Somewhat lost in the discussion of whether the United States is betraying its Central European allies by scrapping the planned missile shield, is just how difficult it was to get Poland and the Czech Republic to sign on to the project in the first place.
Around 70 percent of Czechs opposed the idea of hosting the radar system for the missile shield and the final treaty faced strong opposition in parliament. The Polish public was more supportive of the idea, but their government held out for months on agreeing to host the missile interceptors, only signing on after the Bush administration agreed to fund an extensive military modernization program.
Back in February, when today's news began to look like a foregone conclusion, Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski acknowleged as much:
“What we would like to be honored is what went along with” the missile-defense system, [Radoslaw] Sikorski, 46, said in an interview yesterday during a visit to Washington that included a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. “We paid quite a political price for the agreement, both in terms of internal politics and in our relations with Russia.”
Hopefully the Obama administration will acknowledge this political price and continue (or even expand) defense assistance to both the Czech Republic and Poland. But despite the grumbling in Warsaw and Prague today, the diplomatic damage to the U.S in these countries may not be all that significant.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, and his her office released two reports on violence in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo in 2008, citing "possible war crimes and crimes against humanity" by the National Congress for the Defence of the People (CNDP), a rebel group formerly led by Laurent Nkunda and backed by the government of Rwanda.
Talk about your diplomatic understatement. The crimes involved dozens of killings and rapes. But for those following the DRC this statement has to seem kind of weak. There have been all sorts of atrocities in Eastern Congo for years, and the only questions really are which militia was guilty in which case. Possible? The U.N. head of mission in the DRC called the attacks war crimes immediately after they happened.
Reuters reporters shrewdly dig into the problematic fact that while Nkunda was later arrested by Rwandan forces, it was his lieutenant, Jean Bosco Ntaganda (shown above), nicknamed "The Terminator" who was commanding the CNDP forces at the time of the November killings. Guess where he is?
Ntaganda, who is being sought by the International Criminal Court on separate war crimes charges, wasintegrated into Congo's army in January along with other members of the Tutsi-dominated CNDP..."We know he is there. We are aware of it. He was integrated. He wasgiven a role. And according to our partners, he does not play a role inthe operations that MONUC is supporting," said Kevin Kennedy, MONUC's head of communications.
"But it isn't our job to investigate the role of Bosco Ntaganda in the (army)," he told journalists in Kinshasa.
One other question for other Congo watchers out there. Doesn't a lot of focus seem to be just on the CNDP, when the Hutu FDLR militia has been committing terrible massacres for years? In fact, wasn't a key reason--along with grabbing minerals--for Rwandan support of Nkunda that he was protecting Congolese Tutsis from the marauding FDLR, many of whom were genocidaires? Maybe I've just missed it or Nkunda made such a good media character. Is the FDLR getting as much U.N. heat?
Update: This post originally mistook the gender and misspelled the name of U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Navanethem, or Navi, Pillay.
LIONEL HEALING/AFP/Getty Images
For the last year, one question has been at the core of the piracy debate: Who or what made the Somali pirates into the real, armed, threat that they are? Chaos on land? Opportunity at sea? Poverty all around? Or the latest theory, from an Al Jazeera report: Western defense contractors trained them.
Before piracy spun out of control, Al Jazeera reports, contractors such as the Hart Group trained a Somali Coast Guard force in the semi-autonomous Pundtland region -- where piracy thrives. Those skills, one Somali tells the Al Jazeera reporter, were later helpful in hijacking ships and training others in his newly learned sea-faring ways.
Sounds like a big "oops" for the contracting world... though any experience helping the "other side" hasn't deterred them much from working to stop the pirates. Remember when Blackwater said they would help fight pirates? Better yet, about how winning a lucrative "ransom and release contract" for handsome $500,000 each.
This does not seem like a very efficient use of resources:
The U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan has banned alcohol and assigned American personnel to watch over the embassy's security guards following allegations of lewd behavior and sexual misconduct at their living quarters.
I feel like it might be hard for the military to replace guards with contractors if they need other guards to make the sure the contractors aren't getting drunk and naked.
The L.A. Times's Julian Barnes explains how Stanley McChrystal is increasing combat troop levels in Afghanistan without increasing total troop levels:
U.S. officials are planning to add as many as 14,000 combat troops to the American force in Afghanistan by sending home support units and replacing them with "trigger-pullers," Defense officials say.
The move would beef up the combat force in the country without increasing the overall number of U.S. troops, a contentious issue as public support for the war slips. But many of the noncombat jobs are likely be filled by private contractors, who have proved to be a source of controversy in Iraq and a growing issue in Afghanistan.
The plan represents a key step in the Obama administration's drive to counter Taliban gains and demonstrate progress in the war nearly eight years after it began.
Forces that could be swapped out include units assigned to noncombat duty, such as guards or lookouts, or those on clerical and support squads.
"It makes sense to get rid of the clerks and replace them with trigger-pullers," said one Pentagon official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the plans have not been announced. Officials have spoken in recent days about aspects of the plan.
Kevin Drum responds, "an increase in combat troops is an increase in combat troops. It doesn't really matter how you get there."
