Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Failures of Post-Modern Collectivism in the EU

                                    Riots in Greece
Tampere, Finland

When I was an undergraduate student, I constantly heard about the effectiveness and benefits of European style collectivism. More and more interdependency and the theory of constructivism have become the politically correct way of viewing international relations. Realism was seen as outdated and an obstruction to progress. But how about now? It seems that collectivism is not the bulwark it was made out to be and neither is constructivism. The EU, which has served as the shining jewel of collectivism is on the verge of falling apart. Why, because states will always act according to their own interests on crucial matters, whether they are conscious of it or not. Collectivism and post-modern thinking has left the European Continent not only in tough economic shape, but also militarily weak.
Collectivism among nation states takes place when the nations involved decide to act multilaterally and place the actions of the group above the actions of the individual states. Hence the economic and social agreements (regulations) of the EU. The premiss for collectivism in the EU was that interdependent states are less likely to wage wars or brutalize each other either in a military sense or in an economic sense. The EU started off as economic agreements between France and Germany that were designed to prevent any future wars after WWII. This eventually grew into what is now the EU. For over a decade and a half, the EU has been strong and effective economically. Militarily countries have either relied on the US for protection or simply think that war is dead (example, Sweden).

                                       The Failures of Economic Collectivism in the EU

While this way of thinking worked in the short-term, the weaknesses of collectivism in the EU are beginning to appear quite strongly as the economic crisis in Europe grows. Even though collectivist thinking places the group above the state, states themselves do not act that way. (even if they think they do). For example Greece, during the current crisis has time and again shown that it will act as it seems fit. Last month they bought 400 main battle tanks with some of the bail-out money. Why? Well they were more concerned about the Turkish military than about the Euro. Now after days of hard work by EU leaders to hammer out a debt deal for Greece, Greece wants to put it to a public referendum and may simply reject it. Rejection of the deal may result in Greece's expolsion from the EU. If they vote the deal down, countries such as Finland have already made it clear that they see a rejection of the deal as a vote to leave the EU. If Greece leaves the EU or is forced to leave, it will defeat the primary goals of collectivism.

Another example of how collectivism is failing, is Germany. Germany is not a charity ward that simply gives out money to the poor. Yes, it is true that they are the biggest donator to the Euro bailout fund, but they also are attaching a lot of strings to the money the banks have lent to the struggling countries. What does that mean? It means that Germany will control for more of the European economy after the crisis than it did before. Nothing is truly free. The Greeks have been evoking images of economic Nazis as a result. But what is Germany supposed to do? Just shell out money with no guarantees? Germany is acting as a realist state, even under the guise of collectivism. Sure they will help, but it comes with a cost. Germany is maximizing its relative power in Europe. Just as Greece is acting selfishly with the money they have received, so Germany is acting as a realist with the money given out.

The fact is states will act in their own self interest on major issues no matter how much collectivism seems to be dominant. Many EU countries are furious at Greece for their mismanagement of the economy and even more so at Greece's waste of funds and their audacity to keep playing chicken with the economic deals. People are asking how dare they?! But, the question that should be asked is, why not? The real incompetents are the ones pouring money into Greece without strings attached or the ones who advocated to bring Greece into the EU in the first place. Greece is acting like a sovereign state and is taking advantage of EU generosity. Finland was made to look bad when they made Greece pay a 25% advance on the Finnish bailout loan. And yet Finland may be the only country to not take a 100% loss on Greece. You see, many EU countries are still acting like realists, and the ones who aren't are sitting ducks. This brings us a to a short discussion about the effects of collectivism on EU nations' militaries.

                                 The Failures of Collectivism in Relation to Defense
During the time immediately following the Cold War most of the western world took for granted the peace and prosperity that followed. Nations that have for years had been under the threat of the USSR were now free. The United States was the undisputed military power in the world and European nations capitalized on the lack of an enemy by building their economies and social welfare services at the expence of defense. At the time it made sense. During the Cold War the United Stated had protected Western Europe and the lack of an enemy after the USSR led to even more relaxed defense standards. Post-modern thinking began to take hold and countries drifted toward collectivism and the idea that war was dead in Europe was prevalent.  However, no good thing lasts.

To date, only a few countries in the EU have conscription armies. Due the the small size of many European countries mandatory conscription has historically been the best means of defense and enabled a trained population. This is increasingly being fazed out. The only counties of consequence that still have conscription for longer than 6 months are Finland, Estonia and Greece. The most recent country to drop conscription is Sweden. This is their last year. The past decade has effectively seen the demilitarization of much of Europe. Some think this is a good thing and yet times are changing fast. It is true that the UK and France can still foot modern armies, but these are small and inexperienced.

