijing will back Kim's faction, and help it keep power. Beijing was also likely able to get reassurances from Kim that he will purge the aggressive opposition, and also refrain from further provocations of South Korea... at least for the time being. China must also restrain from doing too much to anger Kim, lest Kim feel isolated and threatened. By befriending Kim, China gives Kim some security, allowing Kim to refrain from any foolish lashings out. Secretary Clinton understands this position, and thus was able to express confidence that China would effectively help prevent war in the Koreas.

What will happen from here?
South Korea cut off trade with North Korea, and North Korea followed by severing all diplomatic and communication ties with South Korea, and put its army on full readiness. South Korea further retaliated by opening up propaganda messaging into North Korea, and participating in anti-submarine drills with the United States. The Sunshine Policy is over.

For now, the conflict will drive South Korea (to some extent) away from China and towards the US/Japan. South Korea will seek stability in US strength. China will show North Korea that it is ready to defend North Korea from internal threats, but will not support it in a war against South Korea--North Korea's only rational recourse would be peace.

North Korea will desperately attempt to retain face by growing increasingly perturbed over accusations that it carried out the attack. It will accuse the South Koreans of setting up the attack themselves to provoke a war (sounds far fetched as an accusation, but many Americans think the same of the 9/11 attacks).

As far as war, I think it is unlikely. Neither country has a serious interest in it. Sino-American relations will not be particularly strained by this, but China will see any actions against North Korea as being a favor to the US (stacked on top of any favors that China does for the US with respect to Iran).

The Peninsula's best hope of a reemergence of peace might, unfortunately, be the death of Kim and a new regime leader.