I would argue it does matter if those combat troops aren't getting the same level of support, putting them at greater risk and making them less effective. And it's not as if private contractors have exactly distinguished themselves in those jobs lately.
One of the stranger stories of the weekend was Iraq's announcement that it was negotiating the return of 19 Mig fighter jets that had been sent to Serbia for maintenance in the late 1980s and never returned:
Sanctions slapped on Iraq because of Saddam's invasion of Kuwait in 1990 would have made it impossible to bring the MiG-21 and MiG-23 jet fighters back while he was in power.
Two of the jets were ready for "immediate use", the statement said, and a preliminary agreement had been reached with the Serbian government to repair the others and send them back.
The statement did not say when the existence of the fighters had come to light
During his visit to Iraq earlier this month, Serbia's Defense Minister Dragan Sutanovac told Iraqi officials about the existence of the jets, said a senior Serbian Defense official who did not want to be quoted by name.
"None are in flyable condition, they are dismantled and in crates. Only one MiG 23 that was displayed in (Belgrade's) air force museum is whole," he said.
This is welcome news for Iraq, which has been looking to build up its air defences, but something seems very off about this. Slobodan Milosevic has been out of power since 2000 and Saddam Hussein since 2003, yet only now has anyone mentioned these planes?
I'm no expert, but given that (according to Wikipedia, at least) Serbia only has about 40 MiGs of its own, it seems like the 19 they were keeping in storage would be kind of hard to miss.
Also, since when was Milosevic that concerned about violating international sanctions?
Photo: Dmitry A. Mmottl under a creative commons license.
A disturbing report from The Telegraph suggests that China may soon cut off the world's supply of the metals needed for many modern electronics:
A draft report by China’s Ministry of Industry and Information Technology has called for a total ban on foreign shipments of terbium, dysprosium, yttrium, thulium, and lutetium. Other metals such as neodymium, europium, cerium, and lanthanum will be restricted to a combined export quota of 35,000 tonnes a year, far below global needs.
China mines over 95pc of the world’s rare earth minerals, mostly in Inner Mongolia. The move to hoard reserves is the clearest sign to date that the global struggle for diminishing resources is shifting into a new phase. Countries may find it hard to obtain key materials at any price.[...]
New technologies have since increased the value and strategic importance of these metals, but it will take years for fresh supply to come on stream from deposits in Australia, North America, and South Africa. The rare earth family are hard to find, and harder to extract.
Danger Room's Nathan Hodge comments:
[I]t’s a reminder of the role that strategic resources play, especially for the high-tech military of the United States. [...]
Of course, China is not the only country that’s figuring out how to play the mineral wealth hand in geopolitics. For several years now, Russia has used natural gas supply as a way to exert less-than-subtle pressure on its neighbors. Energy, the Kremlin found, is a more effective instrument than an aging nuclear weapons stockpile: You can actually turn the gas taps off when you feel like punishing someone.
As an old piece of wisdom from Strategic Air Command put it: “When you have them by the balls, their hearts and minds will follow.”
Last week in the Washington Post, Michael O'Hanlon lamented the inability of the U.S. military to get "boots on the ground" in peacekeeping operations in places like the Democratic Republic of the Congo. O'Hanlon, who served in the Peace Corps in Eastern Congo, made the case that an all-volunteer military force trained for peacekeeping could help overcome the current overstretch of the military and the U.S. hesitation to deploy peackeeping troops for fear of public outcry when, as in Somalia in 1993, casualties could result:
The notion is this: Ask for volunteers to join a peace operations division for two years. They would begin their service with, say, 12 weeks of boot camp and 12 weeks of specialized training and then would be deployable. They would receive the same compensation and health benefits as regular troops, given their age and experience. Out of a division of 15,000 troops, one brigade, or about 3,000 to 4,000 soldiers, could be sustained in the field at a time.This type of training would be modeled after standard practices in today's Army and Marine Corps. To be sure, soldiers and Marines in regular units usually go beyond this regimen to have many months of additional practice and exercise before being deployed. But the peace operations units could be led by a cadre of experienced officers and NCOs -- perhaps some of whom would be drawn back to military service after leaving...
The dangers of deploying such units to missions such as the one in Congo, would be real, but the risks would be acceptable. First, those volunteering would understand the risks and accept them. Second, in most civil conflicts such as Congo's, possible adversarial forces are not sophisticated. Soldiers in the new division would not need to execute complex operations akin to those carried out during the invasion of Iraq or current operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. They would largely monitor villages and refugee camps, inspect individuals to make sure they did not have illicit weapons, and call for help if they came under concerted attack.
agree with O'Hanlon's major point that it can be difficult for
peacekeeping operations to succeed without active U.S. support. Most
current missions are undermanned and underfunded, even for their
already very limited
mandates. I also think the volunteer idea has potential, but my hangup
is the idea of creating a separate track within the military that has
less training. Wouldn't it be better to ask for volunteers from within the armed forces and give them additional peacekeeping training?
To get a perspective on this proposal from the kind of person who might volunteer, I called my friend Marcus Williams, who at the last minute this spring chose to withdraw from his planned Peace Corps deployment in West Africa and instead apply to Officer Candidates School for the U.S. Marines.