While Europe has been in a post modern dream, countries on the continent's periphery have been growing stronger and US protection is growing relatively weaker. The old bear of the north, Russia, is rising again (maybe only temporarily and yet dangerous) and the Muslim south east is on the march. Recently, Russia has deployed large quantities of offensive military units to the boarder of Finland and the Baltic states. Offensive ground forces are stationed between Saint Petersburgh and the Finnish and Estonian boarders. In the north, right about in the middle of Finland, Russia has built up a huge amount of attack choppers. Historically, when Russia invades Finland it has tried to cut the country in half. It is now posed to do so. This is not to say that there is an impending Russian attack on Finland, but it does raise the question of why offensive units are there. In modern warfare there is a huge difference between offensive and defensive units, so one can gather that Russia doesn't have them there for defensive purposes.

The point of all this, is that while Europe has been disarming, the rest of the world has not. Russia is attempting to regain its old glory, Muslim demographic seems to signal unrest, and China is becoming an undisputed great power. Post-modern thinking combined the end of the Cold War has made Europe dependent on the US and exposed to possible aggression. In the unlikely event of a Russian attack on north-eastern Europe, no one except the Finns would be able to put up a fight and Finland would not last long. All of Scandinavia could fall with the drop of a hat and the same could happened in the Baltic states. It is unlikely that this will happen and yet, what if the US was tied up somewhere else (maybe Asia) and not prepared to defend Europe? Russia might size the opportunity to attack one of its European neighbors.

The sad truth is that the EU nations are not ready to defend themselves and in the event of aggression by one nation, would be forced to watch until one of the old powers such as the UK, France or Germany was threatened. Peace and prosperity has lulled too many nations into a false sense of security. The future remains to be seen and in the words of Winston Churchill, "I cannot Forcast to you the action of Russia. It is a riddle, rapped in mystery, inside an enigma… The only key is the national interest of Russia." 

                                                         Collectivism is Not Dead 
Some ideas die hard and still others never really die at all. So, it is unlikely that the current crisis in the EU is the end of collectivism. In fact the EU and the Euro in my opinion will continue. However, it seems that if economics in the EU continue to get much worse, some countries may be cut loose and collectivism will be dealt a hard blow. The same can be said for any military aggression against an EU member state. While Collectivism seems like a great idea, is neglects basic human nature and eventually ends up exposing its followers to danger. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Turkey and Israel: Diplomatic Positioning or a Dangerous Game of Chicken?

Last week Turkey expelled Israel's top diplomats and ended all military cooperation. After 9 Turks were killed in the flotilla incident last year Turkey threaten repository action. Now that the UN recently declared Israel's actions at the flotilla were excessive but legal, Turkey has begun a series of diplomatic moves to show their discontent with Israel's actions. First, they expelled Israel's top diplomats and then threaten to move some naval assets into the Mediterranean. Next Turkey announced that is might use those naval assets to provide a military escort for the next flotilla that attempts to breach Israel's blockade of Gaza. The entire episode has been very unfortunate. Turkey has been a partner with Israel for years and their joint military ventures has provide Muslim-Israeli cooperation. So one has to ask, what does Turkey's recent positioning really mean and what do both sides have to loose or gain?

First, any attempt by Turkish battleships to breach the Israel blockade would be an act of war. The international community has declared the blockade legal which gives Israel even more incentive to confront any move by the Turkish Navy. Turkey has more to loose than Israel in starting a military altercation. Turkey has been attempting to join the EU for years and confirmation with the Israeli navy is certainly not going to help their membership bid. Also it would most likely result in both a military and international embarrassment. Given that it is extremely unlikely that Turkey would attempt to forcibly breach the blockade, one can ascertain that the statements about a flotilla escort are meant as rhetoric to appease the Turkish public and to send a message to Israel. The exposition of diplomats is also a symbolic move. The countries still have diplomatic ties, which means Turkey sees its relationship with Israel as productive.

The end of military cooperation is a little more complicated and has more negative consequences for Israel. Turkey has gained a lot of new military technology from Israel, including many types of UAV drones. Some have speculated that now that Turkey has successfully purchased weapons from Israel it has little incentive to keep up the relationship. I am not sure this is true. The move to end military relations might also be diplomatic positioning. However, Israel is the one to loose here. Not only has Israel sold advanced equipment to Turkey, but Turkey can also provide airspace for Israel in the event of a confirmation with Iran. If Turkey denies Israel access to their airspace it would make if more difficult to bomb Iran. In addition to denial of airspace, Israel has to consider loosing and important partner in the fight against Islamic terrorism. Hamas recruits from Turkey and loosing help in that area will serious damage Israel's efforts to curb Hamas.

