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.