Interestingly, Marcus cited peacekeeping and development as one of the reasons he hopes to join the Marines. "Arguably the Iraq war and Afghanistan are right now peace keeping missions. So it becomes kind of hard to define where people are deploying," he said. He added that for better or worse, working on development from within the military means you get resources that Peace Corps volunteers simply do not.
The proposed short training period and separation from the normal military also worried Williams, who graduated from Stanford in four years with both a degree in International Relations and a Masters in African Studies:
If you had people volunteering and there was less training involved, there's this sort of vision of the idealistic African advocate who's in college or going to college and may not have the serious commitment it takes to serve in the armed forces. They're going to end up in the field and not be a very effective unit. When it comes down to it you have to follow orders and accept very seriously that you might die.
Williams pointed out that for the Marine Corps, Officer Candidates School itself is almost 12 weeks and for those who choose to join afterward another six months or so of basic training is required.
Ultimately, Williams argued, if the U.S. wants to get serious about supporting peace-keeping operations in places like the DRC, that would be great, but U.S. troops aren't necessarily the key.
I think that if the U.S. were really committed to these peacekeeping operations we wouldn't be focused on getting U.S. boots on the ground. The cost of the Ghanaian peacekeeper on the ground is much less and if the U.S. peacekeeper is going to literally receive less training, it seems like it would be better to support other troops.
If the U.S. really wants to help, he said, it should focus on its comparative advantages:
flying helicopters, intelligence, communications operations. I'm thinking most of the peacekeepers in Sudan. They had boots on the ground but they didn't have any real logistics.
Does all this mean O'Hanlon's idea should be written off? Absolutely not, Williams said, it just needs some careful thought. "I think you'd have a lot of people interested in volunteering," he said.
ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
Wired correspondent Sharon Weinberger has a compelling investigative piece in the New York Post about the CIA's quest for Russian helicopters to sneak into Afghanistan before the full-scale U.S. invasion. It's a tale of secrecy, corruption, Siberian cold, and credit card rewards.
Here's a bit of Weinbeger's synopsis at Wired's Danger Room:
As with many “black” programs, the contract had elements of craziness: Contracting officials paid the multimillion-dollar contract on a credit card at a local El Paso bar and then used the credit card rebate to redecorate their office; the team traveled under the guise of being private contractors; and the charter crew transporting the group abandoned the team in Russia in the middle of the night.
Ultimately, a five-year investigation into the mission led to the conviction of the Army official in charge and the contractor who bought the helicopters on charges of corruption. The two men, currently in federal prison, are appealing their convictions.
The full article is a thrilling read.
For more of Weinberger's coverage of questionable helicopter contracting, check out her April piece, "How to get a no-bid contract for Russian choppers." Turns out being a middleman in U.S.-Russian arms deals is pretty lucrative.
When U.S. taxpayers shell out for these kinds of shenanigans, at least we're getting some entertainment value.
Above, Russian Mi-17s in 2007.
SERGEY PONOMAREV/AFP/Getty Images
China appears to be modeling three UAVs on the same V-tail configuration of the U.S.-made RQ-4 Global Hawk: the Chengdu Aircraft Corp.'s Xianglong (Sour Dragon) UAV and Yilong UAV, and the Guizhou Aviation Industry Group's WZ-2000 UAV.
One mystery is why the plethora of UAV models on display at Zhuhai do not go into production, said Andrei Chang, a Chinese military analyst with the Kanwa Information Center in Toronto. China is having difficulty mastering the technical complexity of operating UAVs in real time, he said.
"The companies displaying these are probably trying to elicit foreign investment and probably do not have an actual prototype," Chang said.
China also conducted a massive war game this week as part of a campaign to improve its "long-distance mobility" using new high-speed rail networks to move troops and equipment. Eyebrows were raised in New Delhi.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced yesterday that he will purchase dozens more tanks in response to the new U.S.-Colombian leasing agreement:
"We're going to buy several battalions of Russian tanks," Chavez said at a news conference, saying the deal is among accords he hopes to conclude during a visit to Russia in September.
Chavez's government has already bought more than $4 billion worth of Russian arms since 2005, including helicopters, fighter jets and Kalashnikov assault rifles.
The socialist leader called Colombia's plan to host more U.S. soldiers a "hostile act" and a "true threat" to Venezuela and its leftist allies. He warned that a possible U.S. buildup could lead to the "start of a war in South America," but gave no indication that Venezuela's military is mobilizing in preparation for any conflict.
Chavez's old friend Fidel Castro also chimed in, writing that, "Venezuela isn't arming itself against the sister nation of Colombia, it's arming itself against the (U.S.) empire."
I doubt it. No matter how big his ego, I doubt that Chavez believes he has a chance against the U.S. military in a conventional war, no matter how many tanks he buys. Even if Venezuela increased its current tank force by 20 times, it would still have fewer than Iraq did before the first Gulf War. Bringing a bigger knife to a gunfight doesn't really shift the odds in your favor.
The rising tensions do give Chavez political cover for a military buildup during a time of economic stagnation and an opportunity to prepare in case of a confrontation with enemies closer to home.
THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images
The elimination of the F-22 from the defense funding bill passed by the House yesterday was billed as a major victory for President Obama and Defense Secretary Gates, as this list compiled by the AP shows, the House still managed to fund quite a few expensive programs that nobody at the White House or Department of Defense had asked for:
VH-71 presidential helicopter — Obama recommended just $85 million for program termination costs after the troubled helicopter received $835 million this year. The House provided $400 million, drawing a White House veto threat.
F-35 alternative engine — The House provided $560 million for the alternative engine; Obama proposed "zeroing out" the second engine project and threatens a veto if the final bill would "seriously disrupt" the overall F-35 program.
C-17 cargo jets — Obama wants to kill the program and requested only $91 million to shut down the production line. Congress funded eight planes in this year's war funding bill; the House bill provides $674 million for three more planes.
Kinetic Energy Interceptor — Obama requested no funding for the Kinetic Energy Interceptor, aimed at shooting down enemy ballistic missiles during their boost and early mid-course phases of flight. The House provided $80 million.
The idea of spending an addition $400 million for a presidential helicopted that the president doesn't want is obscene enough, but there's plenty more pork to go around, as Jeffrey Smith of the Washington Post wrote yesterday:
Although President Obama has repeatedly criticized earmarks, the White House statement of policy on the House bill obliquely criticized only "programs that fund narrowly focused activities." No mention was made of items such as a proposed $8 million Defense Department grant Murtha inserted for Argon ST, a Pennsylvania military contractor that has contributed $35,200 to him in the past four years, or of a $5 million grant Rep. C.W. Bill Young (R-Fla.) inserted for DRS Technologies, a Florida contractor that has contributed $46,350 to Young during that period, according to Taxpayers for Common Sense.
The White House criticized the addition of $80 million for the Kinetic Energy Interceptor program, which Gates and other Pentagon officials have said is technically troubled, behind schedule, and billions of dollars over budget. But Northrop Grumman, the principal contractor, is building a technology center in Murtha's district that would bring 150 related jobs, and Murtha's subcommittee sought its continuation as a way "to recoup the technology," according to an appropriations staff member, who was not authorized to speak on the record.
As Taxpayers for Common Sense notes, another contractor on the KEI is Kuchera Defense Systems, a contractor tied to Murtha that was raided by the FBI several months ago.
The Center for Defense Information's Winslow Wheeler, who predicted on FP back in April that Gates' efforts at procurement reform wouldn't address the underlying flaws in the process gave an interview with Military.com yesterday, in which he described the situation the U.S. Armed Forces now finds itself in as a consequence of out-of-control "Murthaism:" (my emphasis)
We have today, a World War II high in spending in inflation-adjusted dollars, but we now have the smallest army, the smallest navy, and smallest air force we've ever had since the end of World War II and the inventory for major systems is on average older than its ever been before. We're now at a totally outrageous 20 years per tactical aircraft. And training rates are below what they were during the so-called "hollow years" of the Carter administration.... More money has, quite literally, made our defenses worse.The F-22 was a start, but we're a long way from real reform of this utterly perverse process.
The opposition Democratic Party of Japan -- currently leading in the polls -- has a decent chance of unseating the ruling Liberal Democratic Party after more than half a century of nearly uninterrupted rule. But judging from this interview with the DPJ's Secretary General Katsuya Okada in Mainichi Shimbun, a DPJ victory might have some unexpected consequences for U.S. national security. According to Okada, the DPJ will release details of secret bilateral security agreements between the United States and Japan, including one that allows U.S. shipscarrying nuclear weapons to dock at Japanese ports:
Problems involving the secret agreement on Okinawa must be discussed by Japan and the U.S. The existence of the secret agreement on bringing nuclear weapons to Japan means that Japan secretly endorsed the introduction of nuclear arms into Japan's territory despite its three non-nuclear principles banning it. Therefore, if we publicize the secret nuclear accord, we must hold policy discussions on whether we should revise the three non-nuclear principles or maintain them. If Japan and the U.S. have interpreted the introduction of nuclear weapons into Japan's territory in different ways, the two countries must unify their interpretation.
The U.S. military has revealed some details of a joint training excercise with their Cuban couterparts at Guantanamo Bay:
A Cuban Army helicopter flew over this Navy base and dropped 500 gallons of saltwater on burning plywood to extinguish a simulated raging wildfire. American sailors crossed into Cuban-controlled turf to set up a mock triage center run by both nations' militaries, should catastrophe strike.
What may be more surprising is that the drill has been conducted every since the mid-'90s, though this is the first time it has been oficially acknowledged.
In the aftermath of the tragic deaths of eight British soldiers in one day's fighting in Afghanistan, attention has increasingly been focused on the shortage of helicopters for the British Army there. Now, embarassingly, the head of the British army has had to tour Afghanistan with a borrowed American helicopter.
The head of the British Army is touring Afghanistan in an American helicopter, it emerged today, as he demanded more energy behind the push to get troops better equipment.
General Sir Richard Dannatt was transported by a US Black Hawk aircraft on a visit to British troops at Sangin, in the north of Helmand province.
Troops from The Black Watch, 3rd Battalion the Royal Regiment of Scotland, were also ferried in Black Hawk helicopters when they launched Operation Panther’s Claw against the Taleban in Helmand last month.