Most of Turkey's actions in the last week can be seen as attempts to follow though on theirs threats following the death of nine of their citizens. Israel has not apologized and that is probably a good thing at this points. An apology right after the fact would have gone a long way, but now would make Israel appear weak visa v Turkey.  Right now the best thing is for both Turkey and Israel to take a time out more or less. Miscalculated moves to could lead to more than symbolic action and for Israel that would not be good in the long run. Turkey would be crazy to continue to push relations with Israel in negative direction, because Turkey has a lot, both economically and military, to gain from partnership with Israel. The events of the last week have really be nothing more than diplomatic positioning, but too much rhetoric may lead to foolish actions. However, I don't see Turkish leadership being stupid enough to engage Israel in a game of chicken over the blockade. Israel doesn't play chicken. Israel responds to military threats by destroying the opposition.

Friday, July 15, 2011

How al-Qaeda Sees Us..

Last week I attended a lecture by a security adviser from the RAND Corp. and I was intrigued by something he said and I would like to relay that here. The speaker discussed why it is important for us to understand the way al-Qaeda sees us and gave the following example. I would also like to touch on how and why al-Qaeda thinks they can and will defeat the US.

Before the US invasion of Iraq, but after the invasion of Afghanistan, bin Laden released a statement decrying the Bush Administration as "worse than Hulagu Khan." Most US officials shrugged this off and said, "who on earth in Hulagu Khan?" Arabs never asked who he was. For them Khan was the symbol of everything destructive and threatening to Islam. Hulagu Khan was the grandson of Genghis Khan and he conquered much of South East Asia. In 1255 Hulagu demanded that the Islamic Caliphate in Baghdad submit to the rule of the Khan's. At the time Baghdad was the center of Islamic power. The Caliphate refused to comply and the Khan rallied his army and completely sacked Baghdad and then as an act of defiance he stabled his Calvary in the most important mosque. the Khan then plundered one Muslin country after another, sacking Damascus, and marching through Palestine. He was on his was to Ciaro when a death in the Khan's royal family forced him to return home.

What is interesting about this story is that this is how bin Laden and many other Muslims view the actions of the United States. After the 2003 invasion of Iraq a picture surfaced showing US soldiers in the same mosque that Hulagu Khan had stabled his horses. This irony seemed to underscore bin Laden's claims and perpetuated the idea of the America as a destroyer of Islam. In other words many of our enemies see us as the new barbarians. This comparison is  clearly not reflected in reality, and yet it is a powerful part of their identity and political dialogue. This view also leads to the justification of terrorist attacks. Lastly, it is important for the United States to understand just how they see our actions. Not so we can accommodate them, but rather because we need to promote a counter narrative in the Arab world and utilize this understanding to defeat them. When Gen. Patton defeated Gen. Rommel in the first Allied armor victory in North Africa, Patton stood up in his jeep and said, "Rommel you glorious bastard, I read your book!" (Rommel had written a book on tank warfar) We need to be able to read al-Qaeda's book.

The next thing I would like to discuss out is how and why al- Qaeda thinks it can possibly defeat the United States. Al-Qaeda and most other Arab jihad terror groups draw on the defeat of the USSR in Afghanistan as proof of their ability to defeat the United States. From their perspective the war was dragging on between the Aghan fighter and the USSR when the Arab volunteers arrived. Despite the fact that the Arab mujaheddin were completely useless and despised by the Afghan's, Muslim Arabs saw themselves as warriors defeating a super power. When the USSR eventually withdrew from Afghanistan and shortly after collapsed, the Muslim Arabs saw this as a victory for Islam and a restoration of Arab strength.Arab Muslims bought into the fallacy that the Arab volunteers had somehow brought down the USSR. In reality it was the hard work of the Afghans, a crumbling USSR, and American stinger missiles that really defeated the USSR. Internal issues and crisis brought on the end of the USSR and nothing else. However this myth of Arab warriors in Afghanistan defeating a super power lives on. Bin Laden used to invoke the defeat of the USSR as evidence of al-Qaeda's ability to not only defeat the US but also the West in general.

The above is just two examples of al-Qaeda's thinking. I think it is good food for thought and would like to hear what you, as the reader, think about this instead of me presenting analysis. Does al-Qaeda's views surprise you? Does it play into our hand? What can we learn?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Keys Points from the US 2011 Counter Terrorism Strategy

In June the Obama Administration published the 2011 Counterterrorism Strategy and  I have outlined what I consider to be the major points.

It is Not Over-
A reoccurring theme throughout the strategy was that the effort to defeat Al-Qaeda is not likely to be over soon. However, Al-Qaeda has been weakened and remains vulnerable.

War on Terror vs. War on Al-Qaeda-
The strategy was careful not use the term "War on Terrorism," which it considesr to be a war on a tactic rather than against the real enemy. The administration prefered to use the term "War on Al-Qaeda." This is a significant difference from the Bush administration's use of the term war on terror and effectively limits the scope of US efforts to combating Al-Qaeda affiliates and adherence.

Civil Liberties vs. Security-
A major focus of the strategy was the preservation of civil liberties.  It acknowledged that America's values are what makes the nation strong and better equipped to fight terrorism. Torture in any form was rejected as being in conflict with our values and as being an ineffective tool. Seeing so much attention given to the preservation of civil liberties is in my mind important. What remains to be seen is whether those values are upheld in practice.

Areas of Focus-
Something else important that stood out was the attention given to certain countries. Pakistan and Afghanistan still top the list of high priories, which is  unlikely to change for a long time. Other countries though, such as Yemen and Somalia, were pinpointed as countries of critical importance to defeating Al-Qaeda. Limited resources dictate that we cannot be everywhere, so focusing resources on Yemen (home to AQAP) and Somalia (home to Al-Shabaab) is wise.

International Cooperation-
Lastly, the strategy places importance on working with other nations. The US will continue to work with other nations that do not share any of our value or interests other than defeating Al-Qaeda.This is not any different than previous strategies, but bears mentioning. In essence, reality dictates these temporary alliances.

What is missing?-
While the strategy as a whole is sound and on the right track, one thing appeared to be missing to me. There is no mention of de- radicalization initiatives or whether on not the US needs to start developing one. It is implied that the US is working with global partners in their de-radicalization programs, but there is no mention of them directly. I think this issue of de-radicalization should have been mention and a need or lack of a need for a program in the US discussed briefly. Or, it could have said that the government does not view these programs as successful. Other western countries are beginning to feel the need for de-rad programs and I think that the US would be wise to articulate a position or at least see if we have a need.

Link to the 2011 Counterterrorism Strategy

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Call it Like it is: Yemen is Experiencing Full Blown Civil War

As the crisis in Yemen grows worse every day, the main stream media has beat around the bush when describing this violence. No major media outlet (CNN WSJ, NYT, and others) are willing to call the conflict a full blown civil war. They prefer to continue to describe events as moving it closer to civil war. My question? What do you have to do to earn the title of a civil war these days? Simply stated, Yemen is engaged in civil war. The mobs and rocks have given way to militias and bullets. Here are a few reasons why Yemen is in the middle of a civil war.

To begin, the riots that began in Yemen should be understood within the context a revolution. A revolution takes place when civilians revolt against the government to rapidly change the structure and power of that government. This is in contrast to a civil war where war breaks out between two or more organized groups within the same nation state. The later is what is currently taking place in Yemen. In the past few weeks the Hashid Tribal Alliance and, as of June 1, the Bakil Tribal Alliance have been fighting pro-President Salah forces and captured key areas in the capital of Sana. While the fighing has been ravaging the capital city, other militant groups are taking advantage of the situation. On May 29th al-Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) asserted their strength by capturing the city of Zinjibar.  The fact that AQAP is brazenly raising their head in Yemen, to the point of actual seizing a city, reveals that the central government of Yemen is imploding (not that it has ever been strong).

More significant than the tribal attacks within Sana or AQAP capturing Zinjibar is Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar one of Yemen's major generals. He defected from the government last month, and has now sent soldiers to fight pro-Salah troops in the capital. When major generals defect and send regular soldiers to fight presidential troops, there should be no question about whether or not a country has collapsed into civil war. To put things in perspective Gen. al-Ahmar has at least 40,000 soldier loyal to him (including mechanized units) and the tribes have tens of thousands more. President Salah has at least 50-60,000 loyal soldiers. So ignoring all the other armed tribes and generals in Yemen, as of today over 100,000 soldiers are at odds with one another. There is a civil war in Yemen and no amount of wishful thinking is going to change that. No one gains from this situation, except groups like AQAP and I would put my money on Yemen becoming the next Afghanistan (severely failed terror state) unless something changes and changes quickly. President Salah has been a good friend of the Unites States and has worked to fight AQAP and any loss of control means an opportunity for our enemies.

Let me know if you think Yemen is experiencing civil war by checking out my poll at the bottom of this page!