Last week the Ministry of Defence was accused of having to borrow American helicopters because there were not enough British ones in Afghanistan.
“Self-evidently ... if I moved in an American helicopter, it’s because I haven’t got a British helicopter,” General Dannatt said.
“It’s part of the wider issue. We’re trying to broaden and deepen our effect here, which is about people, it’s about equipment, and yes, of course, to an extent it’s about helicopters as well.”
The issue became the focus of this morning's Prime Minister's Questions in Parliament, as Prime Minister Gordon Brown and Conservative leader David Cameron (fresh off a New York Times profile) sparred over the shortage. The good part begins three minutes into the video.
DAVID FURST/AFP/Getty Images
The world media has been full of accounts and opinions about the ouster of Honduran President Manuel Zelaya. But inside his own country, it's a different story.
In Honduras, some of the most popular and influential television stations and radio networks blacked out coverage or adhered to the de facto government's line that Manuel Zelaya's overthrow was not a coup but a legal "constitutional substitution," press freedom advocates and Honduran journalists said.
Meanwhile, soldiers raided the offices of radio and TV stations loyal to Zelaya, shutting down their signals. Alejandro Villatoro, 52, the owner of Radio Globo, said soldiers broke down doors and dismantled video surveillance cameras.
"They grabbed me and put me face down and put six rifles on me, with a foot on my back holding me down," he said. "It was like I was a common criminal."
Such allegations underscore the one-sided nature of the news that has been served up to Hondurans during the crisis. According to results of a Gallup poll published here Thursday, 41 percent of Hondurans think the ouster was justified, with 28 opposed to it.
Global Post's Ioan Grillo was on top of this story earlier this week, and also notes that some of the biggest commercial networks didn't need any help dumping on Zelaya, as they have been at war with him for a long time. In addition:
[T]he media battle over the Honduras coup also reflects larger news-related issues as leftist governments have risen to power in the region.
Longstanding commercial networks controlled by wealthy families have often had head-on collisions with leftist leaders, who accuse them of undermining their governments.
In reaction, business interests accuse stations controlled by leftist presidents of demonizing the rich and dividing nations along class lines.
“The media across Latin America has become much more polarized in recent years. There is more of an atmosphere of saying, “You have to be with us or against us,” said Elan Reyes, president of Honduras’ journalist association.
ORLANDO SIERRA/AFP/Getty Images
Russian aircraft were frequently taken by Russian and Ossetian forces for Georgian aircraft, and they were fired upon without identification and in the absence of any aggressive action on their part.
Russia is not happy that the government of Kyrgyzstan changed their mind and decided to allow the U.S. to continue operating at Manas airbase. But then, if I gave someone $2.1 billion for nothing, I'd be pretty upset too:
"The news about the preservation of the base was an extremely unpleasant surprise for us. We did not anticipate such a dirty trick," the foreign ministry source told Kommersant.
Kyrgyz President Kurmanbek Bakiyev announced the decision to close the base in February during a visit to Moscow -- on the same day that Russia unveiled a generous aid package to his impoverished country.
In the package, Russia agreed to settle an estimated 180-million-dollar debt owed by Bishkek to Moscow, extend Kyrgyzstan a grant worth 150 million dollars, and loan it two billion dollars more, news agencies reported at the time.
Russia has consistently denied playing any role in Kyrgyzstan's decision to close the base. But the base's presence had long irritated Moscow, which sees it as an intrusion into its former Soviet domains in Central Asia.
I understand why keeping Manas open is important to the war effort in Afghanistan, but being played like this by Kyrgyzstan against Russia for the personal enrichment of Kurmanbek Bakiyev (the U.S. is paying three times the original rent in order to keep the base open) can't feel like much of a victory for the Pentagon.
With euphoria about the magic of Twitter starting to wear off, analysis of Iran is turning toward what will actually happen to the regime.Two key questions are: 1) Will the security forces unflinchingly support the regime? and 2) When (if ever) will they shoot at demonstrators?
Unsurprisingly ahead in the first line of questioning, National Interest editor Nikolas Gvosdev wrote yesterday about what he has not heard out of Iran, essentially, information about the things that actually matter for revolution: police defections, army sympathies, behind-the-scenes talks, and economic impacts.
Protests are the energy behind any “color revolution” but what makes them successful in the end is when the security services say they will be neutral and key elites negotiate the terms of change—as happened in Georgia and Ukraine and Lebanon.
As Neil McFarquhar reported in the New York Times, very little has emerged so far about potential divisions in the security services. And, as FP blogger Stephen Walt wrote after reading the NYT article:
If the Basij, Revolutionary Guards, and other security elements remain willing to follow orders -- and that seems to be the case so far -- then Iran's current leaders will remain in charge.
Iran's military and theocratic leaders knew some time ago that regime survival could eventually depend on military control. AEI's Ali Alfoneh observed in a report from September, 2008 (via Andrew Sullivan) that Iran's leaders took explicit steps for "internal security" issues more than a year ago. Specifically, the elite Revolutionary Guards, tasked with protecting Iran's government, became more focused on internal deployments than external security. Additionally, the less-vetted but politically loyal Basij militiamen were increasingly integrated into normalized forces.
Assuming that security forces remain loyal and that protests continue, the next question is will confrontations turn even bloodier? Shadi Hamid observes that while Iran's crackdown on protesters has been vicious,
it has not reached the level of brutality that we've seen elsewhere in the Middle East, particularly in countries like Syria (1982) or Algeria (1991-2), where the opposition was literally massacred en masse or rounded up and put in desert concentration camps.
In the calculation of the current regime, Hamid concludes, the costs of such explicit violence still outweigh the alternatives.
A final point, however, is that as Iranian forces try to disband and discourage protests, the regime may not be able to dictate exactly how violent its enforcers get, even if it does not order them to open fire. Ohio State political scientist John Mueller argued in a relatively well-known article in International Security, "The Banality of Ethnic War" (.pdf), that mass violence in Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia was less the result of "ancient hatreds" than was often previously alleged.
[Instead] the violence seems to have been the result of a situation in which common, opportunistic, sadistic, and often distinctly nonideological marauders were recruited and permitted free rein by political authorities.
Tasked with harming civilians, Mueller notes, formal security agents like those in the army and police often refuse, as they did in Yugoslavia, and it is paramilitary groups that do much of the damage.
Applying this to Iran, while joining the Basij may open some social and political doors (and not as many as the Revolutionary Guards), it may also be an outlet for the more violent and power-hungry types to feel important. Does anyone really think the regime ordered a sniper to shoot a nonthreatening unarmed girl? Or that it ordered other beatings to go as far as they have? The more Iran's current rulers rely on and arm paramilitary groups like the Basij, the less hierarchical and organized control they have over what happens on the streets. No matter what Obama says.
In March, Travis Sharp noted for FP that "governments around the world are throwing billions into the one sector of their economies that will probably do the least good for the world: their military-industrial complexes." Today's announcement from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) confirms the trend:
Global military spending reached a record $1,464 billion last year with the United States taking up by far the biggest share of the total, Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) said on Monday.
Arms shipments were up 4 percent worldwide from 2007 and 45 percent higher than in 1999, the think tank said in its annual study of the global arms trade.
"The idea of the 'war on terror' has encouraged many countries to see their problems through a highly militarised lens, using this to justify high military spending," Sam Perlo-Freeman, head of the Military Expenditure Project at the think tank said in a statement[...]
The United States accounted for 58 percent of the worldwide increase between 1999 and 2008. China and Russia both nearly tripled their military spending over the decade, SIPRI said.
Other countries such as India, Saudi Arabia, Iran, Israel, Brazil, South Korea, Algeria and Britain also contributed substantially to the total increase.
The institute, which conducts independent research on international security, armaments and disarmament, said last year's military spending comprised about 2.4 percent of global gross domestic product, corresponding to $217 per capita.
And if that weren't enough to worry people:
Last year there were around 8,400 operational nuclear warheads in the world, according to SIPRI estimates. Of them, almost 2,000 were kept on high alert and capable of being launched within minutes.
Now if you'll excuse me, I'm off to compile my apocalypse survival kit.
Salah Malkawi/ Getty Images
The trial of American journalists Euna Lee and Laura Ling, who worked for Al Gore's Current TV, started today in North Korea.
The two were arrested in March along the North Korea-China border, apparently reporting on the refugee situation. Pyongyang has charged them with "hostile acts" and espionage. If convicted, they face five to ten years in one of the country's feared labor camps.
North Korea gains some leverage over the U.S. and its allies by holding the women. In the past weeks, the country has stoked tensions by engaging in some serious saber-rattling, testing a series of missiles and a nuclear bomb; it's provoked South Korea to begin fortifying the militarized border and moving warships into better strategic positions.
I'm more and more concerned by the situation, in which Lee and Ling are pawns in a reckless, needless game of military embrinkmanship. The easy answer here is, of course, that North Korea should simply stop testing missiles and join in six-party talks.
But since that situation is unlikely, it's China that needs to step up here. They have the best relationship with Pyongyang, much at stake, and the best opportunity to assuage the tensions.
Australian troops on the front lines in Afghanistan have seen their fair share of the horrors of war. But if there's one thing they won't put up with, it's European cuisine:
Troops [in the Oruzgan province] had passed on complaints about the "lousy" food, Senator Johnson says, to both Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Defence Minister Joel Fitzgibbon on recent visits.
Food is mainly supplied by the Dutch, which commands the provincial reconstruction taskforce in the province.
Australian Defence Force chief Angus Houston defended the soldiers' diet.
"Our soldiers all the way through have had the required amount of calories and the food has been of a very high standard," he said.
"I think the issue is, it's not Aussie food, it's European food and it's pre-prepared.
Worse, getting a taste of home seems to be a status symbol in the Aussie army:
A major issue seems to be that while general troops are taking their supplies from the Dutch, their colleagues in the elite special forces have their own cooks dishing up the grub.
"Essentially, special forces have been eating Aussie food," Air Chief Marshal Houston said.
Top brass insist that the soldiers are getting good food, but "in total, 10 cooks will eventually be deployed to vary the diet of the soldiers." Whether they will be followed by an elite "Grandma's pies" batallion is at this point unconfirmed.