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

After Bin Laden, Part 1 of 2: Why it Matters

On May 1st a compound in Abbottabad, Pakistan was raided by US Navy Seals and a fire fight ensued that left American's most wanted man, Osama bin Laden, dead. As crowds fill the streets in celebration, we are left with many questions about the future of al-Qaeda and America's operations.  Some are saying that the death of bin Laden is no longer important. On the other hand some seem to think that the War in Afghanistan or the war on terror, for that matter, is over. Both views couldn't be farther from the truth. To put it bluntly, the killing of Osama bin Laden is the most significant victory yet in a 10 year war, but it is not the end. To really understand the significance of the death of bin Laden and why it matters, it is necessary to look beyond the last few years or even beyond September 11, 2001. However, due to the amount of information to be cover, I will write it in two parts. In part one, I will present my analysis on why this event is so important. In part two, I will discuss what it may mean for the future of al-Qaeda and US counter-terrorism efforts.

Why it Matters That Bin Laden is Dead
Bin Laden is the linchpin both financially and symbolically for al-Qaeda and for many affiliated Islamic terror organizations. After a victorious bin Laden returned from waging Jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan in the 1980's he became a symbol for many Muslims of what Islam should be: righteous, simple and victorious. Soon after returning to Saudi Arabia he began to lash out against the corrupted Arab Regimes and then against the United States, who he saw as the oppressor of Muslims worldwide. Unlike others who hated the United States bin Laden took action and formed al-Qaeda. Also, unlike many other terrorist leaders, bin Laden had the millions to fund his organization and whatever country that offered him safe haven (Sudan and then Afghanistan). In the past 18 years, bin Laden has been able to create a massive global terror network (including cells in many western countries and has carried out several catastrophic attacks against the US and her allies.

Within the study of terrorism most scholars refer to the leadership of al-Qaeda (those that surrounded bin Laden) in Pakistan and Afghanistan as "al-Qaeda Central." Al-Qaeda Central suffered severe organizational and personal damage after the US invasion of Afghanistan. However, in recent years it has been making a comeback. While al-Qaeda Central does not exercise direct commend and control over its global franchises, such as al-Qaeda of the Arabian Peninsula, it serves as a financing, training, planning, and ideological head. Killing bin Laden deprived al-Qaeda Central of its number one leader, and essentially decapitated the global network. This in and of itself if very important from an organizational standpoint.

As bin Laden launched successful attacks against the US, he lost some support from moderate Muslims, but gained a dedicated following of radical Muslims, especially youth.  He served as a symbol of a man standing up against yet another superpower. The fact that he killed thousands only made him more attractive. Use of the internet and person recruiting pulled in these radicals and strengthened al-Qaeda. Now that bin Laden is dead, that symbol severely damaged. It is true that he will now be revered by his followers as a shaheed (martyr) and still as a symbol, but the demoralization effect must be huge. It is no longer true, that bin Laden will defeat the US or another superpower. He was shot in the head like so many terrorists before him. It shows that even the best will get killed. Bin Laden was a strong symbol to rally around and now that is gone, without a likely replacement. There are experienced leaders who can take his place, but none have the charisma or respect of bin Laden.

In the same way that Bin Laden's symbolism and charisma motivated Jihadists worldwide, his money has enabled al-Qaeda to weather many hard times when other terror organizations have failed. In fact, many analysts believe a major factor that drove al-Zawahiri (al-Qaeda's number 2 man, now number one) to merge his Islamic Egyptian Jihad to al-Qaeda was because of a lack of funds. The millions that bin Laden personally used for terrorism, and his donor connections in the Gulf states proved vital to the longevity of his organization. Now that this jackpot is gone, funding is likely to be looming obstacle for whoever takes over. Rich radical Muslims will still donate to jihad, but that is already happening and won't replace the loss of bin Laden. Above and beyond bin Laden's money, he also brought expertise. As a businessman and construction operator, bin Laden self-financed and self-built infrastructure, defense systems, and businesses. Again these key organization components that bin Laden personally brought to al-Qaeda will now suffer.

To sum up, the death of bin Laden hurt al-Qaeda in a way that nothing else could. Despite this huge loss, I firmly believe that al-Qaeda will live on, at least in the near future, as will radical Islam. However, the significance of removing bin Laden from the picture is monumental from the standpoint of defeating al-Qaeda and bringing stability to Afghanistan. I have not even mentioned the justice factor. Even Americans who were not directly effected by the September 11th attacks, were attacked emotionally and psychologically, as the terrorists intended. Now justice has been served, and for many Americans and even people worldwide this event brings some kind of closure and relief. This leads me to part two: what killing bin Laden may mean for the future of al-Qaeda and US counter-terrorism efforts.

P.S. Be sure to fill out my poll at the bottom of this page on how you felt about bin Laden's death!