AWAD AWAD/AFP/Getty Images
The Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) will conduct joint military exercises in August-September in Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, the Belarusian defense minister said on Wednesday.
The defense ministers of the post-Soviet security bloc comprising Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan held a regular meeting in Moscow on June 3.
"The joint drills will be held in Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus to practice the deployment of CSTO's joint rapid-reaction force," Leonid Maltsev told reporters after the meeting.
He said the exercises in Belarus will also involve the Russia-Belarus joint military grouping created within the framework of the CSTO.
According to media reports, Russia is planning to build a strong military contingent in Central Asia within the CSTO comparable to NATO forces in Europe.
Russia was highly irritated by 19-country NATO war games held in Georgia last month. Interestingly, Kazakhstan, where part the CSTO drills are to take place, was one of the countries invited to participate in the NATO exercises but declined in solidarity with Russia.
The exercises in Belarus, right on NATO's eastern border, are likely to be seen as a response to NATO's actions in Georgia.
Thankfully, no one was hurt, but this is still not exactly the Russian navy's finest moment:
A Russian warship has mistakenly shelled a village near the northern city of St Petersburg, officials say.
They say the small anti-submarine vessel fired up to 15 artillery rounds at Pesochnoye during target practice late on Thursday.
Some terrified villagers said they thought a war had started, Russia's Ria Novosti news agency reports.
How's that "smaller smarter military" thing going?
This seems too good to be true, but for what it's worth, Canadian defence reporter Dave Pugliese passes along a report that the planned sale of Russian nuclear submarines to Venezuela was scuppered after Hugo Chavez's bodyguards mixed it up with some Russian sailors:
...the KILOs (the subs) destined for Vietnam were originally to be purchased by Venezuela but that deal collapsed after a fistfight on board the Russian cruiser “Peter the Great” when it and other warships were visiting Venezuela.
Venezuela’s leader Chavez was in the process of visiting the Russian flotilla but his bodyguards were prevented from boarding. A fistfight then broke out between the Russian sailors and the bodyguards. The nose of one Russian was broken.
That ended the sub purchase.
Robert Farley notes that the deal is indeed off, and it's certainly not out of the question that the fight took place. But it's likely that the bigger reason Chavez balked at the deal is that his government is low on oil money these days.
THOMAS COEX/AFP/Getty Images
The Washington Post reports that Lt. Gen. Stanley McChrystal will be replacing Gen. David McKiernan as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan:
The leadership shift comes as the Obama administration has voiced increasingly urgent concern about the surge in violence in Afghanistan as well as unrest in neighboring Pakistan.
"We have a new strategy, a new mission and a new ambassador. I believe that new military leadership is also needed," Gates said at a hastily convened Pentagon news conference.
"I think these two officers will bring . . . a focus which we really need in 2009. And I just didn't think we could wait until 2010," Gates said.
Gates praised McChrystal [for] "a unique skill set in counterinsurgency" as well as "fresh thinking."
A few important things to note about the Petraeus confidante.
First, most bloggers and news outlets seem to concur that the suddenness of the decision -- the "hastily convened" press conference, for instance -- underscore the seriousness of the situation in Afghanistan and the need for a "nonconventional" approach.
McChrystal has experience in that approach. He led the covert special forces, which, in the evocative phrasing of the AP, "[fight] in the shadows of battles in Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond." McChrystal commanded the black ops unit responsible for the manhunt and death of Iraqi insurgency leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. (That same unit allegedly abused detainees in a U.S. facility in Iraq, Joshua Foust notes -- something McChrystal might have to answer for in his congressional review.)
Second, McChrystal approved the Silver Star citation given posthumously to Pat Tillman, the former NFL player killed in action in Afghanistan. The award cited Tillman's heroic conduct in "devastating enemy fire."
But, at the time, McChrystal had already guessed that Tillman was accidentally killed by U.S. troops. He sent a back-channel memo advising then-President George W. Bush to avoid speaking about the "enemy fire." Pentagon officials questioned McChrystal over his conduct, though, he ultimately wasn't punished.
Stefan Zaklin/Getty Images
News today that Ireland has banned its troops in Chad from playing soccer hits particularly close for me. You see, I was reporting from Chad about a year ago -- and by coincidence, I stayed in the same hotel as the initial forces for the EU peacekeeping force now deployed there. So I have to say that I agree with Irish Defence Minister Willie O’Dea:
The reality in Chad is that the ground is extremely hard. Some of the sports are played out on open ground and when people fall, it tends to have a much greater impact on their bodies than falling in a field in Ireland, where the ground is not nearly as hard"
All true. My running took a serious hit during my stay in N'Djamena (though I had always attributed this more to the fact that a rebel incursion had shut down the city streets. Not really ideal conditions.)
Come to think of it, Chad is a pretty dangerous place for sports. Alas, the dirt in the country is hard. Minister O'Dea could also have cited concerns about dust -- since you would have to shower 5 times a day not to end up covered in silt. Not good for the health of ones eyes. The hotel pool by which many of the EU soldiers reclined was a breeding ground for mosquitoes (read: malaria).
Of course, the good news it that less soccer, pool, running, and general revelry might leave more time for the business of peacekeeping. But watch out -- those rebels are hardly better for one's constitution.
Despite Russian annoyance, NATO is conducting military exercises in Georgia today. But not all states that are elligible to participate are taking part. As Stratfor notes in its (annoyingly gated but possible to get for free) analysis, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Serbia, Estonia and Latvia are all staying out of the drills. The first four countries all have good relations with Russia and aren't that surprising, but Estonia and Latvia have tradionally relished a good chance to thumb their noses at Moscow. What gives?
Stratfor says it's a sign of the times:
Estonia and Latvia have been severely affected by the ongoing economic crisis, with both countries facing double-digit drops in gross domestic product forecast for 2009 (-10.1 percent and -13.1 percent, respectively) as a result of foreign capital flight and exports that are in free fall. Extreme social tension has set in as a result of the harsh economic realities, with both countries witnessing violent protests in January. In the meantime, the Latvian government collapsed early in 2009, and Riga has had to take out a $2.4 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Estonia’s government is set to face a vote of no confidence this week, and a similar loan from the IMF is likely later in 2009.
These conditions have caused Estonia and Latvia to temper their aggressive stance toward Russia. While the two countries are typically vocal and eager to take advantage of Russia’s weaknesses for media attention, they are now backing down as they realize their own positions are weak while Russia’s position is growing stronger. This explains Estonia’s and Latvia’s withdrawal from the NATO exercises, as they realize that their participation would be far more damaging to their relationship with Russia and that their financial situations would make joining in on the drills even more difficult. For these two countries, showing solidarity and support for Georgia makes a great deal of sense in theory (i.e., supporting in principal Georgia’s struggle against Russian influence). But it becomes increasingly hard to justify in practice when Russian influence is being felt in a real sense on their home turf.
As FP's own Evgeny Morozov wrote in Newsweek recently, Estonia has also toned down its cyberwarfare rhetoric directed at Russia. Real rapprochement between the Baltics and Russia is probably still a ways off, but this is an interesting development to watch.
(Hat tip: Johnson's Russia List)
The U.S. military today denied the allegation made in this Al Jazeera piece that evangelical chaplains are urging U.S. toops in Afghanistan to protelytize for Christianity:
The reporting here does seem a little dodgy. The piece implies that this line from a U.S chaplain's sermon is a violation of U.S. policy:
"The special forces guys - they hunt men basically. We do the same things as Christians, we hunt people for Jesus. We do, we hunt them down."
But it's not at all clear that this refers to converting Afghans and this seems like a line that one could hear in any evangelical sermon in the United States. None of the officers "caught on camera" in the segment ever actually instruct troops to proselytize, in fact the only discussion of the practice is about how it's against military rules.
As for the bibles in Dari and Pashto, the conversations in the video actually seem to better support the military's explanation that a soldier had "showed them to the group and the chaplain explained that he cannot distribute them."
Afghanistan's former prime minister has called for an investigation after seeing the segment. This is a serious issue and one that has gotten the military into trouble before. But without more evidence, this particular case seems like a manufactured controversy.
The Washington Post mothership has put up a very interesting piece from CFR's Julia Sweig scheduled for this Sunday's Outlook section which proposes a novel idea for breaking the U.S. stalemate with Cuba, giving them back Guantanamo Bay:
Whatever Guantanamo's minor strategic value to the United States for processing refugees or as a counter-narcotics outpost, the costs of staying permanently -- with the stain of the prisons, the base's imperial legacy and the animosity of the host government -- outweigh the benefits.
The time to begin this transition is now. By transforming Guantanamo as part of a broader remaking of Washington's relationship with Cuba, the Obama administration can begin fixing what the president himself has decried as a "failed" policy. It can upend a U.S.-Cuban stalemate that has barely budged for 50 years and can put to the test Raul Castro's stated willingness to entertain meaningful changes.
Returning Guantanamo Bay to full Cuban sovereignty and control is a win for the United States: Aside from the boon to America's credibility with the Cuban people and throughout Latin America, these first steps would probe the Cuban government's apparent disposition to use the base as a point of contact with the United States -- and gauge the regime's willingness to move the ball forward even more.
"As a president, I say the U.S. should go. As a military man, I say let them stay," Raul Castro quipped last year. It's hard to know exactly what he means. Floating these proposals would be a good way to find out.
I don't completely understand Sweig's desire to "test" or "guage" Raul Castro's intentions. The Obama administration's recent moves to lift some restrictions on Cuba could be viewed as a test as well, and Raul Castro has dismissed them as minimal and indicated no intention of reciprocating with political reforms. Following up minor concessions on travel and money transfers with something as big as closing Guantanamo would be a bit like handing a teenager the keys to a Porsche after he crashes the family station wagon.
The best case for engagement with Cuba is not that it will turn the island into a democarcy (it most likely won't) it's that after five decades we can fairly safely say that not engaging them isn't accomplishing a whole lot. Likewise, if, as Sweig argues, the U.S. presence in Guantanamo has outlived its strategic usefulness and serves only as a diplomatic and public relations liability, that alone seems reason enough to close it.
In any event, I'd be interested to see the military's case for why the base remains necessary.
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